by Radclyffe

Please see part 1 for all disclaimers and copyright information.

Chapter Nineteen

Slowly Kyle's pain and frustration turned to a seething anger, feeding on itself, threatening to consume her. She sometimes didn't see anyone for weeks. Nancy turned up at the shop erratically, often leaving again without completing much work. They rarely talked, and even when they did, they avoided all mention of their personal lives.

Kyle stopped going to the discussion groups. When Caroline called to ask about her absence, Kyle replied bitterly that she'd heard all there was to hear. She knew Caroline was worried about her, but Kyle gave her no room to talk. Finally, Caroline stopped calling.

Eventually Kyle began to go to Leather's again. She stared at the women around her, feeling none of the old sense of communion she once shared with them. Nothing stirred her heart. She reached out to no one. Late one night she saw Dane across the room. She was ensconced in her old place by the jukebox, looking aloof and distant. She glanced at Kyle once, briefly, her face betraying no recognition. Kyle was forced to turn her back, so exquisite was the pain. When the anguish dissipated, the steely anger returned. She had to erase the lingering image of Dane's face from her mind. She ordered another beer and looked over the crowd. She carefully avoided Dane's small corner of the arena. Her attention focused finally on a young woman standing alone, her back against a pillar. When her eyes fell on Kyle, who was staring at her pointedly, she looked quickly away. Kyle smiled slightly to herself and lit a cigarette. She smoked leisurely, finished her beer and ordered two more. She carried them both unhurriedly through the crowd until she was at the young woman's side. Up close she could see that she was indeed young. Her smooth features were unlined, and her blond hair fell in childlike wings about her forehead and temples. She continued to stare ahead, waiting for Kyle to initiate contact.

Kyle handed her the beer. "Yours is warm," she said in a low voice.

The woman immediately tossed her half-empty bottle into the receptacle behind her and took the cold one Kyle offered.

"Thank you," she replied.

Kyle smiled slightly and ran her finger lightly down the young woman's exposed forearm, stopping at the thin black leather band which circled her wrist.

"Are you serious about this?" Kyle said softly, hooking her finger under the bracelet. She realized she was enjoying this new approach, even though emotionally she felt detached.


Kyle slipped her hand beneath the edge of her companion's jeans at the hollow of her spine. The muscles there tensed at her touch.

"I need to know your name," Kyle said, gently kneading the firm flesh under her hands. When she felt the young woman hesitate, she thought she understood.

"Any name, it doesn't matter." Kyle realized that it didn't. She didn't need or want to know anything about the woman other than what was necessary to complete the scene. Kyle wasn't interested in her as a person, beyond the roles they would both soon play.

"It's Jean."

Kyle nodded, leaning into Jean, her thighs insistent against the smaller woman's hips.

"Well, Jean, are you tired of the bar tonight?"

"I've seen everything I need to. Now that you're here."

"I'd like to take your clothes off, somewhere quiet and private. There might be other things I'd like to do." Kyle was going by instinct now, playing out a fantasy which was somehow real. She was vaguely aware that she was not really physically aroused, but still she was excited. She was excited to be in control, to be creating the events moment to moment. "Do you understand?"

"I understand," Jean replied. "May I make one request?"

Kyle nodded.

"Please don't mark me."

Kyle hid the shock she felt. For an instant she saw Dane again, lying on Caroline's bed, her back a river of ruin. She felt physically ill.

"I agree," Kyle said after a moment.

She drove to Jean's apartment with Jean clinging to her on the rear of the big motorcycle. Once there, Kyle directed Jean to take them to her bedroom, leaving the lights off. Kyle lit a bedside candle with a flick of her lighter. She undressed Jean herself, slowly and carefully. She turned her about in the flickering light, stroking her body, studying her reaction. She could tell the younger woman was excited--she trembled at each light caress of Kyle's exploring hands.

When Kyle had satisfied herself visually, she placed Jean face down on the bed, removing the pillow to be sure she could breathe.

"You'll need a safe word. Anytime you want me to stop, or something happens which hurts you in a way you don't like, you must tell me," Kyle said gently as she removed the heavy belt from her leather pants. She bound Jean's hands securely to the upper part of the bed frame as Jean told her safe word. By doing so she entered into a contract of trust with Kyle. She trusted Kyle to respect her limitations, her boundaries, regardless of how Kyle might feel. And Kyle, in turn, trusted Jean to be the guardian of her own body. Only Jean could know when her limits had been reached.

"May I give you something?" Jean asked quietly.

Kyle leaned back from the bed. "Yes."

