Blame it on the Voodoo
“It’s getting to where you can’t swing a dead chicken around here anymore without it smacking into one damn psychic or another.”
Zirondelle Doucette couldn’t help the grin that spread across her face as she listened to her Aunt Serafina’s complaints. Her aunt stood at the window of their family’s shop, staring out at the street, and Zee didn’t have to guess too hard to figure out the cause for her discontent. Another “damn” psychic had recently put out her shingle in the previously vacant storefront directly across from their own.
“And if it’s not a psychic it’s a card reader,” the other woman continued, grumbling crossly. “Or a palm reader. Or tea-leaf reader—”
“Or a purveyor of Voodoo essentials?” Zee suggested, holding up the little gris-gris bag she’d just finished assembling.
Serafina turned her head to glare at her niece. “Don’t sass me, Zee. You know exactly what I’m talking about.”
“Yes, Ma’am, I do.” Ducking her head, Zee started in on the next charm. She knew it wasn’t psychics per se with whom her aunt had a problem. Serafina was a tolerant soul, not the kind who’d ever take a stand against anyone else’s religion or spellcraft or spiritual beliefs. It was the idea of all those make-believe mystics making a mockery of their family’s calling that was trying the older woman’s temper, and not without cause. The Doucette family had owned and operated their establishment in the self-same Royal Street location for several generations, dealing in authentic rituals, in candles and jujus, talismans and spells. It was hard not to take it personally when your way of life was turned into a kind of circus act by greedy imposters. But as Zee and her aunt both knew, the charlatans did in fact have a place and a purpose in the grand scheme of things.
Oh, how the tourists loved them. They ate up their acts and purchased their trinkets as eagerly as they did the beignets at the Café du Monde. Or jazz on Frenchmen Street. Or hurricanes in Pat O’s Courtyard. It was all part of the Crescent City mystique, like po-boys and crawfish, pralines and beads. In an odd way, they kept things safe. They kept the merely curious from straying into dangerous territory.
“Oh, Lawd.” Aunt Serafina’s sudden gasp caught Zee’s attention. She glanced up in surprise.
“Auntie, what’s wrong?”
“It’s him.” Serafina scurried back behind the counter where her niece was working, babbling nonsensically. “He’s back. He’s coming this way. What should we do? What does he want this time?”
“Do about what?” Zee asked, feeling mystified and mildly exasperated. “Who’s back?” She loved Serafina; truly she did. Her aunt had taken Zee in after her parents passed without question or hesitation—the only member of their somewhat eccentric family who seemed to have any idea about what to do with a bewildered little girl who’d suddenly been orphaned. Zee would never forget the older woman’s kindness but, all the same, there were times, like now, when dealing with her aunt seriously tried Zee’s patience.
The Doucette family had a certain reputation; they were known for being fierce and fearless. They prided themselves on it, in fact. But Serafina had always been unusually timid for a Doucette. Right now, her pale eyes, also unusual in a Doucette, were wide with fear, the pupils dilated; her voice was but a whisper. “Monsieur Boudreaux.”
Boudreaux. The name itself meant very little. It was as common as dishwater around those parts. But between the look on her aunt’s face and the singing certainty in her own heart, Zee knew exactly which Monsieur Boudreaux Serafina meant. She meant Rene Alcide Boudreaux. Zirondelle’s Monsieur Boudreaux. Dominant. Vampire. Master.
But not her master. No, not yet.
As the door to the shop swung open, Zee trembled inside. She couldn’t even raise her eyes to gaze upon the shadow that she knew must be filling the entryway. Odd, considering that shadow contained the very thing for which she’d been longing.
“Good evening, Madame Doucette, Mademoiselle.” Rene glided into the shop with his usual, preternatural grace. He had a way of moving that Zee found mesmerizing. And his voice! That subtle growl, as dark and seductive as midnight, left Zee wanting to fall to her knees at his feet and declare her submission right then and there. She dared not, however. Not with her aunt looking on. Not when she hadn’t yet been granted the right.
