Truly helpless, p.27
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       Truly Helpless, p.27
 

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

  Lyda was right. She hadn't realized how much she needed it until it was happening. Regina had invested herself deeply in Marius, and last night's encounter would have hit max red zone on anyone's stress meter. But she was such a powerhouse of Type A and get-it-done, she rarely noticed such a drain until it hit her in the face like a brick wall. This was a much nicer way to become aware of it, and replenish that energy.

  She took a deep breath, inhaling a welcome combination of sweaty male and earth, and let her head rest on his shoulder. In time, she slid her arms around him to give him some of the same energy back as thanks. His body was solid, a lot of firm muscle, all the best of what the human male animal was supposed to be.

  "Grab his ass and I will cut your hands off at the wrists."

  With her usual insight, Lyda knew exactly when Regina had what she needed and the melding of spirits could separate into two people again. Regina smiled at Noah as he stepped back, sliding his hands down her arms with affection. She noted he assessed her state much as Lyda had. While it was from a different perspective, he didn't miss the marks either.

  "Anybody I need to kill?" he asked lightly, though his eyes said he wasn't joking.

  "Maybe Marius," his Mistress responded, taking a seat on another stool while she sipped from a bottle of water. "But we'll see. He's a work-in-progress."

  Noah's fingertips touched Regina's neck, a gentle and unsanctioned contact, but the concern in his eyes eliminated those boundaries and made it allowable. "Hmm."

  Lyda arched a brow. "Some thoughts about him you want to share, Noah?"

  "He's messed up. More than usual if he did this. Normally, if you stay within his boundaries, he gives a hundred percent."

  The dual stare from two formidable Mistresses, apparently warned Noah that his words had sounded like an admonishment. Regina bit back a smile as he spread out his hands in a placating gesture. "I didn't mean that you should have stayed in those boundaries. I meant that he used to give a hundred percent within them. He's changed."

  Regina lifted a shoulder. "His boundaries played it safe, kept him from being the sub he really wants to be. The strain of that is starting to collapse inward on him. I want to change that."

  Noah glanced toward his Mistress. "Must be a thing with uber-Dommes."

  "Any complaints?" Lyda asked, a gleam in her eye.

  "No, Mistress," he said, and dropped to one knee beside her, touching the leg of her jeans. "But it's not playing it safe."

  "Safe is boring."

  A smile touched his lips. Noah shifted his gaze back to Regina.

  "Marius is the kind of friend who'd help move a couch or give someone a ride across the state to visit their sick mom," he added. "Without asking for anything in return. But sometimes I think that's because he doesn't want anyone to have a road inside of him, and letting people help you does that."

  Lyda slid the tail of his thick hair through her fingers, tugging. He glanced up at her, a rueful look crossing his face, then brought his attention to Regina again.

  "He's been interested in you for some time, Lady Regina. But it wasn't until about eight months ago he asked me about you. I think he wanted to see if I knew more than what he'd picked up from watching you before then."

  Well, didn't that just make her pulse flutter?

  Lyda dipped inside the collar of Noah's T-shirt to caress damp flesh. "Did I tell you that you could put your shirt back on?" she asked.

  "No, Mistress." Staying on his knees, he stripped the garment off with a pleasurable flow of rippling muscle, folded it and handed it to her. Lyda set it next to the flat of plants. "Though I didn't want to get Lady Regina's clothes damp from my sweat," he offered politely.

  "A courteous thought, but hindsight, since you didn't know you'd be hugging her. You were anticipating, being modest with what belongs to me. You know I've gotten irritable when some of our customers enjoy looking at you too much."

  "Yes." His gaze swept down, a light smile on his firm lips. "My Mistress isn't always in a sharing mood."

  Regina grinned as Lyda shot her an oh-shut-up face.

  "And who could blame her?" Regina said. "If it's all right with your Mistress, I'd like to know what you told Marius, Noah. When he asked about me."

