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The Darkness of Our Wounds


Ciarán




XIA XIA LAKE

Cover image: © Victor_Tongdee | Dreamstime.com

Cover design by Xia Xia Lake via Canva.com



Kindle Edition.


www.xiaxialakeromancenovels.com

Trigger warning: dark, psychological & sexual content, strong language, graphic scenes, discussions about human trafficking and childhood trauma.





This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.



Copyright © 2018 by Xia Xia Lake

All rights reserved.


DEDICATION



To Robert, my Love, my Best Friend, my Everything



CONTENTS




Acknowledgments

i


Dear Reader

ii


The Darkness of Our Wounds: Ciarán

Pg 3


About The Author

Pg 46


About The Series

Pg 47



ACKNOWLEDGMENTS



Thank you very much to my editor, Anna Genoese, for spending the time to polish this story and make it ready for its readers.

http://www.annagenoese.com









Dear READER,



This is not a romance BDSM story. This is not a happy story that will make you feel good. This is not a happily ever after. There is no love. This is a dark, psychological story with a dark, heavy storyline.

Don’t read this if you are easily triggered.


Trigger warning: dark psychological content, strong language, graphic BDSM sex scenes, discussions about human trafficking, and childhood traumas.


20% of the earnings from this book will be donated to a non-profit organization responsible for fighting against human trafficking and supporting the victims.







The Darkness Of Our Wounds

Ciarán



It was one of those dark days again, the kind that twisted his stomach and made him hate himself. That made him think he was going to hell.

“Please, Sir, don’t stop. Please…” Ciarán whimpered on the wooden St. Andrew’s cross, his back a canvas of red marks. “More,” he begged.

Richard set his jaw and raised his hand. A drop of cold sweat trickled down his right temple. The bullwhip cracked and fell down hard. Ciarán howled.

They’ve been at it for hours—first the crop, then the studded paddle, and now the bullwhip. Richard eyed the black leather crop with apprehension. It lay abandoned on the floor next to an empty bottle of water. Ciarán did not seem to even feel the sting of it anymore.

Richard was tired. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath.

“Boy, tell me who I am,” he commanded, keeping his voice calm.

Ciarán clawed at the leather on the cross, taking shallow breaths. “You are my Master, Sir.” There was a desperate plea in his voice. “When we are together, everything I am, and everything I own is yours.”

“That’s right, boy. I own everything.” The bullwhip snapped, licking the young man’s thigh, causing another red welt. “Including your pain.”

“Yes! God! Thank you, Sir,” Ciarán sobbed.

The boy was getting worse. Richard surmised his heart wouldn’t have the strength to keep up with his needs as a sub for too long. If he kept it like this for one more year, he was sure he was going to die of a heart attack by New Year’s Eve.

He moved to the dark tool cabinet, his boots echoing on the wooden floor. The boy turned his head in his direction, but kept his eyes on the floor. Opening the cabinet, Richard removed a black dildo and a tube of lube.

Ciarán took an unsteady breath and his butt cheeks tensed, then nodded to himself, lost in subspace.

“You want it, boy?”

“Yes, Sir.”

Richard pushed his hand through Ciarán’s chestnut curls, feeling their softness. When he reached the scalp, he tightened his grip, and pulled Ciarán’s head back to have access to the young man’s sweat-drenched face.

“Are you sure?” he whispered in his ear.

“Yes, Sir,” Ciarán breathed with downcast eyes. He was good at following rules and had never broken the first rule of submission: no eye contact with the Dom. Richard’s steady gaze trailed over his face, taking in the bloody lower lip bitten raw, and the red eyes filled with tears. He grabbed Ciarán’s cock and squeezed. The boy was as hard as rock.

“Oh, God,” Ciarán moaned. “Yes, punish me, Sir, I deserve it. Please.” He pushed himself back towards Richard’s right hand, the one holding the dildo.

“Why do you deserve to be punished, boy?” Richard was exhausted, but tried to keep it away from his voice. Ten years ago he could have matched Ciarán’s resilience with his endurance, but he was not a young man anymore.

“Because I’m a good-for-nothing loser. I waste away, every day. I can’t even hold a job.” He gave a breathless laugh. “If I didn’t have my inheritance I would be sucking cocks in back alleys for drug money. My only pleasure is your whip. Punish me, Sir. Please, I trust you. You have been so good to me this past year. Give me more, give it harder, I can take it. I deserve it.” He was losing himself again, getting anxious, and jerking his leather cuffs. “Please! I beg you!”

