Conrad was trying not to pace, while walking a circuit around the suite’s living room. Kailani had been gone longer than he found comfortable, even if the clock on the TV did say it had only been 15 minutes.
Mabina and Cassidy had tried to talk to him, but he was wound too tightly to be decent company. Vlad had taken one look at him and decided that the best idea was to take ‘Lisha out to the Village to spend time with their daughter Min. Conrad appreciated it – ‘Lisha had been looking at him oddly for the last couple days, and he wasn’t sure he could bear her sympathy.
That left Taro, who was sitting on the couch, watching him pace while pretending to watch TV. Conrad wished he’d say something. He wanted to fight with someone.
“Slipped your leash and now you can’t find your master?”
Perfect. But his heart wasn’t in finding a retort. “I know where she is.”
“In her room, ignoring you?”
Conrad glared at him, but it wasn’t that inaccurate. Half the time, Kaia didn’t seem to realize he was alive. Then again, she hadn’t really realized she was dating Taro, either.
Taro shrugged. “What? It’s her.” The weight he put on the pronoun was a little surprising. “Where else would she be?”
“Talking to the Thorne Girls.”
Taro snorted. “The Thorne Girls? Yeah, right. She’s not exactly good with bullies.” His smile faded as he noticed Conrad’s expression. “You’re shitting me, right?”
“I wish I was.”
“Why? Doesn’t she get in enough messes without looking for more on her own?”
Conrad winced. “She does okay. It’s not like she’s falling in a well every week or something.” He sounded defensive, and he knew it, but it was hard not to be. Taro had always sold her short – and it grated so badly on him now, he didn’t know how she’d stood for it.
She didn’t notice. A lot of things just went over her head; she was charmingly naive. Ignorance, bliss, etc.: Conrad envied her the naïveté.
“She’s got us to pull her out before she gets too deep,” Taro countered. Conrad noted the “us,” and wondered at it. “So why is she off with the Thorne Girls alone?”
Conrad sighed, not really wanting to discuss this, and especially not with the guy from whom he’d stolen the girl. “She wanted to ask them some questions.”
“She wants to ask everyone questions. Why did you let her go?”
Conrad tugged on the collar Mabina had made her put on him, angry and more than a little humiliated. “I didn’t exactly have a choice.”
“Bullshit. You could sell ice to Eskimos. You could have talked her out of it before she even knew you were trying to convince her of something. You didn’t. Why?”
Damnit, Taro wasn’t normally this persistent. “Because I think they’ll have the answers she wants.”
“Didn’t you rope her into this whole Belonging-to-her bullshit so that you could give her the answers she wants?”
“I don’t have these answers!” And damn if that didn’t burn.
“What the fuck do the Thorne Girls know that you don’t?”
He’d gotten himself backed into a corner. “What Ownership is really like. How to deal with it.”
“She couldn’t just ask me?”
“You’ve never been on the right end of it either.” It was a stinging retort, but Taro was pushing him, and he wasn’t in the mood.
Luckily, Taro plowed right through. He was pretty unbearable when he got maudlin about Megan.
“And the Thorne Girls are a shining example of the ‘right’ sort of Ownership?”
Conrad had been chewing over that one for a while now. Rozen wasn’t a good guy, no matter what face he’d put on when talking to Kaia – if he’d sent her to talk to the Thorne Girls, he had his own reasons. But…
“They’re hard, but they’re honest, and they keep their end of bargains. They won’t screw her over. And,” he hesitated, and shrugged, hoping Taro would drop it.
“They’re still bullies and control freaks. You think that’s what she ought to be learning?”
Speaking of control freaks… Conrad shook his head. Taro just didn’t learn.
“I don’t get to choose that.” And neither do you. “But if I did, I’d say they’re not a bad choice.” He plowed ahead before Taro could argue with him. “I’ve seen their Kept, and they’re a lot better off than some are. They’re definitely Kept – but I guess that’s what Kaia wants, or at least,” he frowned, “what Mabina-and-Cassidy want her to want – but they’re not miserable and they’re not broken.” Not like you were. He didn’t have to say it. Even Taro could read that subtext.
And choose to ignore it. “So you’re completely okay with her being off talking to the Thorne Girls alone?”
“Then why are you twitching like a junkie who needs his fix?” Taro smirked, inordinately pleased with himself.
The knock on the door made both of them jump. Conrad turned to answer it, then, sighing, stepped back to let Taro get the door. It wasn’t as if they hadn’t played this game in reverse last year.