Kyle opened the closet and looked where Jean had described. She removed a short-handled crop with multiple fine leather strands at the end. Her heart plummeted when she closed her hand around it. She knew Jean was asking her to use it on her, and she wasn't sure she could. She found it more and more difficult to look at Jean's naked back without seeing Dane, again and again. She knew the scene was hers; she could refuse. But she also knew that there was Jean's pleasure to be considered. The top's responsibility, ultimately, was to create a scene which both partners would find pleasurable, within acceptable limits for them both.

She started with the stout handle, the leather strands entwined in her fingers. Slowly she traced each muscle, each bone in Jean's back and shoulders with the edge. She could hear Jean gasp at each new contact. Suddenly Kyle realized that in this instance it was the suggestion of pain, the illusion of power, which was so erotic, rather than the actual infliction of punishment. She began to relax a little and found that she was enjoying the sense of power Jean had given her. When she finally did use the crop for what it was intended, she wielded it gently, causing no real discomfort. The effect, however, was instantaneous. Jean responded to each light blow with a soft groan, and her hips moved against the bed convulsively. When Kyle judged that Jean was near to the peak of her arousal, she straddled her body, one of her leather encased thighs between Jean's naked ones. She slipped one hand beneath Jean's pelvis seeking the moisture she knew she would find. She brought her other hand in from the rear and completed the circle. She was inside and outside of her at once, controlling Jean's body to the very end. When at last Jean came with a shuddering groan, Kyle felt her own pent-up tensions dissipate. She felt no need to reach orgasm herself; it was enough that Jean had. Her own body seemed removed from the scene. Indeed, the excitement had primarily been the feeling of power she drew from the encounter. When she left, Jean was asleep.


Kyle quickly discovered that what she had always heard was true. Experienced tops were always in demand. Ruefully, she found that she no longer had to search for partners. Whenever she entered the bar, someone was more than willing to accompany her home. She developed considerable skill in creating and controlling a scene. She learned to recognize what excited another woman by the way she responded to Kyle's first advances. Kyle quickly came to appreciate the subtle signals which indicated the degree of a woman's experience and the level of control she would give to Kyle. To her amazement, she found she was becoming quite accomplished with a variety of crops and whips. Her unease at being the source of physical pain abated as long as she was sure her partner found pleasure in it, and Kyle trusted the woman to know her own limits. Kyle had no desire to abuse or humiliate anyone. She never went with anyone young or inexperienced, and she never used drugs in association with a scene. She was even careful not to drink too much so she could be sure she never lost control.

She rarely felt any desire in a purely physical way for her partners, beyond the need to lose herself for a few hours in the intensity of the scene. She often remained completely dressed, and she never allowed anyone to top her. Without realizing it, she was becoming the archetypal top. Aloof, cool, physically distant. She could create a scene, give pleasure in the way her partner wished, and walk away untouched herself.

She often drove home over the empty miles of highway with an overwhelming sense of loneliness. She would see the woman she had just made love to in her mind, and she felt nothing. There was no one who moved Kyle inside, no one who could penetrate the barriers she herself had created. Once home, she couldn't sleep. She would sit with a brandy before the fire, watching the intricate patterns of red and black coals, wondering what was happening to her. Eventually her encounters became less frequent as her sense of detachment grew. The brief intimacy reminded her too painfully of how much she longed to really touch someone, and be touched in return.

Chapter Twenty

It was a cool fall evening in October. Kyle had just brought in a load of wood and started a fire. The phone interrupted her just as she carried her brandy into the living area.

"Hello," she said absently.

"Kyle, this is Roger." Kyle noted instantly the anxiety in his voice. Before she could respond, he went on hurriedly. "Is Nancy there?"

Kyle cursed under her breath. She hated to lie. "Uh, Roger--" she began.

"Never mind," he sighed. "I know she isn't. I've known for a long time that she wasn't with you or any of the other friends she said she was visiting. I should have done something before this, but I was afraid. I was afraid if I questioned her, she would just leave for good."

Kyle empathized with him, but she really didn't know what to say. "Hell, I'm sorry, Roger. Maybe she just got held up somewhere."

"You don't understand. She didn't come home last night at all. And there's no sign that she's been here today. I wouldn't have called you if I knew what else to do."

Kyle sighed. "Roger, why don't you come over here. You sound like you could use some company."

Roger hesitated. "Kyle, do you think you could find her? Ask her to call me or something. I need to talk to her, to know she's all right."

"But I don't know where she is," Kyle said in frustration. She realized that she had nearly excluded Nancy from her life completely. Suddenly she felt very selfish. She had been so absorbed by her own pain, she hadn't even tried to reach Nancy. "I'm sorry."

"Kyle," Roger continued, "I thought you might know where she goes at night."

