Truly helpless, p.17
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       Truly Helpless, p.17

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

  He shrugged with his usual cocky assurance, but his eyes were twinkling in an unguarded way, a surprised reaction to her ebullience. "Didn't I say a guy never revealed his sources?" Handing her the tickets to hold, he opened the passenger door with a flourish. "First, we'll get dinner at a great Lebanese place I know, then we'll hit the concert. Polish off things with a stroll on the Riverwalk before I drop you back off at your car."

  "Okay. Sounds good." Actually, the Lebanese place gave her pause, since she was a Southern comfort food kind of girl, but she'd charged him with planning the date, and she'd see where it went. He'd pretty much already put it over the top with the tickets. She could handle a little foreign food.

  "One more 'this is awesome' reaction." She did an impromptu hip hop dance that surprised another grin out of him. "Fair warning, I may throw my underwear up on stage."

  He held up both hands. "Just don't expect me to do it. I'm not wearing any."

  She snorted on another laugh and put a hand on his arm, letting her palm slide along it as she folded her long body into the seat. The car was still as clean as she'd noted at The Zone, and he'd put a flat black cushion over the duct tape repair on her side so she was comfortable. Unlike in a lot of older cars, the door didn't squeak when he closed it. Clean and well-maintained.

  She appreciated that combination. As he moved around the hood, all snug jeans, obvious muscles and steely gray eyes, strong chin and a fantastic ass, she decided she liked it a lot.

  The Lebanese place was a cross between deli and diner, with a large horseshoe display case in the center of the room displaying a sampling of all their foods, desserts and carryout options. The hostess showed them to a corner table in the back and Marius held Regina's chair for her. As she perused the menu with a faint frown between her brows, he touched the top of it. "Have you eaten Lebanese food before?"

  She shook her head. "This will be a first."

  "May I order for both of us?"

  Her gaze slid to his and she set her menu aside, folding her arms on the table. "Yes. Since you asked so prettily. But I don't like a lot of weird flavors, and I fall on the mild to medium end of hot and spicy."

  His lips quirked. "I'd argue with that."

  She made a face at him. "Order my food."

  "Your wish is my command." He gestured to the waiter. As she watched, he ordered a selection of what sounded like mostly appetizers. Should she tell him to knock it off, the flirty D/s references? Maybe not. It was a part of who they were. Maybe he was treating it like that because he was nervous. She saw signs of that, in the way he put his hand on the table, down below it, then back up again to tap a finger against the table top, an unconscious tic. The intent of the date was to take him out of his comfort zone. So far it appeared to be working. Though he might not see that as an appealing thing, it wasn't his wishes that would matter tonight. Hers would take care of both of them.

  After the waiter left them, he flattened his palm against the table, as if realizing the reveal. "So is it okay to ask questions like we would on a normal date?"

  She took a sip of the ice water the waiter had left her. She might have ordered a beer or wine, but she wanted her head sharp and clear tonight. Marius had stuck with water, but he was on a fifty-dollar budget. When he had that occasional beer he'd mentioned, she expected he was a Budweiser guy. "Why wouldn't it be?"

  "Privacy is an issue for most folks at the club. We don't usually ask what anyone does for a living, or about family or where we live, unless someone volunteers the information."

  "True." She leaned against her crossed arms again. His gaze slid over her breasts and the interesting effect on them under the sparkling shirt. When he noticed her noticing, his smile became even more male.

  "Like you said, no reason not to look. I want the woman I'm with to know she's appreciated."

  "Well, her tits at least," Regina said dryly. He toasted her with the water, not denying it, and she shook her head at him. "So are those the kind of things you want to know about me? What I do for a living?"

  He shrugged. "Small talk. It's what you do on a date, right? Figure out more about each other, the surface stuff that breaks the ice and gets us that much closer to sex."

  She chuckled, though he didn't appear to mean it as a joke. "You think that's all it's about?"

  "Mostly. Some people want to get to know one another ahead of time, but you can watch them and see the hope for sex is in the driver's seat."

