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Shutdown (Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter 22.6) Laurell K. Hamilton 2022/8/5 16:56:15

“He ties me up and does nefarious things to me,” I said.

Ellen nodded. “Yes, that.” She actually blushed.

Since I used to blush at the drop of a hat, I sympathized. “I maintain that it isn’t what a person enjoys in the bedroom, or dungeon, that makes them submissive, but the mindset that goes with it.”

“You go as far into sub mindset as Asher does sometimes,” Richard said.

“What’s sub mindset?” she asked.

I suddenly despaired of ever explaining this enough to her. It was like explaining color to the blind: they accept that there is such a thing as color, but they have no basis for understanding it as a reality. Either you enjoyed being tied up, or you didn’t, and if you didn’t you were just never going to understand it.

Micah stroked my thigh with his free hand as if he’d felt some of my frustration. “I don’t honestly understand that personally, myself,” he said, “but I’ve seen Anita do it. Her eyes, face, body language changes. It’s as if some tension leaves her that she holds onto in every other part of her life, except in the bedroom, or the dungeon.”

“Richard told me it’s not a real dungeon.”

We actually did have access to a real dungeon at the Circus of the Damned, but I couldn’t make myself use it for fun. I’d seen friends chained in the place for real torture when evil vampires had been in charge of things. I knew that Richard had taken Asher to it for fun and games, but at my request Nathaniel would not go with Asher to play without me. I still had nightmares about a friend dying chained to one of the walls, and Nathaniel in there for anything was just too close to that memory.

Micah smiled, softly. “It’s just a term for the bondage side of things that go beyond just rough sex.” We’d all agreed not to cloud the issue with mentioning we did have a real dungeon.

She winced, I think at the term “rough sex.” Again, it wasn’t a good sign. How vanilla was Dr. Ellen Radborne? The thought of Richard married to someone who thought just saying the phrase “rough sex” was embarrassing, or bad in some way, made me sad for him. I knew that Richard was capable of enjoying gentler lovemaking, but he was so well-endowed that there was an element of roughness in most of his sex. How could you enjoy sex with him if you didn’t like it a little rough? Or maybe, how would Richard be able to enjoy it if she didn’t like a little rough? It just seemed sad. Why was he doing this to himself?

Some of what I was thinking must have shown because Richard looked at me. I stared into that handsome face with those high, perfect cheekbones, and male model face, and thought, he should have been able to have almost anyone he wanted, why Ellen?

“Ellen is willing to try and let me keep you, Asher, and Jean-Claude in my life, Anita. That’s a lot.”

I nodded. “Yes, yes it is.” I sounded tired even to me as I said it.

Micah hugged me, placing his face next to mine. I cuddled into the warmth of the skin on skin contact; sometimes even touching through clothes wasn’t enough. My hands found his and one hand slid up his arm until we were half-hugging.

“Richard explained that excessive touching in public is a sign of stress, or need for reassurance between lycanthropes. What happened just now to stress you, Anita?”

I opened my eyes where I was cuddled in against the warmth and pulse of Micah’s neck. I looked at her, and it might not have been an entirely friendly look, because her eyes widened just a bit. I switched the look higher to Richard, and said, “What do you want me to say, Richard?”

“Ellen, honey,” he said, her hand in his, “that’s not excessive public display of affection for Anita and Micah.”

Ellen turned and looked up at him, eyes wide. “You’re teasing me.”

Richard shook his head and looked down at her at the same time, so that his hair fell forward and hid most of his face from me.

Ellen stared up at him for a few seconds and then turned back to us with an almost horrified look on her face. I had no idea what we’d done to earn that look.

Micah sat up a little straighter, doing more of a standard arm across the shoulders half-hug with the other hand just holding mine on the table top. I sat up straighter, too, though part of me wanted to do something even more up close and personal just so Ellen would have a real reason for looking shocked, but I wasn’t a child, and this was Richard’s problem, not mine. As one of our newer vampires, who was originally Polish, would say, “Nie Moj Cyrk, Nie Moje Malpy - Not my circus, not my monkeys.”

Of course, the fact that he was still my lover, and still with Jean-Claude, and Asher, meant that in a way he was still a part of our circus and he, at least was still our monkey, but Ellen wasn’t. Unfortunately, one thing I’d learned about being poly is that just because you’re not having sex with someone doesn’t mean they can’t screw it all up; everyone’s lover can affect the emotional side of things and Ellen had all the ear marks of being a pain in everyone’s emotional poly ass.

