tagBDSMOccupational Hazards Ch. 04

Occupational Hazards Ch. 04


When I woke, it was dusky above the palm trees I could see outside through the open door of the bedroom. Turning my head, I stared up at the ceiling. At the linen canopy that draped in an arch over the bed.


I heard the moan just as a warm, feminine body moved against my side. I realized a knee rested over my thigh. A hand on my chest, the narrow fingers splayed out across my skin.

Following the line of her wrist up her arm, I bit back a groan as I stared at the swell of her creamy white breast nestled between us. At the faded but still present scars marking her skin like a tribal tattoo.

Then my gaze moved up to the angelic face nestled on my shoulder...my pillow. Her dark hair was spread out; some of it cascading down her bare back like a waterfall, the rest pooling on another pillow behind her head. A few tendrils had fallen across her cheek in a stark contrast of color, fluttering slightly with her even breathing.

No, I hadn't dreamt it. I—Ben Hoskins—was with Nikki Talmadge on a remote island in the Indian Ocean. And we'd just had amazing, mind-blowing sex.

She was on her stomach...on top of the sheets. The dying light still allowed me to see the graceful curves of her back. Her legs. Her ass. In her sleep, her fingers briefly kneaded my skin before relaxing again. She let out a soft sigh that tickled my chest, giving me goosebumps.

My cock stirred as I remembered how it had felt to be under her. On top of her. Finally inside her. Bringing us both so much pleasure.

I reached my right hand over to brush back her hair from her face. She moaned again, nuzzling her face deeper into my shoulder. Her body shook. Then she lifted her head, her tongue licking her lips as her eyes slowly opened.

She stared at me for a second before she gave me a sleepy smile. "Hey, there."

"Hey, yourself. Are you cold?"

She glanced down then giggled, as if realizing we were still naked. "No, are you?"

I was tempted to get under the covers and hold her tight, but my stomach chose that moment to growl. When she rose up on her right and cringed, I frowned. "How bad is it?"

"It's tolerable. The pain pills help."

Being away from Hunter probably didn't hurt, either.

She sat up looking around. "What time is it?"

I checked my watch—the only thing I was still wearing—and was glad I had adjusted the time on the plane. "Looks like it's about seven. Why don't we get dressed and grab something to eat?"

Forty minutes later, we were seated in the pavilion of the Lighthouse Restaurant. The waters of the ocean gently lapped at the floor beneath our feet as we shared an entrée of a sea scallops salad. It had taken some convincing her to ignore the prices, but she had finally relented and ordered the Angus beef medallions to go with my choice of lobster medallions.

After the waiter removed the empty salad plates and we sat back to wait for our main courses, Nikki kept her eyes down or out over the water. She alternated between sipping her glass of wine and worrying her lower lip.

"Is everything okay?"

She turned her head back to me, but she was looking at the table. "I don't know."

"Talk to me."

Her shoulders lifted then fell, hunching forward.

Ever since we'd left our villa, I'd noticed that she was slowly withdrawing. Becoming less talkative. Keeping her gaze away from mine. I was almost certain she was having second thoughts...about being here with me. About what we'd done.

I reached out my hand across the tablecloth, my palm open to her. "Please? I want to help."

After several long seconds of complete silence, she let out a shaky breath. Her head remained downcast, but she did speak. "You and I...it was always a daydream, you see? The more time that passed, the more I knew it would never happen. No matter how much I wanted it to be real. Maybe I had a bit of wishful thinking last Friday. A little more when you showed up at the club again on Wednesday..."

I clamped my mouth shut. Though I was confidant I knew where she was going with this, I needed to give her the benefit of the doubt. To at least hear her out.

"Ever since...it's hard to explain. I guess I feel like I've been walking around in someone else's body. That this isn't happening to me." She shook her head and let out a dry laugh. "Getting rescued by your high school crush then flown to an exotic island to have the best sex of my life?"

Warmth filled my chest, and I sat up straighter though I resisted the urge to smile. She'd enjoyed it as much as I had. At least neither of us had regrets about that.

She waved her hand through the air. "All of this? It's the stuff of fairytales. And I stopped believing in them a very long time ago."

