Headmaster, p.18
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       Headmaster, p.18
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         Part #2 of Lessons From the Rack series by Tara Sue Me
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  Eric cleared his throat. “Back over the bench, Marie. Flat on your feet this time.”

  Fuck. Fuck. Fuck a duck.

  • • •

  LENNOX FORCED HIMSELF not to look back, even after he heard Eric tell Marie to bend over the bench. He told himself he had to keep going to prove to her that she could not control him. Nor could she goad him into getting her own way.

  He made it to the aftercare room, but just as he was getting ready to open the door, a manicured hand stopped him.

  “Wait a minute,” Rachel said. “Not so fast.”

  It had shocked the hell out of him when he saw Rachel and her new fiancé at the club. From the look on her expression, she had been just as shocked as he was. He had assumed, incorrectly, that because her husband-to-be didn’t want her operating her house of submissives, that he wasn’t into kink. On the contrary, Lennox had learned that he was a well-known Dominant.

  “Rachel,” he said.

  She stood with her head tilted and her arms crossed. “Who was that?”

  “I’m sure you heard. She’s my employee.”

  “You might have fooled some of the people here with that line—I doubt it, but it’s possible. But you sure as hell didn’t fool me.”

  He sighed. He really didn’t want to discuss Marie with her. He really didn’t. “Our relationship is . . . complicated.”

  She laughed softly, and it pissed him off a bit. “Why is that funny?” he asked.

  “You want complicated? I’ll give you complicated. My fiancé?” At his nod, she continued. “Is also my brother-in-law.”

  Lennox wasn’t sure if she had any siblings or she meant that . . . holy hell.

  “Yes,” she said with a smile. “You guessed correctly. He’s my husband’s older brother.”

  “I bet that makes Thanksgiving interesting,” he said dryly.

  She, of course, didn’t back down from the conversation. “It was strange at first, but everyone’s actually been really nice about it. I mean, we obviously never would have gotten together if Steven hadn’t died. But he did and through that pain and grief, Dean and I found each other and fell in love.”

  He wasn’t able to formulate a response or any sort of question before she asked, “Marie is somehow connected to the woman you lost, isn’t she?”

  He was so shocked, all he could do was nod.

  “Sister?” she asked.

  “No.” He coughed. “But she may as well have been. They were best friends.”

  “I think in some ways that’s worse than a sibling.”

  He thought about that. “Perhaps, but in a lot of ways it’s better.”

  She reached out, as if to touch him, but at the last minute stopped. Probably she remembered where she was and that her Dom would not want her touching other men without his permission, and though he’d agreed to the hug earlier, that didn’t mean she could touch Lennox whenever she wanted. After all, this was a BDSM club, not her place of business.

  “Either way you look at it, your shared past, the grief, all of it, it can either make you stronger together or it can drive you apart. I saw the way you looked at each other. More than that, I saw her watching you before we all went downstairs. It’s probably why she agreed to scene with Matt in the first place.”

  Marie had been watching him? That meant she probably saw him hug Rachel. Hell.

  Rachel nodded. “Eric’s bringing her this way. Be kind.” She hesitated and then added, “I’m inviting you to the wedding. Bring her as your plus one.”

  She left right as Eric brought Marie to him. From her expression, she’d witnessed his exchange with Rachel. Lennox opened the door and thanked Eric.

  “I’ll take it from here,” he said before turning to Marie. “Come on inside.”

  She desperately wanted to ask about Rachel, he could see it in her eyes. But she’d just been caned, so she probably didn’t want to speak out of turn.

  “Rachel is an old friend,” he said, deciding not to share exactly how he knew her. What would it do other than to bring her more heartache? “She’s here with her fiancé. I was unaware they’d be here tonight.” He chuckled. “Of course, I wasn’t expecting you either.”

  She didn’t say anything. He took her hand and led her to a nearby couch and pulled her into his lap. He buried his face in her hair.

  “I’ll take care of the cane marks in a minute. Right now, I just want to hold you,” he whispered.

  She sobbed lightly, holding him tightly while she cried. And while he hated her tears, he knew she needed to let them out and that they couldn’t move on until she did.

  He lost track of time as he sat there, holding her. He breathed her in like she was the air he needed to survive and, at the same time, marveled that he never felt that way about Winnie. He wasn’t sure how long it was before she stopped crying, but in that time, he had categorized every detail he could about her—the various colors in her hair, the shape of her ear and the adorable swirl it had that he wanted to run his tongue around. So many small details he’d never taken notice of, even on their one night together.

  Had he ever studied Winnie’s ear? He didn’t think so. Of course, Winnie was never one who could stand to be held for any length of time. Odds were, he never had the chance to study her ear.

  Marie had stilled in his arms. Worse, she’d become tense, as if she was putting up with him holding her only because she had to.

