Truly helpless, p.39
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       Truly Helpless, p.39

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

  "Why don't you go sit at the picnic table with your Mistress?" Dale gestured to it.

  Regina hadn't introduced him as her sub, but he guessed Dale would know that was what he was. Regina reinforced it, touching Marius's arm. "Sit down with me."

  Responding to her commands was familiar footing, so it helped as well. As Marius moved toward the table with her, Dale left them, headed toward the kennel. Marius didn't want to look toward Regina. He didn't know what to say, but she put her hand on his on the table, squeezing. He looked at her then and saw she wasn't angry with him. Nor pitying, which would have been worse. She looked as calm and easy as Dale had. They were handling him, but in a way his sub nature recognized and grabbed, not allowing the other side of him to implode.

  "Breathe," she said. "You'll get through this. Just wait and see." She moved her foot so the toe of her sneaker was pressed against his beneath the table.

  "So did he lose his leg as a SEAL?" he ventured, looking for a safe change of topic.

  "Yes, I think so. He doesn't talk about it much. The first few times I met him, I didn't even know he had a prosthesis instead of a normal limb. It really is like a bionic leg. You don't even notice a limp."

  The dogs had quieted, which was surprising. He would have expected they would have been barking more, excited to see Dale coming to them. He heard Dale issuing a few commands, the clank of a gate, followed by the patter of trotting feet, the measured tread of Dale moving on the crutches over the gravel driveway. Marius saw one of the dogs dancing around and circling Dale in a ponderous prance, the other walking in a proper heel next to him.

  The black and gold Rottweilers had glossy coats, their eyes bright and inquisitive. The massive heads bobbed, taking in everything around them, as alert as Dale himself.

  Dale sat back down on the bench across from Marius. "Down. Rest," he said. The dogs laid down on the ground at the short end of the table, one of them within inches of Marius's foot and knee. The creature's gaze moved to him and Marius saw that watchfulness, a watchfulness that would turn warier by the second. He'd seen it happen. He shouldn't be staring right at the dog, but he couldn't seem to look away...

  "Breathe," Dale said. When Regina touched Marius's hand, he realized Dale wasn't speaking to the dogs. Regina squeezed Marius's fingers. The picnic table had plastic chairs at either end of it, to allow for more visitors, and Regina moved into one of them, so now she was sitting diagonally from Marius, her on one side of him, the dog on the other.

  "Look at me," she said, and Marius did, resisting the urge to shut his eyes, close things out. "I want you to listen to Dale like you listen to me. Just for the next few minutes. He's very good at this. Relax and trust him the way you would trust me."

  She'd made the assumption he did trust her. Well he did, more than he had any Mistress before, except maybe Marguerite that one time, but that wasn't saying much. Fuck it all, what was he doing?

  "Keep looking at your Mistress," Dale said quietly. "Breathe. Just one-two-three in, one-two-three out. Regina says you fight professionally. What do you do to get yourself in the right headspace for that? Keep looking at her."

  Marius's gaze had started to stray to the dog panting near his foot. The sound was like the chuff of a slowing train. He brought his gaze back to Regina. She had that faintly stern, set expression that could steady him because it said she had things firmly in hand.

  "I go deep, ground myself, I guess. Hard to explain. Everything else disappears except pounding the other guy until he can't stand up anymore."

  "Okay. Take the front end of that. Quiet is the key. I don't want you to look at Tempest. Just reach down and touch her back. Stroke her fur."

  It was just petting a dog. What the hell? "Regina..."

  Taking his hand, she lifted it to her chest, pried open the fist he didn't know he was making and laid his palm on the upper rise of her breast, over her heart. She put her own palm on his chest. "Breathe with me."

  He did it, locking gazes with her, feeling soft flesh and her heartbeat. "You keep looking at me," she said. "And when it feels right, reach down and touch her. It will be fine. But right now, there's just me. Look at me and breathe. Remember when I had you gagged and bound in the shower this morning? Imagine you're back in that space. You can't speak, you can't free your hands. You simply have to do as you're told, but you're safe. Incredibly safe. You can do no harm here. I won't let you."