"Why should I?" Kyle said, hating the feeling of being caught in the middle of Nancy's and Roger's problems.

"She's seeing a woman, isn't she?" Roger asked quietly. "It's different this time, not like her little flings with men used to be. She's so preoccupied she doesn't even pretend to hide what she's doing. I always felt before like she just wanted a little diversion, but this time something's changed." He stopped, obviously distraught.

Kyle decided to be straightforward. She really didn't know what else to do. "Look, Roger--Nancy has been going out to some women's bars. I thought she was just curious, looking for something new. I don't know if she's actually involved with anyone. We haven't really been talking much lately." She sighed and continued. "I'll try to find her. I can't promise she'll listen to me. But I'll look for her, okay?"

"Thank you," Roger said in relief. "I'll be at home."

After he hung up, Kyle stared at the fire and finished her brandy. It was time, she thought, to do something for someone else. She couldn't help Dane. It had been much too late. Maybe it wasn't too late for Nancy. She got up and carefully prepared for the journey.

She looked for Nancy's car outside Leathers. It wasn't there, but Brad's Mercedes coupe was. Kyle half-hoped that Nancy wasn't with her. As soon as she entered the bar, she saw them. Brad and Nancy were sitting at a table in the rear, nearly in shadow. Even from a distance Kyle could see that Nancy was drunk, or high on something. Kyle walked directly to them and pulled up an empty chair from a nearby table. Brad looked at her in surprise, a slow smile playing across her lips.

"Why, Kyle. Do sit down. What are you drinking?"

"Beer," Kyle said, noting the glazed look in Nancy's eyes. She had never seen her so disheveled before. Kyle's anger, simmering like a buried coal for so long, began to flare within her.

"Nancy," she said, touching Nancy's arm lightly, "are you all right?"

Nancy stared at Kyle, looking confused.

"Of course she is," Brad replied as she handed Kyle a bottle of beer. "She's just a little tired out. Right, Nancy?" She laughed and rested her hand possessively on Nancy's back. She eyed Kyle with interest.

"Isn't this a little beneath you, Brad?" Kyle said, her voice like flint. "She can't be much of a challenge for you, can she? A novice, and straight at that." Kyle tipped her bottle to her lips and watched Brad carefully. She could detect no reaction behind Brad's impenetrable facade. "I suppose after a while you lose your edge. You can't really get it up to top someone who's really a challenge." She thought she detected a flash of anger in Brad's dark eyes.

"There's never been anyone here who could compete with me," Brad said smugly. "Ask Dane, she'll tell you how good I am."

Kyle's hands clenched around her bottle at the mention of Dane's name, but she was determined to maintain her self-control. Everything depended upon it.

"There is now, Brad. I'm the only woman left who can top you." She offered the challenge, knowing Brad would find it hard to refuse.

"What makes you think I'd let you?" Brad replied, clearly intrigued. No one had ever dared to suggest it.

"Because you know I can," Kyle said flatly. "And if I can't," she continued, making the final gamble, "you can have me—any way you want."

At last Brad's composure cracked. She leaned forward, an eager hunger on her face. "And how is it decided. If you succeed?"

Kyle leaned forward until her face was very close to Brad's. "I want you on your knees to me, Brad. I want to hear you beg." Just like you had Dane.

Brad laughed. "You're a fool. But even a fool can be interesting. When?"

"Right now," Kyle replied. "But not here. At Encounters."

Brad leaned back in her chair and stared at Kyle in amazement. What an advantage Kyle was giving her! Everyone at Encounters would see Kyle fail. And Brad could have her, right there in front of everyone! It was too good to turn down.

"Let's go," Brad said, standing. She looked coldly down at Nancy, who had been trying to follow their conversation. "I'm sure the 'lady' will find someone to look after her."

"Go tell the bartender to call her a cab, Kyle ordered, her voice harsh.

Brad stared at her for a second, and then grinned. "All right."

When she returned, Kyle led her through the crowd to the door.


As Caroline pulled the jeep into the curb she noticed Dane staring past her out the window. She followed her gaze and saw two women pull away down the street.

"Who was that?" she asked.

"No one," Dane replied. She hadn't seen Kyle in months, but her figure was unmistakable. As was Brad's. Dane had been avoiding the bar the last few months. She couldn't bear to see Kyle, night after night, and watch her change. Dane recognized the hardness in her face and the emptiness in her smile. Even as rumor spread about the 'new top', Dane sensed what was happening to Kyle. It had happened to her. The coldness that slowly smothered all feeling, the walls that surrounded all tenderness, until only emptiness remained. She wanted to warn Kyle, to tell her to keep searching, not to give up. Someone would come to love her--as Kyle had come to her. But she couldn't. She was paralyzed by her own anguish, her own sense of failure. And so she had stopped going out, to avoid watching once again the inevitable ending to the age-old drama. The destruction of hope, the death of the innocence of the heart.

