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"I realized I've been falling behind on courting gifts," Olivia said, when Rafael asked what was the occasion.

"You don't have to get me things." He was already smugly peeling the gift wrap from the box.

Olivia sipped her water, waving off the waiter's offer to refill. Maybe Rafael didn't expect to be wooed with presents—few omegas did these days, outside of Regency romances and royals getting hitched—and maybe wooing him in general was passé. He was solidly wooed already. But some alphas still made the gesture, and one beta had privately sworn her partner wouldn't be deprived of anything on account of her type.

"I understand I'm supposed to escalate from consumables to wearables," she said.

"That would be the traditional progression, yeah." Rafael's mouth made a silent ooh at the box from Nordstrom Men's.

He opened it with due ceremony. When he drew the necktie from its nest of tissue, Olivia saw her mistake: she should've waited, should've given it to him at her place. In private. Even their narrow booth on the bar side of Forlini's seemed too exposed. She sat back.

"I hope it's different enough from your others, it was—like trying to buy chocolate for Willy Wonka." In the end she'd chosen on instinct, and only later realized the colors reminded her of his hair.

"I hope you're not implying something about me and little orange men."

"No, just you and your wardrobe." She shook her head. "Don't know what I was thinking."

Rafael cradled the tie like a newborn rarity. The striped silk jacquard, taupe and silver, shimmered between his hands.

"Oh, it's different," he murmured. His gaze flicked up. "You'll put it on me?"

She reached again for her water. Her mouth was dry.

"Later," she said.

*

He'd come straight from work to meet her, still in his suit and the darker of his blue paisley ties. He'd loosened the tie at Forlini's; in the elevator of her building he loosened it more. Olivia pushed the button and leaned against the elevator wall, watching. Not touching. He met her eye sidelong with his small maddening smile.

In the foyer of her apartment they shed their coats. She took hold of the paisley tie and ran it through her fingers, then led him to the sofa like a colt on a lead. Instead of sitting him on it, she stopped him against the sofa's side, trapping his legs between hers. The Nordstrom box was still in his hand.

"You wanna get that out?" she said.

He opened the box. He handed her the new tie and undid the old one. Olivia snaked it off and tossed it into the chair, then draped the new tie around his neck.

"Been a while since I did this," she said, but after one false start, memory returned to her. Rafael lifted his chin—not the way he did when being pugnacious in argument, or trying to make himself tall. Accommodating. Offering access. Olivia straightened the knot and tugged it upward, inching it from side to side. She folded his collar over the result and surveyed it.

"Works with the grey, I think."

He ducked his chin to look down, observing her work with eyelids lowered. "Or with brown. It's a fall-winter look."

Olivia put her hands on his waist. She thumbed his suspenders under his jacket. Cooperative of him, she thought, to present so many handles to grab. "So you'll need another one come spring?"

"I like when you bring me presents. Coffee, pastries. Criminals to indict."

A pang of wistfulness caught her. She swallowed the lump in her throat and smoothed the striped front of the tie. "I miss that, too." She hoped he genuinely liked what she'd chosen, and not just because it came from her. "I know this one's kind of on the tame side."

"I can do tame," he said, leaning in. His palms spread warmly on her hips. "I'm surprisingly tractable."

Olivia made a noise of dubious agreement, sliding her hands around his sides as their mouths met. The first kiss was teasing. The one that followed was less so. Rafael drew back from it breathless, pupils darkened.

"Should I wear it tomorrow? Show off to everyone at work?"

She nudged their noses together, a hair's breadth from stealing another kiss. "You're asking me?"

"I ammm."

Olivia considered. Among other things, she considered ditching her theory that he'd be less eager to take direction when he wasn't in heat. "Just how tractable are you feeling?"

His head tilted from side to side. "Very?"

*

In the bedroom she unwrapped him. She could've ordered him to do it; he would've obeyed. But her hands were greedy to be on him. She gave them the luxury of removing jacket and suspenders, shirt and undershirt imbued with his scent. The trousers clung to him as she pulled them off. The socks and their polka-dots made her grin. The grey briefs outlined exactly what lay underneath them, until she pulled those off, too. She left only the new tie around his neck, and stripped herself down to panties and bra.