“Monsieur Boudreaux,” Serafina’s voice shook a little as she returned his greeting. “What a surprise. We weren’t expecting you.”
“Well, yes. I mean…no! It-it’s so soon after Monsieur’s last visit.”
That was sadly true, Zee reflected. Although he’d once been a regular customer, stopping by every few weeks, things had changed in the last decade. Nowadays it was not unusual for a year or more to pass between encounters. Rene’s last visit to the shop had been three months ago. The occasion was burned into Zee’s memory because it was then she decided that enough was enough. It was time to take matters into her own hands, to go after what she wanted, to stop waiting, hoping or dreaming that Rene might someday recall her existence. She could be dead by the time that happened!
“Indeed,” Rene agreed. “However, I’m sure you’ll appreciate that circumstances have made it necessary that I return sooner rather than later. I’m here because of the spell that’s been placed upon me—the curse, if you will.”
“A curse!” Serafina gasped in alarm. “Oh, surely Monsieur is mistaken.”
“I assure you, Madame, the mistake is not mine. It would, in fact, be rather impossible for me to be mistaken about such a thing. You see, if there’s one thing we vampires are very familiar with, it’s curses. Centuries of people wishing one dead or ill tends to naturally have that effect.”
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“But…who would dare do such a thing?”
Zee glanced at her aunt in surprise. Any number of people, she was tempted to reply. Was that not the very reason Rene had been coming to them all these years? He’d been their most loyal customer since practically the first day they’d opened for business. The Doucettes had grown rich selling charms and protection spells to people like Rene Boudreaux. Even if she privately shared her aunt’s skepticism, surely it was bad business to mention the fact!
Rene’s brow furrowed. He stared searchingly at Serafina for several seconds, then inclined his head. “I apologize. I’m sorry to have alarmed you, Madame. I can see now that you had nothing to do with the difficulties I’ve been experiencing. Might I have a word with your niece? In private?”
“Wi-with Zee?” Serafina stammered. “In p-private?”
Zee could tell her aunt was gathering her courage to refuse. She was touched by Serafina’s protective instincts, but right now those instincts were as unnecessary as they were unwelcome.
“Why, Monsieur, I…I hardly th-think that’s necessary.”
“It’s all right, Auntie,” Zee said quickly. “Why don’t you go into the backroom and brew up one of your tisanes. I’m sure it will help calm your nerves.”
Serafina gazed piteously at her. “Zee…”
“It’s all right,” she repeated, a little more firmly. “Really.” She patted her aunt’s arm and smiled reassuringly. It was more than all right, actually. A chance to be alone with her beloved Rene? That was cause for celebration! But, even so, as her aunt, with a sad little nod and a reluctant backward glance retreated from the room, Zee found a little of her confidence deserting her. Her gaze dropped once more. The rush of blood was so loud in her ears she could not even hear Rene’s footsteps on the floorboards. Oh, but she felt his approach just the same. His powerful presence pervaded the atmosphere. She was paralyzed by it, enraptured, entranced.
“Zirondelle. Look at me.”
Her name on his lips was the sweetest caress. His words were a command she could not disobey. She glanced up immediately, gaze locking with his piercing blue eyes. “Yes?”
“I know it’s you.”
“Wh-what? Me?” She drew in a shaky breath. “You do?” Well. It was only about time, wasn’t it? After all, she’d known it was him for most of her life. He was her destiny, her fate, the other half of her soul.
“Yes. I know it’s you who’s cast this spell upon me.”
Zee’s heart sank. Was that all he was talking about? Disappointment fueled her defiance. She tossed her head and demanded, “And? What if it was?”
“Then you will remove it. At once.”
“What if I won’t?”
His eyes widened. “You would dare defy me?”
Would she? The thought shook her and, for just a moment, she considered backing down. She didn’t want him angry with her, after all. Even if she weren’t madly in love with the man, she still would never want to make an enemy of him—no one with any sense at all would want that! On the other hand, desperation was a powerful goad. At this point, she was willing to go pretty far to attract his attention. And if this is what it took, so be it.
