Several hallways spoke off from this room, and she takes me down a long, glass-panel-lined one, looking out on the trees and stars, to the dining room, with its opulent, contemporary furnishings. It’s even bigger than the one at her apartment, with a table that’s bigger than my own bed, all beveled glass and metalwork, chic and ultra-rich.
Remembering my manners, I start to move over to hold the chair for Lark, but the house servant is already there doing it, and another servant is holding a chair for me, too. Awkwardly, feeling ill-equipped to manage any of this, I move to the chair designated for me. They seat Lark at the head of the table, but, to my relief, I’m not seated far away at the other end, but rather, to her right, where the place settings and low candles form an intimate cozy-corner.
“We’re having duck a l’orange,” Lark informs me. “I do hope that’s something you like.”
It sounds terribly romantic, not to mention luxurious beyond comprehension, but I have to admit, “I don’t know. I’ve never had it before.”
“No?” Lark says, her voice soft. “It seems there are so many things you haven’t tried, aren’t there, Sebastian?”
I turn bright red, and she murmurs with a slow smile spreading across her face, “You’re blushing again, Bash. Stop that.”
Luckily, two servants, one I recognize and one a don’t–an older man, European looking, with dark, flashing eyes–enter the room, carrying trays. With subservient flourishes, they place the dishes in front of us, hand us our heavy linen napkins, pour crystal-clear water into two of the glasses. “Grover, I wanted the 2005 Le Pin bordeaux with dinner,” she directs, and the older man nods, “It’s breathing and ready, Ms. Blackwood. Right away.”
I knew Lark was rich, filthy stinking wealthy as some might say, but this evening is a shocking confirmation. The motorcycle. This house. The wine, the food, the servants, everything. It’s a truly sumptuous, elegant meal, unlike any I’ve ever experienced in my burger-and-fries life, and I’m overwhelmed and impressed.
The duck a l’orange is beautiful, along with a delicate risotto, and grilled asparagus. The wine, too, is rich,
We eat and drink in relative silence, and I can’t quite call it “companionable.” I’m too nervous about everything, and too overwhelmed by Lark. Just watching her eat is like an art exhibit or poetry or something.
I can only manage a few small bites, even though the food is delicious.
At last, Lark says to me, “Is there something wrong with the duck? You’ve hardly touched your meal.”
I shake my head.
“What about the wine?”
“It’s delicious,” I stammer, and force myself to take another sip from my half-empty glass. “Everything is… delicious.” I turn scarlet.
Lark adds more ruby-red liquid from the bottle to my wine glass. “You’re blushing again, Sebastian,” she reproves me, with a soft little smile. “You must stop that. It’s too distracting. Too tempting.”
Holy smoking fuck…. Tempting? Me?
“If everything is so delicious, then why aren’t you eating?” she asks me, concern etching her features.
“I guess I’m just not very hungry,” I stammer, unable to admit that whenever I’m around her, my ability to do basic functions like breathing and eating flee me.
“You didn’t want to eat breakfast, either,” she reminds me.
I shake my head in agreement.
“Are you on a diet of some kind?” she asks me blandly.
I wince. Does she think I’m fat? That I should be on a diet? I always thought I was too scrawny, but if she thinks I’m overweight, I don’t know what I’ll do. “No,” I admit. “I’m not on any sort of diet.”
“A restricted food intake plan, then? Or do you have dietary restrictions or allergies? Those are things I will need to know”
“No…. I just- I just….” What I’m hungry for isn’t food, I lament inwardly.
“Sebastian,” Lark says, putting her heavy fork down, “if there is to be… anything between us, then it is essential that you eat. Not only will you need to keep up your strength, but I need to know that you’re going to follow my instructions. I have to be able to trust you implicitly in that.”
“Can you do that much for me, at least? For now? Just eat your dinner?” Her forehead furrows, and I fear that she is growing irritated with me for reasons I can’t even begin to fathom.
“I- I guess,” I stammer, and force myself to put a small bite of the duck in my mouth, and chew.
Her face relaxes a bit as I do. “Besides,” she adds, in that intimate voice, “it makes me very happy to see you enjoying a meal here. With me.”
My dreams are actually coming true! That thought alone convinces me to manage to chew and swallow another morsel of dinner, although I can barely taste any of it.