Richard stuck two fingers slicked with lube inside his ass and twisted them in search for the prostate. With his other hand he began to rub the boy’s shaft. “What do you live for, boy? Pain or pleasure?” He removed his fingers to replace them with the dildo. He turned on the toy.

“Fuck!” Ciarán cried. “Both, Sir, fuck!” His body started to quiver and his breathing was loud. “Choke me, Sir. Make me float, please, make me forget everything and float!”

Completely disgusted with himself, Richard coiled his free hand around the boy’s neck, his long fingers stretched over the tender skin, and applied the constriction. He used the other hand to fuck Ciarán with the dildo.

The young man cried out, begging for the choke to harden. His face was red, his eyes bloodshot. “Finish it, Sir!”

Richard pushed the dildo harder and faster until he saw Ciarán rolling his eyes in his head. They were close to the end of the session, thank the bloody heavens!

The boy jerked once, and yelled with horror in his eyes as he came. He convulsed, the force of his shivers pushing the dildo away as the black leather on the cross was splattered with white semen. Then, his body became limp and he fainted.

Richard took him gingerly in his arms, careful not to touch too much of his back, and removed the leather straps from his wrists. He gently carried Ciarán and placed him face down on the poster bed. With great care, he dressed his back and covered his client with a warm wet towel he retrieved from the small bathroom hidden behind a fake wall. The boy would sleep like this till morning.

Richard sat by the edge of the bed and regarded the young man, shaken to the core. There always was that look of horror darkening his beautiful green eyes every time he came. How could a boy with such an angelic face bear so many scars? What had happened to make him so pained, so messed-up at such a young age?

“You’re going to be the death of me, sweet one,” Richard whispered. Then he stood and left the playroom.

He strolled down the stairs, taking them two at a time, and darted straight for the bar. Kyle, the bartender and one of the House Doms, was waiting for him with an open bottle of whiskey. “This must be the longest session yet,” he said. “How did it go?” The question was unnecessary. One look at his boss and he knew the answer.

“Horrible,” Richard said, chugging the bottle down his throat. “That boy is breaking my heart. I don’t know how long I can do this.”

“Can’t anyone replace you?” Kyle asked.

Richard collapsed in the tall bar stool. “Nobody would take him.” He sighed, rubbing his temples. “And, you know him, he will not accept anyone either if he doesn’t know for sure the Dom can meet his needs.”

Kyle rubbed a glass with a black towel, remembering his first and last session with Ciarán. He shivered at the memory. The boy had been so furious with him because he had refused to whip him bloody that he had had a meltdown in the playroom, and had cut himself in the glass of the tool cabinet. Kyle had never been more freaked out in his entire life.

“It’s a fine line between domination and torture,” the bartender said. “But it’s a line no Dom should ever cross without losing his soul in the bargain. The boy needs a breakthrough before he kills himself. Or before he kills you. And you, my friend, I’m sorry to say, may not be the right man for this.” He turned to place the glass on the tallest shelf as he carefully said, “The entire club may not have the right man for the type of breakthrough Ciarán needs.”

Richard furrowed his brows and regarded Kyle. “What do you mean?”

“You know what I mean,” Kyle said meeting his gaze. “Call Alexa, ask for her help.”

Richard widened his eyes in shock. “Fuck, no! Are you insane? The last time I asked for her help a sub killed himself after the session. I swore I’d never call her, no matter the issues of the sub.”

Kyle said gently, “Ciarán is not Honey.”

“He is exactly like Honey!” Richard hissed.

“Honey was a drug addict; Ciarán is barely a social drinker. Honey was the reason you added the ‘no drugs’ policy to the member contracts. Thanks to Honey, everybody is required to have a drug test every three months—Doms, subs, employees, everyone. This is keeping them clean, is keeping them safe.” Darkly, he added, “Honey was not going to change. His death was not Alexa’s fault.”

Richard sighed. “Just give me a cigarette, will ya?”

Kyle offered his friend an opened Kent pack and a lighter. Richard closed his eyes and took a deep smoke. “If I can’t help him get a breakthrough myself, I can’t see how I’m fit to own a BDSM club.”