Besides, foolish or not, she just could not bring herself to fear him all that much. She’d known him all her life. This was the same Rene Boudreaux who was so kind to her as a child, who’d comforted her as no one else could following her parents’ tragic and untimely deaths.
It was he who’d found her, hiding beneath a table in the funeral home, paging feverishly through a book of spells she’d taken from her grandmother’s house, looking for something—anything—that might bring them back. Curses were not the only things with which vampires were familiar. They knew death and loss better than anyone else. When Rene had promised her she would not die from a broken heart, when he insisted no spell was necessary, that her parents had not really gone anywhere, that those we truly love will continue to live on eternally, enshrined in our hearts forever, Zee believed him.
Now, remembering that day, remembering all his kindness—both then and after—a smile curved her lips. “Why not? I think I would. After all, I know you’d never hurt me.” Not unless she wanted him to.
Rene sighed. “This is insupportable.” He shook his head wearily and asked, “What is it you want from me, child?”
“Not very much.” Other than for him to stop thinking of her as a child and recognize her finally as a woman, one who knew her own heart and was willing to be whatever he wanted or needed her to be. “Just one night. One night with you.”
“What’s that?” Rene stared at her in alarm. “No. Impossible. You don’t know what you’re asking for.”
“I don’t?” She smiled a little and teasingly said, “Well, if that’s the case, it’s all the more reason, isn’t it?”
No matter what Rene might assume, Zee really didn’t think it was possible that there was anything she didn’t know about the man. Her family had always kept very meticulous records on the people they did business with—as a form of insurance, if nothing else—and Zee had studied those records in depth. She knew his history, his pain and his sorrow. She knew his tastes and predilections. She knew all about his illicit affair with her great-great-great-aunt Adeline.
The Doucettes were not long-lived in general, but Adeline had died even younger than was usual for one of their clan, consumed by her passion for Rene Boudreaux, or so the story went. Though most of the family seemed to regard Adeline’s sad fate as a cautionary tale—a perfect example of why, especially when it came to matters of the heart, one should steer clear of vampires in general and Rene Boudreaux in particular—Zee had never found the story off-putting. Whatever had happened to Adeline, and Zee was not convinced anyone knew the full story there, she was sure it had not been Rene’s fault. At least not entirely.
And even if it had been, so what? There were certainly worse ways to meet one’s end.
It was possible Rene didn’t know about the file of information her family had amassed about him, although Zee found it hard to imagine he could be so naïve that he didn’t at least suspect they had one. Still, he couldn’t believe her completely ignorant of his ways. He must have noticed the way she’d been dogging his footsteps these past months, yearning, learning, studying his every move. Why, she’d visited the sex club he owned and operated on Bourbon Street so frequently that she was now on a first-name basis with the bouncers and bartenders. She’d seen him in full Dom mode—dressed in black leather that fit him like a second skin and added further fuel to her fantasies. She’d watched while he demonstrated proper flogging techniques. She’d listened as he explained how best to discipline an unruly sub. She’d dreamed of one day experiencing all of that for herself.
In short, she’d done her homework. She knew exactly what she was risking, exactly what she was asking for as she repeated her request. “One night. With you. In your dungeon.”
A shudder ran through his frame. It may have been nothing more than a sudden chill or a ghost walking over his grave, as the saying goes, but Zee didn’t want to believe that was the case. She wanted to believe it was a sudden rush of heat that was affecting him. A desperate need to dominate her. An overwhelming desire to have her naked, bound and totally at his mercy.
Open, vulnerable, his—wasn’t that exactly what she wanted too? Her heart soared with the sudden hope that tonight might see both their goals realized.
His stern gaze held hers for a moment longer. “And then you’ll release me from your spell?”
Once again disappointment stabbed at her heart. Once again she ducked her head and sighed. “Then I will do whatever you ask of me.”
“Very well.” Rene’s voice sounded unexpectedly grim. “If that’s the way it has to be. Go and tell your aunt you’re leaving. And be quick about it. I don’t like to be kept waiting.”
