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He followed her as she made her way up the stairs to the covered front deck. Windows of a basement were spaced evenly on either side. She touched one of the stone columns holding up the overhang.
She shivered, suddenly, realizing what she was doing, following a dangerous man out to his cabin in the woods. She’d thought that she was coming here to get more intel on him, but maybe that’s why he’d extended the invite. Because he knew she couldn’t say no. No one knew where she was. No one but her knew what he was capable of.
Wordlessly, he loomed over her. She stood stock still as the terror took over for a moment. If he wanted to hurt her, she wasn’t strong enough or skilled enough to stop him. He could do anything he wanted to her, and she would be helpless.
“Lanie.” His face was closer now, and he peered intently at her.
“Yes?” she croaked.
“Are you scared of me?”
She shook her head, hard. “No. I’m not scared of anything.”
“You can trust me, you know. I’d do anything to keep you safe. To protect you. I’m not going to betray you. I’m not going to mess up this mission. You don’t have to watch my every move.”
When she didn’t answer, he caught her mouth, working his lips over hers with breath-stealing precision. The press of his body scattered her thoughts, and she clutched his shirt. When he pulled back slightly, she tried to smile.
“No one could hear you scream out here.” She laughed nervously.
“Let’s hope not,” he said in a strangely pessimistic tone, then pulled her inside. Boneless with delicious terror, she didn’t resist.
The inside of the house was as neat and rustic as the outside. Wood everywhere. Cherry floors. A round oak table with matching upholstered chairs rested in a nook. A living area was on the other side of the stairs leading down to the basement, with a grey leather sofa and oak end table that matched his dining room.
“I don’t get to spend a lot of time here,” he explained, neatly tossing his keys in the closet. “I haven’t brought anyone home in a long time.”
Lanie wondered about the other women that he had invited. For some reason, she felt special, as though he’d chosen her. Even though it had been the other way around. Hadn’t it? Suddenly, she couldn’t remember. “It’s very nice. Very…you.”
Simple. Unassuming. And yet, a little too put together. Those basement windows hinted at dark underbelly. There were secrets hidden in plain sight, hidden in the knots and whirls of all that wood. They were like scars, like the scars of his body, telling a story that only he could know.
He placed one huge hand on the knob of the stair post. Shifting, he looked down at her, then away. “So…I don’t think I ever explicitly told you about…about my tastes.”
Stepping closer to him, she tilted her head. She thought that if she ever saw him uncomfortable, it would amuse her, but apprehension stirred in her instead. Based on the way he liked to handle her in bed, she was pretty sure she knew what he was implying, and wondered why he was suddenly so unsettled. “From what I’ve seen of you so far, I’d say they’re pretty unconventional,” she ventured.
“I…I hope I’ve never made you uncomfortable,” he mumbled, looking down. The dark shadow of his beard and eyelashes obscured his face. “From the moment I saw you in Qalcad, all in black and wearing those boots…well, I fantasized about bringing you here for a long time.”
She raised her brows. “But…?”
“But…you’re the first one who’s also kind of my friend.” He gave her a helpless look. “I’ve really enjoyed sleeping with you, and if you don’t want to do anything more than the basics, that’s totally fine. I’m not trying to imply anything about you, but the last time I brought someone here without being very explicit about what I like to do…well, let’s say it didn’t go well.”
She touched his arm. “What happened, Jake?”
He looked at her feet. “She told me that I was messed up. Broken. That I must like to hurt women because there’s something wrong with me.”
She trailed her fingers up the bulge of shoulders where the barbed-wire tattoos were concealed, then up his neck, making him look at her. “Are you messed up? Is there something wrong with you?”
To her surprise, he chuckled. “Oh, you have no idea. I’m probably as screwed up as they come.”
Even more surprising, she agreed. Usually, she felt like the darkest person in the room. But his darkness seemed to out match hers. There was something tender and festering, deep inside him, that she knew he protected with silk and barbed wire and the crazy idea that he could save himself by saving others.
“Is that why you got into BDSM?”
He blew air through his lips. “Yes. But not in the way that you think.”
Massaging his earlobes, she leaned in closer, keeping her eyes on him. “Tell me.”
