Her eyes are still glowing with amusement and humor. “Come. Let’s enjoy our dinner, Bash,” she says to me. 

Bash!

Licking my lips, I nod, and pick up my knife and fork again. That makes her smile. “That’s better,” she encourages me. “I worry about you not eating enough.”

“I eat just fine,” I say defensively… although not as defensively as a couple minutes ago. 

“You don’t eat much when we’re together.”

“I can’t help it. I get too nervous to eat.”

“And too nervous to laugh, too,” she reminds me from our previous conversation. Her eyes look hurt again. “It is such a shame. What I want most to do is take care of you,” she tells me, her voice a velvet caress. “There is so much of life you haven’t yet experienced, Sebastian Stone. I want to be the one to introduce you to… all of it.”

I can’t help my smile in response. “Why do I get the feeling that you’re talking about more than just fancy restaurants and helicopter rides?”

She laughs. Oh, that joyous, delightful, delighted laugh of hers! It’s bewitching!

“You are a bright young man, Bash. I know better than to underestimate you.”

“Really?” I’m squirming with delight again. 

“You’re like no other young man I’ve ever met.”

“I’m not?”

“No.” She frowns, sipping more wine. “In my life, the men I meet are bold, demanding, confident. Aggressive. You’re not like that. You’re reticent. Romantic. Modest. Sweet.” She touches her tongue to her own lip, tipping her head to one side as she regards me. “Unattainable. Challenging.”

Oh. Is that good or bad? I never know with Lark Blackwood if up is up and down is down. 

I manage another bite of the palate-cleanser, a tiny confit of shaved celery and apple, just to keep Lark happy. But when the next entree course is brought it, I know it’s going to be impossible to eat it. The smell of it reaches my nostrils immediately. Ginger. Ugh, gross. I hate ginger. 

I don’t recognize the dish, either; the waiters, after Lark’s rebuke, are completely silent as they replace our plates with some sort of bright pink meat that is about the color of prime rib, but not. It could be anything, knowing Lark.

“Go ahead,” she murmurs to me, nodding at the fresh knife and fork that have been placed before me.

“What is it?”

Canette rosée.”

“But… what is it?”

“Braised roast breast of duckling, since you are so curious. With a blend of Asian spices, cinnamon, coriander, nutmeg, ginger, anise. Does that answer your question?”

“Yes. Thank you.” I slowly, carefully cut the smallest bit I can. I’ve had duck before, that’s not the problem. It’s the spices. I feel like a kid who’s been made to sit at the table all night until he cleans his plate, and I can’t help looking around to see if there’s a convenient potted plant or extra napkin I could hide the gingered monstrosity with. 

I chase one microscopic bite with a large gulp of wine, and toy with the rest.

Lark is watching me with laser-sharp blue eyes. 

Nervously, I lick my lips and try not to squirm. I know what’s coming now: another round of Lark Blackwood’s Control Freak Food Patrol. 

Sure enough…

“You’re still not eating.”
“I, uh, just really don’t…  like… ginger,” I confess.

“Oh? Is that all?”

“Well… yes.”

“That is easily enough remedied,” she says. “We can have them take this back, and bring you-”

“No!” I protest in a panic. If there is one thing I hate, loathe, and abhor, it’s sending food back to the kitchen in a restaurant. It just seems so rude, so presumptuous, and makes me feel incredibly uncomfortable. “Please don’t, this is fine.”

“It’s not fine, Sebastian.”

“I just really am not comfortable sending food back, please. I know it’s silly-”

“It is silly. And I am perfectly comfortable doing so-”

“No, Lark, please!” I beg again, my face incinerating. “It’s my fault for not saying anything when he asked about allergies and stuff, so-”

“You’re acting like a child, Sebastian.” She has already risen in her chair to summon the headwaiter, who flies into the room so quickly that I know there is staff lurking right outside the door, awaiting Lark’s every wish and need. She is the queen, and they are her minions. 

“Meyer, this dish is not to my date’s liking,” she informs him. “Take it immediately, and bring something without ginger.”

“Yes, madam, our apologies, sir, right away,” the headwaiter all but genuflects, but  my humiliation and discomfiture with sending food back has been tempered by a spark of purest delight. 

