Nina arrived to the club feeling pretty good about her day so far. Marcus’ whole vampire shtick was a little outrageous for Nina’s taste, but he was actually a nice dude. It kind of made Nina wonder if she should put a little more faith in Tabby’s advice. But once she remembered most of Tabby’s suggestions were less like Marcus, and more like that guy she stashed in the back of a van, Nina figured she should keep playing it safe.
This time on entering the club, Nina felt so much more relaxed. It helped that she had two drinks in her already, but more than that, she now knew a couple of people and what to expect. She was still a baby duckling for sure, but hew new outfit had grown on her, her ambush date hadn’t been terrible, and she had a nice boost of confidence that she hadn’t felt for a long time.
“Hey there, Nina Harker,” Jay’s familiar voice spoke up from her left as she headed for the bar.
He was sitting in the same booth as before, grinning at her playfully. He’d actually dressed up a little tonight, compared to last time anyways; rather than the black t-shirt, he’d chosen a button-down with the sleeves rolled up past his elbows–this time fully obscuring his tattoo (which she still hadn’t gotten a good look at). He had a rocks glass in front of him, which she knew probably meant whiskey, but Nina wasn’t that well-versed about drinks other than crazy cocktails.
Grabbing his drink, he slid out of the booth and walked over to meet her, tilting his head as he took in her new look. “You know what? I like it.”
“You are kind of a monster,” she laughed, but for his benefit she did a little turn on her heels so he could get the full picture of her outfit. “I guess I am vampire bait today. I don’t know if I should lean into it, or call it a night before I get hit on by a Cullens.”
Nina reached out to smooth wrinkle at his shoulder and then plucked at one of his buttons.
“You look nice too, though. Are you Dungeon Dad tonight or do I get your undivided attention? Oh, and full disclosure I have had two drinks already. One called Vampire Kiss and if vampire kisses actually tasted like that, I’d be into vampires.”
“I’m off-duty,” he answered. “I don’t drink when I’m the DM. Or much at all, really.”
His fingers settled at the small of her back, just barely there as he endured her picking at him.
“Is two your limit? I’d hate to have to send you home when you just got here.”
“I don’t know? Well, I’m sure I could drink more, but I don’t want to get sent home early either,” she confessed with a grin. Nina felt good at the moment, but she was definitely trying to be aware if that high feeling was leading her into making questionable choices. She didn’t make out with Marcus, so that was a good sign.
“I can skip drinks until later,” she suggested. In the mean time she did a quick look around for Tabby to make sure the girl was out of sight or too busy elsewhere to come hassle her about turning down Marcus. Once she was satisfied, Nina took a deep breath and let it go, along with some of that nervous bouncy energy. Now she could relax and actually enjoy herself.
“He might have actually thought he was a real vampire,” she exclaimed with her eyes wide. “Roleplay seems so fun, but I’m not sure I can dive that deep. If he had tried to pass it off as a religious experience, I might have died, Jay. I would’ve started laughing and not been able to stop, and ruined that poor guy’s night.”
“So you didn’t promise to go home to his lair later for a little taste?” Jay was stifling laughter of his own. “I thought you were all for trying new things.”
He glanced around too, a considering look in his eyes. “Speaking of which. You said you had some things you wanted to talk about from your list. Let’s go sit down.”
“Oh my god, I wonder if he decorates his home the same way he dresses,” she pondered, pressing her hands against her cheeks where her ridiculous grinning and constant laughing were making her jaw hurt. Nina hadn’t had so much fun in a long time.
She pointed where she wanted to sit, then led the way, all the while being just a little bit mad that she finally understood the worth of having the silly sheer duster part of her outfit. It made her feel like she was a super model every time she walked.
Once she slid into her seat, Nina immediately pulled her phone out of her purse and went scrolling for her list.
“I didn’t really finish looking over everything, since there’s so many things, but there’s little things and feelings I like and that’s easy enough to notice even just, you know, walking around and talking to people.”
