"Wait!" He grabbed her arm and a warm tingle sprang from the point of contact. The pads of his fingers were thick and callused, a workingman's hands, so different from Master's kid-glove softness. "I mean, wait." He assumed a more casual tone. "Stay a while. Talk to me."
She couldn't physically leave. He was holding her arm. But inside, she hesitated. Was talking allowed? Master had said to entertain the man in any way he desired, but what if he became angry with her for chatting with this stranger?
"What's your name?" the rumbling voice continued. "Mine's Bryan Lapahie."
"My Master calls me Butterfly." Her lips shaped the words and a whisper of sound came out.
"Butterfly. That's very appropriate. You're as delicate and pretty as one."
The compliment was so unexpected she almost forgot the correct response. "Thank you."
"Actually, the woman yesterday already told me your nickname. I meant your real name."
"Butterfly is my only name."
"Okay ... Butterfly."
She dared to glance at his face. His grin grew wider, as if he thought she was teasing.
"Sit down for a minute, please. It would really help me if I could study your face for a while." He gestured her to a chair.
She hesitated. None of the slaves were allowed on the furniture unless given permission by Master. The prohibition was a sign of their low status, a reminder that they were no more than pets in his household. But the guest had given her an order and so she perched carefully on the very edge of the cushion, hands folded in her lap, eyes still focused diffidently on the floor.
He stood before her for a long moment then suddenly dropped to a squat in front of her. The level made it almost impossible for her not to look into his eyes, but she managed by staring just past his shoulder. He rested a hand lightly on her knee, heavy and warm.
"Can you tell me a little more about yourself, how you came to be here, how all of these women chose to ... sign a contract with Gary?"
She bit her lip. So many questions. What was safe to answer? Better not to talk at all. She shook her head in answer.
"You can't tell me?"
"It's not my place to discuss Master's private business, and I don't know the journeys that led the other women to him."
"What is it 'your place' to do? What are your duties here? I mean, besides serving food, polishing mirrors, and offering men blowjobs."
"I clean Master's house and make sure his meals are ready, supervising the others' kitchen work. I keep this body prepared for him to use as he wishes, and serve him in any way he commands."
"What do you get from this arrangement?" Bryan sounded honestly curious. His head cocked to the side as he again tried to catch her shifting gaze. "How does it benefit you?"
"My pleasure is in giving Master pleasure. My satisfaction is in serving him and subjugating my will to his." It was more than she'd spoken in a long time. Saying it reminded her of the profound truth behind the words, something she'd forgotten and questioned recently. A surge of devotion warmed her at the thought of Master, who'd guided and sheltered her when she needed it most. He was fashioning her into the best version of herself she could possibly be, and she owed everything to him.
"It sounds..." He trailed off, and they both sat in silence for several long moments. "Are you happy?"
She didn't answer. He clearly didn't understand her life or he wouldn't ask such an inane question. How could her happiness possibly matter? All that mattered was the act of obedience.
He didn't press her. "Do you mind if I turn your face? Like this." A huge, warm hand suddenly cupped her chin and turned her face to the left and slightly up. Now there was no way she could help but see his face unless she closed her eyes. "I need to see your eyes in order to do my work. You'll really be helping me out."
She sat still as stone without blinking and stared at the harsh angles of his face, the sharp cheekbones, prominent nose, and angular jaw. Two black eyebrows were straight and heavy over his deep-set, dark eyes. She looked lower, to his mouth. It was wide, generous and smiling at her. His hand lingered on the curve of her cheek, rough fingers feeling the texture of her skin before dropping away.
"Stay just like that," he ordered, and since it was an order, she couldn't disobey.
Picking up a pad of paper and pencil, he began to sketch. "This isn't really my medium. I prefer to work with wood, but I can draw well enough and I want some sketches to reference later."
Her eyes felt dry from holding them open and still for so long. She blinked.
"Are you from San Diego originally?" He glanced back and forth between her face and the sketchbook.
There was a pause while he waited for her to tell him more about her past, her childhood, her life before coming here. But he couldn't know that anything she told about that girl would be unrelated to who she was now. Her former life and relationship with her parents was long gone, dead. Now she was her Master's butterfly.
"I'm from Arizona myself. Lived with my grandparents on the Rez until I was eighteen then I took off. Couldn't wait to shake off the dust." He paused to look at her. At first she thought he was simply studying her for the drawing, but her intuition, well-honed from gauging Master's moods, signaled there was more, a certain tension in his silence. Suddenly, Butterfly realized he was waiting for her reaction to his heritage. Was it possible this bold, confident man felt some inadequacy about his background? And why would he care about her opinion?
When she didn't reply, Bryan continued his narrative. "Anyway, job opportunities were kind of limited so I ended up in the Army." He laughed, a deep, rich sound that startled her. She studied his grinning face since his eyes were once more trained on his drawing. Warm. Earthy. Those were the words that described his face, voice and manner.
"Yeah, that didn't work out too well," he continued. "My temperament didn't suit Uncle Sam. I'm a little too opinionated and stubborn for that kind of discipline. The Army and I parted ways as soon as my stint was over." He chuckled again. "Almost sooner. I came close to being court-martialed, but that's a long story."
He fell silent for several moments. She was afraid he was done telling his story and she wanted to hear more. "Then?" she prodded quietly.
Glancing up, he looked into her eyes, holding her pinned for a moment. "Ah, so you are listening. I thought maybe I'd put you to sleep."
She shook her head slightly. Using every ounce of her will, she dragged her gaze from his and focused somewhere to the left of his ear again--a nice ear, well shaped and half-hidden by a curtain of long, black hair.
"A buddy of mine from the service lived in San Diego so I thought I'd check it out. We shared an apartment for a while, then ... a woman happened and I moved in with her. I worked construction and met a master woodworker, Darryl Johansen, who taught me the craft. My Grandpa Butch had taught me the basics, but my apprenticeship with Darryl opened a whole new world. Suddenly I had a career instead of a string of random jobs."
Butterfly wanted to ask about the woman. The shadow of pain coloring his voice when he mentioned her suggested their relationship had not ended well. Had she hurt him, maybe left him or cheated on him?
"Now I work for myself. People pass my name along and I have almost more jobs than I can handle. But this," he gestured at a column, "is by far the best-paying gig I've ever had. Not to mention the sexiest." He grinned again, white teeth flashing against bronze skin.
Instinctively she smiled back. A little of his exuberance overflowed into her and curved her lips.
"There! That's what I was missing. Hold that smile. My God, the sun's come out!"
His joking made her laugh, and she covered her mouth, trying to hold back the light, mirthful sound.
"Don't." He took her hand, pulling it away from her face and setting it back in her lap. "You can laugh." Once more he cupped her face, and his thumb traced her lips. "It's all right to smile."