I decided to go for truth. I didn’t know what else to do; besides our lives were working and that was too important to fuck with by not being honest.

“What did we do just now that bothered you, Ellen?” I asked.

Micah hugged me a little harder, as if in warning.

I glanced at him. “We can’t avoid upsetting her if we don’t know what upset her in the first place.” I looked at Ellen, and tried to look helpful, questioning, waiting.

She glanced at Richard.

“Anita has a point, if we don’t know what makes you anxious we can’t avoid it.”

She looked from one to the other of us. “I . . . I . . . it was just so . . . intimate. Holding hands, kissing, hugging, sitting close, and rubbing your faces against each other’s necks and faces. The way your hand keeps disappearing underneath the table and I can see your hand moving, Anita.”

“I’m petting his thigh, Ellen, that’s all. My hand may be close to his groin, but I would never do that sitting in public and especially not in a situation where I’m trying to help convince you that this is all somehow normal and okay. That would be rude and stupid. I’m trying not to be the first, and I’m not the second if I can avoid it.”

She blushed. “I’m sorry . . . I’m so sorry.” She stood up.

Richard caught her hand. “Ellen, please.”

“No, Richard, she’s deliberately trying to make me feel stupid and rude, and just . . . I can’t do this.”

“For the love of God, Ellen, if you don’t tell us what upset you we can’t fix it,” I said.

She shook her head. “I thought I could do this, Richard, I really did. I thought meeting Anita and seeing her with someone else she loved would make me feel more secure about it all, but it doesn’t. It just doesn’t help at all.”

“Ellen, please sit back down and talk to us,” Richard said. He still had her hand in his.

She pulled on his hand for a moment and then, as she stared down at him, her face softened. Looking at how yummy he was always made it hard for me to be mad at him, too, or had once. Being in love with someone gives them a lot of extra clout. She finally let him ease her back into her chair.

She looked at us; her eyes were shiny with unshed tears, but her voice was calm when it came. “I thought I could do this, but I don’t think I can. I love you, and you are everything I want, all I want, Richard. I was willing to believe that you needed rougher things in the bedroom than I was comfortable with, so I thought I could accept you needed someone for that and for bondage, but now I see her and you have to stop lying to me, Richard. It’s not needing to be rough, or needing bondage, it’s just her. You want to keep her in your bed, and that’s that.” The first hard tear started down her cheek.

Micah hugged me tighter, and said, “Trust me, Ellen, it is rough sex that they do together. Rougher than anything I enjoy. I accept that Anita needs some things in the bedroom that I just do not want to do.”

She stared at him and again there was that soft horror on her face. “You’ve watched . . .”

“No,” he said, very firmly, “but I’ve seen the marks on her body afterwards. Anita and Richard are not a couple in the way that you and Richard are, Ellen. He loves you, is in love with you, just like I’m in love with Anita.”

“Marks,” Ellen said softly, “what kind of marks?”

Micah looked at Richard. “I don’t think that’s my question to answer.”

Richard hugged her close and said, “Bruises sometimes.”

She looked stricken. “You beat her?”

“No,” he and I said together.

“I would never let anyone beat me, Ellen,” I said.

“Then I don’t understand,” she said looking from one to the other of us.

I looked at Richard, because I got bruised from struggling pitting my strength against his. I didn’t fight as hard as I could, and neither did he. We didn’t want to really hurt each other, but we liked seeing how far we could push it sometimes in our little rape fantasies. But there was no way I was saying the phrase, “rape fantasy,” to Ellen. That either came from Richard, or no one; besides, honestly, it still embarrassed me a little. It seemed so anti-feminist to enjoy being overpowered in the bedroom, but under the right circumstances, with the right people I loved it. I was tired of pretending about the things that made me happy in my life; I’d decided I’d rather just be happy.

“I would never allow Richard to abuse me, or any man for that matter,” she said.

“I am not an abuse victim, Ellen. I’m not a victim at all. I own my sexuality in every sense, and I top some of the men in my life. It’s not just me on the receiving end of the rough.”

“You abuse some of the men?”

“It’s not abuse.” I was getting pissed and trying not to be.

“You hurt each other. How is that not abuse?” she asked.

“This is my sexuality; it’s what makes me happy. You saying that it’s abuse is insulting; it would be like me saying that your idea of sex is boring.”