  "They could be interested in each other and want to have sex. They're not mutually exclusive."

  He looked doubtful. "Even if that's true, until the sex is out of the way, it's hard to get to that."

  "Sounds like they're rushing instead of savoring. We may have childlike impulses, but we're not children. Weaving deeper things into the sexual slows things down, while holding onto the promise of more intimacy, making it better when it's finally the right time." She let her attention course over his face and shoulders, the set of his hands on the table. How he wore his clothes, the things happening in his face. "I look at you and imagine a whole list of things I'd order you to do for me, in bed and out. Lay out the nightgown I want to wear, turn down the bed. Kneel by it while I read. Climb in between my legs when I'm ready, burrow under the covers and eat my pussy until I come."

  Her itemizing commanded his full attention, and what pleased her was that the entire list drew his interest, confirming her suspicions about his desire to provide both service and pleasure to his Mistress. Leaning forward farther, she ran a thumb over his bottom lip. When he started to part them, she shook her head, pleased when he listened and remained still under her hand. The man had such a mouth. She indulged herself a heartbeat before she sat back and continued. "But a whole lot more than that interests me. Else I wouldn't be here tonight. Anticipation and savoring tell us things about one another, so when sex does happen, it's even better."

  He took a swallow of his water and set it down. Rotated it with his fingers tented on the top of the glass, as if he had too much nervous energy to stay still. "You're not bad at delivering a line yourself, Mistress."

  She blinked once. "I think it's easier for it to be about the sex for you, Marius. You spend a lot of energy not being straight with others, but you won't assume the same about me."

  His eyes went to that quick frost, which he quickly masked behind indifference and a placating spread of his hands. He sat back in the chair, hooking his arm over the empty one next to him. "All I'm saying is a fun fuck has its place. It can get you through the week, with none of the emotional stuff dragging you down. Will he call, will she call, what's the relationship going to be..."

  "You've had experience with that?" But he sounded so detached from the process, she wasn't surprised when he shook his head.

  "I watch other guys go through it. It's kind of pointless if all they want is to give their dick a workout. I think they figure it's just part of the burden of dealing with women. Though sometimes they find a woman that feels the same way a guy does about it."

  "Maybe some of us start out wanting to give our gonads a work out, but then we stumble over something deeper we like," she pointed out. "That's why we go back for more, with future dates."

  "Yeah, it happens that way for some guys. It even works out for some of them."

  "But not you?"

  "I haven't really gone down that path." He shifted forward and started rotating the water glass again.

  She dropped her hand over his. "Stay still," she said quietly. "Keep your eyes on the table."

  His thick lashes had started to flick upwards, but at her command, he kept them fanned over his cheeks. She moved her foot so the toe of her boot pressed on his shoe, where his leg was bouncing in a staccato against the table base, making it vibrate. "Still. No fidgeting with your Mistress."

  The leg stopped, but his voice took on that flat tone that she was starting to realize was the lid on a simmering cauldron. "I thought this was a normal date." His fingers half curled beneath hers
, knuckles pressing up into her palm.

  "It is. But as you aptly pointed out, there are things that run beneath the surface of every conversation, no matter how we dress them up. You're a fulltime sub, Marius. And you know I don't ever stop being a Mistress. So when I notice something that needs adjustment to help your 'normal date' skills, I won't let it pass. Be. Still."

  The leg had started to move again, but it stopped with a jerk. She closed her eyes and tuned in to the rise and fall of his breath, uneven, erratic, and the steady cadence of her own, though her heart might be tripping an extra beat as he responded to her.

  Did he realize what a step that was? He could have set her back with another quip, but instead, he'd reacted to the command automatically. It had been a long time since he'd interacted with a woman outside the scene. A man made such a decision intentionally, with the result that his social skill set diminished. She could integrate some of the structure he understood to help him stay out of trouble. Mostly. She hid a smile at the thought. Even if the boy wasn't fucked up in the head, he'd be a handful. He wanted a Mistress who could hand him his ass whenever he needed it. Whether he realized it or not.

