In the end, Bella settled the internal debate over what to wear by pulling on her most flattering jeans and a tight-fitting blouse and packing a few of her go-to leather pieces into an overnight bag. She needed some basic supplies anyway, so tossing in spiky heels and fishnets was a no-brainer.
She stows the bag away inside the closet of the modest hotel room and checks herself once more in the mirror. Bella consults her watch—twenty-two minutes until he is required to knock at her door—and uses the time to perform her customary mental gymnastics, placing herself into the shoes of her submissive. While she's had no shortage of play partners for the last year and a half, chances are quite good that Edward has not entrusted himself to anyone else. He better not have, a surprisingly powerful voice bubbles up from inside her. She has a hard time imagining the level of pent-up arousal and larger-than-life expectations he'll be carrying with him. She wonders how many times he had to relieve himself while filling out the checklist, and she feels a wave of sympathetic arousal on his behalf.
As a responsible domme—not to mention the more experienced of the two—she'll have to place his needs above her own during the scene, which is why she's hashed it all out with herself over the three days since he'd called. It was for you, she reassured herself repeatedly, so your family wasn't jeopardized.
But that didn't help in the heat of all those moments with the other submissives, when she'd wished it were Edward underneath her instead of some other man needing a dressing down. The judge's robe pops into her mind, the look on his face when she'd called it a dress.
"You like wearing dresses?"
"Are you sure about that? Because you look pretty excited to me."
God, how he hated that! But she knew what he'd needed and had delivered it without hesitation. She only hopes she can summon the same composure today.
Instinct tells her that Edward will be a few minutes early, and she isn't at all surprised when she peeks out the peep hole and finds him standing there gathering his nerve. Bella makes full use of her opportunity to ogle him without his knowledge, though she fully plans to do so later when he'll be aware of it. She'd been curious to see how he'd dress with no specific direction, and as her eyes glide down the expanse of his crisp, white button-down, she shivers recalling his tight, muscular chest. His low-slung jeans are cinched with a simple brown leather belt and snug in all the right places. The judge looks good in casual, and she's guessing he looks even better in nothing at all.
Thanks to his abundant height, she has no problem making out the luminous green of his eyes as they dart in every direction. He takes several deep breaths to center himself, causing his mouth to billow and straighten. Bella finds herself licking her lips in anticipation. If things go well, she'll have those lips under her control soon enough. When he draws his fingers through his light brown hair, Bella nearly gives herself away, so strong is her desire to grab two handfuls of that gorgeous hair and abuse it further.
He is edgy as hell. Bella closes her eyes and summons her own inner strength, allowing the tentacles of his agitation to extend to the darkest reaches of her dominant inclinations and set her on fire. The equation is simple: his tension equals her thrill.
She can't resist watching as he lifts his eyes to the peephole, then perhaps sensing she wouldn't approve, lowers them just as quickly. A searing bolt of desire flashes through her. His knuckles strike the door once, twice, three times, and Bella takes a deep breath before opening the door.
He steps inside without a word, his eyes fixed on the worn carpeting. His shoulders are tense and locked, and she tamps down the urge to step behind him and massage away his anxiety.
With a calm that belies the storm brewing inside her, she says, "You're on time."
"Thank you for seeing me." His choked voice catches her off guard. He's in a bad way.
"We need to talk."
He nods, still refraining from looking at her, though it seems to be costing him his sanity.
She walks across the room, trusting he'll follow, then pulls out a chair at the tiny round table by the window. "Have a seat."
He falls into the barrel seat, folding forward with his elbows on his knees. The strain of not looking at her is a yoke he can't carry much longer without breaking.
She reaches out tentatively and traces his clean-shaven cheek with her fingertips. He gasps and turns subtly into her touch, his eyes fluttering closed. Her hand is shaking, she notices now, and she brushes her thumb over his lips. It's far too intimate for this stage of their odd dance, and she feels his torture as he steals a soft kiss of her thumb.
"We need to talk." Repeating it steadies her, and he nods his assent again.
She slides her hand around to his cheek, cupping it softly with her palm and lifting his face gently to hers. His eyes are closed, as if he doesn't feel entitled to look, and her heart lurches at his vulnerability.
Her mouth has gone dry, but she sends out a quiet, crackled, "Hi."
Taking her greeting as permission, he blinks open his dazzling green eyes, and she sinks inside them.
"Hey," he returns softly, his mouth twitching up into a shaky smile. "Is it okay if I tell you how amazing you look?"
Her heart somersaults again, and she doesn't conceal her delight. "I suppose that would be all right, just this once."
Not wasting the opportunity to compliment her again, he replies, "You look completely amazing."
He's a sight for sore eyes himself, but she'll save that for later. "It's great to see you, too."
Bolder now, he says, "I'm a little confused here. I don't know exactly where we are right now."
"Understandable," she answers, and her soft smile lets him know he's doing just fine. "We're about to review your checklist—you brought it, right?—and basically, you're you and I'm just me, but you'll need to show me the proper respect."
He cocks his head and squints. "Why wouldn't I?"
The question is so utterly sincere, it pierces her. With or without roles and titles, this man would never disrespect a woman under any circumstances. She knows with certainty that she's never met a better man in all her life.
She holds out her hand, and he pulls a folded bunch of papers from his back pocket. As the pages slide through his fingers, his unease is back in full force. "Just so you know," he says, "I had a pretty hard time with this."
She makes sure to look him in the eye when she answers. "Thank you for telling me. It's really important that you're honest."
His hands drop to his thighs, and he rubs them furiously while she smoothes the papers on the tabletop.
"Okay...let's see what we've got here."
A/N: Ahhhh! It feels so dang good to be back. Thank you all for the warm welcome and delight you expressed at seeing this story continue. I hope you'll enjoy delving deeper into these characters-not TOO much of a pun intended- as I did in writing them. I neglected to thank my Patchers for their invaluable help with the ringtone in chapter two. If you'd like to join us on Facebook, you can find us at Born's Pumpkin Patch. Just pretend the basketball symbol is a pumpkin. (Seriously, FB? You don't have an option to upload your own group avi? *smh*) XXX ~BOH