His c**k turned to steel, and he had to clench his teeth against the desire to take her like this. “Your safe word is shadow. Say it. Remember it.”
“S-shadow,” she whispered, arching into his hand.
“Good. That’s very good.”
This was going to be easier than he’d thought. He smiled as he eyed the toys on his wall and selected the bat, a leather-wrapped stick with a flap of soft leather on the business end. Wielded properly, it left a pleasant, gentle sting. Used in conjunction with reward, it gave great orgasms disguised as punishment.
He slapped the flap against his palm, and she jumped at the crack of leather on skin. “You’re going to tell me what drives this desire of yours, aren’t you?”
Her eyes flared in surprise. “What?”
“Eyes down,” he said sharply, and delivered a whack across the front of her thighs.
She cast her gaze at the floor. “I won’t tell you anything. Not like this.”
“That’s how this works, Runa.”
“I’m not stupid,” she murmured, still looking at the floor. “I tell you, which releases me from the guilt, right?” Her gaze snapped upward, slamming into his. “But you have to beat it out of me.”
He swallowed. Sweated. Panicked.
“You thought you could trick me? You thought I’d cave in after a little spanking? Like I haven’t had the ever-living shit beaten out of me before? Well, f**k you, Shade. Fuck you if you think I’m such a wuss.” She struck out, knocking the bat from his hand. “Get something serious. That.”
He followed her gaze to the bullwhip. Bile bubbled up in his throat. He picked up the bat. “No.”
Runa said nothing. Merely wore him down with the force of her will. Which was far stronger than his. What a fool he’d been to ever think of her as weak. He’d never met anyone stronger.
“First,” he said, making damned sure his voice was forceful, “you’ll tell me who beat you.” He had a feeling he knew, after her brief comment about her father, but he wanted to get as much out of her as he could without hurting her, and the beating thing had been an unexpected revelation.
When she said nothing—now she decided to be quiet—he slid the bat up the inside of her leg. He made slow, small circles on her inner thigh until she began to tremble. He could smell her anticipation, but whether it was because she was waiting for pleasure or punishment, he didn’t know.
“My father, okay? It was my bastard father.”
He slid the flap of leather up to lightly brush her sex. As far as rewards went, it was minor, but her moan of relief made it seem much larger.
“Spread your legs more … oh, yeah, that’s it.” He kept stroking her, feathery brushes over her core. “And what did you do to deserve it?”
She squirmed, but her feet remained rooted in place. “Nothing.”
“Then why did he do it?”
“He was … an alcoholic.”
This was going well. She seemed to have forgotten the bullwhip crap. He increased the pressure, letting the soft leather slide between her folds so each stroke kissed her clit.
“Alcohol rages, then.” A sudden, alarming vision of her beneath her father’s fists plowed through Shade’s brain. During sessions like this, memories often popped into his head, but this was something he felt to the soul. He wanted to kill that man for what he’d done to Runa.
And now it made sense, why she was encouraging him to use violence against her. She truly had hated her father, was probably hoping the same treatment would help her to hate Shade. She had to know it wouldn’t work, had to know this was about getting to the root of her pain, but her logical mind hadn’t brought her to that place where she could admit it yet.
“Where is he?” he growled, before he could stop himself.
“Dead.” The pain in her voice made him fumble the bat, and it clattered to the floor. “He took off when I was a teen. Didn’t see him again until he was on his deathbed.”
“Why … why does it bother you that he’s dead, if you hated him?”
She swiveled her head around so she was glaring at him. “I didn’t hate him at the time he died, and if you want more, you know how to get it.”
He eyed the bullwhip. “You don’t need that,” he said, in a final, desperate attempt to change her mind, but she shook her head.
“You know that’s not true.”
Unfortunately, she was right, and he hated it. Hated himself. With heavy steps, he moved to the wall and removed the whip from its hook. It felt like lead in his hand, which, naturally, chose now to be solid, and he swore upon everything that was holy and unholy that he would destroy the whip after tonight. He would destroy everything in the room.
Breathing deeply, he turned back to her. “Where was your mother when your father was abusing you?”
Her eyes sparked. There was a story there, but it was a story she wasn’t ready to share. Not without enticement.
He walked over to her and used the whip, coiled like a rope, against the back of her thighs. Not hard enough to hurt, but hard enough to make her yelp in surprise. “Tell me.”
“At work. She never knew.”
“Are you sure about that?” he asked softly, because he grew up with a mother who knew every time one of her young sneezed, even if she was a thousand miles away, and he suspected that human mothers were no different.
“She didn’t know,” Runa said through clenched teeth.
“You’re lying.” He slapped her with the whip again, a little harder.
“No.” Her voice held a tremor, because now they were getting down to it. Her fears were surfacing.
“She knew, but you’ve never been able to admit it to yourself.”
A shockwave of need hit him so hard he had to take a step back. She wasn’t going to go any deeper into her fears unless he got tougher on her. The whip vibrated in his palm with the force of her need, and his arm raised no matter how urgently he whispered, “No,” over and over.
The whip came down on her bare back, lightly, but it left a pink streak that immediately began to swell into a welt. Runa didn’t make a sound, but he did. Deep in his throat, he cried out.
“Your mom knew. And she did nothing to protect you. Admit it, Runa. Admit it or we’re never getting past this.”
A sob escaped her. “She … I can’t.”
“You can, and you will.” His arm raised again. The tip of the whip left another mark on her back and a much, much bigger scar on his soul.
“Yes,” she whispered. “She knew. She had to. But she didn’t do anything.” A tear rolled down her cheek, and he longed to wipe it away. “Why didn’t she do anything? He hurt me. He cheated on her. He spent all their money on whiskey, even when it meant we went hungry.”
