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Chapter One

It’s pouring rain the day of her interview. It’s the kind of storm you only get in the south. The skies just open up and ‘torrential’ doesn’t even begin to cover it. After a mere two minutes of the Great Flood Mach II the storm drains have already filled up and driving halfway across town is nearly an exercise in futility. Their beat-up Oldsmobile station wagon clearly wasn’t built to ford a freakin’ river.

But she gets there eventually. Even more amazingly, she’s on time. Her mom beams at her hopefully from the car and waves her on with an encouraging “Good luck, honey!” as Faith walks toward the front door. Faith rolls her eyes and keeps walking. She’s picking her way slowly to the door because she can’t see a fucking thing in this stupid bright red rain poncho her mom made her wear. The water is sluicing off the brim and running into her eyes. Her sensible skirt ($9.99, TJ Maxx’s finest) is utterly soaked.

There’s a pretentious sign out front that reads “Wesley Wyndam-Pryce, Esq.” in fussy script. That gets another eye-roll from Faith. She desperately hopes that Mr. Wyndam-Pryce, Esquire isn’t watching her from the window.

Goddamnit, the things I do for the prospect of yet another crappy low-paying wage-slave job, Faith thinks ruefully, before ringing the doorbell.


She lifts up the gleaming brass knocker on the door and gives it the old college try. After standing there for several moments, water trickling down her neck, she tentatively tries the door handle and gives a little start when it opens with a soft click.

Her soggy shoes make squelching sounds on the gleaming parquet flooring as she shuffles into the lobby and casts a questioning look down a narrow hallway. The whole place smells of beeswax and old books. It kinda creeps her out.

“Yo!” She mentally kicks herself. Hotshot secretaries don't say “yo.” She tries again. “Hello? Is there anyone there? I have an interview.”

She doesn't know how long he's been standing there but she looks up from her quiet contemplation of the little stream of water that's run off her rain hat onto the floor, to see a shadowy figure standing at the end of the hallway.

“I've come from the secretarial school about the job,” she says.

Silence. She squints into the dim light to see if he's like some kind of deaf mute or something but all she can make out is the silhouette of a tall thin man.

Then he pushes open the door behind him so a shaft of weak, watery sunlight hits him and she gets an impression of a pair of cold blue eyes, before he speaks.

“I suppose you'd better come in then.” His voice is clipped, curt and so not what she's used to hearing in this neck of the woods.

“You're English?” she asks as she trips down the hallway, aware of the impatient way he's standing there.

“It would appear so, wouldn't it, Miss, ah…”

“Oh, Faith. I'm Faith.”

He stands back as she brushes past him, so she can't contaminate his expensive charcoal-gray suit with her cheap wet clothes.

He follows her into the room. “No, don't sit down,” he barks as she reached for the ornately carved wooden back of the chair in front of his imposing desk.

He walks around, sits down in a bigass leather chair and just looks at her. She's painfully aware of the way her new skirt is clinging damply to her hips, wrinkling up, and she tugs at it.

“I take it you have your résumé?”

He's one cold motherfucker. Every time she tries to look at him, her gaze hits those icy eyes and skitters away. She rummages in her bag for her carefully typed résumé. Even the inside of her satchel is soaked and when she retrieves the piece of paper from its plastic folder, it's been another victim of the storm. The ink has run slightly and as he holds out his hand, she feels the need to explain. “It's gotten wet. Maybe I could e-mail it to you.”

“I see. Please, Faith, your résumé.”

He takes it gingerly between thumb and forefinger like it's a rabid dog that might bite him.

“So you have no office experience.”

“Well, yeah, but...”

“And you seem to have a very spotted career history. Dairy Queen, Walmart, the Easy Diner. Six jobs in six months; that seems a little excessive, don't you think?”

“See, it looks like that but...”

“Office hours are eight-thirty to five, with an hour for lunch. I expect you to be punctual. I will not tolerate lateness. I also expect you to wear suitable office attire.”

They look at her ruined beyond repair interview outfit.

“You giving me the job then?”

“Yes, and I can only hope that you haven't had time to learn any bad habits. I'll see you tomorrow, Faith.”

It's kind of an anticlimax. She was ready to do typing tests and pledge allegiance to paralegal training but he's already bent his head to look at the top sheet of a pile of papers on his desk. She's been dismissed.

“Okay. Well, thanks. I'll be in tomorrow and thanks again for the opportunity, man. I...”

His eyes are burning into her, his lips a thin tight line. “Are you still here?”


Chapter Two

The next morning she sleeps right through her alarm and has to scramble to get out the door in time. In her haste she spills scalding hot coffee down her crisp new white shirt. Scrubbing at it just makes it worse and grinds the stain in more. She can’t hold back a frustrated “Fuck!” or two.

“Honey, language,” her mother scolds halfheartedly from her vantage point at the kitchen table. Faith can smell the sharp medicinal tang of whiskey wafting from her coffee. At seven thirty in the goddamn morning. But she can’t worry about that just now. If she’s late, well, that would be it. The bastard clearly has it in for her already.

“Sweetie, why don’t you wear that pretty twin-set I got you for your birthday?”

Despite the fact that she wouldn’t be caught dead in hell wearing that, she has no choice but to run upstairs and change. At least there’s an upside: something this hideously prim is bound to meet with Mr. Uptight and Pasty’s approval.

She finally gets to work, rumpled and out of breath, just a few minutes on the wrong side of eight-thirty. The heavy clatter of the brass door knocker is met with a resounding silence. She tries again. Nothing.

“What, is he too good to answer his own door?” she grumbles under her breath before testing the door handle. For the second day in a row it’s open.

As she steps over the threshold she realizes that she didn’t get a really good look at the place before. It’s dark in the waiting area, but as her eyes adjust to the dim light she sees three overstuffed chairs and two low side tables piled high with well-thumbed stacks of Architectural Digests, New Yorkers, with a stray US Weekly or Hello! thrown in for good measure. To the right there’s the forlorn desk. The surface is empty save for three red Sharpies, lined up perpendicular to the edge, one four-pack of SavMor Correction Fluid, a neat stack of linen bond, and last but certainly not least a vintage IBM Selectric that she’ll get to call her very own.

She notices that the phone is a heavy black rotary model.

Talk about kicking it old school.

As she passes the desk and proceeds down the shadowy hallway she pauses to inspect the framed Japanese prints hanging on the walls. The paper is faintly yellowed and she guesses that they’re the real thing.

Still no sign of her new employer.

She decides to go into the galley kitchen and make him some coffee. Oh wait, he’s British. Aren’t they allergic to coffee or something? So, tea. She’s never made a cup of tea in her life. She’s fumbling around in the kitchen looking for the tea bags and mugs when she hears a sharp “Ahem” behind her.

“Faith.” His voice is toneless, neutral. “I didn’t hear you come in.”

“Oh yeah, I hope you don’t mind that I just let myself in. Thought I’d make you some tea but I can’t seem to find—”

“No, thank you. There’s coffee if you like. Sugar in the cupboard, creamer in the refrigerator. After you’re finished with that, please step into my office.”

And with that he disappears soundlessly into the adjoining room.

She's riding the horns of a dilemma. Ain't used to riding one of them. Bikers, maybe. Pickup trucks, sure. But right now she's more worried about whether she's meant to take her coffee in with her or let it go cold while Mr. Stick Up His Ass gives out her orders for the day.

In the end, she gulps down her cup as quickly as she can and brushing her hand over her mouth to get rid of the Folger's mustache, she knocks on his door.


There hadn't been a chance to have a good look around yesterday, but now her eyes take in polished wood and books. Man, there's a lot of books. On shelves and piled up on every available surface. Every now and again a pile of papers tied with ribbon breaks up the monotony.

Her inventory is interrupted by a quiet cough from the corner of the room where his desk is. She swivels round.

“You got a lot of books,” she says, more to break the silence which is starting to feel awkward and spiky.

“I believe I mentioned the subject of appropriate office wear yesterday,” he says coolly, like she hasn't even spoken.

Faith looks down at her stupid pale blue, fake cashmere twin set, which is already making her skin itch.

“Your skirt's too short,” he replies in answer to the “what the fuck” expression on her face. “I expect it to rest on the knee.”

Obviously the sight of two inches of thigh is giving him all kinds of bad thoughts. Talk about repressed.

“Bare legs are not acceptable,” he continues and she's aware of the pale gleam of her skin. She hates wearing hose. “The sweater set will do, though I'd prefer it if you wore a blouse, but the hair....”

Her hand creeps up to touch the ends of her hair. “What's wrong with my hair?” she asks, unable to keep the sullen tone from creeping into her voice.

“It's unkempt,” he informs her, leaning back in his chair and staring at her with that frigid blue gaze. “Here, tie it up.” An elastic band whizzes through the air and she refuses to scramble to catch it.

“I do hope we're not going to have a problem here.” There's something kind of scary and unrelenting about the way he speaks. Like he's used to getting his way. She sighs and bends, picking up the rubber band, then straightening up so she can gather her hair into a pony tail and secure it.

“Will that do?” Any more of this and he can take his fucking job and shove it up his ass along with the stick that's already there.

“Well, it will have to.”

He's twirling a pen in his long fingers as his eyes start at the toes of her shoes, a pair of pointy kitten heels she bought at a yard sale, traveling up the offensively bare legs and farther. She fidgets uncomfortably and resists the temptation to yank her skirt down.

“So...” Come on Faith, think of something to say. “I guess I should get my e-mail account set up. You got an ISP?

He looks at her as if she's just taken a dump on the rug. “E-mail?” he echoes incredulously. “I don't have e-mail. I believe in doing things the old-fashioned way.”

That explains why her office equipment looks like it came from the Smithsonian. “You don't have a computer?”

He shudders almost imperceptibly and she wonders why such a neat freak doesn't seem to have used a razor this morning. He's got some serious stubble going on and this puffy look around his eyes, which she's all too painfully familiar with, being the only daughter of two alcoholics.

“Fascinating though this is, it really would be beneficial if you could do some work,” he says. “Go and get your pad and a pencil, 2B please. I need you to take some dictation.”

Right. Dictation she can do, she's even kind of good at it. The secretarial college still held a course in shorthand, taught by a shrunken, antiquated woman who liked to whap people with a ruler when they screwed up.

She turns on her heel and returns to the reception area, grabs a pad and pencil. She's heading back to the inner office when the silence is shattered by the bleating ring of the ancient phone.

Shit. No doubt there was some sort of weird way Mr. Prissy-Fussy, Esq. wanted her to answer the phone, and they haven't discussed that yet.

It rings again.

“I'm not here,” he calls sharply from the inner office.

Shit shit shit. And take a message as well.

Another ring.

“Faith! I don't pay you to let the phone go after two rings! Answer it now!”

She stumbles over her feet a bit in her rush to reach the phone before the fourth ring.

“Um, yeah?” Yeah, real professional, there, Faith. She takes a deep breath and starts over. “The offices of Wesley Wyndam-Pryce. How may I help you?” She struggles to keep the fake perkiness in her voice from taking on an almost manic lilt at the end of the question.

The caller, with a voice that vacillates between screeching and rumbling, rambles through some crap she can hardly follow. Torts and counter claims. Whatever. “Yes. I see. Yes. Well, Mr. Wyndam-Pryce isn't in right now, and if you leave me your number I'll have him...”

The caller hangs up on her. Well. That was different. “Fuck you too,” she says into the dial tone and slams down the phone.

He's behind her. Clearing his throat. “Faith.” God, that disapproving tone is really starting to grate on her nerves.

She is totally not getting paid enough for putting up with this crap. But she follows him into the inner office.

He's pulling a stack of books off an ancient (and huge) burgundy leather club chair. “Sit.” Right, sure. She's a secretary, not a dog.

The problem is, there's no easy or ladylike or comfortable way to sit in the damn chair and take dictation. Again, she's reminded of the shortness of the skirt and the bareness of her legs. She tries perching on the edge of the seat, legs crossed at the ankle, but sinks into the giant cushion. She tries leaning all the way back, but gets swallowed by the chair's dark recesses. She finally compromises by tucking her legs awkwardly onto the seat and sitting on them and balancing the notepad on her knees.

And she can't help but notice he's watching her with a detached amusement that's kind of weird and slightly inappropriate.

“Take a letter.”

At first, she thinks it's going to be okay. She has to get him to spell out a couple of words on the address. but then he's biting out words in this dense legalese and it's all judiciaries and plaintiffs and words she doesn't even recognize, let alone know how to spell.

She figures that she'll muddle through as best she can. There's bound to be some Boring Legal Words dictionary kicking around here somewhere.

The sound of her pencil scratching across the paper is comforting. She shifts on the seat and her gaze drifts to a cabinet over against the far wall with glass doors.

“Furthermore to your inquiry dated...”

There's all kinds of weird funky shit in there; wooden boxes, with fuck knows what inside, and about three different clocks, ticking away silently behind the glass. She couldn't get a job at some trendy Web design company downtown. No, she has to be stuck here with the repressed English patient and his antique doodads.

“Yours sincerely etc. etc.”

Mr. Wyndam-Pryce finally shuts the hell up and Faith puts down her pencil.

“Type those up and bring them in here for my signature.”

Would it kill him to say please? She's seen those foofy costume dramas on BBC America and she thought that the English were falling over themselves with their pleases and thank yous and anyone for tennis.

“Faith!” He's barking at her again and she scrambles off the chair, almost catching her heel on the edge of the rug.

“Yeah, yeah, I'm going,” she snaps, flinching before she remembers that this isn't home and that tone of voice will only earn her a reprimand, not a blistering invective about what a worthless piece of shit she is.

It doesn't take her long to type up the letters. She digs out a dictionary from the bottom drawer of the desk and manages to decipher the words she doesn't know. It's like fun, only boring. But it's her ticket out of this dump, then she can hop on the first Greyhound to New York and never look back.

When she knocks on his office door, there's no reply. She pauses for a second, then takes a deep breath and turns the handle. He's not there and she places the papers on his desk and practically runs out of the room.

It's only ten o'clock and she already wants to grab her bag and coat and go home. She leans back on her office chair, does a couple of 360 degree revolutions on it, then decides that it's time for her mid-morning cigarette. Yeah, he had plenty to say about appropriate skirt length but she doesn't remember him saying jackshit about not smoking.

There's a door past the kitchen that leads out into the back yard. She sits on the stoop with a cigarette between her thumb and forefinger and burns dead leaves with her lighter. She likes watching things burn, letting the leave catch light, then throwing them onto the still damp lawn just as they threaten to singe her fingers. She's contemplating having a second cigarette, when she hears the back door open and knows he's standing there. Probably with some pissy kind of look on his face.

She swivels round, her eyebrows raised, to find him in the office doorway brandishing a sheaf of papers. The type is almost obliterated with red lines.

“It would seem that we have a problem. I want you in my office,” he says as coldly as a winter's day, then turns and slams the door behind him.

With the door shut it’s as though there’s been a blackout. The only natural light in the room behind her is from the thin sliver of weak sunlight streaming in from under the office door.

She shivers, and it’s not from a chill.

He’s waiting for her on the other side.

She’s this close to storming out the front door when she stops herself mid-stride.

“C’mon, Faith, it’s just a job. You’ve had worse. Don’t let Mr. Stiff Upper Lip get to you.” The pep talk must be working because she finds herself advancing toward the heavy, ornately carved door.

Once inside she finds him glaring angrily at her, sheaf of papers still clutched in his hand. He gestures toward a small, cheap-looking desk adjacent to his larger, more imposing one. That’s new. So is the gleaming black Selectric. He must have wheeled them in from the supply room.

“Please sit.”

So she gets a “please” this time. That’s when she knows she’s doomed. That’s absolutely the last time she listens to her fucking conscience.

She sidles past him, taking care not to make eye contact with the Glare of Doom for fear it might turn her to stone, and sits down in the high-backed chair. Clearly ergonomics, in addition to most modern technology, are an utterly foreign concept in this office.

She’s got her hands poised over the keys in preparation to re-type the whole batch of letters, when suddenly he’s right behind her, just inches away. How does he do that? She didn’t even hear him stride across the room. He’s so close she can feel his breath on the back of her neck. He leans in over her shoulder and reaches around to hold the stack of papers in front of her nose.

“Firstly, how many times am I going to have to tell you that there’s no ‘h’ in Wyndam-Pryce? Frankly, I’m stunned that we’re having this conversation again. Not to mention the fact that ‘whether’ has nothing to do with meteorological phenomena. Shall I send you home with Strunk and White? Or a pink slip?”

“Strunk and who?” The ocean of circled red words is giving her a headache.

Now his voice is low and he’s almost whispering in her ear. “I took a chance on you, Faith. Don’t let me down.” His tone is more intimate than she’d like. She shifts uncomfortably in her seat.

Finally, thankfully, he moves away from her, his arm brushing hers, which sets her nerves jangling, to lean against the side of his desk and watches as she sandwiches a sheet of carbon between two pieces of paper and feeds them into the Selectric.

Her fingers feel as fat and ungainly as sausages as she looks down at the original letter which he's defaced with the red Sharpie. If he doesn't stop fucking staring at her, she's gonna plunge her 2B shittin' pencil into his eye.

No wonder he had a vacancy for a secretary; the last one probably ended up in the State Psychiatric Hospital.

She refuses to look at him as she re-types the letters. But she can feel his eyes on her as he sits behind his desk and begins flicking through his Rolodex.

Fucking English freak, she thinks to herself, as she savagely pounds down on the keys and he dials a number on the old-fashioned rotary phone.

“Wyndam-Pryce here. Kindly put me through.”

Stupid fucking legal terms. Stupid fucking lawyers.

“I'm afraid these terms are completely unacceptable.”

Stupid fucking one-horse town. Stupid fucking carbon paper which is wrinkling up.

“I'll give you twenty-four hours to re-submit your settlement agreement.”

Stupid fucking everything. She slams the carriage return back on the typewriter and pulls out the papers.


She looks up and surprise, surprise, he's looming over her again, his hand outstretched for the letter. This is getting really old, really fast.

He stands there, reading what she's written and when his lips begin to tighten and his nostrils flare, she rolls her eyes and mentally counts to ten.

“Faith, I thought we were entirely clear on this. There is no 'h' in Wyndam.” His words are flung at her like bullets.

“Well, there fucking should be,” she mutters quietly under her breath and tries to school her sullen features into something approaching contrition.

“What did you just say?”

She gulps noisily and wonders why she can feel a prickling at the back of her eyelids like she's gonna start crying or something.

“I said...” She clears her throat. “I said that there should be. Doesn't make any sense, y'know? It sounds like there's an 'h' there.”

His frosty glare snatches off her top layer of skin and she sits there staring down at her bitten nails because she's fucked if she's going to apologize for shit.

He places both hands on the desk and leans over so she has no choice but to scrape the chair back a few inches. He smells of something lemony and laundry starch. The snowy whiteness of his shirt is blinding her.

“I don't think I've ever had such a recalcitrant employee,” he tells her conversationally, pleasantly even.

He places the new letter on the desk, the lone red circle a source of frustration and relief for both of them. With that, he straightens. “But I haven’t really given you time to acclimate. And you’ve made a small amount of progress. Shall we break for lunch?”

First time she’s seen the bastard smile and it looks freakishly unnatural.

“Yeah, lunch. Good,” she says in a monotone. At this point she’s so fucking wrung-out she doesn’t even want to eat, she just wants to inhale a pack of cigarettes.

There’s a brown bag in the tiny fridge that's got her name on it—another source of frustration as she’d dearly hoped she’d be beyond the mom-packing-her-a-fucking-bag-lunch portion of her life—but she needs a walk so she goes down the street to the diner. She orders a coffee and a grilled cheese and tomato, which she just picks at. They’re a cover so she can sit there and chain-smoke. To try and calm down.

She’s known him for a sum total of a day and a half and she can’t fucking figure him out at all. Just when she thinks she’s got him pegged he goes and does a 180˚ on her. He was almost apologetic back there.

And suddenly she’s wondering how the hell he ended up in Middle of Fucking Nowheresville. Why here? Hell, she’d go live in Europe in a second if she could. What made him leave?

The diner’s bell jangles, and speak of the devil, in he walks. She quickly places her menu over the embarrassingly overflowing ashtray and smiles weakly at him.

He nods tersely in her direction. “Faith.” The cashier hands him his sandwich in a bag and he hands her a crisp new ten-dollar bill. Then he saunters out.

Christ. She shakily lights another cigarette.


Chapter Three

They settle into some kind of routine after that.

A week goes by and she's at his door every morning by eight-thirty in a crisply ironed blouse and skirt. She still can't muster up the necessary humiliation to put on pantyhose every morning but he doesn't say anything.

She gets in, goes to the kitchen, and makes coffee for her and tea for him. He has it strong and black with a slice of lemon resting on the saucer. Not swimming in the tea. But on the saucer. Just so.

Then she stands by the sink, gulping down her coffee, before picking up his cup and taking it into his office so he can casually sip it while he dictates that day's letters at her. Dust motes swirl around the room and dance with the words that he shoots at her. Once her pad's pages are decorated with her squiggly shorthand, she gets up from the bucket chair and goes back to the reception to type them up.

Once she's put them on his desk, she goes outside for a cigarette and comes back to find the letters waiting for her. On a good day, they're signed in his slashing, black scrawl. On a bad day, they're a mess of red lines and circles. But he doesn't get all English about it, just asks her to redo them. She hasn't even had to sit at the other desk, which has been taken out of his office and put back in the basement.

They go to the diner for lunch. But she sits at the counter and tries to chain smoke her way into an early grave and he simply comes in for his sandwich (chicken and lettuce and tomato on rye, no mayo) and the briefest nod to indicate that she actually exists.

In the afternoon he goes out and she sits there. He always tells her to stay in the reception area and answer the phone but it never rings. So she files her nails and slips out the back to smoke some more and burn pieces of paper that she tears out of her shorthand pad.

He's back at precisely 4.35 every day to dictate the last letters of the day, which she drops in the mailbox as she walks home.

And she's never been so fucking bored in all her life. It's got to the stage where she wishes he'd do something to break the routine. Like, wear a blue shirt, instead of a white one. Really go to town. Or order something else for his lunch. Ask them to smother his fucking sandwich in mustard. But he never does.

It's the third day of her second week. He's out on appointments and she's burned a whole shorthand pad in the yard and smooshed the ashes into the weeds and gravel with her heels. As she lets herself back in, it's four-thirty already, and she hears the phone ringing.

Someone's calling! Hallefuckinglujah!

She tears down the hallway and snatches up the receiver. “Wesley Wyndam-Pryce's office. How may I help you?” She sounds pretty fucking spiffy.

“Faithy, babes, is that you?”


“That you, honey?” She's drunk, which is why she's ODing on the endearments.

“I told you not to call me here.” The phone slips in her sweaty hand.

“Faithy, don't be mad at me. I need you to do something for me.”

“Look, I'm working, which I know is like totally out of your area of expertise, but I'm not allowed personal calls.”

She might just as well have not spoken. “I need you to go to the discount liquor store and get me some vodka. Can you do that for me, babes?”

“I'm not old enough.” It doesn't matter that she's never once been carded in the last two years. There's something weathered in her eyes, she thinks, that she can buy enough alcohol to sink either one of her parents into their usual twice weekly stupor.

