Truly helpless, p.15
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       Truly Helpless, p.15

         Part #10 of Nature of Desire series by Joey W. Hill

  "Perhaps it's neither. Perhaps it's something even more unsettling." Marguerite gestured with her tea cup. "When I said you're formidable, it's not because you are a formidable Mistress, though you are. You are a formidable woman, probably the most balanced one I've met within The Zone walls. You said yourself you're going into this with your eyes open. You won't allow anyone to destroy your sense of self. If that becomes a danger, you will drop him immediately. But someone that can add to your sense of self, that challenges you to grow and welcome a man into your heart? You'll embrace that, and not fear the cost or the fight to make it happen. You also won't mistake the conflict for something negative."

  "Wow." Putting another cake on her plate, Regina stepped off the subject long enough to scowl at the three pieces of cookie on Marguerite's, still untouched. "Will you please put that in your skinny body before I jump over there and force feed you? It's rude not to eat with a guest. What is it with white girls and being thin? Don't you know how much men like having an actual ass to grab?"

  Marguerite's expression flickered with surprise, then amusement again. Picking up one of the pieces, she put it in her mouth, chewed and swallowed. "Better?"

  "Tons," Regina said dryly, then returned to topic. "You're right. That is a scarier proposition than drug or calling. But I think there's an interim step before I get all googly-eyed. He's a puzzle I haven't been able to solve, and that drives me crazy. I know there's something more there, and it interests the hell out of me. When it doesn't, I'll back off, but right now it's in that nice zone of physical attraction, emotional interest and simple, 'man, I'd like to crack that fine ass and fuck him up until he begs for more.'"

  "A goal understood and approved by Dommes everywhere," Marguerite agreed. Two more bites of the cookie had disappeared.

  Regina looked beneath the table. "Do you have a dog that snuck through here so you could feed the rest of that cookie to him?"

  "The hummingbird is trained to take morsels from my fingertips without being detected by the human eye."

  Regina snorted. "Wise-ass." She settled back with a fond look at Marguerite. "Okay. So what do I do about that line in the sand I've drawn?"

  "Erase it with the toe of one of your magnificent thigh high red boots. Then put that same boot up the orifice where it will do him the most good."

  Regina appreciated the visual. "I don't feel approaching him again is the right thing. So he has to come to me, but it may take him a while. Tyler forbid him to do it, which won't stop Marius, but he'll need time to fight with himself over it."

  "Maybe. But I think he will approach you for another chance, sooner rather than later. If he would with anyone, it would be with you."

  That surprised Regina. "Why?"

  Marguerite blinked. "I'm not in the habit of answering questions another Mistress already knows."

  "Unless it's a request for a sanity check," Regina reminded her. "Which we've already established is why I'm here. And for the company and sweets."

  Marguerite acknowledged that with an amiable nod. "You already understand him better than other Mistresses who have reached this stage. They figured out his game, and discarded him. You figured out his game, but you looked beyond the game to the reason he's playing it. He interests you, and not for the reasons he has interested others, which gives him no frame of reference for dealing with you. That's probably good, because he has no time to come up with a suave new routine. The broken part might be able to take the lead, which will be ugly, but honest."

  Regina thought of the way he'd acted at Safe Word. Belligerent, petulant, angry. Very little evidence of the charm he used as his mask.

  "Okay. That tracks for me."

  "I should ask a different question, one that I'm sure you don't get asked any more often than I do, given the type of women we are, the personalities we project. What do you fear, Lady Regina?"

  Regina cocked her head. "What do you mean?"

  "To work with difficult subs, a Domme must have the right blend of self-confidence, creativity and arrogance. And the arrogance is a potent part of the recipe. Too much and you blind yourself to warning signs. Too little, and you won't risk enough to change anything. You'll question yourself, wonder if that's your role at all. It's a tough call, and it gets more difficult when your heart gets involved."

  Marguerite adjusted the pot further to the right of her elbow and then folded her arms anew to square off with Regina. "You are not as in control as you wish to be. Not as detached."