“I know it’s a lot, but it’s really worth it to go over the whole thing.” Jay settled in across from her, taking a swallow from his glass. “You’ll need to get in the habit of it if you’re going to be in the scene. Most of us rely on checklists.”
“I will,” she assured him with a wide smile. “I um- I’m trying not to rush through it since everything new and different sounds exciting right now, and I maybe have a tendency to go from zero to three thousand because I over compensate and I think you’ve maybe already figured that out.” She gave him a squinting examining gaze, because if Jay was one thing, it was someone who was a very quick study.
Nina set her phone down on the table, turned it around and then pushed it toward him. Then she took in another deep breath. Most of the time it was easy to talk about everything in the abstract but once it got down to details and specifics, Nina still found herself flustered and embarrassed. It should’ve been easy to say hey, I like this thing with someone seasoned and as chill as Jay. But it was still nerve-wracking. Maybe because she still couldn’t say simple things like fingering or doggy-style without giggling like a teenager.
It didn’t help that one of the things on her list had involved Jay.
“So. Last weekend’s unplanned sneaky sex was thrilling but specifically- Hmm. You were-” Nope, she couldn’t say it. Her fingers from both hands went over her mouth as she rested her elbows on the table. Nina was a grown woman, why couldn’t she just tell this man that it was hot as hell and all she’d thought about this week.
“Close your eyes. Deep breath.” His hands lifted to hover at either side of her head. “I’m going to put my hands over your ears, and then you’re going to tell me. Got it?”
She barely had time to close her eyes and nod before his palms pressed flat against her ears, reducing the background noise of the club to a murky droning.
Nina wasn’t sure how this was supposed to help, but she closed her eyes and took a deep breath. His hands were warm and maybe having the sound dulled out did help her slow her thumping heartbeat down a little. Mostly, it just seemed easier to tell him filthy things when blue eyes weren’t staring back at her.
“I liked you watching,” she mumbled through her fingers. “I might have even liked it better if you weren’t just watching.” The statement went from an almost whisper to ending with a squeak. Nina was definitely never going to open her eyes again, but now that she got the scariest part out, she could breathe again.
His hands lingered for a moment, his thumbs brushing her cheeks.
“See, the sky didn’t fall,” he told her in a low, even voice. “I’m never going to judge you. You can tell me anything.”
Then his hands drew back. “Even if you tell me you’re becoming the new Queen of the Damned.”
Nina’s arms dropped to the tables with a thump and the look she gave him was absolutely scathing. There was still a hint of flustered pink in her cheeks, but she ignored that as she pointed a finger at him.
“You better watch it. I’d make an amazing Queen and you’d be the very first one I sacrificed.”
She folded her arms on the table, tapping her fingers on her elbows. Nina briefly wondered why she didn’t paint her nails a bright red to match her lipstick, because that was easier to think about than the fact she just admitted right to his face that she was down for a Nina + Jay situation. She couldn’t understand why it was so easy to jump on the lap of some guy she didn’t even know the name of, but she couldn’t do the same with the guy she very genuinely liked.
Or maybe that was the problem. She really liked this one. Which meant she was probably the one that was going to make a mess of it.
“Now what do we do,” she asked, finding everything on the table to look at but Jay directly. “Making out in a closet seems kind of tame after being offered a vampire’s affections.”
“Honestly, Nina, if you’re this flustered about liking a little exhibitionism, you need to relax.” He picked up her phone and started to scroll through her incomplete checklist. “Let’s see. Biting is a yes, and you’ve marked down a few things in the bondage category. You’ve also mentioned you’d be up for trying roleplay. Anything specific there?”
She finally stopped looking at everything else in the club to give him that squinty stare again.
“I am relaxed,” she tried to insist, but knowing it wasn’t true. Nina finally huffed and tried that deep breath again, then let all that tension out of her shoulders. She was still probably blushing, but she could deal with that. The only one freaking out was her, and she realized very quickly that it was probably left over hurt feelings about Shaun and rejection and it was something she was going to have to work through.
