Solving for X


A short piece featuring Cami and Ivan from The Theory of Attraction. Contains spoilers for all three books in the Science of Temptation series. And it isn’t safe for work, not even a little bit safe for work at all!

This scene was first published as a bonus chapter along with The Principle of Desire.

Copyright 2013 Delphine Dryden. All rights reserved Carina Press.


My skin is a closely guarded secret these days. Not always, but often enough, it bears Ivan’s marks like an ever-changing tattoo. Sunset colors, rose and violet and gold…sometimes a slash of vivid scarlet, sometimes almost black. But never blue, because I’m happy to remember getting those beautiful marks in the first place. I’ve acquired a lot of turtlenecks, and sometimes I have to wear sleeves even in the Houston summer heat.

The night Ed showed up at the club was different. It wasn’t Ivan wielding a flogger on my back, it was our friend Ben. Double floggers. God love him, Ben just didn’t have Ivan’s mad skills and natural talent, though he’d certainly shown improvement. It was harder to take his strokes, which were not necessarily the good kind of pain. By the time he wrapped the flogger around my side, catching my bare breast in an unexpected, sharp sting, I was already out of sorts. I couldn’t catch his rhythm; there was just something off. I stood with my back to the small audience, hands secured high on the metal beam that served the club as a whipping post, and wished for it to be over.

Agreeing to be Ben’s practice target—because I was slightly more experienced and generally more into being whipped than his girlfriend, Lindsey—messed with my calculus. Normally there was an equation in my head whenever Ivan used a flogger or a stinger or a cane. How much could I take, and how long would the marks last? I usually wanted more but took less, because I knew Ivan wouldn’t leave a new set of bruises and welts until the old ones had faded completely. He will spend days examining me soberly, every inch of me, until he’s sure I’m completely healed and it’s safe to do another intense scene. The vanilla times in between are sweet, better than I’ve ever known, so I feel greedy for wanting more of the other flavors…but he has only himself to blame for addicting me to this thing we do.

That night, I wanted to help Ben out but I also resented every mark he might leave on my skin. One more thing that had to fade away before the next time could occur. I cursed when the flogger fall wrapped so close to my nipple, and Ivan called me on it. I’d asked him to—my mouth had gotten filthy lately for some reason and I was trying to break the habit—but still. I was cursing because the pain wasn’t doing anything for me, and it was taking me further from where I wanted Ivan to take me.

I agreed to let Beth take a turn with the floggers because I was just so eager for a change, and the second she started in I could tell I was in very good hands. Beth had been in the scene for years as a submissive before her latent switch tendencies kicked in. She had been on the receiving end, and knew exactly what to do to make me fly.

Starting slow and soft, she worked the twin floggers in a rapid Florentine style from my shoulders to my thighs and back again, letting the thud build over several circuits until the strokes came as heavy thumps against my body. Tension drained away, and I let the meaty thuds take over. I relaxed into it and thought of Ivan, felt his gaze on my back, knowing he approved of what he saw. None of the other spectators mattered, only him.

He’ll call me a good girl later. That was always a highlight, the sound bite I played over and over in my brain after a session, getting a fresh charge from it each time. Good girl, such a good girl.

I knew he approved, or he wouldn’t have let Beth play in the first place. Ivan was complicated beyond belief, but in that way he was simple; he never hid his agenda. He always told it like he saw it.

Professor, I reminded myself, because we were in the club so I couldn’t use his first name. After another endless time, the pain started to wear on me again as Beth stepped up the power. I gasped with each strike. It was too much to process, too hard to turn into pleasure. Beth seemed to sense it too because she stopped at last. My back was a mass of buzzing tingles when she stepped away, and my Professor knew just what to do. He crowded in against me, shielding me from everyone else, which was so sweet and protective it made me want to cry. What actually did make me cry were his fingers, pinching deep against one of the welts Beth had left. Making it his own. The best kind of pain. I squirmed, his clothes scraped against my throbbing back, and he pinned me tighter to the column with his weight and grabbed my ponytail with his free hand. Holding me together so I didn’t fly apart.

And then, “Good girl, Camilla.”

Yes…oh, yes.