  "Yeah." The woman was good at hitting the nail on the head, Regina gave her that. "I've always been reasonably sure of who a sub is, and what I want from him." She shook her head. "With him? Soon as that energy starts to spin, I don't want to play it safe. I want to push, I want to challenge, I want to tear into him...and I want to let him tear into me. That's new."

  She grimaced. "Good old-fashioned fear, that's what it is. Maybe he's drawing me into his fucked-up self deeper than I realize, but I'm usually not an easy mark. The alternative is I'm taking this path knowing it's going to get dark and twisty, and I'm worried about getting so carried away by it that I misstep...and he turns me into the final straw. The agent of his destruction. He gets pissed, out of control, runs off to one of his fights and ends up dead."

  The silence drew out between them. Regina finished her cake, mentally computing how much she'd have to add to today's workout. It was a good distraction, helping her rein in the uneasiness that her own words had caused her, or handle how Marguerite was looking at her now.

  "I think Tyler might be the better person to discuss that fear."

  That surprised Regina. She saw the other Domme's eyes had become even more somber. "He has walked that path with a submissive, and had to take extreme measures to save her soul," Marguerite said. "Measures that could just as easily have resulted in her being immolated by her path."

  Regina expected it would take a big measure of arrogance--which yes, Tyler had in copious quantities--for a Dominant to tell him or herself that unearthing a person's darkest needs and exposing them to the light of day was worth the risk of the potential consequences.

  In Regina's estimation, Marius was a man on a cliff, half of him wanting to fall to the sharp rocks below, while the other part grimly hung on, hoping someone would come by to pull him back to solid land. A wrong step could make the former a tragic reality. She could end up being the boot that stepped on his hand.

  Marguerite's hand covered hers, startling Regina. The woman rarely indulged in casual touch. In her eyes, Regina saw equal parts disturbing shadow and reassuring light. Suddenly the world was just the two of them. The intensity in Marguerite's gaze reflected what Regina had glimpsed in Marius's a few times, so similar it startled her.

  "I will tell you what I have told Tyler," Marguerite said quietly. "Sometimes a person needs to be destroyed. For some people, that's the only path to love, walking out of the ashes of a fire that consumes us. But if that fire happens, it will be set by Marius himself. Even if it's from so down deep in his soul he can't acknowledge it, that choice is his. You protect yourself enough to move out of the way if it's too late."

  Regina locked gazes with Marguerite. "That's not the choice Tyler made. He would have burned in hell with you for an eternity rather than leave you there."

  Marguerite went still. Regret jolted through Regina. She couldn't set aside the Domme intuition, but sometimes it was better to keep that shit contained. There was a code, and she didn't want to disrespect that with anyone she considered a friend, or respected as a Domme, the way she did Marguerite.

  Before she could form an apology, Marguerite's expression altered. The million emotions it reflected tied Regina's heart strings in a knot, connecting to that indefinable pit-of-her-stomach feeling about Marius.

  "Sometimes, deciding there is only one choice is a choice, too." Marguerite lifted the pot. "More tea, Lady Regina?"

  They didn't talk much more about the topic of Marius, but not because things were strained. Regina
had what she needed and, apparently sensing it, Marguerite turned the flow of conversation to shared interests. BDSM practices they both enjoyed, new techniques they'd observed in recent sessions, and a smattering of fun, not mean-spirited, gossip about other Dommes. That part of the dialogue was initiated by Regina, but Marguerite's dry wit proved she could keep up when the subject was lighter fare.

  At the conclusion of the tea, Marguerite walked her back up front. Chloe was ready with a package of more cakes and another hug. In true Southern fashion, the leave-taking took another quarter hour as Regina chatted with the women and several of the regular customers. Marguerite's clientele were mostly women, so the environment had that pleasant women-bonding, hen-house feel. The soothing cadence of cluck-cluck-cluck from multiple feminine conversations was punctuated by the occasional cackle of laughter or squawk of surprise at an unexpected reveal.