“That’s your ego talking. The club is meant for pleasure, not to become a psychiatry ward. You cannot save them all by yourself.”

Richard shook his head. “I’ll keep being his Dom for a couple more months. If Ciarán’s pain threshold gets higher, and he begs for more than I can give, then I’ll give up and call her.”

“You’re the boss,” Kyle said, removing the whiskey bottle from Richard’s hand and putting it away.

It didn’t take a couple of months.

Several weeks later, Richard ambled into his office with a defeated look in his eyes. He wiped the beads of blood that had spurted on his face from a wound he had inflicted on Ciarán’s back. A wound that would leave an ugly scar on the boy’s skin, and a black hole in Richard’s damned soul. With a shudder, he picked up his mobile and dialed the number.

The robot answered. “Hello. You know whom you’ve reached. Tell me the details and I will call you later,” a cold voice said.

Richard took a deep breath. “Hello, Alexa, it’s Richard. I need your help.”




Richard arrived at the Downtown Private Gentlemen’s Club on a rainy Friday afternoon, apprehensive but determined to take the bull by the horns. He climbed down his black Range Rover and threw the keys to one of his boys. The valet snatched them from the air, bowed, climbed in the car, and drove it to the parking lot.

“Hello, Sir.” The bouncer held the grey steel door for him, greeting him with a warm smile.

“Hello, Mike. Anyone inside?”

“Just Ciarán, Sir.”

“Thank you.”

He entered a dark corridor lit with fading red neon lights. Up the stairs he went, took a right turn through another corridor, then another bouncer opened a soundproof door to a large club room with a high ceiling. He spotted Ciarán nursing a lemonade at one of the black leather couches on the opposite side of the room. As soon as their eyes met, the young man stood and came to him. Reaching his Dom, Ciarán knelt at his feet.

Richard spoke. “Hello, Ciarán.”

“Welcome, Sir. I have been expecting you for our session.”

“Wonderful. Follow me, boy. I have a surprise for you.”

Richard had prepared a new playroom just for this occasion. It was the only room from the west wing, so access to it was prohibited for the other patrons. Soundproof walls padded with red velvet, floor covered in soft black carpet, no windows, no beds, no panic buttons, just as Alexa had instructed. The only kink implements were the iron shackles tied to the ceiling and pinned to the floor, the large cage hidden by a black velvet cloth, and a metal rack. On the rack a bullwhip, a cane, a crop, a braided rope and several ugly-looking knives were neatly displayed.

Alexa had requested also for an electric rod, a tool Richard hated and refused to use. On a small table there was an array of toys used for full deprivation. Whatever Alexa had in mind for the breakthrough, it wasn’t going to be pretty.

“Nice,” Ciarán drawled.

“No talking, boy. Take your clothes off in silence, then Display. We have a lot of work ahead of us. This is a big night for you.”

There was one other object in the playroom to give it more panache, purchased by Richard on a whim. It was a large wooden throne carved from the trunk of a black walnut tree. Its armrests were covered in black velvet, and the high back was clad in padded leather. It had cost him a fortune.

Richard sprawled on the throne and regarded his sub getting undressed. Poor Ciarán. He wouldn’t want to be in his shoes once Alexa arrived.




It was a busy Friday night at the Downtown Private Gentlemen’s Club. All playrooms were booked and all couches reserved. It was a great turnaround, and Kyle was sorry for leaving Sony alone to handle such a large crowd.

With his back leaning on the wall, he faced the entrance and waited. Club music played, the beat tugging at his heart, putting him in a good mood. He eyed the D.J.—a new member, pretty and young—and smiled. Maybe later.

“Are you prowling tonight, Kyle?” Puppy, one of the waiters popped out of nowhere, beaming. The boy followed Kyle’s gaze to the D.J. booth and his grin extended. “If you’re looking for a sub, I’m willing, you know,” the cutie said with a wink.

Kyle chuckled and ruffled the boy’s blond hair. They had played several times since Puppy had become a member. Puppy paid the membership fee required by the club by working as a waiter every Fridays and Saturdays. He was a good boy, one of Kyle’s favorites. If only he wasn’t a screamer.

“Not tonight, Puppy. Tonight I’m booked.”

“A-ha, so this is why you’ve been glaring at the entrance for half an hour. Your sub’s not here yet.”

“Actually,” Kyle said, “I’m waiting for a Domme.”