“Babes, I wouldn't ask if I wasn't desperate. Please, Faithy. Your father came over today.”

“That bastard! Why did you even let him in? What the fuck did he want?”

“So will you...”

She looks up and of course he's standing there because he's sly and stealthy like this cat they once had. Fuck knows how long he's been standing there. He looks pointedly at the phone in her hand, one eyebrow arching in query.

“Faithy, you still there, sweetheart?”

“Mom? I have to go now. I'll pick it up on the way home.” She carefully places the phone back in its cradle and straightens. “That was my Mom. She needs me to run some errands for her on the way home."

He looks at her curiously, like he's seeing her for the first time. “It never occurred to me to ask, but how old are you? You didn't put your age on your résumé, as I recall.”

She never does because she figures that the minute they do the math, then the only paycheck she's gonna be picking up is from the Everything For 99 cents mart.

“I'm nearly twenty.” It's her stock response and he smiles faintly.

“Was that a personal call?”

“It was my mom.” Hadn't she just told him that? “I told her not to call here but she gets lonely.”

“Hmm, how fascinating.” He turns to go because he's one stone-cold bastard. Then he thinks better of it. “We really haven't had the time to get better acquainted, have we? I do like to know the salient facts about my employees.”

An icy finger of dread tickles it way down her spine but she just shrugs. “Nothing much to tell. Do you want me to take a letter?”

“No. You should probably run along home. Get those errands. I'll see you tomorrow.”

She’s getting sick and tired of this bullshit and the stuff at home that seeps into the other parts of her life like a virus. After picking up the vodka for her mother, which is sure to be a downer for the evening, she calls her best friend, Xander. He always knows how to make things brighter and he doesn’t reek half as much as her mother (he gets sick after three shots so he doesn’t drink.)

Excuses, excuses, Faith… a voice chastens in her head. She doesn’t give a damn, though. She doesn’t want to spend another evening in a slump.

Her mother’s sure to try to convince Faith to stay in and listen to all the crap that her father put her through. He’s the reason she’s still drinking. Vice-versa, Mommy dearest. Right now all she wants is someone who doesn’t want to screw her over both metaphorically and not. In other words; no bosses, no exes who still want in her pants, no parents.

She manages to slip out the house, muttering explanations of overtime work, though Mr. Wyndam—without an ‘h’—Pryce isn't gonna invade tonight’s conversation, she assures herself silently. Her mother sits, her eyes cast downwards and her hands intertwined. Her plaintive voice sets a pang of guilt deep inside Faith.

“Ma, really… I’d stay if I could, you know I would.”

Faith tries not to think of her boss’ interest in getting to know her as she makes her way out the door.

The only one who knows her, she’s going to see, and she trusts him. There’s something about the boss that makes her edgy. Maybe it’s the lack of ‘h’ in the name or the accent. Maybe it’s his issues about her skirt length. Whatever it is, it unnerves her.

Xander’s sitting at their usual table in the coffee shop. She’s pretty sure that java isn’t gonna calm those nerves.


She slides into the booth and bumps up against him by way of greeting.

“Been here long?”

“Nah. Only had one slice of pie.”


“What? I saved some for you.” He laughs and pushes the slice of strawberry rhubarb over to her.

She takes a forkful and slumps down into the red leatherette. “Christ, Xander. I don’t know how I’m gonna make it through this week.”

“That bad, huh?”

“Just that my freaking boss is a freaking freak. I did mention that he’s British, right? I mean, that says it all right there.”

“Um, says what, exactly?”

“They’re all repressed and control-freaky and man, he is so not an exception.”

Xander shrugs. “If you want to quit, then quit.”

“The weird thing is, I don’t. We’ve got this routine, and it’s kind of, I don’t know, comfortable. But there are these moments where he’s just so closed-off and I’m dying to know what he’s really thinking. He’s…”

“A velvet glove wrapped in an enigma?”

“The fuck? Xander, sometimes I wish you came with subtitles. Or, um, footnotes. Yeah. The annotated Xander.”

They collapse together into a fit of laughter. They don’t notice Wes sitting at the corner table, watching.

It's the last time she laughs that night.

When she gets home her mother is drunk and passed out on the sofa, a column of ash from the cigarette between her fingers still smoldering. Faith stubs it out, then begins the long, thankless chore of hauling her to bed. She comes to halfway through; long enough to throw up all over Faith's prettiest dress, then lapses into a long rant about how unhappy her life is and what a bastard Faith's dad is and how she wishes that she'd had an abortion and never got landed with an ungrateful kid and a sorry excuse for a husband. Faith has heard it a hundred times before. The words skim off her like water on oilskin. But her mother's nails digging into her arms hard enough to draw blood are a good enough reason to stay.

Chapter Four

She doesn't get to bed much before three and comes to with a start, cracking her head on the headboard as the alarm clock bursts into its cacophonous ringing. She hits snooze. She hits snooze again. By the time she gets up and drags a comb through her ratty hair and tries to find clean clothes from the pile on the floor, it's already eight-fifteen.

There's no way her mom is in any fit state to drive, so she pulls on her battered sneakers and clutching her kitten heels in her hand, she runs the eleven blocks to Mr. W. Wyndam-Pryce Esq.'s office.

Faith pokes her head round the door, to see if the coast is clear. Maybe she can bluff him into believing she's been here for half an hour. She tiptoes across the reception area and sits down to toe off her sneakers and worry at the loose piece of skin on her big toe when she hears a cough.

It's him. Of course it's him. Who the fuck else would it be?

She's never been so aware of herself and not in a good way. Her hair falling round her face in tangled curls, the stain on her rumpled skirt where she spilt syrup on it a couple of days before, and the scratches on her forearms from her heart-to-heart talk with Mom add up to one lousy appearance. He sure as shit ain't going to be sending her a muffin basket for National Secretaries Day.

“So you've finally decided to honor me with your presence,” he says when the silence is ready to apply for citizenship.

Faith kicks her Chuck Taylors under the desk and slips on her shoes. “I'm sorry.”

“Late night, was it?” She won't look at him—can't look at him—but that stupid Limey accent of his has never sounded so clipped, like he has to force the words out.

“I had trouble sleeping.” Which isn't really what she meant to say and now she's said it, it seems weirdly inappropriate.

“I see.” He moves away from the door and she thinks fuck! Mom wasn't the only one who had a rough night. His stubble has practically upgraded to a beard and the puffiness around his red-rimmed eyes tells its own tale of dirty glasses and stained beer mats. “Get yourself a cup of coffee and bring it into my office with your notebook.”

She has no choice but to comply. She’s come to dread the Official Summons Into the Inner Sanctum, because, Christ, it never bodes well. And given his appearance this morning, she imagines he’s hungover and even more short-fused than usual. Which is just fucking great. She skips the coffee. Her nerves are on edge enough as it is.

He gestures for her to sit. She does so, trying simultaneously to smooth the rumples out of her skirt and cover the maple syrup stain and cross her legs in appropriately lady-like fashion.

“Frankly, Faith, your appearance is atrocious. If you’re going to breeze in here a half an hour late looking like that you might as well not come in at all.”

“I can explain.” She hates herself for the tiny but noticeable quaver in her voice.

“I really don’t care to hear what you have to say for yourself.” He pauses. “So, is he your boyfriend?”

“What? What are you talking about?”

“I saw you last night. At the coffee shop.”

“Who, Xander?” She laughs, somewhat relieved. “God, no. Xander’s gay.”

“Where did those marks on your arms come from, then? What have you been doing, Faith?”

This whole line of questioning seems beyond inappropriate, and she’s calling an end to it right now. “You know what? It’s none of your fucking business. And really, if we’re going to critique appearance, we should talk about you. Because, quite frankly, you look like sh—”

Before she can finish, he snatches her notebook from her hands and slams it down onto the desk with such force that she jumps.

“We came here to talk about your performance, Faith. Get up.”

She stands, feeling painfully self-conscious and more apprehensive than she’d like.

“Place your hands on the desk.”

She does. She finds herself staring at her crumpled, water-stained résumé.

“Lean in close to the letter, now. Can you find what’s wrong with it?”

“What? I don’t know what you—”

“You’re a liar, Faith. And a sloppy one at that.”

“This is about my age, right? I mean, I can explain that too. My dad’s never around and my mom, she—” She’s talking really fast, trying desperately to explain before he cuts her off again.

She’s answered by a resounding, firm smack on her backside—a hard thwap! that sends a shockwave through her.

She exhales sharply, and slowly looks over her shoulder. He looms above her, the dark of the Inner Sanctum the only thing visible behind him. The quaver in her voice has transformed into eyes ever-so-slightly brimming with tears. She blinks them back; she sure as hell isn't going to crumble now. His face is as inscrutable and immobile as ever, his eyes hard and cold. But there's something. Something that wasn't there before.

She opens her mouth to speak, but he cuts her off. “There's a rather glaring omission on your résumé, isn't there, Faith?”

Of course. The time she spent in juvie for lifting. But that's off her record now. She's clean. Mostly.

“Look, I can explain...”

“I'm not interested in excuses, Faith.” And he runs his hand through her hair, tenderly at first, then grabs a fistful and pulls her off the desk. His lips are against her ear, his breath warm on her neck. Shocked at her reaction, she doesn't struggle. In fact, she tries to keep from shivering as electric tendrils of desire curl down to the tips of her toes. “I thought I told you to keep your hair up.”

“Yes.” She not so much whispers as exhales the word.

“I'm sorry?”

Is it that kind of game? Of course it is. Her head is swimming. “Yes, sir,” she says, a little more firmly.

“And your clothing, it's disgusting.” He lets go, and she crumples to the desk. Before she can get up, before she can get her bearings, he's spanked her again, another resounding smack across her left ass cheek.

“And you'll arrive on time, every day.”

And another smack.

“And you'll answer the phone with an appropriate tone and manner.”

And another. And another. Until she can't really make out what he's saying, and has just given herself over to the twin discomforts of spanking followed the edge of the desk shoving into her gut, making it nearly impossible to catch her breath. The tension of her bullshit life and her fucking bullshit drunk mother and this bullshit job and everything other fucking thing she's ever done wrong start to float away, and she's actually feeling kind of relaxed, really fucking turned on too. She closes her eyes and sees an explosion of color every time he strikes her.

It all stops. For a split second she's unsure what to do, but then he's collapsed against her back, breathing heavily, amazingly in sync with her gasps. And his hand is millimetres away from hers on the desk. They say nothing.

She slides her pinkie around his index finger. She tries to force everything she's feeling into the tip of her little finger. And she realizes when he doesn't pull his hand away that maybe she's finally succeeded at doing something right in this office, for once.

He has beautiful hands she thinks; long, tapered fingers and this is the first time they've ever touched her.

His index finger slides out of her grip, slowly, almost regretfully, then he's straightening up. She feels a tug on her skirt but he's only smoothing it down where it's wrinkled and she's boneless, she couldn't move if she wanted to. She just might have to stay bent over his desk forever.

“Faith? Are you all right?” His voice has softened and trickles over her like warm honey.

“Yeah,” she says on a sigh.

“Good, well, kindly sit down please.” Not so much warm honey now, more like permafrost.

But as she winces slightly and wriggles as her tender cheeks hit the chair, she sees the shadow of a smile ghost across his face. Then he pushes her résumé toward her.

“How old are you? The truth this time.”

“Eighteen. I'm eighteen.”

“I see. And what were you in juvenile hall for?

“I got caught shoplifting from Walgreens with some friends.”

“Let me guess. It wasn't your idea, you were just the look out, then they ran away and left you to take the rap after stuffing half a dozen lipsticks into your purse?” If he were a superhero his special power would be killing people with his snark.

Faith shrugs in a noncommittal fashion but his eyebrow arches up as he studies her over his linked fingers.

“Well, it was something like that.”

“And the scratches on your arms?”

They look at the angry red weals marring the soft flesh of her forearms before she tucks her hands behind her back.

No power on earth is going to get a confession out of me, counselor. “Cat,” she improvises, not caring how unconvincing she sounds. “Angry cat. Anything else you're dying to know?”

He does smile then and it transforms the harsh lines of his face into one of those matinee idols from the black and white movies on TCM. “That's everything for now. I think we'll save the mystery of how you've got through six shorthand pads in a week for another day, don't you?”

Just when she thinks she's got him sorted, he throws another curveball at her. “So, you're not firing me?”

“And have to go through the burden of putting another ad in the paper? I think not. But I'll be watching you very closely, Faith. Making sure you behave yourself.”

For one second their gazes meet. Collide. And it's like he's asking her a question and she thinks the answer might be yes but she doesn't know for sure so to be on the safe side, she looks down at the stain on her skirt.

She thinks she hears him chuckle but then he clears his throat. “Please pick up your pen so I can give you dictation.”

And it's another flurry of legalese, yours sincerelys, and words she asks him to spell out. And he's even nice about it, for once. He doesn't even trot out his favorite admonishment: “What in heaven's name do they teach you in the schools here?” Her hand is flying across the shorthand pad on autopilot.

The rest of her brain is trying to parse out what just happened, and it mostly boils down to the fact her repressed and control-freaky boss just gave her the spanking of a lifetime that might have been the hottest five minutes she'd ever spent with a man, then acted like nothing out of the ordinary had occurred. And interrogated her. Which, okay, might seem weird under other circumstances, but it isn't really. After all, there's the little nagging issue that they're two royally fucked up people.

“That will be all, Faith.” His voice is clipped again. The honeyed tone has all but vanished.

She looks up at him and realizes he's been done dictating for a good minute and a half, and she's still sitting there lost in thought, looking like a dreamy-eyed idiot.

“Right, right. Sorry. I'll, uh, just get these typed up and drop them in the mail at lunch.”

She stands a little too quickly, and her still-tender ass twinges. And so do some other bits. She whimpers slightly and nearly falls over on the spot, but amazingly manages to keep it all together and shoot him a sly little smile as she brushes past him to the door.


Chapter Five

Back at her desk, the gentle thrumming of the Selectric's motor echoes the incessant throbbing of her tanned ass. She types faster than ever, her fingers flying across the keys. She can't even think anymore, just lets the words glide across her fingertips. After the last letter's done, she realizes she'd better have a ciggarette before she spontaneously combusts.

Which is the precise moment a leggy brunette she's never seen before enters the foyer.

She's perfectly coiffed and perfectly dressed in a tailored suit cut to accentuate the angularities of her frame. Her very expensive shoes match her even pricier-looking handbag.

“Wesley!” she screams.

“Um, excuse me, can I help you?” Faith steps out from behind the desk, her bare feet hitting the cold floor. And suddenly she remembers exactly what she looks like. For one thing, she's still barefoot. And there's the fact that her birds-nesty hair has a distinctly freshly fucked look to it. It's kind of overkill to think about how her stained skirt and wrinkled blouse look at this point.

Not even deigning to give Faith a once-over, the woman looks right through her. “I highly doubt that, whatever your name is.”

“Faith. Just Faith.” God, this woman amply fills the definition of bitch and some other choice words as well.

“Miss Faith. What an odd name. Well, he certainly has scraped the bottom of the barrel this time. I had no idea it was so impossible to find a presentable secretary these days.” She makes for the hallway.

Faith beats her to it, blocking her way. “Look, I don't know who you are, but I know you don't have an appointment, and you can't just barge in here like this.”

The woman snorts derisively. “Fine.” She ratchets up the fake charm to eleven. “Would you let Mr. Wyndam-Pryce know that Lilah Morgan is here, honey? Thanks.” She turns on her heel and slips into one of the battered leather club chairs and starts mindlessly flipping through one of the ancient magazines.

Faith takes a breath she really needs to be laden with nicotine and smoke, and gets a lungful of nothing but dusty, musty book-smell all but wiped out with whatever perfume this woman’s wearing. It smells thick, aggressive, rich, and she wants to hold her breath and run until she’s out of range of it, but she figures she’s done enough to make herself look like a fool without that. She gives the woman one last look to make sure she’s going to behave, and backs away, only turning when she’s out of sight.

Going back down the hallway, with her skirt shifting against her ass with every step like a ghostly hand, she lets out the breath she’s been holding and begins to hurry.

Wesley. Bitch called him that, she must know him. Family? No, or she’d have said...and she sure as hell wasn’t a friend. That left ex, and yeah, she’d fit that bill. She looks as wound tight as he is.

She taps gently on the door, waits for long enough to be sure he isn’t going to answer, then opens it.

“Uh, are you there?” she says, feeling stupid talking to thin air. His chair’s empty, like the room, and she goes in and pushes the door closed behind her in case the woman decides sending a peasant to do a flunkey’s job was a mistake and comes charging down the hall. She doesn’t want her in this room, she realizes, doesn’t want her touching anything, sitting where she sits.

The desk draws her gaze and she stares at it, even as she calls out, “Sir?” in a voice she tries to keep low, because she’s fucking sure she can see marks on the polish where her hands were, and it’s making her shiver remembering the way the wood pressed up against her palms.

“I’m not here.”

It’s like a stupid kid’s game or something, and for a moment she grins. Hide and seek, hot and fucking cold. But since she really doesn’t think he’s under the desk, it only leaves one place. She walks over to the other door in the room, and hesitates, not quite daring to open it.

“You sure? Because there’s this Morgan woman out in reception and she wants to see you. Sounds pissed.”

His voice is edged now, each word slicing at her, hissed out in a whisper, and he must be practically fucking leaning against that door, because it sounds loud in her ear, as if he shouted it, but she’s not sure he can raise his voice. Doesn’t need to. Scarier when it’s quiet and he knows it. She puts her hand against the paneled door and spreads her fingers wide. She stares at that for a while, and just the feel of it makes her ass burn brighter, even though the door’s all messed up with weird carvings, not smooth like the desk. Was he watching her hands when he did it, seeing them clutch and scrabble that first time his hand landed, then stay still, stuck in place after that? Probably just watching her ass, she decides.

“Are you not listening to me, Faith? I am not here. I do not wish to see her. Please do what you’re paid to do and get rid of her.”

He does sarcasm the way other people do drugs, but she can hear something dragging at his voice; little bit of panic maybe, little bit of need.

He really doesn’t want to see the snooty bitch, does he? And he’s asking her for help. Well, as close as he gets to asking.

“You’re the boss.”

And she puts a bit of a swagger in her walk as she goes back into the reception, because man, it’s going to be fun passing on a tidied-up version of ‘Fuck off, bitch, he’s not interested’ and watching the mask crack.

When Faith gets back to reception, Lilah is feigning enough interest in last October’s Architectural Digest that Faith has to clear her throat to gain her attention.

When Lilah finally looks up from the magazine, her expression of surprise is about as genuine as her knockoff Gucci bag.

“Oh. I didn’t see you there. So sorry.” She puts the well-thumbed AD back on the pile and stands, smoothing her skirt and squaring her shoulders. She gives Faith a frosty little smile. "Where is he? I know he’s here.”

“Actually, Miss Morgan,” Faith stands up straight and does her best to approximate Lilah’s body language into some semblance of Don’t Fuck With Me if You Know What’s Good For You, "he’s not. He’s out of the office at present. Shall I take a message?”

“A message. Huh.” She tilts her head and considers this for a moment. “All right. Tell Wesley that if he doesn’t sign the settlement by close of business tomorrow I will personally put his balls in the most airtight legal vise grip known to man. I’m not waiting any longer.”

Faith’s improvised composure falters just a little bit at that.

Lilah gives her a condescending little smirk. “I’ll let myself out, honey.”

The door slams behind her with teeth-rattling decisiveness.

Faith sinks down onto the leather chair, shaken. “Christ, no wonder he was driven to drink.”

Unpleasant encounters aside, she’s still on the clock for another four hours. And so she reluctantly drags herself up out of the chair. On the way back to her desk she hears a tiny creak from inside Wes’ office. She opens the door and peers inside. He’s back behind his desk, looking as composed and steely as ever.

“She’s gone, yes?”

“Didn’t you hear the—” She hears the note of exasperation in her voice, and she stops mid-sentence. “Yeah, she’s gone.”


“Would you like quotes or paraphrases?”

Faith.” So that’s why Lilah’s head tilt of condescension looked so damn familiar.

“Quotes. Right. If you don’t have the settlement signed and on her desk by tomorrow, she’s going to be forced to …take legal action.”

“I’m reasonably sure Ms. Morgan used more colorful epithets than that, but fine. That will be all. I left some briefs for you to type up. They’re on your desk, sorted in colored folders. They’re to be finished and filed by end of business today.”

Faith turns to go.


She stops and half-turns to look at him.

“Thank you.” He sounds almost relieved.

She smiles. “No problem.” She closes the door quietly behind her.


Chapter Six

The next few days seem to pass by in this seamless blur, punctuated by the sounds of office routine. Her fingers clacking over the keys of the Selectric. The scratch of her pencil on the paper. The static hiss her stockings make as she crosses her legs.

Yeah, she's made some minor adjustments. Xander and she went thrift store shopping on the weekend with the contents of her first pay packet, minus the fifty dollars Faith gave her Mom for housekeeping, which resulted in an immediate phone call to the only liquor store in town that delivers.


Now Faith is kitted out in a parody of a fifties secretary. Tight pencil skirts, fitted little blouses (one even has a pussy cat bow, which even Xander thinks is overkill) and a pair of killer heels. Her long, loose-limbed stride is constrained to more of a hobble with her tits thrust out but it's worth it just to see the look on Mr. Wyndam Pryce Esquire's face when she teeters into his office on Monday morning with her shorthand pad. It only lasts a split second before he schools his features back into severity but the way his eyebrows shoot up to his hairline and his mouth hangs open is worth even little red weals that her stockings left when she takes them off.

But it's not enough.

And it's not like she's some weird little freak who gets off on guys hitting her and shit. Except she did. And he did. So why the fuck hasn't it happened again?

Instead he's acting like some playground bully who got sent to the principal and given a week's detention. It's like there's a twelve-inch exclusion zone all around her. When he comes into the kitchen for his stupid Earl Gray tea and she's leaning up against the counter waiting for the kettle to boil, he presses himself back and sidles round her like she's gone down with a bad case of cooties.

Faith would also swear on the freakin' Bible that the chair in front of his desk has been moved back at least two feet so she can't contaminate him with her...whatever that stuff is that oxygen turns into once you breathe it out.

But instead of feeling angry and hurt, she's feeling all kinds of other things. Mainly restless, the same way she gets the week before Xander and she take a trip to the City and she's anticipating the good times and the beat of loud music and the bodies brushing up against her as she dances. She feels heavy like her limbs have been weighted down and it's all she can do to walk the corridors in her four-inch, fuck-me shoes.

Something has to give and it sure as hell ain't gonna be her.

Two more days of him acting like he has a leper on the payroll and after another morning's scintillating dictation when she keeps looking up to find his eyes fixed rigidly on a point somewhere above his shoulder, she knows what to do.

Faith marches back to her desk, inserts a page of the fancy linen blend paper into the typewriter and begins to type. Two minutes later she finishes off:

Your sincerly

W. Windham-Price EsQuire.

With a beatific smile, she snatches the sheet out of the machine and begins the short walk to his office.