The Professor stroked my arms and shoulders, massaging them one at a time with strong, gentle fingers. He hit all the right spots, like he always did. I knew he had a set of mental diagrams—perhaps even actual ones—where he’d labeled all the muscle connectors, the most tender spots, the places that would most likely need addressing after his sub was restrained in this or that position. My own preferences were on those diagrams, too. His brain was a vast warehouse of neatly organized knowledge, and this section was particularly well populated because he liked it. Loved it. Loved me. He’d written me into his knowledge base in so many ways, but this was a favorite for both of us. The care and keeping of your submissive.

My high from Beth’s flogging began to dissipate a little, and was replaced with a growing frustration. When I pushed back against the Professor’s hips, he clamped his teeth on the back of my neck for a few seconds.

“You can feel your hands?” he asked when he backed off. I nodded. “Good. My turn. Spread your legs a bit more.”

Anticipation fired up my nerves, sending a thrill through my core. He’d told me what he was planning for that night. A new toy, one he’d been saving for use at the club because his bedroom was too small.

You needed some space to throw a bullwhip.

It was my first time, and he knew I was nervous. He let that build, took his time getting out the whip—well out of my line of sight, so I was reduced to listening for clues as to what he was doing—and getting into position. I could feel him back there, somehow. Farther away than usual, because this thing wasn’t really a toy. It was big, and scary, and the pit of my stomach was a cold knot of dread although everything south of there was begging for the first stroke.

Not a toy, but the Professor played with it anyway. Instead of the burning fire I expected, I got a leathery embrace as the tip of the whip wrapped itself around my thigh then snaked away again. When he did the other thigh I couldn’t help it, I laughed out loud. It was so far from what I’d thought would happen that the absurdity struck me that way. I was giddy anyway, still flying from the flogging. I knew objectively that I wasn’t in my right mind, but in that other right mind I’d learned to inhabit. The one that knew where the Professor was heading with this slow tease, and welcomed it.

Twice more, he threw the whip in gentle arcs around my legs, letting me feel the weight and scrape of the woven leather as he pulled it back. Then he paused, and I tried to do the opposite of bracing myself, because bracing against the pain made it worse. You had to let it in.

Crack! A slap of liquid flame on my hamstring pulled a yell out of me, focusing me on the pain and what would come next. Crack!

He worked his way up, marking my legs and ass and back until I was on fire everywhere and weeping, sides heaving, brain malfunctioning. This would be so bad—this would leave marks that might never fade. It was already bad. I would have to safe out soon and I didn’t want to, I wanted to take whatever Ivan wanted to give. But he paused again and I automatically started searching for the pleasure within the pain, the state of bliss that would let me do this forever.

The Professor threw the whip again, letting the tip curl up between my legs and graze my sex gently in passing. So tender, almost delicate, a caress that might as well have been from his own hand. There, there it is. Again, again, and the next time he did it everything changed in a slow, dreamy moment, the pain morphing into heat into sharp ecstasy that spread from my pussy to my toes. With his next stroke I came hard, nearly screaming, rubbing my thighs together instinctively although some distant part of my mind knew I’d be in trouble for that later. I couldn’t help myself—the pleasure was too demanding.

When my body quieted and my mind cleared, Ivan was behind me again, reaching up to unbuckle the cuffs.

I slumped against him, my knees too trembly to rely on, and murmured, “Thank you, Professor.”

The last buckle unfastened, he scooped me into his arms and carried me to a nearby bench, settling me in his lap. “Thank you, little one. I like the new whip, very much.”

He produced a bottle of cold water from somewhere and pressed it into my hand, encouraging me to take a sip before I replied.

“Does it go in the keeper bag?”

“It does. Have I told you today that you’re brave and amazing?”

I smiled, relaxing against his shoulder. “Not yet.”

“You’re brave and amazing. I wish I knew a better word for exactly why you’re so amazing. It’s frustrating not to know why. But you are.”

“As long as you think I am, you don’t have to quantify it,” I reminded him. The water felt like a magical elixir as it coursed downward. Reviving, refreshing against my near-raw throat. Had I screamed that much? I must have. Now all I recalled was the sweet rush of endorphins and dopamine, the caress of the lash as Ivan brought me to climax. It might be weeks before all the bruises disappeared, but at the moment I felt it was all worth it.

“That’s the nature of love,” Ivan said, repeating what I’d told him many times.

“Yes. The nature of love. The eternal x.

“But I want to solve you,” he insisted, a crease starting to form between his eyebrows.

I reached up a shaky hand and smoothed the skin there with a fingertip.

“Didn’t you know? You solved me a long time ago.”