Headmaster, p.16
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       Headmaster, p.16

         Part #2 of Lessons From the Rack series by Tara Sue Me
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  Tires squealed. Winnie screamed. Metal collided with metal.

  Silence.

  • • •

  THE RINGING OF her phone jerked her awake. Damn. Did she fall asleep? What time was it?

  She reached for her phone and squinted at the screen. Lennox.

  “Hey,” she said.

  “Are you okay? Did I wake you?” he asked.

  “No, I wasn’t sleeping, and yes, I’m okay.” She didn’t want to tell him she’d been napping. He’d probably send her to the doctor or worse, bring a doctor to her. “Just didn’t have my phone with me.”

  “That’s not safe, Marie. You know better.”

  “Yeah, yeah, yeah. Spare me the lecture.”

  “Are you sure you’re okay?” he asked. “You sound a bit off.”

  How did he always manage to know her so well? That he could tell just by her voice that something was off?

  All she had to do was go back to that night and she knew the truth. It had been so obvious then, how well they fit together, how they completed each other.

  “There is something I want you to see. Can you come by?” she asked.

  “Sure, give me about fifteen minutes, I need to wrap something up here.”

  She nodded before realizing he couldn’t see. “Sounds great.” But he had called her. “Was there something you needed to talk to me about?”

  “No, I was just calling to check on you.”

  He did that every few days. Called her out of the blue, just to see how she was doing. She’d like to think it meant something, but deep inside, she knew what it was. He felt guilty because of the accident, and since he felt like it was his fault, he would call to check on her to ease his conscience.

  That was it. Nothing more.

  But she really wanted it to be more.

  While she waited for his arrival, she straightened the papers and notebooks, putting the journal at the bottom of the pile. She stopped by the bathroom, briefly, to make sure she looked decent, and chided herself the entire time, telling herself she was being silly. This was only Lennox. She’d known him forever.

  Yes, her inner voice whispered, but it wasn’t that long ago when you knelt before him and offered your whole self to him.

  He showed up at her door looking devastatingly handsome moments later. Even with the slight frown he wore on his face.

  “What?”

  “I just wanted to put my eyes on you. Make sure you were okay.”

  “Damn,” she said, as they made their way to the living room. “Do I look that bad?” She’d just checked herself in the bathroom.

  “It’s not so much how you look. There’s something about you, I can’t put my finger on it.”

  Crazy talk, she decided, but didn’t tell him that because deep down, she had a feeling he was right.

  He sat down on her couch and nodded toward the box. “You aren’t moving, are you?”

  “No. Fulton brought that by earlier. It’s actually what I wanted to show you.”

  He looked at the box with considerably more interest, but didn’t make a move toward it. He was waiting for her, she realized. For her to say something else.

  “The workmen found it in one of the cottage’s downstairs closets.” When he didn’t say anything, she continued. “It had mostly papers, I threw some of them away and kept a few for you to look through. There were also several sketchbooks.”

  He sucked in a breath. “That were used?”

  “Yes, I laid those aside for you.” She knew how proud he’d always been of Winnie and her work. “And there’s a journal.”

  “She kept a journal?”

  “It appears so,” Mariela said, and she rushed to add, “I flipped through it and read about two pages, but I had to stop because it felt invasive to me.”

  Mariela picked up the journal from the table beside her and passed it to Lennox. He took it hesitatingly, as if it would bite him.

  “I had no idea she kept a journal,” he said, flipping it over and running his fingers over the leather. “I don’t know if I want to read it either.”

  “Why?”

  “Not sure I want to read what she really thought about me.”

  His answer didn’t make any sense. Whenever he and Winnie had been together, they seemed like the most perfect couple. But his words when paired with the snippets she’d read in the journal left her thinking there were a lot of things she didn’t know about the two people who were so important to her.

  She leveled her gaze at him. “What exactly happened that day?” She knew they’d argued about something, that Winnie had gotten in her car and driven away. Minutes later, Winnie called her and lost control of her car, which ultimately led to her death.

  He stood up and walked to a window. “I don’t like to talk about it and I don’t very often. But in light of everything, I think you should know and, afterward, you can decide if you want to read the journal or not.”

  “Would you like something to drink?” she asked. He certainly looked as if he needed something.

  “Yes, I actually would, but I think I should do this sober.” Turning from the window, he looked relieved, for lack of a better word. “And maybe in telling you what happened with Winnie and me, you can see why I feel the way I do about you and me.”

