The Erotic Mind-Control Story Archive

Vox Dominus — Chapter 18

A car alarm was blaring outside.

Seb groaned, blinking as daylight invaded his heavy head. He sat up in a groggy stupor, shooting a hateful glare through his window and placing a silent curse on the vehicle’s owner. This had happened at least twice a month since Seb had moved into the building—either someone’s car was on the fritz, or there was an incompetent and unusually persistent thief on the loose. Whatever the case, Seb hoped the saga would end soon. It was by far his least favorite way to wake up on a Saturday. At least Ben was still gone—that meant Seb would have some peace and quiet to himself while he rebooted. It was strange though: he didn’t recall drinking that much at the movie night before…

His eyes snapped open as the cluttered memories clicked back into place. Last night. Sophia. The Vox. It all came hurtling back like a violently vivid dream. His heart raced, confused excitement surging through his aching body, desperate for direction. Yet as he scanned the cramped dorm room, that exhilaration began to curdle into panic.

He was alone: Sophia was nowhere to be seen.

Had he dreamt it all? Was last night just a product of his drunk, fantasy-frazzled imagination?

No, that wasn’t right: his sore body and drowsy head couldn’t be pinned on alcohol and wet dreams alone. It sure felt like he had been through a night of Vox-laced fucking—but if that was the case, then where was his slave?

His slave. Seb blinked, realizing how effortlessly, how naturally he had thought of her that way. Tiny chills danced from his neck to his fingertips. The sensation wasn’t entirely unpleasant. Even if it was just a consequence of the Vox’s influence, the thought didn’t send him into an existential panic. In fact, what was so remarkable was how mundane it was. Of course he was thinking with the Vox—the Vox was a part of him. It recognizing Sophia as his slave was the same as his stomach recognizing that he was hungry. Or his cock that he was horny.

Still…her absence was concerning. Seb winced, his legs throbbing in protest as he slid off the bed and searched for his phone. He had to get in touch with Sophia. There was a chance her conditioning was incomplete or hampered in some way. It was also possible, Seb realized with a twinge of dread, that she had rejected her programming entirely. The Vox rumbled with annoyance, assuring him that the odds of that were slim. Still, it spiked his search with additional urgency.

The cool morning air pressed against his naked body as he fished through his discarded clothes. It occurred to him to throw on his bathrobe, but that too seemed to be missing. Which was strange, as he usually left it hanging on the hook right next to the d—

The door clicked open, revealing Sophia on the other side. Her eyes widened with mild, pleasant surprise as they met Seb’s.

“Oh! Morning, Master,” she said. “You’re finally up.” She stepped inside, not seeming to mind Seb’s open gawking. His plastic toiletries carrier dangled in her hand, his towel draped around her neck and his bathrobe straining to contain her ample, jiggling curves as she turned and closed the door.

“G-good morning,” he uttered in belated reply.

She smiled, setting the carrier and towel on his desk before undoing the cloth belt around her waist. “I hope you don’t mind that I borrowed all this,” she said, letting the robe slide apart without a moment’s hesitation. Her bare skin glowed in the sunlight, and it took Seb a full beat to realize she was offering the robe to him and awaiting a response.

“Uh, it’s all good,” Seb replied, sliding his arms through the sleeves. “How are you feeling?”

“Great!” she chirped, absently running her hands up her hips and over her breasts, pausing only to tweak her already-stiff nipples. “A little horny, but I’ve been that way all morning. I thought about waking you up with a blowjob—y’know, classic sex-slave stuff—but I wasn’t sure if you wanted to sleep longer. So I figured I’d go ahead and freshen up instead, make sure I was ready for…”Her gaze lowered slightly. “Whenever you…wanna use me again…”

Seb followed her sightline, and realized she was staring past the open robe at his hardened cock, straining the air on full display. Curiously, he didn’t feel any embarrassment or anxiety as she slid to her knees, gazing up at him with open-mouthed lust. Still, there was a faint surreality clinging to the moment, a lingering sense of disbelief Seb couldn’t quite shake.

“So…” Seb swallowed. “When you say ‘use,’ you mean…”

“My body, my mind. Anything you want.” Sophia shivered. “God, just saying that made me, like, twice as horny. This is so, so crazy.”

Seb hesitated, still caught between the urges to check Sophia’s mental state and face-fuck her senseless. “But…crazy in a good way, right?” he ventured, gently cupping her face.

“Mm, very good,” she answered, nuzzling his hand. Then as if sensing his trepidation, she tensed. “Oh, sorry, got a little ahead of myself.” She stood, crossing over to his desk before bending over and spreading her legs, tossing her hair over her shoulder as she wiggled her hips. “If you’d rather just do me like this, that’s fine too. Pretty sure I literally can’t say ‘no’ at this point, so…” she laughed. Her exposed pussy glistened.