  “Marie?” he asked. “Are you okay?”

  “Yes, Sir,” she said, but her voice didn’t sound at all convincing. “I think I’m ready for you to take care of the marks now.”

  He wasn’t sure if that was what she really wanted or if she just wanted off his lap. Whichever it was, he did need to care for the welts. He shifted her and told her to bend over his lap.

  She shot him a look that told him in no uncertain terms what she thought about his request, but she did it anyway.

  Eric had only given her six strokes, a bit lighter than what he would have administered, but understandable since the other Dom was a stand-in. Besides, he’d much rather Eric have erred on the side of caution than to have gone in the other direction and given her too many.

  She was quiet as he applied cream to the welts. She didn’t move a single part of her body. In fact, she was so compliant, he wondered what she was thinking. He wanted to ask her, but he realized he had not earned either her complete trust or the right to her thoughts.

  Since he had no right to her thoughts, he felt it appropriate to include her in his. Even though he couldn’t predict how she would react to the information he was getting ready to share. Was it cowardly to tell her while she was bent over his lap? He wouldn’t be able to see her face. While she might not always voice her thoughts, he was typically able to get a feel for them by her expression.

  He would wait then until he finished her aftercare before he told her. Not only would he be able to see her face, but it would prevent her from taking off immediately after he finished caring for her.

  She tried, though. As soon as he indicated she could get up, she tried to leave the room.

  “Thank you,” she said. “I’ll be going.”

  He held out a hand to stop her. “Don’t leave just yet.”

  The indecision on what to do played across her face. “I need to get back.” She glanced around the room. “It’s late. . . . I . . .”

  He reached out a hand to stop her. “Marie, wait.”

  She hesitated and bit her bottom lip. Still undecided.

  “Please,” he added.

  It was the please that did it. Maybe it was a cheap and dirty trick, but he would have done a lot more and played a lot dirtier to keep her from leaving.

  She nodded and gingerly took her seat, folding her hands and placing them in her lap, as if sitting down to a formal dinner. He admired the fact that she did so; he knew it was difficult for her to sit down at the moment.

  “Thank you,” he said. “I’m making some changes in my life, and I wante
d you to hear about them from me.”

  That was enough of a shock to capture her entire attention.

  He saw no reason to drag out the decisions he’d made. He contemplated taking her hands, but thought that might be a bit melodramatic.

  “I’ve found I’ve enjoyed my time away from the academy. So much so, that it’s made me wonder if it’s the academy holding me back and keeping me from moving forward. In my professional life, sure, but more importantly, in my personal life.”

  Her forehead wrinkled. “I’m not sure I understand, Sir.”

  He sighed and this time he did take her hands, running his thumbs over the top of her knuckles in what he hoped was a soothing manner. He didn’t care if it was melodramatic or not, he wanted the connection with her when he told her what he needed her to know. She looked momentarily shocked, but didn’t pull away. Perhaps understanding on some level that he needed to touch her.

  “I’m going to take a leave of absence from the academy,” he said. Her jaw dropped open in surprise, so he quickly added, “Just for the rest of the term. I’ll be back before the new year.”

  “I don’t . . . I can’t . . .” She shook her head.

  “It really won’t be a change for you, since you’re staying at the cottage.” It sounded like he was trying to explain or get her approval and he didn’t want to come across as unsure in any way about his plans.

  “It just doesn’t seem right, the academy without you.”

  He wasn’t sure, but he thought there might be tears in her eyes. “It’s just a month or so. I’ve been running the academy for years and do you know how much time I’ve taken off?”

  “Not any that I remember,” she admitted.

  “So wouldn’t you think I’m due a few weeks?” he asked softly.

  She bent her head and took a deep breath. When she looked up again, her eyes were definitely wet. “I don’t know why it’s bothering me so much. I guess I just take for granted that you’re always going to be on the island. And it won’t seem right without you there.” She sniffled. “I’ll be moving back next week.”

  It wasn’t like her to be so emotional, and it struck him almost immediately what was behind it. Subdrop. Damn it all. And he hadn’t anticipated it. If he’d been thinking more clearly, about anything other than his own purpose, he’d have expected it.

  What kind of an ass was he that he brought up his plans for a leave right when she was going through subdrop?

  “Marie.” He gently took her in his arms. “I’m sorry. I know exactly why it’s bothering you.”

  “You do?” She took the tissue he handed her and wiped her nose.

  “Subdrop.”

  “Oh,” she said. “It’s been forever since I’ve had subdrop. I forgot how awful it feels.”

  “And I should have known better. I’m a headmaster of a BDSM academy and I didn’t even think about the impact of the scene on you.”

  She started to say something, but he stopped her. “Don’t even think about telling me it’s okay. Because it’s not. It was selfish of me.”

