Her study, thankfully, has no slings or cages, no whips and paddles. There is still a lot of tasteful expensive leather, grays and taupes with high-tech steel accents. Lark gestures me to a sleek leather couch, and sits beside me, watching me carefully.
At last she says, “Would you like anything? Something to eat, perhaps, since you didn’t have much dinner? Or something for dessert, some fruit and cheese?”
I shake my head. Thankfully, she does not push the issue this time. If she forced me to eat now, I’d vomit.
“What about a drink? I have a nice forty-year-old Scotch here,” she offers, gesturing to the elegant square decanter on the table next to her.
“Yes,” I say gratefully. She pours amber liquid into two heavy cut-crystal highball glasses, and I down half of the stinging drink immediately, welcoming the warming burn as it hits my quivering, queasy stomach.
“Do you have any questions for me, before you get started looking over the handbook?”
I’ve set the leather-bound portfolio and the antique book down on the coffee table in exchange for the glass of Scotch, and I can’t think of opening either right now.
I do have a question, though. “I guess I just want to understand- why- why you are this way?”
She laughs softly, swirling her glass. “Do you always overanalyze, Sebastian?”
I shrug, and manage another sip of alcohol.
“It’s just hard to get my head around all of this,” I admit.
“It’s not about understanding me, dear lad,” she says in a husky, ironic voice, “it’s about learning to understand yourself, and what desires of your own you might be denying. It will be my responsibility to create a framework of trust so that you can reach those places.”
The warmth spreading in me has less to do with the alcohol, and more to do with the potency of her words.
“It’s not really anything I’ve given a lot of thought to,” I tell her bravely, fueled by liquid courage.
“You haven’t thought about your own desires?” she asks dryly.
“I guess not.”
“I thought you wanted to be more unconventional?” Lark reminds me. “Maybe it’s not about studded leather jackets,” she teases.
“Just studded leather harnesses,” I riposte, and she laughs.
“Touche, Mr. Stone. Touche.” She dips her finger into her glass and then, to my amazement, skates it wetly over my lower lip so I can taste the stinging alcohol. “That impertinence of yours, that sharp tongue,” she murmurs, eyes darkening.
“Is that something you’ll have to beat out of me?” I can’t help asking.
“What do you mean?”
“You’re going to… punish me for things like that?”
She tips her head to one side, russet curls sliding over her shoulder, face serious. “I will punish you when discipline is required.”
I close my eyes, and open them again, feeling sicker.
She’s still watching me.
“And this is what you did to… the others? The seventeen others?”
“They liked it?”
“They wanted and needed it.”
“Does… he do that to you? Beat you?”
“He tops me.”
I don’t know what she means by that.
“Under certain circumstances, I achieve great power and freedom by relinquishing control to him,” she continues. “That is what I would do for you in this arrangement, Sebastian. Empower you. Free you.”
“That’s what the other seventeen were like?”
“But you will hurt me? You’ll use those whips and things on me?”
“In the context of play, yes.”
I don’t know what she means by that, either. Oh, God, this is so confusing! I swallow more Scotch, like some old west cowboy, manning up.
Lark indicates the handbook portfolio. “I want you to go through this carefully after our initial discussion tonight,” she says. “It’s a fairly straightforward contract, although I expect you to negotiate with me. The rules are separated into different sections, not just sexual activity and discipline, but things like your wardrobe, transportation, fitness and health, well-being.” She opens the leather cover to the Handbooks table of contents. Sure enough, it’s all there. Roles. Punishment. Permanent Bodily Harm. Secrecy. Nutrition. Exercise. Appearance and Grooming. Residence. Household Duties.
“Of course, I will provide you with a car,” Lark tells me.
“I have my motorbike,” I protest, but she smiles and shakes her head.
“No arguments,” she tells me. “I will also provide you with a wardrobe, garments that I want you to wear when we’re together.”
“Like… underwear?” I stammer. “Or, you mean, weird leather get-ups?!”
“Sebastian,” she reproves me. “A full wardrobe that any well-dressed young man might require. In case I require you to accompany me anywhere, you need to look accordingly.”
“I thought we wouldn’t be going out anyplace?” Isn’t that what she said?
“One never knows,” she murmurs. “Regardless, I want you to be well groomed, well dressed, and in the best possible shape you can be, so that you can keep up with me. And for your own health and well-being, of course. So I will purchase a set of garments for you, provide you with a personal trainer who will report to me, and instruct my cook to prepare appropriate meals-”
I shake my head, “That’s too much, Lark! Too much money, too much everything! I’m not comfortable with any of that-”
“Think of it like, oh, job requirements,” she suggests. “This is for when you’re on the clock, so to speak, here, or with me in any capacity. Sebastian,” she adds, “I told you, for this to work, I need to be able to trust that you’re going to follow my instructions to the letter.”
I gulp, and flip a page in the open folder. The first page I turn to is titled “The Submissive’s Tenets.” Blanching, I close the Handbook. I don’t want to look at it anymore.
