No safe word can protect the heart
Infamous erotica author and accomplished dominatrix Nora Sutherlin is doing something utterly out of character: hiding. While her longtime lover, Sørenwhose fetishes, if exposed, would be his ruinis under scrutiny pending a major promotion, Nora's lying low and away from temptation in the lap of luxury.
Her host, the wealthy and uninhibited Griffin Fiske, is thrilled to have Nora stay at his country estate, especially once he meets her traveling companion. Young, inexperienced and angelically beautiful, Michael has become Nora's protégé, and this summer with Griffin is going to be his training, where the hazing never ends.
But while her flesh is willing, Nora's mind is wandering. To thoughts of Søren, her master, under investigation by a journalist with an ax to grind. And to another man from Nora's past, whose hold on her is less bruising, but whose secrets are no less painful. It's a summer that will prove the old adage: love hurts.
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Mostly upside down with her head hanging off the bed, Nora saw the ominous slant of sunlight sliding through the window and across the floor. S0ren pushed into her again, and she flinched with pleasure.
"Eleanor, are you thinking about food at a time like this?" Søren thrust hard once more and came with a controlled shudder.
Laughing from her recent orgasm and the absurdity of having this conversation in her current position, Nora finished her thought. "You're the one who told me I wasn't allowed to swear on Sundays anymore. So, fudge, I'm going to be late for Mass, sir."
Søren dipped his head and kissed her neck.
"I have it on good authority that your priest would be quite displeased if you were late," he whispered into her ear.
"Then my priest needs to untie my leg from his bedpost."
Søren raised up and glared down at her; she innocently batted her eyelashes at him.
"Beg," he ordered, and Nora started to growl. Arrogant son of a bitch.
He never said anything about not swearing in her mind. Just that she could never curse out loud. Søren put a finger over her lips. "No growling. Begging."
Clenching and unclenching her jaw, Nora took a deep breath.
"Please, sir, will you let me go so I can drive my asbottom home, take a shower, eat breakfast for once this week, throw on some clothes and drive back to church so I can sit in my pew looking prim and proper all the while imagining you naked as you're giving some homily on sin and how, shockingly, God's against it? Pretty please with you on top?"
Søren slapped the back of her thigh hard enough she yelped. But still he reached up and unknotted the black silk rope from her ankle. With obvious reluctance, he withdrew from her and rolled onto his side.
Now free, Nora started to crawl out of his bed.
Søren propped his head on his hand and stretched languidly across his white sheets. She wasn't going to look at him. If she looked at Søren, she'd crawl right back to him.
"In a hurry, little one?"
"To leave you? No. To not be late for Mass and earn yet another beating this week? Yes." Søren caressed the back of her calf and Nora turned back to stare daggers at him. "Are you trying to make me late sir?"
Sighing, Søren pulled his hand away from her. It wasn't fair. The rectory stood all of two minutes' walk from the church; being male and not having to worry about what outfit to wear, Søren could get ready in ten minutes.
"A vicious accusation, Eleanor. Of course I would never try to make you late. You are a role model for the young people in the church after all."
Snorting a laugh, Nora started picking up her clothes. She pulled her shirt off the top of the bedpost she been tied to last night while Søren had flogged her senseless. Her skirt lay in a crumpled heap on the floor where it had landed after Søren unzipped it and let it fall before bending her over his bed and strapping her ankles to a spreader bar. Somewhere under his bed she found her bra, and her underwear was at home in a drawer. She rarely bothered with underwear around Sørencounterproductive really.
"A role model? Nora Sutherlinerotica writer, exdominatrix. It's a pleasure to meet you." She held out her hand to shake. Søren only looked at it and raised his eyebrow at her.
"You're a role model to Michael. He adores you."
"But Michael's one of us, sir." She smiled at the memory of Søren's anniversary gift to her last year: the virginity of possibly the prettiest teenage boy in the known world. Pretty, kinky and unfortunately deeply troubled. "Of course he's got a soft spot for me. Or a wet spot. Anyway, none of those vanilla twerps at church need to look up to me."
Nora shoved her feet into her shoes as Søren got out of bed. Her heart pounded at the sight of all six feet four inches of his perfectly sculpted, unashamedly naked body coming toward her. No one watching him now would ever believe Søren was forty-seven years old. And no one seeing them last night and this morning as he beat her and fucked her repeatedly in a variety of delightfully degrading positions would have dreamed he was one of the most respected Catholic priests in all of New England.