  He was a lot of wild, chaotic energy. She'd always liked standing in the middle of a storm.

  "You can look up now." She took her hand away and picked up the previous thread of the conversation. "You asked what I do for a living. I consult for engineers and tech people. Sometimes it's guidance for a current project, but lately it's been free form thinking."

  "Free form thinking?"

  She smiled. He wanted to sound sullen, but she could tell he was curious. He was also calmer, less twitchy. "Engineers and tech people have very rigid thinking processes. It comes from how they're trained in college. They might be able to write programs or design systems that would boggle our minds, but they can't break it down for lay people. And they have very little mechanical or improvisational skills, unless they had them before they went through their formal education. I reintroduce them to those concepts and how to apply them to their work and interacting with clients and non-engineer coworkers."

  He nodded, his expression becoming more closed. "Were you one of them? Engineer?"

  "Still am. I have a mechanical engineering degree from Georgia Tech. I also have a teaching degree. I went to work out of college for a big corporation, but then I was hired away by a consulting firm they'd brought in to teach what I do now. Usually I travel a lot to do my job, but I've agreed to a two-year contract with the community college as part of their corporate resource program."

  His fingers crumpled the napkin, though he stilled again at her look. "Sounds like you're used to the corner office set. Good thing this is all about using one another. Otherwise I'd say you get off on slumming."

  She lifted a brow. "You think you're being insulting, but if all that mattered to you was using me to get back into The Zone, our class differences wouldn't bother you."

  Unrolling her fork from her napkin, she twirled it in her fingertips, and then brought it down in a swift movement against the top of his hand, still flat on the table. She didn't stab him; merely pressed the tines against the series of veins running from his knuckles to his wrist. She increased the pressure while holding his gaze, which had gone steely gray. He could reach over with his other hand and remove the utensil, brush her away, but he didn't. His acting out against her seemed to have self-imposed boundaries, which also interested her.

  "You know what I want in a man, Marius? It's a short list. One who's honest, and who uses his head and follows his heart when it comes to caring for and serving me."

  "That's not a long list."

  "It has the only things that matter on it." Setting aside the fork, she laced her fingers on the table. "Any other questions?"

  His jaw flexed. "Any kids, husband, exes?"

  "No. None of those. I'm very particular about who shares my space. While I haven't ruled out the idea of children, a husband is a far harder choice, and I won't have one without the other. I'm a traditionalist that way. You?"

  "No." He scoffed, taking a swallow of his water. She tilted her head. "Do I seem like the type of guy interested in offering anything to a woman other than my dick? And a guy they call 'Rabid' isn't at the top of a list to play father to a kid."

  "I'd argue just the opposite. I think you're very interested in offering your heart and life to a woman. You just have a lot of crap piled on top of the desire. And you'd use those 'rabid' instincts of yours to tear apart anyone who hurt her or any of your children."

  She'd hit a serious nerve. His gaze flicked to her, showing her an odd flash of vulnerability before something far harder replaced it.

  "Give the floor to Dr. Phil," he said. "Turning something that isn't a problem into one. What I want from a woman is an even shorter list. Want to hear it?"

  She pinned him with a cold expression. "Resort to crudeness, and I'll slap your ear through your head. If you think Mommy won't spank your ass in front of everyone in this restaurant, I'd think again."

  His lips parted, a baring of teeth. While his eyes fired in challenge, she let him see nothing in her own but resolve. After a weighted moment, he shut his mouth, his jaw flexing before he spoke.

  "I only want one thing from a woman. That she doesn't ask for more than I'm willing to give. It's only when she does she gets herself into trouble."

  "Kind of like the person who sticks their hand into a tiger's cage and then gets outraged that she gets bitten?"

  "Got it in one." He attempted a casual shrug with tense shoulders. "Maybe we should stick with talking about you."

  She extended her palm. "Let me see your hand."

