Truly helpless, p.41
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       Truly Helpless, p.41

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

  Dale's standard process involved a lot of questions. Some of the more penetrating ones about Marius's living arrangements, finances and work schedule made her boy get more somber and quiet as the process continued. When it concluded and Dale met her gaze, Marius pushed back from the table abruptly.

  "I know I'm a bad bet, so I get it. Whatever." He moved toward the office door, that belligerent set to his shoulders Regina well knew. Dale brought him to a halt with one question.

  "Why do you want to adopt this kitten, Marius?"

  Marius pivoted and faced him. "What does it matter? I'm not a good home for her. I can tell you think so."

  "Maybe you're assuming things so you don't get punched in the face by a rejection. From what I understand from Regina, you're not afraid of getting punched in the face for real, so man up and answer my fucking question honestly. And don't presume to know what's in my head, son."

  Marius bristled at what Regina was sure was Dale's deliberate use of the familiarity. His jaw clenched, but he didn't break the retired SEAL's gaze, which Regina knew was a good accomplishment when Dale was leveling that stare on someone.

  "I would take care of her. I'd follow Regina's direction on the stuff I don't know about, and I'd learn how to be good at it."

  "I'm glad to hear that. That's the kind of sincerity I want from someone who adopts an animal. But it's not an answer to my question. Why do you want to adopt her?"

  Marius frowned. Sorting the thoughts and emotions to answer Dale clearly was an obvious physical effort. "I liked holding her," he said at last. "I liked how she trusted me. When she played, it made me smile. Those things felt normal. She made me feel like I could be a normal person, adopting a pet. I thought, for a minute, I could give her a good home. That we could be good together."

  She saw a deep despair in his gaze. "But you're right. It's too soon and...just forget it. Thanks for your time. I'll be in the car."

  He left the office, the screen door clapping against the frame as he released it and strode across the lot. A couple of the dogs approached him and then veered off.

  "He's right. It's too soon," Dale said. "I'm sorry, Regina, but he's all over the map."

  "What if I was the cat's primary guardian? If she lives with me?" As the idea formed in her mind, it made sense. Keeping the cat at her home for the time being would help Marius be less uptight about all the things that could go wrong. Give him breathing space to build the necessary bridges in his mind to see himself as a good risk as a pet parent. "I think he truly does want to learn how to care for a pet," she added. "But that would be less stressful, and good for him and the cat at the same time."

  Regina was relieved to see Dale's expression ease into a tentative approval. "If you're wanting to adopt a cat, that could work. I'd need to be sure that if it never worked out for him, that you'd want to be this cat's long term home. I want her loved, not just tolerated."

  "No problem there. I've thought about adopting one plenty of times, but until recently I traveled too much. The corporate outreach through the community college is looking like a two-year gig at least, and may lead to other consulting in the area. I'm over being on the road half the year."

  Dale grunted. "I'd accept that solution, then. But it would be good if she had a friend to play with."

  Regina shot him a calculating look. "Do I get a two-for-one discount?"

  Dale shrugged blandly, but with a twinkle in his blue-green eyes. "It's a known fact that most dogs and cats are happier if they have another animal companion in the home, especially when most families have to work nine to five so they're alone a big chunk of the day."

  "How about that striped brown tabby who looks pissed at the world?"

  Dale chuckled. "That's Bad Attitude. I call him Badat for short. He's a feral who catches rats around the junkyard, though he's become socialized enough he'll occasionally let me pet his head and not try to take my hand off at the wrist. Some days, like today, he snarls at me until I let him into the cat building to hang out for awhile on his observation perch. He's pretty dug in here, and considers himself the lord of the cat habitat. Otherwise, I'd let you try your Mistress wiles on him. You seem to have a touch for the male hard cases."

  He cocked his head, the light glinting off the silver strands in his short hair. "But the mom of that kitten needs a home. She's barely nine months old herself, so she still has plenty of kitten in her to be a good playmate. She's also a tough little lady. Reserves judgment and does some heavy screening of her own before she decides to be friendly with a human. I think the two of you would be a good match."