She’s two steps away from him when she starts to wonder if she’s made a mistake. Thinks about snatching back her hand, extended toward him with the paper quivering like a moth’s wing, wadding the thick paper into a ball, all edges and spikes, and shoving it down the front of her blouse. But then she imagines his fingers, cool against her skin as he goes in after it—and she knows he would—unbuttoning her blouse with the same careful precision he uses to line stuff up on his desk, or fold his handkerchief, and she lets go. It flutters and snaps as he brings it closer and starts to read and she swallows.

She always watches him when he does this. He reads fast; eyes skimming and flickering, and he doesn’t miss a fucking thing. This letter’s perfect, not a comma out of place; a work of fucking art if you go in for that sort of crap. The ink’s black, and the paper’s cream, and it’s elegant and understated, just like him. She thinks about his bare back, two shades darker than the paper, no more, because he’s so not the soaking up the rays kinda guy, and goes off into this daydream where she’s writing on him, maybe with one of those fucking Sharpie pens, hearts and loops and—

“I see.”

Two words. Four fucking letters, that’s all, and he packs the Complete Works of Shakespeare in there, it’s that loaded. And she’s missed the look on his face when he saw the ending that made it the best fucking letter ever.


“I see that you’re determined to stay at your current level of ineptitude and ignorance.”

Oh, she’s ignorant, is she? Not fucking blind though. He’s glitter-eyed and tight-lipped and he’s looking at her. First time since it happened and she’s got his attention on her and it’s gone so fucking quiet in here she wishes she’d brought a pin to drop.

He stands up and it isn’t that he’s taller, because when she’s in these heels there’s not that much in it, but she wants to tip her head back somehow when she looks at him.

“You’re wasting my time, not to mention dirtying expensive paper.” He’s walking around the desk now and her heart’s thumping with each soft footstep. “Do you like doing that, Faith? Like spoiling things? Like destroying and burning and turning something useful to nothing but ash and smoke?”

He knew. He’d seen. Christ, how did he watch her without her knowing? She always knew if she was being stared at, alien eyes on her tits or ass when she danced or walked down the street, throwing in a wiggle just for the sake of it.

“I made a mistake. It happens.” Christ, she sounds like she’s three days into a cold. Clears her throat and tries again. “Sorry.”

He widens his eyes just a fraction. “Well, yes, I imagine you are, but that’s scarcely the point, is it? What did you think, Faith? That you could get dressed up in your new clothes and suddenly you’d be good enough? Is that it?”

And she’s shaking her head, little bit hurt, because he’s got scorn dripping off every word as he looks at her and she’s remembering the Morgan bitch and feeling like a carbon-copy, a knock-off, second-hand and cheap.

“Turn around.”

It’s a whisper and it’s still got more authority than a scream but she doesn’t want to lose the sight of his face so she stays where she is until his lips thin and tighten.

“I won’t repeat myself, Faith.”

And she’s spinning on her heel and the fucking shoes are too high for that, and she starts to stumble but he catches her, hand wrapping around her arm and pulling her up. For a second she thinks she feels his breath against her bare neck, but then he’s stepping away and she’s left staring at the wall, waiting.

“Lift up your skirt, Faith.”

It’s not what she expected and it unsettles her, though fuck knows she’s not exactly relaxed right now, but he waits and when she shakes her head she’s not really saying, ‘no’, she’s asking, ‘why?’

“Please stop wasting my time, Faith.”

No one says her name like that, lingering on it, as if it’s more than just a convenient label, and she reaches down and pulls up the tight skirt, bunching it in her hands and easing it over her hips. She’s so fucking exposed right then and it sends a trickle of heat through her, so that when he reaches out and hooks his fingers in her panties she moans, biting her lip to keep the sound inside and not quite making it. His hand goes still, knuckles brushing her ass.

“You will remain silent, Faith.”

And she would have, she’d have tried to anyway, but then he slips the letter inside her panties and she cries out with surprise as the stiff edges scrape against her skin. He spins her around and slams her against the desk in one swift movement.

“I don’t tolerate waste and disobedience, Faith. I think you need to be reminded of that, don’t you?”

And she watches her hands slip into position, fingers spread, and hears the air part for his hand behind her.

It seems to last an age but then again it doesn't seem like any time at all.

She hears it first; the crack of his hand against the curve of her left buttock, then she feels it. God, how she feels it! This hot kiss on her skin that makes her fingers clench.

The next smack almost jolts her off her feet and she lurches against the side of the desk, catching the tender pooch of her belly against the edge of the wood and making the paper crackle, She can't stifle the surprised cry that bursts out of her mouth.

He stops. He takes a step back, then she hears a tutting sound. Christ, now what?

His hands are gentle as they arrange her to his liking, molding her into Faith-shaped clay. He stands behind her, palms smoothing down her arms so he can press her hands flat on the polished wood. He nudges her impossibly high instep with the toe of one polished brogue and she swivels her head to look at him like he's a crossword clue she just can't figure out.

The glint in his eye makes something twist in her stomach. There's a hectic flush of color dotted over his cheekbones.

“I want... Spread your legs, Faith.”

She turns round so he won't see the triumphant smile on her face and obligingly shuffles her feet apart.


She waits, contemplates giving her hips a gentle shimmy but thinks better of it.

“Arch your back, Faith.”

What the fuck is she? A pretzel? But she does as he asks and feels the cold air ghost against the exaggerated thrust of her ass.

“That's better,” he says in this oh-so-satisfied way, like she's just handed him a perfectly typed, perfectly spelled letter instead of the mess that got her into this wet dream.

She barely has time to blink before the flat of his hand is striking her again. Slow, measured strokes against the thin cotton of her panties.

“You see, Faith, there are correct ways to do things. Procedures that have to be followed.”

His breathing is ragged, a perfect match for hers as she gulps in air and hangs her head. His hand speeds up, starting fires wherever it touches. Her right cheek, her left cheek, the tops of her thighs, and she starts to wish, more than she's wished for anything in her life, that he'd pull down her low-rider briefs so she can feel his skin against hers.

“Without order, you have nothing but chaos. Do you like chaos, Faith?”

She almost misses her cue but comes in just before the prompt. “No, sir!”

“How many pads have you burned?”

She can't remember. Fuck! She can't remember.

“Eight? Nine?”

“Eleven pads. How many?”

“Eleven, sir.”

“You need to be punished for your willful destruction of office property.” He's pacing some distance behind her. “Or maybe I should just deduct the amount from your wages.”

Faith wants to protest that this way is just fine but he's already making that “tsk tsk” sound that she's starting to feel rather fond of.

“But would that be effective? I think not. I think you need tangible evidence of your crimes. Start counting.”

This time the smacks are concentrated in that soft space where her thighs meet her buttocks and as she counts out his beats, it takes every last ounce of energy that's left not to scream and moan but call out the numbers in a steady voice.


There's a pause, then his hand crashes down with great force between her legs and stays there, crushing the sodden cotton and paper that it's found.


His fingers twitch almost imperceptibly and he takes a step closer so she can feel the soft wool of his trousers against her smarting legs.

She stifles a gasp. She sways unsteadily, momentarily thankful that the desk is holding her up. She struggles to remain composed, fingers and legs splayed apart just so, arms locked rigid, back arched, head upright, when all the tension in her body has converged at the juncture where his hand rests. She wants nothing more than to sink down onto the desk. Wants his fingers twisting up inside her. Wants his hands on her breasts and his lips brushing against her skin. Wants him to fuck her. Wants, wants, wants. But she knows that he would see that as simplistic and clumsy and inelegant. Primitive, even. For a moment she feels betrayed by the very obviousness of her desire—the proof of her wanting him—when there he is, still buttoned up and in control. But that’s the magical equation, isn’t it? That’s what got her wet in the first place.

And God, he’s not moving. She can hear his quickened breathing and the mere fact of his body pressed against her—she can feel the heaviness of his erection through the soft yielding fabric—is almost too much. She wants to ask him but she can’t. But this peculiar stasis is killing her.

She waits for him to say anything. Do anything. She’s starting to feel faintly ridiculous just standing there. If only she could see the conflict she's sure is written across his sharp features. Shame and doubt and self-hatred all reflected in the tightness of his posture, the downturn of his mouth and bitter set of his jaw, his eyes shut tight. Maybe a slight sheen of sweat across his forehead. But she can't see any of it, only guess. She dutifully stares at a fixed point on the ridiculous flowered wallpaper, and tries to keep her exhausted arms from collapsing. She can’t help but replay all the short, graceless fucks she’s had in her life. And yeah, so she wouldn’t have to put up with this bullshit from the captain of the football team or head of debate or even some geek from chess club. But once you got them into bed they were all the same. Unimaginative. Usually stoned. One, two, three, uh! and she’d be left, unsatisfied, smoking her post-prandial cigarette while he stuffed himself back into his pants and climbed out her window.

She's brought abruptly back to reality when Wes draws a breath and shifts slightly against her. When he speaks his voice is terse, his accent clipped. “I’m not going to fuck you, Faith.” He spits out the word fuck as though it’s an unclean, unfit thing, utterly beneath him.

She’s thankful that he can’t see the disappointment written across her features. She’s about ready to collapse.

That’s when his fingers slide just a little deeper inside her, and she hears the metallic rasp of a zipper.

Instantaneously, instinctually she clamps down on his fingers. Instead of digging them in, like so many other finger fucks she's had, his movements are slight, gentle, deliberate. It's heavenly, and if there's something better than that, it's when his warm and ever-so-slightly hangnailed thumb shoves the wadded paper away and brushes her clit. She lets her breath out in a slight hiss, straining to push a burgeoning orgasm back down. Not yet, not yet. She's digging her short, ragged nails into the desk, praying for anything but a quick release.

Then she hears it, that tell-tale sound of skin slapping on skin. His ragged breathing picks up the pace. She fights the urge to turn around, even though she knows full well what he's doing back there.

Immediately, as if reading her mind, he rasps: “Keep your eyes to the wall, Faith.”

Well, she's certainly in no position to disobey that order, as prone and open as she is, his fingers working deep inside her in places she's pretty sure have never been touched before. Then, like she's some kind of complicated combination lock, he hits two of the right points at the same instant, thumb working over the tender, concentrated flesh outside and his fingers inside hooking on to the deepest core of her desire.

She doesn't recognize the sound that comes out of her. Not a scream, not a moan, but some weird, desperate combination of both. This time, when she slams into the edge of the desk, it's her own doing. His hand is still working her, and the warm tingle of release ebbs and transforms into a near-uncomfortable slow burn. Impossibly, or perhaps not, she comes again, the sounds coming from her throat even more animalistic and needy. Again, she's grateful that the desk keeps her from collapsing, nearly boneless, to the floor. She'd give anything in the world for him to flip her over and fuck her senseless on the spot.

No sooner has that thought crossed her mind than he breathes her name, his hot come hitting the small of her back, sliding down the slope of her ass, dribbling past where his hand is still locked inside her.

Again, there's silence. Almost too much. He removes his hand and seconds later, he's wiping her down with his starched handkerchief with surprising gentleness, the slight roughness of the fabric sending a little aftershock of shivers across her flesh.

She can hear him fussing around behind her, but she doesn't dare turn around. There's the reverse rasp of the zipper, and she feels an emptiness in the space he'd filled.

He slips into the ancient leather desk chair, and she can see that some of the tense lines around his mouth and eyes have slipped away. She tries to catch his eyes, but he's looking past her, through her.

“That will be all for today, Faith,” he says flatly, pulling a file from under her arm.

Chapter Seven

She thought the world would end after those twenty minutes in his office or, like, be different or something but the planet is still spinning on its axis and she's still typing and burning pads in the backyard and hoping, beyond hope, that he'll notice and take it out on her ass again.

Only two things change. The supply desk is back in his office with the little blue typewriter on it, though he's yet to ask her to use it and the other thing? She's still trying to work out whether she should be offended or turned on. Or some weird combination of both.

See, she comes in to work three days later after The Spanking With Benefits and on her desk are two boxes from the fanciest dress shop in town; the one frequented by the Lilah Morgans of this world. She approaches the largest pink box with the cursive black script on it cautiously, mentally rehearsing the flirtatious reprimand she's going to give their cute UPS boy, when she sees an envelope with her name on it tucked into the lid of the larger box.

Her stomach flutters delicately. She knows that writing. Her fingers tremble slightly as she tears open the envelope and plucks out the piece of paper.


It would appear that you're still not familiar with the appropriate dress code for a lawyer's office. I've taken the liberty of rectifying this matter.

W. Wyndam-Price, Esq.

The delicate flutter has upgraded to a full-on churning as she opens the lid of the first box. There's black as far as the eye can see. She picks up a fold of material and a smile lights up her face.

The dress, identical to the other two still folded between sheets of tissue paper, is unrelenting black and made of fine light wool. High neckline, long sleeves, and when she holds it against her, it just skims the knee. The fact that the slit in the skirt has been painstakingly stitched up is not lost on her.

When she opens the smaller box, she has to clutch on to the sides of the desk to steady herself. Which is way too much deja vu for her liking. There are black suede, pointy-toed stilettos, far higher than anything she's ever teetered on. Five pairs of black silk stockings and then there are...the other things. The things that no boss should ever buy his secretary, appropriate office attire be damned. She scoops up one of everything and rushes into the bathroom.

But he does nothing. He's in boring lawyer automaton mode. His eyes don't seem to appreciate the way the dresses cling to every inch of her, showcasing the high thrust of her breasts and the impossible curve of her waist or the jut of her ass in the corset that he picked out for her.

Faith likes the feeling of being restricted, of being restrained in her clothes. Like she can't be the person she was, instead she's forced to be this other Faith who walks slowly in her vertiginous heels, the tight binding of her skirt making her hips swing gently as she navigates her new world of desk, corridor, office.

She's so convinced by this new Faith that when she looks up and sees him there it takes a second before she gives a start of recognitions. What the fuck?

“Well, well, look at you, Faithy. All growed up.”


She scrapes her chair back to get away from the almost asphyxiating fumes of alcohol seeping out of his pores and his mouth as he directs a stream of invective right at her.

“Your bitch cunt of a mother has had the fucking locks changed. I know you put her up to it, you treacherous little whore. Got yourself a fancy new job but you're still a worthless piece of lying shit, aren't you?”

She doesn't answer. Faith knows how to play this game and it involves hanging her head and staring at her hands until he's done. And that way she doesn't have to see the stains on his shirt, the bloodshot eyes and the spittle clinging to his chapped lips.

“Serve you both right if I fucking torch the place. Like anyone else would miss your useless ass.”

Her gaze skitter to the corridor in dread. How can he not have heard? Why hasn't he appeared? Fuck! Please God, don't let him suddenly appear like a lawyerly version of the bad fairy.

“Giving her housekeeping aren't you? Even though I'm busting my balls to make her fucking alimony payments.”

She's frozen in terror now, her palms damp. Wes is going to get up out of his leather chair, softly stride down the corridor and see her reduced to this. A scared little girl all dressed up and nowhere left to go.

“Give me some fucking money, you cunt!” Her father slams one meaty paw down on the desk with a thump and she jumps.

“I... I...”

“You gonna get that sentence out sometime before the end of next fucking week, Faithy?” He's leaning into her now and she flinches away, one hand reaching out for her bag. He saves her the bother, snatching it out of her nerveless grasp and upending it so a motley collection of makeup and pens and chewing gum and receipts scatters over the table.

He doesn't give a fuck about that. He's already seized her pocketbook and is rifling through it. “Fuck! Is that all you got?”

“I don't get paid until the end of the week,” she says, her eyes downcast and she doesn't know why she feels like apologizing as he pockets a tiny wad of bills and a handful of loose change.

“Yeah, well, should have known I couldn't rely on you for fuck all.” Now that he's got what he came for, he's already starting toward the door but she daren't breathe out until the door slams back against the frame and she hears him muttering angrily as he staggers down the steps.

Her fingers fumble for the lighter on her desk and the new shorthand pad that she took from the supply cupboard an hour ago. She's surprised to find it damp and splotchy but then she realizes that she's crying. Her tears trace a track through her carefully applied mascara and powder so gray blotches spot the pristine white paper.

She gets up and it feels all wrong to be in this tight skirt and these stupid heels. She doesn't want to be hemmed in, she wants to run out of here and find some empty place where she can shout and smash things up. Guess she'll have to make do with willful destruction of office property and fuck! why are her hands still shaking?

Faith steps out from behind the desk, her lighter and pad clutched in her hot, sweaty hands, then nearly screams when she sees him standing there. He doesn't even blink an eye at her disheveled appearance, the mess of her life spread out over the desktop. He looks so calm, so collected, so in control. His back's rigid, his eyes frosty like Cool Whip, even though he must have heard World WarTthree break out in his reception.

She wipes the back of her hand across her eyes to get rid of the tears and it comes away with a black smudge on it as she ruins the rest of her makeup. She can't stand feeling like this.

“I... I'm sorry... He... Messy divorce thing...”

He cuts right across her tear-soaked babble with the one thing she suddenly realizes she needed him to say. “I want you to take a letter, Faith. Come into my office.”

Chapter Eight

He doesn’t wait for her to reply, just turns and stalks off. She snatches up a pencil, and she’s halfway down the corridor when she realizes she’s still holding the lighter, tucked under the pad. She’d go back and drop it on her desk, but that would mean losing sight of him, and she doesn’t want to do that.

The panic and the rush leave her when she’s inside that dim room, the door closing behind her with a creak and slam that echo in her head as she walks over to him. He’s not at his desk this time; he’s sitting, relaxed and looking thoughtful, on the low couch off to the side. She stands in front of him, the smooth metal of the lighter warm in her hand, hidden for now, not wondering, or thinking, not doing anything but waiting for an order.

And she’s starting to see that if she’s wearing these clothes and waiting, always waiting, this thing, this fucking game they’re playing, isn’t stopping. This round didn’t begin when he told her to follow him, and it won’t end when she leaves, after he’s, well, what will he do? God, she doesn’t fucking care, as long as he takes this feeling away from her; the certainty that all she is and all she’ll ever be is exactly what her dad tells her she is. And he says, “Sit, Faith,” like she’s a fucking dog or something. And that really isn’t a good thing to have pop into her head when she’s carefully bending her knees to sit perched beside him, and tucking her feet neatly to the side.

She clears her throat, pencil poised, the pad awkward in her hand because it’s balanced on slippery metal. The first page needs tearing off; she’s not writing on it when it’s all messed up like that. Fumbling, with fingers still shaking from reaction, she rips it away. The one underneath is stained too and she glances up at him, expecting him to look impatient, but he’s staring at her hands and waiting. Two, three pages get crumpled in her hand and she shoves them down beside her and sets the pencil against the page.

“Sorry. I’m ready now.”

He starts to dictate to her and she misses the first words because yeah, she didn’t think he really wanted to answer Mr. Lowell’s letter of the fourth and, oh fuck, she’s lost track.

“Sorry. Can you just say that again? Please?” She stares down at squiggles and hooks and tries to make sense of them.

A hand comes to rest on the pad and he curls a fingernail under the page and lifts it up, taking it between finger and thumb and pulling at it. It tears free of the gum at the top with agonizing slowness, then it’s fluttering, held, in his hand.

“Let me see.” He glances at it and tears it in half. “No. It’s not worth keeping. You’d better make a fresh start.”

Well, someone ate Chinese and memorized his fortune cookie last night, she thinks bitterly and she can’t help glaring at him. “It’s not that fucking easy,” she says, the words too loud for this place.

“For most people, no, I’d imagine it’s not.” He studies her and smiles, and God, he’s pretty when he does that, but it’s gone so fast she’s left missing it before she’s had chance to fix it in her head. “But for you it is, isn’t it?” He hold out his hand, palm up. “Give it to me.”

And she knows what he means, but she can’t, and her fingers clutch and curl and her eyes are flickering around the room until she’s giddy, with a kaleidoscope of images slamming against her mind.


Her gaze goes to his face, and all she can see is him, and that makes it simple.

He tosses the lighter in his hand and flicks it open, watching the flame. “Does it really help?” he asks, as calm as if he’s asked her the time.

“I don’t know. It’s just something I do. Not a big deal.”

She smells the sweetness of the smoke in her head, and touches a perfect curve of black crisp paper, feels it melt to a smear, and swallows.

“No, of course not.” He snaps the lighter shut and slips it into his pocket.

“No! Look, that’s mine.” Give it back to me, you fucking bastard.

“You don’t need it.” He stares at her. “It serves no useful purpose for you to do that, and I believe I’ve expressed my views on it before. You didn’t listen, Faith. Inattention brings with it certain consequences, but you don’t seem to care.” He brings out another of those impossibly clean white handkerchiefs—Christ, would it kill him to blow his nose on Kleenex like the rest of the fucking world? —and reaches behind him for a small jug of water, dipping in a corner of the handkerchief and wetting it.

Without warning she begins to cry, hot tears spilling down her cheeks, and he pauses, hand hovering in front of her face. “Stop that.”

She sniffs, feeling gross, and blinks at him. The tears are stinging her eyes and if she’s got any mascara left on, it’ll be a fucking miracle. He takes hold of her chin and tilts her face, this way and that, before cleaning it, dipping and dabbing, an intent look in his eyes. He’s making her look the way he wants her to, restoring her, and though it’s not just what she wanted, she takes it anyway.

The water softens the fabric, but it’s still rough against her face and when he’s done he touches his fingers to her skin, reddened and a little sore.

“That’s better,” he says softly. “I don’t care for tears. They will do you no good here, Faith. Remember that.”

It’s a warning and she can’t focus enough to work out what he means because that feeling of being trapped is starting to squeeze her again. She’s tensing her muscles to jump up and run when he twitches the pencil from her hand and tosses it across the room. It lands in the middle of the carpet, rolls and comes to rest.

She meets his eyes, feeling a puzzled excitement chase away the suffocation.

“Fetch it,” he says, eyes doing that burning holes in you thing again. She stands, teetering on her heels, and walks over to it, feeling his eyes on her the whole time. Thanking Christ that she’s fit and limber from never having bus money to do anything but walk, she bends from the waist, feet apart just enough to steady her, and holds the position just long enough to give him something to look at, before straightening and turning back to him, the pencil in her hand. Four steps and she sits down again, picking up her pad and looking at him expectantly.

He leans in, not touching her with anything but his breath, exhaled minty-cool and whisper-soft against her throat and takes the pencil off her, throwing it again, a smile curving his lips. This smile doesn’t make him look pretty but she likes it better.

Fetch it, Faith.”

And she gets it then and the carpet’s rough against her knees.

It takes her four times to get it exactly right, with him greeting each attempt with a pained sigh and a repetition of the order, until finally she slides to her knees, crawls past the pencil and turns, meets his eyes, then lowers her head, using tongue and teeth to pick it up. A pause, and she crawls back, never looking away from his face, and kneels in front of him, her fingers an inch from one polished shoe.

“You’re remarkably slow on the uptake today, Faith,” he says as he holds out his hand and the spit-wet pencil drops into it, to be discarded with a fastidious shudder.

“Now that you’ve mastered that little task”—his voice is cool and calm and he gives an almost jaunty little lilt to the word “task”—”We can move on to something a bit more difficult.”

She’s still kneeling, looking up at him expectantly, anxiety and excitement flooding through her.

“Stand up.”

She does so.

“Turn around.”