“You play chess well,” she says, making conversation, as she eats. I can barely hear, though. I’m mesmerized by the sight of an asparagus tip disappearing between her lips.
“Not as well as you,” I admit. I’m still peeved by that.
“My grandfather taught me,” she says to me.
“When you were a little girl?”
“My dad taught me,” I tell her, even though she hasn’t asked.
“My father was far too busy for such things with me,” she says, and I can hear the tint of bitterness in her voice at that. “He was already off with Tabitha and their own kids by then, so I rarely saw them.”
My heart melts at the vision of Lark as a little girl, alone, rejected by her own father, left behind, an earnest girl learning how to play chess with her elderly grandfather because no one else took the time to pay attention to her.
“Sebastian….” she adds in a warning tone, and, hastily, I force myself to take a small, teeny forkful of the risotto. As if hypnotized, I chew and swallow, nudging the bit of food down with another generous gulp of the wine.
“Good,” she murmurs in praise before returning to the subject at hand: chess. “Perhaps we will have a rematch soon,” she says, eyes bright.
“I’d like that,” I breathe.
“I think you might be a fitting opponent,” she adds, teasing me again, but with that secretive smile.
A breathless laugh escapes me.
“It’s nice to hear that,” Lark says, putting her cutlery down.
“Your laughter, Sebastian. You don’t laugh much at all.”
I shift uncomfortably at this observation. Is she criticizing me again? “I laugh,” I protest defensively.
“Not around me,” she points out.
“I- I guess not,” I admit. “You… make me nervous. Intimidate me.”
She smiles. “You should be nervous, Sebastian, especially considering-” She breaks off, shaking her head. Her smile turns sad and tender. “Oh, Sebastian, what am I going to do with you?” she wonders aloud.
I put down my silverware, too. “You could… take me to bed,” I suggest boldly, shocked at my own audacity.
“No,” she whispers. “I can’t just take you to bed. There is so much more involved. I suppose now is as good a time as any to explain the particulars. Unless,” she adds, in a bland tone, “you want to have dessert first?”
I shake my head. The thought of any more food is abhorrent. The only thing I want for dessert is this incredibly beautiful woman.
To my surprise, she moves a finger over her Apple watch. In an instant, the older manservant, Grover, is there.
“Grover, it’s time for the assessment and policy materials,” she instructs him, and he nods and bustles away.
“Assessment?” I blurt.
She turns those eyes on me. “Yes, Sebastian. Standard operating procedure. My lawyers insist on it before I continue with any… activities with a new partner.”
Grover returns with a large leather case. He bows at Lark, and opens the case to reveal several documents clamped on one side, and a fitted area on the other with tubes, a syringe- It looks like a science kit or something. Bowing again, he leaves us alone with this… paraphernalia in front of us.
I’m baffled and more than a little alarmed. “What is all this?”
“Privacy agreement. A blood sample for testing. Fingerprints.” She shrugs. “I’ve learned that I need to be extremely careful in my… private life. So if we are to continue with anything, I’ll need you to sign these waivers, and let Grover collect a blood sample. He’s a licensed RN, and will to test you for any STIs or other issues.”
What? What is this?
“What if… I don’t want to?” I stammer.
“You don’t have to do anything you don’t want to, Bash,” she says. “But without these precautions, there will be no further contact between the two of us. This is an essential step, for the protection of both of us.”
Holy smokes. Access to this beautiful woman comes with a whole battery of tests and hurdles? What on earth is in store for me next?
I have to know. I’m in too deep now to chicken out.
“Fine,” I agree. “What do I need to do?”
“Are you sure, Bash? You might want to take some time to look these things over, even a day or two to think about it-”
“I’ve been doing nothing but thinking about this, Lark,” I protest, sounding much braver than I actually feel right now. “It’s fine. Go ahead,” I snap, waving my hand at the science kit. “Let’s do this.”
She frowns, and takes out the first document, and a heavy, gold pen. “This document means that you cannot disclose anything about me or us to anyone, under penalty-”
“All right,” I say, reaching for the pen, flipping pages. From the looks of it, I think this was the document she had at breakfast this morning. Jeez.
I find the spot and sign with a rebellious flourish.