  Marguerite bid her good-bye with a curious gleam in her eyes. "When he does come your way again," she said, "you'll be ready for him."

  "Probably because I'll have had months to think about my strategy," Regina said. "Though I retain some slim hope he'll try sooner, just because his Zone membership is so important to him."

  "That will be his excuse for approaching you again. Not the real reason."

  Regina eyed her. "Do you have to practice that, saying things like they're indisputable fact, when it's really speculative bullshit?"

  Marguerite assumed a demure expression. "You'll have your answer when you confirm it as indisputable fact."

  "It's obvious as a brick in the face why you and Tyler are together," Regina noted wryly, but she touched the woman's arm. "Whichever it is, thanks for the vote of confidence. And for the tea."

  "Your company is a pleasure. Good luck. Not that I think you'll need it."

  As she emerged from Tea Leaves, Regina puzzled over the emphasis on those final words, but she didn't have long to wonder. Marius was across the street.

  "That crafty bitch."

  Regina looked through the screen door, but Marguerite was giving instruction to Chloe and the new girl, to all appearances oblivious to what was happening outside the door.

  "Yeah, right," Regina muttered, but moved down the steps and walkway, toward where she'd parked her car on the street. She kept her peripheral eye on him, though.

  He was sitting on a low brick wall, keeping company with an elderly woman sitting on her porch and a trio of young men playing a card game on her stoop. A little girl rode a bike carefully up and down the sidewalk.

  Tea Leaves operated out of a restored historic home surrounded but not overcome by a low-income district that had had its battles with drugs, gangs and petty crime. Marguerite was part of the community watch group taking it back house by house. The elderly woman looked like another active member, if her protective demeanor toward both the young men and the little girl were any indication. Her property was well-tended, despite the age and small size of the simple box of a house.

  The young men wore tanks and tees over beltless pants that hung way off their asses. A fashion decision that always made Regina roll her eyes, not just because it was so idiotic-looking, but also since she knew better than most that it had likely been co-opted from gang styles in prisons. Exactly what every young man should aspire to be--a felon. Though at least it did have one benefit. The police loved the style because it made the criminals far easier to catch during foot chases.

  Fortunately, these young men sported no gang markers. The fondness with which she overheard one of them call the elderly woman Grandma, and how the others emulated his respect to her, suggested they wouldn't dare come to her door with any evidence of gang involvement. She probably gave them hell regularly about pulling their damn pants up. It made Regina smile. She'd seen firsthand too many young men destroy their lives before they'd barely started. Evidence that those at-risk had some sharp-eyed guardian angels trying to keep them on the right path was always encouraging.

  And speaking of at-risk souls... She only had time for those quick impressions before Marius saw her, proving he'd been keeping his eye on the entrance to Tea Leaves. Saying something to one of the men in apparent farewell, he crossed the street to where she was unlocking her car.

  She'd been surprised to see him, but was even more bemused by the effect his presence had on her. She wouldn't have chased him down, not in a million years. If he wouldn't come to her, she would have considered it done, no matter how interested she was in pursuing it further. This couldn't go in the right direction if he wouldn't make the effort, regardless of his motives. But now that he'd made that step, she let herself savor the possibilities. And him.

  He was wearing a pair of blue jeans with a brown belt, worn to soft gray edges. A black button-down shirt was tucked into the pants. His hair was a bit rumpled, as if by the wind tousling it as he drove, since it was a warm day and he'd probably had the windows down. He had his sleeves rolled up so her gaze was drawn to the points of his wrists and length of his forearms, sprinkled with dark hair.

  With time and some discipline, a man could develop a body that met all the physical measurements for hotness, but that didn't translate to sexy. Sexy meant that he could make a woman think of sex just by moving and breathing, because his sexuality was bone deep, a vital part of his masculinity.

  It was in their gait, their attitude. Regina had seen overweight, middle-aged men with receding hairlines at The Zone who possessed the quality, and muscle heads with tight asses and big dicks completely lacking it.