"Come on," Caroline said, standing by the side of the car, holding Dane's door open. "I finally got you here. Let's go get a drink."

Dane looked up, surprised to realize she had been drifting again. She seemed to lose track of things so easily these days. "Right," she said, easing her long legs out of the cramped space under the dash. "I'm with you."

They were there only a short time when Sandy approached them.

"Look you two, I'm sorry to bother you, but I've got a problem."

Caroline and Dane both looked at Sandy in surprise.

"What's the matter?" Dane asked.

"It's that woman over there--Brad's, uh, friend. Brad left her here and told me to get her a cab. But I can't get anyone to drive her home. She lives way up the coast. Do you know somewhere she can stay? I hate to lay this on you, but I'm here until three, and she's already wasted."

Dane looked over, recognizing Nancy. "I'll go talk to her," she said.

"Wait a minute," Caroline said, grabbing their beers. "I'm coming with you."

Nancy looked up blankly when they joined her. "Hi there," she said, her voice slurred. "Come to rescue the damsel in distress?"

Caroline smiled at her compassionately. "Are you all right, hon?"

"Oh, sure," Nancy replied, searching in her purse for a cigarette. "Just fine. I've been deserted-- and insulted too, I think."

Dane reached over to light her cigarette. Nancy stared at the small black and gold lighter.

"Where did you get that?" she questioned.

Dane looked at the small object cradled in her palm. She smiled slightly. "From a friend."

"Some friend," Nancy snorted. "That 'friend' just left here with my -- whatever she is." She swallowed the rest of her drink and looked questioningly at Dane. "Buy a lady a drink?"

"In a minute. Tell me what happened here first," Dane asked.

"Damned if I know," Nancy said. "They were making some sort of bargain or something. I'll do this if you do that--it didn't make any sense. Kyle--" her voice broke suddenly. "Kyle was acting like some damn avenging angel. Out to save my honor." She looked at Dane astutely, her eyes clear for a second. "Or someone's honor."

Dane swallowed tensely. "Tell me what she said."

"Dane," Caroline said, afraid for Dane, "let it go."

"No!" Dane said vehemently. "Kyle doesn't know Brad. She doesn't know what she's capable of." She turned back to Nancy, her eyes hard. "Think! What did Kyle say?"

Nancy shook her clouded her head. "She said something about being the only left top-" she stopped, giggling. "No, that's not right. The only top left? I know—the only one left who could top Brad." She laughed without humor. "That's a bitch, isn't it? Top the perfect top."

Dane stared at her. "What else?"

"Something about if Kyle couldn't, Brad could do whatever she liked."

"Oh, Christ," Dane groaned. She turned to Caroline, her face set. "Can you take Nancy home with you?"

Caroline looked at her friend in alarm. "Of course, but where are you going?"

"I'm going after Kyle."


"I know where," Dane said grimly.

Caroline grabbed Dane's arm, wanting to protect her. "Don't get into it, Dane. It's not your affair!"

"Oh, but it is, Caroline," Dane replied quietly. "It always has been."

Chapter Twenty-one

Kyle maneuvered Brad's Mercedes quickly but calmly through the familiar streets. Brad sat silently beside her, studying the frozen planes of Kyle's granite-like face. She was disquieted, inwardly uncertain. She slid her hand under the passenger seat and detached a small, slim container secured there. Kyle glanced over as Brad removed a small plastic bag from the box.

"No drugs," Kyle said tersely. "I want to be sure you remember every detail."

Brad stared at her, amazed. Kyle continued to watch the road. Brad hesitated for a moment and then replaced the contents of the container and slipped it back under the seat.

By the time they reached the Encounters, it was crowded. The tables ringing the center stage were full. People slipped in and out of the shadows near the scene rooms, while others jostled each other for a place at the bar.

"Nice crowd," Kyle said nonchalantly. She was relaxed, sure of herself. She even began to enjoy the anticipation of what was to come. She ordered a drink and turned to Brad. "I left my motorcycle bag on the back seat of your car. Get it for me."

Brad's head snapped up, and she started to protest. Then she smiled. All right, if that's the way Kyle wanted to play it. She could have her chance. It would make Brad's victory all the sweeter. She left to retrieve the heavy black tank bag.

Kyle finished her drink leisurely, keeping her eye on the center stage. When several women approached it, preparing to start a scene, Kyle strode over to them.