  She was saying this stuff in front of another male, a Dom at that. He should be getting pissed and defensive. But her heartbeat was a steady thud under his palm, her eyes so intent and calm at once, telling him nothing else mattered but what she was telling him to do. It was keeping those images at bay, the cries of the past, trying so hard to form a hurricane in his head.

  Marius focused on her mouth, the glitter of the beads in her hair. The cleavage her shirt revealed, the generous curves of her breast. "I feel like an idiot," he admitted. "I can't do what any kid can do. Pet a damn dog."

  "Mice completely freak me out," she informed him. "Even Mickey. He gives me nightmares. Dana says I was an elephant in a previous life."

  It made him smile, as he was sure she intended. He breathed and listened to her heart, as his own slowed. His thumb curved under the collar of her T-shirt to stroke in time with it. She didn't tell him that he couldn't.

  He was aware of Dale sitting silently with them, the dogs panting, a rhythm that went along with the rest, slowed things down. Dale didn't have that irritating Dom vibe that seemed to take up too much space, pushing at Marius's defenses. The guy looked more than capable of it, but he could also be this. He guessed it was the same way Regina could be all different types of Mistress, depending on the moment.

  He could do this. He could.

  Keeping his eyes on Regina, he removed his hand from her to brace his palm on the table and leaned down, reaching blind with the other. "A little to your left," Dale said, wisely realizing touching him wouldn't be a good idea. Marius made the course correction and suddenly had his hand on the dog's head. Soft, sleek, alive and warm. He stroked down the thick neck, thinking of how he stroked Regina. Her skin was smooth and warm, much like the dog's fur. Tempest moved her head to accommodate his touch. Just the way Regina did when she liked what he was doing.

  "When you're ready, look at her," Dale instructed. "Don't stare her down. Just make eye contact like you would the cashier at the grocery store, friendly and relaxed. Keep your mind empty if you can. If you feel yourself winding up, look at how you're petting her instead of at her face. If you're still getting uptight, look at your Mistress, and then try it again. We have plenty of time. If you get overloaded, we'll let them go play and bring them back when you're ready."

  Marius turned his head and met the dog's gaze. Nope, too soon. It sucked him down immediately, that abyss, and he snatched his hand back as if burned, making both dogs jump. Dale settled them with a word and a touch as Marius jerked his eyes to Regina. His heart was thudding in his throat again, and sweat popped up between his shoulder blades, the creases of his palms.

  "Hey." She grasped his wrist, stroking it before she put his hand back over her heart. "Again," she murmured. "As long as you want to try. No pressure, sweet boy. You're all right. You've got this."

  He wanted to shake his head, say no way, but she was looking at him, believing he could do this, and he wanted to please her. It was petting a damn dog. That was all.

  The second try lasted a few seconds longer, so he tried not to despair as he had to reel back his agitation again. He didn't want to inflict his sweaty palm on her clothes or skin, but Regina gave him no choice. She held her hand over his on her breast and wouldn't let him pull away.

  "She told you about me, didn't she?" he said to Dale as his breathing leveled again. Marius didn't look toward him. He could only look at Regina.

  "Yeah, but it was in confidence and goes no farther than here." Dale's voice was neutral, easy. "She knew I needed to understand where your head was at to walk you t
hrough this."

  Regina didn't look as if she thought she'd betrayed his trust, and Marius guessed she hadn't. She'd shared the info to help him.

  Once more. This time, when the dog's head turned to him, he met the gaze but imagined Regina's eyes, her curving mouth, the touch of her hand and her body. Supporting him, surrounding him, guiding him. He moved his attention to the massive head, the powerful body. As he trailed his fingers over that terrain, Tempest seemed pleased, her panting mouth like a smile filled with laughter.

  "She's liking it. My touch."

  "You sound surprised." Regina's voice was gentle, teasing. "I like it very much. You have good hands, a good touch."

  "You let a sub touch you?" Dale raised a brow. "Getting soft, Mistress."

  Regina made a face at him and Shotgun sat up, eyes alight as if he'd been given an invitation to play. "Yeah, you've been good a whole five minutes," Dale informed him. "A miracle." He produced a ball and spoke two words. "Shotgun. Chase." When he fired it off toward the closest stack of junk cars, the male dog charged after it. Tempest remained where she was, placidly accepting Marius's stroking of her neck, his long glides down her smooth back.

