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Branded Sanctuary, Page 16

Joey W. Hill

Page 16


  Yes. Chloe was intrigued enough by the change of topic to answer automatically.

  So you know its a little different from most carnivals?

  Yeah. I know. She colored a little. I guess Im a little surprised you know about it, even with you being Marguerites friend. I mean, theres family closewhich means youre close, but you arent told things you wouldnt tell your momand then knowing about the carnival kind of close.

  Chloe had thought Gen and she fell more into the family definition, but things had changed since a year ago. Not just with her, but with Marguerite. The woman whod given them so little of her personal life before Tyler now cautiously gave them more glimpses of who and what she was, and they accepted it like the gift it was, protecting her privacy, which was why her initial answer to Brendan was guarded, his friendship with Marguerite notwithstanding.

  Marguerite was so involved in the planning this year, we both agreed to help her on this end of things. You know, fielding calls from caterers, dunking booth operators and other unlikely things. She cleared her throat. She handles most of the unlikely things, though.

  He pressed his lips together, perhaps against another smile, but she couldnt tell, because his expression had gotten more serious. She shifted on the hood, which was a little too warm for comfort through thin cotton. He noticed immediately. Opening the door, he gave her a hand down and guided her to take a seat in the passenger side of the Jeep. He flanked her in the open door, his hand braced on the window frame.

  Howd you feel about it, finding out that Marguerite and Tyler

  Shocked right down to my freaking painted toenails, she admitted. But then, on second thought, probably not. I dont know that much about people who practice it as bone deep as they do, you know. Marguerite hasnt really given us a seminar on her and Tylers particular brand of it, but once you have your foot in the door, you kind of start noticing things. I mean, Ive had friends who like to be spanked or tied up, in a fun way, or girlfriends who get off on a guy sweeping them off their feet and ravishing them, like a pirate in a romance novel. In fact, Lorraine, one of my college girlfriends, her boyfriend actually did that, turned our room into a ships cabin and tied her up with red sashes, and I walked in on it Chloe was stopped abruptly by Brendans mouth on hers, his lips curved even as he kissed her to a slower pace, her nervous hands now clutching his chest as his arm slid around her waist. Eventually, decades later, he lifted his head. Sorry, cant resist when you start doing that.

  So Ill shut up?

  He chuckled, the flash of his smile and the warmth in his eyes mixing with the easy desire. This is the way it was meant to be, she thought,

  what I thought I lost. A nd here it was, a gift he was easily giving her.

  No. You just make me feel lots of things, Chloe. I want to kiss you when I feel them.

  Okay, she said. What question was I answering? Oh God. If this is where you tell me you were talking about something entirely different, that you didnt know that about M, Ill have to disappear into the pavement. A nd move away, because shell kill me.

  No. I was actually hoping youd say something that blatant so Id know we were talking about the same thing. He tucked a lock of her hair behind her ear, used the excuse to play with an earring. Shed put some on today, before things had gotten strained between them. Shed been feeling better at that point. In fact, she was feeling better now.

  I guess I dont understand all of it. Ive looked online, seen some scary things, things that dont seem like Marguerite and Tyler to me at all, and yet, I understand in some way its that intense for them. Maybe its the kind of thing that feels different on the inside than it looks from the outside.

  You feel it between them, from them, you know. M said its something thats done at all levels. For some its a way to liven things up, but for others its like being gay or straight. A n undeniable orientation, down to the blood. I think its that way for them.

  She fluttered her hands in front of her, then let one land on his knee, propped in the door. His glance went to it, then to her face, and the warmth there matched what she felt beneath her palm. She had to clear her throat again. She knew she wasnt on her A -game, but honestly, shed never dated a man this beautiful and sexuallyaware. It gave a girl a permanent case of frog-in-the-throat.

  Sometimes Ive wanted to quiz M on it, take advantage of those moments when she and Gen were really coddling me to find out more. But I love her too much to exploit something like that. Ms still a really private person, and I want her to know Im her friend and respect her.

  She furrowed her brow at his fascinated expression. You look like you just discovered a talking monkey at the zoo.

  It startled him enough that he barked out a handsome laugh, making her grin. Really grin, and it was amazing how such a gesture could chase shadows away. But she managed to get herself back on target. Why are you asking about the carnival? The admission price is like ten thousand dollars a person, so if you tell me youre going, Im going to want to know what you do other than teach drama at a community college.

  The friendship with Marguerite helps, he explained vaguely. But yeah, Ill be there. Ive been authorized, for lack of a better word, to ask you to be there as well. A s Marguerites invited guest.

  Oh. Her voice drifted off, as he continued to regard her steadily. Oh.