Date. She called me her date!

“There,” she murmurs, sipping wine. “Was that so terribly bad?”

It was embarrassing, yes. My face is still scalding hot. But I know that’s not what she wants to hear. And frankly, I’m not in the mood for another argument. 

Mutely, I shake my head. 

“Good boy,” she whispers, and then gives me her heartbreaking smile. “You know, it’s my job to take care of my lad’s needs. My responsibility. What else would you have had me do?” she asks with amusement. 

I just shrug, grateful that the headwaiter has scuttled back in with a new plate and I don’t have to say anything in response.

“Herb-crusted braised lamb shank with garden greens. I hope this is acceptable, sir,” he patters quickly, a minimum of information, before scooting out the door again, leaving us alone.

I inhale the smell of roast meat and vegetables. Mmmm. Much better. But my stomach is still in dozens of knots after our latest battle of wills. I can’t even pick up my knife and fork, and just stare silently at my plate.

“Are you still vexed?” Lark asks me, that smile hovering around her lips.
I’m tempted to throw my own cutlery, like she did a few minutes ago, just to make the point that I can be as short-tempered and volatile as she can, but it’s not my style. I move my lips in an unconscious pout, though, not willing to give in completely. I really am pissed off, and if it were anyone but Lark, my own beautiful obsession, I don’t think I’d have the patience or commitment to stay here. 

“Sebastian,” she says, dabbing her lips with the heavy napkin, “what else would you have had me do?” she repeats the question. “This is their job, to prepare and serve food that customers want and like. Furthermore, it would be abhorrent to waste such food at a restaurant of this caliber. There was a problem, and I fixed it. It is as simple as that.”

“You could try not being such a control freak all the time,” I grouse.

“Oh? Could I?” Her eyes dance again, even though her mouth is unsmiling. “Why, though, when I am so very good at it?”

I try not to laugh, but I feel my lips twitch. Dammit. I am still embarrassed and angry and humiliated and uncomfortable by this whole sending-food-back thing. But, on the other hand, she looks like she’s having fun teasing me. “Lark,” I start, knowing that I need to explain, but afraid of what she will say when I do. “Lark, I- I know that… you want and need to have control over things for a bunch of different reasons.” Many of which you won’t tell me, I think silently. “But…  I want and need things, too. You… you said I’m supposed to be able to be honest with you about that. And, uh, well…  I don’t want you do things like send my food back at a restaurant, especially when I ask you not to. I don’t want to piss off people I work with by leaving to go off with you because you’ve shown up out of the blue. I want to order my own dinners and drive myself and… and I… I just… don’t want to be your submissive every minute of every day!” I almost wail. 

Nothing but the sound of the fire dancing in the grate.

She still doesn’t answer me, but the expression in her eyes is hooded and unreadable again. “Oh?” she finally murmurs, as if interested. “Is that so? What else do you want, Bash, since you’ve brought the subject up?” she asks me mildly, tilting the wine glass.

“I want us to… do normal things together. Like a real couple. Go on dates, like, go out to dinners or the movies or something! I don’t just want to be your live-in sex slave obeying your every order! I want- a… a real relationship, not just a contractual arrangement.”

Her chuckle is low, warm, surprising me. “It’s like I already said… you’re such a romantic, my young, sweet lad,” she chides me. “But I’ve already told you, Bash…  I’m not about romance. I’ve told you what I want, and I want it with you, Bash. Not all that typical relationships and coupledom and dating.” 

“Isn’t this… kind of a dinner date, though?”

Her eyes narrow. “I already told you, I don’t do the dating thing.”

“But you said I was your date when you sent back my dinner?” I falter.

“It was the easiest explanation at the moment.”

“Oh.” My heart is in free-fall yet again. 

We want completely different things, and I don’t know if there is any common ground for us to find. She wants me to be something I’m not. I promised her I’d try this weekend, but what if I do, what if I agree to her terms and ideas, and still fail completely? I remember my dream this morning, and shake my head as confusion suffuses my brain once more. I liked it when she did… those dark, depraved, kinkified things to me in my dream. Doesn’t that mean I’ll like it if she does it in real life? 