She led him into the bathroom. She dimmed the lights. He let her arrange him with palms braced on the counter top, facing the sink, before she took off her bra and pressed herself to his back.

Their eyes met in the mirror. She wrapped an arm around his midriff. With her other hand she stroked up and down the necktie, feeling its entire silken length between fingers and thumb. Rafael's gaze followed the motion as if mesmerized.

"What do you think?" She put her chin on his shoulder. "I know you like to admire yourself."

He studied their mirror image: him with her draped around him, the new tie shining silkily. Her smoky eyes watching him, her hand on his belly, toying near his navel and its smattering of hairs. His cock, flushed and heavy, beginning to stir. His smile curled to one side.

"Best I've looked all day."

Olivia pinched his love handles, to predictable result: he squirmed happily in her arms. "Calling me an accessory?"

"Accessory to what?" He was practically crooning. His ass bumped backward into her hips. She let herself run her hands along the sides of it, squeezing the meat of him. "That's the question."

"And it's for me to decide, right?"

"Mm-hmm. Felony, misdemeanor, whatever you—ah."

She'd grasped his hand, lifting it from the counter, and wrapped it around his thickening cock. Belatedly it occurred to her that he'd want lube; she stepped sideways to rummage in a drawer for it. Nestling back against him, she put the bottle in his other hand. She reached for the knot of the tie.

"I'm gonna take this off," she murmured, "so we don't get it dirty." Her fingers loosened the knot. "You can show it off at work tomorrow. How about you show off a little for us now?"

His eyes lit and then darkened. He wasted no time—slicked his palm and started to stroke himself, thumbing the head of his cock before moving to slow, encouraging pulls. His tongue darted to wet his upper lip.

"Might be worth it," he said. "Getting it dirty."

Shaking her head, Olivia pulled the tie free. She folded it on the counter. "I'll get you another one for that."

"Not to, mm, dissuade you from buying me more presents, but we could use some of my old ones. Retire them to greener pastures."

"Old ones, plural? Just what are you thinking we might do with these multiple ties?"

"Up to you," he cooed.

Olivia kissed his shoulder to cover her smile. "You're allowed to have input. I'll take it into account."

With both hands free she could have her way with him: glide them up his sides and belly to feel the weight around his middle, or finger the greying thatch on his chest, or rub his hips as they started to circle, matching the pace of his hand on his shaft. His cock stood at full attention now, head straining through his grasp. Olivia pressed herself close, watching keenly—as keenly as he was—in the mirror. She fingered his nipples, pinching them into dusky peaks.

"You know, you're right," she said to his ear. "This is the best you've looked all day." Splaying her thumb and forefinger, she slid her left hand to the base of his throat and let it rest there. Not squeezing, not restricting his breathing—just reminding him where the tie would lie if he were wearing it. How it would feel against his skin. Rafael swallowed. His throat moved under her palm. "You look hot for me," she added. "I like it."

"Thought you might," he said, with only the husk of a grin.

She slipped her other hand onto his ass, rubbing the cleft of it. "You want a finger?"

His groan quivered against her splayed hand. He ducked his head, brow crinkling. There came a moment, most times, when whatever display of sass or seduction he'd been hamming up would fall away, like a coat shed and dropped to the floor. She felt protective, always, of the uncovered bareness.

"I would," he said, breathless, "but I'd need to clean up, before—"

Maybe he was being overly fastidious, but Olivia wasn't going to argue. She wasn't interested in herding him into the shower, either. "Okay, table that." Instead she teased around the rim of his hole, stroking and circling without pressing. Then she dipped her fingers lower, tucking two of them together to gently rub his taint. "A little on the outside?"

His groan guttered. He spread his legs further apart, planting his feet on the bathroom rug. "Yeah. Yes please." She rubbed harder. "Fuck, Liv—"

"Don't stop," she told him, when the tugs of his hand slowed, and his jaw slackened with distraction. "Tell me when you get close."