Again, she complies. Her stomach does a little flutter as she imagines him looking her up and down. She had hoped to feel transformed under his gaze, like an Amazon or one of those heroines from a fifties film noir, all poise and snark and power-suiting. Instead she feels like a little girl caught playing dress-up, awkward and a little ridiculous. The nearness of him, the extreme tightness of the skirt and the nosebleed high heels are conspiring to make her unsteady on her feet; her eyes are still red from crying and her calves ache from the newness of the heels. She takes a deep breath to try and calm herself when she feels the flat of his hand pressing at the small of her back. She leans instinctively into his touch, but he pushes her away with a minute flick of his wrist.

“You are not to slouch, Faith, not ever again. You must stand tall at all times, do you hear me?”

All her concentration is focused on standing stock-still. She’s practically forgotten to breathe.

“Answer me.”


“Good. Now.” She hears the hushed hiss of a drawer being opened and a rustle of fabric. The air pressure shifts and once again he’s standing right behind her, so close she can feel his hand brushing against her back.

“Close your eyes.”

Eyes closed, she feels like she's floating in some portion of undetermined space. She tries to make sense of the tiny noises around her. The air conditioner clicks on. The water cooler in the kitchen's got a drip again.

He's moving around. Pacing, she thinks, and the whisper of fabric continues to cut through the air. She wants to make some sassy remark about how the hesitation is killing the buzz but honestly, it's not. She can't stand it. She wants something to happen, preferably five minutes ago. What the hell is he doing? She swallows nervously, her ankles starting to wobble from standing still for so long. She shifts a foot just a tiny bit to the left.

“Stand still.” Sharp and cutting.

“I'm...I'm sorry.” It comes out as a dry whisper, much more helpless than she intended.

And he's behind her again, warm fingertips brushing a stray tendril of hair from her neck.

“I'm sure you're sorry for a lot of things, Faith.” His mouth is by her ear, she shivers. “Many of which, I imagine, are not your fault.”

It's like a punch in the gut, those words, and the waterworks threaten to break in again. No crying. No. No. No. Deep breath, arms rigid by her sides, hands in tight fists. Another deep breath. But her goddamn chin won't stop quivering.

“No tears, Faith. Remember that,” he says again, running a finger lightly down her cheek, stopping at her betraying chin, holding it still. “Now, open your eyes.”

He's in front of her now, eyes piercing with icy control. She tries to read them, but he's closed off too tightly. He knows she's trying to puzzle him out, and his lips curl into a sneering little smile. He moves a hand to her tight French knot and pulls out the hairpins keeping it in place. Her unruly hair tumbles out around her cheeks.

There's a flicker of pleasure in his eyes at what he's done, and a slight smile curls about her lips.

He frowns. “On your knees.”

She fights an urge to roll her eyes. Up, down, up, down. Shit. But right. It's the game. Right. Keep your head in the game, Faithy. But she's still hesitating, still not...

“Did you not understand me, you ignorant girl? On your knees. Now.”

She can't exactly argue with that tone. She slips to the floor again. And finds herself staring at his crotch. At his hard-on.

“Hands behind your back.”

Oh God.

“Hands behind your back, Faith. And keep them there.”

She knows. Exactly…

“Undo my trousers.”

Where this…

“Without them.”

Is going.

She's sweating a little. The wool dress is suddenly a lot warmer than it had been.
She presses her sweaty palms together behind her back and takes a deep breath. Here goes nothing.

And actually, it's not exactly as hard as she thinks. Or, well. Undoing the belt anyway. But what to do with this hook and eye closure thing on the waistband? She could pull it really hard with her teeth, but he'd probably not take well to her damaging his obviously custom-made trousers.

She goes for it anyway, tugging lightly at first. She grunts a little with the effort and finally wrenches it open without tearing anything. She thinks.

Zipper next. Easy. Easy. Except that she can't keep it in her teeth because his goddamn erection is in the way. She sighs heavily, then purses her lips around the tiny zipper pull. This works better, and his cock springs out at her, unhindered.

He's going commando? Well, at least she doesn't have to use that stupid plan she was mulling over to casually get his underpants down with her teeth.

From here she's pretty sure she can handle things. The rest of the way is nothing she hasn't done countless times. And she's hungry for it. She takes in as much of his full length as she can at first, and relaxes the back of her throat to take more.

He's running his hands through her hair again. Pulls her off him. What the fuck?

“You're a greedy little harlot, aren't you, Faith?”

She glares up at him. What is with him? Just a little busy down here, sir..

“You could do with a little more grace. I'm not some drunken fool you've picked up at a club in the city. Start again.”

Wait a minute...

“How the hell do you know about...”

“Silence, Faith.”

“What the fuck? Have you been fucking spying on me?” Her voice borders on shrill. She's taken just about enough shit for one day.

He looks down at her, stony-eyed, but silent.

“No. No. I won't play that way. I won't. You cannot spy on me. You can't, you pretentious fucker!”

Now she doesn’t give a fuck about pleasing him, about composure and the game and keeping it all down. She’s hitting him, thrashing out. Pushes him down onto his precious antique desk and lays one knee right into him.

“You fucking piece of shit! How fucking dare you! I’m not gonna fucking shut it this time, not gonna keep quiet and just let you play out your sick little mindfuck.” She’s got him by his shirt collar, staring him down with murderous anger. He’s not looking away from her but he’s not saying a word in his defense either.

“Is that why Lilah Morgan is suing your pansy ass? You overstep more than a few boundaries with her too, you sick fuck?”

He’s still calm and collected, the bastard. “Your vocabulary has really grown to encompass a startling array of colloquialisms since you’ve started here, Faith.”

Is that a smile? She’s going to take his fucking head clean off.

He’s sprawled roughly on the desk, she’s straddling one knee, a fistful of his formerly impeccable Brooks Bros. chambray shirt gathered tightly in white-hot knuckles.

“Any explanation you can give me that isn’t going to make me walk out of here and never come back?”

She can still feel his hard-on pressed between her thighs and she’s doing her best to ignore that.

“No. No, there isn’t.” No smirk this time. There’s a sharp edge of guilt in the way he’s not meeting her gaze anymore and he looks almost shaken. There’s a first for everything.

“So, you just couldn’t help yourself? What? Say something, goddammit!”

But she doesn’t need to hear it from him. She can see it. How he’d have one more shot of whiskey to talk himself into it, how he’d hate himself for sitting there in the dark, watching her. She can’t help but see the dead-leaf echo of—she doesn’t even want to continue that train of thought. It doesn’t go anywhere good.

She lets go of him, and he slumps down onto the desk.

“This isn’t going to happen again.” Her voice is flat, the merest hint of a quaver creeping in. And she hates herself just a little bit for that.

Suddenly his hand is on her thigh and he’s pushing aside the fabric of her dress, his fingers sliding under the thin lace of her thong. “No, it’s not.”

“I’m leaving.” And yet—

“I’d like you on the desk. Please.” His fingers twist a bit deeper inside her and she finds herself complying. Her better judgment hasn’t gotten fucked in a long while.

She slides onto the desk, legs as apart as they can go in the constricting dress. He kneels down, hiking the dress up over her hips and sliding the lace aside so he can dip his tongue into her pussy. He does so shallowly at first, circling her clit and testing how wet she is before he settles in to really tongue-fuck her. Grips her ass and angles her toward him so the pressure’s just right on her clit. She’s already making these short, clipped moans—"Ah, ah, ah"—but he’s just getting started.

Funny that he can be so cold but his mouth and hands are hot on her as she arches her back, bangs her head on the brass pen tidy, and all the while he's there, on his knees in front of her, tongue drilling into her.

It's too much. It's not enough. She doesn't know how to do this. No-one's ever gone down on their knees in front of her. No-one's ever gone down on her. Like she's a queen. Like she should be worshipped. Her legs twitch and she's panicking, trying to fight the fast, frantic waves that are threatening to push her under as he starts sucking hard on her clit.

“Oh God, I can't...” Her voice is hoarse, frightened as she tries to scoot back, get away from him and his voracious mouth that wants to swallow her whole, taste all her secrets.

His hands slide off her ass, then she feels the span of each of his fingers as he grips the soft skin of her inner thighs, pushing her legs farther apart so she's laid completely bare.

“Please...” It was meant to be some incoherent plea to get him to stop but then he's using his tongue and his teeth and his chin, even his fucking nose and she's never been so wet, so open. When she comes, it's torn out of her with a harsh cry but it's not stopping. Mainly because he doesn't need to worry about keeping her legs open anymore and shoves three fingers into her cunt and twists them roughly.

Everything slips away. All of it. Family. Fears. Foes. And all she is is the relentless tugging and sucking between her legs, which makes her dig the spike heels into the polished wood of the desk and grind her hips into his face as stars explode beneath her screwed shut eyes and she thinks she's just seen God.

When he pulls away at last because her cries are getting fainter and fainter as breathing becomes this really hard thing to do, she presses her hand against her wildly beating heart and tries to send this message to her brain to shut her thighs.

Her brain doesn't want to know and she sprawls on his desk, legs akimbo, dress still hitched up to the heavens, panting. His wrist is warm against her knee as he grips the desk to haul himself up and stand in front of her. She waits for the clipped command to get up, straighten up, take a letter, fetch a pencil but it never comes.

“Beautiful,” he says and he sounds like he's in church. Then he takes his handkerchief out of his pocket and begins to gently clean up the terrible mess he's made of her.

All that she can do is fling her arm across her face so she doesn't have to look at him. Because she can't bear to see any of his looks from icy, to amused, to concerned.

“Faith. Look at me.” He's mopping up her cunt with soft strokes of his once impeccable handkerchief but somehow it seems more intimate to open her eyes and see his face.

“I can't,” she mumbles, trying to sit up and having to give in, to accept the hand that he places under her elbow so he can pull her upright. He's hard. Of course, he's still hard. She wonders whether he wants...if she should offer…but when she tentatively reaches out her hand, his fingers curl around her wrist and he shakes his head.

She tugs down the skirt of her dress and realizes that she's naked under it. The thong got lost somewhere between the whole eating her out thing and the clean-up operation. “Where's my...” He's had his tongue in her cunt but she can't bring herself to bring up the subject of her missing underwear.

He gives her one of his pretty smiles. “Your thong? I removed it. It's not appropriate attire, as you know perfectly well.”

Faith remembers the underwear he bought her that she left in the box. Black satin French knickers that she thought were too old-fashioned, too impractical.

She swallows hard and slides off the desk, almost stumbling as her feet hit the ground. “You're a sick fuck,” she whispers fiercely and gets another tender quirk of his lips.

“That's no way to talk to your employer,” he says mildly, folding the soiled square of linen and putting it into his pocket. “I can see that I still have a long way to go with your training.”

And she finally looks at him and it's something to do with the way he's standing there, rigid but awkward, eyes clear but wary and she's jumping back into the game, finding her place.

“There were some things that weren't on the syllabus at the secretarial college,” she says tartly, smoothing the wool across her hips. “I guess I need to learn on the job.”

“You're not leaving.” And the weird thing is that he probably means it as an order but it sounds to her like a question. She doesn't answer just walks over to the couch and picks up her pad.

“Do you still want me to take a letter?”

“I think we're done.” He's moving stiffly around the desk so he can sink into the leather chair like he's exhausted. “For now. You should go and get some lunch.”

Faith walks toward the door, her legs doing these weird little spastic spasms so she imagines he can see the muscles pulsing under her skin. Just before she turns the door handle, she looks over her shoulder at him. She catches him mid-stare, in quiet contemplation of her ass and he flushes.

"Don't ever call me a harlot or, like, anything that means whore ever again.” she says quietly before she leaves.

Chapter Nine

He doesn’t come to the diner, though she doesn’t know if she’s glad about that or not, and he’s in his office when she gets back, a sandwich stuck painfully halfway down her throat, because she didn’t have enough cash for a drink after her fucking dad cleaned her out of all but pocket change, and her mouth was too dry with tension to swallow. She knows he’s in there because she hears his voice faintly, talking on the phone, but he doesn’t come out and he doesn’t call her in.

So she sits, black satin undies smooth and slippery against flesh still tender, and she works without a break until it’s time to go home, then leaves, shutting the door with a loud slam.

And when he comes out, half an hour later, she’s waiting by his car.

“Good night, Faith,” he says evenly. She doesn’t move from her position blocking the car door and he frowns. “I don’t have time for—” He breaks off, and she sees his eyes get cold and wary. “What do you want?”

Oh, so many things, but somehow when he’s this close, they all stop mattering. Attention. She wants to matter, and she wants, oh God, does she want his cock in her, just once before this ends. And she knows it will. Good things always do.

She holds out her hand. “My lighter. I won’t—I won’t do that, all right? But I haven’t had a cigarette all afternoon.”

It’s lame. Not like she can’t get a light off someone, and there are matches in the office kitchen, if it comes to that, tucked up high in a cupboard next to some candles. It’s lame, but it works.

“I think it will do you no harm to wait, Faith. To go without.”

And they’re not talking smokes anymore. But then, they never were. His eyes travel down and stop at her feet, with heels changed to flats.

“You changed your shoes.”

He sounds disapproving and she glares at him. “Got a thirty-minute walk on cracked sidewalks ahead of me. Want me to arrive tomorrow in a fucking cast because I’ve broken an ankle?”

“You don’t have cab fare? Bus money?” He sounds incredulous. Maybe in his world there’s always money for shit like that, for just about everything you want. Somehow she doesn’t want to tell him her father left her penniless but she doesn’t need to. He sighs, as if he’s come to a decision and yeah, go ahead and amputate, doctor, leans in a little, and slides the hand with the key past her hip, grazing it with his fingers and sending heat over her in a scalding ripple. “Get in. I’ll take you where you want to go.”

The car seats are leather, from cows that died grateful for the chance to cushion her ass in comfort. She sinks back and moans with pleasure. “This car’s so fucking cool,” she says, not caring if it makes him smile, reaching out to twiddle with the air conditioner. He lets her, and there’s even a twitch that might be an indulgent smile, but when she tries to flip on the music, his hand slaps her fingers away without him bothering to look away from the road.

“Fine. No music. Talk to me then,” she says, feeling that it’s different now they’re outside work and she might actually get to find out something about what they’re doing here.

He reaches out and ejects the CD that would’ve started to play automatically, then switches on the radio. It’s set to some classical station, which means it’s all noise to her, but she lies back, closes her eyes and drifts, plinking pianos and scraping violins merging to make her think of oceans and surf and crying gulls. She’s always been good at making up shit like that.

She’s jolted out of the haze when the street noises drop away and she sees they’re climbing up out of the city.

“Hey! This isn’t the way home!”

“Oh, but it is. For me.”

And as he pulls into a garage, with the door sliding out of the way obediently and silently, she remembers the words he’d used and starts to shiver.

Where she wanted to go. In his house, just the two of them. Are they the same thing? She doesn’t know, but as he walks around and opens the door for her, doing it without a flicker of doubt, as if he thinks that was why she stayed sitting, not that her legs were trembling too much to support her, she gets out. Her fingers rest in his for a long moment, and she thanks him as if men do this for her all the time.

He nods, a gesture of gallantry that's almost kind of dorky, but says nothing.

The anticipation, fear, whatever, is prickling on her skin. Thoughts are forming, but they sort of float away, half complete. Is this a date? Does he have some hidden room behind a swinging library door that's a torture chamber of pleasure? That last thought sticks with her, and makes her wet all over again.

“This way, Faith.” Right, daydreaming again in front of him. Right on, Faith. Good one.

He's standing by a door and punching a hell of a security code into a panel, faintly lit up all blue. The garage door closes swiftly and quietly, unlike the precarious, creaking thing at her mother's house. It's dark for a second, and after a series of clicks that sound like some serious deadbolts, the door swings open.

“Come along,” he says, just slightly impatiently.

She gently closes the car door and follows him into the house.

There are very few hills in this part of the world, but his home—his magnificent fucking estate, she corrects herself—is on one of them. It's one of those super modern affairs, all glass and metal and angles that looks inhospitable but is really open and airy and lovely on the inside.

The hallway ends abruptly in an architectural collision with a glassed-in great room with at least a twenty-foot ceiling. And even though they're not all that high up on this incongruous hill, below them the nasty suburban sprawl is glittering in the twilight.

She's taking in the view, kind of stunned. The car was one thing, but this. Shit. It's amazing.

He's working his way silently around the room, turning on lamps. He even pauses to tweak a pillow just so on a weird looking black-and-chrome sofa. He slides up next to her, hand at the small of her back. “You're slouching,” he whispers.

Nodding, she nervously licks her lips and straightens.

“That's better,” His voice is kind of thick and drawly, in that English way. His hand is still at her back, almost as if he's keeping her from falling backward from her outrageously erect posture. She's still looking at the view, practically fucking swoony from the nearness of him. But out of the corner of her eye, she can see he's taking her in with his patented disconcerted look—yeah, she's noticed it before—just the slightest hint of a furrow on his brow. It's as if he can't believe she's really there.

Being out of the office has shifted things, perceptibly. He's still got her on a short leash, so to speak, but between the change of venue and the fact that she nearly beat him up this afternoon, things are off balance. Of course, she can't make the first move. Hell, she can't make any move at all, really. And of course, he really does seem to take a gently sadistic pleasure in making her wait. God, would he take her to the hidden room off the goddamn library already?

She turns, and catches him still summing her up. The briefest smile flits across his features, and just like that—she can hardly believe she sees it happen—he's Wesley Wyndam-Pryce, Esq., cold, thorny bastard. How the hell does he do that?

It's like the air is charged with his renewed position of power, and she breathes in sharply. His hand has slid over her ass, gently. It feels amazing, his touch through the layers of wool and satin.

“I think it's time we dispense with the pleasantries.”

He grabs her arm and starts her down the long hallway and suddenly she’s feeling anxious and just a bit perturbed. Like, aren’t we beyond this bullshit by now? He must sense her resistance because he stops walking and turns to look at her, clucking his tongue in annoyance.

“I’m not Bluebeard, Faith. Come on. There’s something that I want you to see.”

This time she walks ahead of him and he does not touch her.

“The door at the end of the hallway.”

She halts in front of it. It is red lacquer, heavy and imposing.


“Open it.”

It’s recalcitrant, creaky, and belongs to a different time entirely. But she gets it open and steps into the darkened room. There are no windows and her hand scrabbles along the wall searching in vain for the light switch.

“Allow me.” Wes flicks it on and the room is illuminated by a soft, quiet glow. Nothing harsh allowed in this room. There are more of the Japanese prints hanging on the walls, only these make her blush. And there are books everywhere. She’s surrounded by them; bookshelves from floor to ceiling. There’s a slight smell of damp and age, worn leather and cracked bindings and the soft woodsy scent of old paper. It’s a strangely intoxicating perfume.

She must be a little openmouthed, because she hears Wes say, “Pick one.”

She slides a tiny little volume off the shelf. Les Délassements d’Eros. She doesn’t need to know French to figure this one out.

She takes an idle flip through and sees page after page of bird-boned, delicate girls sprawling lazily on pillows and sliding down between one another’s legs and fucking in giddy illustrated delight. She closes the book and replaces it on the shelf.

“Um, this is nice and all. Really. But can’t you just subscribe to some porn mags like everyone else?”

Wes ignores her. He’s busy walking his fingers along the top of the third shelf from the bottom. He’s looking for something and when he finds it he lets out a little “Ah!” of satisfaction before cradling it off the shelf.

“You’re not a reader, are you?” He’s not judging her, just asking her a question that he already knows the answer to.

“Not really.”

He gestures toward the two overstuffed chairs in the corner, facing one another as if in genial conversation. “Sit.”

There’s the merest hint of a wicked smile curling on his lips when he begins to read to her. He’s standing, and she’s sprawling a bit in the chair, because, hey, she’s not in the office anymore and she can damn well sprawl if she fucking feels like it.

When he reads aloud his voice is smooth and assured. Each word is a surprise, a delight, and she hears—maybe for the first time—she hears him take joy in something. She’s not even hearing the words, just hanging in rapt attention on the sound of his voice and the lilt of each syllable as it passes from his lips.

The story chills her, a little bit. That is, what she can follow of it. There’s a child bride, and a cruel husband, and a creaky, dark manor house with hundreds of locked rooms.

“He twined my hair into a rope and lifted it off my shoulders so that he could the better kiss the downy furrows below my ears; that made me shudder. And he kissed those blazing rubies, too. He kissed them before he kissed my mouth. Rapt, he intoned: ‘Of her apparel, she retains/Only her sonorous jewelry.’

“A dozen husbands impaled a dozen brides while the mewing gulls swung on invisible trapezes in the empty air outside.”

It’s beautiful and dark and kind of magical and she’s surprised to find herself lost in the words when he shuts the book with a snap and puts it back on the shelf.

“Now. Take off your clothes.”

She leans forward in the chair, her elbows sliding off her knees and her jaw plummeting to the floor.

It wasn't what she was expecting even if it was what she came here for. But still, she's shaken. Because, like, she's eighteen and his emotionally vulnerable employee and this is so very wrong.

She stands and reaches behind her for the button at the back of the collar. He stretches over to the table next to her chair and switches on the light before walking over to the door and hitting a switch so the rest of the room is plunged into velvet darkness.

“Go on,” he says as he walks past her and sits down in the other chair, crossing one leg elegantly over the other and jiggling his ankle. “Slowly.” He draws out the word, luxuriates in it.

As she drags down the zipper, the noise sounds deafening in the stillness of the room. He's sitting in shadow but she'd love to see his face as she slides her arms out of the sleeves and prepares to push the black wool down her body.

“No, wait.” He barks out the words and Faith freezes. All the tiny hairs on her arms are standing to attention and she can feel the wetness between her legs soaking into the black satin as she restlessly shifts her weight to her other foot. “The shoes. Are the shoes in your bag?”

She'd stuffed them in there, as an afterthought. Figured that maybe she could practice walking in them at home. “Yeah. Yes.” Since when did her voice get so breathy, like she'd been inhaling helium?

He makes an impatient sound at the back of his throat and reaches forward with an awkward jerky movement that clues her right in to the quite startling revelation that without her he's got nothing. He picks up her Emily Strange backpack and it looks so stupid, so utterly incongruous, in his long fingers that Faith has to bite her lip to stop the giggle that she can feel rising in the back of her throat.

But as he opens the bag, she can hear the unmistakable sound of her Itchy and Scratchy ring tone as someone calls her cell and she has to stifle another giggle. He ignores it and she tries to wipe the smirk off her face as he pulls out the asskicker heels. But then it starts ringing again.

“Should I turn it off?”

He scrabbles around for the fucking annoying-gonna-ruin-everything cell, which has stopped again but starts ringing the minute he touches it.

He squints at the lit-up display and gives her a tight smile. “How touching. It's your mother wanting to know where her errant daughter is.”

Way to kill the mood, Mommy. “I'll turn it off,” she says quickly. Too quickly and he tosses her on the phone with a shit-eating grin quite unlike anything else she's seen on his face.

“Get rid of her,” he orders.

Faith punches the green 'talk' button with great ferocity. He's picked up her shoes and looks at them with utter fascination. He should try walking in the fuckers.

“Mom! What do you want?”

Her mother is drunk. Again. “Faithy! I thought you'd be home by now.”