He swallowed, seeming to gain courage. Which was strange, because she’d never seen him lose courage. She started to wonder whether he was really like her after all. Did sex actually mean something to him? “It’s…healing. For me. Usually I find my partners online, and we talk a lot before we meet up. I like the order of the system. Step by step. I like to do a good job, tailoring the experience to bring a woman to pleasure she couldn’t even imagine…are you okay?”
“Mm-hmm,” she managed, bringing a trembling hand to her lips. “Keep going.”
With a small laugh, he also touched her mouth. “It’s about fun. Safety. Becoming someone else, for a little bit, using the darkness and pain to bring someone else pleasure. It’s like, the ultimate middle finger to everything I grew up with. Letting out the darkness without being seen as a monster…well, except that one time.”
“Show me,” she panted, pressing against him. “I want to see.”
Still, he hesitated. “This wasn’t a good idea, though. I wasn’t thinking. I just want you so much, almost more than I’ve ever wanted anybody…” He gently bit her lip, his hands wandering over her, the electricity between them searing.
She could say the same thing. She wanted him almost more than anyone else. Who was first place in his mind? Was it someone who also couldn’t possibly understand the extent of the darkness? She didn’t care, though. This could be exactly what she needed.
“I want to take the next step. Tell me.”
“We should…” his voice hitched as she reached under his dark-green polo shirt. She dragged her fingers down his abdomen in a way she’d come to know he really enjoyed. His rock-hard abs flexed in an uncontrollable response. But of course, he couldn’t abide by that, so he caught her wrists with a mildly reprimanding expression. “We should talk first.”
“Do you have a playroom?” she asked excitedly, trying to remember terms from some of the books she’d read while on her long flights.
“Yes, I do. It’s in the basement. Have you ever done this type of thing before?”
“No. Take me there. I want to see it.”
“Lanie. Wait. It’s been a while since I’ve had a beginner. I want us to sit down for a bit.”
She scowled. “I’m not a beginner. And I want as much time as possible with you before Dre gets out of school.” Maybe Jake wasn’t a curse, after all. If only she wasn’t on the base so much, she might have tried to find a similar arrangement.
“I meant an S&M beginner. And someone who I know in real life. That was the real reason I stopped you in Africa. I didn’t want to get involved with someone I know. Plus, I believe that workplace romance is abusive.”
She snorted. Workplace romance was sometimes the only way she could get out of bed in the morning. “So why did you kiss me at my house after we went on that walk?”
“You knew exactly what you were doing to me,” he said with a raised eyebrow. “You knew exactly which buttons to push. You knew I wouldn’t be able to resist.”
She grinned wrapping her hands behind his neck. “So don’t resist me now. Have me. Whatever it is you’ve been fantasizing. I’m game.”
A low rumble came from his chest, like a growl, as his breathing slowed, like he was purposefully trying to control it. “What I’ve fantasized about is training you. Reconditioning you. Disciplining you, when you lose focus, like when we were in the hospital gym.”
“You are a good teacher,” she purred. “Too bad I beat you so many times.”
His lips twitched. “Twice. You beat me twice.”
“Three times. Behind the cabins, I caught your ear, then held you at gun point. And then there was fight day.”
He sighed. “And you can be so impudent. You should relax, Lanie. Let someone else take control for a little while.”
“Yes,” she moaned when he edged the bottom of her shirt as though about to take it off. She squirmed, trying to encourage him, but he stopped.
His voice was low and serious. “Do you promise not to tell anyone about this?”
“Do you promise to listen to me and let me keep us safe down there?”
“Yes.” She would promise him her firstborn if that would make him get on with things. She was a quivering mass of uncertainty, assumptions, and anticipation.
“Alright. I’m going to be your Dominant. Do you agree to Submit to me?”
She frowned. “Why can’t I be the Dominant?”
He laughed. “First, you don’t know how. Second, I don’t do submission. You’d have to find someone else to do that with.”
She’d argue that later. She was sure she could break him, given enough time. If she needed to let someone take control for relaxation purposes, he needed it tens times more. “Alright. Fine. Let’s just go.”
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