  "All right." Regina rose. "I'll talk to Marius. I'll text you if we're coming back to pick them up before we leave. I can meet her then."

  "No problem." Dale sat back. "He's a good kid who's been mindfucked in the worst nightmare kind of way. He doesn't believe it, but I'm in his corner. I'd really like him to provide a home for this little mite. It's not a bad idea to have two imperious females in his life looking out for him."

  Regina chuckled, and touched his hand fondly. "I know you're in his corner. And I appreciate you being straight about it. The truth is the best way to go with him, though his reaction to it can be challenging. He's a workout."

  "Some of the best ones can be," Dale noted. "Good luck, Mistress."

  She left the office, petted and spoke to the dogs lying in the shade of the rollout awning in front. As she walked along the gravel drive to the entrance, she saw Marius leaning against the back bumper of their car, gazing down the road. Sliding through the front gate, she moved to prop next to him, hip to hip. The New Orleans sun was starting to set, but the humidity was still high. She could see the dampness of the soft hairs on his nape.

  "Hungry?" she asked. "Someone promised me dinner."

  He lifted a shoulder and straightened. "Yeah."

  "Hey." She stopped him, moving into his space. Cradling his jaw, she put a kiss on his tense mouth. It eased under the pressure of hers, and his lips parted. She swept in to tangle with his tongue and bring their mouths even closer together. It reflected the same closeness she was bringing to the contact between their two bodies, her breasts against his chest, hips and thighs brushing.

  His hands went to her waist, holding her even closer. Making a soft noise of pleasure, she slid her arm over his shoulder, hand resting on his neck, stroking as she took the full measure of the kiss that spun out under a lazy, warm sun. She was vaguely aware of the sounds of frogs from a nearby pond, the rasping song of crickets.

  When she lifted her head, breaking the kiss, his eyes held desire along with the confusion, but the confusion wasn't as jagged and painful. She stroked his jaw.

  "Buy me dinner, sweet boy."

  Food always seemed to level out even the most uncertain male temperament. Marius started out the meal cordial though quiet, but as it progressed, she made him talk about random subjects. She added in the reminder he had to be a good date or she'd leave him for one of New Orleans many street buskers. Under that kind of gentle teasing, he started to relax again. But it wasn't until they were done with their meal, and she was seeing the occasional smile out of him, that she decided to head back toward more serious topics.

  "So I told you how I got into the Domme thing. How did you first figure out your submissive craving?"

  They were walking along the outskirts of Jackson Square. They'd paused to hear the musical stylings of a man with Marley-style dreadlocks playing a trio of upside down buckets and improvising lyrics about the foot traffic around him. But as they moved on, she posed the question.

  Marius shrugged. "Kind of fell into it. Regular relationships weren't working."

  "Oh? How so?" She directed him up the ramp over the trolley tracks to the sidewalk that followed the river. It took them away from the Jackson Square congestion.

  He didn't say anything right away. But she waited him out and eventually he collected his thoughts and gave her more. "Couldn't...you know. Perform. I'd get with a girl, start making ou
t the way any other high school kid did, and all the stuff would pile up in my head, these images from the past, things she didn't know about me, and...nothing. I covered it by getting really good at getting her off."

  A dry smile touched his lips. "Not a bad skill to have. One girl I was with for a little while, she enjoyed it a lot, and started being kind of bossy about it. Think I stumbled onto an aspiring Domme, neither one of us understanding then why we were so well-matched.

  "She'd tell me what to do, how she wanted it, and the more she ordered me around...well, I realized I was getting turned on by it. First time I came while with a woman. All over her dress."

  Regina winced and he chuckled painfully. "Nothing like being a teenager, right? After that, I figured out what my trigger was and could finally masturbate like a normal kid."

  "You never had, until then?"

  "Not successfully." A shadow crossed his expression and his gaze was elsewhere again. "I'd have the urge, but couldn't make it go anywhere. That mindfuck invasion from my past again." He cleared his throat. "When I turned twenty-one, I went looking for the pro-Dommes. I was more comfortable with that scenario than finding it through a relationship. But the pro-Domme thing only worked once or twice."