Seb took a step forward, tempted, only to hiss as his thigh muscles clenched.

“Are you okay?” his slave moved to assist him, her expression immediately awash with concern.

“It’s fine,” Seb collapsed into his desk chair, “Think I’m a little tapped out for the moment. Can we…just talk for a sec?”

“Sure. Whatever you want, Master,” Sophia replied pleasantly. Still, as Seb collected himself, he couldn’t help but notice the way she was leaning against his desk, her body squirming with restless energy, her thighs shifting and squeezing together.

“You can play with yourself if you want to,” Seb offered.

His slave let out a sigh of relief. “Thank you, Master,” she said, hoisting herself onto the desk and spreading her legs. She ran her fingers over her tongue before lowering them between her thighs, a quiet moan escaping her as she started rubbing. Still, it didn’t take long for her attention to fall back onto Seb, her expression a mixture of contentment and mild curiosity that he was beginning to recognize as a slave awaiting her next orders.

“You’re okay to talk like this, right?” he asked.

“Uh-huh,” Sophia nodded, pausing to pinch her nipple and let a gasp of pleasure run through her. “You know I’m a great multi-tasker.”

“True,” Seb nodded. He did know, and that—he decided—was the source of his bemusement. Even as she had solidified as a slave in his mind, this was still definitely the same Sophia he had grown up with. In fact, even while masturbating openly for him, the tone and tenor of her voice was much closer to how it used to be, before their falling out. There was none of the uncertainty or evasiveness that had infected their more recent interactions. In a weird way, Sophia’s frank acceptance of her enslavement was almost a throwback to the simple, earnest friendship they once shared. With some obvious, major differences.

Seb looked up, and realized Sophia was staring at him with a quizzical expression, even as her fingers continued their languid circuits. “Is everything okay?” she asked.

“Yeah it’s just…” he exhaled. “I’m relieved that you’re still you.”

She paused for a moment, then smiled. “You mean you’re glad I didn’t end up like, lobotomized or something.”

“Well, yeah,” Seb admitted with a relieved laugh. “I’ve never gone as far as we did with the Vox before so I wasn’t 100% sure what would happen. There was a part of me that was afraid you were gonna end up as, like, some kind of mindless drone.”

“Mm…” Sophia bit her lip, her eyelids fluttering. “Well, I can’t say I’m opposed to the idea if that’s what you want…”

“Uh, that’s okay. Maybe for a little bit, some time.”

“I’d…I’d like…like that.”

Seb paused, waiting for Sophia’s eyes to open again before he spoke next. “You are still you, right?”

“Ummm…I think so?” came her halting reply. “It’s kinda hard to say. I can still think on my own, but I can also tell that it’s…different than how it used to be.”

“In what way?”

She thought for a moment. “It’s like…okay, so after I was done showering, I realized the only thing I had to dry my hair were those hand-dryers on the wall, right? And the old me, before I was your…your…hah…your slave…that version of me woulda probably just accepted the fact that I was gonna have wet hair. But this morning…I wanted to look nice for you. I wanted to…hnn…to please my Master, more than anything in the world. So I used the hand-dryers. It still felt kinda silly, and I was a little embarrassed but...when I thought about you and how…I belong to you and…how good it would feel to be used by you again…I…I…”

Seb was absently stroking his cock as Sophia’s mounting pleasure eclipsed her voice. To hear his slave recount her devotion, to see her face flush and her hips twitch with the mere recollection of her service to him…what Master wouldn’t be pleased?

She deserved a reward, he decided. She whimpered, as if reading his mind.

“Please Master,” she begged. “I’m so close. Please please please…”

Seb smirked, the Vox humming wickedly. “You will cum for your Master,” he said. “But only after you’ve tasted his cum first.

Instantly, Sophia’s arms fell to her side. She hissed, her body quivering as she sunk to her knees before him. “You’re the worst,” she moaned. “I love it so much.”

Good girl,” he replied as her lips closed around his cock. She moaned as it slid effortlessly inside her, her hands groping her breasts desperately as she bobbed her head up and down. Seb let out a shuddering breath, his back arching as the warmth and pleasure enveloped him. He had received Vox-induced blowjobs before, but this was different. The way Sophia gazed up at him with adoration, the way her lips, tongue, and throat all worked in perfect concert—this wasn’t a drowsy thrall following a set of commands, this was a devoted slave revering her Master with every shred of her will and desire. True, there was technically a reward for her at the end. But when she popped his cock free from her drooling lips, her fingers stroking the shaft with delicate affection while her tongue worshipped his balls, Seb could tell her own pleasure wasn’t the point. Or, to be more accurate: that his pleasure was her pleasure.