Puppy’s eyes rounded like saucers. “A Dom?” he cried astonished. “You swing that way, too?” He eyed Kyle’s body-builder form, astonished. “Never thought you as a versatile top.”

Some of the guests sitting at the nearby couches turned around to look at them with curiosity. “Is that right, Kyle?” one of them asked. Kyle recognized him. He was a high-paying customer, and a high-profile Dom. There was a baby-faced sub at his feet looking demure. “You versatile?”

“If I’d be, I’d be for you, Tom,” Kyle answered with a wink.

“One can only hope,” Tom shot back before returning to place a tender caress on his sub’s cheek.

“Boy, that will cost you three lashes with the crop,” Kyle muttered.

The waiter began to grin but suddenly, his face changed and he almost dropped the empty glasses he carried on a small tray. “Who is that?” he gasped.

Puppy’s shock seemed to have rippled through the crowd. A woman had entered the Downtown Private Gentlemen’s Club and she looked so out of place, it made Kyle cringe.

Alexa had come to the kink club dressed for a ballroom. She wore a white gown of the smoothest and lightest silk that fluttered at the smallest movement. The dress was suspended by a thick, golden neck ring, and loose flimsy sleeves gathered at the wrists held by golden bracelets.

Her black hair fell down her back in shiny curls, and two thin braids twined with leafy golden adornments made it look as if she had a laurel crown on her head. Her face was heart-shaped and pretty, with a puckered mouth and thin white cheeks. She stood in the doorway and waited, looking at the floor.

Kyle’s skin crawled at the sight of her.

“What is a female sub doing in a gay BDSM club?” Puppy wondered aloud. “She looks like an angel has come to visit the fallen.” Kyle raised an eyebrow at the boy. Puppy had been reading too many fantasy books lately.

An angel, Kyle thought amused. “You are wrong on both counts, darling. That woman is no sub, and she is definitely not an angel.”

Kyle pushed away from the wall, leaving Puppy to fend for himself out of his bewilderment, and crossed the dancing ring, heading toward Alexa. As he approached, the woman lifted her head and gazed at him, dead-eyed. Her pitch-black eyes made him uneasy.

Goddamn, man! Keep it together, she’s not going to eat you.

“Hello, Alexa,” he greeted.

“Hello, Kyle,” Alexa answered giving him a sidelong glance.

“Do you want anything to drink or eat before we go to the playroom?” He held himself as straight as he could, trying not to fidget like a schoolkid under her scrutiny. Her presence overwhelmed him.

She raised an eyebrow. “I see you’re still nervous in my presence.” She smiled a dazzling smile. Any straight man would have been smitten on the spot. Alas, there were no straight men in the Downtown Private Gentlemen’s Club and Kyle could see the smile for what it was, a sweet mask cast over the dangerous madness lurking underneath. Because you needed to be mad to go where Alexa went with her subs.

Kyle cleared his throat and called for Puppy. The boy darted to their side, almost flying over the dance floor.

“Alexa, this is Puppy. He is going to take your order and bring it to the room.”

Alexa turned her icy stare on the young waiter. “Hello, Puppy,” she said.

“Whoa! Alexa? The Alexa?” Puppy cried. That kicked off another ripple of murmurs around them. Eyes turned with interest, several conversations hushed.

“That’s another two lashes, boy,” Kyle growled.

Alexa raised an eyebrow. “Disappointed?”

“No, Ma’am, I’m sorry,” Puppy stuttered, instinctively lowering his eyes. “It’s just that I had a different image in mind.”

“What kind of image?” Alexa inquired. Her eyes twinkled with amusement.

Puppy made a hopeless gesture over her white silk gown. “More leather and chains, maybe?”

Alexa actually laughed, taking Kyle by surprise. “I like you, boy. You’re cute and funny.”

Puppy blushed. “Maybe some other time you would be interested in a session with…”

Alexa cut him off with a light touch on his cheek. “Trust me, pumpkin. You don’t want that. You’re too pure for my... touch.”

Puppy froze under her fingers. Kyle shook himself out of his stupor, and placed a reassuring hand on the waiter’s shoulder. “What would you like to drink, Alexa? Puppy will bring it to the room.”

“Four bottles of cold water and a small kettle of hot water, please.”

“Thank you, Ma’am.”

“Thank you.” When Alexa turned to Kyle, a dark shadow fell over her eyes. “If you would be so kind to lead the way?”