"I'd like you to wait," she said quietly. "I have something planned for Brad."

The women stared at her. Kyle looked resplendent in tight leather pants, heavy biker boots and a white shirt open between her breasts. The top took note of the leather wristband on Kyle's left arm and the keys dangling from a strap on her left side. She nodded curtly. "All right--but it had better be good."

"Oh, it will be," Kyle said as she turned away. She knew the word would circulate quickly through the bar that a heavy scene was planned. She stepped onto the stage, feeling many eyes upon her, and checked all of the restraints hidden in the shadows with care. When she turned around, the room was quiet.

Brad returned with Kyle's bag, instantly aware of the change of atmosphere. When heads turned to stare at her, she felt perspiration break out on her back and under her arms. Now there was no turning back. Kyle awaited her on the steps of the stage. Brad walked toward her, her head high. Damn, she would not lower her eyes in front of everyone! As it was, Kyle had the advantage, being taller, and now she appeared almost statuesque, standing solidly above her.

"You can leave now, Brad," Kyle murmured as she took the bag from Brad's hand. "It's your last chance."

Brad knew how badly she would lose face if she turned away. She had to beat Kyle at her own game. If she refused to acknowledge Kyle's dominance, she would win. No one would ever dare challenge her again. Kyle was the only one who had ever come close to taking her place in the dark shadow world of their nighttime lives. Not even Dane had garnered such a reputation as a top.

"No," Brad said. "I still don't think you can do it."

Kyle merely nodded. Someone turned all the lights down, leaving the two of them outlined in the hazy red glow on center stage.

"Take your jacket off. Fold it neatly and lay it over a chair," Kyle commanded.

Brad responded, not diffidently. She returned to stand before Kyle, her eyes belligerent.

Kyle turned slightly to one side, motioning for Brad to mount the stage. She heard matches flare behind her, bottles shuffled about on the tabletops. She stopped Brad midway between the side posts of the scaffold. She positioned Brad so that she faced the room.

"I want you to see them watching you," Kyle said softly, her eyes cold. She placed her bag on a small ledge in the shadows and slid the long zipper down. The sound was magnified in the dark, quiet room. She removed wide, well-padded leather shackles, attached to short chains. She hooked the chains to the rings set into the wooden arches and returned to Brad.

Slowly, purposefully, she slipped a long, slim object from the inner pocket of her jacket. When the blade of the knife snapped open, it caught the reflection of the overhead lights and glittered in her hand. A murmur passed through the crowd. Brad's eyes fixed on the blade in astonishment.

"You haven't got the guts," Brad whispered, so softly that only Kyle could hear her.

"Oh, but I do," she replied, her eyes locked on Brad's.

Kyle deliberately cut each button off the front of Brad's shirt with a practiced flick of her wrist. When the shirt fell open, exposing Brad's small firm breasts, Kyle leaned forward. She slipped her hand into the leather waistband of Brad's pants, creating a space between Brad's abdomen and the soft material. With her other hand, Kyle turned the knife sideways and slid the flat of the blade straight down along the underside of the zipper, leaving the gleaming black handle nestled against Brad's stomach.

"Stand very still, now," Kyle warned mockingly as she stepped back. Methodically she stripped off the remains of Brad's shirt. While Brad stood naked from the waist up, the knife protruding from the top of her pants like a misplaced phallus, Kyle carefully applied the restraints to her ankles and wrists. She stood behind Brad, her face close to her ear.

"You can get out of these anytime you like. It's your safe way out." She waited a heartbeat. "And if you do—I win."

Brad swallowed, all of her senses centered on the cold steel that lay along her skin, threatening to twist its razor-sharp edge against her at the slightest movement. It won't work, she told herself. But still she felt the restraints on her arms as if they were bands of iron. Could she get out?

Kyle stepped around her to the side and pulled the knife free of Brad's body with a wrenching motion, as if pulling it from her depths. She heard someone gasp and realized with satisfaction that it was Brad. Sweat beaded on Brad’s breasts and began to trickle in uneven streams down her sculpted torso. Under the red lights it looked like blood.

Kyle smiled grimly as the room receded from her view. She saw only the form before her, helplessly within her power. And as she stared at Brad's body, she saw Dane, and the raw, oozing wounds. Rage threatened to usurp her reason. She shook her head; she knew she needed all her concentration now. With the tip of the blade, all of which was visible to the crowd in the blackness of the room, she outlined Brad's breasts with intricate movements, lightly scratching the skin, never deep enough to draw blood. The blade was everywhere—now nearly piercing the nipple, now close to the soft vulnerable underside. At any moment Brad expected to feel the sharp lancet enter her body. The steel flashed as Kyle moved it rapidly from hand to hand, finally bringing the point to rest in the hollow at the base of Brad's throat. Kyle pushed hard enough that Brad needed to arch her neck away to relieve the sharp pressure. Brad was scarcely breathing. Her heart hammered wildly in her chest as the slim blade flickered against her skin.