The realization caused his cock to twitch in Sophia’s hand, a bead of pre-cum trickling onto her fingers. Her breath hitched, as though she had felt the tiny spasm of ecstasy herself. She looked up into her Master’s eyes, begging for permission. He granted it with a nod.

With renewed enthusiasm, Sophia dove onto his cock, fucking her own throat like it was all she ever lived for. Her hands gripped his thighs for balance, her grasp tightening as he felt his own inner tension building. Seb threw his head back, grateful moans slipping between lustful breaths. He could feel how deep he was, inside her body, inside her mind, inside her heart. He wished the sensation could last forever. But its zenith was approaching, and he was too enraptured to stop it.

“Sophia, I—” the rest of the sentence was lost as his cock spasmed, the orgasm rocking his body as he emptied himself into his slave’s eager mouth. In the same instant, he could see her own climax ravaging her senses, her body quivering in time with his, strings of cum and drool leaking from her surprised, whimpering lips as she struggled to contain it all.

Finally, she sank back onto her knees, still twitching slightly, her breath heavy and hot. Seb watched her with renewed delight and affection, basking in the lingering warmth. It felt like he would melt into the chair if he wasn’t careful.

“Th-thank you Master,” Sophia murmured, wiping and licking her sticky, glistening lips clean. Her eyes fell to the droplets that had escaped onto the wooden floor, and she turned away with an embarrassed laugh. “Sorry for making such a mess.”

“That’s alright,” Seb assured her. “It was worth it. Although…” he continued, a devious thought occurring to him, “…then again, it is a slave’s job to clean up after herself.”

“Yes Master.” Sophia nodded, turning to reach for his towel.

“Ah-ah-ah,” Seb chided playfully. “Did I say you could use that?”

His slave met his gaze, realization dawning crimson on her cheeks. For a brief moment, Seb worried he had gotten carried away. Was he pushing her too far? Had his newfound power already gone to his head?

But then Sophia let out a short laugh, breaking the tension in an instant. “God, I had no idea you were so…pervy.” She rolled her eyes, but couldn’t hide the excited tremor in her voice, nor the renewed arousal in her breath as she crawled over to the splattered droplets on the floor, her tongue sliding free from her lips as if by instinct.

“Don’t stop until it’s clean,” he commanded.

“Yes…Master,” she said, lowering her head. “Thank you…Master.”

“Good girl,” Seb praised her. The sight of his slave licking the floor clean, her tongue lapping his spilled seed with the same savoring strokes that had pleased his cock…it was enough to make him hard all over again. He toyed absently with his spent cock, new life and warmth already stirring within it.

Somewhere in the room, he heard the buzz of his phone vibrating. But he paid it no mind. There were more important matters for him to attend to. And he would do so very, very thoroughly.

* * *

Chelsea sat rigidly outside the polished oak doors, tracing the patterns in the rug and the curves in the carved wooden furniture. Cold morning light filtered in through the windows, a chilly contrast to the fake fire burning in the lobby’s fireplace. No doubt the room had been designed to cultivate an atmosphere of scholarly warmth. How flimsy that façade turned out to be.

Voices murmured over her shoulder, issuing from the office on the other side of the doors. Chelsea did her best to ignore them. It wouldn’t do her any good to eavesdrop: her mother had arrived with a plan, and there was nothing Chelsea nor the beleaguered head of the business school could do to stop it. Whatever they were discussing, Elise would get what she wanted. This was the way of things.

Instead, Chelsea moved her focus to the phone in her hands. It remained maddeningly silent. She had texted Master over an hour ago, and still no response. Was he deliberately ignoring her? It would make sense: Chelsea had tried to brainwash his childhood crush, after all. She wouldn’t be surprised if Sophia had found a way back to Master and had blabbed about the whole experience. He probably hated Chelsea now. She couldn’t blame him.

She kicked a toe into the rug, imagining it was her own stupid head. His name was “Seb,” she reminded herself. Not “Master.” Being in her mother’s grasp again was bad enough—if she couldn’t also rid herself of his influence, it would rip her apart. She had already deleted the recording and pictures from her phone, but still his presence lingered in her mind. Every time she tried to attack it, every time she forced herself to imagine a world without him, her stomach would flip and her pulse would race. Her traitorous subconscious screamed: how could she leave the man who owned her? It was unthinkable, and yet…

This was the way of things.

The door clicked open. Chelsea rose to her feet in an instant as her mother stepped through.