  "Because they were a paid service."

  He looked toward her, surprise flickering in his expression. "Yeah. They were there to take care of my needs. No matter how cloaked it was in me doing things for them, that was the deal. They were pros, so they could have been enjoying it, not enjoying it, and been tops or bottoms in their real lives, or neither."

  He needed to serve a Mistress, really serve her, even if he was fighting through a quagmire of his own issues to get there. The thought gave her a firm surge of satisfaction, though she spoke casually. "So things flopped again, literally."

  "Nice confidence booster there, Mistress," he said dryly. "But yeah. The first time, the pro decided what would work would be humiliation. Telling me I was garbage, didn't deserve to be born, that kind of thing."

  He noticed her wince. "Lots of guys get off on that," he said mildly. "It wasn't a bad guess."

  "Yeah. Guys to whom it doesn't hit so close to home to what they really think of themselves. Did it work for you?"

  "No," he admitted. "Gave me a sick feeling in my stomach. She was smart, figured it out, sent me to another Domme who had me kneel at her feet, fucked me with a strap-on, let me eat her out while she sat on this throne like a queen. That got some response, but not much. Once again, she was a smart lady, so after talking to me about it, she figured out what I couldn't and suggested I hit the clubs, make myself available to Dommes looking for subs for a night of play. That's where I found the fit. My fit."

  He gestured down the hill to a beer vendor. "If we're going to talk about my teenage struggle with impotence, I'm going to need a beer. Can I bring you one?"

  "Sure. But from what I can tell, that issue is fully in the past." She gave him an appreciative look. "I've never had a problem noticing when you're inside me. You and your man meat totally get my attention."

  He chuckled, but she could tell from the slight tinge of color in his cheeks she'd stroked his ego, in the right way. Boy needed the right kind of stroking, especially after admitting so baldly he'd had trouble getting it up most of his teen years. Most men wouldn't have done that.

  She touched his arm. "You don't drink much because your mother did. To make it all go away. I'm guessing beer wasn't her preferred choice."

  He met her gaze. "Yeah."

  She did a quick stroke of his face with her knuckles. "Okay. Go get my beer."

  She watched him stride down the hill, a handsome, fit man who caught female attention easily. He'd always been flirty inside the club, but she noticed here, out in the world, he didn't seem to employ those talents. Was that because he was with her, and he was being respectful? Or was it more of what he'd discussed, that he needed a Domme not just to trip his trigger, but to inspire him to even switch it on?

  When he returned, she had another, lighter question for him. "So what happened to the high school girl? Were you together long?"

  He sat down on the bench, handing her the brown-bagged beer after he twisted open the top for her. "The usual run for a high school relationship. A few months. I heard her joking with her friends one day. Saying, 'I just tell him, 'Boy, on your knees. Get down there and take care of that.' And he does. Girlfriends, he makes me see stars, no lie.'" He imitated the imperious female tone as he smiled around his beer. Regina rolled her eyes and elbowed him.

  "Hey, I'm just reporting the truth. She said the others were going at it all wrong. That if they ordered their boyfriends around, rather than letting them fumble and stumble, they'd both be happier."

  Regina chuckled. "Sounds like you helped give a young woman a stunning amount of self-confidence."

  "I think she already had that. She reminded me of you."

  Regina cocked a brow. "Was she a black girl, you bad thing?"

  His lips quirked. "Yeah. But that wasn't what reminded me of you. It was...what you just said. You're always in charge, and so was she."

  "Are you calling me a control freak?"

  His eyes sparkled. "No, ma'am. Seriously, I'm not. You don't have a hang-up about relinquishing control, because it doesn't matter. Even when you let go, you're still on top. It's who you are."

  "We make sense then. Because there are plenty of times that stubborn nature of yours tries to take control, but you never top. You don't have it in you, and that's not a judgment." She tapped her beer to his. "That's a part of your personality. I like many parts of your personality, including that one. You can take the attempts at control too far, into some dark areas, but there are other times it's fun, a challenge. I like a bad boy."

