It seems ten years have passed when we return to the eco-garden where we’d had dinner. Everything has been cleared away and cleaned up, except, I can see, the leather-bound portfolio Handbook, and the antique novella, placed neat and square in the center of the table.
Lark picks them up and hands them to me, but I shake my head in the negative, refusing to take them. “No,” I say. “Keep them here for… for this weekend. I won’t need them before then, anyway.”
“No?” she says. “You might want to look over the rules before we discuss them again.”
“I- I won’t really have time,” I falter. “With work. Tomorrow’s my last day at the bookstore, and I have orientation for my new job day after tomorrow-”
“… Oh? New job?” she queries in a deceptively casual tone.
Oh, no. I already know enough to be immediately on guard when she sounds like that. “I- I wanted to tell you- I meant to mention it sooner,” I explain softly, but with desperation, “but we were… busy talking about other things.” And having incredible, glorious sex out in the open, under the stars, I remind myself, tingles racing under my skin at the memories, so recent, yet so potent.
She leans one hip against the table, still holding the books in her arms, her pencil-skirt smoothed straight, and her hair tousled artlessly around her face and shoulders, and I think again of a college co-ed, of a date to a malt shop or drive in. My Superego actually snorts in derision at my visions, and I know he’s right. This is no sweet, old-fashioned romance with Lark Blackwood. This is a deadly, dark, dangerous and diabolical expedition she’s invited me on.
And I’ve agreed. Just for this weekend, at least, I tell myself.
“When did you obtain this… new job?”
“It was the, um, place- I told you about the interview with Portland Productions and Recording Engineers, and I got the job, so, uh…that is, I just found out yesterday, um- there was a message- So, uh, Friday- er- day after tomorrow, I’m going in for an orientation.”
“Well,” she says, and even though her voice is frosty and her eyes are guarded, she gives a little nod that lets me know the crisis point has passed. “Congratulations are in order, then. I’m sure you will do very well, as talented and bright as you are.”
I flush with delight.
“When were going to tell me about this, Bash?” she adds, and I’m shocked at how sad her face suddenly looks.
In an instant, I am reminded of earlier this evening, when, with the same haunted look in her eyes, she had clutched me to her, gasping in anguish and shaking, whispering
“Don’t let me fuck this up between us! Please! Don’t let me frighten you away! I couldn’t bear-”
Lark Ellery Blackwood, scared and vulnerable? Because of… me?
My heart wrenches. Did she really think I’d, what, take a new job and disappear from her life completely? Tears smart in my own eyes. She’s more frightened than I am, isn’t she? More vulnerable. My poor, poor, beloved Lark….
“I thought about calling or texting you when I first found out,” I admit, “but I thought, well, I’d be bugging you.”
“‘Bugging me’?” she repeats as if the words are foreign to her, and her eyebrow goes up a fraction. I’m aware of how puerile the words I’ve used are.
“Well, yeah- um, yes.” I wave my hands helplessly. “You’re… such an important businessperson, and this is just a dumb little assistant sound engineer job, and I’m-” I stop.
I’m not sure you’d care, is what I almost said.
“You think I wouldn’t be interested? You think that I wouldn’t care about you and your life and accomplishments, is that it?” she interjects crisply.
I lick my lips nervously, paling.
“After all we have already shared together, Bash, that is how little you think of me?” She turns away, but not before I see the hurt in her eyes. “Well, tonight certainly has been a revelation I didn’t anticipate.” She holds up one hand, enumerating on her slender, graceful fingers. “I discovered that you believe I would deliberately intoxicate you and take advantage of you. That you do not truly trust me. And that you think I don’t care and am not interested in you and your life. You must think I am an abysmal, abominable human being.”
My heart shatters into fragments that rain down like glass at my feet.
This whole night with her has been a roller coaster ride of the highest, most breathtaking highs, plummeting to the depths of the lowest lows before ascending to new and even more dizzying peaks again.
Just like the entirety of the time I’ve known her.
I shake my head to deny what she’s just said. “No! That’s not what I think, not at all! I just- You’re you, Lark, and I’m just… nothing, nobody.”
“You think that you are nothing, nobody, to me?” Her blue eyes are like pinpoints, nailing me.
I gulp, paling. “It’s just… so hard to believe that you… someone like you, who could have anyone she wants, really wants… someone like me.”
“And that’s why you don’t really trust me?”
“I do trust you! I told you I did! Don’t you believe me?”
“Actions speak louder than words, Bash! If you truly trust me, trust me as I trust you, why are you fighting me every step of the way?”
“I don’t mean it to seem like I’m fighting you,” I whisper. “I’m just trying to… sort all of this out. Negotiate. Like you said.”
Her eyes are fiery blue. “Negotiate?” She waves a slim, elegant hand in a dismissive gesture. “You tell me you’re trying to negotiate, and yet you haven’t even shared your hard limits with me. Determining your soft limits has been a battle of wills in and of itself.” She breathes in and out, shaking her head, eyes wide now, and filled with torment. “I told you, Bash, I need you to communicate honestly with me!”
Fine. Let’s get this out of the way before my fear and anxiety destroys me!
I face her as bravely and honestly as I can. “Okay. Then one of my hard limits is- is your Primary Man. I don’t want to ever see him or interact with him. I don’t want to participate in anything with him. I don’t want to share you with him. Or fuck you with him. I can’t. I don’t want him there watching, even if I can’t see he is. If you need me to submit and obey you, Lark, then I’ll do it. For you. But I don’t want anything to do with him. That is a hard limit for me.”
I wait in terror, waiting for her to reject this and send me away.
Instead, to my relief, she nods, tapping her lower lip with her fingers. “I can accept that. However, you know that I will still have contact with him on occasion, per our own private arrangement.”