“It’s settled,” Elise stated simply, checking her watch before glancing at Chelsea. “How has your would-be suitor responded? Will we be meeting as planned?”

“He…hasn’t replied yet,” Chelsea answered, offering her phone.

“Hm,” Elise snatched the device and scanned the screen. “Well, your little rebellions have never been the decorous types. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised.”

A part of Chelsea flared up, eager to defend Master. But one glance from her mother was enough to halt to impulse. “It’s possible he’s still asleep,” she offered unhelpfully.

“At noon? That’s worse than I thought,” Elise frowned. “This will throw off our entire schedule.”

“His dorm isn’t that far away,” Chelsea pointed out. “We could go over there right now and save time.”

Elise shot a glare at Chelsea. “And I suppose the fact that this would bring you into contact with him is a happy coincidence.”

Chelsea swallowed. “I’m just trying to help. It’s not like it really makes a difference one way or the other.” She held her breath, her gaze fixed demurely on the floor as she felt her mother scan for any signs of deceit.

“Very well,” Elise grimaced, pocketing Chelsea’s phone. “But you are not to say a word. The sooner you forget him, the better.”

“Of course,” Chelsea nodded. She knew what her mother said was right.

She just didn’t know if it was possible.

* * *

Sophia rolled onto her back, gently soaking in bliss as the tremors from her last orgasm subsided. She could still feel Master’s cum in her, a mark of approval that filled her with a gratified glow. It was proof that she had pleased him, proof that she was a good girl, a faithful servant to her Master’s wishes.

What else could be more wonderful?

Across the room, a soft “hm” from her Master slipped through her dreamy haze. Sophia sat up, her head clearing the moment she suspected he might need her. The sensation surprised her: even though she had experienced it numerous times by now, it was still incredible how quickly her mind could melt into a helpless puddle of pleasure, only to reform and refocus at a moment’s notice. It was as though the stormy currents in her brain had been shifted by a new center of gravity, the excess clashes and waves smoothed by their new, more unified flow.

Master was crouched naked by the bed, staring at his phone screen, a look of concern darkening his features.

“Is everything okay?” Sophia asked, grasping for her glasses on the nightstand.

“Yeah…” Master frowned. “I, uh, think Chelsea’s been trying to contact me.”

Sophia stiffened. “What does she want?”

“I’m not sure.” Master ran a hand through his mussed-up hair. “She just texted saying we need to meet. Left a voicemail with the same message too.”

Sophia shifted on the bed, sitting straight and resting her hands on her lap. The thought of Chelsea and Master together didn’t fill her with the same worry and envy as it used to, but it still wasn’t a pleasant picture. Even as Sophia knew she was Master’s, and that he could see, speak to, and even hypnotize whomever he pleased, there was still a dark, adversarial aura hanging over her image of the scheming sorority queen. Chelsea couldn’t be trusted near Master—no, she didn’t deserve him. Not the way Sophia did.

Master arched an eyebrow, apparently reading the discomfort on her face. “Don’t worry,” he said. “I’m not going anywhere. She probably either wants to apologize for last night, or spin it into some new trap. Either way, I’m in no hurry to leave and find out.”

Sophia exhaled, his words a soothing balm on her heart. “Thank you, Master,” she said, laying on her side and arching one leg to expose her still-dripping pussy. “I promise to make it worth it,” she added with a playful smirk.

Master laughed, sending tickling bubbles through her head. “Don’t I know it,” he said, standing and stretching, his hard cock a bobbing red beacon for her eager eyes. “But I think I need something to eat before I pass out. You probably do too.”

As if on cue, Sophia’s stomach growled. She blushed, wondering if Master had that much control over her. Then she reasoned it was probably a coincidence. Then she decided she didn’t care.

“I can go if you want,” she said, sitting up and sliding off the bed. “I’ll grab something for you from the café downstairs. That way you can rest up a bit.”

Master held up his hand. “That’s okay, I got it. The walk will help me loosen up and clear my head a bit. Besides…” he laughed sheepishly, scooping up his clothes. “It seems a little strange given our, uh, situation, but I kinda wanna do something for you, after you’ve done so much for me.”

The sweetness in his voice made Sophia smile. “If that’s what you want,” she said, flopping back onto the mattress with a contented sigh. “Breakfast in bed sounds amazing.”

“Coming right up. I’ll leave my room key in case you have to use the bathroom or something.” Seb opened the door, then paused. “Remember, if you feel anything strange or uncomfortable, I’m just a call or text away.”

Sophia stuck out her tongue. “Yes Master, I’ll make sure not to forget how phones work.”

“Just sayin’,” Seb offered with a parting smile, before closing the door behind him.

