Truly helpless, p.19
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       Truly Helpless, p.19

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

  She shot him an imperious look. "What if I refuse to say it? Going to push me?"

  He lifted a shoulder. "I'll still buy you the one scoop. And hope you'll share a bite with me."

  She'd pressed the point of her chin to her shoulder to check out the ice cream cart. As she brushed her locs out of her line of sight, her weight shifted and her balance teetered. She told herself she wasn't in danger of falling, but it made her realize how easy it really might be to fall off such a narrow ledge, her grip on the rail notwithstanding. Unless her date suddenly had his arm around her waist, fingers wrapped over her hip and caught in her belt loops, his other hand firmly locked on the rail.

  "You know what?" he said. "Let's be badass on that bench over there."

  "Tired of breaking the rules?" she asked, a glint in her eyes.

  His lips twisted. "You know the answer to that better than I ever could, Mistress," he said. "Hold onto the rail with both hands until I'm back over and then I'll help you. You can do it on your own, I know, but humor me."

  Common sense told her he was right, so she waited until he was ready before she climbed the rail. She swung one leg back over and then the other so she was sitting on top of it again, only this time facing the Riverwalk. It wasn't a big hop to the ground, but he set his hands to her waist and lifted her down, a stirring sense of non-gravity she didn't get to experience that often. The man was breathtakingly strong.

  When he set her on her feet, he let her go, though she could feel the reluctance in the loosening of his grip. She would have been fine with prolonged contact. He gestured to the bench, and they strolled over, taking a seat. Fortunately, he stretched out his arm behind her, giving her a comfortable rest for her back, instead of the top edge digging into her shoulder blades. Not necessarily a come-on, but decidedly a gallant gesture.

  "You treat me like a girl."

  He gifted her with a warm look that swept over her. "You are a girl. Woman. Female, from head to toe. Is that a problem?"

  "No. I'm tall and strong, and I put off a don't-fuck-with-me vibe that seems to neutralize the chivalrous, protective side a man automatically shows to a daintier woman. Then there's the Mistress thing."

  "Does it bug you?"

  "No. I don't think about it as a pro or con. It pleases me, though, that you treat me with that kind of care and respect. Even as it makes me curious. I've watched you DM and work security. You watch out for everyone and keep them safe, with an unflappable courtesy that gives them confidence you'll protect them. Yet when a Mistress crosses the line you don't want her to cross, it all disappears. She becomes prey. The enemy."

  "Thanks for the recap. We covered that in Tyler's office, didn't we?" He removed his arm and leaned forward, linking his hands to dangle loosely between his spread knees as he stared out at the water. "Maybe you're right and I'm not all that cut out to be a sub. But you said you wanted a normal date. I know what you said about the Dom/sub stuff still being part of this, but first dates don't usually delve into that other shit." He shot her a look, remote and closed-down. "Right?"

  "No, they don't. I'll leave it alone, but I am going to say one thing. Come back up here." She met his gaze with an unflinching one of her own and tapped his shoulder, a reinforcement of the command. Barely suppressing a sigh, he sat up.

  "You know a great deal about women, Marius. There are Masters like Tyler who have that gift. Because he watches a sub so carefully on the Dom side of the equation, he can pick up any change in her mood or thinking. He works with that to connect with her, both as a woman and a submissive."

  She let a faint smile touch her lips. "Now all that artistry is directed toward one woman. But my point is that it happens because he's a man who loves and adores women. There's another kind of man like that. One who worships a woman, drinking in every detail, learning all he can so he can be what she needs. That's a male sub. Add an alpha personality to it, and there's a protectiveness over and above what a normal male sub shows, and even a beta can be pretty damn protective, like Rob."

  He grimaced. He obviously didn't want her mentioning Rob. She propped her head on her hand, her elbow on the back of the bench as she turned onto her hip toward him. Since he was still leaning forward some, she smoothed her hand down his back, curling her hand so she stroked his spine with her knuckles. He tilted his head toward his shoulder, watching her out of his peripheral vision. She drew a circle and feather-caressed everything in the center of it.

