Can Lark Blackwood entice an already-intrigued but overwhelmed Sebastian Stone to consider the kind of relationship he’d never dreamed existed before… on her terms? Or will Sebastian run from a passion already greater than anything he’s ever known?
I think, giddily, that maybe she actually is dragging me off to her bedroom. She leads me down one hall, then another, until we come to a set of glass double-doors leading outside. “This way,” she says, pressing a keypad, and I hear a latch click.
We cross a small patio to what looks like a garden house or a playhouse, but it’s windowless. A garage?
Another set of codes on a keypad, and Lark unlocks the door to the structure. But she pauses before opening it. “Carter is standing by to take you home if you decide you want to run for the hills,” she says dryly.
Oh, god, what on earth is in here? Dead bodies? A meth lab? Whatever it is, it can’t be good, can it?
“Stop saying that,” I tell her, scowling. “I’m not going anywhere.”
She smiles. “That spirit. That impertinence.” But then her face goes serious again. She opens the door wide, and nods to allow me to step first into the dark space. Steeling myself, I enter.
She is behind me, and I hear the door close with a heavy click and the whir of a lock. Lark and I are alone in here, in the dark, and anything might happen.
Goosebumps and shivers race over my skin. My Superego has dropped his copy of Lady Chatterley’s Lover and risen from the chaise lounge, a look of horror and fear on his face, and even my Id has stopping pogo-dancing, and is waiting with wide, frightened eyes at what on earth might happen next.
With a tap, Lark turns on the lights in the room, and-
Holy fucking good god.
It’s unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. The room is like a Parisian bordello crossed with something from Arabian Nights. Or like those Klimt paintings we talked about in the bookstore. The walls are high and dark green, spaced out with backlit stained glass windows, and covered in places with gold-leaf designs and mosaic. There is a square, sunken pool on one end of the room, made of oriental tiles, and flower petals float on the water’s surface, but there are heavy chains and what look like manacles on one end. There’s something that looks like an elaborate bench, leather-padded, with handles and things. One wall is fitted with cuffs, and what looks like a small platform. At the far end is a huge bed, draped in oriental hangings, and covered with something that looks like satin. It’s ornate, with more restraints and chains on the carved headboard, and looks like it’s several hundred years old. I wonder if it’s a real antique, and, if so, where Lark got it.
My eyes focus next on display racks in the corners, like accoutrements from fancy and elaborate stable or a luxury hardware store: harnesses, whips, canes, paddles, of all shapes and sizes and materials. Luxurious leathers, polished wood.
In a corner is an oversized apparatus of bars and chains and leather, and I can hardly believe what I’m seeing. It’s a giant sling.
One of the long walls is decorated with frescoes, but, as I quickly realize, they are sexually explicit scenes. Erotic scenes. People bent and draped in a variety of positions. Actually doing it. My jaw drops and my face goes hot as I look at one, realizing it is a woman being… having that done to her by a man, who is in turn being penetrated by another man.
I shake my head, trying to take in all of this, and failing.
It’s opulent, ostentatious, but somehow in elegant good taste, beautiful, romantic even. The lighting is soft. There are even tall, ornate floor candelabra with pillar candles on them, not currently lit. Oriental rugs cover the tiled floors. I don’t recognize the fragrance in the room, but it’s spicy, heady. I can imagine it must be some sort of exotic oil.
I feel like I’m in shock at this point. I turn to Lark, who is regarding me impassively, waiting to see my reaction.
“This,” Lark says, “is my Sanctuary.” She takes a step over to a dark polished-wood cabinet, and I can see that it has a collection of books, old and valuable ones, all erotica, including some of the ones she bought when she came into Powell’s last week.
Casually, she picks up a leather-bound, gilded copy of Les Bijoux Indiscrets and puts it back on the shelf. “What do you think of it?” It sounds like a soft, sensuous challenge.
What do I think? Of this?
I think I’m completely freaked out, terrified. Is she some sort of dominatrix, a sado-masochist? This is how she gets her kicks? Whips and chains and paddles?
“Aren’t you going to say anything, Sebastian?”
I’m looking at another piece of furniture, what I thought at first was some sort of a table, but I realize with shock and a sickness in my stomach that it is actually a cage. For a person.