If Nikki had been overwhelmed with my loft, I couldn't imagine what she was feeling right now, at least internally. I suddenly wished I had the means to get us back on a plane and take her elsewhere. Anywhere. Just so she would feel more at ease.

"I'm sorry."

She looked up at me then, frowning. "What for?"

I flinched. "Well, as you just said...all of this. My boss got a little carried away. Trust me, I was more than a little awestruck myself when we arrived. I just wanted...I thought that maybe getting away from the city...I don't know. I realize now this is just a temporary fix. It doesn't make it all better back home. You came to me for help, and I've failed."

Nikki fingers squeezed mine on the table. A tear slid down her cheek as she blinked. "Stop it. I don't know anyone who would have done what you have for me. My coworkers suspect that Hunter is abusive. I see their looks. I hear their whispers. But I've never admitted anything outright. Amy is the only one who knows now. When she took me to the hospital, she said I should go to the police. She's kind of protective of me."

This Amy sounded like the blonde I'd encountered in the office. She'd been very hesitant to let me see Nikki. It was probably safe to assume that she drove a red two-door and played chauffeur every morning, too.

Protective? Maybe of her own self-interests. Nikki's advice-and-ride-giving guardian angel had not only completely ignored her at the club, she'd also high-tailed it out of there after dumping Nikki at the hospital. Not exactly qualities for friend-of-the-year in my book.

"No one has gone out of their way to get me away from him," she continued. "I wish I'd had the strength to leave him without help. I just didn't know where else to go. Who to turn to. Then you came along. I took a leap of faith that you meant what you'd said. Even after I pushed you away. Repeatedly. You have not failed, Ben. You've given me hope."

I rolled my eyes at her. "Next thing, you'll be calling me your hero."

"I wouldn't go that far." She let out a soft snort but gave me a partial smile.

"In all seriousness, I still feel bad. So please, accept my apology?"

She nodded then sighed. "I guess...I just wanted you to understand why I may seem a little spacy at times. I'm still trying to get used to the fact that I took that first step away from Hunter. I'm glad to take a break from the mundane chaos that's been my life for so long. If that makes any sense. I want to be here. I really do. Especially with you."

I squeezed her hand this time. "Thank you. I enjoy your company, too. And I'm glad that you feel comfortable being around me. If you're having any reservations about what we did back at the villa, I completely understand. I don't want you to—"

"Ben? I said I was still trying to convince myself this was real. Not that I didn't want to sleep with you again." She sat back and cupped her wine goblet in both hands. After a long sip, she kept the glass raised, partially hiding behind it. "Although...I do have one concern."

My emotions were on a rollercoaster. One second, she was raising me up with compliments. Then my heart was taking a nosedive out of fear for what she may say next. Swallowing was difficult, and the wine did not make it any easier as I took another drink. If anything, it made my mouth feel drier. "Don't worry about hurting my feelings. Please, just be honest with me."

She squeezed her eyes closed, cringing a little. "Did you bring condoms?"

I choked on my next sip. When I could breathe again, I started chuckling. So hard it made my chest hurt.

Nikki stared at me, slack-jawed. "Do you think that was easy for me to ask?"

I shook my head and leaned toward her, coughing. "No. I'm sorry. But honey, if you're worried about getting pregnant, rest assured. It's not going to happen."

That lower lip came out as her eyebrows knit together. "Nothing is guaranteed."

"It is in this case. I'm sterile."

She blinked at me. "Oh."

"And I'm clean, too, so you don't have to worry about asking that one, too. I haven't had a partner in a very long time. Not even casually."

I failed to mention that the status of not being able to father a child naturally had been voluntary: I'd had a vasectomy twenty years ago. Ever since, I'd had regular checkups to ensure that I was still shooting blanks, among remaining healthy overall.

If her face had been pink from embarrassment a moment ago, it was deep red now. The waiter returned right then with our food. Nikki busied her hands with spreading her napkin on her lap again, her smile faltering.

Sterility had actually been a requirement for men to sign on with the agency if they were going to work in the field. Going undercover at a moment's notice was a given. Dedicated agents were expected to go all-in with any new identity if need be unless it endangered their own lives or the lives of others. This included having sex if deemed necessary for the role. Taking drugs and willfully killing someone not in self-defense were the two exceptions.