  "A good man is a good man, and that is an innate part of him, whether alpha, beta, or something else entirely. So, tell me a story of how my boy learned how to see a woman as a woman, no matter her physical appearance or how tough she seems. I know it won't be just one story that helped you get there, but tell me the first one that comes to mind."

  "Does it matter?" He turned his face back toward the water so only his voice revealed his state of mind. "You said I use it the wrong way."

  "Do you think you use it the right way?"

  "I think they want too much."

  "Well, you could tell them that. Negotiate it so everyone knows you just want a light, fluffy fuck, a little Yes, ma'am, No, ma'am role play. Then no one would ever cross the lines. All it takes is clear communication. But you keep getting yourself in situations where you say you want one thing, but you go after another, and something goes wrong."

  His fist curled on his knee, but she kept stroking his back, another calming circle. "You figure out what's going on in your head, you'll be able to be what you've always wanted to be for a woman." You might be everything she wants, too. But she kept that to herself.

  "I don't need a therapist."

  "No. You probably need a team of them." She tempered it with a smile and a friendly nudge of her shoulder that seemed to take him off balance as he glanced back at her again. "So sit back up, put your arm around me like a proper, normal date and tell me a story."

  "Does it have to be true?"

  "I'll leave that up to you."

  When he sat up and stretched his arm behind her again, she put her back against his side and her boot soles on the seat, her knees bent. Dropping her head on his shoulder, she looked up at the sky. She brought his arm across her chest, curling her hands around his forearm as his palm molded against her shoulder. Then she waited on him. As she did, she felt the rise and fall of his body from his breath, the heat of his flesh penetrating her thin shirt. His jaw brushed the top of her head as he adjusted. She closed her eyes, enjoying the position, and his cautious acceptance of it.

  "There was this girl in middle school," he said at last. "Eloise. She weighed about two hundred pounds and was tall. Short hair, and average-looking. Not pretty. She was mean. She got suspended a lot for fighting, bullying. I hadn't really hit a growth spurt, so she tried to take my lunch money one day. I didn't have any, but I didn't tell her that. I busted her nose instead, set her down on her ass, hard."

  "You were already honing your fighting skills."

  "Yeah." But there was no humor in his voice. "Later that day, I went to the place I hung out at lunch, this spot between two of the buildings where they had a bunch of old desks stacked up. It was quiet. A lot of times I took a nap beneath them instead of going back to class. It was like a tree fort. Eloise was there. I'd never seen her there before, so I figured she must have found it when looking for a place to be by herself. She was crying."

  Regina played with his fingers, stroking the rough knuckles, her gaze still on the stars. "What did you do, tough guy?"

  He paused, and his lips were closer to her head, breath moist on her scalp. She thought he was inhaling her scent and wondered if he was looking at the stars, the Riverwalk, or if he had his eyes closed. He was still, no fidgeting now.

  "I sat down next to her. She was sitting on this pallet, and I was on an old chair, so it made me taller than her. Maybe that's why I did what I did. I felt bigger, like I could protect her and make her feel better, so I hugged her. Held her. Said I was sorry and it was going to be okay."
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  Regina could see it, a gawky adolescent boy and a hulking, overweight girl, giving and receiving comfort. One of those not-so-Hallmark moments.

  "When she stopped crying, she said she was sorry, too. I noticed how soft her mouth looked, so I leaned down and kissed her. She socked me in the gut and left me wheezing."

  Regina chuckled. "Another lesson in the capriciousness of women--and the cluelessness of the hormonal male."

  "Yeah, yeah." He flicked her knuckles with his captured hand. "But she was never mean to me again. When she'd see me in the halls, sometimes she'd nod to me. I guess I figured some of it out, then. That it didn't matter that she was so much bigger and stronger physically than I was, or the way she acted... All of us have vulnerable moments, but there's this special quality to a strong woman's, in that rare second when she'll let a guy...help. Make it better. I liked being the guy who helped. It's there even when the woman's not so obviously vulnerable. The diamond in the center of a ring, if that makes sense. A gift."