Zee nodded, not trusting herself to answer. Not trusting herself to say ‘yes’ without adding ‘master’. It was still too soon for that.
Out in the street, warm night air caressed Rene’s skin and teased his tastebuds with a mélange of scents and flavors—bourbon, brown sugar, crawfish boil, dark coffee, rum—trivial things for which he had no longer any use. Ah, but there had been a time, he could still remember it, when he’d found them enjoyable, when such simple pleasures had the power to satisfy all his appetites. The sultry-sweet sound of a sax floated on the breeze and up ahead he could see a young couple dancing together on the banquette. They look happy, innocent, in love; for a moment, he envied them that. Once, he had been just like them—before time and loss had twisted his soul. The pleasures he craved now were darker, hotter, more intoxicating and far more dangerous. Like the pleasure of mastering Zirondelle Doucette.
To have her within his control, at his command, her body and mind—his to explore, to discover, to pleasure again and again. How he’d love to have the training of her. Oh, the things he could show her! He’d be the first to witness her response, the first to ever have her in any of a dozen different ways.
Such a thing was impossible, of course. He should put it from his mind. But he couldn’t help thinking about it all the same. In fact, try as he might, these past few weeks that had been all he could think about. Given the way she’d been flitting about on the edges of his existence all that time, invading his thoughts, never leaving him a minute’s peace, she deserved the flogging he had every intention of administering tonight. Why she’d even haunted his dreams.
It had to be a spell. Had to be. And after all the money he’d given her family over the years! All the charms he’d purchased—all to ensure that just such a thing as this never occurred again. He should demand a refund. Not that it would do him any good.
He should have recognized right from the start what was happening to him. He should have confronted Zirondelle the first night she visited his club and ordered her then to keep her distance. Or, better yet, he should have simply left town years ago—back when he’d first realized that the uncommonly pretty child he’d grown so fond of, who he’d so enjoyed visiting and spending time with, was fast becoming an impossibly beautiful woman. One whose appeal he would never be able to resist.
He could still recall, even after nearly a decade, the shock he’d felt the day he’d first caught sight of that look in her eyes. Combining the innocent trust of a child with the needs of a woman and the devotion of a true submissive, it shook him to his soul. Even then, as inchoate as it was, it left him stunned, hungry, craving her with a desperation he had not felt in over a century.
It was wrong to feel the way he did about so young a girl, and he certainly had never acted on those feelings! But they tormented him all the same.
When one’s desires can lead only to the destruction of precisely that which one holds most dear, it’s best to distance oneself. Or, better yet, not to love at all. So he’d told himself, over and over again. And so he’d kept his distance, fearing for Zirondelle’s wellbeing, hoping in time his own madness would pass. And mostly succeeding, until her innocent spell had ensnared him. Until her childish capriciousness had caused her to stray into dangerous territory, landing them both in bigger trouble than she knew.
Now, as she joined him on the banquette, looking far too happy, excited and pleased with herself, looking like everything he wanted—and everything he knew he shouldn’t allow himself to have—he wondered how it had come to this. Perhaps he’d been fooling himself all along. Perhaps all his experience had taught him nothing. Perhaps it was his fate to always repeat the same mistakes. For her sake, he hoped to God that was not the case.
All the same, as he placed a hand on her back to guide her over to where his car was parked, he couldn’t help wondering if he wasn’t just leading them both down the path of irresistible temptation.
It’s voodoo. It has to be. That’s the only acceptable explanation.
A spell, after all, could be lifted. A curse could be removed. Their effects would dissipate like the evening mist and all would be as it had been before. Anything else was simply too hopeless to contemplate.
Rene unlocked his car. “Get in,” he said as he held the passenger door open.
Zirondelle glanced at the car in surprise. “We’re driving? Why? Where are we going?”
It seemed an odd time for her to start raising objections—not that she shouldn’t object to what he had planned for her. Not that he shouldn’t be happy that she’d finally come to her senses. And he was happy. Perfectly so. “Where do you think we’re going? I’m taking you back to my house. Isn’t that what you wanted?”
