Strangelove - Part 7
Tall oaks and spruces lined either side of the narrow blacktop road as she weaved through a maze of fallen branches. The weather report for this northern-most county had been more impending, its altitude mostly to blame. A thin gossamer glaze shimmered on what hadn’t been blown down by the ravaging winds. She’d only had a brief squall and overly cautious drivers to contend with back home.
Rounding a tight bend, the clearing he’d described in his email came into view. The humble ranch home, complete with aging wooden swing set and unadorned front porch sat atop a hill, overlooking the dense woods below. Forest green shutters and a white door stood out against the aged brick. Her car climbed the driveway and pulled alongside a four-wheel drive SUV in chrome and black. His massive pickup was parked behind.
She released a shaky breath, anxiety creeping back in. Suddenly being so close, remembering she was here for step two, tied her stomach in knots.
When the garage door edged up slowly, her eyes darted ahead. The towering man came into view an inch at a time. His arms were folded, his eyes fixed on her through the windshield. A narrow-fitting cotton cap was pulled over his short hair, his earrings were back in place and a black leather biker jacket hugged his wide torso. Before she could think twice, he motioned for her to pull inside.
After he stepped to the button on the wall alongside, the garage door groaned and dropped, shutting out the frigid air and trapping her inside. On every wall and every inch of stainless tabletop, mechanics tools gleamed in full display, organized by size and shined to a gleam. She stepped out and spun on her heels to eye the impressive collection. It was a magazine pictorial in a rural garage.
“Wow. How long did it take to do all this?”
He snickered, stepping to her side. “A while. Once I pick up a hobby, I can’t help but buy everything associated with it.” He took her hand gently, using the other to brush wisps of hair from her forehead. “You look exhausted. How much sleep did you manage last night?”
Her eyes closed gently on a long blink, his warm touch penetrating her skin. “Eh, a few hours. I’ll be all right.”
“I’m sure you will be. It’s your busiest time of the year. This can wait.”
“Actually, it can’t,” she confessed, her gaze sliding to the floor. “Work stress is only one reason why I haven’t been sleeping much. I couldn’t stop thinking about what’ll happen today. I can’t put it off any longer.”
He’d emailed her the instructions the moment he’d returned home from her dinner party. The hum of the incoming email woke her, lying next to her naked, exhausted, snoring boyfriend in her bed. His instructions were clear, her confirmation reply instant, and she hadn’t slept soundly since.
“Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad you’re dedicated, but your health is more important. This can wait. Like I said, I’m a patient man.”
“I’m an impatient woman,” she countered, stepping back to shake out her damp palms. “All right, I’m ready. Where’s your dungeon?”
He gaped then laughed haughtily. “Oh, Hope. I think you’re going to be very surprised by reality in this case. Well, maybe, but I guess we’ll see.”
He propped open the door leading inside. Beyond awaited the kitchen, half-modern industrial and half-country chic, with surfaces polished just as brightly as his tools outside. The telltale scent of roast beef escaped from the slow cooker on the counter and colorful scrawls on plain white paper covered the brand-new stainless fridge’s door.
“This is your home,” she murmured, stepping inside. “It’s nice. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised but part of me thought I’d be walking into a well-disguised sex den.”
An explosion of laughter echoed into the kitchen as Gwen stepped from hall carpet to kitchen linoleum. Garrett embraced her gently as Jessica blushed scarlet.
“Oh, Jessica, this is my childhood home. My parents’ bed is still in the guest room, for fuck’s sake.”
“Language. I guess Xander’s napping?” Garrett asked with a brow lifted.
“Finally. And your paperwork’s on the counter. I’ll be back in a few. Is it any warmer out?” Gwen asked, turning to Jessica.
“No, not really. Wind’s died down but it’s still freezing.”
Gwen grumbled and pulled on a heavy wool coat, bringing up the hood to conceal her sweep of onyx hair. She handed Garrett a baby monitor, he laid a kiss on her forehead and she escaped out the front door without looking back.
Jessica eyed the legal envelope on the counter before her gaze returned to Garrett. He clipped the baby monitor to his front pocket and invited her to the dining room table, just outside the kitchen space on a square of red carpet.
“Just some formalities to get through before we go further,” he said, pulling out her chair.
“She likes to give my clients some privacy during this part. Not everyone’s a fan of having an audience.”
She watched him sink into the seat alongside hers and pull a contract from the envelope, unfolding it carefully. Letterhead, bold text, italicized fonts studded with colons. It was as technical and professional as any document she analyzed at her Monday to Friday gig. Her curiosity trumped her fear as she took it from his grasp, bringing it closer for inspection.
“This non-disclosure is in place for both our sakes, the same contract I use for everyone. It was drawn up by my lawyer and it’s comprehensive. I haven’t had anyone decline to sign off, but if you want your lawyer to review it, I can prepare them a copy.”
“Just let me read over it,” she murmured, her eyes skipping over the text.
Client agrees to disclose any diagnosed communicable diseases and conditions at the time of diagnosis, and to disclose preexisting illnesses at the time of the signing of this document. Above named client agrees that any procedures, practices and activities conducted between parties named herein will remain confidential. Only court orders mandating disclosure may supersede this agreement. Should medical attention be required, client agrees to accept full responsibility for incurred injuries, costs associated with medical care both present and ongoing, and shall not disclose the nature of the injuries. Client agrees that they shall hold harmless the other parties named herein should injuries occur…
Her gaze narrowed as she set the document down. “So, you won’t tell anyone what happens behind closed doors, but you can maim me, and I can’t tell anyone how it happened or sue you for it?”
He nodded. “That’s the bottom line, yeah, but I have no intention of maiming you or anyone. Even those who want it rough don’t leave with lasting injuries. Everyone says they can handle extremes, but very few can and I’m not risking it. If they want it harder, they can go to a sadist.”
“Oh, well. I guess that’s a relief.”
“And no diseases I need to know about?”
“Nope, clean as can be.”
“Up to speed on immunizations?”
“Of course. Any other rules I should know?”
“I only have two. No kissing of any kind, ever, and you don’t get to pleasure me at all. Fair?”
“Sure, I guess. Where do I sign?”
He snickered, dropping a fingertip onto the page. “Here, and I’ll sign below that. This contract goes into the business’s safe and stays there unless the court’s involved. Hasn’t ever happened. If you want a copy, I’ll provide it. Just ask.”
She lifted a blue pen from her purse and signed in a swift loop. He stole the pen from her fingers and did the same.
“All set?” Gwen’s voice rang out from the entryway, her palms full of mail.
“Yep, and we’ll head out now unless you need me here for something,” he replied, standing and returning the contract to the envelope. It was promptly tucked into his jacket’s inside pocket.
“Nope, off you go. I’ve got laundry to fold and bills to pay. Get lost, you two. Dinner’s at six. If you’re late, I’m eating without you.”
“Where are we going?” Jessica interrupted, her palm moving anxiously to Garrett’s forearm.
“Not far,” he answered gently. “Come on, I’ll show you.”