Truly helpless, p.42
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       Truly Helpless, p.42

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

  She glanced at him, making sure she had his full attention. "Cut you loose. Not until it's my decision, or the right one for you."

  "So if I don't think I'm in love with you, that's not a problem?" But she heard the trace of panic behind the edgy tone. She trailed her fingers over his mouth.

  "No. Because I know you've fallen in love with me, too, even though you don't recognize any of the markers. You don't have any points of reference for them. But you don't have to worry about that, either. I can damn well take care of myself, and I see you, good and bad. I won't let the bad take over. I expect you to work on fixing the bad, but I'm your safety net, your warden, judge and punisher, until you figure it out." Her lips curved. "I have ways of punishing you that you haven't even seen yet, sweet boy."

  "What if it's never the right decision to cut me loose?"

  He had no idea how it pleased her, to hear the wistful note of hope he probably thought he had buried too deep for anyone to hear, even himself. She sighed and settled deeper into the curve of his arm. Turning on her hip, she put her head on his chest, her arm loosely around his waist. It was a very female pose to take, and she was further pleased when he set his beer aside and slid both arms around her. A quiver through them made her think he was a little overwhelmed at being allowed the rare chance to hold her in such a sheltering way. He was damn good at it.

  "Well, if I never cut you loose, then I'm afraid you'll be mine forever. You'll have Exclusive Property of Lady Regina branded on your muscular ass."

  "Okay." He pressed a kiss to her forehead, nudging so he could bend and kiss her mouth. She parted her lips, her arm sliding up to his neck to hold on. When she drew back after a satisfyingly long moment, she traced his cheek. "Dale is ready to let you adopt the kitten, if I'm the primary owner. Which I think is apropos, since I'm your primary owner. Unless you wish to dispute that."

  "Well, I don't know, Mistress." He leaned back and sprawled out indolently again, looking like bad boy sex personified. But below the surface she could see all sorts of emotions churning, because she'd just rocked his world. It almost made her smile. "I'm not wearing your collar," he pointed out.

  "Really?" Her gaze went to the ID bracelet on his arm. "I thought you were."

  His eyes flickered. "I hoped that was what it meant," he said, low.

  "Well, it does. But I'm a woman who likes backups. That bracelet says you're mine all the time, whether we're watching TV, I'm at work, or you're under me, being ridden until I wear you out." Unzipping the top of the small cross-body purse she wore, she produced a worn strap coiled in a neat circle. It was the collar she'd put on him for the pony play scene.

  She'd surprised him again. When his gray eyes latched onto it with a raw hunger that took her breath, she had to fight to maintain her composure. "I don't need you to profess your love for me," she said. "But I want one honest answer. Let's put it to rest. Is this still about getting back into The Zone?"

  She saw calculation happening amid the storm clouds. She refused to let it hurt, or create a sinking disappointment in her. She'd said it herself. He still had a long way to go, but they'd only get there step by step, moving forward.

  "There's no wrong answer except a lie," she said. "You lie to me, now or ever, I will make you regret it. As many times as needed to teach you the lesson that you will never get away with that with me."

  His gaze flashed at the challenge, and she had to suppress another smile when he slid his fingers along her shoulder in a sensual caress. An insolent one.

  "What about you, Mistress?" he tossed back. "Am I still just some challenge to prove how badass you are to all the other Mistresses? The one that can bring the problem child back in line?"

  "You've never been a child, Marius," she said seriously, tapping his sullen mouth. "That's the part they missed, no fault of their own, because you excelled at masking it and giving them what they wanted. Until suppressing all that other stuff started to surface and you turned mean."

  She wrapped her fingers around his throat and shifted closer, pressing her breast against his chest, her mouth to his ear. As he stilled, she spoke with smooth conviction. "This is your real collar, my hand upon you, keeping you in line with a touch, a reminder of your submission to me. The collar, the bracelet, a cock harness...all of those are just symbols of this."