Richard lounged on the throne-like chair feeling like a lord of the underworld. He rubbed his fingers over the cushioned arms, observing the playroom with businesslike interest. Once he’d make the room available to the public, it should become an instant hit. He especially liked the chair. It was a grand and comfortable chair, perfect for the room. He was glad for the purchase, even if he had to shell out five grand for it.

Ciarán was furious. On his knees, tied in bondage, he squirmed. There was a black silk mask covering his eyes and a black silicone bit gag in his mouth. His hands were tied behind his back and a silver cock ring sealed his penis.

There were no red marks on his body, no sign that Richard had put him through the pain he craved. From the growled attempted curses escaping the bit gag, clearly the young man did not appreciate his Master’s approach to the session.

Richard glared at his watch. They have been in the room for at least four hours. Alexa should have arrived by now to take over.

“You seem unhappy, boy. Your back is not straight anymore, your shoulders are hunched. Is the Display pose too hard or are the bondage ropes too tight? Nod once if you require permission to speak.”

Ciarán nodded sharply, the brown curls bobbing.

Richard stood. He took his time circling the young man, placing a light touch on his shoulder, brushing his arm with the tips of his fingers, massaging his earlobe. He caressed his chin as gently as he could before removing the gag and bracing himself for the onslaught.

It was going to be ugly. As soon as the gag was off, Ciarán lashed as expected. “What the fuck are you doing? Are you fucking kidding me? What the fuck? Vanilla play, Richard? You think I’m paying thousands of dollars every month for your fucking membership just to stay tied with a rope for four fucking hours? Hit me, motherfucker, that’s why I’m here!”

“Oh my, what a bad boy we have here,” a sultry female voice mused.

Richard raised his eyes and glared at Alexa and Kyle standing in the open doorway. “You’re late.”

“The fuck?” Ciarán looked over his shoulder in the general direction of the woman’s voice, but he couldn’t see anything through the blindfold. “Richard! Who’s that? This is breach of contract. What’s a fucking woman doing in my playroom? I’m going to sue your ass for this, I swear!”

The crop came down over the young man’s shoulders so unexpectedly, and with so much strength that he actually screamed. Richard couldn’t remember the boy ever balking at the sting of the crop.

“I don’t like your attitude, pumpkin.” Alexa stood behind a very still Ciarán, tracing the red welt with a sharp fingernail. She removed his blindfold, and threw it at Richard. He caught it and returned it to its place on the table by the wall.

“Disrespectful to your Dom, calling your Master by his name, foul mouthed, greedy.” She grabbed Ciarán’s chin and jerked it upward. “You deserve punishment, young man, don’t you agree?”

Ciarán swallowed loudly, his pupils expanding with need and anticipation, but kept his mouth shut, curled in distaste.

“Come on, boy, you can tell me. How do you usually like to be punished?”

Ciarán glowered. “Bullwhip,” he said. Alexa snapped the crop on his right thigh, very close to his genitals, making him flinch and hiss. His member was beginning to raise in response.

“Wrong,” she said, pressing her nails on his chest and raking them slowly down. Ciarán hissed, then moaned. “I think you like something stronger than that, but you haven’t told anyone yet. Have you?” She traced a column of small cuts on his left arm, the scars so fine they were barely visible.

“I think you like knives. But you know my opinion? For your attitude today, you deserve something stronger even than knives. But first,” she chuckled and made a show of stretching her arms, “let me introduce myself.”

Alexa strolled toward the throne chair where she sat, her white dress settling around her like a second skin. She placed her arms over the velvet armrests, and crossed a leg over the other. The sharp steel of a stiletto flashed.

“My name is Alexa, boy. Richard has asked me to be your Domme for this session. Of course, you have the full power to accept or decline the offer. In case you don’t accept me, I shall stand and leave this room, and you can continue your play with Richard. But if you accept me, I hope your weekend is free because I’ve prepared a lot of fun activities for you, pet.”

Richard listened to his fast heartbeat. The high possibility that Ciarán might refuse Alexa made him tense. “Do you accept Alexa as your Domme, boy?” he asked.

The young man shifted in his bonds, thinking. A frown creased his forehead. “I’m not sure, Sir.”