  Of course, she knew those two things would be related in his mind. Suddenly, though, she wasn’t sure she was ready for the truth.

  You are, the air around her seemed to whisper.

  She didn’t believe that tiny voice, but regardless, it didn’t appear to matter to Lennox one way or the other. He was ready to share his story, and if he was strong enough to tell it, she was strong enough to listen.

  And maybe, just maybe, he was right, and understanding what happened with him and Winnie would shed light on their own relationship. Deep inside, she knew that was what she wanted. To move forward with Lennox. And if that meant listening to him talk about Winnie’s last days or reading the journal? Hell, Lennox could talk all night and she’d read every last page in that leather book.

  She nodded and he took a seat beside her. She hadn’t been expecting that; she’d thought he’d keep his distance. Instead, he was so close, she felt the heat from his body. Had her couch shrunk?

  “You know, of course, that when we met, she had no experience with BDSM. She never hid that fact. But she told me she knew about the lifestyle because her best friend lived it. And she convinced me it was what she wanted. Looking back, I should have known something was up.” He closed his eyes as if remembering. “The signs were there, but I was either too blinded by her or too sure of myself to question anything. So, after we went out a few times, I agreed to train her to be my submissive.”

  So far, he hadn’t said anything she didn’t know. She remembered having conversations with Winnie around that same time. Mariela had actually been the one to encourage her to talk to Lennox about being trained. It had been one of the hardest things she’d ever done, but both of them looked so happy together. Had she been wrong in pushing Winnie?

  “We were fine for a time. She showed no signs of disliking being my submissive. I’ve searched my mind so often since her death, to see if I missed something. A significant look. Anything. I can’t find anything.”

  Her eyes widened as he spoke. It seemed to mesh with what Winnie had written in her journal. Had her friend not been a submissive, or was it Lennox she had a problem with?

  “But little by little, the cracks started to form in our relationship. She spent hours in her studio and would stay up late, into the early hours of the morning. I felt her slipping further and further away from me, and I was clueless as to how to get her back.”

  Mariela clenched her fists. Why hadn’t Winnie told her anything about this? Winnie was closer than a sister to her. She didn’t think they had any secrets from each other. And yet, to hear Lennox tell it, their problems had started not too long into their relationship. Had Mariela been that blind?

  Suddenly, she remembered
bits and pieces from a dream she had in the hospital. Or at least she thought it was a dream. She frowned. Had it really been Winnie?

  “Don’t get me wrong,” Lennox continued. “I know I wasn’t blameless. I could have done a lot more, and what I did do, I could have done much better. A relationship between two people can only be as good as the effort they both put into it, so don’t think I’m blaming Winnie, because I’m not.”

  “I don’t think that,” she said. “I have to say, though, that I’m very surprised there were issues between the two of you. I never got even a hint of discord.” She still couldn’t get over that. She had been so close to Winnie, how did she miss it?

  “That’s not so unusual, though, is it? Doesn’t everyone put on a mask in public?”

  “I didn’t think of myself as public.” And the fact that either one or both of them thought she was, hurt.

  “I didn’t mean to hurt you by saying that.”

  “I know you didn’t.”

  He placed a hand on her knee. “But I did anyway and I’m sorry.”

  “It’s just . . .” She searched for the words. “I’m beginning to feel as if there’s this whole side of Winnie I didn’t know about, and it’s a bit disturbing.”

  She couldn’t keep her eyes off his hand and the way it rested so casually on her knee. She wasn’t sure, but she thought it might be the first time he’d touched her since she’d been released from the hospital.

  He squeezed her knee. “I can’t imagine she purposely hid anything from you. I think she was more afraid that you’d judge her.”

  Her forehead wrinkled. “Judge her about what?”

  “Winnie wasn’t truly a submissive.”

  The truth hit her square in the chest, because so much made sense now. And as it did, an entirely new feeling swept over her: guilt. Guilt that she hadn’t seen the truth. Guilt that she didn’t push harder when Winnie said everything was “fine.” And there was something else. She was angry. Angry at Winnie for lying to both her and Lennox. Lying about who she was and what she needed.

  “So, that day . . .” she started, looking at him.

  He’d gone pale and looked even more so because of the stark contrast to his black hair.

  “I confronted her. I’d told her to be waiting for me and she wasn’t. I expected it, of course, but it felt so final when she disregarded my instructions. I knew then the relationship was over. I couldn’t do vanilla and she wasn’t made for kink. I’d been so proud of the submissive I’d trained, and then I found out that I’d made one of the worst mistakes a Dom can make.”