“Oh.” Her tongue emerged to nervously lick at her plush, pink lips. She gazed at him uncertainly. “Yes. I-I guess.”
Rene tried hard not to think about how soft and delicious those luscious lips would feel pressed against his own, how easily they’d part for his tongue, how urgently he longed to taste them. He raised an eyebrow. “Have you changed your mind? It’s not too late for that, you know. Release me now and promise never to do such a thing again and we’ll both forget it ever happened.”
Immediately, Zirondelle’s chin rose. “No,” she said quickly. “Who said anything about changing my mind? We have a deal. Let’s go.” Suiting her actions to her words, she slipped quickly into the seat. She pulled the door shut and stared defiantly at him through the window.
Rene sighed wearily. As he rounded the front of the car, he tried hard to ignore the treacherous feeling of relief that was filling his heart. There was nothing to feel relieved about. Nothing at all.
The low-slung sports car was sleek and elegant and somewhat understated, much like the man to whom it belonged, Zee couldn’t help but reflect. But that was only on the outside. Beneath the unassuming surfaces, the gleaming midnight blue paint and butter-soft, oyster-gray leather, the genteel manners and studied calm, they both thrummed with power.
He’s taking me home! Her heart beat faster at the thought of their tryst taking place in such an intimate setting. It was all she could do to keep from grinning like an idiot. She hadn’t dreamed she would be this lucky—especially not tonight! All the same, she couldn’t help feeling just a little intimidated too. So much for being up-to-date on her information. She’d been assuming they would go to his club. She had no idea he even had a dungeon in his house. Not even in Adeline’s diary had there been any mention of such a thing.
She was still fairly certain he lived alone, however. So, unlike at the club, there would be no witnesses to what went on tonight. If things went bad, if they took a turn for the ugly, there’d be no one to hear her scream, no one at all to intervene.
“So, why the sudden interest?” Rene broke the silence to ask.
“Who said it’s sudden?” Zee replied, eyeing him cautiously. It was true they’d seen far too little of each other in the past ten years, but did he really not know how she long she’d yearned for him?
“Oh?” Rene’s jaw clenched. His hands tightened on the steering wheel. “What are you saying then? You’ve experimented with such activities before? When? Where? With who?”
“What?” Zee frowned. “Wait. Are you talking about…BDSM?”
“Yes, of course. For want of a better term,” Rene replied. “It’s not one I favor. What else did you think we were talking about?”
“Oh, I don’t know.” Zee quickly brushed the question aside. “Nothing. It’s not important.” She’d thought they were talking about him, about them, about the heart and source of her real interest. But that, she supposed, was simply too much to hope for. “No, I haven’t experimented very much at all.” There was no one else she wanted to do this with, no one else she trusted. No one else she wished to surrender to.
“Then why have you been pushing so hard? Is it all just idle curiosity? Why choose me?”
Ah, there was a question. Zee felt her lips curve into a small smile. If only she knew the answer to it. But who could ever say why they’d fallen in love? Love wasn’t Math or Science, something you could quantify or dissect. Love was a mystery. It was magical, mystical and very much like the voodoo spell he claimed to be under. “It’s not just curiosity. I told you: I’ve been interested for awhile. And why not you? Why not the best?”
“Hmph.” Was that a pleased smile teasing the corners of Rene’s lips? Zee wasn’t sure, but she thought it might be. “Well,” he replied at last, grudgingly. “I certainly can’t fault your logic there.”
It was a short drive to the Garden District where Rene’s home was located. The house was well maintained, but Zee would not have been at all surprised to learn that the early 19th century mansion looked just the same now as it had when it was first constructed. Only the mature landscaping surrounding the structure gave witness to the march of time.
The room he eventually ushered her into was located at the back of the house and here, finally, was something different! Given its location, the room had probably originally been meant to function as a morning room. A vampire would have no earthly use for such things, of course, so why not turn it into something vastly more entertaining, like a dungeon? She chided herself for having imagined something subterranean. This was New Orleans after all, where even burials took place above ground.