His breathing grew harsh as he obeyed her. In the mirror she watched yearning flash unhindered across his face. When she touched a finger to his lips, as if to hush the little hitching sounds he made, Rafael opened his mouth to it, inviting her to slide it in.

She let him have it. His gaze as it met hers in the mirror was almost black. Unable to look away, Olivia drew her finger in and out to the second knuckle, slowly, feeling the heat of his mouth, the suction, the soft pliancy of his tongue. Before long she felt persuaded to add a second finger. Rafael's eyes shuttered, watching her watch him, as he sucked them both.

For the first time since she'd started to touch him, real need began to throb in her. She breathed on Rafael's flushed ear.

"Rafa. You're being so good. You like that? Like sucking those for me?"

He moaned admission. His hand stroked his cock hurriedly, with more and more force. Beads of pre-come welled from the slit at its head; he smeared them and kept jerking. Olivia fitted her hips to his backside, still pushing her slick fingers between his lips.

Without warning Rafael pulled his mouth free. Neck arching, he clutched at the base of his cock.

"Okay, okay, I'm—"

Before he could lurch past the edge, Olivia clapped her hand to the nape of his neck. She squeezed firmly. Rafael swore under his breath and hissed.

"Easy," she whispered. "Not yet."

He bent nearly double, buckling over the sink. She leaned with him and continued to gentle him, petting his back as she did. His breathing was ragged. He eyed her blearily—not quite grumpily—in the mirror, cradling his stiff cock in hand.

Olivia kissed his neck to soothe him. Easing him upright, she took a backward step, then another, until her shoulders met the wall at her back. Coaxing him with her, she hooked her thumbs in her panties and shucked them. She took hold of his cock and gave it a few lazy tugs.

"C'mere," she said.

He looked dazed. "Here? Against the wall?"

"So I can watch," she drawled, with a nod at the mirror, "while you fuck me."

Rafael made a gutted sound. He pressed closer, huddling his body against hers. His cock jutted against her mound and the folds of her pussy. He rubbed its shaft against her, rocking up on the balls of his feet. Then he swayed back, eyes closing, and with a folding motion sank to kneel on the rug. His palms held her hips like a chalice. Olivia raised her eyebrows, looking down.

"Did I tell you to get down there?" she asked. He blinked up foolishly. "Did you ask if you could?"

Chagrin flustered him. "No, I should've. I should've asked." His lips moved in a woeful puff. "Is it too late to ask now?"

Part of her wondered if she ought to deny him—if that was how this sort of thing was supposed to go—but she didn't think disciplinary action was called for. Not just yet. "I'm listening."

"Can I, can I get you wet?"

"I don't know that I need it."

His hands smoothed over her thighs. "Just to be sure."

Olivia stroked his face. She cupped his chin as if she were weighing it. "Next time you ask first. Are we clear?"

He nodded, all soft cheeks and softer eyes. She tousled his hair loftily.

"I'll allow it," she said.

And maybe she did get a rush from making him ask, even if she'd forgotten to make him say please. At the first brush of his tongue her head tipped backward, bumping the wall. Her mirror image watched her stand over him, eyes slitted, almost unrecognizable as herself. Of Rafael she could see only the back of his head, the spread of his shoulders, his face nestled between her thighs. His head bobbing faintly with each lick.

The sight was nearly as good as the feel of it. She splayed her legs wider, grasped a fistful of hair to hold him in place.

"No fingers," she said, when he moved to use them. "Just your mouth."

He let go of her promptly—look, no hands—and hummed assent right onto her clit. A laugh welled in her throat in spite of herself. She'd laughed the first time he'd done this, too, that Sunday afternoon on the sofa, when she hadn't even gotten her bra off or her pants all the way down before he dove in. The look of ridiculous bliss on his face had undone her. He looked less goofy now, if still blissful, lost in the haze of serving her need.