  A sexy man understood what aroused a woman. He knew because he paid attention, and because getting that response was what he craved to drive his own arousal. It was a trait all sexy men had, be they Doms, subs or vanilla.

  Most importantly, it couldn't be contrived, even by someone like Marius. He might be able to exaggerate it in a deliberate way, but the substance had to be there for the exaggeration to work. You might be able to fool yourself, boy, but you can't fool me. I know you want me to be turned on by you, not because you're a conceited ass, but because you want to give me pleasure.

  It might be wishful thinking, but she thought if he could let himself, he'd approach sex the way she reached for a good book. With the intent of making it a slow experience to savor, pulling her into it so the outside world became far less real than what was in the pages. A place she'd never want to leave, but when she did, it would stay with her like a memory she never wanted to lose.

  Such thoughts allowed her not only to enjoy the view, but imagine all the ways such a body could move in service to her.

  He stopped a few feet away as Regina turned and leaned against the car door, looping her keys around her fingers to clasp them in her palm. She could ask him what he was doing here, but that would assume his presence had to do with her, and he'd have to work a little harder for that opening. Instead, she nodded across the street. "Friends?"

  "Just met them. I walked over from Marguerite's to see what the game was. And because the lady, that's Mrs. Grant, she wanted to know what I was doing loitering around Marguerite's place without going in. She wanted to know if I had un-Christian thoughts in mind."

  "What did you tell her?"

  "Probably." His lips tugged. "But not the kind that would cause Marguerite or anyone here any problems."

  "Even me?" She tilted her head and watched his eyes follow the ropes of her hair where they tumbled back over her shoulder.

  He tucked a hand in one pocket, drumming the outside fingers against his upper thigh. Nervousness or pondering, she couldn't discern. He covered his emotions well. But he looked as if he might be trying to figure out the answer himself.

  Regina gestured toward Tea Leaves. "Marguerite's inside."

  "I'm here to see you." Marius met her gaze, though his tone stayed neutral. "She called me. Told me you were coming here at one o'clock and, if I wanted a chance to talk to you about things, I could wait outside and see if you were willing to talk to me when you came out. If you say no, I'm supposed to walk
away, get in my car and not bother you further."

  "Have you ever obeyed someone that cleanly and decisively?"

  He considered the question. "Not in recent memory. I get hit in the head a lot, though, so I could have lost a few instances."

  Regina glanced at her watch, telling herself she wouldn't smile. The curious thing was he hadn't, as if he hadn't meant it as a joke. Did he know how to have a sense of humor when it wasn't a deliberate attempt to charm? It was almost three, just as she'd estimated. "You've been here since one?"

  "About one-fifteen. Didn't want to interfere with your meeting, and Marguerite said not to disrupt your good mood by letting you see me on the way in." His tone was brittle at the recitation, but Regina could imagine Marguerite saying it in her acerbic way. Her lips twitched again.

  "So she ordered you to be here?"

  He shook his head. "She told me it was up to me, and you, if you wanted to talk to me. As I said."

  "You came by your own choice. That's a good step. But the rest depends on what you have to say."

  She settled against the door and leveled a cool stare on him. "You here to beg or bullshit?"

  His lips tightened. "I'm sorry about throwing the drink at you. I shouldn't have lost it like that."

  "Actually, that was the first honest response I've seen from you in some time. Though it pissed me off that you ruined the shirt. I'd looked forward to wearing it to bed that night and smelling your scent on my skin."

  He blinked. She understood his confusion. Her words suggested something far different than her distant body language. Both messages were true, however. She played no games with her subs. Men required clear-as-damn-Windex communication. Since they were used to women being confusing, though, brutal honesty from one had the added benefit of sometimes throwing them off balance. But she liked his recovery.

  "I'd have liked thinking about that. It didn't look all that ruined." He tucked both hands in his pockets and rocked, heel to toe. "Don't think it's ever looked that damn good."

  For once, it wasn't a line. He said it with an unguarded look, his wry smile almost...shy. Wasn't he a puzzle?

  "What is it you're here for, Marius?"