“Looks like you’re doing some deep thinking.”
“I am. It’s very taxing on my pea-sized brain.”
He laughed. “Bullshit. Spill the details, man. Especially since you ain’t been here in a month again. What’s going on?”
“Fuck, Cody, I don’t know where to start.”
“I see I had reason to be worried about you. Come on, Ben. It’s me. We’ve talked about everything over the years. And I mean everything.”
“I know that,” he said softly. In some ways, Ben was closer to the guys at the Rawhide Club than he was with his brothers.
“Then talk to me.”
“Remember that friend of Layla’s?” Cody nodded. “We ran into each other in Sundance after that weekend at the club. She’s just moved there, so we’ve been playin’ at my house, on a trial basis because she’s not convinced she’s cut out for a Dom/sub relationship. It’s ended up complicated. Even more than I’m letting on because I have feelings for her. Like hardcore I-think-I’m-in-fucking-love-with-her feelings.”
Cody whistled. “Did you tell her?”
“No.” Ben knocked back a swallow of beer. “Because I know she doesn’t feel the same way. I was an experiment. A failed one; she wanted me because I was a Dom, and now she doesn’t want me because I’m a Dom.”
“We came to terms with who we are a long time ago, Ben.”
“I thought I had. Now I don’t know.”
Cody clapped him on the back. “I’m gonna give you the same advice you gave me when Kristin gave me back my collar, get over it, get on with it.”
Ben snorted. “And that’s worked for you…how? You’re still fucking in love with Kristin. You’re still waiting for her to walk back through that door.”
“And hell will freeze over before that happens, so don’t be a dumb fucker like me. There are plenty of woman who wanna get with Bennett. Line up another sub. That’ll take the sting out of it.”
But I don’t want another sub. I want Ainsley.
“I recognize that look. Listen to me. Don’t be a pathetic motherfucker. Move on. Because we both know once a sub’s made her mind up she’s not really a sub, or she’s got an excuse not to be with you as you really are, there’s no going back.” Cody squeezed his shoulder and left him to consider his advice.
What sucked? Cody was exactly right. Which was why Ben hadn’t wanted to talk to him in the first place.
Sometime later Mary Jane and Cliff braved the gloomy cloud surrounding Ben and took seats at his table. The couple had been married thirty years and recently committed to a dominant and submissive relationship.
Mary Jane liked a bite of pain. Cliff, a novice with brute strength, had gotten comfortable with a flogger and a cane, but shied away from the single tail whip. So Ben helped them out, using the whip on Mary Jane while Cliff watched. When Mary Jane reached her happy place, Ben left the scene. No hard-on, no hard feelings.
“Bennett. Haven’t seen you in a while.”
“It’s been a few. How are things with you?” He addressed his comments to Cliff, since they followed traditional protocol in the club and Mary Jane kept her eyes averted.
“Good. Is everything all right?” Cliff asked.
He sighed. “I’ve got a few things on my mind.”
“Anything we can help with?”
Ben looked from Cliff to Mary Jane. Maybe it was fated they ended up at his table tonight, given the last couple days. He knew Mary Jane had a high-powered job as an oil company executive, so maybe she could shed light on what’d happened with Ainsley. “Would you allow me to speak freely to your sub, Cliff?”
“Mary Jane? You have permission to speak to Bennett.”
“Thank you, Sir.” Mary Jane raised her eyes to Ben’s. “What may I help you with?”
“This might sound like a strange question, but would your job be affected if anyone you worked with discovered you were a sexual submissive?”
“In my job right now? Probably not.”
See? Ainsley was just making up excuses not to be with you.
“But bear in mind I’m five years from retirement. If I was a young woman just starting out? Especially in a male-dominated industry? That would be the kiss of death for my career.”
“Also remember I’m a sexual submissive to my husband of three decades. I’m not a single woman being passed from Dom to Dom in this sex club. That’s also an entirely different situation.”
Ben’s hopes that the obstacles he and Ainsley faced would somehow magically work out, given time and distance, began to fade.
Mary Jane tapped her fingernails on the table. “The reason Cliff and I insist on almost total privacy here is because of my professional position. I wouldn’t be keen on anyone finding out I liked to be whipped by a stranger. And I’m sure your outside friends don’t know that you get…something from whipping the crap out of women you have no sexual interest in.”