  As she tightened her grip on his corded neck, his facade dropped. It revealed the man she'd seen break, the night of his father's execution. One she'd also watched hold a kitten in his hands. And pound on a man with breathtaking rage.

  For good or bad, his most honest moments were his most brutal ones, the moments that had shown her who he was, as well as who he could be. Not because she could change or fix him, but because if he had someone to love him, truly love him, someone he would let himself love back, he could find his way on that path himself. She had faith in it, just as she'd told him.

  "So much of what makes a healthy power exchange is the inner child, our deepest longings, fears and needs," she murmured. "Your inner child died a long time ago, Marius. Went dormant. But you're bringing it back to life. And I love watching it happen under my control."

  He gripped her wrist, an unspoken message requesting her to ease back. As she did, he surprised her by moving off the bench, dropping to one knee before her. The significance of the gesture caught her breath, but he'd forgotten she'd set her beer on the walkway and his foot hit it. Though he managed to catch it as it wobbled, some of the beer slopped over his hand. He shot her a lopsided grin. "Pretty smooth and suave, right?"

  "I'm all a-quiver." She brushed his face. "Why are you kneeling to me, sweet boy?"

  He lowered his head, gazing at her feet.

  "I'd like to wear your collar, Mistress. I care about getting back into The Zone. I miss it, miss the work, miss the connection, the way I felt there. Like I belonged. But that's not why I want to wear your collar."

  "Good." She managed to sound calm, though her heart tripped. "Because that's not why I offered it. You were a challenge and a mystery to me at first. I expect that's the way a lot of good relationships start. But whether you get back into The Zone has nothing to do with me wanting you to belong to me." Letting the collar unravel, she slid the strap along his shoulder, a provocative tease. "Lift your chin."

  He did. Even with the fastest image capture equipment currently on the market, no one could have caught all the emotions that went through his gray eyes in a blink. She didn't register them with her own vision; she felt them. He was light and dark and all shades in between, but those emotions could twist into the same arrow, pointing toward what he needed and wanted. The energy in his body gravitated toward her and that collar.

  "Has a Mistress ever collared you like this? Not just as a prop for a scene?"

  "No, ma'am." His voice had that roughness again, and when she shifted forward on the bench, spreading her thighs to flank him, he moved into the triangle of space. She threaded the strap around his throat. Most subs wouldn't touch their Mistress during such a moment, but she didn't correct him when he put his hands on her hips. He needed the contact, and she liked it too.

  Did he notice that she allowed her cheeks to flush, her fingers tremble? Could he hear how her heart thudded extra beats? Since he dipped his head against her hand after she buckled the strap, she thought he did. She caressed his collar bone beneath the collar's hold, and the coarse hair curling near the base of his throat. She'd left only a finger's breadth of space and was pleased with the flare in his gaze at the constriction when she tugged on it. She also saw the momentary glazing that so many subs experienced when a collar was put upon them, as they turned inward to that deep-seated need to be owned and got lost in it.

  She closed her fingers on the strap. It had been a long, long time since she'd claimed one for her own. And those relationships hadn't had half the impact on her senses that this man had had in such a short time. She told herself to get a grip and let go.

  Let go of the collar, not the man. Maybe not
ever.

  "We'll work out what this means as we go, depending on what you need and I need," she said briskly. "And want. But for now it means that when you're wearing it, I don't expect to have to stay on you about the things I've made clear from the beginning. You're honest with me, and you don't bullshit or charm me." She tugged the D-link, pulling on the back of his neck, and clamped her knees on either side of his kneeling body. "When you want to take this off, you ask permission, unless it's a matter of your immediate safety. Your first job is always to take care of yourself, because you belong to me and I expect my property to keep itself safe and undamaged."

  Her lips twitched ruefully at the flicker in his eyes. "Or relatively undamaged." She twisted her fingers in the strap beneath the D-link. "I know you fight for money. But fighting to deal with your emotions ends now. Anytime you want to take on a fight because of your feelings, not your bills, you call me first. I will handle whatever's happening in your head. If I can't, you can get to a fight afterward. But first option belongs to me. I'm your first drug of choice. Agreed?"