She shuffles around, her arms wedged to her side to stop the dress slipping down. “Well, I'm not,” she whispers, knowing damn well he's listening to every word. “What do you want?”

“Where are you?”

She does giggle then.I'm stripping naked for my boss. This twisted English guy who's old enough to be my father and is into some kinky shit. Instead she modifies it. “I'm with a friend from work.”

She must have imagined the snort of laughter she hears behind her but she doesn't imagine what happens next, even though it can't be real. Because he crouches down in front of her, shoe in his hand, and tugs at her ankle. “Lift your foot,” he says, making no effort to lower his voice.

Faith rolls her eyes and tries to listen to her mother's whining rant about the usual crap. “...then he came round... I had to tell him something... he's a lousy bastard...” His hand feels cool around her ankle as he slips off her flat Mary Jane and slides on the stiletto, then reaches for her other foot.

“How much did you give him? Always were Daddy's little girl. Love him more than me.”

Faith barely listens as she wobbles precariously on one sky-high heel as he puts on the other one. “Yeah, yeah. Was there something you wanted because I'm kinda in the middle of something here?”

She expects him to go back to the chair but he stays there, his fingers curled loosely around her ankle. “What time are you going to be home?”

“I don't know. Later. Maybe a couple of hours.”

He lifts his head and gives her a look that strips off the top layer of her skin. “Tell her you won't be home tonight.”

Faith shakes her head. She can't not go home. She can't stay here. What the fuck is he planning to do to her that's going to take all night? And anyway she doesn't know anything about him and he might have had a dozen barely legal secretaries up here and done fuck knows what to them and maybe nobody ever saw them again and...

“I... Mom...”

“I won't have you tramping around at all hours, Faithy.”

“Would you like me to speak to her, Faith? I'm sure I can put her mind at rest.”

For one second she's almost tempted but then she comes to her senses. “No! Mom, I'm gonna stay over at my friend's. My girlfriend’s.”

“You come home right now, you little whore.”


His hand starts moving. Upwards, ever upwards. His fingers smoothing down the tense muscles of her calves as she quivers in her shoes, brushes his knuckles against the backs of her knees.

“Are you on the pill? Gonna get yourself knocked up.”

He's slowly walking her fingers up her thighs and she's so wet now that very soon he's going to feel it, be able to smell it.


“C'mon, Faithy, you come home to Mommy, baby. I need you...”

He's reached the top of her stockings now and insinuates a finger between the elastic and her skin. “Maybe you should go home, Faith,” he says softly.

Maybe she shouldn't. “Look, Mom,” she says sharply even though everything inside her is melting liquid as his fingers are closer, getting closer, just skimming the wet satin that covers the heart of her. “I've gotta go. Get the fuck off my back. I'll see you tomorrow.” She hits the 'off' button and throws the phone over her shoulder so it lands with a clatter on the wooden floor.

He sits back on his heels and his eyes miss nothing as she slowly peels the dress down over the corset and panties he bought for her and kicks it across the room. And when she looks at him, at the way he's eating her up, a muscle banging away in his cheek, she has to wonder who has the power here?

Then he gets to his feet in one fluid movement and folds his arms. “Now where were we before we were so rudely interrupted?” he muses and she remembers. He's got the power.

He walks over to the chair and sits down. Faith puts her weight on one hip and rests her hands on her waist, waiting for his next instruction. She doesn't have long.

“Come here, Faith.”

She takes slow, deliberate steps toward him, still unused to the goddamn heels. But she’s found a rhythm now and even manages a little hip sway as she walks.

His look of anticipation is just a little feral. Hungry. That’s okay. She’s hungry too.

“Now. Sit in the chair.”

She stops, a little startled. That’s not what she expected.

“Did you not hear me? Sit.”

She does so. She sits awkwardly, self-consciously. The fabric is cool and a little rough against her skin.

He gives her another appraising stare that seems to cut right through her. She shivers a little.

“Sit back. Spread your legs apart.”

She hesitates for a moment—here in this isolated, strange little room she feels even more exposed and vulnerable than she did in the office—but she does it nonetheless.

“You’re wet. I can see that. So, what is it that you want, Faith? Tell me.”

“What? I mean, you’ve got to be—” This is just too fucking much. She knows there’s an edge of anger in her voice, but she can’t help it.

“Kidding? No.” His expression is curiously flat. “Pretend I’m not here at all. You’re in your own bed, alone. It’s dark…”

Christ. This is a new one. She’s not used to talking. Not like this. Not with him, or with anyone else for that matter. She’s a little bit terrified. Make that a lot terrified.

“Um, okay.” She takes a deep breath and starts, tenuously. “You’re in my bedroom. I must have snuck you in once she, once she was asleep, and we can’t make a sound because she might hear us. But that makes everything more…urgent. When the door is closed I start to undress and you just stand there, watching. I fall back onto the bed and you slide down between my thighs—”

“Aren’t you forgetting something, Faith?”

That snaps her out of it with a start. “What?” What now?

“You’re alone.”

She looks a little astonished. Tries to remind herself that this is the game, house rules, and she’s either committed or …not. She slides one finger inside herself, then two, and tries to resume where she’s left off.

“You’re gripping my hips, and your tongue's deep inside me, so fucking relentless. And God, I’m so wet and so close but I don’t want to come before you’re even in me. I want you to kiss me first. We’ve never kissed and I’ve got butterflies in my stomach but you brush my hair up off my neck and kiss me there first. Mmm, when you kiss me then I can taste myself on your lips and that’s so weird, kinda, but I don’t care. Your hand is between my legs and I can feel your…you’re hard and there’s this delicious friction between us and all I know is how much I want to see you naked, never seen you—”

Her fingers are moving faster and God, her thoughts are getting off-track.

“But you’re beautiful standing there and I want you to fuck me so much, and you want it too. Want your cock inside me. I slide down on top of you and it feels so good, as good as I knew it would and God, just fuck me! Would you—just—fuck—me—”

She’s lost now, spasming out against her insistent fingers, and he hasn’t moved, just sits there in silent appreciation.

Until he says one word: “Yes.”

Yes? Yes he’ll fuck her?

His eyes narrow as if he can see the smile she doesn’t let reach her lips, and he says, “But all in good time. I’d like you to stand in front of me, please.”

If she hesitates, just for a moment, before getting up and walking to him, it’s not through indecision. She wants to get closer, and take that every fucking way you like, because they’re all true. No; she pauses to get her balance, that’s all, and finds it between heartbeats, so that one moment she’s seriously certain she’s about to twist an ankle, and fall in an ungraceful sprawl at his feet, earning herself a sigh, and the next she’s taking the two paces it takes to reach him, and turning them into four tiny steps, placing her feet so that her hips sway, tits thrust out, head up high.

The sight of her smacks into him so hard she wants to look for the bruises it left. Oh, nothing obvious, but she’s been watching him for too many hours not to miss the blue darkening and deepening in his eyes, that tremor of arousal that sets one finger tapping against his leg in a beat she could dance to if she wants, spinning and grinding, lost in a space of her creating.

She pauses within reach, not touching him, and she sips air in tiny short gasps because fuck, her legs want to spread, not close, want to open to his eyes, for his fingers, for his cock. She’s as ready to fuck and be fucked as she’s ever been in her life, and coming as he watched hasn’t done a thing to calm her down. Quite the reverse, as he’d say.

He sits back in his chair and looks up at her.

“Are you frightened, Faith?”

And she is, just a little, just a trace of it there beneath the need, but it stopped mattering when his hand closed around her ankle and that’s so long ago now, it seems.

“Not enough to leave,” she tells him.

“So you think that’s an option you have? Interesting.”

She could call his bluff but it doesn’t feel like one.

“You saying you’d stop me?”

He brings his hand to her leg, runs a finger, soft pad against soft skin high up on her thigh, pauses and rakes it down, nail scoring a scarlet line on the skin. She whimpers on the down stroke and he raises an eyebrow.

“I think we both know I wouldn’t have to.”

She opens her mouth, and she knows if she does anything but agree, she’ll be lying, but he holds up his hand.

“I—sometimes—enjoy our conversations, Faith. At the moment, I’d rather have your silence.”

Just saying that’s enough to part her lips, angry words rising, and he smiles, shaking his head. “Oh, that’s going to be so hard for you, isn’t it?” he says, mocking her, but still with that indulgence to it. She relaxes for a moment, almost fooled into smiling back, sharing the joke, but it stops being funny when he leans over and opens a deep drawer in a side table by his chair.

She isn’t sure what’s in there, but when he pulls out a black silk scarf it’s almost a relief. No chains, no leather, no weird-ass stuff you need a degree in kink from Fetish U. to figure out which bit goes where. Just a length of heavy blackness, mist-soft, wide and long.

“What’s that for?”

Fuck. He taps his finger against his mouth and gives her a pointed look, using his silence to remind her that she’s not supposed to be asking questions. Okay, maybe she’s not too good at this shit. Without looking, he reaches over and pulls out another one. Wanting to ask him if he’s got a rabbit in there is getting so irresistible she has to bite her lip, and he smiles.

“The second one is because you spoke,” he says, answering her question without telling her much. “Eyes, mouth, hands, Faith. You’re going to lose the use of two of them for a short while. And no, you don’t get to choose which. That’s for me to do.”

He’s telling her there’s no choice, but he’s giving her time to absorb it, and if she wanted that from him, she might thank him for his idea of kindness.

He stands with the scarves bunched loosely in his hand, and for an instant they’re close enough that he could kiss her if he wanted to without doing more than pursing his lips, but he doesn’t, just steps behind her, leaving the space where he was for her to pout at, an instant too late.

And she just fucking knows his eyes dipped to her ass because she felt them on it a second before his hand cupped it. “Hands and eyes, I think,” he murmurs, “and you can use your mouth for something other than talking.”

She can feel the memory of his cock against her tongue when he says that and she sneers, knowing he can’t see her. Boss didn’t like the way she’d done it before, did he? She’s going make him come in under a fucking minute and—

“Hands first. Come on, Faith, stop dawdling.”

Dawdling? Where does he get these fucking words from? But her hands are behind her back before she’s finished thinking she’s going buy herself an English dictionary and he’s knotting the scarf around them fast enough to make a Scout leader swoon with delight.

And she wouldn’t mind betting he could.

She’s tugging at the scarf, testing it without realizing she’s doing it, and he says, “Stop that,” as if he’s seriously pissed she’s even trying. The second scarf blinds her while she’s swallowing more words she’s not allowed to say, and does a better job of gagging her than, well, than a gag would have done. In the time it takes to knot it, and smooth her hair with a touch soft enough to stroke soap bubbles, she loses her balance, lost in emptiness. If he hadn’t kept a hand on her hair, she’d have fallen down, she’s sure of it.

He walks in front of her, his fingers going from hair, to shoulder, to arm, to fingers, never more than a brush against her, but enough to keep her safe.

Then he sits down and the fingers aren’t there, it’s just his voice and it’s as soft as they are.

“Kneel down, Faith. Slowly.”

Her legs scream as she obeys him, muscles trembling from arousal, those fucking heels, and the slow, slow bend. She drops so that her ass is against her heels, then goes forward to her knees.

“Very good,” he says and she could fucking kill him for praising her when she can’t see his face as he does it. “Now shall we finish what we began this morning, with perhaps a little less...enthusiasm on your part, commendable a virtue as that usually is?”

And it sinks in that he’s not going to let her do this her way and that she’s not going to get to come until he has and he plans to take his time.

And if she whimpers and squeezes her thighs together just a little, she can’t fucking help it, can she? And it’s so fucking unfair of him to make his first instruction, “Spread your knees, Faith. No, wider than that,” but she doesn’t notice because his zipper’s going down—guess she did that well enough not to have to sit a retest¬, Before she can lean forward and score an A, he traces her lips with his finger. “You’ll be just using your tongue at first,” he says. “Show me what you plan to do.”

If anyone had told her that curling her tongue around a finger, lapping at it, slicking it up with spit, tilting her head to the side and making her tongue paint it wet would get her humming with arousal, she’d have laughed. If they’d told her she’d hover on the edge of coming when she hears his breath quicken and she teases a moan from him by going lower and chasing his heart line across his palm, she’d have walked away, shaking her head.

All that, all of it, with her body wound up tight, tight, tighter, so that when his finger moves away slowly and she follows it, she has to pause a second when it comes to rest on the head of his cock. He tastes ready, God, he’s so wet, and she wants to do what he did to her, get fucking messy, suck hard, slide down and choke on him, just go to town, but he’s not telling her to do that and so she drags her tongue through a slick of precome, tasting it properly for the first time ever. She has to stop and think about it, touching her tongue to her lips and mouth, making him wait while she tastes again.

“I have an Australian Shiraz you can try later,” he says, and there’s a hint of strain in his voice that’s all the revenge she needs or wants, “but I think perhaps a little less evaluation and a little more—”

She doesn’t let him finish. Her tongue’s busy and he’s silent now, until he groans and his hips lift an inch. She feels a flash of triumph, and she’s waiting for him to tell her to go ahead, make his day, when his hand’s in her hair, hard and demanding and his finger’s back at her lips and he’s pushing them open and it’s sliding in, and he can’t be fucking serious...

“Show me what you’ll do to my cock, Faith.”

She bites down, hard enough to feel the bone grate, frustration making her eyes sting, and he laughs. “I knew a preview was a good idea. Do that again and do it properly.”

And she does, delicate little nips and bites and nibbles until the finger hooks behind her top teeth and pulls her down gently into a darkness that’s full of nothing but him and he waits until she’s done everything she showed him, then his hands cup her face, holding her still, and he fucks her mouth, sliding forward on the chair, fast, sharp strokes that should feel like an invasion, an intrusion but don’t, not with his hands warm on her skin, and it’s not until she’s swallowed, choking just a little, that she realizes his thumbs are brushing away the tears the blindfold didn’t catch.

Chapter Ten

Faith shudders a little and squirms away backward into empty space behind her, unsteady. Sure, she wants to surrender to his orders, when she's not fighting the urge to sass back and she wants to offer herself up as a willing participant in this little game, but it makes her stomach turn to think of him knowing just how vulnerable she was at that moment.

His warm hands steady her shoulders, His voice is safe and comfortable: “Faith, are you all right?”

She nods, clears her throat. “Uh, yeah. Yeah. I'm fine.” It's not entirely true, but she pushes the tears back. He doesn't push the issue, but lets go. She notices absentmindedly, that the tatami mat on the floor is embossing her knees and if she stays on it much longer it's gonna cut through her stockings and her skin after that, and she's not sure she's ready for this to get bloody anytime soon. Still, she surreptitiously leans into the pain, concentrating on the tender bits of skin on the tips of her kneecaps that feel like they're on fire.

He's shifting around, settling back into his clothing, from the sounds of it—unfortunately. It's not like she thought she would suck him off, then he'd immediately ravish her on the spot—he would need time to recover—but it is her turn now. There's a persistent ache throbbing deep inside that's only gonna be relieved when his cock is slamming in her.

He slides down to the floor next to her. Stroking her hair, her cheek. She's not scrabbling away now, but leaning into each caress. He leans in close to her, breath warm on her neck: “You're a quick study, Faith. That was...” He stops, breathes deeply and doesn't finish the thought. “I'm going to untie your hands now. Put your arms around my neck.”

He reaches behind her and undoes the knots efficiently and pulls the scarf away. The silk sliding past her wrists is delicious, cool and warm at the same time, and she drapes her freed arms around him. He slides his arm behind her knees, and in an instant he's swung her up into his arms, as if she weighed nothing. Just as quickly, and nearly impossibly, he's risen from the floor—again with hardly a trace of effort—and is carrying her out of the room.

She rests her head against his chest, and can hear his heart beating quickly. She's not a betting girl, but she'd wager five bucks he's got a king-size bed with satin sheets in this joint somewhere.

She's naked, still blindfolded, as he carries her through the house, drafts from the doors that he nudges open with his foot kissing her skin. When she shivers, his arms tighten around her and it makes her feel safe, protected like no one can get at her. She hasn't felt like that since she doesn't know when. But as he sighs in expectation, then hoists her a little higher so he can start the climb up a long flight of stairs, Faith wonders who's going to protect her from him?

She presses her face against the warm cotton of his shirt and opens her mouth, tries to touch his skin between the buttons with the tip of her tongue but he shifts her away from his goal.

“You really are dreadfully impatient,” he observes. “So many bad habits.”

But right now she's not in the mood for verbal cut and thrust. It's like her brain has split in two. One half of her wants to stay in his arms and let him lull her to sleep by stroking her hair and reading her fairy stories. The other half wants him to pin her against something, over anything, and fuck her conflicted brains out.

When he sets her down on her feet and she realizes that she's still shod in those fucking heels, she gives a tired groan. “Can I please take these off?”

It's disorientating not being able to see where she is or where he is as she hears him move around the room. She stretches her arms out to see if they'll touch the sides.

“Keep your arms down,” he says but he sounds farther and farther away. “You can take off the shoes but I don't want you to move.”

Kicking off the shoes is almost as good as white chocolate cheesecake from the diner in town. There's soft carpet under her feet that they sink into and she wriggles her toes luxuriously as she listens to the sound of running water and catches the scent of something exotic and spicy wafting in.

When he comes back in, it takes every ounce of strength that he hasn't already drained out of her not to turn around. She doesn't have to though because he's running both hands down her neck, tracing the knobs of her collarbone and the curve of her breasts before cupping their weight in his palms.

Her nipples are so hard that they hurt and when he presses his thumbs against them, she can't help but whimper.

“I can see that there are certain areas in which I've been remiss,” he remarks and it would be so fucking funny if her lethargy hadn't been swept away by his hands and replaced with these sharp waves of want that threaten to make her knees buckle.

“You said before...that you were going to...that you'd...” Why can't she just come out and ask him, no, beg him, to fuck her? But it's not how they play this game and right now he's stroking her nipples with the pads of his thumbs and English doesn't feel like her mother tongue.

“Really, Faith, that's inarticulate even for you. We'll have to work on that too. I can see it's going to be rather a long night and you're already looking fatigued.”

“I'm not!” Her protest sounds petulant and gets cut short when he suddenly pinches her nipples between finger and thumb and kisses the top of her head.

She cries out and presses into his hands but he's already pushing her away. “Patience, Faith. You need to learn it so very badly,” he hisses against her ear and even the feel of his breath on her over-sensitized skin makes her gasp.


His cool hand clutches her hot one and she twines her fingers through his. He returns the pressure and just holding hands with him, like he's her fucking High School sweetheart threatens to make her come undone all over again. For, like, the fifteenth time that day.

“Come with me.”

He pulls her across the floor until her feet are on slightly damp tiles and she's inhaling the bergamot-scented steam and trusting him not let her slip as she bumps against something hard.

“We're in your bathroom?”

“I can see that your powers of deduction haven't completely abandoned you.” Oh yeah, she's so fucking amusing.

He places her hand on the roll top edge of the tub and lets go. “Get in.”

She gingerly places one foot in the hot water and gropes for the bottom before bringing up her other leg.

“Sit down. Slowly. We don't want any accidents, do we?”

“Nah, I might have to sue you and, y'know, those employee lawsuits can get kind of nasty,” she manages to get out with one tenth of her usual bravado before carefully sliding into the water's soft silky caress. It feels like heaven lapping against her as she leans her head back and gives a small, contented sigh.

He sits down on the edge of the bath and runs his fingers through her hair so he can untie the scarf. The edges stroke her face, then she's blinking, adjusting to the dim glow from the candles that he's lit.

He's staring at the glimpses of her body that he can see beneath the milky water and making no attempt to disguise it. Her breasts bob up and down, her nipples a dark pink against the white of her wet skin. His lips tighten out into this thin line that she itches to smooth away with her tongue. And maybe she's been lulled to somewhere a little too safe by the warm embrace of the water because she has to tell him: “When you look at me like that, it sorta freaks me out sometimes.”

He smiles faintly as if she isn't really there. “I know.”

“You think I'm, I don't know, like this little victim, don't you?”

He brushes his knuckles against her cheek. “You really don't know anything about me or what I think, I assure you.”

"I know what gets you off.”

“Do you? Do you really?”

And no, she doesn't, because baiting him is like throwing sticks at a bear and any minute now he might start giving her teeth and claws, instead of the soothing motion of his fingers against her face.

“Well, maybe not,” she concedes with a shrug. “So what do you want me to do next?”

He stands up and smiles down at her lazily, like having a naked girl in his bath is something that happens to him most nights. Maybe it is. “I don't want you to do anything for a while. Just lean forward slightly.”

As orders go, this one is pretty vague. Frowning, she does as he asks, then shuts her eyes and wiggles her shoulders as he scoops a bowl along the surface of the bath and pours the warm water over her hair.

It gets better and better. There's shampoo that smells of sandalwood and his fingers massaging her scalp so she can feel the tension seeping away along with the suds. Then he rolls up his sleeves, which are already sodden, takes a sponge and the soap from somewhere behind her and begins to wash her.

He was right. He really doesn't want her to do anything. He tugs her forward, pushes her back, lifts up her arms, even delves into the water so he can pick up her feet and clean in between her toes. She feels like a goddess. He's not so frightening like this, his hair damp and his lips pursed in concentration, all focused on her.

Somewhere along the way, she becomes this pliant, pliable mass of girl flesh, nudging herself into the long, sweeping strokes and giggling when he rubs the sponge against her stomach with great vigor.

“Hey! That tickles!”

His eyelashes swoop down and he peers at the tiny bulge of her belly intently. “There's a smudge just there.” He presses the sponge into her and scrubs harder like he's trying to clean a smeared window.

“No, there isn't.” She giggles again and looks down at his hand as he drops the sponge in the water and splays his fingers across her stomach and starts sliding them down, weaving through the sparse hair and down and down…

“There's something very erotic about a woman with a bare sex. I'd like to shave you,” he says like he's asking her opinion on office stationery. Her mouth is suddenly dry. “It would be arousing nowing you were smooth and waiting for the touch of a finger or a tongue and feeling the satin I bought for you caressing you instead. It wouldn't be enough, would it, Faith?”

She's frozen in the warm water, his voice, the things he's saying, all around her as his fingers slide farther down and slip between her thighs.

“I asked you a question.”

“N-n-no. I'd want you to touch me there instead. I'd want it all day,” she admits throatily and it feels like a huge weight that was pressing her down and making it hard to breathe has finally been lifted off her.

“Where would you want me to touch you?” His fingers are tracing the crease of her lips and she keeps her thighs pressed tightly together because he hasn't told her not to and she likes the way he has to flex and stretch against her.

“My cunt,” she whispers with a tiny, triumphant smile because he's turned his head so he can burn her with his deep blue stare. “I'd let you shave me and do whatever you wanted to me as long as you promised to use your fingers and your tongue and you gave me your cock every day.”

For one second it seems like all the light in the room is centered on him. He's suffused with joy, with relief, with all these emotions that flit across his face so quickly that she can't begin to catalog them, then he's shutting it all down, blanking it out.

“Spread your legs.” His voice sounds like ice cubes crackling in a glass of water.

And she lets her head loll back, shuts her eyes and rests her legs on the rolled edges of the bath so the water drips down on the tiles like a tiny patter of rain drops.