As emotional as her memories were, as good for her as it was to get them out, there was so much more she needed to release. He could feel the darkness in her still, and he couldn’t seem to drop the whip. He was no longer in control of his actions, his body reacting only to her wishes. This had gone past the point of no return, and now the only way to stop this session was for her to speak the safe word.
His arm raised. “Runa, say the safe word.” Nausea roiled in his belly. Please, please say it.
“We’re—” She swallowed hard. “—we’re not done.”
He couldn’t stop himself, and this blow struck near her shoulder blade. He tried to say he was sorry, but the words wouldn’t come. He’d never been sorry before—this was his nature, the kind of demon he was. He couldn’t fight the instinct to cleanse souls any more than he could fight his need to breathe. But this was killing him.
“Where’s the guilt coming from, Runa? The darkness?” His voice was strong, even though inside he was quaking. “I sense it in you. I’ve always sensed it in you.”
She shook her head.
“Tell me!” he snapped.
“I hated him,” she cried. “And I hated her for not leaving him.”
He couldn’t tear his gaze away from the powerful, lean ropes of muscle in her back as they quivered, not with fear or pain, but with rage. “Everyone hates their parents at some point.”
“Not like I did. I wanted her to leave him. I was bad, did things to make him mad so she’d see that he needed to go.”
“You were a child—”
“Stop it!” she screamed. “It was more, so much more.”
An instant urge to comfort her overwhelmed him. He reached for her, but drew his hand back with a hiss.
His hand was invisible. Fucking gone all the way to his elbow. Terror squeezed the air right out of his lungs. He looked at his other hand. And didn’t it just f**king figure that the hand holding the whip was solid as the stone surrounding them.
The muscles in his arm tensed as it began to climb into striking position again. He knew better than to attempt to stop it, but he had to try. He was rewarded with a sensation like scalpels sliding under his skin.
The whip slashed downward, and Runa grunted in both misery and pleasure. Shade’s field of vision began to narrow and mist over as his subconscious took over the work he knew he wasn’t strong enough to handle.
“How was it more?” He heard his voice, all business, totally foreign.
“Mom finally gave him an ultimatum, and he got sober. Turned into a model husband and dad. But it was too late.” She made a strangled sound of anguish.
Shade stepped close, his entire body shaking as he brushed his lips over every pink mark he’d made in her gorgeous skin. “Why was it too late?”
Please, Runa, talk. I don’t want to have to do it again.
“Because I already hated him,” she moaned. “I was sixteen. I caught him with another woman.”
Shade’s pulse rate shifted into overdrive. They were at the precipice now, and he could feel the guilt and blackness rise up, holding her in its grip but not quite ready to be banished.
“What did you do?”
“Arik begged me to not tell, but I did. I did and I enjoyed the knowledge that I’d be breaking my mother’s heart … oh, God, I enjoyed it!”
The force of her guilt ripped into him. “Did you succeed in breaking up your parents?”
She nodded. “My mom … she killed herself. But it was for nothing, Shade.”
His blood ran cold. “Why?”
Her head dropped forward and her shoulders slumped, and how she remained standing on her feet was beyond his comprehension. “He was dying. And … and he told me that when I saw him with the woman, he was ending things. My mom … oh, God, Shade.”
“What is it?”
Runa sobbed. “She didn’t need to know about the woman. It was over and had been for a while. If I hadn’t told her …”
“Runa, you can’t blame yourself.” The words were lame, probably the same ones she’d heard from her brother over the years, and they hadn’t worked so far.
Only one thing would, and his blood chilled when she asked for it.
“More, Shade. Please, more!”
“I can’t.” And yet, the whip in his hand whispered dark things. The handle burned in his palm as though it was growing roots that sank into his skin and tapped into the most evil part of what made him a demon.
“Hurt me,” she whispered. “Stop holding back. Make me pay.”
His fist clenched around the handle. His bond mark around his neck throbbed, reminding him that a female—his mate—was asking for something. Instinct demanded that he respond even as his mind screamed in protest.
His arm raised. No. No! Sweat poured down his temples with the effort he spent to drop the whip. It clattered to the ground. Clenching his teeth, he endured the agony that came from resisting his nature.
But his feet began to move, stiffly, awkwardly, taking him to the wall. He watched in horror as his hand took a flail from its hook, one with braided leather straps that hung like dreadlocks from the handle. At the end of each dread was a tiny, sharp spur made of bone.
“Hurry, Shade.” Runa’s voice was a magnet, pulling him close to her.
Again, his arm raised. His mind screamed and his organs cramped as he brought the flail down as hard as he could.
On his own chest.
Pain tore through him. Sweet, crippling agony.
Runa gasped. “What are you doing? Stop it!”
“I … can’t.” Somehow, the pain lightened his own burden, his own guilt over his failures in his past, and at the same time, he rejoiced in being able to spare Runa. “I will bear this pain for you,” he swore. “If one of us has to bleed, it will be me. It’ll always be me.” There was nothing he wouldn’t do for her, he knew that now.
“No,” she cried, reaching for him, but he snapped her wrists into the manacles above her head. “Oh, Shade.” Tears rolled down her face. “I love you. I know it’s not what you want, and I’m sorry. But I can’t help it.”
A wave of warmth flowed out of her like a breeze—the hallmark of freedom. The very air around her felt lighter. She screamed in ecstasy, rocked her h*ps as the mental and physical release took her. This was what the females he brought here were after, the most intense orgasm of their lives, one that would, in a way, last forever. Nothing felt better than a clean soul free of guilt, regret, and hatred.
And yet, he couldn’t drop the flail. Her darkness and guilt had been lifted, but his remained, and he had no idea how to get rid of it.