  His visage turned wary, but he put his hand palm-to-palm with hers and then deliberately moved farther up to clasp her wrist in a firm hold. It allowed her to do the same with his, so she ignored the impertinence for now.

  "You're as mercurial as a bulb with a short," she observed. She stroked her fingertips over his pulse. It was pounding, a hard current. "But you know what I could be for you, Marius? The sun. Doesn't matter what kind of clouds your bullshit kicks up. My job is to bring light. Make things grow, keep you warm, tell you there's something more than darkness."

  Her gaze held his. "You're not quite being the asshole you think you are, because most of what's coming out of your mouth is honest. And that's what I want. But if you want to keep pushing toward the asshole side to make this date be over, you can save the effort and say so."

  "What about the concert?" he asked.

  "You'll let me keep the tickets so I can find someone else to go with me tonight. I know that, because you want to be good to me. You just can't get out of your own head. So what about it? You want it to be over?"

  She didn't bring up The Zone ultimatum. He wanted back into The Zone, but that night in Tyler's office, he'd shown he would set fire to his own interests to protect deeper things. While him getting back into The Zone wasn't the main reason she was doing this, she knew whatever they were confronting now was one of the big hurdles to it.

  The waiter arrived as the decision hung in the balance. From the picture hanging at the entrance, she identified the handsome Lebanese man as one of the owner's sons. In the way of a well-run family restaurant, he was proprietary and proud of the food he arranged between her and Marius. Spinach puffs and spicy potatoes, a bowl of soup, a basket of fresh pita and a trio of shawarma meats on small steel spits.

  "If anything isn't excellent," he declared, "you let us know and we'll fix it."

  "Thank you." As she smiled at him, her focus lingered for an extra second on olive skin, broad shoulders and dark, dark eyes.

  The waiter hesitated but then nodded, backing away. He bumped the table behind him, fortunately empty, before he recovered his balance and strode away.

  She brought her gaze to their food. "So where do I start?" she asked. "And do we ask for a to-go bag for you?"

  "Maybe you'd like to take him to the concert?" Marius asked in a tone that brou
ght to mind an ill-tempered wolf.

  Regina propped her elbows on the table and rested her chin on her hands. "Would you like to know what I saw when I was looking at him?"

  "No."

  She ignored him. "When a man catches my eye outside the club scene, it's rarely because I'm interested in pursuing him. He's another page in a book of inspirations when I imagine what I want to do to my subs. For instance, in that blink of contact with him, I imagined myself stretched out on a white sand beach on Cyprus. You're one of my slaves captured from foreign lands. You come to me and kneel beside my lounge chair, holding a tray of dried fruits, nuts and candies over your head so I can pick what I want to eat. I enjoy all your bare skin, because my slaves wear only a short tunic. Nothing under it, of course."

  Reaching out, she slid a fingertip along Marius's neck. "I take my time making my choices, and your arms start to quiver. You say nothing, so determined to please your Mistress. But I know when enough is enough and tell you to put it down beside you. I tie your hands behind your back and order you to pick up each piece of food I want in your mouth. You must come and drop it into my hand, or place it between my lips, without getting yourself in trouble by trying to make that close contact into an actual kiss." Her gaze coursed over him. "I expect you'd try very hard to get into trouble, though."

  Those eyes of his were like a mood barometer. Silver for anger, defiance, confusion. When he was aroused, like now, the blue in his eyes became more pronounced, the pupils even more dark in contrast. His lips firmed. She sensed something in him had both relaxed and become more tense at once.

  "That's my purpose in appreciating our waiter," she said. "I like who I'm with tonight, Marius."

  She noticed he'd shifted his hand closer. "What do you want to touch, Marius? One thing."

  "Your hair." The response was instant, surprising her. When she nodded, he lifted his callused palm to her shoulder, and closed his grip around the fall of slender locs there, fingers stroking, testing the way they felt before he released them, and drew his hand back to his side of the table.

  "I'd suggest the potatoes first," he said abruptly. "You can use your fingers if you like. Sometimes it's better that way."