The agency was not sexist. Women were welcome to apply. Some did. But in all my years there, only one female was ever an agent on the frontline or sent undercover. And she'd had an accident at a young age that left her unable to bear children. I'd never worked with her personally, but I'd been told she was a very good agent. However, injuries sustained in a car accident during a mission forced her to retire early.

The rest of the females employed were all office staff. Maybe because they hadn't liked that sterility clause—or whatever it was on their form that they had to do to prevent unwanted pregnancies as a field agent. I didn't know, and I'd always been too scared to ask.

I'd never had a desire to be a dad—maybe out of fear that I'd turn out like my own—so it had been an easy decision. I had been young, and some would say stupid. But I'd never regretted my choice. I figured now that if I ever settled down, I hoped my partner would understand why I had made the choice I had.

We ate in silence, but I kept my eyes on Nikki. Still trying to figure out what it was about her that captivated me so much. Every now and then, she would glance up at me. If she caught me watching her, she blushed deeper and dipped her eyes back to her plate.

When our hunger was satisfied, we walked down the pier back to the shared beach. On our arrival and the way to dinner, we had taken the most direct route to and from our side of the island. Past the beach villas. A couple of public buildings. The other restaurants and bars.

Our feet on solid ground again, I automatically steered Nikki in the opposite direction. I told myself it was so we would have more time to relax. But in all truth, I was delaying our return to the villa. Staving off my desire to take her to bed again because I needed to think.

As we walked along the sand, Nikki slipped her hand in mine. In my head, I was discussing the right way to approach the topic of her submission. How best to suggest we deal with it. And I did mean 'we.' She had asked for help; I aimed to give it to her one-hundred-percent.

I slowed my pace at the jetty where we'd arrived by speedboat. That seemed like so long ago, yet it had only been a few hours. Time really did seem to drag here in paradise. We followed the path past the spa and the marine center, winding between walls of palm trees that rustled in the evening breeze.

The air was full of the sounds of the ocean ebbing and flowing. Night insects. The occasional but unintelligible conversation from another section of beach villas. There were a good number of guests at the resort, according to our waiter, but most had already eaten and retired to their villas by the time we'd ventured out of ours. Which explained why we mostly saw staff at the restaurant and hadn't encountered anyone on our walk.

We paused when the path branched off toward the water. Nikki leaned her head on my shoulder, and I wrapped my arm around her. For several minutes, we just stood there watching the ocean at the far end of two flanks of tropical flora.

I could easily imagine that we were here on vacation. A honeymoon, even. But I would be lying to myself. Denying reality. Because the only reason we were here was due to her abusive ex-boyfriend being in a dangerous drug gang.

A question rose up in my mind of whether I would have still pursued her if that had not been the case. But a deep sigh of content by my side told me it didn't matter. The situation was what it was. And my only concern right now was to make sure Nikki was safe. Whatever happened when we returned, we would deal with it then.

Lights from the pool villas—the rental huts built directly over the water with a horseshoe-shaped pier connecting them—shone against the night sky. Reminding me of my view back home. I had thought I'd had it made. This? This was heaven on earth.

When Nikki shivered, I proceeded along our original path. A few minutes later, we were turning down the narrow lane that led to our private pool. I finally released her to allow her to go ahead of me into the main dwelling. I stopped on the patio, waiting to see what she would do.

She didn't hesitate this time but walked straight through to the bathroom across from the bed. I wondered if it was a conscious decision. Which would mean she was making progress. And if she could overcome that small step in just a few days—to not freeze when entering a building with a man present—that showed promise for other areas.

I continued through the bedroom and living room to the other side where our private garden was broken only by a tunnel in the lush foliage that led to the dark beach and ocean beyond. For a moment, I considered going back inside to the fully stocked wet bar for a bourbon. But then I reasoned that I didn't really want the drink. Maybe I was making progress as well.

Nikki joined me a few minutes later and sat on the other chaise lounge. She stared ahead for a while, her arms and legs crossed. Her eyes shone when she finally turned her head to me. "I'm going to go out on a limb here and ask if you want to discuss the elephant in the room."

"That being?"