"You give them hope that one can be an adult Catholic without being conventional or condescending."
"You're trying to say the kids think I'm cool, aren't you?"
"My sentiments exactly."
She turned her face up to him for a quick goodbye kiss. Instead he bent down and kissed her long and slow deeply, possessively. No one had ever kissed her the way Søren did, as though he was inside her body even when he was only inside her mouth. After nearly five minutes of pure passionate kissing, Søren finally pulled back.
"Eleanor, you really should stop dawdling." His steel-gray eyes glinted wickedly.
Nora glared at him. "You bas" Nora began, and Søren glared at her. This "no swearing on Sundays" thing was going to kill her. But she would do it come heck or high water. "Bastion of evil intentions. You just stole five minutes by kissing me. God Almighty."
"Young lady, if you don't stop using the Lord's name in vain, I'm going to reintroduce caning into our relationship. Are you really complaining that I kissed you?"
"Yes. You're cheating. You want me to be late so you'll have an excuse to beat me."
"As if I need an excuse." Søren smiled at her, and she was torn between the twin impulses to either slap him or kiss him again.
"I'm gone. Goodbye. I love you, I hate you, I love you. I'll see you at eleven, and I'll try very hard to listen to your homily this morning instead of having flashbacks from last night. But no promises."
Nora headed for the door.
"Eleanor forgetting something?"
Nora spun on her heel and came back to him. Reaching up she wrapped her arms around his neck. "Am I, sir?"
He bent to kiss her again.
Nora rolled her eyes. She pulled away from him and quickly made his bed, fluffing his pillows with near-hurricane force. "There, sir. Happy now?"
Søren pulled her to him and ran his fingers over her cheek. "You're here. Of course I am."
Nora sighed at his words and his touch. In the years she and Søren had spent togetherthose ten beautiful years in his collar before the incident, until she'd left himthey usually spent two or three nights a week together at the most. Then, after five years apart, she'd come back to him, and since returning, she spent nearly every free moment she could with himat the rectory, at their friend Kingsley's Manhattan town house or at The 8th Circle, the infamous underground S&M club where Søren was practically worshipped. She hated being at home alone these days. The house seemed too big, too empty, too quiet.
Søren's hands left her face and reached around her neck. She heard a click, felt something give way, and Søren removed her white leather collar. As always, the moment her collar came off her neck, she felt something tighten around her heart. Søren opened the rosewood box that sat on his bedside table, took out his Roman collar and replaced it with Nora's collar.
"Jeg elsker dig. Du er mit hjerte."
I love you. You are my heart.
With a dramatic moan Nora collapsed against his chest. "Do you know how much it turns me on when you speak Danish?"
"Yes. Now go. You're running late, and I believe you recall what happened the last time you were late for Mass."
"I do. But I sort of enjoyed it, so that's not much of a threat."
"I could threaten you with a week of celibacy, but as I'm not going to be late, I see no reason to punish myself. Eleanor, you could always move closer. Have you considered that?"
She had considered that. For about five seconds before deciding she'd rather cut off her arm than sell her house.
"I love my house. I want to keep it."
"Is it the house or the memories you love and want to keep?"
Nora stared at the floor.
"Please don't make me move."
Søren had asked her over a year ago to move closer to him and the church. She'd said no then and she was saying no now. She knew he could order her to move closer, and she would if he made her. But so far it hadn't come to that. Søren nodded and Nora pulled away from him.
"We're scening after church again, right?" Nora asked from the bedroom doorway. Sunday afternoons belonged to them. Søren's parishioners always left him alone on Sunday afternoons. They assumed he was busy praying. Not quite.
"Barring divine intervention."
"Divine intervention, Father Stearns?" Nora tossed her hair with arrogant playfulness. "God oughta know better by now."
Throwing a smile over her shoulder, Nora gave Søren one last long look. He had, without a doubt, the most handsome face of any man she'd ever known. The most handsome face, the keenest mind, the wickedest libido, the sexiest body and the most devoted heart.. For the five years she'd lived apart from him, four had been agony. And now they'd been back together for over a year and everything was perfect.
Well, almost perfect.
As usual, Michael woke up long before his alarm. He lay in bed with his hand down his boxer shorts and contemplated finding a tie to make this process more enjoyable. But he'd promised Father S that he wouldn't hurt himself anymore. Father S had no objections to erotic asphyxiation but he forbade Michael from doing it alone. "We almost lost you once, Michael. I'd rather not repeat that experience," Father S had told him, and Michael knew he would never forgive himself if he put his priestthe man who'd saved his lifethrough that nightmare again.