“The, um… murals are very… uh… unique,” I finally sputter, only because I can’t say what I really want to.
She blinks. “The frescoes are imagery from the Manual of Classical Erotology. I thought they were quite appropriate.”
“I don’t understand,” I stammer. “What is all this… about?”
Her mouth quirks in amusement. “This is about my lifestyle.”
I gulp. Lifestyle! “Do you… have S&M orgies here or something?”
Her eyes darken. “No.”
“But you… use these things? Or have people use them on you?” I gesture helplessly at the erotic paraphernalia that fills her Sanctuary.
“I use them on young men who like it and want me to. Who beg for it.”
Want her to? Beg for it?! I can’t fathom it.
“So you’re… what, a sadist, a dominatrix?”
“I don’t like to pin it down with terminology and labels, Sebastian, but I lead a very non-traditional lifestyle, sexually.” She has put down the book, and takes a step closer to me.
I can hardly breathe between the shock of all this, and her proximity. “Non-traditional lifestyle?”
Her look is frank, explicit. “I suppose it’s closest to call it Polyamorous Dom-sub.”
“What does that mean?” I’ve never heard of such a thing.
No wonder she called you naive, my Id hisses at me, smirking.
“It means,” she says slowly, seriously, and never taking her eyes from mine, “that I am in a consensual non-monogamous relationship with a man who dominates me, and that I have dominating relationships with… willing young men who agree to be submissive, subordinate, to me, in return. It is a mutually sexually gratifying arrangement.”
I can’t make sense of any of this.
She is in a relationship with a man.
She dominates other men, young men. She uses these things, these paddles and harnesses, on them.
I want to go back home and hide in my bedroom for days, like I did last week.
“I thought you said you didn’t have a boyfriend,” I manage, feeling betrayed beyond belief.
She blinks, looking surprised. “I don’t have a boyfriend. He is not my boyfriend. We do not date or go on vacations, or whatever it is that boyfriends and girlfriends do. We have an arrangement.”
“Who is he?”
“You don’t need to worry yourself with those details, Sebastian. Rest assured, I am free to live my life as I see fit.”
My stomach is churning. I remember the phone call she took this morning. A man saying “Ellie, it’s me. Where have you been?” with familiarity.
Was that him? I feel sick with jealousy and hurt.
“Is this his house?” I blurt.
“No,” she snaps, that freezing note in her voice that I’ve come to dread so much. “This is my house, my room, my life, my money, my business. He has nothing to do with any of that. Don’t ever think otherwise!”
“I’m sorry,” I whisper.
“You still think I’m a dilettante?” she challenges me, eyebrows raised.
I’m all but squirming with shame. “No! Honest, I don’t! I’m just-” I gesture. “This is just a lot to take it.”
“Now that you’ve had time to take it in, tell me what you think of it,” she demands.
“I think I want to know why you brought me here,” I murmur.
“Because I want to do this with you, Sebastian.”
“You do?” I gasp.
“Very much. More than I can tell you.”
She shrugs. “Because this is what I like. Want. Need. This is who I am. What I do.”
I walk over to one of the racks, and touch a thing that looks like a paddle covered with rich, opulent fur. “So you want to… hit me?”
“I want to discipline you,” she corrects me, eyes burning.
“For what?” Discipline? What have I done wrong?
“Because I want you to want to please me,” she says, her voice low and spellbinding.
Holy smokes. She wants me to please her?
Please her. Please Lark Ellory Blackwood. But I already do want to please her. She doesn’t need to discipline me for that to happen. I gaze at her, dumbstruck. This beautiful, incredible, powerful woman, this is what she wants. My submission to her.
A new revelation is dawning on me. She wants me to want to please her, by doing… these things. Or letting her do them to me. Can I? Something deep inside me wants to know that I’m capable and able to do that, to meet her challenges. It’s an empowering feeling.
Still, I’m trying to process all of this information.
“But you’ll still be with that other guy?”
“He’s what is called my primary.”
I flinch inwardly. “Which would make me secondary?”
“It’s not about ranking, Sebastian,” she tells me. “It’s common in this kind of lifestyle. It means my… arrangement with him is open. I’m allowed to explore my own tastes and desires with willing partners. I find men, young men, who like this. I train them, and work them.”