Still smirking, Taro opened the door. “Kailani.” He blocked the door, not yet inviting her in, not letting Conrad see anything but a flash of red hair.
“Hi, Taro.” She sounded cheerful. She always sounded cheerful, until she was pissed off.
“Moving in?” Was he going to keep her standing in the hall all day?
“What? Oh, no. Well, maybe. Can I come in, please?”
“You don’t have to ask, you know,” he said, in that maddeningly insulting voice he always used when talking to her. As if talking down to her like she was stupid would somehow make him remotely in her league. “It’s your place now too, since you decided to Own Conrad.”
“Oh.” She sounded a little guilty, and a little squelched. Taro did that to her almost every time they talked. “Well, um, you’re still in the doorway.”
“Yeah,” he said grumpily, and stepped out of the way. “Come on in.”
“Thank you.” She walked past him, straight to Conrad. She was carrying a small overnight bag. “Hi,” she said shyly. He wanted to wrap his arms around her and pull her close to him. Instead, he just smiled.
“Hi.” He couldn’t help glancing at the bag questioningly. She’d been so vehemently opposed when Mabina had suggested she moved in.
She blushed, and couldn’t quite meet his eyes. “I thought you needed your space.”
Taro, behind them, laughed unkindly. Conrad ignored him, and set his hands on top of Kai’s, hoping she’d ignore Taro, too. “You changed your mind?”
“I was working off of incomplete information.” She glanced up at him, and he was a little gratified to realize she was nervous. “I’m beginning to understand how this Ownership thing works.”
“Good,” he answered, sounding sure about it because she’d be unhappy if he sounded uncertain or nervous.
She ran her hands up his arms slowly, watching his face as if she were conducting an experiment.
He smiled, more confidently than he felt. “So what now?”
“Kiss me,” she whispered.
He leaned in and did so, sweetly, tenderly, fighting every instinct to make it otherwise, but not here... “My room?,” he asked softly, glancing from her face to her bag to his door.
She glanced at Taro, and back to him, flushing a little, as if she’d gotten caught doing something naughty. “Your room sounds good,” she agreed.
He turned quickly, heading into the room without looking at Taro; he didn’t know what he thought, he could guess what he thought, he didn’t care what he thought. Conrad held the door for Kaia and closed it behind her.
Cautiously, as if wishing for an instruction manual, she set her hands on his arms and tipped her face up gently towards him.
He kissed her again, letting more of his need for her seep into it, albeit slowly; he didn’t want to frighten her.
Her hands tightened on his arms as she kissed him back, stepping in closer to him.
He wrapped his arms around her, holding her close, putting a bit more fire into the kiss as he gazed down into her eyes.
She looked up at him, some tension leaving her shoulders. “This makes you happy.”
He blinked, pulling back just slightly to watch her, hands clasped around her waist. “I... um, yeah...”
She smiled, the rest of the tension leaving her. “Good. I like it better when you’re smiling.”
“You relaxed...” His smile broadened, pulling her closer again. “It’s been awhile since I’ve seen you relaxed like this. It’s nice.”
“It’s hard to relax when you’re miserable,” she countered. With an expression that suggested she thought she was being horribly brave, she darted in and kissed his chin.
He grinned, turning with her, pulling her deeper into the room. “Well, I’m happy now... let me help you relax.”
She glanced up at him dubiously, but went along, her doubt fading into a nervous, giddy smile as they neared his bed.
“Here, sit down.” He sat on the near edge of the bed, gesturing to the center. “Show me your back.” He stretched his arms, interlacing all fourteen fingers with a smile. She did so, dropping gracefully into lotus with her back to him, and he set his hands on her back, rubbing it slowly and gently, his broad hands well-practiced.
She made small appreciative noises before finally finding words again. “That feels really good.”
He nodded, continuing to work on her, sliding his hands up under her shirt. “It’s a gift.”
“The extra fingers must… oh!” she cut herself off with a startled gasp. “What…?”
“What?” He paused, hands lingering on her back, leaning over her with a concerned expression. “What’s wrong?”
“You startled me,” she said, her voice taking on that careful, tense tone that meant she was taking pains to choose her words. “I wasn’t expecting your hands to go inside, ah, under my shirt.”
“I’m sorry... it’d be easier if it wasn’t in the way at all, but...”
She twisted to look at him thoughtfully. “Would it?” From any other girl it would have sounded flirtatious. From Kaia, it was probably just an earnest question.
“Um...” He flushed slightly, suddenly self-conscious. “Well, yeah.”