“No offense, Bennett, but I don’t want to get to know you. Emotional ties change things. I’m fine with Cliff spanking or flogging me. But there’s something sadistic about telling the man I love to whip me until I almost pass out.”
“But it’s different when I wield the whip?”
“Yes. Because when you’re landing strikes on my body I bear them for him. To show him I can take it. I share the joy and pain with Cliff, not with you. To put it in the simplest terms, you’re the bad guy beating me and Cliff is the good guy who will take care of me when it’s all done.”
Holy shit. Was that really how she saw him? As the bad guy?
“Mary Jane. Apologize to Bennett for insulting him,” Cliff demanded.
He said, “It’s all right, Cliff,” even when it wasn’t. Fuck. He felt he’d just been kicked in the teeth and kneed in the nads.
“I’ll be honest, Bennett. Your blows sting like hell. I’ve been tempted to run, especially in the beginning. Me getting whipped does nothing for Cliff, but he understands it does something for me.”
“Would you miss it if you didn’t have it?” Ben asked.
“Maybe. Would you miss it if you didn’t do it?”
I don’t know.
But he hadn’t missed it in the month he’d been involved with Ainsley.
Cliff said, “We hoped to utilize your whip skills tonight. But given what you’re wrestling with, we’d understand if you opt not to.”
In his frame of mind, he’d take validation where he could get it. “Which room?”
“Seven. In about thirty minutes?”
“I’ll be there.”
Sending out bad vibes kept subs at bay as Ben attempted to get his head in the game. Holding his whip, he bypassed a public scene where the woman getting flogged looked totally bored.
Ah hell. Was that…Zoe?
He ducked from view and hustled down the hallway. He peeked in the window to see if they were ready for him and stepped inside.
Mary Jane was blindfolded, naked and secured facedown to the bed.
Cliff gave Ben the instructions in low tones. The scene went better for Mary Jane if she didn’t know where the blows would strike or how many.
Ben walked the perimeter of the bed. That too, heightened her senses. The fall of his boots on the carpet. The jostling of the bed as he bumped into it. And then that first whip crack. Rarely did he land the first blow. He loved the sound it made, the leather whistling through the air before the end connected with solid mass and a sharp crack.
That’s when he found his headspace. The intense focus needed to keep his aim true and please both Cliff and Mary Jane.
But what had he gotten from the scene?
Ben’s shirt was sweat-soaked and he floated on the buzz of adrenaline when Cliff said, “Red. She’s done in, Bennett. Thank you.”
He nodded and slipped from the room, the edgy feeling still riding him hard. As he skirted the crowd, he couldn’t believe Zoe’s scene was still playing out. Their eyes met.
Hers held a look of frustration. She said, “Please. Bennett. Show him. Help me.”
The weight of onlookers’ stares didn’t faze him. He crossed his arms over his chest and let the whip dangle. “Say your safe word.”
“No. Just help me.” She didn’t even flinch when her Dom landed two hard swats on the backs of her legs.
“Rules are rules. Say your safe word and I’ll step in.”
Zoe screamed, “Red! Red! Goddammit!”
The guy halted mid-swat. The same frustration burned in his eyes as in Zoe’s when Ben stepped from the edge of the crowd. “You’re in charge of this scene?”
“Yes. Who the hell are you?”
“Bennett. And you?”
“Well, Brian, I hafta ask. Have you played in public with her before?”
“Is this a pain with sex scene or just pain?”
“Pain with sex.”
“I have history with Zoe, and I might be able to help you both out. I’ll give her the pain if you’ll handle the sex and aftercare.”
Brian actually looked relieved. “Sounds fair.”
Ben kept his gaze on Brian’s as he spoke to the sub. “Zoe, I’ve already warmed up with the single tail. You ready?”
“Yes. Sir. Please, Sir.”
“How many?” he murmured to Brian.
“Twenty-three,” Brian whispered back. “You choose the spots. If she stops counting then you stop.”
“Agreed.” Ben walked forward and slowly ran the whip handle down Zoe’s spine and the crack of her ass. Her whole body jerked, the chains rattled and she strained to look over her shoulder at him.
When he moved, her head tried to follow his movement.
“You oughten be watchin’ me, Zoe. You oughta be focused on how you’re gonna breathe through the first blow. ’Cause I guarantee it’s gonna hurt.”