She knows she's pretty as a picture, but maybe being posed like this while he takes a razor to her girl flesh might not be the best idea. She opens her eyes and starts to plead for a change of venue, but he's already turned away, fussing with something on an impossibly large marble countertop.

Her legs are quivering with the effort of holding her body half in and half out of the water. She shifts a little, pulling against the weight of the water and rests on her elbows, hoisting her hips even higher.

He turns and gives her the kind of disapproving glance that cuts right through. And she doesn't even try to explain herself because in the next moment he's pulling a leather strop out taut from the counter and is sharpening a straight razor on it. A bolt of horror and fascination shoots through her solar plexus. Guess she didn't really expect him to have those bikini area Lady Bics just lying around.

The rasp of the blade against the worn leather is almost unbearable, and of course, he's bent intensely over his task, methodically sweeping his arm back and forth in a way that's all too reminiscent of the way he'd spanked her. He pauses after every ten strokes or so to roll the ball of his thumb over the blade, turning to meet her gaze every time. It seems like every goddamn hair on her body is on end, ready to be felled by his hand.

After what seems an eternity of stroking and checking, he clucks softly to himself and whispers to no one, “Yes, yes. I think that will do quite nicely.” He snaps the blade into the ivory handle and returns to the tub, armed also with a tiny pair of scissors, a small white porcelain dish, a matching ivory-handled shaving brush. No wonder he's always slightly scruffy if he insists on doing things the old-fashioned way.

He sweeps his glance over her new position and nods curtly. “This will do as well,” he announces and sets all his tools down on one of the tub's wider ledges and sluices the warm water over her pussy.

“I don't think I need to tell you that it's of the utmost importance to hold completely still.”

She nods mutely, fascinated by the slight tension that's collected on his face.

“Very well, then.” He smoothes all the excess water off her snatch and starts with the scissors, trimming the entire area with amazing efficiency, the sharp points nudging her soft flesh but never dangerously. He sluices water over her again, surveys his work and nods. “Perfect.” She shivers and tries to catch his eye, but he's too rapt in his task to pause.

He sets the scissors down and chooses the brush next. His long fingers swirl it around in the dish, full of shaving soap that smells deliciously of spicy bay rum, pulling up a cascade of lather that overflows and spills into the water.

The first long, prickling, tickling stroke of the brush against her pussy lips is almost too much to bear, and she nearly loses balance entirely. She bites her lip and struggles not to laugh or wiggle out of his reach.

“Faith. Please. Hold still.”

She nods again, words impossible.

He returns to lathering her up, using the brush like he's some kind of artist, covering every furred inch. The sweet spicy scent of the soap mixed with her juices is hot and pungent. She feels as though she's burning up, smoldering, like there's a small fire between her legs, and he's stoking it with every sweep of the brush.

“Yes,” he says on a breath, examining his handiwork. Looking up at her, he asks,“Are you ready?” Her lower lip is still caught between her teeth, her eyes wide. It's all she can do to nod slightly, trying not to betray the delicious fear and anticipation that's bubbling up inside.

He snaps the razor open and automatically rolls his thumb over the blade; an involuntary habit, she's sure.

Leaning in closer, he places the blade lightly on the flesh at the top of her mound. “You absolutely cannot move,” and he's not so much addressing her as her cunt, it seems.

The first stroke is sure and even, the cool blade slicing through the unbearable heat that's rising from her core. He cocks his head, examining her now-bare flesh, stroking it with his little finger as he pulls the blade away to rinse it clean in the bathwater. It takes every bit of effort she has not to scream with delight, and instead she lets out a whimpering little moan.

“Lovely, isn't it?” he whispers, finally looking her in the eye. He's nearly at a point of ecstasy himself, eyes glowing and cheeks flushed. He sets back to his task, meticulously and carefully revealing the all-too-tender flesh, centimeters at a time. He pulls her lips this way and that to reach the wayward, stubborn little hairs.

She's panting, gasping from the effort to keep still. He's relentless and exacting. She can feel his even, heavy breaths directly on her flesh after each stroke of the blade leaves her increasingly open and naked. And finally, it seems that he's satisfied, snapping the blade closed and running the taps to catch a handful of fresh warm water to rinse away the last of the foam clinging to her flesh.

For the longest time, he doesn’t do anything but look at her, bared to him, utterly exposed, and so aroused she thinks one more touch from him and she’ll come, explode and shatter, no matter where his fingers go. “Why do you wait so much?” she asks. “Why don’t you just—” she raises her hand, sprinkling her breasts with scented splashes and waves it about vaguely, “take stuff?” Like me. Right now. Just climb in here and fuck me.

He looks amused, calmer now, as if she’s broken a spell by talking. “There’s no need to grab, when you know, without a shadow of doubt, that something’s yours for the taking,” he says. “And why rush something pleasurable?”

“You rushed plenty getting me out of my corset,” she points out, the steam diluting the acid in her voice until it sounds more like a comment than an accusation. His fingers had undone hooks, one at a time, without fumbling once, but it had been peeled off her faster than she would’ve believed possible.

“Ah. I think you’re confusing hurrying with controlled haste,” he said and she gives him a look, because he’s teasing her now and damn if it isn’t the closest he’s come to cute. “But if you feel that I was too impetuous, I do apologize.” Yeah. Like that’s ever going to happen. “Some time,” and look, there’s her heart going skippety-skip at the thought of a next time. “Some time, I’ll undress you and take an hour doing it. At least.”

His hand dips into the water slowly enough that it barely makes a ripple, but the water that had lapped under her nipples rises and licks at them before receding and she shivers at the proxy touch. “An hour? To take off, like five things? That’s crazy.” She thinks about what she’d be like by the time he was done, and rolls her head from side to side. “No way.”

“It wouldn’t be difficult at all,” he assures her. The shirt he’s wearing is clinging to his arms in places and she wonders if he’ll strip it off soon. Got to feel uncomfortable. And yeah, she wants to see him. She’s naked and he’s fully dressed. Something wrong with that picture.

“Tell me what you’d do,” she says, demanding it as if she can do that, as if she can command him as he does her. And she can’t, but he begins to speak anyway, punishing her by settling his hand between her thighs, cupping her flesh. It’s stinging in a thousand places, which she kind of likes, and she can’t wait to run her fingers over it, explore it now the hair’s gone. Would he let her, if she asked? Watch her like he did before?

“Don’t move,” he says. He never bothers to tell her what’ll happen if she does disobey him, she notices; it never seems to occur to him that she might.

“Talk fast then,” she says, through gritted teeth, wanting to press up against him, grind the heel of his hand against her clit, and feel those long, sure fingers slide and shove into her.

He dips his free hand into the water, brings it up full, and lets the water splatter and patter over her breasts. “No.” It’s said without heat and he begins to talk, after a pause to make sure she’s listening. She keeps her eyes open because he’s looking at her as he speaks and his eyes and voice do more to make her ache than his hands.

“I’d stand you in front of me,” he says, “dressed for the office, and I’d take your clothing away.”

It’s a weird way of putting it and she frowns. “How?”

His hand flexes and brushes her just slightly. “With my hands, scissors, possibly a knife, though, no, that probably wouldn’t be necessary.”

And just what the fuck? Her legs start to close as she draws herself together instinctively and he stops her dead with a raised eyebrow. “Don’t move,” he reminds her, his voice mild. “You can’t imagine I’d hurt you, so stop being so—” He seems lost for a word, then he chooses ‘foolish’ and carries on, his voice dreamy now. “Scissors first, and I’d start at your wrists¬—”

And she sees it as he speaks, feels the cold metal blade slide between her skin and the material, hears the thick crunch as it shears through, splitting threads, unraveling the stitches.

He’d take away the sleeves first, he tells her; bare her arms to the shoulders. Then kneel and cut away at the hem, a spiral cut, as if he’s peeling an apple, light, cold touches from the blades, sometimes his hands, warm on her as he grips the material and tears it in short, sharp rips. She’s trembling now, picturing it, the destruction, precise and careful, the unmaking of whatever she’s wearing that’s hiding her from him. It’s weird, it’s wrong, and she’s shaking her head as he describes the swatches falling to the floor at her feet, until she’s standing among black leaves, like a tree in winter.

“You’re aroused by that, but you’re frowning,” he observes, rubbing his thumb slowly across the indentation leading to her clit, pressing down lightly. “Why?”

“It’s a waste,” she says. “Destroying something just to get to me, when you could tell me to strip and you know I would.”

Honesty gets her a finger, darting inside her, swirling around and removed the instant she cries out softly.

“But isn’t it romantic?” he asks. “Having your clothes torn off you? Isn’t it what all the best pirates, brigands, and noble lords do to their helpless captives?”

He’s keeping his voice serious, but she can tell he’s laughing at her.

“Not when they’re all you’ve got, and you can’t afford new ones, no,” she says, bluntly.

“They’d be replaced,” he says.

“Still a waste.” She holds his gaze. “And you wouldn’t be ripping them off me in a fit of passion because you just couldn’t help yourself; you’d be doing it on purpose. That’s different.”

He purses his lips. “Oh, I think I’d be feeling very passionate when I was doing that.”

He stands suddenly, his hand leaving her body and looks down at her. “The water’s getting cool now. I think it’s time you got out.”

She lets him help her out, water beading on her skin and trickling down her back and her legs. The towel he wraps around her is thick and soft and as white as the shirts he wears. He dries her, kneeling to do her calves and feet with a complete lack of self-consciousness. If she was doing this for him, she knows she’d feel like some fucking slave-girl. She doesn’t think she could kneel and not have it mean something, but he can do it and it doesn’t change a thing. His hand under the towel, slides between her legs, rubbing her dry, getting her wet, and she can’t help the sound she makes.

“We need to dry your hair,” he says and she gives up, she just surrenders, because he’s going to keep this up all night, tormenting her, teasing her, driving her fucking crazy.

“Fine. Then how about a facial, or a manicure after that?” Her voice is rising with frustration and she takes a breath and ducks her head down in a silent apology before meeting his eyes, looking for anything that says he’s as turned on as she is.

“Will you ever learn to wait?” he says, twitching the towel away from her and stepping back, his eyes cold. She can’t feel any anger though, and she thinks maybe he’s been waiting for this, for her to step over a line he drew when her eyes were closed.

He points at a wide stool positioned at the counter in front of a mirror, large enough to hold the room within it, captured in silver and glass. She walks to it and sits, expecting him to give her a brush, or maybe do it himself. She likes the thought of his fingers teasing the tangles from her hair and she knows he wouldn’t yank and pull and make her eyes water the way her mother used to do when she was little and getting ready for school. No, he’d do it so slowly her hair would be dry by the time he finished. She starts to get fond of slow just thinking about it, but his voice cracks out, sharp and cold and her gaze goes to the mirror to see him walk toward her, face hard.

“You’re slouching, Faith. Very well; if you can’t maintain a proper posture, perhaps we should find a new position for you.”

He makes her stand, pulls back the stool and turns it so that the narrow end is facing the mirror. Heat floods her as she’s told to sit astride it and bent over so that her forearms are resting on the marble, her back a straight, horizontal line, her feet against the floor.

“Watch yourself, Faith,” he whispers, bending down and pushing her damp hair behind her ears. “Don’t close your eyes, don’t look away. Watch your face when I punish you.”

And she does, because he’s told her to, but as he brings that thin leather strap down on her ass, she sees him too and her back arches, thrusting up to meet the stroke gratefully because he’s looking as if this is killing him too and she knows she won’t be waiting much longer.

She braces herself for the blow, every nerve ending in her body singing out in restless anticipation and it’s all she can do to keep still and wait for it to connect. Then it’s searing through her, the sharp crack of the leather immediately followed by a delirious, slow heat spreading through her lower body. She’s thankful to have something to lean against, something to absorb the shock because she’s too far gone to resist it. She hates herself for blushing furiously and resents him for seeing it. Of course that only serves to make her blush more.

“So deliciously red already.” It’s almost a whisper, like he’s just musing aloud to himself in an empty room, remembering. He pauses for a moment, tilting his head in order to see her reflected image trying to evade his gaze. Then he raises his arm in preparation for another blow.

That’s when time becomes curiously compressed; each second spent waiting for the inevitable is a small eternity and she has nothing to do but hope that her exhausted body doesn’t betray her impatience. She can feel the air shift against her newly exposed cunt and she’s can’t help but open her thighs slightly to invite it. But the cool air does little to counteract the heat that’s suffusing her.

Now she’s arching into each blow, which have a metronomic rhythm, and she figures that her cat-in-heat pose is giving him something to look at besides the swift reddening of her ass.

Another blow and she almost buckles this time. What began as a sharp sting has escalated into a kind of delicious agony. A tiny “Oh” of mingled pleasure and frustration escapes her lips and he reacts to that with a quirk of a smile. And of course redoubles his efforts. She can’t even think anymore—she’s slowly liquefying under this hail of blows, becoming entirely heat and want. She’s gripping the edge of the counter like it’s a lifeline. This is what her world has been reduced to: the purity of unrelieved desire.

Touching herself is out of the question; she knows that would only invite his scorn. That’s only allowed when he’s commanded her to do so. There’s a kernel of anger swelling inside her, and for the first time since this began she’s sick of playing by his fucking rules. And that’s when she realizes that there’s something she needs from him. But she doesn’t want to ask him,can’t ask him. Hell, she can barely form complete sentences.

“Stop.” It’s quiet, no more than a whisper. She tries again, louder this time: “I want you to stop.”

“Did I ask you to speak, Faith?” Flash of anger and frustration in his voice, the tone of which would register zero Kelvin on the mercury. But his arm stays at his side.

Suddenly everything she touches is crackling with surface tension. She can practically feel the full force of his disapproval boring into her. It’s strangely freeing.

“No. And I don’t really care.”

He's swinging the leather strap against his thigh rhythmically. “Well, what do you have to say that's of such vital importance?” She's familiar with the sneer that twists the lines of his face but this one would barely get a C+.

She stretches out on the stool, using the tips of her toes to find purchase on the floor so she can tilt her ass out and is rewarded by his ragged intake of breath.

She can see the words in her head. Scrolling past her in big type and she has to pull them down as they flicker past her, make them come out of her mouth. “I need you to fuck me now.” They spill out in a frantic rush and she can't hang on to them. “Fuck me. Please. Will you just stop playing games? Will you take off your clothes and just fuck me now? I want you to fuck me. Please. Now. Fuck me.”

Faith lifts her head so she can see him standing statue still in the mirror. The words grind to a halt and all that's left is: “Please?” which leaks out of her as a tiny, gravelly moan.

He places his cool palms on the heated red flesh of her buttocks, split apart from her awkward, splayed posture.

“Is that what you want?” he asks her reflection in the mirror and there's doubt in his voice, which makes her bite her lip even as she nods hesitantly. “You want to get taken from behind in a bathroom?”

When he puts it like that, he makes it sound like just every other fuck she's ever had. Fumbling around in toilet cubicles and the backseats of cars and wondering why it's never any good. Why she's never any good.

“I didn't mean it like that,” she tries to explain but the smooth, blunt edges of his fingernails are scraping against her skin and she's falling over her words again.

“Don't you think you deserve better than that?” Talk about loaded questions but it's hard to shrug when she's in this position. His hands reach around her waist and tug her up so she's leaning against his chest and she can see herself, knows that he can see it too. The poster girl for 'fuck me now.' And he hasn't said that she could, but then again, he hasn’t said that she can't and her fingers creep toward her bare mound, delicately stroking the strange new feel of the flesh that he's shaved.

“Pretty,” she breathes in wonder, as her fingers part her lips. She's pink and red and so wet that she glistens with it.

“Yes, you are, aren't you?” he agrees and leans down to kiss her shoulder, his gaze still latched onto the girl in the mirror whose fingers are now pressing down on her clit.

Faith's head lolls back against him as he explores behind her ear with the tip of his tongue, his hands finally back on her breasts and tugging on the hard points of her nipples. Her flesh is slippery beneath her fingers as she starts up a fast, rubbing motion knowing that she has to get there soon or she'll die.

“How many boys have you let fuck you?” he hisses in her ear before he bites down hard on the tender plumpness of the lobe.

It's a strange way to put it. Because they just fucked her, there was no let about it. “Not as many as you'd think,” she gasps, jabbing at her clit with clumsy fingers. “Three, no, four.”

His fingers pluck at her nipples and she aches to feel the hot pull of his mouth on them. “Do you take them in your mouth instead because that way you don't have to let them in?”

She's pushed forward as he leans over and scrabbles at the counter, his hand closing around the slender but bulbous handle of the razor he used to shave her and she rests her hand momentarily on her thigh as he brings it closer to her.

“I asked you if you suck the boys off instead of fucking them?” he reminds her and his voice is so thick that she has to strain to hear him. She can't even look him. All she can do is stare at her open cunt and the ivory cylinder that's just ghosting between her lips.

“Yeah,” she whispers. “I can't let them in.”

And it's such beautiful choreography, the way that they work together because as she says the last word, he's pushing the razor handle into her cunt and her fingers are back on her clit.

He seems to realize that she's done with slow and that anything other than the blurrily fast motion that he uses to thrust the handle inside her will kill her.

“I was going to make you wait longer, but you're so impatient, so hungry.” She moans as they watch her cunt swallow up what he's giving it. “Such a slave to your desires, aren't you, Faith? You don't care that you open yourself up time and time again and get nothing back.”

She could really do without the pop psychology and she reaches around with the hand that isn't occupied with her jumping, jittering clit and digs her fingers into his ribs.

“Shut the fuck up!” she growls but he just takes that as his cue to start fucking her godholy with the handle of the razor and she grinds her fingers into her clit and screams as it hits. She's dimly aware of his arm wrapping round her waist and holding her steady as she jerks and almost slips off the stool, her hand still pressed into the sticky wet heat feeling the smooth, rounded head rubbing inside her.

It takes a while to come down and when she opens her eyes he pulls the handle out of her cunt and lets it drop on the tiles with a discordant clatter. He hasn't let her go, his arm still clamped around her, and she slides shaking fingers along the corded muscle, slipping under his cuff so she can stroke the smooth, warm skin of his wrist, feel the pulse shuddering.

When she looks into his eyes, she sees a storm brewing there. Can see clouds and thunder rolling across the clear blue and she won't have it. She's so fucking tired of giving and giving and giving.

She swivels round so fast that it catches him by surprise, arms falling away from her as he takes a step back. But she's too quick, jumping down from the stool, her feet just brushing the tiles as she throws herself at him.

Maybe for the first time, he acts purely on impulse, his arms instinctively reaching out to stop her from falling, but how could she fall, when he's there to catch her? With her arms round his neck, it's easy to haul herself up, wrap her legs around his hips and start peppering his face with kisses, while he twists his neck and tries to evade her lips.

He staggers back and bumps into the door frame. “Faith!”

“That's my name, Wesley,” she says, sounding out his for the first time, rolling it round on her tongue. “Wes.” She tries it again. And he tenses under her. “Wes. Wes. Wes. Wes.” It's become a mantra that she has to chant even as she's pushing against him, rubbing herself up and down, trying to get the hard, insistent nudge of his clothed cock between her legs. “Wes. Wes. Wes. Wes.”

He doesn't like it. Well, she has a feeling he likes the naked, writhing girl part of it if his hard-on is anything to go by, but not the whole Wes thing, which is probably why he swings them round so she's the one wedged between the cold tiles and his warm body, and kisses her.

His kiss is like no other she's ever had. He doesn't immediately thrust his tongue in her mouth, jousting for her tonsils as so many other boys had. She quickly rolls hers back in retreat, stunned. The disorientation doesn't last long, the red-hotness of her need rising up to her lips, making them soft and pliant to match his. Her head is spinning and it's enough to make her stop writhing around and just fall into the kiss. All she can think of are those old black and white movies where the kisses aren't messy, sloppy, tongue wrestling affairs, but an actual connection.

Because underneath it all, they're just two fucked up people who need desperately to connect. Through a quirk of fate or whatever it was, they've ended up here together, in his bathroom, for crying out loud, her ass still throbbing from his last blows, her cunt hot and swollen and tender with need for his urgent hard-on that now seems to be on her side, straining to reach her through his trousers.

She's so lost in it all, in just concentrating on how every bit of their mutual need and desire is writ large on their lips that when he finally breaks away, snagging a bit of her lower lip between his teeth as a finale, a little sound of protest crawls out from inside and hangs in the air between them.

All the times he's stared her down, made those pretty blue eyes flinty with disapproval and something bordering on real anger—all that's nothing compared to the fact that now he won't look at her.

“Wes.” She whispers it this time. She really had no idea that using his name would break his resolve this way.

“No, Faith,” he says. “I...”

She doesn't let him finish. She uses a free arm to swivel his head round to face her again and kisses him her way—not necessarily all tongue and nonsense—but with a force she's sure will show him what he needs to feel from her. He doesn't fight it, and she can feel the initial reluctance slide away as she darts her tongue across his lips as they pull part, breathless.

Well, at least he's not hiding from her this time. Boldly, swallowing down a quaver that's creeping into her voice she says, “Take me to your bed, Wes. Take me to your bed and make love to me.”

He's floundering, trying to pull up the walls. “I can't, Faith. I can't do it this way.”

Oh this is really too much. She fights the urge to churlishly roll her eyes. “What, you can't make love to me?” she demands, spitting out the last two words. “Is it that you can't or you won't?”

Her demand leaves his face darkening, eyes gone cold again. And it pushes something else out, so much so that he grabs a handful of her hair, yanking her closer. “Don't go prying in places where the monsters live, little girl. It's not pretty.”

She snorts. “What, you think I don't know that? Oh, please! Isn't that how we ended up here? And you're a bad liar, Wesley.” She drawls out the syllables in his name this time, each one dripping with venom. “Your cock is still hard for me.” She flinches a bit, waiting for him to lash out at her, slap her, or pull her hair out by the roots.

He doesn't answer, just kisses her again, all the tenderness gone, all tongue and thrust and they're both writhing, hands greedily grabbing whatever they can manage to reach.

She detaches from his angry, hungry lips. “I mean it, Wes. Take me to your bed. Now.”

And it feels like the most important thing she’s asked of anyone, ever. Her whole fucking bullshit life she’s kept it all down, never made demands, just acquiesced and simmered with resentment and anger all the while. And yeah, she’d steal shit down at the Five and Ten back when it was still open, or sneak into the boarded-up wrecks down by the train tracks and burn everything she could lay her hands on, just to externalize it. Anything to stop her father’s slurred disapproval running endlessly through her mind as he tells her,“You’re just a good for nothing cunt, you’re just like your goddamn mother.” There’s never a moment when it doesn’t hurt more than anything.

She wonders what it is that he hears.

When she looks back at him he’s different, slightly diminished. This is a new Wes before her, someone who’s been fighting to hold on to this veneer of control for so long he doesn’t even know what he’s like underneath it. She can see him wrestling with his contradictory urges. It’s there, a long shadow casting a pall over his usually crisp, efficient demeanor. She feels a surge of power that she’s the one doing the exposing this time, even if she’s still naked and he’s still frustratingly clothed.

He’s not taking any initiative, as though it’s not his place anymore, and she wonders what it is that would make this right somehow. But they’re sure as fuck not going to be talking this one out. At least not right now.

