Lark goes over to a table by the oversized bed. From a drawer, she takes out a thick, leather-bound portfolio, and brings it over to me. “All of the information you need is in here. This is my… handbook, if you will. I have a new one made up every time I begin a new arrangement. This one is especially for you, Sebastian,” she tells me, her voice dropping softer.
Especially for me?!
I take it, not knowing what else to do.
“Take this as well,” she continues, giving me another book, this time one of those gilt-paged historical antique books. “Read it,” she tells me. “It’s a good explanation of the lifestyle, and what would be expected of you, what you can expect of me. Once you’ve done that, we can begin formal negotiations if you wish. Go over your hard and soft limits.”
I’m bewildered. Reeling.
This is almost like an uncomfortable job interview, like that interview at Portland Productions and Recording Engineers, although there weren’t any erotic murals or leather whips there. Not that I’d know what to do with any of them there, either. Much less here.
Cold sweat is beading on my backbone, and I feel a little sick to my stomach.
“You need time to look these things over, Sebastian,” Lark continues, looking intently at me. “Read. Think carefully before making any sort of decision. Come along,” she says, holding out her hand to me. “Let’s go back to the house. Besides,” she adds, her voice edgy and soft, “I can’t concentrate properly, having you in here. And I have more things to show you, besides.”
In stunned silence, I just stare at her. Automatically, I put my hand in hers, even though part of me is scared to death to do so.
How on earth did I end up here, in this Palace of Hedonism and Depravity?
Silently, she leads me from her Depravity Sanctuary, locking the doors behind her securely, and then taking me back into the house through the same door we went through just a few minutes ago. There’s a little staircase to the right that I didn’t notice before, and she leads me down it to a small but well-lit hallway. We’re underground?
Using her Apple i.watch, she keys in another code of some sort, and the unobtrusive door on the right side of the wall unlocks.
“This would be your room,” she says, leading me inside. It’s like a grand but cold and businesslike hotel room, all elegant lines, in tones of greys, browns, taupes, and blacks, with high-tech geometric metal touches here and there.
“It’s the closest room in the house to the Sanctuary, with direct access through a small underground walkway, so you could come and go privately here, without the household staff seeing you.”
“You want me to move in with you?” I gasp. Will the shocks never cease with this woman?
“I want you to be here when I need you and desire you, Sebastian. Obviously you would keep your regular work hours, although- Well, we can talk about that later. But you could even select certain days to stay here. However, an imperative part of our agreement would involve your… physical proximity and availability. That’s another thing we need to negotiate before writing up our formal contract. It’s all covered in the handbook,” she adds, reaching to tap the expensive leather binder in my hands.
Unconsciously, I flinch.
She looks injured at that. “I’m not going to hurt you, Sebastian,” she says softly.
But you are, I think. That’s what you said you wanted to do. Hit me, discipline me, punish me.
“Where’s your room?” I can’t help asking.
“On the second floor.”
Separated from her by three floors, unless we are together in her Depravity Sanctuary.
It just… feels- not right. Causing pain. Hitting. Her doing these things to me while another man — her primary — watches us.
At the thought a funny feeling quivers in my stomach. Maybe he would be jealous of me?
I sigh. None of this was what I expected. Or wanted.
“You can bring your own things in here,” she continues. “Decorate it, personalize it. I want you to feel safe and comfortable here,” she adds. “That’s important in a relationship like this.”
A relationship like this.
“This is where your… other… relationships stay?” I’m feeling sicker by the second.
“So this is your sex slave dungeon?”
She looks both amused and annoyed. “Sebastian, these are formal, safe, and consensual relationships. This room is for my boys to use, so they have privacy, a place to rest, some space of their own when we aren’t together.”
“Because you don’t want me to stay with you upstairs in your own room?”
“No. I don’t share my bed with anyone else.”
“Not even your… primary?”
“No. He doesn’t stay here at all. I don’t ever share my bed with him.”
That surprises me. So does another fact. “But… you did with me, last night,” I whisper.
Lark smiles softly. “That was an unusual circumstance, Sebastian.”
I can’t help smiling a little at that, too. She doesn’t ever share her bed with anyone, not even him, but she did with me.
But Lark continues. “It’s never happened before. It won’t happen again.”
Oh. “So, uh… how many other… boys have lived here?”
“Seventeen,” she informs me calmly, like it’s no big deal.
She’s had seventeen other — what does she call them? Boys. Subs. Pets.
“How long have I done this, or how long do my arrangements with the boys last?”
“Both,” I ask stubbornly.
“I’ve been making these formal arrangements since I left school and moved back here when I was twenty-two. So for six years. Each relationship is for a set term, usually three to six months, although sometimes they end sooner. I had one lad that lasted for a full year,” she informs me calmly.
A full year. That’s the most I’d get with her, I think, depressed. Three months to a year, and then… nothing.
“What about… him?”
“Him?” she repeats, sounding amused and annoyed again.
“How long have you been with him?”
“Over ten years,” she says.
My jaw drops. That means, if she’s twenty-seven or -eight now, it started with him when she was a teenager? “How old is he?”
“In his thirties. Sebastian,” she adds gently, “You don’t need to worry about him. To me, he’s literally just a hard cock attached to a body, performing a service. He doesn’t interfere in my life. Or yours. We have an arrangement that works well for both of us, just like any other business arrangement, where we have certain needs met. That’s all. It’s about me maintaining power and control.”