Alexa snorted and raised the long folds of her dress, revealing thigh high leather boots with steel stiletto heels. Kyle, who had been leaning on the velvet padded wall by the door, admired the workmanship and high detail of the boots. The toe caps were shaped like bird claws and the heels had silver serpents coiling upwards around the stiletto, sinking their fangs in the upper side of the boots. Where the head of the snake ended, pointy silver thorns began arrayed in a line on the back of each boot.

The boots gave Alexa a sinister aura, and made quite an impression on Kyle. And by the look on Ciarán’s face, made quite the impression on the young man as well.

Richard shook his head. He may have felt like a lord of the underworld on that chair, but the true underworld queen had arrived to preside the room. The throne was perfect for Alexa, dark and sinister just like her. “Your answer, boy. Do you accept Alexa, or do we end the session here?” he asked.

Ciarán smirked. “Does she have what it takes to handle me?”

Alexa frowned and regarded the young man. “Look at me, Ciarán. You have permission to look me in the eyes.”

The young man squared his shoulders, improved his posture and took a deep breath. Then, he looked at Alexa, taking in the hard brown eyes, the deceptive seraphic face, the way she held her head high.

“Are you a pain slut, Ciarán?”

“I am, Ma’am,” he answered softly after a short hesitation.

Alexa stood, and made her way to the tool rack. “And you think I can’t meet the needs of a pain slut?”

“I do.”

Alexa picked a small knife and began to expertly roll it between her fingers. “Why is that?”

“I’ve never heard of you. No disrespect intended.”

“I see,” she purred, sauntering towards the bound man. The knife moved faster in her hand and a cruel smile crept on her face. Richard eyed the knife, not liking where this was going. Alexa stopped in front of Ciarán, and touched his face with the blade.

“Sweetheart, if you agree to be my submissive, I will break you apart, torment you, and take you with me to the very pits of hell itself. And, if you survive, I will extend my hand and bring you back whole.” She tipped his chin with the knife. “What do you say? Are you brave enough to face your demons?”

There was something in her eyes that made Ciarán shudder. He took a deep breath. “Of course. I’m not a coward.”

“Then do you accept me as your Domme?”

He hesitated, but Richard could see he was about to take a decision. “Okay, fine. But I want Master Richard to remain in the room.”

“Okay, fine? That is not the answer I wanted,” she said.

“I accept you as my Domme for this evening,” Ciarán growled.

“Wonderful. Your master can stay, but he may not,” she said with a deliberate look at Richard, “interrupt my scene. Whatever happens.”

Richard nodded in agreement.

“Yes, Ma’am,” Ciarán answered.

“One last thing. I need your safe words.”

“I don’t need any safe words,” Ciarán said with a certain degree of haughtiness and pride.

Alexa’s face lit up with mock excitement. “My kind of sub,” she purred, tracing the line of his jaw with the knife. “A very stupid, ignorant, imbecile sub.” She said with a dark chuckle, “No safe words, then. We have a deal. Let’s play.”

Alexa grabbed the hair at the back of Ciarán’s head and without warning, she kissed a very startled sub on the mouth with a deep sealing kiss, jerking her head away, biting the boy’s lower lip.

Ciarán grunted and squeezed his eyes shut. “Fucking hell.” He spit a glob of blood on Richard’s new expensive carpet and licked his injured lip. His eyes grew with excitement. “Yes! Yes, Mistress, let’s play!”

The cheer turned into an alarmed cry as Alexa threw the knife toward the floor. It stabbed the carpet between Ciarán’s legs, inches away from the full mast erection struggling to get free from the cock ring.

“I hate that word. Ma’am is fine. And we won’t have any of that, pumpkin. You won’t be coming very soon. Do you understand?”

“Y…yes.”

“Good boy.”

Alexa removed the white dress remaining in nothing but simple leather boxers, a leather brassiere and her creepy boots. She stretched her hand, the dress dangling above the ground and looked at Kyle. “Make sure you find a clothes hanger. I love this dress.” Kyle nodded, took the dress and dismissed himself, happy to be out of that playroom.

“Where do you need me?” Richard asked, expecting to be given instructions.

“I don’t need you, the boy needs you,” she replied. “Boy, where would you like Master Richard to stay during the session?”

“Anywhere is fine, Ma’am. Now, please, I beg of you, let’s begin.”

“Excited, aren’t we?” She gestured towards the tool rack. “Choose your tool, boy.”

“Anything you’d like, Ma’am.”


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