Her hand hovers at the topmost button of his shirt but she doesn’t touch it, almost doesn’t dare to. When she finally speaks her voice sounds strange, even to her, quiet but filled with a new sense of authority. “I’d like to undress you now.” She pauses, knowing full well he wants more from her than that. She’s not used to this sort of improvisation. She starts again. “I’m going to undress you now and I’m going do it slowly, button by button, and each piece of clothing that I remove will mean I’m that much closer to seeing you for the first time. And I’m going to keep you so close to coming, you’re going to fucking beg for it.”

She looks at him for some sign of recognition or approval or, well, anything really.

He’s the one who’s all surface tension now. He’s holding himself away from her and he’s restless, flushed. She can see how much this is exciting him, but his confusion is as plain. She touches his arm and he flinches out of her grasp. He can’t meet her gaze when he tells her, “Not here.”

“Show me.”

He lets her touch him this time, allows her arm to link tentatively with his. They’re holding one another up and touching awkwardly, as though they’re not sure if this is allowable under house rules.

His voice is terse again. “Door on the left.”

She’s silently thankful that they don’t have far to go, because the thought of wandering halfway across this expansive glass fishbowl on shaky legs is less than appetizing, and she doesn’t want to lose her burst of bravado.

The door is slightly ajar.

She pushes the door open and crosses the threshold. “Follow me.” She keeps her voice free of tonal inflection, reminding herself that it’s part of the game. At the same time she feels like an intruder, and she fights the urge to call this off. But it can’t be undone at this point, there’s too much at stake. She fights back the doubt and gets on with it.

The room is dark and it takes a moment for her eyes to adjust. She can’t see much but the room’s centerpiece, a heavy antique cast iron bed, lovingly restored, with a curved headboard and a kind of graceful solidity. It’s perfectly made, of course: sheets folded back just so, corners tucked with hospital precision. She’s realizes that she’s going to take no small satisfaction in messing it up.

“Sit down on the bed.”

He does so, moving soundlessly. He sits where she’d indicated, stock-still, legs together, as though awaiting her instruction.

She decides against turning the bedside table lamp on. They’re still in the near-darkness, and that seems somehow appropriate.

She straddles him, reveling in the delicious insinuation of his still-clothed hard-on between her legs. “I bet that’s getting a little uncomfortable by now, isn’t it?” She looks up at him, resisting the urge to smirk. He’s already looking a little—how do the Brits say it?—peak-ed? Piqued? Whatever.

She reaches out an arm and pushes him roughly back down onto the bed. “Just lie back and think of England, Wes-ley.” It's the first time she gets the Bitch Goddess vocalizing just right.

She shifts restlessly against him, riding him just a little—part of her is enjoying seeing him twitch. As she leans forward all she can think about is how much she wants to kiss him again but she knows that nothing would unravel her improvised façade of authority faster—she wouldn’t be able to keep tenderness from creeping in. Instead she takes her sweet time unbuttoning the top button of his shirt, and the next. Three buttons down and she slides her fingers underneath the gap in the fabric. She pinches his nipple roughly—how his cock responds to that—and he arches slightly up off the bed.

“I think it's time I took this shirt off, don't you?”

He closes his eyes, retreating, hiding, and she lets the spark of anger that sends through her give her the strength she needs to do this. She never got to hide.

“No. You don’t close those pretty blue eyes, Wesley. You keep them open and you keep them on me. I want to watch you when you show me how good you are at begging. You can’t pretend this isn’t happening then.”

His eyes snap open and fix on hers. And Christ, is that how she looks to him? That hungry, that needy? She nods slowly, swallowing down the lust that’s making her body forget it came five minutes ago. It didn’t count. Nothing’s going to count but his cock and she’s going to have that when he begs her to take it and not before. “That’s better.”

One more button, then she needs to tug the shirt out of his waistband to get to the rest, because, you just know he’s buttoned every one of them. She does it slowly and yeah, she gets why he’s been so keen on not rushing now. Tearing his clothes off him, like a kid unwrapping presents on Christmas morning, is missing half the fun.

So she tugs it free bit by bit, letting the cotton drag and pull against his stomach, feeling him suck in a sharp breath, so that it slips free faster than she’d wanted, as his stomach flattens. Not going to let that pass, and she leans forward, spreading his shirt wide and bites down on the same nipple she pinched; one swift, warning snap of her teeth, then she pulls back before she can weaken and lick or kiss the reddened flesh. He makes a desperate, whimpering sound, familiar because she’s felt it claw its way out of her throat before now, and when she feels his cock twitch she wonders if he’s turned on by making it or remembering it.

When the shirt’s free at the front, she stares down at him. He’s elegant, she decides. Smooth like the bed he’s lying on, lean but strong. Unmarked.

She likes the look of his chest, framed by the shirt, rumpled and creased as she’s never seen it before, still damp so that it’s clinging to his arms, but she’s not going to let him keep it. In fact...

“Sit up,” she orders, gripping the collar and pulling him up off the bed a little. He puts a hand to the side for balance and sits up obediently. It brings him closer than she’d like, but she doesn’t move away or give into the need to kiss him; just strips the shirt off his back, peeling it free and setting it beside her. One finger to his chest and she sends him back to where he was, on his back, looking up at her.

He’s looking—well, she’s not sure. Expectant maybe, as if he’s getting a bit of a kick out of not knowing where it’s going, after all the times when it’s been him calling the shots. She can almost see him adjusting to the idea that she’s in the game enough to do anything it takes to keep it from ending. It’s starting to sink in for her that he didn’t believe her, not really, when she told him she’d stay no matter what he did.

And she doesn’t know if forcing him to accept it like this will work, if he’ll get what she’s telling him when she takes over from him. Never had to count on a man’s brains to get fucked before.

She picks up his shirt and slides into it, straightening the collar with finicky precision, just like he would, smiling down at him as she sees a flicker of indignation. The cotton brushes against her, cool and fine, and she buttons one center button.

And she’s clothed, and he’s half-naked, just like that.

It's easier now that she's not exposed. For a while, it had felt strange and awkward, then it had become subversive and finally it had become something she was and something he wasn't.

“I'm going to take your shoes and socks off now, Wes,” she says as she slides off the bed and onto her knees. “And I don't want you to move an inch.” The way his hands are knotted in the bedclothes, his knuckles white, are answer enough, even though he's not moving and she has to squint extra hard to catch the rise and fall of his chest just to make sure that he hasn't expired on the spot due to extreme freaked outness.

And even this is better because before when she was on her knees, fetching and carrying and sucking, even though she wanted to do it, it still made her feel like she was less than him. But now she needs to be down here so she can free him, get him out of his stiff clothes and show him that there's nothing to be ashamed of about being naked and desperate. Of needing…stuff.

She unlaces his black brogues and tugs them off, then yanks at his black wool socks before she remembers that this is meant to be unhurried and erotic. But it's feet and she's kinda squicked out about that even though she takes a deep breath and slowly slides one sock off. Then the other one and she's holding the soles of his feet in her hands. He has really nice feet. Long and slender, his toenails neatly clipped and though she doesn't want to do anything gross like start sucking on his toes, she can't resist scoring one nail along his high instep.

This short, sharp laugh is wrenched out of him as he twitches his toes, then he's not moving. She tries the same trick on his other foot, keeping the edge of her nail scraping along his arch until he jerks his ankle and pulls out of her grasp even while he's making these snuffling noises.

He's ticklish? What the fuck? Her fingers creep up his trouser leg but he's on to her.

“Faith.” The way he says it, all reproach and wounded pride makes her snatch her hand away and rock back on her heels. How is she going to do this? She wants him begging. She wants his stupid barriers broken down. Seems like doing it through the medium of tickling is sort of undignified for both of them.

She climbs back on the bed and just wishes that it would be okay to lie down, wrap her arms around him and explore his mouth for a couple of hours. Like normal people. But they're not normal people so she leans over him and peers at his face. His eyes are staring unblinking at the ceiling and she seizes his chin and forces his head in her direction.

“Look at me!” she demands, the pitch of her voice creeping up. “It's me doing this. Faith! And this is happening because I want it to.”

She can't see his eyes in the dim light but he nods and it's like he's giving her permission to do what she has to do. Problem is, she's not quite sure what this is. Everything she wants to do involves kisses and featherlight touches on his skin so she settles for leaning over him and tracing her tongue along the side of his neck.

She gives in to the urge to bite down on flesh that tastes of salt and he tenses, shifts his hips and she inches closer so she's pressed up against him, can feel the hard ache of him against her belly. It must be killing him.

“Do you want me to touch your cock?” she asks but her hand is already there and she doesn't wait for him to answer before she's pulling at the cloth of his trousers, tracing the length of him and marveling at the way he arches his neck and grits his teeth.

Her hand closes around it while she's trying to negotiate his belt buckle. The leather's well-worn as she slides it through the buckle and tries to pull it out of the way.

He's not doing a thing to help her but she can feel him quick and pulsing beneath her fingers and she abandons the belt and goes to the button of his waistband. His skin is smooth and hot but there's a downy trail that she scratches at with her nails as she fumbles for his zipper. Her hands are damp with sweat and she impatiently tosses back the hair that's falling into her eyes.

Thing is, it's all right when she's touching him through wool and there's something between them, keeping them apart, but then what?

She bites her lip as she begins to inch down the zipper, the noise almost deafening in the quiet of the room, apart from the hitch in his breathing. It's almost halfway down and all she has to do is slide her hand into the gap and touch him. He'll be wet. His cock leaking with want and need and she could jack him off or take him in her mouth and not let him come until he's moaning her name like a prayer.

Yeah, all she has to do is slip her hand inside and he's hers. She can do this. So why does it feel like she's doing something terrible? Like she's making another mess? Like she's tearing him down piece by piece even though she's not sure how to put him back together.

Very slowly, she moves her hand so maybe he won't notice how close she got. She's retreating back, her left leg moving off the bed, trying to find the floor when his hand suddenly curls round her wrist.

“It's all right, Faith,” he says, rolling onto his side so he can place one hand on the small of her back and press her closer. Then he's tugging her back to where she was, helping her slide down the zipper and guiding her fingers around his cock.

He sighs into her open mouth as her lips part into an “oh” of wonder.

“I didn't… I thought… I'm no good at this,” she tries to explain. “I wanted to…”

“Sshh,” he soothes her and his hand is wrapped round hers, showing her what to do. They shift closer together on the bed so their legs entwine and his mouth is buried against her neck.

When they get back to the top she smoothes her thumb over the leaking head of his cock and brings it to her mouth so she can taste him. But he's already snatching her hand back so he can grind softly into her palm, taking deep breaths as she lets his fingers pick up pace and she's matching him, speeding up the movement of her hand.

“Do you like this, Wes? Am I doing it okay?”

She can feel his smile. “You're doing it wonderfully, Faith.” His voice is muffled against her. “A little too wonderfully. I may have to start begging soon.”

“Just give me the word. One word and I'll…”

He stops her from having to make promises she doesn't know how to keep by pushing his tongue into her mouth. It's a wet slither of a kiss. Their mouths cling and he shifts his legs again, pressing his thigh between her legs and she's spread open, aching wet against the wool because he's still got his trousers on. The friction is good. Really good and she clasps him tighter and now when she's on the downstroke, her fingers flex out and caress his balls. That makes him hiss and almost, almost writhe so she's getting more and more of that friction. Fuck, she's humping his leg now, trying to squeeze it between her thighs and he doesn't need to show her what to do because she's jacking him off, trying to remember to squeeze the base of his cock to stop him from coming too soon like she read in Cosmo, but the rhythmic push and pull against each other is making it impossible.

His cock is dripping over her fingers when he suddenly jerks against her and goes still.

“Do you want me to be inside you, Faith?” he asks, pulling back and closing his eyes tight as her fingers slide against him.

He doesn't call it fucking. But then he doesn't call it making love either. They're somewhere in between, which is good enough for her.

“Yes,” she says and bites down hard on his bottom lip. “Yes, I want you inside me.”

He pulls away and glides off the bed, standing to let the trousers pool at his ankles. He waits there, eyes locked on hers.

And for a moment, she can't break eye contact to move her gaze downward. She's been waiting so long, so very long for this moment. And yet, her cheeks are burning as she takes in the full sight of him finally blessedly naked in front of her. Of course, of course, he's impossibly long-limbed unclothed. The play of shadows and light across the arc of his hipbone leads her eyes to his straining hard-on. Her face and various other parts feel like they're made of flames and she's lightheaded, on the edge of fainting. Is this what it's like to swoon?

“Stand up, Faith.” He whispers it, and his tone isn't frosty or harsh; it’s just a simple request.

She sits up on the bed, feet on the floor for a few seconds to make sure she'll be able to stand and not have her knees fail her. She supposes he senses this because he offers a hand again, which she gratefully takes.

When she's standing, his hands brush across her breasts, meeting at the single button that keeps his shirt closed about her.

“Unfortunately, our needs have become a bit urgent. Otherwise I would take twenty minutes to unfasten this button.” He's actually smiling down at her and she can feel him fiddling around, twisting it between his fingers. And in the next instant—with a straight face—he's actually ripping the button off the shirt and flicking it deftly across the room. Her disbelief at this disorderly little action must have been written all over her face because a little grin betrays his seriousness as he parts the shirt like it's heavy draperies concealing a rare artifact, sliding his hands up to her shoulders and coaxing her arms out of the sleeves, letting it fall to the floor next to his trousers.

She shivers; the places where his fingers traced over her flesh are still tingling. After a few moments, his hands are on the move again, snaking up over her back, stroking her neck, fingers tangling in her hair. But he doesn't yank too hard when he pulls her closer and tilts her face to his for another urgent kiss, their bared flesh sliding together for the first time. She can feel the gooseflesh rise across his skin where it meets hers, all the fur on their bodies straining from the electricity coursing between them. Their hands meander, stroking and petting with all the gentleness that had been absent minutes before.

Before she can really register what's happening, she's falling back on the bed, and he's falling with her, pinning her arms at the wrists to the bed, and spreading her knees apart with his legs. He hovers there for a moment with a look like a kid in a candy store. His slips over her smooth pussy, bumping her clit, teasingly missing the mark. She rockets her hips upward, whimpering, trying to draw him inside.

He doesn't admonish her, doesn't say anything, just pulls back for another thrust that leaves the head of his cock hovering at her entrance, barely touching her. She's on the edge of begging, of demanding he fuck her now but pushes it down, savoring the wait for once. It's almost enough to make her giggle, but she swallows that down too.

And she's glad she does, because he takes that exact moment to pitch with some follow-through and he's finally inside her. She flings her legs around him, twisting and pulling him in even deeper.

And for a moment they're locked like that, every inch of flesh galvanized, neither moving for fear that they'll break the current and come too quickly.

She rocks her hips gently, just to see his mouth fall open on a gasp, and moves her legs away, spreading them wide, opening to him. Bending and angling her fingers, she can just brush against his hands, tight around her wrists, but after that touch, she relaxes them, so that her palms are curved, cupping shadows. Waiting. Expectant.

His hands tighten to the point of hurting her and she tells him it does, with a sound that makes him smile, because there’s not a shred of protest in it. He slackens his grip slowly and rubs his thumbs over the pulse in her wrists. It’s racing but her body’s perfectly still, the need to make this last fighting the need to have him move in her, on her.

He leans forward and kisses her wrists; left, then right, and it’s then, as his mouth is warm against her skin, that he pulls out of her, most of the way, and he times it perfectly, so that her lips part in surprise just as his mouth covers them.

“Can you stay still?” he murmurs, kissing her between words and showing her how it’s done.

She’s got an inch of him now, no more, and it’s killing her, after being filled so completely. “Do you want me to?” she counters, doing the unthinkable and pushing her ass down against the bed so that he almost slips out of her.

“I don’t believe I do,” he says, sounding as if he’s considering which tie to wear or something. His eyes gleam down at her and she sees the tenderness there, mixed in with the hunger. “Later, perhaps.”

And he’s back inside her on the last word, in a smooth, fast thrust that jolts a cry out of her and he does it again, and it’s even better, because she’s expecting it and she’s ready, hips tilting to bring him close, legs tangling with his. She wants her hands free; wants to score his back with her nails, feel the muscles in his ass clench as he drives into her; wants him to touch her. One strong tug against his grip, and he releases her, his hands sliding down her arms. His left hand goes behind her head, warm against the back of her neck; his right curves around her breast; finger and thumb squeezing her nipple hard enough to send a shock of pleasure through her to add to the rest. She feels lit up, glowing, and he’s not taking his eyes off her as he fucks her, letting her see what she’s doing to him with every stroke of her hand, every scrape of her fingernails down that long back of his. She hasn’t seen it yet, she realizes; hasn’t really looked at him. All that to come and she can’t wait, but she will.

From somewhere he’s found enough control to have slowed down, teasing her with short, slow stabs that leave her mewling, fingers scrabbling at his shoulders. “Wes, you bastard,” she whispers, and it still sounds like ‘please’.

He grins, lips peeled back from teeth he’s gritted. “Am I not doing this right?”

He slows down even more, barely moving, until her body’s screaming and yammering for more. Frustration sends her hand flying down to smack against his ass before she can stop it, and she freezes as his eyes widen in surprise. The echo of the slap in the silence takes forever to fade, and her palm’s still tingling when he pulls out of her and rolls to his back, tucking his hands behind his head and spreading his legs a bit.

She looks at him and has to swallow. Talk about a Kodak moment. His cock’s wet and the dark hair around it is stuck to his skin in places. She wants to lick him clean, taste her on him, nuzzle into him until every breath she takes tastes of him, but that, like so much else can wait.

He’s not angry with her; he’s daring her. She’s never said ‘no’ to a dare; it’s one reason she ended up stealing. This should feel just as scary, but all she’s getting is the exhilaration. She straddles him, bending forward so her breasts touch lightly against his chest and she’s wet enough and open enough that she doesn’t need her hands to get him inside her but she uses one anyway, wrapping her hand around his shaft, sticky and hot, and teasing the head of it by rubbing it against her clit. That’s nearly enough to make her come; the feel of it and the way the amusement’s wiped off his face as he groans, jaw going tight.

She puts the tip of him in her and slides down on him slowly, peeling away a finger at a time and lowering her hand until it’s flat against his body. Holding his eyes, she brings her hand to her mouth and laps at the clinging stickiness, more to see his reaction than out of curiosity. She knows what she tastes like, after all.

His tongue runs over his lower lip just before his teeth dig into it and she doesn’t know if it’s what he wants or not, but she wants to feel that tongue of his on her again, and she lifts up and braces her hands beside him so that her nipples brush against lips and teeth and tongue and he moved his hands, cupping her breast and holding them in place. Feels so good having him do that; sucking them hard, tongue furiously busy, teeth giving her the edge of pain she needs, that she starts to move by way of a reward.

And God, he’s slowed everything down again, and each slow drag of the tip of his cock against her clit is just about enough to make her come. For all her impatience earlier she knows instinctively that she doesn’t want to rush this. It’s much too soon.

She stills herself against him, and he feels it. He pauses in his intent task. His eyes are still heavy-lidded with concentration when he whispers, “What is it?”

“I just want— Can we stop for a little while?”


“I…I don’t want to come yet.” She feels slightly ridiculous saying it.

“So now you’re all about delayed gratification?” For a moment she’s worried that this will mark the return of Cold Bastard Wesley, then she’s never going to come. Instead he just gives her a bemused little smile, curls his arm around her neck and pulls her to him.

And this kiss is different still, a little bit feverish but strangely tender. There is something a bit old-fashioned about it: serious, almost reverent. She decides that’s all right. It suits him. And she’d much rather have that than a kiss that’s artless or clumsy or, worse yet, entitled. She’s had enough of those to last a lifetime.

She leans into him as she slips her tongue into his mouth. His tongue arches up in return, echoing the concurrent movement of his cock inside her. It’s exquisite, and she lets out the tiniest of ahs, closing her eyes and letting her body give in to it.

That marks some sort of turning point, like they’re both too restless at this point to care about the slow and the steady.

“Maybe I was a little, mm, hasty,” she whispers, her breathing noticeably ragged.

“You always are,” he counters, tipping his hips forward so that she’s thrown a bit off-balance and slams down onto him. He thrusts into her with renewed vigor, not slow this time but still controlled; short, sharp movements that seem to be liquefying her from the inside out.

“Oh God, like that, oh,” and they’re straining against one another, muscles corded and taut, finally lost in a single rhythm. She meets each thrust with a slow grind of her hips against his.

He takes her nipple between his teeth again, tonguing it with equal parts roughness and care, then sucking hungrily. She feels it, a new, deliciously insistent ache that shoots right to her clit, and between that and his cock slamming into her she’s so fucking close—

His features have settled into a kind-of beatific ecstasy that’s smoothed away all the usual anxiety and sharpness. Now it’s his turn to ah, and she takes some satisfaction in his being reduced to monosyllables. His face is clouded, briefly, before his head snaps to one side and he’s coming, eyes shut tight and mouth open in a perfectly soundless ‘o.’ His cock is still shuddering with the last throes of orgasm when she feels her own start to crest. It almost takes her by surprise, she’s been so curiously intent on watching him, but when it hits her she’s wrenched away from him, crushing out against him with single-minded intensity.

She collapses against him, breathing heavily and still somewhat disoriented. When she regains her composure, he’s turned away from her, his eyes still closed. She traces her fingertips down the side of his face, running them along the still-taut muscles in his neck, trying to soothe the tension out of him; she finds herself murmuring “beautiful,” almost as an afterthought.

That seems to be the last thing he wants to hear, because he practically flinches away from her. He won’t look at her and seems to be trying to curl in on himself, to disappear.

“No. Look at me, dammit!” There’s a hitch in her voice that she can’t tamp down, won’t tamp down. She kisses his shoulder; she holds onto him, and won’t let go.

He's so very far away, the only connection his spent cock still slightly twitching inside her. Other than that, he's very nearly perfectly still, his ecstatic panting slowed to shallow, measured gasps.

Undeterred, she kisses her way up his neck, tries a different tack and breathes in his ear: “Wes... Wes, look at me. Please.” Her hushed voice cracks on the last syllable and there's tears welling up in her eyes, threatening to spill down her cheeks on to his flesh.

She's at a loss, the ache of her desire turned to sharp pangs of concern. Without thinking, she's pulled herself up, grabbing his wrists as he'd done to her, pinning him to the bed now.

He turns to look at her then, his eyes as clouded as hers and it's like someone's stabbed her in the heart. And she knows it, knows then that it wasn't just about getting him to shed his protective layers of bespoke suiting and take her to his bed. Their mutual heat has blown off the rest of his veneer and she’s faced with the real thing, the real Wesley Wyndam-Pryce, Esq. his face a frozen mask she knows only too well. The look of defeat that comes from years of insults flung a little too heavily, hitting the mark again and again with tenacious accuracy.

She knows then she's on the wrong page and removes her hands from his wrists slowly and curls around him, rolling on her side and pulling him close. They cling to each other again like two shipwrecked people ready for the swells to crash over their heads and shove them into a dark undertow.

After a few minutes, the words finally spill out of her, unchecked. “What the fuck did they do to you?”