  Noah's body gravitated toward his Mistress as she stroked his bare shoulder, a tacit approval for him to speak. "Not in these exact words, but I warned him if he tried to fuck with your head, you'd grind him into hamburger. That you didn't give an inch in letting a sub play with your emotions. I've never seen you lose control of a scene or not stay a couple steps ahead of your submissives. Ever."

  Pleased by the compliment and, because she knew Lyda would be okay with it, Regina leaned forward and squeezed Noah's other shoulder. Lyda dipped down to brush her lips over Noah's while cradling his jaw. His sun-browned hand rose and closed gently over her wrist, stroking her knuckles.

  His attitude toward Regina was respectful and affectionate. What shone from the dark brown irises he fixed upon Lyda was adoration. Love. He saw Lyda's dark and light corners, and embraced all of them, as she had his.

  Seeing it, Regina ached, and that ache conjured a series of pictures in her mind of Marius. She missed him. Maybe she should have kept him chained in her playroom.

  "That'll be all, Noah," Lyda said. "Get back to work."

  "Sure thing, Mistress." He grinned at her, teasing her knee with long fingers before obeying, earning a swat. The two women watched him jump the two steps back to the ground and stride back toward the truck.

  "He's a treasure," Regina observed. "I should have groped his ass. You wouldn't have cut off my hands."

  "Try me," Lyda said dryly. "So, feel better?"

  "I do." Regina tossed her an amused look. "I'd keep him around for the hugs alone. The great ass, energetic cock and irresistible banquet of submissive traits are just bonuses."

  Lyda took another swallow of water, studying her. "I think you were wrong, what you said earlier about me having two of what you have none. I think you do have a sub."

  "Yeah, maybe." Regina sobered. "You're my sanity check, Lyda. Anything sending up flags?"

  "Oh, hell yeah. But they're the same flags you're seeing clearly enough." Lyda shook her head. "You're one of the steadiest, strongest and most responsible Dommes I know. You're also a balanced, independent woman with no self-esteem issues, a freaking miracle in this world. You don't let anyone fuck with your compass. If it tells you that you're on the right track, I have to believe you are. Though I admit, I'm worried about you. And ticked at him for screwing with what could be the best thing that ever happened to him."

  Having two of the Dommes she most respected give her an almost identical vote of confidence bolstered her as much as Noah's hug. Lyda wiped her hands on a towel and rose to stand before Regina, surprising her when she gripped both Regina's hands. Lyda didn't normally indulge sentimental gestures, any more than Marguerite did.

  "I'm also pissed at him for hurting my friend and upsetting her," the woman added.

  Regina shook her head. "You know I'll be fine. All part of the process. It's hard to break me."

  "Yes, it is. Impossible. But scars are a different matter." She touched Regina's neck and stroked the bruising, a caress that conveyed her awareness of a woman's sexual potential as well as comfort. "If there's anything I'd ping you about, it was taking him home last night without a spotter. That's where your emotions took the upper hand on your good sense. You knew better."

  "Yeah, I did. But sometimes you take a chance on the emotions. I got my foot in the door, Lyda. Booby-trapped and damn heavy as it was, I got in."

  Lyda pursed her attractive lips. "I know the rush of that. But next time he puts a finger on you that you haven't sanctioned, you put his ass down, hard. You make it clear you have a zero-tolerance policy for that bullshit."

  "Yes, ma'am," Regina said soberly, then let a smile break through. "I did that, both times. Whereas you just think you're a badass, I actually am one. I might ev
en be enough Mistress to need two subs one day. If you ever get tired of Noah."

  "Yeah. Said no woman ever." Lyda let her own smile show, a baring of fangs.

  "Well, he's safe from me for now. Marius is two handfuls."

  "It's more than that. You're a one-sub woman. I know you've been keeping an eye out for the right one, on that subconscious level that sends up an alarm when a potential candidate comes along. And Marius is ringing all those bells."

  "Yeah. Hell of a bell ringer."

  Lyda chuckled. "It's never easy when it's worth it. But it's been a long time coming. I hope he doesn't break your heart."

  "You and me both. But I've had my heart broken before. It mends." Regina recaptured one of Lyda's elegant hands and laced fingers with the other Domme, indulging in a flirty rock back and forth of contact. "And now I know where to go to get the kind of hugs and friends that help with that."