She held his mouth to her until air turned scarce, and her will to keep standing threatened to melt on her. When he paused for a breather she pulled his head up by the hair.

"Get up here, now. You've made your point."

He rose unsteadily, licking his bright lips. "What, what point would that be?"

"That you can still make my knees weak when you're down on yours."

She reached for his cock. The delay had done nothing to dampen its spirits; on the contrary, its spirits were high. With a little maneuvering she got him right where she wanted him. Any reply he might've made changed to a moan as he slid in.

She took a minute to acclimate; they'd never tried it standing before. Rafael panted, chin on her shoulder. Tremors skittered across the span of his back. When he craned his head oddly, she realized he was trying for a peek at the mirror.

"Never knew you were such an—avid viewer," he rasped.

Her bedroom mirror hung on the back of the door, not facing the bed. Smiling, Olivia gripped his ass and kneaded. It was novel to see him buried in her from across the room, that was for sure.

"Maybe I just like watching you work."

"Yeah?"

"Always have. C'mere, now." She eased forward and pulled him in, wanting him deeper. His mouth fell open. She covered it with hers in a hungry kiss. When the kiss broke he moaned and bent to her neck, breathlessly scenting her. He started to move with her, with her and for her, taking his cues from the pace she set.

In the end she didn't do much watching. The feel of his cock filling her, his urgent heat, the press of his chest to her chest—all these held her attention too fully. But she caught glimpses: her hand on his nape, on his thick, rippling back. Her hooked fingers raking him, nails too short to leave lasting tracks. The way his ass quivered, the tight rolls of his hips that hit just right, just so.

"Oh yeah," she breathed, rocking with him. She sank an inch lower against the wall. That shifted his angle inside her, and if she'd thought they'd found just right before.... "There. Right there. That's it."

"Liv. Liv—"

"Kiss me," she said, not a request but an order, and his mouth surged onto hers. He lapped between her lips in echo of the motion of their bodies. Snaking a hand between them, Olivia splayed her fingers around her clit for more pressure. She didn't think he'd last long, not unless she thwarted him again.

"You wanna come this time?" she asked him, not quite maliciously sweet. "Think I should let you?" His grunt sounded disgruntled. "Come on. Fess up."

"I want to, I wanna come inside you, you feel so good, Liv, please, I can't--"

She knew he could, in fact, if she demanded it. She felt too indulgent to insist. "Okay. Since you've been so good." She kissed him again, on the mouth and on the corner of his parted lips. "Give it to me, baby, come on."

Rafael groaned. He shifted his stance, then braced a hand by her head and fucked with abandon. His thrusts grew furious, frenetic. Olivia clung to him, gripping with enough force to bruise. She hiked a leg up to take him deeper, deep as she could—she'd feel it for the rest of the night, feel it tomorrow—and her thigh muscles burned but he didn't stop, just kept driving into her, slamming her hips to the wall.

It was what she needed. She tightened around him, hard enough to wring a groan from him on the next thrust. Her clit throbbed, every part of her clenched, and the wave swelled and carried her over.

Her leg slipped abruptly. Her foot smacked back to the tile floor. She nearly staggered—would've if not for the wall and Rafael pinning her to it. Her head slumped back as she gasped for breath. She forgot to look in the mirror at all.

Rafael slowed, then pitched into stillness. She savored the pulses inside her, the last helpless twitch of his hips. Her hands sank into his hair, pawing through it when he whispered her name.

He was no lightweight, but she let him lean on her, resting. She ducked her chin to kiss the sweat from his neck. When he did raise his head, he looked so slack-jawed, so dim-witted, that she could only snicker, and plant a kiss on the softest part of his cheek.

*

It was too early for sleep, but neither of them had the strength to stay upright. They collapsed into bed to hold and be held. Rafael draped his whole body around her: nose to her shoulder, shin on her ankle, arm heavy on her waist. Olivia curled her arm around him, petting his hair. She was a little sore, as expected, in the best possible way.

"I've been meaning to ask you," she said, after a while, "if we need to have another conversation."