“Nothing specific, really. Sometimes it’s just daydreaming on a whim, or- well. I guess I’ve thought about the young hot professor scenario more than once. But it’s mostly just that I like to play around.”
“Sure.” Jay ran one hand through his hair. “So the teacher/student dynamic. That appeals to you?”
Her phone settled back onto the table and he slid it back across to her. Leaning back in his seat, he tossed back the rest of his whiskey.
“What was it you wanted to run by me specifically?”
“I have been known to crush on a teacher or two,” she admitted. Mostly just to delay answering anymore questions about what she wanted while she tried to figure out exactly what that was.
Nina rest her chin on her hands and watched him for a moment. She knew he didn’t jumped on her confession because he was being kind. After all, she’d told him right at the beginning she had some issues because of her ex, and it was pretty obvious she could barely keep it together over even the smallest things. Still, there was a tiny part of her that wanted to know what he was thinking. He was turning out to be such a good friend, what if she made it awkward? Nina was just too afraid to ask.
She finally picked up her phone and took a look at her list, scrolling up and down with her thumb.
“I was going to ask if you’d try something small and unintimidating with me here, but I don’t know what that would be so, I also want to know what are good first tiny steps for dungeon ducklings?”
“If play isn’t a little intimidating, you’re not doing it right.” He shook his head. “There are a lot of things you can try starting out. It all depends on what you’re interested in. Roleplay… spanking… light bondage… mental restraint… even a little edgeplay.”
His eyes flicked to meet hers. “That’s giving up control over when you’re allowed to cum.”
All of which sounded like a fun starting pointing, Nina already knew she wanted to try a little bondage and spanking she was still considering, but then he’d hooked her with something interesting.
“What,” she remarked leaning forward on her arms. “That’s impossible.” Thinking on it, she’d already seen hints of here in scenes. The part that seemed so impossible was how could you not? Nina could imagine trying to resist for as long as possible just to extend something especially good. But someone else deciding when you were allowed to? They’d probably be up to all kinds of tricks and torture to get you to break.
It sounded like a wicked sort of challenge. Nina did like to play.
“Yes. That. I want to try that. Top of the list!”
“Alright,” Jay said simply.
He pulled out his phone and shifted in his seat, apparently ignoring Nina.
“Work on your list,” he told her, after a long moment. He didn’t glance up. “I want to see it filled out.”
That’s it? They weren’t even going to talk about how? About the rules or finding a partner? He knew she liked having the details! Nina sat there giving him her best squinty-eyed stare until she finally huffed, snatched up her phone and leaned back in her seat.
“Only because I know I need to,” she acquiesced. It was true, too. She’d just admitted that she tended to speed through things, and the checklist was something necessary if she honestly wanted to start participating in the culture. Even if she intended to get up and go looking for a partner on her own, she’d need it. Moments like last weekend weren’t something she wanted to keep risking, not if she wanted to stay safe.
So if Jay wanted her list, she’d finish her list. Most things were a question mark for her, but she was able to mark off the stuff she knew for a fact she didn’t like. There were also things she needed to lookup, and before long she was forgetting all about shooting Jay wicked looks because she was too busy creating the craziest browser history ever on Google.
“How are we doing, Nina?” he asked, just when she’d almost zoned him out entirely.
Before she could answer, Jay had pushed himself up from his side of the booth and circled around to stand behind her. He leaned over, his breath tickling her ear as he rested his elbows on the seat back above her.
“I just figured out what figging is and I’m pretty sure one of my coworkers wrote this article,” she marveled, zooming in on the article and holding out her phone so he could see. She ignored the little shiver that went down the back of her neck, and tilted just enough so she could turn her head and spy at him.
“No questions yet. Well. None that aren’t anything more than curiousness. It’s just taking forever.” Nina wanted to sulk about it, but she wanted this and there was no sense in complaining about putting the time in. Really, she would’ve been done by now if she’d stop falling down Google rabbit holes and reading all kinds of articles and extra information. She couldn’t help it, she was a researcher.