"I could end this now," Kyle said, so that only Brad could hear. "It would be quick, and you'd only feel the smallest point of pain. Like a needle driven into your arm."

Brad's head reeled. Kyle knows! She must know about Dane—and Nancy?

Kyle moved closer, her breath hot against Brad’s ear. "But I don’t need drugs to control you. That would be too good for you, Brad. Too simple." Kyle ran the fingers of her free hand down the planes of Brad’s taut abdomen, smiling with grim satisfaction as the muscles quivered under her touch. "I want much more from you. I want your soul."

Brad felt the ice in Kyle’s voice like a cold hand around her heart. In the center of Brad's being, fear burgeoned like a living beast. She finally understood that the game they played was not a game, and the stake’s were their lives. She gasped again as Kyle inserted the blade along the sides of her legs and slashed the leather open to her knees in one powerful thrust. Her skin was untouched, but it felt as if her flesh had been flayed open. Kyle released Brad's wrists for a moment and turned her so that her back was exposed to view. Just as quickly, she lightly refastened the shackles.

Kyle moved away from the naked woman before her and pulled out a cigarette. She lit it off the gold lighter in her pocket. She stepped into darkness and selected a small cat from her bag. She knew that Brad could hear her but that she could not see her.

Kyle moved from the shadows to the front edge of the stage, gauging the distance. She tested the cat with a quick flip of her wrist. The snap of the whip sliced the thick air before her, and she noted with satisfaction that Brad flinched at the sound. At first her strokes were teasing, glancing off the contour of Brad's back and buttocks, stinging for an instant and then gone. As the force and rhythm of Kyle's delivery increased, Brad twisted slightly in her restraints, seeking to escape. Despite her rising panic, Brad began to be aroused. The tension of the knife ritual, the powerlessness of being restrained, and the tantalizing pinpoints of flickering pain created by the whip were having a sexual effect. Even as she resisted, her body betrayed her, swelling and pulsating to the rhythm of the cat. She moaned slightly, trying to ignore the pressure in her thighs and pelvis. Just as suddenly as it started, those tormenting kisses of fire raining down on her back stopped. She felt deserted, isolated in her desire, bereft of the source of her pleasure. She bit back a cry, a plea for Kyle to continue.

Dane pushed her way past the crowd on the stairs and tossed a bill to the bouncer. As she started to brush past her, the heavyset woman grabbed her arm.

"Just a minute," the woman said. "There's a heavy scene going on in there. Take it easy."

Dane nodded and slowed her headlong rush. Nevertheless, she moved her way insistently through the crowd until she could see the stage. When she did she stopped short, her heart pounding. Kyle stood before Brad's suspended body, lightly hefting a heavy braided whip. Even in the subdued lighting, Dane could make out the flush on the skin of Brad's back, indication that Kyle had been working on her a while. As she watched, Kyle's arm arced, and the cat landed with a smart blow across Brad's lower back. Dane could barely stifle a moan as she saw Brad's body jerk away with the intensity of the pain. Instantly, Dane was transported to another dimly lit room, the echo of the leather striking flesh resounding in her own body. She felt herself flinch at each blow; she felt the pain suffuse her mind. She remained motionless, reliving the moment of her own destruction.

At first, Brad fought the pain, determined to withstand any punishment Kyle could deliver. She would not be subdued, she would never give in! But Kyle had primed her well. Kyle had already brought Brad past the point of pain to the beginning of arousal. Even as Brad’s mind rebelled, her body made the inevitable transition from rejection of pain to the acceptance of pleasure. The lash on her back became a soothing caress, the swelling of her injured flesh the blossoming of desire. Her body no longer moved to escape the blows, it sought them, each stroke driving her nearer to orgasm. So close, she was so close to exploding! She forgot her need to resist Kyle's power--she welcomed it. There was no thought, only sensation. Her mind dissolved into liquid fire as the exquisite ripples of release began building deep in her belly. Brad’s hips began thrusting with the rhythm of the contractions; her neck arched back in rapturous agony. Her moans penetrated the darkest corners of the room.

Kyle's mind was numb; her eyes blind. She no longer felt the people pressing close to her, she couldn't hear Brad’s cries. Her arms had become the vehicle for her anger, the whip the embodiment of her own pain. The rhythm of the blows echoed the fury in her heart. At last she could drive the demons from her soul with the power of the cat.