  Yet he regularly shit on that gift in his sessions with Mistresses, the puzzle she had yet to figure out. She could have probed, but she'd told him she'd leave it there. Even though she knew as well as he did they were walking a tightrope over that pool.

  He was silent, and she honored that for a time. A whole conversation was going on between their fingers, tangling and untangling, stroking.

  "Do you have an opinion about me, Marius?" she asked at last.

  She adjusted her head so she was gazing into his face. It made having his arm around her closer to an embrace, increasing her awareness of the press of his biceps against the side of her throat. The flicker in his gaze said he'd noticed, but the crease in his brow said he was puzzling over her question. She explained further.

  "I'm not fishing for a canned answer or compliments. It's an exercise I do with my engineers to help them step out of their heads and evaluate human behavior. When we meet someone, we form an opinion. In every subsequent encounter, that opinion is reinforced or changed. However, at any point in time, you'll have one opinion that defines that person for you, like a label or tag. It's how we classify and structure our relationships. Well, not entirely, but engineers can be such linear thinkers, it's a good way to help them learn how to integrate social skills with tech-speak."

  She gestured to the people walking by. "Like that man over there with the cigar and the beer belly? Statement: Health crisis waiting to happen and doesn't give a shit, because he's at the age he wants to enjoy his pleasures in life--until a heart attack happens. Then he'll clean up his act for a few months before going right back to the same behavior because he wants what he wants."

  She nodded in a different direction. "That teenager at the smoothie vendor? Pretty but doesn't know it. Insecure but stronger in her individuality than she realizes."

  She glanced at Marius. "So, what's your opinion of me? Good or bad; doesn't matter."

  He shook his head. "That's a female trap if ever I heard one. If you don't like what you hear, you'll pitch me over the rail."

  She chuckled. "I'm not like most women. Your opinion of me isn't going to change mine about myself. You don't have that kind of power over me. It's an exercise. So tell me."

  He settled back more, a sprawled pose that made letting her hand fall into a resting position on his thigh a natural decision. His fingertips curled against her shoulder, an arrested caress.

  "Could I ever have that kind of power?" He spoke quietly, keeping his gaze on her hand.

  He wasn't as concerned about her question as the qualifier. It touched her. Even as she warned herself to stay on topic, she had to give him an honest answer. "When you stop abusing it, anything's possible."

  "I think you're attracted to lost souls." His gray eyes became more opaque, and she sensed tension in his leg. "That's my opinion."

  "Does that bug you?" she asked.

  He lifted his shoulder, a non-answer, but he dropped his head back and looked up at the sky. "Angels are attracted to lost souls. To guide them. Guess that's their job, if you believe in angels."

  She was amused. "Honey, I'm no angel. And with no aspirations in that direction."

  His eyes swiveled to her, his head still resting in its recumbent position. "Lucifer is an angel. And he does take care of lost souls."

  She faced him again, her hip on the bench and her cross-legged position allowing her to run her foot teasingly down his shin. Because she propped her elbow on the back of the bench, inside the span of his stretched-out arm, she felt his biceps flex against her when he captured some of her locs in his hand. "I think Mrs. Grant was right about those un-Christian thoughts of yours," she said.

  "Maybe." He did something with a small handful of her locs, released them, then did it again. She realized he was winding them around his wrist. Her Domme cravings, already on low simmer with such an intriguing submissive under her fingertips, sparked to flame.

  "Sometimes I wonder if it's not as bad as people think," he said. "Maybe Hell's for those who feel good stuff is too bright. They couldn't figure out how to let that kind of light in during their lives, so Lucifer's job is to help them out. In Hell, they can let in light a little at a time, until it doesn't hurt so much or make them angry. Then it can burn all the bad stuff away."

  His brow still had that thoughtful crease she wanted to tease with her lips. She let her fingertips slide across it, under the strands of his dark hair. "Why would good things make people angry?"

  His opposite knee, the one she wasn't touching, twitched as if tapped by a doctor's mallet. "I don't know. But it does. Maybe because they can see it but not feel it. The sun is like fluorescent light, no heat or substance to it. They don't feel the qualities everyone else says are there. So those people need hellfire for light to seem real, and to finally feel warm." His lips tugged. "Even if it hurts like hell."