As she glanced around, taking in her surroundings, Zee couldn’t suppress a tiny shiver of hunger, of longing…and yes, okay, perhaps a little bit of fear. The room was dark, its windows draped and shuttered, its walls painted a deep burgundy over oak wainscoting. It was intimate without being claustrophobic, warm and…welcoming somehow. She supposed that was due to the furnishings. Mostly well-oiled leather and wood, there was something substantial and vaguely comforting about them. They gave one the impression of having aged and mellowed with time. Of being solid and trustworthy. Only the shiny steel clamps and restraints, gleaming dully in the dim light, struck a modern and somewhat sinister note.
Rene escorted her to a small, curtained changing area and left her there with the demand she strip and await his return. She shed her clothes slowly, hampered in part by the surprising shakiness of her fingers.
“Are you sure this is what you want, Zee?” her aunt had asked when Zee had told her where she was going.
She’d nodded and smiled, feeling the same sense of certainty she was feeling now. “Yes, Auntie. I’ve never been more sure about anything.”
All her life it had been Rene. Even as a young girl she’d dreamed of him. Every fantasy she’d ever had had centered around him. She’d had boyfriends, of course, one or two of whom she’d even imagined herself in love with. But no one had ever come close to touching that place in her heart that belonged only to Rene. Eventually she’d been forced to the realization that no one ever would.
As she grew older, her dreams had changed, but not very much. What mostly changed was that now she had a name for her desires; she had a context for her feelings. She knew exactly what she wanted. She wanted to submit to him. To surrender her heart to his care. To place her body in his capable hands. To hold nothing back and give him everything he demanded. And if it happened that those demands included a touch of pain, so much the better. That was something else she’d learned about herself, how the pain transmuted into pleasure, how it made love better, sweeter, hotter. How she longed for it.
Just a touch of pain, however. A hint—no more. Unrelieved suffering, either mental or physical, was no one’s desire. She was equally certain of that.
Zee had read the letters Rene had written to Adeline. She’d wept at his pain when he’d begged his lover to let him change her in a last-ditch effort to save her life after she’d fallen so gravely ill. She’d wept even harder at the letter written after Adeline had refused him, after she’d chosen death for herself and doomed Rene to centuries of tormented loneliness. That sort of pain was not something she would have wished on anyone, let alone someone as dear to her as Rene.
If it had been Zee in Adeline’s place, their story would have had a far different ending. She would have sacrificed anything to be with him. So what if the life of a vampire was dark and unnatural, as Adeline had claimed? It was the only life he had to offer his lover. How could she reject it out of hand? How could she choose to abandon him to his lonely fate, when she might have shared it with him?
Still, Zee couldn’t help but be grateful for Adeline’s decision. After all, it had opened a door for her. It had given Zee the chance to aspire to something even better than she would have had otherwise. Maybe she couldn’t unbreak Rene’s heart, but she could still hope to be the woman who brought that organ back to life, who healed his heart—just as once he’d healed hers.
The hiss of the curtains being whisked brusquely aside was the only warning she had. She turned and promptly lost her breath. There he was. Standing right in front of her. The look on his face and in his eyes was one she’d never seen there before, stern and autocratic, even more intense than when he’d been at his club. He was wearing leather pants, so thin and soft they molded to his thighs, and a leather vest that left his arms and most of his chest bare. Those she’d seen before, of course, but never like this, never close enough to touch. Now more than ever, the sight left her weak in the knees. Perhaps it was knowing that he wore them for her, but once again she felt the compulsion to fall at his feet. This time, she gave into it—or she would have, if he hadn’t stopped her.
“No.” Even as she started to lower herself, he grabbed her by the arm, keeping her erect. There was an unrestrained hoarseness to his voice when he spoke. “Not yet. Not here. Go stand over there. In the light.”
She nodded her head once, feeling lighter than air and powerful beyond belief. The hand with which he held her arm vibrated, as though he could barely maintain his control. The knowledge she could affect him to this extent thrilled her. When he released her, she walked proudly over to the place he’d indicated, beneath the ornate brass and crystal ceiling fixture and stood there waiting.