  He seemed okay with that and they drank in silence for the next few moments.

  "So what are you going to name your kitten?" she asked at last.

  He shook his head. "We were just looking. I can't get one right now."

  "Why?"

  "She deserves...she deserves a really good home. And that means a place more like you have. Hell, that mean-eyed tomcat is more suited to my place, with the dark alleys and all that concrete."

  "I've found street-wise tomcats like sunspots and safe places as much as kittens. Maybe appreciate them even more, once they relax enough to know they can trust the environment. And you don't have to have bunches of money and a nice house to give a pet a loving home. But why don't you let her stay with me until you feel more comfortable about it all?"

  The brief flash of hope she saw in his eyes told her his heart had become set on this. He'd really wanted to adopt the kitten, and not simply as a prove-himself kind of thing. Tucking herself under his arm, she caressed his jaw. His gray eyes returned to the river as his shoulders lifted in a sigh, and he shook his head.

  "I don't want to saddle you with something I may never be able to have. My landlady has a lot of health problems. She's talking about going into assisted living, and will probably do it soon as she finds a place that will let her bring her cats. When that happens, her son's going to kick me out and sell the house. I haven't really made a habit of living in the same place for long anyway."

  From the fondness Mrs. Jones demonstrated for him, Regina suspected he would like to have the option of staying longer.

  "I told Dale I want the kitten," she said firmly. "I've been thinking about adopting a pet for the past couple years, and this seems the right time to do it. If you never feel comfortable making her all your own, I'll keep her. I'm going to adopt her mother, too. As far as your living arrangements, Dale mentioned one of the men from his old unit recently moved to Tampa and is looking for a roommate to share expenses. I have his number. You could talk to him and see what you think. In the meantime, you can visit your kitten anytime you want."

  He played with the neck of the beer, thinking. "I don't...I've never really let someone depend on me. Makes me antsy."

  "Time to work on that, because
I depend on you."

  His surprised gaze swiveled toward her. "What do you mean?"

  "I think you know, so I'm not explaining it." She put her feet on a cut log someone had left in front of the bench as a convenient footrest while watching the river's boat traffic. Marius had his ankle crossed on his knee, and she tipped her feet to the right to brush the sole of that shoe, a teasing admonishment. He grimaced affably.

  "This is different from the things we've done lately," he observed.

  "Yep. Doesn't have to be all about whips and chains."

  He tracked a passing freighter, loaded with towers of containers headed off to ports unknown, but his attention was too fixed, alerting her of the import of his next deceptively casual question. "Is it part of your whole Domme therapy strategy? Doing so much non-Domme/sub stuff?"

  She cocked her head. "Tell you what. If we drop the pretense of The Zone issue once and for all, what's the less scary answer to that question for you? Yes or no?"

  "No is the scarier answer," he said. "But I don't like the yes answer much."

  "Really?" She arched a brow, the expression deepening as he moved his arm from the back of the bench to drape it over her shoulders.

  "No," he said firmly. "But what about you? Which one's the scarier answer for you?"

  She made a pfft sound. "No falls well within the scared shitless territory."

  She surprised a shy smile out of him, so at odds with his usual cocky confidence, it touched her.

  "Is that because of what I've done to other Mistresses, messing with their heads, making them vulnerable and then taking advantage of that?" His eyes sharpened. "I won't do that to--"

  She shook her head and touched his knee. "I've never feared that."

  She turned her attention back to the river. He wasn't the only one who could use it as a buffer against stronger feelings and worries. However, she stayed leaning against his side, absorbing his heat and strength. "I'm falling in love with you."

  At his jolt of shock, she laid her hand on his thigh, closing firm fingers on him. "I've no idea what the shape of that will look like. And I'm not asking you to do anything different. You also don't have to be scared about me making myself vulnerable that way. I'm not ever going to let you fuck with my head. You'll never treat me badly, or try to manipulate me, because I will shut you down and shut you out every time you do, until you purge it from your system and overcome those demons. But there's one thing I won't do."