Sophia sighed, resting her head on the pillow and sinking into the quiet. The morning had been a wild and randy reeducation of sorts, and it was nice to get a chance to simply exist with her new programming. Master seemed concerned it would destabilize or disorient her in some way, but she hadn’t noticed anything like that. Maybe it was because of their previous relationship, or maybe it was because she already had some pretty subby inclinations—whatever the reason, the “code” that made up her enslavement ran seamlessly with her everyday thought processes.

Well, mostly. She did notice its influence from time to time, especially when she thought about the future. It used to be that not a day would go by without her fretting about what tomorrow could hold: questioning her dreams of working in game development; wondering if she could leave her family behind if her job mandated it; flip-flopping back and forth about children and marriage. Now she had Master in her life, a reservoir of certainty to calm her churning thoughts. Whatever happened in the future, she knew that as long as she followed him, everything would work out. There was a lot she wanted to do, but all she needed to do was listen and obey.

It was so easy and natural.

A knock at the door disrupted her reverie. Sophia grinned, humming to herself as she sat up and padded over to the door. Master was back sooner than expected, and she was far hungrier than she had thought.

She leaned on her hip slightly as she opened the door, striking a silly, provocative pose to tease him. “Welcome back, Mas—”

“Sophia?” Chelsea blinked in the doorway, standing in front of a regal-looking woman and two suited men.

With a gasp, the startled slave shut the door, her pleasant morning evaporating into blistering panic.

“Sophia, is it?” a cool voice called from the hall. It was probably coming from that other woman, the one who kind of looked like Chelsea: same sharp eyes, same slightly-upturned nose, same perfect figure and haughty bearing. The voice was different—lower, more reserved—but no less deadly in its intent. “Could you please put on some clothing and open the door? We need to have a word with Mr. Wakefield.”

“Y-you mean Ma—er, Seb?” Sophia repeated, stalling for time as she searched for her phone. “He’s not here. He, uh, he left.”

“Did he?” came the icy reply. “Well, given your little ‘greeting,’ I’d wager you anticipate his return. Is that right?”

Sophia hurriedly composed a text, warning Master as best she could. “I, uh, actually think he left for the day. So…maybe you can call him?”

“Sophia, don’t do this,” Chelsea’s voice limped through the door, sounding more fragile than Sophia had ever heard it. “I know you want to protect him, but all you’re doing now is making things worse. Please, just open the door.”

Sophia hesitated. She didn’t trust Chelsea—that much was certain. But then…why did her warning sound so genuine?

“I would heed my daughter’s advice, Sophia,” the other woman cut in. “This interaction is unpleasant enough as is, but I could always make it much, much worse for you.”

Sophia swallowed, her throat suddenly tight and dry as she dressed with jittering hands. Had Chelsea really brought her mother here? That would explain the resemblance between the two, as well as the palpable danger dripping from their threats. All Sophia could do at this point was weather their storm, and hope Master had gotten her warning and escaped.

Sophia opened the door, not trusting herself to meet her opponents’ eyes. “Y-you can come in if you want. But I-I really don’t know when he’ll be back.”

“I doubt that,” Chelsea’s mother replied, leading the group into the room and wrinkling her nose. “Especially given how…thoroughly it seems you enjoy each other’s company.”

Sophia glared at Chelsea, hoping to goad a response or explanation. But the younger Jaeger’s eyes were glued to the floor, her hands clasped in front of her and her expression blank. It was unsettling, even more so than having strangers roam around her Master’s room.

The strained silence made Sophia’s skin crawl. She cleared her throat. “Do you want me to, like, call him or something?”

“That won’t be necessary,” the older woman replied, glancing at her watch. “No doubt you’ve already warned him of our arrival. All that remains to be seen is if he’ll show up.” Her lips curved into a humorless smile. “For all our sakes, I sincerely hope he does.”

If it wasn’t for Master’s brainwashing, Sophia would’ve crumbled into an anxious mess. But her focus, her devotion kept her still, even as her heart raced faster with every excruciating second.

The sound of approaching footsteps caused her blood to freeze. She said a silent prayer, begging for them to break off in another direction. But then she heard Master’s knuckles rap on the door, and knew her warning had been in vain.

“Chelsea, open up!” he called. “We need to talk.”

Chelsea remained motionless, but Sophia noticed the blonde’s hands tighten at the sound of Master’s voice, her shoulders tensing ever so slightly. Whatever lies Chelsea had spun during their time together, her exposure to the Vox had apparently been true. Sophia tried her best not to sympathize.

Mrs. Jaeger arched an eyebrow. “Well?” she prodded her daughter. “Aren’t you going to let him in?”

Like an automaton coming to life, Chelsea straightened and did as she was told. Master burst inside before the door was fully open.