“Sebastian,” she reprimands me, and I scowl.
“You should read that before you sign it.”
“It says that I’m not supposed to talk to anyone about us, right? Well, I wouldn’t anyway, and if you need to see me prove it in order to trust me, I can sign this stupid document!”
I expect that she might get angry with me. But instead, she laughs softly. Those gorgeous fingers touch my cheek for a breathtaking second, then withdraw. “Oh, Bash. My defiant, brave lad. ” Shaking her head with a smile, she calls Grover back in.
I steel myself for what’s next. Nguyen swiftly clears away plates and wipes down the table so it’s immaculate. Then almost like it’s an induction into the military, Grover works swiftly, wordlessly, with a no-nonsense air, rolling my fingers on an inkpad and making prints, swabbing a spot on my arm and swiftly inserting a needle, marking things on charts and tubes. After just a couple minutes, he murmurs, “There. Results in the morning, Madam.”
Lark has been watching all of this from her seat, sipping the last of her wine, looking thoughtful, if guarded.
I meet her eyes, and, to cover up my own nervousness, I roll down my sleeve and take another drink from my own wine glass, finishing it. “Well, Madam CEO, does that meet with your approval?”
If she is surprised by my outburst, she doesn’t show it.
“I approve of you more than you know, Sebastian,” she says huskily.
My jaw drops, and my veneer of confidence drops. “You- you do?”
“You didn’t know that?”
I shake my head no.
Her smile is very soft. “Silly boy,” she whispers.
“Does this mean- Do we have to wait until tomorrow, or- or are you going to take me to bed now, Lark?” I ask, hearing the raw need in my voice.
Her eyes open wide. “Bed…” she says, as if the word is unfamiliar to her. “I don’t just take young men to bed, Sebastian.” She shakes her head. “I should take you home- I’ll have Carter bring the car-”
“No!” I protest. “I don’t want to go!”
“I don’t want that, either,” she murmurs, her confession sending red-hot delight skating over my skin. “I can’t seem to stay away from you, Sebastian Stone. No matter how hard I try.” She reaches over to take my hand in hers. “I find myself almost obsessed by thoughts of you, and even though I know I shouldn’t, I can’t help wanting… more.”
Holy fucking smokes. How hot! She’s obsessed by me? She wants more from me? My Id has started setting off Roman candles and skyrockets.
“You’re blushing again,” she observes. “Stop that, Sebastian. It’s too distracting.”
Somehow, I manage to ask the most important question. “Why me, Lark? You could have anyone you wanted. Why me? Why did you bring me here? Why did you come rescue me last night?”
She takes my chin in the palm of her hand, tipping my face so my eyes meet hers. “Those beautiful, innocent eyes of yours.”
I flush again, and she shakes her head with another frown. “You need to learn how to take a compliment, Sebastian. You’re attractive, smart, strong, bright. You have a sense of adventure that is compelling. You’re also impertinent, which I find intriguing.”
I’m staring at her, unable to believe what I’m hearing. Lark Blackwood thinks I am attractive? Oh, wow.
“But it’s something more, something I don’t think I can fight anymore. I see your innocence, and I want to possess it, capture it. Maybe even destroy it. It’s a compulsion have, and one I don’t entirely understand myself,” she confesses. Lark shakes her head. “It’s why I- Well, I’ll have to show you the particulars of how I conduct relationships.” She runs her fingers through her hair. “I’ve never told anyone this, not this way.”
She’s lowered her guard, for me? My heart is thumping. “What do you mean, possess?”
She doesn’t answer that yet, and she even lets go of my hand. “Remember, you’re free to leave any time you want. Do you want me to take you home now, Sebastian?
“No. I want you to- to make love to me. With me.” How many times do I have to beg?
She frowns again. “I don’t ‘make love,” she says. “I control. I initiate. I fuck. I master.”
Oh, my god, this is sexy, hot, terrifying, all at once.
She stands up, and holds her hand out to me.
“Come, I want to show you my sanctuary.”
“You rescue animals?” I’m baffled.
She laughs, uproariously, as if I’ve just told a great joke.
“No, my innocent little lad. Come with me.” Taking my hand, she leads me from the dining room.
MBO Playlist: Coldplay, “Shiver”