"About?"

"I don't know, things you want to have happen? Limits?" She angled her chin to look at him. "You must have some besides, what. Choking and rectal electrocution?" He let out a huff. "Maybe you hadn't noticed, but I'm flying by the seat of my pants, here."

"And the seat of your pants is a joy forever," said Rafael. She batted him fondly. "Whatever limits I might have, I don't see you crossing them."

"Why does that sound like damning with faint praise?"

"It isn't. I've...done less of this than you might be imagining. With others."

Olivia tried not to feel too warmly gratified. "I'm glad you feel safe enough to explore with me." His eyes rolled at the platitude, even as he snuggled nearer. "Is it the bond?"

"It's a factor, I'm sure. Not the only one. There was always...you know. Omegas are supposed to be submissive in bed."

"And to hell with conforming to type, huh?" Olivia carded idly through the hair on his nape, still damp from their brief and wobbly turn in the shower. "I guess I'm...nervous about not doing things right. Not taking charge the way you want me to. I don't know how comfortable I am just assuming a green light, either."

"You'd rather ask. In the moment."

"I'd rather have an ongoing conversation."

"That's fine by me." He scooted and rolled to his belly, propping himself on both elbows. "Liv, in the unlikely event that you do something I really don't care for, I'm more than capable of letting you know."

She dragged a thumb over his lips. "What if you're gagged with one of those neckties?"

He blinked, then leered cheerfully. "Thought about shutting me up, have you?"

"Less often lately. But it's crossed my mind." She eyed him. "You'd be on board with that?"

"I wouldn't say no."

She hesitated then, but it had to be asked. "Do you...like pain?"

It was Rafael's turn to pause. "Maybe a little. More as a, a condiment than a main dish. Dash of sriracha on my noodle bowl." He gave her a look. "No need to run to the adult bodega and buy a flogger."

"Good, because flogging would've been a tough sell, even for you."

The relief was greater than she let on. If there was a side of her—a jagged shard of her ugliest self—that enjoyed hurting predatory men, the pleasure was that of vengeance. She didn't want it to have anything to do with Rafael. He didn't deserve pain, from her hand or anyone else's. If he'd wanted it from her in earnest, she would've struggled to provide.

Rafael seemed undaunted. "Spanking?" he said. "You did it before."

During his false heat, he meant. He was trying not to look hopeful, but the attempt was weak. Olivia patted his shoulder.

"I feel entirely capable of smacking your ass," she said.

*

There was no talk of him going back to his place. All night he hogged the blankets; she woke once to find him snoring, nose and mouth half-smothered in her tits. In the morning he was groggy and mulish until he got coffee in his bloodstream. He monopolized the bathroom without compunction or shame.

It was worth it, Olivia thought, to see him stroll into the kitchen in his grey three-piece, hair finessed to exacting standards, the beige-and-silver tie snug around his neck.

There was no call for her to straighten it; it wasn't crooked. She laid her hand on it anyway, thumbing the knot.

"Handsome," she told him, approving. Rafael preened for a minute, raising his chin. By way of reciprocation he gave her a once-over, from the plunge of her v-neck to the gleam of her boots.

"You don't look half bad yourself." Then he glanced down self-consciously at the tie. "I'd wear it every day if I could."

He said it lightly. Almost lightly enough to cover the earnestness beneath. Was it legal, Olivia wondered, to be this cute before breakfast? The doe eyes just wouldn't quit.

She smoothed the tie and patted it down, reluctant to let go. "People would ask who are you, and what've you done with Rafael Barba?"

"I'd tell them you gave it to me. Anyone who knows you would understand."

Later, after they'd gone their separate ways to work, she'd tell herself that he'd provoked her. With a sense of reckless careening she said, "Maybe I should get you something you don't have to take off."

They stared at each other, a little wild-eyed. Olivia's heart stumbled on its beat. Before she could backtrack, Rafael reached for her sleeve. He caught and held her.

"I'd wear it," he said. "You know I would."