  "Shotgun's quite a bit younger than Tempest. Tempest is my matriarch. She's seven."

  Marius sat back. He'd petted her, and she was acting friendly toward him, despite the churning in his gut. He hadn't been trapped in his memories, and he hadn't frightened her. He felt drained as if he'd run five miles at the height of a Florida summer. Sensing it, Dale took them in another direction.

  "That's good progress. I'm going to let all the dogs out for their pre-dinner run around the yard. We'll take a break and talk some more. I have some fresh iced tea and sandwiches in my office. Athena keeps me well-fed. We can come back out later."

  "How about it, Marius?" Regina asked. "You want to do that? Or do you want to take a little walk first on your own, check out the cars Dale has in the lot?"

  She looked toward Dale to see if that met with his approval. The SEAL studied Marius. Marius wouldn't have been surprised if he'd said hell, no, but Dale nodded. "You don't have to interact with the dogs any more than you want. Some will try to get you to pet them, but if that bugs you, just say 'Free.' That's their command to go about their business."

  "It's okay. They don't usually approach me on their own. Uh, yeah, I wouldn't mind wandering around." He needed some air and space. "That okay with you, Mistress?"

  "Perfectly fine." Her eyes warmed in approval at his checking. "If you see any interesting car parts, Dale's still scavenging for the Frankenstein car float his SEAL buddies are putting together for the Mardi Gras parade."

  "I find new stuff every day," Dale added. "I could be out here a hundred years and not uncover every treasure Eddie collected when he ran this place. I keep thinking I'm going to stumble on the Holy Grail. Or a body."

  Despite the casual dialogue, Marius wasn't oblivious to the unspoken conversation going on between Regina and Dale, all handled with body language and eye contact. Dale rose, collecting his crutches, and headed for the kennels. Tempest followed at his heels and Shotgun emerged from the cars with a joyous woof and the ball, cavorting in circles around them.

  Regina touched Marius's hand. "You're doing well," she said. "Don't push yourself too hard. Do as much as you can handle. You don't have to adopt anyone today."

  "Like he'd let me. If I freak out at petting one, I'm not ready." He tried not to let despair close in at the thought. Two weeks ago, the decision to adopt a pet hadn't even been on his radar. Now it loomed in his mind as a pass-fail test of the kind of person he was. He needed to get some fucking perspective.

  "Yeah, you might not be ready." She eased the gut shot impact of the short statement by tapping his jaw with a polished nail. "But that doesn't mean anything bad. You're here, you're trying to deal with something awful from your past that's been choking you. Maybe volunteering for a place like this at home, and then graduating from there to pet sitting for a friend, or volunteering your services as a dogwalker, is the way you need to go until you're ready for the next step."

  "What if I hurt one?" The moment he blurted out the words, the tide rose and threatened to engulf him. He was up and off the bench, moving away from her, moving toward the car. "I can't. I need to leave.

  "That's going to be tough," she said. "This place is out in the boondocks. Not a lot of hitchhiking options."

  He turned and saw her jangle the car keys on her fingers. When he set his jaw, her gaze softened. "You need to breathe, tough guy. Just wander around the lot, or drink tea and have sandwiches with us. Don't think about the past. Think about the now, and the future. You're not him."

  When he shifted uncomfortably, neither confirming nor denying, her expression hardened. "You go down that road, I will tie you down and beat you within an inch of your life. You were already walking stiff when you got off the plane. Want to be hobbling?"

  As his gaze narrowed, she dipped her head in a short, satisfied nod. "Keep it in mind. Your number one prerogative today and every day is not to piss off your Mistress." Her tone gentled. "And be true to yourself."

  "I don't know who that is."

  "Yes, you do." Rising, she closed the distance between them to grip his arms. "I see it every day I spend around you. If you can't have faith in yourself yet, have faith in what I see."

  She released him, albeit with a reluctance that bolstered him. He wished she would stay with him, that they could leave and spend the rest of the day...doing nothing.

  "Can we go to the waterfront later today and just...walk?"