  His gaze coursed up her body to her tight mouth and sharp eyes, and desire flared hot in his own, responding to the implication. "I can do something those fights can't, and you know it," she purred. "Wear you out, make you beg and take you down. And it won't hurt the next day. Well, not quite as much."

  He smiled and moved closer. She spread her knees wider in accommodation. When he kissed her, he didn't ask, the need in his face overriding everything else. She was okay with that, because the right part of his soul had asked, and her own had given permission.

  This was her boy.

  She decided they'd walk back to the hotel, because she had somewhere else she wanted to stop. A tattoo parlor, one she'd researched on line for its five-star reputation. As she stopped in front of it and nodded to Marius to hold the door for her so she could precede him into the establishment, he raised a brow. "Decided you want to get that exclusive property tattoo already?" he asked.

  "Tempting, but for the reality I want something a little subtler. Sit there." She pointed to a scarred metal chair, part of an ensemble of half a dozen of them. One was occupied by an older man in jeans and leather biker vest who looked like he was a regular visit to the parlor, if his spirited debate with one of the other tattoo artists about one of the popular reality shows was any indication. That artist, as well as two others, had customers in their chairs or on padded tables, depending on what body part was getting tattooed. Other people milled around, chatting and relaxed, friends of the artists or maybe waiting their turn--or both.

  Rock music blared through the speakers. A flat screen was on mute, showing a basketball game somewhere. The walls were muraled with the artists' work. Those pictures were interspersed with snapshots of themselves at tattoo events, or with friends or family. The scent of ink pervaded the establishment.

  When she approached the counter, which had a plethora of piercing jewelry on display beneath the glass, she found the inevitable thick books of tattoo ideas. Fortunately, they were categorized so she could find the theme she wanted quickly. In short order, she lifted her head and located an available artist, a wiry but sexy looking biker chick with lots of tatts, piercings and vivid violet eyes provided by contacts. She wore a black tank that exposed her flat belly and low-riding tight jeans. From the Internet site, Regina recalled she was a newer member of the business, but highly rated for her work.

  Regina adjusted the book toward her so the woman could see what she was viewing. "I want to choose the one of these that will look best with his existing tattoo." Regina flicked her glance at Marius, bringing him to his feet and to the counter without speaking a word. It swirled something low in her belly. He really was so much more responsive than he realized. "Take off the shirt," she ordered.

  While the artist or the others here might not be part of the BDSM scene, the tattoo world lived on the same edges the D/s world did. Regina didn't feel any reservations about exposing what her relationship was to Marius.

  They'd cleared the air between them while sitting at the river, and she'd laid the groundwork for taking complete control of a situation like this. Now, as she waited to see how he would respond, her body vibrated in anticipation.

  As Marius met her gaze, he had mixed feelings about getting a tattoo she'd chosen. Not opposed, just...fuck, he didn't know what he felt. But he wasn't saying no. Wasn't feeling no, either. Not when she issued a command like she just had, her eyes fixed upon him with that steady Mistress's regard.

  As he stripped off his shirt with barely a blink of hesitation, her eyes sparked with the same kind of heat that surged through him in response. The tattoo artist's gaze roved appreciatively over his upper body, but her skill as an artist showed as she zeroed in on his existing tattoo and came closer, her fingers passing over it critically. "Damn fine work. I'm Jillian. I hope you want me to do what I think you want me to do. That's going to be kickass."

  She discussed it with Regina as he stood silently listening. He saw Jillian's gaze pass over the collar on his throat, then go back to Regina. While it might just be a passing look, Marius took it as an acknowledgement of his Mistress's obvious lead role of the situation. That made his body tighten with a desire to do things for her that couldn't be done here.

  Restraining himself for her only heightened the deep intensity of that feeling, keeping him quiet and in an almost meditative focus on her, a functional subspace he didn't mind experiencing.