My mouth has popped open again, and I have to admit, part of this sounds incredibly hot, despite everything else involved.
She comes over and picks up the sable paddle I was just touching, and, to my shock, she brushes the silky fur again my face, then her own. It’s a sensuous feeling.
“I pleasure them, and let them pleasure me,” she continues. I listen, as if hypnotized. “And, once they are properly trained, I pleasure them and let them pleasure me while he watches. It’s about control and power.”
Wait, what now?
This is all too much. I’m in way over my head. Even just the chains and manacles and things were too much, but now, her having this “primary,” whoever he is, and him watching her with other young men… young men like me… it’s all just way too much.
You have to get out of here! my Id is screaming.
My Superego has already fled, probably at the library looking up “Kinky perverted S&M Dominatrix” in the encyclopedia.
“So, what are you saying?” I whisper to her, gone pale with shock.
“In the simplest of terms? I’m saying I would like to form an arrangement with you.”
“Where… where you discipline me and train me-”
“And pleasure you,” she interrupts.
“While he watches,” I add.
“You’d never have to see him. There are hidden spaces in the walls with specially designed viewfinders for that purpose if you aren’t comfortable with him in the room.”
I blink. “Is he watching us now?!”
“No, of course not. He does not participate when I negotiate and train.”
My mouth feels like an arid desert, and I wish there was another bottle of wine in here. I could really use a drink.
“So we would have a relationship, but not an… exclusive one?” I ask her.
“Other than understanding my arrangement with him, you and I would be exclusive to each other.”
My heart has sunk to the soles of my feet. “So I am faithful to you, but you aren’t faithful to me?”
I just wanted to find a normal relationship! A girlfriend. Someone to go with to the movies or bowling. Cuddling on the couch. Ordering Thai food delivery. Going out to dinner or concerts or dancing. And instead, I’m in this palace of hedonism, with the most beautiful woman in the world, who wants to discipline me and pleasure me while some other guy, her primary, watches us from a peephole?
Lark turns those laser-blue eyes on me. “There is more to faithfulness than fucking, Sebastian.”
Wow. There is?
“I never thought about it that way,” I admit.
“I would be faithful to you in all the ways that matter, Sebastian,” she tells me. “I would be your mistress. Your disciplinarean. I would be utterly devoted to your pleasure. We would have to trust each other implicitly, respect each other. That is a deeper kind of faithfulness than many sexual relationships have.” She shrugs. “You would get to decide which honorific term you wanted to use, but you would be my boy. My lad. My pet. My sub. I would provide you everything you need for this lifestyle for a prearranged period of time. Clothing. A car. Allowance. A room, meals. Medical treatment.”
I’m bewildered. I don’t even know what I can say to any of this. It’s so confusing.
I guess this is her idea of romance, maybe? Providing things? I know she’s a high-handed, autocratic control freak, so it shouldn’t be as shocking as it is, but still. I think of how she came to my rescue last night, how caring she was with me this morning. This same woman wants to chain me up to the wall and hit me with things to discipline me.
Although, in a funny way, I guess it’s all part the same thing, isn’t it? Her wanting to take care of things.
“All because you want to cause me pain?”
“It’s not gratuitous, Sebastian. I’m not a sadist. It’s not pain for pain’s sake. It’s about training. Compliance. Control. The pain is part of you learning how to obey my rules.”
I need to know that you’re going to follow my instructions, is what she said to me over dinner. This is why. So she can do these things. To me.
Her eyes are hooked on mine. “I derive a great deal of pleasure, sexual and otherwise, by exerting control. Therefore, I need to gain your trust and your respect so that we can work together to achieve the utmost pleasures. I have rules for achieving that, safely and consensually. If you break my rules, I am obligated to punish you so that you’ll learn.” Her tongue touches her lips. “If you agree to this arrangement, Sebastian, it will mean agreeing to my rules.”
“What do I get for obeying all of your rules?” I ask her, and she shrugs, but smiles.
“You get… an adventure beyond your wildest imagination. You get to experience life and sex and your own pleasures at the highest peak. You get… me. Completely, and honestly. What other woman could promise you that?”