“I want you out of here right now,” he said. “You and your…uh…” he paused, seeming to just now process the two towering suits and the poised, smirking woman between them.

“How feisty,” Chelsea’s mother cooed. “Care to introduce us?”

Chelsea sighed. “Mother, this is Seb. Seb, this is…”

“Elise Jaeger,” Elise answered, extending her hand. “I’m glad we could finally meet.”

Master accepted the handshake wordlessly, shooting a worried glance at Sophia. She gave a small shrug, trying to indicate that she was unharmed, but just as confused as he was.

“So, uh, how can I help you?” he asked, sliding his attention back to Elise.

She replied with a fanged smile. “From what I hear, you’ve become very important to my daughter as of late. So it seemed appropriate for us to meet before she and I depart.”

“Depart? To where?” Master exclaimed, looking to Chelsea. She just turned away without a word.

Elise glanced at her watch. “I understand I’ve caught you rather off guard, but I’d be happy to explain. That is, if you’re willing to do so in private. Alternatively, we could have a much shorter, and far more unpleasant conversation here. But,” her eyes flitted to Sophia, “I can’t guarantee it will stay between us.”

Sophia tried to keep a brave face as she met her Master’s gaze. She wanted him to know that she didn’t plan to run, that she had his back and would do whatever she could to help. But the concern in his eyes told her it was no use. He had already made his decision.

“Fine,” Master sighed. “Let’s talk. Just the two of us.”

“A wise choice,” Elise purred. “Follow me. There’s a place down the road that will serve our purposes quite likely.”

The two suited men drew closer to Master, but he offered no sign of resistance. Instead, he offered a parting smile to Sophia, sparking a glow in her chest she tried to hold onto, even as he was ushered out the door. Elise followed soon after, with Chelsea trailing in her wake. But before the door was shut, the younger Jaeger hesitated, drawing her shattered blue gaze to meet Sophia’s.

“I have to know,” Chelsea said. “Did it work?”

The question was small, but the overflowing with longing. For some reason, it made Sophia’s heart ache.

“Yes,” she answered. “It did.”

Chelsea smiled, even as tears pricked her eyes. “I knew it,” she said, her voice cracking. “Take care of him, okay?”

The door closed before Sophia could respond. And for the first time as a slave, she felt alone.

* * *

Late morning sun streamed through the wide windows along Dalia’s far wall, bathing the upper-crust brunch crowd in a gentle, welcoming glow. But the light didn’t reach the corner booth—whether by design or coincidence, Elise had chosen the one spot in the restaurant untouched by the sun, ensconcing herself and Seb in a world miles away from the bright bustle around them.

Still, Seb noted with dismay, the separation wasn’t enough to safely use the Vox. Despite the illusion of seclusion, he knew that Chelsea and Elise’s bodyguards were seated only a couple tables away, with clear sightlines on their icy matriarch. The only way he could get away with trancing Elise would be if she slipped into it effortlessly, without showing any signs of resistance or struggle. And Seb sincerely doubted that would be the case.

There was something uncanny about this woman, something beyond her resemblance to Seb’s most enticing adversary. Not that she wasn’t attractive in her own right: freed of her coat, Seb couldn’t help but marvel at the way Elise’s loose, flowy blouse still teased her svelte waist and full breasts, nor could he ignore how effortlessly she moved in the tight skirt bound around her toned legs. Yet his attraction to didn’t inspire hunger in the Vox; it inspired caution. Seb could feel it pacing restlessly in his gut, hairs on end and hackles raised. Elise wasn’t ordinary prey—she was a fellow predator, worthy of his wariness.

So when she finished sipping her wine and fixed her eyes on him, Seb knew he was in for the fight of his life.

“Now then,” she said, her lips curving into an unbearable smile. “I know I promised you an explanation, but there are some points I must clarify first. Starting with your intentions towards my daughter, if you don’t mind.”

“My…intentions?” Seb repeated. “I don’t think I follow.”

“I’m sure you could if you tried.” She winked. “But to put it another way, I’d like to hear your side of how your…’relationship’ developed.”

Seb hesitated, his eyes darting across the room to where Chelsea sat. To his surprise, she met his gaze for a moment, before quickly looking away. She was scared. It made his chest tighten.

“W-well.” He swallowed. “I’m not sure how she uh, described it, but I don’t think ‘relationship’ is really the right word.”

“Oh?” Elise arched her eyebrows. “Do tell.”

Seb’s mind raced. He doubted Elise was aware of the Vox, but beyond that he had no idea what she knew, nor what he could safely describe without stumbling into a lie. “It’s like…” he began, trying to be vague without sounding evasive. “We knew about each other through class, but we didn’t really meet until earlier this year. I was part of a talent show, and she volunteered for my act.”