  "You don't feel any heat from the sun, hmm?" Despite the emotions his words raised inside her, she said it teasingly, reminding him with the pointed comment what she'd said about being the sun.

  "You're different. I did compare you to Lucifer, after all," he said. Removing his arm from behind her, he grasped her hand on his thigh. A well-trained sub like Rob would have waited for her to approve contact each time, unless she gave him a specific, open-ended directive. Whereas once encouraged to do so, Marius hadn't hesitated to continue to make that kind of contact.

  She'd given him tacit permission to treat this like a date. Yet she didn't think it would have mattered. It was a core difference in the type of subs they each were, and it didn't displease her. She appreciated Rob, but was admittedly quite drawn to some of Marius's less disciplined qualities. Except when they led to him being more self-destructive.

  She also noticed Marius either hadn't caught or had let pass her decision to make his analogy more personal, referencing him as one of those who had trouble feeling the light...and dealing with anger.

  As their fingers interlaced, she felt the coarseness of his knuckles and palm, the heat and strength of his grip. He nodded to the ice cream stand. "Ready to tell me I'm dreamy?"

  "With fluttering lashes, clasped hands and everything." Managing the wiseass remark was an effort, given how much was going through her head. He hadn't been bullshitting her with his unexpected evaluation of Hell. Yes, he was clever and manipulative, but when he was giving her total honesty, he spoke slower, in a more measured way.

  Truth wasn't easy or quick for him.

  She chose a scoop of chocolate. He went with root beer, a hideous combination in her opinion. Until he put the two flavors together on a spoon and convinced her to taste. Then she was sure of it.

  She ate every bit of hers, avoiding the connecting point between the two scoops so he could have that distasteful part. She noticed his amusement when she licked the spoon clean.

  "I have to pay for every calorie with blood and sweat in Lyda's insane fitness class. Which should be called the You-Are-Paying-Me-To-Kill-You work out. I torture myself there
three times a week."

  "Yeah, I've heard about it." He took cup and spoons from her and threw it all away before they wandered back toward the rail. "She doesn't like me much."

  "Can you blame her?"

  "No. Not really. What I said that day, in Tyler's office, about it not being my fault that Mistresses get in over their heads. She's not one of those. But I shouldn't have said that anyway."

  It was an unexpected admission, but she accepted it with a neutral expression. "No, you shouldn't have. But you were still pretty wound up from the scene. Makes a person stupid. You needed more aftercare to calm you down."

  He picked up on the direction of her thoughts with unsettling accuracy. "It wasn't your fault."

  "No. But if I could do it again, I would have stepped in and told Alex that you needed more defusing time before seeing Tyler."

  "You would have had to be my Mistress to have that authority."

  "Yes, I would have," she agreed, meeting and holding his gaze.

  "I don't know if that would have made any difference," he said, looking back out at the water. A shrimp trawler was trundling past, coming in from a late night out on the ocean. "I don't really need a lot of aftercare. Just toss me a towel and a bottle of water. Not really into the cuddling, nurturing shit."

  "That night, hair of the dog would have been my choice," she said. "Tie you down to a spanking bench, take you with a strap-on. Give you a brisk rub down after you'd come a couple times. Your testosterone was running way too high and you still had too many knots inside you. Just because you put off the tough guy vibes doesn't mean you don't need extensive aftercare. It probably means you need more, when the session's done right."

  She made the words casual, matter-of-fact, but felt his intent stare come back to her as they leaned against the rail together, hip to hip, shoulder to shoulder. When he didn't say anything, she turned to look at him. He didn't smile, studying her hard enough to pierce blood and bone. His eyes reflected a need so strong she wanted to reach out and touch him, but she quelled it, especially when he straightened, his expression shuttering.

  "I don't want to be put under a microscope, by you or anyone else."

  He pivoted and walked away from her. He didn't seem in a hurry; he just needed to be away. Even though it was an effort, she let him go. She went back to studying the movement of light on the water, crossing her arms on the rail and propping her upper body against them to make her viewing more comfortable.