But what if I don’t? What if I can’t deal with letting her chain me up and hit me, order my food for me and make me eat, pick out my clothes, send me off to spa days or kidnap me away from work at her whims? What if I agree to her terms, sign that handbook contract, and, after our allotted time of a few months, she’s fed up with trying to turn me into something I’m not and can never be: her submissive toy, her pet, her boy.

I sigh despondently, poking at the beautifully-plated food in front of me. I’m not sure I want to do any of this in the first place. If I try, if I force myself to do things and be things that make me this uncomfortable, things that I’m not, what will happen after, if and when I fail Lark’s tests and she cuts me loose? I’ll be spoiled for any other woman. Maybe I already am. 

Her rejection after I’ve invested more time, more emotion, would utterly destroy me. I really should call it quits now, even before this weekend, shouldn’t I?

To be fair, I guess I want her to be something she’s not, too. My girlfriend. Girlfriend and boyfriend. She’s been telling me she can’t risk having an emotional bond with me. It’s beyond depressing. I mean, I get it, because of who she is and all, but it’s still pain upon pain upon pain to realize. How deep will it scar?  

Poor, scared, vulnerable Lark. All I can do is be patient. And… obey?

She really, really wants this. 

“Bash….” The angry warning note in her voice is clear.

I raise my eyes to her in utter despair. “What if I can’t, Lark?”

“What if you can’t finish your dinner?”

“Amongst other things,” I murmur.

“If you’d stop overthinking every little step of the way, it would be so much easier for you, you know.  Live in the moment, Bash,” she says, her voice so warm and sexy and hypnotic.

I’m not a live-in-the-moment kind of guy in the first place. But the real problem is, I don’t know if living in the moment right now means that I would beg her to fuck me on the table, like she’d said she could earlier, or that I would run away from her and all of this as fast as I possibly can. 

“What is it, Sebastian?” she murmurs, reading the darkening of my eyes.

I decide I just want to live in this moment with her, whatever that moment is, and I tell her so. “I can’t make up my mind if living in the moment means I’d run away right this second, or that I’d let you have your wicked way with me here and now,” I confess it. 

Her lips curve, and she looks more like a sex goddess than ever. “Silly boy,” she murmurs. “Do you think that if you ran from me, I couldn’t find you?””

“Oh, yeah. Your high-tech stalking capabilities,” I riposte with sarcasm, remembering how she found me at the bar a few nights ago. 

“That’s just the beginning, Sebastian,” she says, eyes bright and shining as she teases me again. 

“Like what?”

“I could kidnap you, really abduct you, and take you to my place in New York. Or my island house in Fiji. Or just back to my Depravity Sanctuary. Then you’d be mine without question, totally in my control. Possibilities are endless.” Her smile is widening.

Holy smokes. That’s so hot… and so fucked up. “You’d do that?” I squeak.

“Do you want to try me?” Her eyebrow raises in a challenge, and I shake my head mutely. I don’t want to know if she’d seriously abduct me

To my utter shock and amazement, she reaches for my hand across the table, and lifts it to her lips. “You might be amazed at what I’d dare,” she murmurs, low, the tips of my fingers against her lips.

“What if I don’t want that?” I quaver, my breath hitching as she nibbles at my fingertips.

“Then I’d just have to find a way to convince you,” she teases with both words and her tongue. I can’t stifle my moan as she swirls her tongue around my fingertip, making me think of her mouth… down there on me. 

Ohhhhh holy fucking shit….

“You’re already hard, aren’t you, Bash?” she murmurs, low, for only my ears. 

I stare at her in embarrassment and disbelief. How did she know?

“I can tell.” Her eyes rove over me eagerly, as if I am another dish she’s been served. Oh, God, how sexy!

“How can you tell?” I stammer.

“Your body. I can read its signs. You’ve shifted in your chair several times. I can see your pupils dilating. And your cheeks are flushing. Not only that,” she adds, reaching her hand over to cup my chin, skating her thumb on my lower lip, “but you are licking your lips in a very distracting way. How could I possibly leave you alone when you are this irresistible?”

I hear my own panting breath.

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