The sway of Zirondelle’s hips riveted Rene’s attention as he slowly followed her across the room. He circled her deliberately, struggling for control while instinct urged him to fall upon her naked form and feast at her throat. She reminded him so much of Adeline. Why had he never realized that before? Why was she choosing to taunt him in this manner? Perhaps someone else had bespelled them both? If that was so, it was cruel beyond belief.
He’d loved Adeline with all his heart. Despite what her family had believed, he would have willingly sold his soul to save her. He’d have given anything to keep her from harm. In the end, however, he had nothing of any value to offer her. At least, nothing she was willing to accept. Why was that? Why had she rebuffed his offer? He’d spent years, decades, asking himself those same questions, never finding any answers. Was it somehow his fault? Had he frightened her that much? Had she spied the darkness within him and chosen death instead? Maybe he had held on too tightly. Maybe she had been just that desperate to escape from him.
If he fell now for Zirondelle, would the same thing happen again? Could he save either one of them? Or was it already too late to prevent another disaster?
“I don’t know why you insisted on coming here tonight,” he growled, still struggling for control. “And I still think this is a mistake. But, so be it. From here on in, you’re mine. Mine to do with as I see fit. You will do as I say. You will take what you’re given. And I hope for your sake you realize what you’ve let yourself in for.”
“I do,” she said, boldly raising her eyes to meet his gaze.
“Silence!” Rene barked in response. “Did I say you could speak? I thought you said you were familiar with how this works? You are to say nothing unless you are asked a direct question. And then you will answer only ‘yes, master’ or ‘thank you, master,’ as the situation dictates. And that is all you will say. Is that understood?”
Zirondelle released a shaky sigh. A tremulous smile curved her lips as she answered, “Yes, master.”
Rene ground his teeth. It was obscene the way her voice caressed the words and she looked altogether too happy for someone who he’d just had to reprimand, entirely too pleased with herself. Where was the fear? Where was the remorse? Where was the submission?
“Why are you doing this?” he snapped. “You’re obviously not serious about any of it. Is it all a game to you? Casting spells, playing childish pranks—have you no idea how much danger you’ve placed us both in with your foolishness?”
The smile slid away from Zirondelle’s face. She gazed at him darkly, silently. Her eyes grew hooded, speculative, remote.
Rene’s temper continued to disintegrate. “Answer me, damn it!” he ordered, abandoning the very protocol he’d just laid out for her. “Tell me what you’re up to.”
“It’s not a game. And I’m not a child any longer. And I never cast any stupid spell. So if you’re really expecting me to release you when we’re done here, you’re out of luck. I’m doing this because I love you. How can you not know that?”
“No.” Rene took a step back, recoiling from her words as he would from sunlight—both had the power to destroy him. “Stop it. Don’t say things you don’t mean.”
“But I do mean it,” Zirondelle insisted. “I’ve always loved you, for as long as I can remember. Tonight, I saw a chance to spend some time with you, to show you how I feel, to force you to notice me, so I took it.”
“So it’s an act? Is that what you’re saying? All your supposed interest is nothing more than a ploy to garner my attention?” Rene fought a sudden urge to shake her ’til her teeth rattled. “Is that why you’ve never tried any of this before?” Why was he so surprised? She certainly wasn’t the first woman who’d pretended to share his interests—only to realize too late all that it entailed. Only to recant her words, her promises after he’d given her his heart.
Zirondelle shook her head. “Of course not. That would be stupid. Who would do something like that? It’s what I crave too. But…only with you. You’re what I want. You’re all I want. And this is part of what you are.”
“Silence,” Rene growled. Hope and fear warred within him and he couldn’t listen to any more of this. It was time to test her resolve, to challenge her brave words. It was time to see for himself just what it was she wanted.
Zee watched as Rene stalked over to the large cabinet that she’d assumed housed his toys. He opened the door, grabbed something from the shelf and strode back to where she stood waiting. Her eyes widened at the sight of the ball-gag clenched in his fist. Why bother explaining what she was and wasn’t to say if she wasn’t to be allowed to say anything at all?