“I see,” Elise took another sip of wine. “And your talent is..?”

“Um. Hypnotism. Though I’m still pretty new at it,” he lied.

“Interesting,” Elise replied, though Seb couldn’t tell if she meant it. “And after the show you decided to pursue her?”

“Not exactly. I mean, I guess there was…an attraction between us, but I tried my best to break it off. Honestly.”

“Really? Why?” Elise asked, as if inquiring about the weather.

“Well…I knew it wouldn’t work out,” Seb answered honestly.

“Because you come from different worlds, is that it?”

Seb nodded cautiously. “More or less, yeah.”

Elise rotated the glass in her hand, appearing to mull this over. “You may find this hard to believe, Sebastian, but I understand where you’re coming from.”

The earnestness in her voice gave him pause. “You do?” he asked.

“Indeed. My daughter has had the good fortune to grow up surrounded by all the privileges and power that the Jaeger family can afford. But I was not so lucky. When I first came to the Diepner campus, I was like you.” She smiled wistfully. “Just another starry-eyed kid, with nothing to my name but my ambitions.”

“Really?” Seb ventured, trying not to sound too skeptical. “So you weren’t…”

“Born a Jaeger?” Elise laughed. “Hardly. I was born Elise Welstrom, a nobody from a nowhere town. My parents weren’t wealthy, but they were smart, and taught me everything I needed to survive. It was thanks to their efforts—and my own determination—that I was able to even entertain Diepner as a college prospect. It was unlikely, to be sure: my parents and I knew that we would need several lucky breaks and some rather dubious loans to afford the tuition. But when my mother asked if I wanted to sign up for a campus tour, it felt like a dream come true.”

She paused, as though becoming lost in the memory for a moment. So soft and pensive was her expression that for a moment Seb wondered if his read on her had been entirely misguided. But when her gaze met his again, the steel in her eyes skewered that notion.

“But, as Chelsea has made abundantly clear, a smart kid is still just a kid,” Elise recalled, her voice as flat and sharp as a razor. “And when some of the other students snuck away to a fraternity party, I foolishly went along with them. It was there that I met Chelsea’s father, Robert, a big-name donor and—at the time—the heir apparent to the Jaeger name. Of course, I simply knew him as a mysterious, handsome gentleman who was showing an uncommon interest in an oblivious girl like me. If only I had known then the real nature of his appetites, and just how common they were.

“Alas,” she sighed. “As with many things, one stupid mistake was all it took. I ended up pregnant, and he threatened to ruin me if we ever crossed paths again. My parents were devastated, of course, but they forbade me from trying to escape my fate. I was going to have to bear the full weight of my carelessness, even if it meant sacrificing everything to it.” Again, her lips curved into a seething smile. “So what’s a girl to do, Sebastian? What do you think I did?”

Her words were spoken gently, but they felt like a vice closing around Seb’s neck. “I-if you think I’ve…taken advantage of Chelsea like that, I promise I—”

“Your promises mean nothing to me,” Elise interrupted. “But I know she isn’t pregnant, Sebastian. And if you’d let me finish, you’d see that isn’t the point of my story.”

She took another sip of wine. Seb held his breath.

“My point is, I’m no stranger to men trying to undermine me. And I’m quite adept at dealing with it. After both Robert and my own blood had turned their backs on me, I didn’t give in to despair. I went to work. I found Robert’s office and used all of my talents to secure a secretarial position on the staff. It was a risk, being so close to my foe, but I knew that men like him spared little memory for the lives they ruined.

“Once I was inside his organization, it was a simple task to find his weaknesses. Confidence breeds carelessness, and it would astound you to know just how careless Robert was. By the time Chelsea was born, I had learned not only of her father’s many failed investments, but also his failure to produce a suitable heir. This information was a valuable weapon, and as soon as I saw the opportunity to use it, I struck without mercy. I revealed all that I knew to his elders, and offered them a choice: correct their wayward spawn’s mistakes and accept me and my daughter into the fold, or suffer whatever damage the release of his secrets would incur. I suppose you can fill in the blanks from here, yes?”

Seb nodded. “What…happened to Chelsea’s father?”

Elise’s slender shoulders shrugged. “Last I checked, he had been placed on a ‘business scouting tour’ that I doubt will ever end. As far as the family is concerned, he’s just a name on a marriage license now. My work, and my daughter, are the new Jaeger legacy.

“And so you see,” she continued, leaning forward and steepling her fingers. “When some insignificant upstart threatens that legacy, it can be rather….vexing to me. Do you follow?”