  “But,” she said, “if you hadn’t told me now, when would you have told me?”

  He shrugged. He really hadn’t thought about not telling her tonight. As soon as he’d seen her in the club, he knew it had to be tonight. “I don’t know,” he confessed.

  “Wouldn’t it make sense then that if you didn’t tell me tonight, I might hear it from someone else?”

  He stroked her knuckles again, amazed at her clarity of thinking. “That is most certainly the truth, but it doesn’t erase the fact that I could have gone about it differently.”

  “I think.” She took a deep breath. “I think we need to talk, but I’m afraid I’m not in the right frame of mind at the moment.”

  She was right, of course. “I have a hotel room booked. You’re more than welcome to stay with me if you don’t want to go back to the cottage tonight. We can talk tomorrow, after your emotions have leveled out and you’ve had some sleep.”

  He could see her struggle: the part of her that wanted to stay with him warring with the part that wanted to prove she didn’t need his company. “I promise to keep my hands to myself.”

  His words sparked something in her because some of her old spunk returned when she answered, “And if I don’t want you to keep your hands to yourself?”

  He wasn’t about to make a promise he couldn’t keep and he knew if she wanted him, he wouldn’t be able to refuse her. “I promise nothing will happen that you don’t want.”

  She tilted her head. “Okay. I’ll stay with you tonight. But I’m not sure where I want your hands right now.”

  If he knew her at all—and he was certain he did—it wasn’t that she wasn’t sure where she wanted his hands. Rather, it was that she was unsure how she felt about where she wanted his hands.

  Her uncertainty was probably for the best anyway. They needed to sit down and have a serious talk before they did anything physical again. “It’s not something you have to decide right now.” He stood up and held out his hand. “Come with me back to my hotel. You can take a hot shower and I’ll order us a good bottle of wine.”

  “Make it aged whisky and you have yourself a deal.”

  Her insistence on whisky made him smile, because it was so Marie. “Deal,” he said. “I’d rather have whisky over wine any day.”

  With that settled, she took his hand and rose to her feet.

  • • •

  MARIELA HAD A feeling that agreeing to spend the night with Lennox in his hotel room wasn’t going to go down as one of her better decisions. She knew agreeing to spend the night with Lennox in his hotel room along with a bottle of aged whisky surely wouldn’t.

  But, hell, she was still in shock over his cool and calm statement that he was taking a leave of absence from the academy. Where in the world had that come from? It didn’t even seem like him. The academy without Lennox was like her not dancing.

  Which, when she stopped to think about it, actually had happened. How long had it been since she’d danced? Just her? For her?

  Long enough that it was going to take more than whisky to make her feel better.

  Tonight, though, she knew feeling blue was more than not being able to dance. She was still experiencing the effects of subdrop, and though it’d been awhile since she’d dealt with it, she’d dealt with it enough in the past to know that she would get through it. In fact, if the patterns of the past held up, she’d feel better as early as the next morning.

  Of course, that didn’t make her feel any better now. No, now she just wanted the promised shower and whisky. And a naked Lennox.

  No.

  She could not let anything happen between them tonight. Nothing. No way. No how.

  Out of the corner of her eye, she watched him as he drove them to his hotel. He wasn’t saying anything. Was it possible he was already regretting his offer for her to spend the night? His jaw wasn’t tight, though, and usually she could tell when he was upset about something because it would be obvious in his jawline.

  He wasn’t regretting asking her, she decided. He was allowing her to come to terms with the fact that she accepted the offer. She was also willing to bet he knew her lie for what it was when she told him earlier that she wasn’t sure she knew where she wanted his hands. The truth was, she knew exactly where she wanted his hands. What she didn’t know was did she want them before, during, or after her shower?

  I’ll take D, all of the above, please.

  She didn’t realize she’d giggled until he looked at her with a smile on his face. It struck her then how relaxed he looked. She didn’t want to examine him in great detail because he’d get a kick out of that, but he actually looked more like the Lennox she’d first met several years ago as opposed to the haunted man who had lived such a hollow existence the last few years.

  Could it be possible that running the academy for so long was part of what had him living in the past? The more she thought about it, the more sense it made.
He hadn’t started the academy out of some burning desire to train Doms and subs. It hadn’t been a lifelong dream. In fact, on more than one occasion, he’d called the academy his penance for what happened to Winnie.

  It was selfish of her, she was willing to admit that, but she couldn’t stop wondering what would happen to her if he left. Would she stay at the academy? Did she want to remain on the island without him there? She didn’t think she did. And she didn’t even want to think about what it meant that she’d spent nearly three years at a job simply because she wanted to be near the boss.

  Damn it. She was an idiot.

  “We’re here,” he said.

  The car had already come to a stop, and she wondered exactly how long they’d been parked at the hotel. From the amused
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