So instead, Michael merely closed his eyes and conjured the memory of Nora Sutherlin tying him down, guiding him inside her and clenching so tightly around him he'd flinched. That one sensory memory worked as usual, and Michael came hard on his hand.
Forgoing a tissue, Michael got up and headed straight to the shower. He spent a long time in the shower, longer than most guys his age probably did. Of course, most guys his age didn't have hair that fell to their shoulders and a predilection for self-abuse in the literal sense. Scalding water wasn't quite as much fun as scalding candle wax, but it was the best he had.
After his shower Michael toweled off and dressed. He dried his long hair and pulled it into a low ponytail. He ironed his white button-down and his black cargo pants and even put on a tie. But not for erotic reasons unless he counted trying to impress Nora Sutherlin as an erotic reason.
As usual, before leaving his bedroom, Michael rolled up his sleeves and rubbed liquid vitamin E onto the white scars on both of his wrists. The vitamin E supposedly helped scars heal and fade, but so far the effect had been minimal. He strapped his wide leather watchband on his right wrist and pulled a black wristband on his left before heading to his mom's room.
Michael tapped on her bedroom door.
"Go without me," she called out, as he knew she would. Still, he always had to ask. "Leave the car. I have to run errands this morning."
Leave the car great. Good thing Sacred Heart was only a few blocks away.
He pushed on his sunglasses, grabbed his skateboard and his backpack on the way out the door, and hit the street. Skating straight up to the front steps of Sacred Heart, he flipped his board up and tucked it under his arm. Before entering the sanctuary, he went to the church secretary's office, dug something out of his backpack and sent a quick fax.
Michael headed to the sanctuary and saw Nora hadn't arrived yet. He sat in the tenth pew from the back, two rows behind Nora's usual spot. Her little shadow, seven-year-old Owen Perry, already waited for his Miss Ellie to show up. Owen adored NoraMiss Ellieand did nothing to hide that fact. He sat next to her during Mass and sometimes even curled up on her lap. Once Michael walked past them and saw Owen lying half-asleep on her knee as Nora mindlessly ran her fingers over his tiny forehead. Both of them had wavy black hair. Anyone seeing them for the first time would think Nora was the kid's mom.
It bugged him seeing Owen cuddling up to Nora. He envied that little kid for so fearlessly showering Nora with affection and attention. Michael would kiss her feet if she'd let him. But then again, he also envied Nora. She at least had someone who wasn't afraid to touch her in public. Michael couldn't even remember the last time anyone had touched him. Even his own mother had stopped hugging him after his father moved out.
Nora didn't just have people who would touch her in public. She had Father S, who touched her in private. Michael secretly worried someone would find out about Father S and Nora. Everybody knew Nora wrote erotica, and the church secretly loved having a mini-celebrity in their midst. And everybody at church worshipped Father S. But Nora and Father S had fallen in love when she was only fifteen. If their past, and even worse, their present, came out Michael didn't even want to think how bad it would get.
Checking his watch, Michael saw he had just enough time to run for a drink of water. He stood up quickly and headed to the door. As he exited the sanctuary Nora breezed in through the front doors wearing a tight white skirt and a tailored black blouse. Her long hair was swept up in a loose knot and she wore a little smile at the corner of her full pale red lips. He could only imagine what Father S had been doing to her that morning to put that grin on her facecould imagine and often did imagine.
Nora came toward him and Michael froze. They never talked to each othernot in words anyway, not since that one night together. But as usual he gave her a little wave. Instead of waving back, Nora reached out and took his hand in hers for the whisper of a second. She squeezed his fingers and let him go, walking off as if nothing at all had passed between them.
Michael gazed down at his hand. She'd touched him.
When Michael looked up, one of the married men in the congregation who had a bad habit of flirting with Nora sat staring at him. Staring at him with a look Michael recognized as envy. Michael stood a little straighter and walked back to his pew. He paused a moment before changing his mind, taking two steps forward and dropping down right next to Nora. She didn't look at him, just chatted with Owen about a drawing he'd done for her. But Nora snuck her hand out again and pinched Michael hard enough on the thigh he knew he'd have a bruise tomorrow.
Michael smiled. God, he loved Sundays.