Dane grabbed Kyle's arm, twisting her off balance. "Kyle!" she shouted. "No!"

Kyle's glazed eyes fell uncomprehendingly on her face. When Kyle tried to wrench her arm away, Dane brought her other hand down hard on the shaft of the whip.

"Look at her," Dane cried. "Kyle, look at her! That was me, don't you see! It could still be me! Don't do this. Oh god, Kyle, don't become like them. Don't do what they did to me!"

Kyle's vision cleared. She saw Dane's face before her, wounded but fiercely strong as well. And she looked to Brad, collapsing against her restraints, dangling at the end of her own desires.

She tossed the heavy instrument of torture at Brad’s feet, sick of herself. As she turned away," she said in a thick voice that echoed throughout the room, "Someone else can have her. I'm done with her."

As the crowd parted to let them through, she closed her mind to the sound of Brad calling her name.

Chapter Twenty-two

Kyle sank into the seat of Dane's car, exhausted. She didn't know where they were going—she didn't care. She had reached the nadir of her despair. A sea of remorse engulfed her. She had become what she most hated--a user of people, an abuser of power. She had indeed become what she loathed most in Brad--a sadist unaffected by another's suffering. A hand that held the whip without tenderness, without feeling. She had wished only to give pain, no longer seeking the delicate balance between pleasure and the physical boundaries of pain. She had tested herself and she had failed.

Dane watched the emotions play across Kyle's face, feeling her agony and her guilt. She wanted to reassure her, to tell her that it would pass. Kyle was not lost, not yet. Dane knew only one way to prove it to her, the only way she herself would understand. If she could show Kyle now that she was worthy of Dane's trust, she could free her. She would give Kyle her body; Kyle already had her heart.

Dane pulled her car up in front of her apartment and went around to open Kyle's door.

"Please come inside," Dane said quietly.

Kyle followed her, unprotesting. Dane led her into her bedroom and turned the switch that subtly lit the room. Kyle stood still in the center of the room, remembering the only other time she had been there. It seemed like a lifetime ago. Where along the way had she lost herself?

Dane came to her, her eyes searching Kyle's face. Kyle stared back, questioningly. Without a word, Dane sank to her knees before Kyle, her hands lightly grasping Kyle's thighs, her head bowed, supplicant. She pressed her face against the soft leather covering Kyle's groin. There was no one else in the world she would do this for. There was no one she had ever wanted so much. This was not sex; this was salvation.

Dane began to slide the zipper down, her mouth slightly open to touch the flesh her hands exposed. Suddenly, Kyle grabbed Dane’s hands, pulling her to her feet.

"No," Kyle said breathlessly. "That's not what I need."

"Then tell me," Dane said. She swallowed, remembering the image of Brad’s humiliation. "Anything." The ultimate trust.

Kyle shook her head, her eyes locked on Dane's. "No, Dane. You top me." Take me back, Dane. Make me yours

Dane turned away, fear and uncertainty twisting in her belly. "I can't." How can you trust me when you’ve seen my weakness? How can you put your life in my hands?

"You can," Kyle said without moving. She waited, scarcely breathing, afraid that Dane would abandon her, leaving her victim to her own demons. Dane was the only point of light in the dark landscape of her soul. Only Dane could lead her out of the night.

"Dane," she whispered in desperation, "Please. I need you to." Free me

"By your leave," Dane whispered, turning to face her. Give me permission

"Yes," Kyle said softly. "Anything." I trust you

Dane's hands were gentle on Kyle’s body as she undressed her, reverent. The restraints she passed around Kyle's wrists were as soft as satin. Dane stood silently before Kyle, slowly stripping herself bare. She stood boldly, triumphantly, naked before her captive lover. Kyle had given her this power, returning her soul.

When Dane lay down upon her, Kyle ached to enfold her in her arms, but she could not. With her body restrained, her spirit soared, welcoming Dane into every corner of her being. Kyle closed her eyes and knew only the feather-light caresses of Dane's lips against her skin. Her body surged upward against Dane, seeking to fuse with that which she could not hold. Dane's hands were on her face, in her hair, enclosing her breasts. Dane’s fingers on her nipples sent currents of pleasure into her already tensely swollen clitoris. Dane’s tongue traced molten patterns of fire down Kyle's quivering body. She kissed the soft triangle at the base of Kyle's thighs, never touching the pulsating center of Kyle's raging desire.

Kyle writhed in search of Dane's caresses. She whimpered, desperately needing the relief of Dane’s fingers on her clitoris. Finally, she could bear it no longer. "Please," she begged, "oh god--please, Dane--touch me now."