  When she left Lyda's, she saw she had a message from Tyler. Call me.

  Frowning, she dialed his cell and turned out onto the rural highway leading away from Lyda's corner of the world. "Were your ears burning?" she asked when he answered. "Lyda and I were just talking about your overabundance of testosterone."

  "I count myself fortunate not to be present for any discussion between two Dommes that involve my testicles." He chuckled. The sound eased her mind about the purpose of his call, though that reaction reversed course when he got right to his reason for calling.

  "Thanks to some of the fallout on this thing with Siren, I had to do some more digging on Marius, but you can't share the info with anyone else, even him. It came from a sealed juvie file and I don't want my source's ass in the fire. Can you agree to that?"

  "If you think I need to hear it, of course." Anticipating the gravity of what he had, she pulled into a convenience store and parked facing a field. Her attention was caught by a cluster of starlings swooping in formation amid the long grasses. She made herself loosen her grip on the wheel.

  "He was arrested on nine counts of animal cruelty when he was eleven."

  "What?" Based on what she knew of him thus far, she'd been expecting an assault charge. Her mind darted through possibilities as quickly as the starlings' movements. She didn't want an answer to her next question, but she asked it. "What did he do to them?"

  "The police report said they were mutilated, likely tortured to death. They caught him burying one of the bodies, and dug up eight others in the same location. Cats and kittens mostly. A couple dogs."

  His voice had gotten tight as he relayed the information. She understood why. On one thing, Tyler wasn't hard to read. How seriously he took his responsibility to protect those who were his.

  "No. It doesn't make sense." She shook her head. "What he did to Siren and the others...he didn't lift a finger against them. It was vicious mindfucking, yes, but still mindfucking. He didn't physically hurt anyone."

  He fought other fully grown men for money, and to spill off aggression with likeminded parties. She'd tripped his triggers, such that things had become a little crazy during an intense session. Both of those things, no matter how inadvisable or over the top, were a far cry from goddamn hurting a puppy. The man who'd shielded her face from a falling vase and carried her out of the hallway to protect her feet from broken glass didn't have that in him.

  "Did he plead guilty to it?" she asked.

  "According to the report, he was mute through the entire process. The court attorney assigned to him got him mandatory counseling sessions and community service. The counselor reports say he did the same thing for the first couple sessions. Nothing. Not a word. Then he spouted all the usual teenage rhetoric. How he often felt different, frustrated by his differences, and he felt really badly about the animals and wanted to do better."

  "He started learning how to use the charm early."

  "Yeah. They cut him loose. Nothing after that point."

  A headache was starting, stabbing behind her eyes like tiny daggers. "Tyler, I promise you, it's wrong. I don't know what happened, or why, but it doesn't fit. You have nothing to feel guilty about, hiring him for The Zone. The file was sealed, anyway."

  "Yeah." He sighed. "My source had to relay it to me from memory, so I couldn't get any details on parentage or other clues. Maybe the answer's there."

  "So you believe me?"

  "Yes." And the more relaxed tone in his voice confirmed it, though she remembered Marguerite's gentle teasing about his God complex and knew he'd probably still rake himself over the coals for it. "My source agreed with you, which also helps," he continued. "She thought whoever harmed the animals had all the marks of a serial killer in training. Marius is good at masking, but not that good. And he's smart, but he's not a genius. I can anticipate and outthink him, and so can you."

  Yes. But he still could surprise her. And had, several times, in both tender and sensual ways. "Okay. Thanks for the info. It may not have a matching piece in the puzzle yet, but it's another piece, and that's something."

  "How's it going? Or would you prefer not to share yet?"

  "Well, he invited me to meet his dad. Then promptly rescinded the invitation. Probably because his dad lives up in Raiford. But I'm thinking of taking a couple days off and going." Especially now.

  "Raiford?" Tyler's tone sharpened. "That's where Florida State Prison is. The town would pretty much disappear if it wasn't there."

  Eleven years old... The picture that formed in her mind was ugly, which summoned Marguerite's words about his childhood. It's a place that holds no safety for him.