“But what is more important right now,” Lark continues, “is that I need to know more about your sexual history. Your likes and dislikes. What you might be willing to try.”
What I might be willing to try?! I have no idea! Now, even less than ever! “I don’t really know,” I protest, embarrassed.
“You’re blushing again,” she whispers, eyes darkening. Then she sits up straighter and looks at me. “Sebastian, I need your honesty. I need to be able to trust you as much as you will trust me.”
“Can you just start by telling me, say, if there’s anything in particular you’ve tried and hadn’t enjoyed?”
“I… haven’t… tried anything,” I confess, shame washing over me anew.
Lark actually looks shocked. “What do you mean, you haven’t tried anything?”
“You’re… a virgin?” she whispers, horrified. She spits the word out like it’s disgusting to her.
I can’t speak, so I just nod.
“Certainly you’ve had some experience, though, haven’t you, even if you haven’t had intercourse?”
I shake my head.
Anger is beginning to cloud her face.
“Goddammit, Sebastian!” she bursts out, slamming her glass down on the table. “Why didn’t you tell me?!”
“It’s not exactly something to bring up out of the blue,” I say defensively. “Besides, I’ve only known you for a week. What was I supposed to do, just say ‘Oh, by the way’ over drinks after your lecture or when when you dropped by Powell’s? It just… didn’t seem germane.”
But she hardly seems to be listening. “I don’t understand this,” she says, and she’s gotten up from the sofa, and is pacing in front of me. “How the fuck is this possible? Have you at least been kissed before this morning?” she demands, enraged.
“Of course I have!” I flare back. Well, sort of, a couple times, if awkward pecks from a couple nervous girls count.
She’s shaking her head, running her fingers through her hair, storming. “I can’t believe this. I’ve taken you into my Sanctuary, shown you- Oh, fuck.”
I’ve never seen her like this. Her usual control seems to have slipped, and her face is pale and her eyes incandescent in her magnificent fury.
“I don’t understand it,” she whirls on me. “You must have girls throwing themselves all over you, as attractive as you are. I’ve seen it myself. Your little friend Chloe, for one, and that barista-girl. How is it you haven’t slept with anyone before? Are you religious? Do you have something physically wrong with your genitalia?”
“No… Nothing like that. There just… wasn’t anyone I wanted before,” I whisper. I’m torn between intimidation and delight. Lark thinks I’m attractive? Truly? Wow.
“Well, I guess those tests Grover runs will be superfluous now, since at least I don’t have to worry about you having any diseases,” she murmurs ironically.
“Please don’t be angry with me,” I whisper, stuttering with my shame and embarrassment.
“I’m not angry with you,” she snaps. “I’m angry at myself, my assumptions. I could tell you were inexperienced, but-” She sighs, shaking her head, pacing some more. “A virgin.” She faces me, frowning. “You ought to go home now, Sebastian, for your own good. I’ll ring Carter-”
Oh, no. “Do you… want me to leave?” I whisper, my head hanging.
I can hear pain and regret in her voice as she says, “Of course I don’t.”
With all the courage I can muster, I peek up at her again.
Her face is drawn, her mouth pressed tight, But her eyes look haunted.
“Part of me wants to keep you here forever,” she tells me, huskily.
Oh, my god. I feel the heat of her words deeper than any swallow of forty-year-old Scotch.
Suddenly, she holds her hand out to me.
“Come with me. Now.”
“You need to be able to make an informed decision, so we’re going to take care this matter.”
This… matter? My virginity, me, I’m a matter?
“I’m going to make love to you now, Sebastian. That is, if you consent to it.”
The deepest recesses of my body are on fire now. Oh, my God.
One word, yes, and I can do it with Lark Ellery Blackwood.
“But you said you don’t do… that,” I stammer, putting my cold, clammy hand in hers. “You said you work and train, you don’t make love.”
“It looks like I’m going to make a bit of an exception,” she tells me. “I suppose we could try you on standard sex first. Certainly, we both know this is a means to an end, but it’s also a way to begin your basic training, so that you can understand what you might be getting into. Besides, I’ve wanted you from the moment I saw you spilling coffee all over the counter that morning.”
“And I know that you want me, too, don’t you,” she adds. I acquiesce with a nod.
“But what about this?” I quaver, indicating the Handbook. “What about all of your rules and tests and-”
“Forget about all that for now. Just spend the night with me tonight.” Her hand has closed around my limp fingers, and she pulls me closer, so I can feel her whole body against mine.
“Besides,” she adds with a wicked grin, taking my chin in her fingers and holding my face so that I can’t turn away from her burning gaze, even if I wanted to, which I certainly don’t, “when we played chess earlier, didn’t you promise me something else if I won?”
Holy smokes. Dreams do come true!
“So, my young, virginal, exquisite Sebastian Stone, will you spend the night with me?”
“That’s why I’m here,” I whisper to her.
Her crystal blue eyes blaze with triumph. “Come along,” she commands, tugging my hand so that I follow her up stairs and down corridors to her bedroom.
MBO Playlist: “To Be Alone With You” (Bob Dylan cover), Sue Foley