Dane lingered for a moment, holding Kyle's passion like a fragile bird in her hand. When the power of their common desire rose within her, filling her, she lowered her mouth to Kyle's moist warmth. She brought her slowly to climax, teasingly, tormentingly, until Kyle's orgasm could no longer be contained. At the moment the wild fluttering beneath her lips turned to pounding spasms, Dane pressed her fingers into her, claiming Kyle completely. Dane’s fulfillment at that moment surpassed any she had ever known. Her tears mingled with Kyle’s essence.

When Kyle quieted, Dane removed the restraints and stretched out beside her, cradling Kyle in her arms. She was satisfied, having consummated her need in Kyle's pleasure. Kyle had entrusted her with this moment, and she had not failed. She drifted for a while in the first peace she had known in years, until she was surprised into wakefulness by Kyle's touch on her body.

Kyle turned Dane slowly but firmly onto her stomach. She stared down at Dane's back, then rested her fingers against the testament of Dane’s pain. She traced each ridge of healing flesh, her hands trembling. Her tears fell on the vision of Dane's torment. She kissed the unscarred places on Dane's sides and shoulders, then tenderly moved her lips over the ravages of her once flawless skin. When she had finished caressing each hurt, seeking to heal each wound, she turned Dane over to face her. She leaned above Dane, her fingers gently stroking her face.

"I love you," Kyle whispered.

Dane sighed, her soul free at last.

"I love you."


Caroline looked up from her first cup of coffee of the morning at the two leather-clad figures behind Anne. Her sigh of relief was audible.

"Just tell me you're both all right--then tell me everything," she said in way of greeting.

Dane glanced at Kyle, who grinned at her, shrugging. Dane straddled a chair at the table and pulled one over next to her for Kyle.

"We're both all right," Dane said. Her tone suggested understatement.

Caroline stared from one to the other, aware of the glow in Dane's eyes that had been absent for years. Kyle looked tired, but relaxed. And from the way Kyle's eyes kept returning to Dane's face, Caroline was certain Kyle looked tired for a very good reason.

Kyle turned to Caroline, her face suddenly serious. "Is Nancy still here with you?"

Caroline shook her head. "Her husband came to pick her up early this morning. I would have called him last night, but she was so strung out, I thought it was better that she stay with us until morning." She looked carefully at Dane, knowing how sensitive she was about certain subjects. "She's been into some pretty heavy drugs. I think she'll have a hard time for a while."

"Nancy's tough. She'll make it, as long as she stays away from Brad," Kyle said, her expression pained. "I haven't been much of a friend to her lately. I could have prevented this."

Dane shook her head. "I don't think so, Kyle. Brad--" Dane stopped for a second, drawing a long breath. "Brad can be very enchanting when she chooses. And she reads people's needs very well. She knows how to find their weaknesses, and she uses them. Then, with the drugs—" Dane looked away quickly.

Kyle's hand strayed to Dane's back, and she gently stroked her, knowing her flesh as her own. She didn't try to stop Dane from remembering. She knew it was the only way for Dane to be free of it. All she wanted was for her to realize that Kyle loved her, and respected her, regardless of what had happened before. Dane needed her respect, probably more than her love. Kyle had shown her that last night, by entrusting herself to Dane sexually, and emotionally.

Caroline couldn't believe it! Dane was sitting there, obviously reliving the dark road she had gone down with Brad, and at last, she did not travel it alone. If love could truly purge old wounds, Dane finally had a chance to heal.

"When someone has a need, a need they can't even define, and another person not only calls it by name, but answers it--that's pretty tough to resist. I don't think anyone could have stopped Nancy from getting involved with Brad," Anne said as she joined them. "Or you either, Dane--back at the beginning. What counts is that you made it through it, right?"

Dane smiled at Anne as Caroline watched, open-mouthed. Even Caroline rarely confronted Dane about her past quite so openly.

"How come you never said that five years ago, Chicken?" Dane asked.

Anne shrugged. "I was just a kid then—what did I know?"

They all smiled, the tension of the last tumultuous hours beginning to fade.

"Dane," Kyle asked quietly.

"Hmm?" Dane replied.

"The woman you went to--for discipline. Who is she?"

Dane shook her head, smiling sadly. She reached for Kyle’s hand, drawing it to her thigh, covering it with her own, connecting them. "Her name doesn't matter. She's what remains when love dies, and we no longer believe in its return. All that's left is anger and then, not even that. Just the need to define ourselves, our existence, by the power we can wield over someone else. She's the person either of us might have become if we hadn't risked loving one more time."

They kissed softly, two women bound , at last, by love.

The End

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