  "Okay." Her nails drummed the steering wheel. Tap, tap, tap. Tap, tap, tap. "Since we're violating his privacy, I have another question about him. Where does he live, Tyler?"

  "I can give you the last address we had on file. He's moved several times in recent months. When Alex told me Marius was living at a Salvation Army men's shelter, I offered to help him find a better place to live, but around that time, he told me he'd found a new place. That's where he is now, far as I know. A basement room rented by a woman supplementing her social security."

  "Care to share that address?"

  "Thought you'd never ask." After he gave it to her, he paused. It made her smile a little, knowing what was coming and hearing it in the same breath. "You being safe, Mistress?"

  "Not entirely. He'll only hurt me in the ways I allow to happen, though. Trust me."

  "I do. But I also know you. Have you talked to Lyda?"

  "Are you freaking psychic?"

  He chuckled, a warm, masculine sound. "Sometimes, according to Marguerite. Glad to hear you ladies touched base. Let me know if you need my help in any way."

  "You know it. And same to you." The BDSM community was tight-knit and supportive. One of the many things she liked about it.

  Learning the flavor and shape of a new sub had always been another favorite part of her life in the BDSM world. With Marius, it had gone beyond that. She didn't want just those elements. She wanted the very soul of why he was as he was. She wanted to bring that soul into her service.

  She just hoped she was prepared to handle what the core problem was and turn it into something that would work, for her and Marius both.

  "Duncan's not there. He's gone for the next few days."

  At the sound of a reedy voice, Regina looked up the concrete steps that had brought her from street level to the basement apartment door. At the top of a second set of stairs, the ones to the stoop of the house's front porch, a desiccated-looking black woman stood in a lavender house coat and fleecy thick knee socks. Her steel wool hair was tucked beneath a shower cap.

  "Oh. Thank you. Are you his landlady?"

  "I am. Volula Jones. He's not in any trouble, is he? I know they always say this kind of thing, but Duncan is a very good boy. A sweet boy. Does all sorts of things here I never asked him to do. Brings in my mail, rolls out the trash, keeps the hedges trimmed. Even does repairs. He keeps to himself, doesn't bring in any loud friends or loose women."

  He
r wrinkled expression creased even more deeply as she looked Regina up and down. "He's a good boy, but you look way out of his league, honey."

  "That may be true, but the best players always start in the minors, don't they?" Regina smiled up at her when the woman cackled. "Do you know when he'll be back?"

  "He didn't say. Which is kind of strange for him. He usually lets me know. Just said he had to go out of town for a few days and might be a little while coming back. Left me money for this month's rent, though, so I'm sure he'll be back before the next payment's due. He's never been late."

  A rippling of the housecoat hem heralded the appearance of two cats, one black and one calico. They peered at Regina curiously before the calico started winding between the woman's legs and her cane. The black one moved down several steps to sit and wash his paws.

  "That's Orlando and this here is Patches," the woman said. "They're friendly. Even though they've never taken to Duncan. Give him a wide berth, and he seems almost afraid of them. Says he doesn't mind them, but I can tell they make him so uncomfortable."

  She offered a grimace laced with fond puzzlement. "About the only thing I can't ask him to do is take care of them when I go see my brother up in Gainesville. He says, 'I'm so sorry, Miss Volula. I can't take care of pets. Ask me anything else to help out, and I will.' And he does, so that's a small thing. Long as he's not mean to them, and he never is. They just stay out of each other's way. It's odd. So many good things about that boy, except that."

  As Regina came up the stairs, Orlando obligingly bumped her hand to be stroked by her long nails, then started winding around Regina's legs. "Ah, look at that. He took right to you. He's been neutered for a long time, but he still appreciates a fine-looking woman."

  Volula laughed at her own joke before turning to spit an impressive stream of tobacco over the edge of the stoop and cough. She had a spit bottle in her hand, but Regina supposed she didn't think it necessary to use it outside. "It's about time for Judge Judy, honey. You need me to leave a message for Duncan? He doesn't have a phone."