“Why haven’t you married him? Or is he married already?” I demand, face hot, heart pounding.
Her face hardens and her voice goes icy in that way I’ve learned to dread more than anything. “No. And I have no desire to get married. I told you already, men want too much from me. This is why I need the control of these arrangements. Maintaining balance through the power of it.”
I walk over to the bed, a huge California king, spread with a luxurious gray duvet. I don’t want to sit down on it. Was this where she- with them? Those others?
“Do you sleep in here?” I ask her.
“Never,” she informs me. “This space would be yours alone. It’s important that I never impose on it when you’re here.”
“So I’d be… number eighteen?” I can’t help asking a little bitterly.
“Sebastian,” she says softly to me, coming closer, and sitting down on the bed herself. “I’m offering you everything I possibly can.” She takes my hand. “Sit,” she commands, and draws me to sit down next to her on the exquisitely comfortable mattress. Then she gently strokes my cheek, her eyes burning crystal-blue flame.
“I just… don’t know about all of this,” I stutter.
“I understand. If you want out of this, say so, and we can end this discussion immediately.”
End immediately. I can’t do that, either, even though the thought of what she’s shown and told me already is horrifying.
Aiden was right. I’m too wide-eyed and innocent for Lark Blackwood. This is too dangerous for me, in part because I already know I can’t say an unequivocal no, not yet. I still want her, ache for her.
I say bravely, “It’s not that, it’s- it’s-”
“I know,” she says again, those elegant fingers cupping my face, under my chin, forcing me to look at her. “This is what I tried to fight for so long, Sebastian. It’s an exciting but a very dark journey I’m asking you to take with me, and I know that you aren’t particularly well-versed in the type of nontraditional lifestyle I lead. That is why it was important that I bring you here, so you can see it all first-hand, and make a well-informed decision. There’s no room for impulsiveness.”
“I just don’t get it,” I murmur. “You said there are other people who do this with you-”
“Young men,” she corrects. “All of the age of consent. Certainly not just random people. I scout and vet them carefully before training.”
“So why me? Why am I here, if you can find others who are into this? What do you want with me?!” I’m baffled by all of this.
“This is… what I want, what I need,” she says urgently. “And I want to share it all with you, Sebastian. I can’t stop thinking about it, and I’m not even sure exactly why,” she admits to me. “All I know is that I want you, want to have you. Desperately,” she adds, shaking her head as if she can’t believe it herself. “It’s become my… my obsession. You are my obsession. My beautiful, beautiful obsession.”
“It’s the other way around,” I breathe, unable to believe what is happening.
My Id has peeked back out from behind the sofa with bright eyes and a hopeful expression, and my Superego has put down the encyclopedia and is looking on with interest, too.
She wants me. Lark Blackwood, L.E. Blackwood, wants me.
She could have anyone, and yet I am the one that she’s brought here.
I think about that Sanctuary of Depravity. The leather harnesses and bindings and whips. Whips! The racks and chains and manacles on the walls. The opulent sunken pool, with its restraints. That bed, that huge, sensuous, wicked, deviant bed that she wants to share with me.
This is terrifying, horrifying, overwhelming, yes… but it’s also intriguing, too, isn’t it?
“I’m just not thrilled at the idea of… of you beating and torturing me,” I admit helplessly. “Being your sex slave while you cause me pain-”
“That’s where you’re wrong,” Lark tells me softly. “Sebastian… Try to keep an open mind. It’s not about pain. It’s about pleasure. About testing limits. Taking things to the edge and experiencing life and sex and pleasure at the highest peaks. Pain and pleasure are flip sides of the same coin, after all. When you cross that line, the endorphin rush is beyond anything you’ve ever known. Even riding the Ducati,” she adds, smiling, as she gives me a comparison I can understand. “It’s about power, too. You would hold all the power in this dynamic.”
“Yes. I can’t do any of this without your permission, your consent.”
I lift my hands and wave them at the room. “But what if I don’t want any of this. What if I just want a normal relationship?”
Her face tightens. “There’s no need to kink-shame,” she chastizes me. “There’s nothing abnormal about this kind of consensual agreement between two adults.”
I flush in shame. “I didn’t mean-”
“I know you didn’t. And if you decide you don’t want anything to do with any of this, I understand,” she says matter of-factly. “I’ve worried that I am… too abnormal for someone like you, Sebastian Stone. Not everyone can do this. So you can say no to my offer.”
Another cold truth has become clear, though. “But you and I wouldn’t have any other kind of relationship if I do?” I whisper.
“No. This is what I do, Sebastian. Who I am. You’d have to accept that. Otherwise,” she says softly, “we cut our losses, and both move on.”
She stands up. “Now that you’ve seen the premises, let’s go back upstairs and talk. I’m sure you have more questions.”
I can’t answer. I can’t move. I can hardly breathe.
I have to accept her as she is, accept this, or there will never be anything between us.
“Sebastian? Let’s go. Now.”
Bossy, controlling Lark Blackwood. It’s not like this is a new side to her or anything. She’s been like this from the moment I met her.
I have to accept her like this, or leave.
Heavily, I get up, lifting my eyes to hers. Oh, God, those unfathomable exquisite blue eyes.
“Let’s go to my study,” she says gently, as if she understands how overwhelmed I must be, and nodding, almost as if it’s an unconscious compulsion, I obey her.