  She knew Brendan and Marguerite had known one another as children, but she didnt know any further details than that. Whatever it was, that history had been strong enough that hed been the one who walked her down the aisle to Tyler. This moment didnt shed any further light on that; if anything, it made it more confusing. But one thing was fairly clear. Marguerite didnt invite you only because youre an old family friend, did she? Like when you invite your relative to go to a party with you because hes in town, but you really dont Chloe. His hands closed over hers. Will you come to the carnival?

  Does that have a double meaning? A significance Im missing? Suddenly she was feeling more uncertain again, because she sensed a lot of things shifting in the air around them.

  He shook his head. I would never try to trick you. Youd be coming as Marguerites guest, not mine. I justId like the chance to see you there, be with you when its appropriate. A s a guest you can do, or not do, whatever you wish.

  Chloe considered that, looked at their linked hands. I was dying to go, she confessed with a small smile. Definitely not as a participant. I dont think Im that bravebut something safe, like waitstaff or a potted plant. Ive never been to anything like that, and it was all I could do not to ask M a million questions.

  Well, now youll get to see it firsthand. Since its for the whole weekend, Marguerite said you could stay in one of her guestrooms.

  Oh? Will you be staying in a guestroom? She dared an impish look at him, and was gratified that it felt genuine to her, no shadows chasing the feeling. My guestroom?

  If you want me in your bed, you only have to tell me so, but Brendan blew out a breath, squeezed her hands. Chloe, Im going to say this straight out, okay? Im a sexual submissive. Ill be there in that capacity. Do you understand what that means?

  She stared at him several moments. Im not sure. Though her mind was going a hundred miles a minute, revisiting those websites in her mind, the hints of things. No, she didnt really understand, couldnt reconcile those graphic images with the man in front of her, the one whod taken such gentle command of their lovemaking when she was too frightened to hold the reins. But I guess youre trying to say Ill understand better if I go this weekend. Thats really why you want me there, isnt it? You asked Marguerite to invite me. Because its easier to show than explain, right?

  Marguerite is glad to have you there. But yeah, something like that. His jaw had tightened, though, as if he knew all the conflicting thoughts tumbling through her mind.

  This is a big enough part of you that you feel like I need to know it now, before we even have our first official date with dinner, flowers, et cetera, she co
ntinued slowly. Thats why you acted so weird this morning, wasnt it?

  He looked surprised that shed drawn the right conclusion, but inclined his head.

  Do you put all your potential dates through this?

  When he flinched, she blanched. Brendan, no. Oh God, I didnt mean it that way.

  No, no apologies. His poignant smile melted her insides, though the shadows in his eyes still made her wish she hadnt said it. I dont date, Chloe. Not in the traditional sense. A ll my more recent, committed relationships, and there arent many, have grown out of who I meet at my preferred club. The Zone, same as the one that Marguerite and Tyler attend. Youre the first Ive ever reached out to like this, and I know its too soon. This doesnt obligate you to anything. Honestly. He closed his hand on the Jeep window frame. Its the reason Im asking, really. I want you to know before you get too deep in, so you can decide how you want me. Im a good friend, he added. I can be. Ill be anything you need me to be, Chloe.

  She considered that, then looked full in his face, her own thoughts pushed aside as what wasnt said penetrated, disturbed her. But what about you, Brendan? What do you want for yourself?

  You come first. He shook his head, lifting her hand to his mouth, but she drew it away, giving him a sharper look.

  What do you want?

  That demand seemed to shock him, like a curious moment of déj? vu, but when he locked with her gaze, the singular intensity pulled at her and unsettled her at once. I want you to come to the carnival.

  Squaring his shoulders, he added, Id like you to see this side of me, Chloe, but Im also kind of afraid. A fraid youll be repulsed, or worse, that youll put some polite smile on and say, thats nice, and Ill never hear from you again. But I guess thats a risk I have to take. A fter all, you cant very well prove youre falling in love with someone if you dont offer up your whole self to them, right?

  She stared at him, and it was his turn to look startled with his own words. Im sorry, that was entirely unfair. Im not saying that to make you feel Stop, she said softly. He stilled as she stood. Gazing up into his face, she reached up to touch his hair, fluttering across his brow. When he lifted his hand, she shook her head. Pleasedont touch me right now.

  His hand dropped, and he swallowed. She caught the essence of something, a glimmer of understanding, intertwining with her own confused reaction to the moment. Brendan, I wish I didnt know how damn honest you are. Then I could pretend that you said that because youre afraid I wont hang out with you anymore, ride the amusement park ride until its done. But I know you are that honest. Just as I know, crazy as it sounds, that I want to hear those words, even if they make me a lot more afraid than they would have before you asked me to the carnival.