Inwardly I wince. I can’t pretend that the thought isn’t a million stabbing swords in my gut. Already, the vision of Lark, beautiful and passionate and naked as I know her, with some other guy — someone taller and more fit and better-looking, someone more assured and wealthier than me — is enough to make me want to sink to the ground in agony.
But she still wants me, too. That in and of itself is a major miracle.
When it’s just she and I here, alone, together, in the world our passion creates, I guess I can pretend he doesn’t exist.
My Id nods encouragingly, jumping up and down. He wants this, no matter what.
My Superego, on the other hand, is looking more hopeful, but holds up a cautionary hand to warn me. Not yet, not yet, he’s insisting.
Lark Blackwood wants to tie me up, chain me up, and hit me. Biting, drawing blood, whipping. She wants to push me past every comfort zone I have.
She wants to cause me pain. No matter what the reason behind it, what it all comes down to is that she wants, needs, to physically hurt me.
I shudder, closing my eyes in agony, but I know a deep, very real truth, too: nothing she does to me with a cane or any of the other bizarre devices she’s mentioned could possibly hurt as much as the pain of not being with her at all.
Even if it means sharing her with someone else.
My choice is suddenly, amazingly clear to me: Something is better than nothing. Part of her is better than none of her. I will take what she has to give me and be grateful for it.
“I accept that,” I whisper in a tiny voice I can barely hear. What the fuck? My Superego screams in shock.
The intensity of her look makes me flush.
Suddenly, she pulls me close in a tight embrace, the kind I’ve been longing for. My cheek rests against her soft hair, and I breathe in its sweet, perfect scent. “Oh, Bash,” she murmurs. “You never cease to surprise me. You take my breath away. No wonder I can’t leave you alone.”
When she pulls away to meet my eyes, her face is alight with joy, purest joy.
I made that look appear on her face. Whoa.
“You have my word,” she murmurs softly, “that I will do everything I can this weekend to give you pleasure like you’ve never experienced before. If you can trust me and obey me, that is.”
“I can. I will. I promise,” I breathe, enraptured by the smile she gives me in return.
“My brave, brave, strong lad,” she whispers, touching my face. “I am awestruck, and so very proud of you for doing this. You are a constant revelation to me.”
In spite of everything, my heart feels like exploding fireworks. This makes it all worth it.
“But now,” she continues, her caressing hand moving over my cheek, running through my unruly hair, “I think you and I should… conclude our evening together. So much has happened tonight. And in a relatively short time, too. I don’t want to overwhelm you, Bash.”
I nod. I know that I need some space. I can hardly believe what I’ve agreed to, what the fuck this is all about. I don’t know if I can give Lark what she wants. But I have to try, at the very least, because the alternatives are devastating.
Again, I feel that wrenching, aching sensation. Don’t fall in love with her! My Superego is in a panic. But it might be irrevocably too late. It’s not just the sex, either. It’s so much more.
I clear my throat. “Thank you for dinner and… everything.”
“Everything?” she murmurs, her lips turning up in a slight smile.
“Everything,” I repeat with emphasis.
“Oh, that sharp, quick wit of yours, Sebastian Stone,” she whispers, still smiling. Then she touches the watch at her slender wrist.
Nguyen appears, and Lark instructs him, “Fetch Mr. Stone’s jacket, and tell Carter to bring the car around immediately.”
Even though I want desperately to be alone and have some space to myself, conversely, I also don’t want to leave Lark. Already I feel tied to her, by more than just silk ties, I think wryly.
Lark seems distracted as she walks me to the front door, as if her thoughts are miles away. I wish I could ask her what she’s thinking, but I can’t. And I’m afraid of the answer, anyway.
Still, we will have this weekend together. And I know it’s going to change my entire life.
We stand together at the front door, Nguyen holding it open, and watch as the Range Rover glides up.
I turn to face Lark, my heart throbbing painfully. With her servants around, I don’t dare try to embrace her in any way. Even without them, I don’t think I could. This certainly isn’t a typical good-night kiss at the end of a date.
“It’s been… quite an evening,” Lark murmurs, very low, for my ears only.
“Yes,” I agree. Suddenly, as I gaze at her, I’m terrified that this is for the last time. I might never see her again. She might change her mind, or find someone else. She might decide my hard limit of not interacting with her Primary Man is unacceptable. Primary Man himself might decide that he wants Lark all to himself, and who could blame him?
Oh, fuck, fuck, fuck. This is utter anguish!
I don’t want to go! If I stay here, agree to everything she demands, then I won’t have to face this haunting spectre of emptiness that would be my existence if she changes her mind…
Or if I do.
“Dinner tomorrow?” she asks me, holding my chin in her fingers so our eyes meet.
“I- I’m working,” I stammer, my mind scrambling for a way to make my retail dinner break turn into enough time for a dinner with Lark. “It’s my last shift-”
“I see. Perhaps another time,” she says decisively, just as I was on the verge of calling in sick and skipping my last day of work entirely.
“Yes,” I breathe. “Uh, look, maybe I should….” Stay, so we can talk more? Ask her back to my place, my home base, for my own security? Just not leave here, ever?
“Good night, Bash,” she murmurs softly, leaning to brush a chaste kiss on my cheek as Carter opens the Range Rover’s door for me.
“Good night,” I say, trying to hide my misery, stumbling down the steps to the car.
I slump into the back seat, and Carter shuts the door firmly before taking her place behind the wheel. Through eyes that are burning with sudden tears, I twist in my seat to watch Lark standing framed in that massive doorway as we pull away.
Almost immediately, the car turns so that I can’t see her anymore.