  She cocked her head. "Sure. If you buy me dinner at the French Market Restaurant. They have a great goat cheese and fried green tomato po' boy."

  "Okay." He looked down at the ground, his gaze passing over the tempting terrain of her breasts along the way. He wanted to put his head there. Hold her, be held. But he was already feeling like a complete pussy. Couldn't barely pet a fucking friendly dog. "I'm going to go walk around. Look at the cars."

  "All right."

  Regina watched him go. She was sure he knew she wasn't fooled by the forced casualness of his tone, his pretense that yeah, hey, it was all good, but she knew when a sub needed some space. Hell, anyone who'd just done what he'd done would. He was unfortunately and obviously beating himself up about it, but everything she'd just seen was classic traumatic stress.

  He was walking stiff, her sweet boy, but it wasn't because of those stripes she'd left on his ass. What he'd done in less than fifteen minutes had likely left him more drained and muscle sore than a three-hour session or even a fight in the ring. He still had a damp spot on the back of his shirt where he'd sweated through it in less than a blink. When she'd laid his palm on her chest to modify his breathing, his hand had been shaking, his eyes latched on hers like he couldn't look away without the world coming to an end. Then things had calmed and she'd seen the wonder in his face as Tempest had responded to him.

  She'd had to blink back tears, fast, swallow over a thick throat. No good would have come from him seeing how hard it had been for her to watch his struggle. But Dale had apparently noticed. As he came back to the table and sat with her, he pulled a small flask out of one of the leg pockets of his cargo pants and proffered it. "You could use a little bracer."

  Giving him a grateful look, she took a swallow of the strong whiskey. He took his own swallow, then tucked it back in his pocket. Following her gaze, he watched Marius ambling around the cars, his hands tucked in his jeans' back pockets, his head down. A couple of the dogs trailed him, but Marius had been right. None of the fifteen or so dogs Dale had released approached him, whereas several made a bee line to Regina, automatically gravitating toward the attention she willingly offered. It broke her heart a little, to be surrounded by the wagging tails and playful creatures, while the isolated man wandered in her peripheral vision.

  "Do you know what you're doing?"

  She lifted her head at Dale's question. His blue-green eyes
were serious, concerned. "As much as any male Dom who takes on a troubled female sub does," she said mildly.

  "Hmm. I've rarely had a sub who could overpower me. And that boy is dealing with some bad shit. He needs serious counseling."

  "I'll ask him if his lucrative healthcare plan covers that."

  Dale's gaze cooled and Regina shook her head. "You're not telling me something I don't know, Dale. But he's not open to that yet. Believe me, I don't have a messianic complex. I know he's got bigger problems than I can solve, but he has to figure that out himself before he'll accept help. I have two choices as a Domme...and as his friend. I can walk with him, and do what I can to help him get there. Or I can decide he's not worth the risk or trouble and walk away."

  "Does he realize you're in love with him?"

  At her expression, he blinked. "Let me revise that. Do you realize you're in love with him?"

  She linked her fingers on the tabletop. Yes. I just didn't expect anyone else to notice it so quickly. "I know I want to keep him for the long term. I haven't been analyzing and dissecting the feelings that go along with it. Feelings take care of themselves."

  "True." Dale's lips tugged in a faint smile. "No sense spending energy on what's going to go wherever the hell it's going to go anyway."

  "Exactly." She took a breath. "This was a huge step today. But I don't know why what looks like a victory makes me uneasy."

  "It's because you have good instincts. Breakthroughs can result in a lot of fallout as a person confronts what they've kept locked up, the stuff that shakes loose as things start breaking apart." He sighed. "You're a good friend, Regina. Just be damned careful with this one, okay?"

  "I'm not afraid of the big bad sub blowing my house down. I'm a fortress, Dale. If he figures things out, I'll lower the gate and give him sanctuary. If he doesn't...I want to at least get him closer to help than maybe he's ever been before."

  "You're a saint. You and Mother Theresa."

  She snorted. "I'm not denying he's affected me. I'm more possessive with him than I've ever been with a sub. And yes, that gorgeous ass alone is worth the risk, but that's not it." She paused, suddenly not sure where she was going with it. It didn't matter, since Dale seemed to understand.