“Mrs. Jaeger,” Seb coughed, clearing his throat. “I know you don’t trust me, but I promise—everything I’ve said about Chelsea and me is true. There is nothing threatening between us.”

“That’s my call to make,” Elise countered. “From what I hear, she’s been rather fixated on you as of late, to the detriment of her other obligations. That sort of obsession doesn’t occur spontaneously, especially to my daughter.”

Under the table, Seb balled his fists. “I understand how you feel, but I’m telling the truth. I don’t know what else I can say to convince you.”

“I don’t want you to say anything.” Elise extended her hand. “I want you to give me your phone.”

Seb blinked. “What?”

“You heard me. If everything is as you say, there should be nothing incriminating on it. But, if my suspicions are correct, and you somehow hold leverage over Chelsea, well,” her eyes narrowed, “it would be better for both of us if I found out now.”

Seb felt his stomach plunge. He couldn’t hand over his phone now, not with Chelsea’s pictures still on it. Why hadn’t he thought to delete them by now? How could he have been so shortsighted?

Elise’s hand didn’t budge, her gaze unwavering. “You know there’s nothing you can do to stop me. Even if my men have to tackle you in front of all these people, I’ll get what I want.”

Seb couldn’t breathe. He was drowning in an icy sea of terror, with no help in sight. All he could do for now was surrender to the currents of her temper, and hope an opportunity for escape was on the horizon.

Without a word, Seb withdrew his phone from his pocket, and slid it across the table. Elise picked the device up and scrolled wordlessly through its contents. Seb watched for any indicators of the wrath to come, but her expression remained infuriatingly stoic.

“My my,” she tutted, turning the screen so Seb could see the cascade of images in his inbox, a veritable army of Chelsea’s, naked and on their knees, marked and humiliated. “Either your perversions are far deeper than I imagined, or you are rather thorough with your blackmail material.”

“Th-that’s n-n-not—”

Elise waved away his stammering. “Spare me your explanations,” she said, reaching into her purse and withdrawing a memory stick. “I’m not sure how you convinced my daughter to do this, and I don’t trust you to tell me. All that matters now,” she inserted the device into Seb’s phone,” is that you learn your lesson.”

Seb’s eyes darted between his phone and its handler. Was she making copies of the photos? Taking them as evidence? “W-we didn’t do anything illegal,” he protested. “The police won’t—”

“Police?” Elise seemed genuinely surprised. “You overestimate yourself, Sebastian. I don’t need to go to such lengths to put you back in your place.” She withdrew the memory stick before tossing the phone back to Seb. It appeared unchanged, save for the absence of Chelsea’s photos.

But Seb knew that couldn’t be everything. “What did you do?” he asked.

Elise checked her watch, already in the process of moving on from this encounter. “I’ve installed a special little program to ensure this doesn’t happen again. If you try and contact Chelsea, I’ll know. If you so much as search her name, I’ll know. If you try and remove or circumvent the program, I’ll know. At which point your will go from being an annoyance, to being a problem.” Her eyes narrowed. “One I will take great pains to resolve. Understand?”

Seb did, all too well. “B-but we share classes together. What if we have to share notes or complete a group assignment?”

“That won’t be happening,” Elise stated, standing and throwing on her coat. “Chelsea will be departing the country with me on Monday, for a special, private internship with my company. By the time she returns, I should hope you’ll have moved on with your pathetic little life. Otherwise…”

She let the threat dangle, not even sparing another glance as she marched past him towards the exit. Seb stared as though she were a shark passing in the water, his racing heart unsure if he had really escaped death or not. She strode to Chelsea’s table, exchanging a few words with the downcast girl before gesturing towards the exit.

That’s when Chelsea’s eyes met his. And his heart seized.

He had only seen this expression once before: the depths of pain and longing in her wavering gaze, her lips parting ever so slightly to ask for help, even as she lacked the hope to do so. It was the same Chelsea he had glimpsed in the grad library—the same scared, lonely girl trying to break free from her mother’s shell.

It was only there for a moment, before she turned and followed her captor towards the door. But it was enough to ignite Seb into action, forcing him to his feet.

“Elise, wait,” he called.

To his surprise, she did so, her icy countenance once again fixing on his. But he held his ground, refusing to let the flames inside him subside.

“You’re making a mistake,” he said. “You can’t force her to be someone she’s not.”

Elise’s eyelids twitched, like deadly cracks in a frozen lake. “She is a Jaeger,” the matriarch stated simply. “And you are nothing.”

Her bodyguards stepped in after that, blocking the two women from view as they exited. The last he saw of Chelsea was a flicker of her shadow in the sunlight, before her mother’s eclipsed it.

And then they were gone.