“Open,” Rene ordered.
Zee opened her mouth reluctantly and allowed him to fit the gag snugly into place. Her head swam. The rubber tasted bitter but she could not deny the small thrill that shot through her as it filled her mouth. Her nipples tightened. Her pussy pulsed with need. Who knew such a small thing could turn her on so quickly?
Still, as Rene took her arm and led her over to the large cross that dominated one whole corner of the room, she couldn’t help but worry. Her heart pounded fiercely. They hadn’t even discussed safewords—not that words would do her any good at the moment, of course. But shouldn’t they at least have established some sort of signal? Wasn’t that a basic requirement? Safe. Sane. Consensual. She recited the words in her head, wondering how many of them actually applied to her current situation? Did any of them?
If his plan was to test her trust in him, he was doing a fabulous job!
Her nerves spiked higher after he’d fastened her in place and left her. She slowed her breathing as best she could and tried hard not to hyperventilate. Passing out before they’d even gotten started was no way to prove her sincerity. His footsteps receded across the room and she could only wait and wonder what implement of destruction he was planning to use on her. She didn’t have long to wait. All those trips to his club had not been for nothing. She recognized the swishing sounds she heard behind her. So. He’d gone for the flogger. She supposed it could be worse.
As the first stroke landed across her upper back, however, she realized she’d seriously misjudged him. It wasn’t just better than worse, it was…perfect. A quick splash of heat. A slow, spreading burn. Lightning fast strikes that brought tears to her eyes, that stung her flesh as though she’d sat too close to the fire on a cold winter’s night.
The constant barrage locked down her thoughts, leaving her mind wide open to sensation. And then, just when she feared it might all become too much…it stopped.
Rene pressed against her from behind and Zee moaned weakly. Her head was spinning and everywhere his body made contact with hers, her skin sizzled. She was surprised to realize she was trembling on the brink of orgasm.
“Well?” he asked, his lips close to her ear. “Is this what you want?”
And just like that, Zee tumbled over the edge. She moaned and nodded, sagging against him as the tremors seized her. Yes. Oh, yes. Oh, God, yes. This was definitely what she’d wanted. How could he doubt it?
Rene was breathing heavily as he released her—first her ankles and then her wrists—keeping one hand anchored at her waist to steady her. Carefully, he turned her to face him. She leaned against him, still shaky, still not quite trusting her legs to hold her up. He tenderly removed the ball-gag from her mouth and stared down at her, his eyes dark as he studied her face.
“Just so you know,” he said at last, “I’ve always loved you as well.”
Then, before Zee had even an instant to process his words, he kissed her. Gasping slightly in surprise, she wound her arms around his neck and held on tight. As he claimed her mouth, she did the same to his, pressing herself against him, delighting in the feel of his strong hands caressing her skin, soothing away the heat.
When he finally let her go she glanced up at him. “You can’t blame this on the voodoo, you know,” she told him, needing to get that straight. “There was no spell. No curse. No nothing. Not on my end. If you’re really in love with me, that’s all on you. You did that to yourself.”
“Silence.” Heat raced across her skin once again as his hand made contact with her ass. She squeaked in surprise. “Did I give you permission to speak?”
Zee bit her lip. She held his gaze an instant longer, then lowered her eyes and softly whispered, “No, master.”
Rene sighed. Gently, he brushed her hair back behind her ears. “We’ll talk about that later.”
Zee couldn’t be sure, but she thought she heard the hint of a chuckle in his voice.
“In the meantime, I can see I have my work cut out for me. There’s still so much you have to learn, so much I’ll have to teach you. Why, I’ll probably have to spend years training you, an entire lifetime in all likelihood. Won’t I?”
His voice trembled just a little on those last two words. The doubt and the longing and the slight uncertainty in his tone filled Zee’s heart with warmth. Try as she might, she couldn’t keep from smiling as she met his gaze once more and happily answered, “Yes, master.”