“Stay focused,” he told her. His fingers dipped to skim lazily along the top of her shoulder blades. “The sooner you finish, the sooner you get to play.”
Nina was surprised she didn’t drop her phone. Not even because he touched her, because Nina was used to the casual way he’d lean in or touch her here or there. It was something about the way he spoke and the words he chose, and now her heart was thumping and her mouth was dry.
“I suppose I could do a little less research,” she mumbled just barely over a whisper. There was probably a bewildered look on her face, but she was too busy swapping her tabs back to the checklist. Of course now instead of rabbit holes to distract her focus, all sorts of ideas about what sort of play were getting in the way.
“That’s my girl,” said Jay. She felt his fingers playing with her ponytail. “You’re almost done.”
He stayed there, hovering behind her and just barely touching her. Nothing overtly sexual; just affectionate little touches, on her shoulders or her neck or toying with her hair. Every time she started to lose focus, his hands would go still, but as soon as she was back to work he was brushing against her somewhere new.
Nina was right. Torture was involved. But what wonderful torture it was! Soothing in the same way it was maddening, she could easily imagine taking him with her to work and getting so much reading time. At the same time all kinds of salacious ideas popped up and she’d daydream about those only for his attentions to stop and she’d have to refocus on her blasted checklist all over again.
What surprised her was that she didn’t start giggling like a crazy person the moment she figured out what he was doing. He snuck it up on her so subtly, that Nina didn’t have the chance to overthink it. There was that flush of warmth in her cheeks for sure, and she’d probably chewed through most of her lipstick, but it was all so tingly pleasant.
It did take her a bit longer to get through the last items, (another round of Googling and now she knew what Tabby was talking about when she mentioned a queening stool), but as soon as she was done she saved it and set the phone down then slapped her fingers softly on the table.
“Done!” she sounded breathless and way too pleased about such a simple accomplishment.
“Good girl,” he told her, stroking his thumb along the nape of her neck. “That wasn’t so hard, was it?”
And then all at once he withdrew, sliding back into his seat across from her. He was watching her with a closed-off expression, his eyes on her face. After a moment he picked up her phone and began to scroll through her list again.
“There’s your sample,” said Jay. “If you liked that… you’ll enjoy edging.”
“Sample!” Nina squinted at him again, leaning on her elbows across the table. “Sooner I finish, the sooner I get to play. That’s what you said. So,” with both of her hands she beckoned with a finger. Nina didn’t know what she expected, but he wasn’t going to get away with teasing her without her taunting back. “Reward, please.”
After a beat (and because she didn’t actually expect a reward), she rest her chin on her hands and grinned.
“I did like it. I’m not sure how I feel being called a girl, but that’s just because I like hearing my name. Unless I go for drama and choose myself a cool scene name like Bellacroix or Lady Vixengale.”
“I didn’t say you’d be playing with me.” His lips twitched. “I told you before that having a list would make it easier to find a Dom.”
Jay paused in the middle of scrolling, staring into the screen, and then put her phone back on the table.
“Nina,” he began. “I don’t think this is a good idea.”
That’s true, he didn’t say anything about playing with her himself, which was the only reason she didn’t get mad or put up a fuss about it. What did get her was his sudden pausing and announcing ‘this’ was a bad idea.
She straightened up in her seat, giving him a curious questioning look.
“What’s not a good idea? Unless you mean a new name, because of course that’s not a good idea.”
“You and me crossing any more lines.” Jay looked away, brow furrowed. “I don’t really do casual. You’re too new to all this for an intense dynamic.”
He slid his own phone across the table to her. He had the same checklist pulled up, but this one was filled out already. Unlike Nina’s, it looked like he’d used a highlight function to outline his “hard yes” items in green and hard limits in red.
“Here. I’ve seen yours; it’s only fair.”
Nina gave him a bit of a dubious stare before she started scrolling through his list. Nothing on it was all that unexpected for someone who had been in the scene for a long while. The surprise was that many things he enjoyed were things she was also very interested in. Sure, there was some stuff Nina wasn’t sure about, but nothing that would be a big deal breaker. It was like checking an astrology chart and finding out you were a great match.