  But when he was sitting in the chair and the artist had finished the drawn outline, ready to begin the tattoo itself, Regina bent over him, touching her face. "All right with this, sweet boy?"

  He glanced at Jillian. "Can you start while I'm kissing her? I want my mouth on hers when I feel the first touch of the needle."

  As Regina's eyes flared hot with pleasure, the artist nodded. Though her expression was hard to read, he thought he detected a flicker of female approval. "Just tell me when you're going to stop. Unless you plan on kissing her the whole time," she added dryly.

  It wasn't a bad idea. He saw the sensuous laughter in Regina's eyes as his thought obviously reflected her own thinking. Or maybe she just read his face.

  Reaching up, he curved his large hand against Regina's delicate throat and brought her down to his mouth, taking a deep, demanding dive into that heated wetness, letting her feel it. He might be a sub, but there were times that need ironically drove him to take over, prove to her just how much testosterone was hers to call. She made a soft little moan, her fingertips curling over his hand, nails digging in. He felt the sharp burn as Jillian began the outline, and kept the kiss going a few seconds longer before he eased his mouth back enough to speak.

  "Okay."

  The tattoo artist let him readjust, and then resumed. Regina took a seat nearby, where he could look right at her. He didn't say another word; he simply kept his attention on his Mistress as the tattoo artist worked on him.

  Regina engaged the other clients and artists in casual conversation without self-consciousness, but her gaze flicked back to him often and stayed, even when she was talking. He could feel it like a touch, meandering down his bare chest and muscled abs, lingering over his groin and thighs under denim. With the result he got fucking hard in front of everyone and wasn't the least bit repentant about it. Especially when he saw her lips curve with the knowledge of what she was doing to him. What she could do to him.

  Anything. Anything she wanted. He couldn't wait to get back to the hotel.

  The thought consumed him, and had only grown stronger by the time the tattoo was finished. Regina rose and came to inspect the work. Her gaze lifted to his, her brown eyes alight with fire. "Exactly what I wanted," she said in a husky voice.

  Jillian positioned a mirror so he could see it better. It was a badass-looking black kitten, one paw raised in play. Yet the positioning made it look as if the small creature had been the one to shred through his skin and expose the armor beneath.

  "Your first pet
," Regina said, running a light finger around it. "If you take care of this one, maybe you'll eventually get to take the other one home."

  The word hit him hard and low. To conceal his reaction, he looked down and slid his touch, not over the tattoo, but over her fingers. His Mistress was too sharp-eyed, though. She touched his jaw. "Look at me and say what you were thinking."

  He shook his head. "I'll just ruin it."

  "Say it anyway." Jillian had moved away to do clean up, giving them the illusion of privacy.

  "She'll already be home if she's with you," he said. "That's what I want to think of as home. What I wish was my home."

  He rose abruptly, reaching for his wallet. "No," Regina said. "I'm paying for this."

  He shook his head, closing his hand over her wrist as she reached for her purse, his grip hard enough to catch her attention. "Not this time," he said.

  He pulled out a couple crisp hundreds from a small wad of bills, and handed it to Jillian. "Keep the change."

  When Marius tucked the wallet back into his pocket, he noted a pair of new arrivals on the scarred metal chairs. Tattoo parlors attracted some rough-looking types, but there was rough-looking cool, like the woman who'd just added to his tattoo, and rough-looking criminal. They could be wearing the same look of tattoos, piercings, jeans and T-shirts, but they pinged his radar with a warning of danger.

  The smarter-looking one of the two seemed a little too interested in the wad of cash Marius was carrying, and had leaned over to mutter to his companion. Regina was offering her thanks to Jillian, engaging in the kind of conspiratorial female discussion that normally he'd enjoy observing. Any type of shared intimacy between two hot women had the potential to become wishful fantasy material. But he wasn't taking his eyes off these two lowlifes.

  He expected Regina would have been savvy enough to mark the two as trouble if her gaze turned in that direction. Her nose for danger was pretty good, probably thanks to the prison guard stuff. Or correctional officer, as she preferred.