She let out a light laugh. "My uh, unorthodox...sexual predilections."

Well. So much for all my waffling on how to bring up that subject. But I still considered my words carefully. "They are not as unusual as you may think. At least not to me."

That earned me a soft snort. "I'm not really surprised to hear you say that. You strike me as someone who's used to being in control. Of your own life. Possibly others. Look at how you took charge with whisking me away. Plus you don't have the typical bachelor pad. It's very neat...tidy."

"As was yours."

"True. But that's only because he forces me to keep it like that. Once, when he was away, I told myself I wouldn't wash any dishes or clothes for the whole weekend. It felt so strange leaving a single bowl in the sink. I only lasted a few hours. I could see him in my mind, watching me. That sneer of disapproval. Even if he hadn't known, I still would have felt guilty when he returned. I would have confessed. And then he would have punished me. Not that he didn't anyway..."

I wished our chairs were closer together. I wanted to reach out and take her hand. To comfort her. To let her know I understood more than she knew. But I found myself unable to speak.

In my situation, it had been my father with that look. Usually after a loss at another card game. It kept my brother and me in line, though that never mattered much to Dad. He would still find a reason to smack us around. I'd learned early not to fight him off; it only made him madder, and he'd go after David or Mom.

Mom had held the same fears then as Nikki did now. At least until the day she found out her husband had gotten the life beat out of him because he couldn't pay his debts. Or so we assumed that's why he'd been kicked and punched so hard a broken rib had punctured his lung. His attacker had left him to suffocate in a back alley. The police hadn't put much effort into solving his murder when they couldn't find any leads or witnesses. The night we'd gotten the news was the first time I could remember having a sound sleep. I had been seventeen.

Nikki's head tipped back toward the starry sky above. "It's been years of 'do this,' and 'don't do that.' I can't even begin to explain the relief I felt when you told me you had no rules. Do you know how long I've waited to hear those words? To know I could choose something for myself? Especially without fear of the consequences?"

She didn't wait for me to answer. "I knew who you were. Where I was. But it just didn't seem real. Like you said, I was in shock."

I finally found my voice. "Nikki, I am here for you. I want you to feel comfortable talking to me. About anything. But I have to know... Why are you suddenly being forthcoming? You've been so reserved ever since I ran into you last week. But a couple of days alone with me and...poof? You're an open book? I don't—"

"Because you've shown me you really do care." Her shoulders moved up and down in the moonlight as she rolled her head, turning her face away. "And you can see right through me. I didn't need to tell you what my relationship was like with Hunter. You just knew. I don't only mean the abuse. You've had personal experience in this other...world, haven't you?"

"Yes. But it's been a long time."

"I feel like I'm stuck, Ben. I don't want to act the way I do around him. To feel the way he makes me feel. But I don't know how to stop. How to say no. Maybe because part of me doesn't want to. There are things that I do like about what he does. The problem is, the things I don't like outweigh what I do. And I know I can't get one without the other, so it keeps on going. It's a vicious cycle. It's hopeless."

"No, it's—"

"Forgive me, I'm rambling."

"Ramble all you want, Nikki. But please know, it's not hopeless. You took the initiative to end the abuse. Letting it all out will help. And so will I."

When she looked at me again, her cheeks were wet, her eyes shiny. "I don't know if you can help me in the way I really need to be helped. Mostly because I don't know what needs to be fixed."

"I understand." I took a deep breath. She'd opened the door. No more hesitating; I was walking through. "What parts did you like in your relationship with...him?"

She was quiet again. Looking away. I feared I'd scared her back into her shell. But then she said, "I guess letting someone else be in charge. For a while, at least. But I want the ability to be in control again. It's just..."

"That time has never come?"

"In the beginning, it did. But somewhere along the line, he's taken more and more control to the point that I no longer have any at all. He lords it over me. Constantly reminds me he has all of the power. That I wouldn't be able to survive without him. You saw the scars."

"Yes, I did. And I'm sorry."

"I don't fight him anymore. I put up with the hard parts so I can feel that little bit of pleasure submitting to him."

"Oh, Nikki." I swung my legs over the side of my chair and leaned my elbows on my knees. But I remained sitting as much as I wanted to go to her. To draw her into my arms.

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