“Okay. Don’t look... I mean...” she flapped her hand in negation. “I’d like it better if you don’t... ogle.” Blushing, she turned her back on him again and stripped out of her shirt, leaving her bare to the waist.
He smiled, not quite chuckling, and continued his massage. “Lie down on your stomach if you want, you might feel less exposed.”
She made a soft noise in response that could have been a laugh. “I was told that I shouldn’t let you tell me what to do,” she retorted; it sounded almost as if she was teasing him.
“Then don’t. I just want you to be comfortable.”
As if the suggestion of comfort were enough, she relaxed under his hands again. “I am.”
“Good.” He continued working on her back, then neck and shoulders, leaning in close behind her. Finally, she did lay down, melting as she was under his hands into a puddle of relaxed Kai, her skirt tangled around her thighs.
Eventually, he stretched out beside her, putting an arm around her waist. “Did you like that?”
“Mmm,” she murmured contentedly. “I mean… yes. It was lovely…” she hesitated, clearly a little flustered. “Wonderful.”
“I’m glad.” He pressed up close against her, his breath warm on her cheek, his arm securely around her. She turned, her nose bumping against his, to look at him.
He smiled warmly at her, eyes searching hers from just inches away, and she smiled back at him, gamely if uncertainly.
He kissed her again, hesitantly, gently as before. Her response was more certain this time, and she twisted to pull him close to her, seeming to forget her toplessness as her arm wrapped around him.
His other arm snaked around her, hands resting on the small of her back and the back of her neck, as he deepened their kiss.
She made a small noise as she kissed back, her hand on his back pulling him closer. “You...” she pulled back just a little bit... “you’re still wearing your shirt.”
“I’m sorry,” he smiled, pulling it over his head and flinging it into the corner in one smooth motion.
“That’s more fair.” She ran her hands over his chest as if it were an entirely new experience to her, exploring every inch. She planted a kiss on his sternum, then glanced up, shyly, at his face.
He smiled softly down at her, setting a hand gently on her cheek before running his fingers through her hair. She leaned into his hand, but her smile twitched a little uncertainly.
“I’ve never done this before,” she murmured hesitantly.
His pulse quickened as she essentially confirmed where this was heading. “It’s all right... there’s nothing to be afraid of. I won’t do anything you don’t want. Even if I could,” he chuckled.
She chuckled nervously at the joke. “I’m glad one of us knows what they’re doing.”
“Yeah...” His tone let show a bit of his uncertainty as to the extent of his knowledge, but his hand ran smoothly down her side, strong and confident on her soft skin.
“Good.” She kissed him again, then stood up abruptly, turning her back to him. He watched her from the bed, curiously, examining the smooth, pleasant lines of her back. She hooked her thumbs in the waistband of her skirt and pushed it down, her panties disappearing into the puddled skirt. She looked at him again shyly, over her shoulder, her hands folded over her stomach.
"You're beautiful, Kaia," he said softly, reverently, watching her motionlessly.
“I…” She gave up on words and came to him, crawling across the bed.
He unfastened his jeans, partially sitting up, and reached out to set a hand on her, caressing her shoulder and neck.
She glanced down, then back up, blushing, and, as if to cover the blush, kissed him again, her own hands finding his back and shoulders.
He responded fervently to her kiss, rising to put his arms around her and turning to lay her back gently on the bed. She smiled up at him, her hands pushing lightly and ineffectually at his pants.
He stepped back, releasing her for a moment, and let them fall, stripping off his boxers along with them. Her eyes widened as she looked him over, and she bit her lip lightly. “Yes,” she murmured, barely a whisper.
He lay beside her, half atop her, hand splayed over her bare stomach, his leg pressed against hers. She looked up at him, her expression trusting and a little bit needy, her hands trailing over his body, tickling a little, caressing a lot, as if she needed to be in as much contact with him as possible.
Gently, half-afraid she might change her might at the last moment and say no, stop, uncustomarily unsure of himself, he shifted, kissed her, and, his heart in his throat, made love to her.
Departed gods be thanked, she didn’t say no. Somewhere in the middle, she gasped yes, and then, a little later, oh, yes, Conrad, and then neither of them spoke.
It was only hours later, as Conrad stared at his ceiling, Kai sleeping with her head pillowed on his shoulder, that Conrad realized she hadn't told him what deal she'd made with the Thorne girls.
"You're learning," he murmured wryly, very softly, so as not to wake her.
Copyright © 2009-2010 Lyn Thorne-Alder & Elasmo. All rights reserved.
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