Quickly Nina realized what the real problem was. Nothing on their checklists was an issue. Jay didn’t do casual. The issue was that he liked her. Nina hadn’t been the only one feeling chemistry and holding back because she didn’t want to jump in and ruin something.
What was she supposed to do about this! Should she call him out? Confess herself? There was a little thrill in the pit of her stomach, but right along side it Nina was afraid that maybe he was right and it was too soon for them cross boundaries, so to speak.
Well. Nina hadn’t spent the past year learning how to ask for what she wanted for nothing.
“What if,” she started slowly, setting his phone back on the table. “What if I liked you. You you, not just potential dom partner you. And thought that we should go on a date or two and try some other things with the promise that if either of us didn’t like it we could go back to being friends again?”
“I like you too,” he told her with a wry smile, “and that’s exactly why I think you should shop around first. Jumping into bed with the first person you have chemistry with isn’t a great idea when you’re getting into the scene, let alone when you’re freshly out of a long-term relationship. I’d be keeping you from what you need right now, which is figuring out what you like. Not getting hung up on what I like.”
“Freshly out nothing, Jay! Did I not tell you how many guys I slept with before landing here?”
Okay, that made her sound like the biggest slut on the planet, but it’s been a year since her divorce. Nina got past her rebound phase months ago. The only thing new and fresh was her coming on to the bdsm scene and actually taking her personal opinion into consideration for the first time and–
And now she was mad, because his reasons made sense and it was awfully inconvenient.
Nina leaned back in her seat, crossing her arms and her legs and she must’ve looked ready to lay down one hell of a lecture, but she couldn’t seem to get past twisting up her mouth and glaring at the table.
“I hate it when you’re reasonable. You know, what I need might not be the responsible thing this time? Maybe this time the right thing is taking a big risk and going against the rules and the plan and trusting our instincts instead.”
“I thought you liked rules.” He stared at her. “Wasn’t that why you said you were drawn to this? Rules, boundaries, things that made you feel safe?”
Taking a deep breath, he ran a hand through his hair again. “I’m not sure you know the difference between need and want right now. I’m not sure I do either–and that’s the whole problem. My judgment’s been fucked since the moment I saw what you look like when you get off.”
That statement had sent her flushing and she covered her mouth with the back of her hand. It may have looked as if she were about to cry, but Nina was trying to swallow a sudden round of laughter. He was afraid that she wasn’t thinking clearly, when the for the first time in her life Nina felt she was, and somehow this was the most hilariously terrible situation.
“You make me feel safe,” she finally managed to answer seriously, once she tamped out as much of her amusement as she could. “Immediately. The day I met you. And that’s kind of a big deal to me since I tend to not trust anybody ever. So it kinda warrants a bending of my rules just a little.”
Nina situated herself in her seat, uncrossing her legs and letting all that sudden tenseness melt away with a deep breath. She leaned on her arms again and gave him a serious stare.
“But okay. If you’re not ready for a Nina and Jay thing, I can wait. It’s going to be mutual needless torture, though.”
“You can wait, can you?” He raised an eyebrow, looking unimpressed. “Okay, little miss certainty. Prove it.”
Reaching across the table, Jay picked up one of her wrists. His thumbnail traced lightly over the vein on the inside.
“Go one month without coming,” he told her, pressing down on her pulse point. “I’ll know if you do. One month, one date.”
“I know exactly what you’re doing,” she accused, even pointing a finger right at his nose with her other hand. No doubt he could feel her pulse picking up.
“That’s going to be easy. I won’t even have to do anything different beyond turning down dates.” Nina didn’t even have to worry about what she did at home. She was still ridiculous about feeling herself up. A month without sex was going to be a breeze.
“If you say so.” He smiled. “I guess it’s a good deal then, isn’t it?”
“I accept your silly challenge!” That smile of his made her suspicious for sure, but she still couldn’t fathom how it was going to be a problem for her. Though she did side-eye him just a bit.