  “She told you she wanted to be trained, you had to take her at her word.” If he blamed himself, it only made sense that Mariela took some of the blame as well.

  “That’s not the worst part. I told her I wanted to separate. I couldn’t cut it off with her completely. I loved her too much. But I wasn’t sure how to not be a Dom and I needed space to think.” He blew out a deep breath and looked at the ceiling. “She lost it. She called me every rotten name she could think of and stormed out of the cottage.”

  Mariela filled in the rest. “And she got in her car and crashed.”

  “Yes.” He hung his head. “I should have stopped her. She wasn’t in the right frame of mind to drive.”

  Right frame of mind to drive. All at once, all the air left Mariela’s body. “Oh my god.”

  Pure horror washed over her as she replayed the last phone call she’d had with Winnie. Her vision started to fade and she dropped her head between her knees so she wouldn’t pass out.

  “Marie?” He placed a hand on her back and she heard the fear in his voice.

  “Oh my god,” she repeated.

  “What?”

  She didn’t straighten up. She couldn’t. To do so would mean she’d have to look at him and she couldn’t do it. Not when she told him what she had to tell him.

  “All this time,” she said, forcing herself to stay calm and not to cry. Not yet. Not just yet. “All this time, you’ve been blaming yourself and it was me. It was me.”

  The hand that had been rubbing her back stilled. “What do you mean?”

  He knew Mariela had been on the phone with Winnie when the accident happened, but they’d never discussed anything other than his sorrow at her having to hear everything as it occurred. Her stomach soured as she remembered him saying once that as hard as it was for Mariela, he felt peace that Winnie had been in touch with someone when she died. Even if it was by phone.

  “On the phone with her. I could tell she was upset. I told her she better not be driving when she was that upset and that if she didn’t pull the car over I was going to have you spank her ass.” She took a deep breath and closed her eyes as she forced the rest of the words out. “It was seconds after that when the crash happened.”

  Lennox was silent from his place beside her. He started rubbing her back again. “You can’t blame yourself, Marie. You didn’t know.”

  Now the sobs started. Because how the hell was it okay for him to blame himself for Winnie’s death but she shouldn’t do the same? God, they were both so fucked up. Both of them, and she doubted there was anything, anywhere that could make either of them normal again.

  “So what?” She sniffled and sat back up, but still refused to look at him. “You get to corner the market on guilt? Isn’t there enough to spread around?”

  “I won’t have you blaming yourself for what happened.”

  “But you can? Well, then fuck you.”

  Her guilt and grief were rapidly turning into anger. But seriously, who did he think he was anyway?

  “Marie,” he said, and he didn’t sound upset or angry. Just tired. So very tired. “Don’t.”

  He placed a hand on her shoulder, but she jerked away. “Don’t touch me.”

  He sighed, clearly displeased with her response. “Believe it or not, I know how you feel.”

  “Right.” She snorted. “Because you’ve been carrying guilt for years. You’ll have to excuse me, it’s a new feeling for me.”

  “I don’t blame you.”

  For some reason, that really pissed her off. She wasn’t sure if it was his Dom nature coming out or what. “You always do that, you know.”

  “Do what?”

  “Act like you’re the judge, jury, and executioner. Guess what? You’re not. And your feelings of guilt aren’t any more valid than mine.”

  “I didn’t mean to imply they were.”

  She didn’t answer. She crossed her arms and waited. For what, she wasn’t sure. But she somehow knew if she said anything, it would be something she’d regret. As much as she disliked him at the moment, she didn’t want to say anything to permanently damage their relationship.

  “I also wanted to tell you that I was going to be away for a bit,” he said.

  It was the very last thing she expected him to say. “Where are you going?”

  His face had regained that stonelike expression she knew so well. She hated that expression. “Someone Terrence Knight knows is wanting to start a BDSM school on the east coast. He’s going to be in Portland for a few weeks, and Terrence invited me to spend some time with him.”

  “Andie’s Terrence Knight? The actor?”

  “Yes.”

  “How long will you be gone?”

  “A week or so.” He closed his eyes as if in pain. “I have to get away for a little while. For my sanity.”

  She wasn’t sure what that meant, but he sounded sincere and she knew exactly how he felt. “I hope the time away does you good.”

  She hoped it did both of them some good.

  CHAPTER

  Eleven

  Marie’s hands shook only a little as she filled out the
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