And it's like he's breaking a vow of silence. The words come—haltingly at first—then in a jumble of pain that she knows all too well. The father, of course. Years of being told he's second rate, but not with the curses and fists and thrown dishes and flicked cigarette butts that she knew, but with verbal daggers that cut subtly and deep and ached and festered for days, months, decades. And no way to let the pain out. It just burned inside him, then pushed him as far from the mother country and the father as he could get—and into the arms of peevish women that tormented him mercilessly—and all the while he swallowed it all in silence, the simmering rage the only true feeling he'd known.

And she thinks this may be the strongest thing she's ever done, letting him shudder as the years of grief pour out of him, wiping the scant tears off his cheeks with the soft pad of her thumb, like she's flipping through a file full of endless depositions.

When he's done, she doesn't know what to say—doesn't think there's anything to say. She just pulls him even closer, still stroking his face until he finally falls asleep. She stays awake as the weak dawn light suffuses the room, watching the way his eyelashes curl over his cheekbones, flickering in his dreams.

Chapter Eleven

When she wakes up in the morning, she's on her own. There's not even an indentation on the pillow next to her to indicate that he slept with her. That he slept in her arms.

She staggers out of bed wincing as her muscles start shrieking in protest. Her body is this painful throb, centered in her nipples, her thighs and her cunt. She doesn't know if it's because she had too much or she didn't have enough. She catches sight of the little pile on the bottom of the bed; her dress neatly folded with the stocking and corset placed carefully on top. The black satin panties are conspicuous by their absence but as the last time she saw them was when they were thrown into a damp, creased bundle in the corner of the library, it's not really that surprising.

Her reflection in the bathroom mirror is pure fright night. She went to bed with damp hair and now it's sticking up in all directions. There are smudges under her eyes and her lips are swollen and sore when she touches the tips of her fingers to them. Did he watch her while she slept and wonder what the hell he was thinking of? She catches sight of the little pile of her hairpins on the counter, that he must have brought up and feels a sudden wave of inexplicable anger. Why is he still playing the game? Or maybe that's all it was to him? Just a game and she's a girl-sized pawn that he's moving round the board.

She has a complete sense memory of his hand on her ass as he spanked her. Of the way it felt to be constricted by the corset, her breasts pushed up to the heavens. His touch at the small of her back, exhorting her not to slouch. The anger gets upgraded to full-blown rage. She wants it all. His tenderness and all the fucked-up shit he pulls on her. Wants them both in equal measure and what kind of masochistic little freak does that make her?

He must have showered because he's a clean freak but you'd never know it to see the serried ranks of towels all neatly hanging from the rail according to size. She takes great delight in using as many of them as possible and throwing them on the floor. She even spits on his toothbrush after she's used it, but once she's shrouded in tight black wool, her hair scraped back, she feels calmer.

That's what she tells herself as she tiptoes down the stairs, following the scent of coffee and toast and trying to pretend that her hand isn't trembling as it slides down the banister.

He doesn't look up when she walks into the kitchen. Just finishes his piece of toast with two decisive bites and folds up the paper he's been reading.

“Hey,” she says softly, then blushes as her stomach gives an almighty rumble. He wasn't too bothered about feeding her. Just fucking her.

He ignores both of the sounds. Just stands up and smoothes down the starched front of his white shirt. Seeing him there, so prim and buttoned down, face set in grim, unreadable lines, Faith wonders if she imagined last night. Then as she takes a hesitant step forward and feels the silk lining of her dress brush against her shaved mound, remembers what he said about wanting her always ready for his caresses, another wave of heat pinkens her cheeks.

“About last night…” Shit! Why is she talking like some lame chick from a tired rom com?

He's embarrassed enough for both of them, hooking up his jacket from the back of the chair and not looking at her as he slips it on. “You'll be late for work,” is all he says and he brushes past her, not looking to see if she's following and she has no choice but to scurry to keep up with him.

In the car, he's even more remote. Turns up this crashing, discordant classical music so loud that she can't even think, never mind talk to him. His knuckles are white where they grip the steering wheel and she's flashing back to how they matched the bed sheets. He's taking corners too fast, overtaking to an angry volley of beeping horns and cutting through red lights so all she can do is grip the door handle and press her foot down on an imaginary brake.

She has to shut her eyes when he sweeps onto the drive of the office parking lot because he's going way too fast and they're going to crash through the wall, but then he slams on the brakes and she's jerked forward then pushed back as the car grinds to a halt. Her forehead is damp with sweat as she unclips her seat belt.

“What the fuck is your problem?” she screeches, then stops dead on the blistering rant that she's been working up to for the last half hour when he slides a five dollar bill across the dashboard.

“Go and get some breakfast,” he intones crisply, every fucking inch the crusty lawyer.

And she's stony broke, starving hungry and running out of choices as she snatches up the money, lips thinning as she realizes he hasn't fucking touched her.

She scrabbles at the door lock, feet on the ground when he says: “You're to have one cup of coffee, a toasted plain bagel with cream cheese and a piece of fruit.”

“Whatever, you fuck!” she snarls, jumping out of the car but he's yanking her back by the collar of her tatty denim jacket.

“Repeat!” he orders like she's mentally deficient.

His lips have flattened out, no trace there of the soft tissue she kissed but his eyes. Oh God! They're like twinkling blue stars, sweeping over her furious face like he doesn't want to miss an inch. Like he wants to memorize her and play it back to himself when she's not around.

Doesn't mean she has to lose the attitude as she sullenly repeats her breakfast menu back to him, but he lets go of her collar and she thinks that she must have imagined the brush of his fingers against her nape.

Faith takes her sweet time having breakfast. She's got a lot of cigarettes to make up for. She manages to spin it out for an hour but then she's teetering back across the road and pushing open the front door. It's exactly as it was when she left. Of course it is. But somehow she thought everything would be different.

She picks up her shorthand pad and a pencil and taking a deep breath, starts down the shadowy corridor and opens the door to his office. She's fucked if she's knocking first.

He barely looks up. “I don't need anything from you right now.”

Chapter Twelve

She burns fifteen shorthand pads during the next ten working days. She buys a cheap lighter with the money she found in an envelope on her desk, which is either payment for services well and fucking truly rendered or an advance on her wages. He doesn't tell her and she doesn't ask.

Because he's not saying much of anything. Just shoves a pile of handwritten notes at her first thing in the morning, then hands back her typed up sheets of linen bond, almost obliterated with red corrections two hours later. It seems like sloppy typing isn't an invitation for him to take it out on her ass anymore.

Neither is the transformation in her wardrobe. The three black dresses are stuffed in the back of her wardrobe, away from her mother's prying eyes. The corset and panties and shoes get wedged under her chest of drawers and she turns up in a variety of stuffy lawyer-incensing outfits. Man, she even wore jeans, sneakers and a What Would Joan Jett T-shirt Do? one day and he didn't so much as bat an eyelash. Like, she's totally acting out, as her social worker from juvie would say, and he hasn't called her on it once.

He's like every other fucking guy in the world. Gets what he wants, gets some touch, and then he won't call, won't write, won't fucking look at her. It doesn't make any sense. Or actually it makes way too much sense so why, every morning, when she's in the shower does she use her Gillette Daisy Plus razor to shave her pussy, keep it smooth while she waits in vain for the caress he promised her?

He even ignores the Post-It notes that she sticks to her freshly typed letters. Sometimes it's just four words scrawled in red Sharpie. “You're a fucking bastard.” Sometimes it's song lyrics: “We don't need reason and we don't need logic because we've got feeling and we're damn proud of it.” Every night before she goes home, she papers the corridor with her words and when she gets in the next morning, they've disappeared.

The funny thing is that she's stopped trying to actually talk to him. Just stands there, shoulders slumped, to hear the “I don't need anything from you right now” that she gets every morning, then flounces out, slamming the door behind her.

It's been two weeks to the day since… And at lunch, she picks up the local paper on her way to the diner and starts circling the Help Wanted ads. No way is she sticking round until he gets some stones and actually fires her.

She ignores most of the pile of paper that he shoved at her that morning and gets through the never-ending afternoon by sitting out in the back yard smoking and burning through the corrected letters from yesterday. They're getting kinda low on shorthand pads.

At four-thirty, she decides that anything is better than staying cooped up where the walls are trying to swallow her whole. Might as well start earning that pink slip. Just as she's shrugging on her jacket, her cell rings. It's Xander, wanting advice for his hook up with some skeevy bus boy that he's been crushing on like a high school girl for the last month.

“Just don't fuck him on your first date,” she's laughing into the phone. “It's too cheap, even for you.”

She looks up, as Xander howls in protest, to see him standing there, a piece of paper clutched in his hand, blazing fury etched into every inch of him.

“I'm on the fucking phone,” she hisses and turns round because she loses all her balls when his frosty blue eyes are turning her to ice.

His hand slams down on the desk, the piece of paper underneath it. “I need you to type this before you leave, then bring it into my office.” His voice is so low that she has to strain to hear it and all the hairs on her arms are standing up and waving. Trying to get her attention but she just shrugs.

“Gotta go, Xan. Some kind of fucking legal emergency,” she says jauntily, knowing that he can hear as he strides to his office but the door closes after him with a gentle click, and she wonders why she expected anything else.

She hangs up on Xander, after a lengthy conversation about appropriate date wear, then sits back down and picks up the five pages of densely written legal bullshit. What's so fucking important than it can't wait until tomorrow?

March 15, 2004

10 A.M.: Turned up one hour late, wearing sneakers and a skirt with a torn hem.

11 A.M.: Made eleven mistakes on three letters.

11.15 A.M.: Burned office property

11.45 A.M.: Hung up on client.

It goes on and on. A diary of her misdemeanors, and as she slips the really fancy linen bond into the Selectric and begins to type, something is unfurling in the pit of her stomach, spreading out in warm rays so her nipples are hard and she squirms on the seat as she feels herself getting wet.

They're a fucking piece of art by the time she's finished. Every comma exactly where it should be. Bolded, underlined, italicized, exactly as he's indicated. Because she's good at taking orders when he can actually be bothered to give them to her.

She stands outside his door, wishing that she’s wearing something else rather than her denim skirt, green T-shirt, and Mary Janes. Something black and tight-fitting. Her palms are damp with sweat as she knocks on the door for the first time in two weeks.


She's taking baby steps, creeping toward him, when he looks up and pins her to the carpet with his eyes. NASA should come to him next time they're doing research into killer laser beams.

“I got your…” she begins but he just holds out his hand, palm facing up, and she has to walk toward him, trying to resist the urge to start genuflecting, as she gingerly places the sheets of paper in his hand.

He takes his sweet fucking time reading them, even though he knows they're going to be worthy of a gold star. Then he stacks the papers back together, standing them up and shuffling them so they're all neat and tidy, before lifting his head and staring at her. She presses her thighs together against the cruel insistent pulsing of her clit and tries to give him the evil eye right back.

“Stand up straight,” he barks at her, and she jumps.

“Look, I can explain,” she stutters, trying desperately to fill the silence that's weighing down on her. “I know that I've been…”


Just one word and it's like he's connected a live wire to her cunt. She can feel the word inside her, rubbing against her wet, swollen walls.

And he's getting up, his movements calm, unhurried, pushing the chair back.

“Come here.”

Part of her is longing to back out of the room and get the fuck out of there but the other part of her, that's currently about to go up in a woosh of flames, manages to stagger over to the desk.

“Assume the position.”

Faith bends over the desk, her arms flat against the polished surface.

“Lift up that sorry excuse for a skirt.”

He's coming round now as her hands tug at the uncooperative denim. It doesn't even occur to her to argue. He's given her two weeks of the silent treatment. Two weeks of torture without even laying a finger on her. Two weeks of agonizing foreplay.

She keeps her head down as he moves behind her, then one finger is hooking into the waistband of her red, boy-cut panties. “Get rid of these.”

As she slides them off, wriggling to get them down her legs, she feels the change in the air as he bends down. She lifts her foot, then the other one, and he's pulling them away from her, then straightening up.

“You're a very dirty little girl, Faith,” he says, like it's some surprise that there's a fucking great wet patch staring back at him from the red cotton.

And she knows that he's not going to give her some quick, hard fuck over the desk, even though she'd sell her soul for it. But even so when his hand slides between her legs and his fingers trace the smooth skin of her bare mound, become slick with moisture, she wonders if they can't just forward wind to the main event and maybe do the spanking afterward.

“Though I'm surprised that you've managed to obey at least one of my orders,” he drawls against her ear, fingers still sliding over her, slipping into the crease where her thighs begin. She knows he can feel her legs trembling, the muscles quivering as she strains to hold herself still.


“I didn't tell you to speak,” he purrs, giving her a little pinch, then taking his hand away so she has to bite her lip to stop the moan of protest. “I don't know where to begin, quite frankly. You really have behaved appallingly. I think this may take some time.”

She closes her eyes and wishes that she didn't feel so happy. So fucking ecstatic. Already she's greedily calculating the hours, the minutes, the seconds that he's going to lavish on her.

The first blow takes her by surprise, even though she's been expecting it. His hand crashes down on her left cheek, lingers there, then withdraws.

He's tutting and she almost screams in frustration. She's forgotten about the waiting and how much she hates it.

Why's he stopping? Why the fuck is he walking back to his stupid leather chair and sitting down?

“I think…yes. This will be a much more effective punishment if you'd just come over here,” he says, as she looks up into his eyes and sees them dancing with amusement.

She slowly uncoils herself from her supine pose over the desk and shuffles toward him, skirt still hitched up and her arousal starting to paint a sheen over her inner thighs.

He doesn't say anything, just eats her up with his eyes but then he flexes his fingers and she can't help it. This needy whimper escapes her lips and he frowns. “Really, Faith. I expect you to take the consequences of your behavior with much better grace than that. Perhaps this would be easier if I just arrange you exactly to my specifications.”

Then his hands are on her. Properly on her. Pulling her down so she's lying across his lap, his cock digging into her belly and she curls her hands into the leather and waits.

He doesn’t make her wait long. She’s so aware of everything right then that she hears the rustle of his shirt as he pulls back his hand, hears the catch in his breath that tells her he’s as worked up as she is, then she hears nothing but the sound of his hand landing, and it’s such a clean, crisp, cool sound that it’s kind of funny it leaves her burning up.

She’s figured out why he waits between spanks. It’s because it doesn’t hurt, not at first. There’s this split second of sound and pressure, like the shockwave from an explosion, then a sting that spreads and grows. He knows just when it peaks and starts to fade; knows it and has the next one lined up, so that just as she’s sucking in a breath she couldn’t take when her mouth was open, trying to push the pain out of her, his hand’s against her again, driving everything out and leaving her lost.

It takes a while to scramble and find a way to match breathing to the steady rise and fall of his hand, but she manages it somewhere around number nine—and yes, she’s counting them, silently, in her head, fixing on the number because he won’t go past twenty—thirty—so it gives her something to focus on.

Then he starts to talk to her and she loses count, because his voice sends her spinning out of control.

“I don’t know what you thought I’d do, Faith. Ignore this? Overlook it? Excuse it?.”

He spits that last one out, and his hand practically bounces up off her ass, he hits it so hard. She yelps then, because he’s hit the same spot he did with five, seven, and nine and it’s sore. Bad mistake. There’s a flurry of blows, still precise, all landing so his fingers fit into the marks they left, but fast enough that it feels like one smack five times harder.

It’s too much and she starts to struggle, panting, fuck, crying now, and she isn’t doing it with one pretty crystal tear rolling down a cheek; no, they’re splashing and running down her face and her fucking nose is running too. Oh, shit, this isn’t how it’s supposed to be.


She doesn’t think he hears her, because he doesn’t tell her off for talking, but maybe he did, because the next spank lands on her other cheek, and it’s almost as good as him stopping.

“I won’t do that, Faith,” he says, sounding remote and Wrath of God-like. “You can’t expect me to.”

And it comes to her that these are words he’s heard said to him, and he’s repeating them to her, and he’s fucked-up, yes, but he needs to be the one saying them and God knows why, but she needs to hear them from someone who cares, and she stops fighting.

The blows stop hurting, the sound and fury distant now, as she spreads her legs wider, feeling the soft scratch of his trousers against her thighs. Arches her back, pushes her ass up to meet the next blow, and feels his hand pause.

“You don’t have to stop,” she tells him, knowing he will, because Christ, she must be stop-light red by now, but needing to say it.

He pats her ass, gently enough for it to surprise a giggle out of her, then flips her over so she’s cradled against his arm. One of those hankies he must buy by the gross is in his hand and he looks at her with this astonished look, as if it’s beyond him how she managed to get so messy in ten minutes.

The handkerchief tidies her up as efficiently as ever, and he drops it out of sight and stares down at her.

“Well, that takes care of part of it,” he murmurs. “But I don’t feel inclined to let such an impressive catalog of misbehavior pass. I think, for the sake of our future working relationship, we need to make sure we both know where we stand, don’t you?”

She’s not sure if he wants an answer but she tries a nod and gets the frosty eyes full beam. “If it’s not too much trouble, Faith, perhaps you could do me the courtesy of responding with a little more—”

“Yes, yes, I do. Sir.”

“—little more respect and no interruptions.”

“I’m sorry. Sir.”

Christ, she just can’t make that ‘sir’ part of a sentence and every time she pauses he gets this funny look in his eyes.

“Say that again, Faith.”

“I’m sorry—sir.”

His hand goes to her clit and pinches it hard, and she forgets her name, the day of the week, and what letter comes after ‘a’ as she writhes against him, toes curling hard.

“Fuck, Wes! Please!”

His hand pulls back and slaps her between her legs, not as hard as he’d done on her ass, but hard enough to sting. “We’re in the office, Faith. You’ll address me properly.”

She bites her lip as she fights to keep her ass from lifting to rub her cunt against his fingers. “Fuck. Sir. Please,” she says, spitting it out and glaring up at him.

His fingers tap against her clit, then dip lower, stirring the wetness that’s pooling between her legs. “You’re not making much sense, Faith,” he says. “I expect my secretary to have a modicum of fluency. It is rather important.”

“You want fluent?” she demands. “Two weeks and you’ve barely spoken to me, and you want fluent?” He pushes a finger into her, then two, moving them in and out, with a deliberation that’s making her shiver, head to toe. Her nipples are aching now and she wants to kiss him. She’s missed kissing him more than she’d thought, gone to sleep kissing the fucking pillow, like a kid, pretending it was him. Two weeks of burning up, spraining her wrist rubbing herself until she came, and it didn’t help. And she couldn’t come unless she was thinking of him. Every fantasy she’d ever used was worthless now. Didn’t work. Just him, and she’d worn every memory of him down to bare bones.

“I want you to tell me when you did this last,” he says, making each thrust of his fingers slide inside her to the exact same depth every time, bringing his thumb across to brush her clit. “Where you were, and what you were thinking.”

She closes her eyes, and fuck, she’s blushing now. His fingers pause the instant she does that, frozen like his voice as he says, “Look at me when you speak to me, Faith.”

She hadn’t been fucking speaking, but she wasn’t going to point that out. She forces open her eyes and the hand around her shoulders tightens a little, almost like he’s encouraging her. He’s looking expectant, eager, and it makes it easier somehow.

“About an hour ago,” she says. “In the washroom¬." His eyes close like he’s picturing it, before snapping open again, watching her and his fingers start moving again. “You’d just walked past me without even looking at me, as if I was this empty patch of air, and I needed…”

“What?” he asks, sounding curious. “To come? Just that?”

“To come without you,” she says, throwing the words at him. “To prove I didn’t fucking need you because I hadn’t got you anymore and fuck—”

Something sparks deep down in his eyes and she doesn’t realize it’s anger until he scoops her up and sits her on his desk, bruised ass smacking down against the wood and making her gasp. He scoots the chair up close, trapping her, his hands on her knees, pulling them apart. “And did you manage to prove it?” he says, gritting his teeth so the words come out in a growl. “Did your little experiment, during working hours“—Yeah, because that matters so awfully fucking much to him usually—”did it work?”

His fingers are squeezing her until the skin around them is white and the way he’s leaning forward, her cunt’s practically in his face, but his eyes are fixed on hers and he’s looking sort of wild now. She tries to close her knees and he shoves them wider. “Answer me.”

It’s that toneless voice now and she takes a deep, shaky breath. “No. No, it didn’t. I didn’t want it to. Stood there for ten minutes and didn’t think about you once, just rubbed and rubbed and I’d got two fingers up my cunt and one in my ass and I still couldn’t come. Not until I let myself think about you.”

His grip on her legs shifts and he bends down and tastes her, one gentle sweep of his tongue against her clit. She looks down at his dark hair and wants to touch it but she’s not sure he’d let her, so she keeps her hands where they are, flat against the desk, and carries on talking as he explores every fold with a delicacy that’s making her shiver.

“I watched you when you were asleep.”

It’s not what he expected, and he pauses, but she’s not going to let that happen, and she gives in and runs her fingers through his hair, rumpling it, like she does everything of his, holding him in place and tilting her hips in a hint he takes, and she feels his teeth graze against her clit and moans a little.

“Watched you dream. You make these little noises, you know. Soft little whimpers and they’re kinda sweet in a way, but they’re not all that happy.”

He slips his hand along her thigh and his fingers are in her again, and they’re good, but they’re not enough.

“You’re not still, not ever. Got to see your back when you rolled over—” And she knows every freckle, every tiny mark and pulling the sheet up over it when he got cold nearly killed her. “Got to see all of you. You’re fucking pretty, you know that?”

“I am not in the least pretty, Faith.”

Only he can snap that out and make it sound even vaguely scary when he has his mouth an inch away from her cunt and Christ she was so wet his finger was skating and skidding down and teasing her ass now and if he—

“Say it.” He sits up, taking his fingers and mouth away, and gives her a stern, outraged stare.

She all but sticks her tongue out at him, but reconsiders. “You want me to lie?”

Really pissed-off now. “Never.”

“Then, gotta say, you’re fucking pretty, sir.”

She takes advantage of him being stunned into silence to slide off the desk and into his lap, winding her arms around his neck and getting his trousers messy as hell as she squirms against his cock, hard enough to poke through the wool by the feel of it.

“You’re pretty, Wes,” she says and flicks her eyes at the clock. It’s not working hours now, and she kisses him, tasting herself on his lips, ready to beg, if it’ll get her kissed back.

And this is new territory still. She’s walking on water, heart thudding in her chest, a little bit terrified; she’s carried along by pure momentum because if she stopped to think about it she’d call the whole thing off. Because even he wouldn’t be stone fucking cold enough to say no to that.

But she doesn’t speak; words would only betray her indecision. Instead she quietly relishes the slight indrawn breath he takes as she pulls him toward her, her hands resting against his neck. She can feel his pulse hammering away under her fingers, and she has to stifle a laugh because they’re finally in accordance. He’s as scared as she is, if not more so. That’s just what she needs to continue.

And God, he’s always so hard for her, the one part of him that’s not crippled by ambivalence and guilt. And for now that’s enough, it’s more than she could hope for—just to be able to kiss him and know how much he wants her. At last, something simple between them, not some elaborate fucking game where they’re trying to score points off one another.

She knows it won’t last, but she’s going to make it fucking count. She can’t take two more weeks of this agony, and she suspects he can’t either.

He answers her with a kiss, and again, there’s something strangely sweet and sincere about it that seems at once so uncharacteristic and yet… It’s him too, all of it; the coldness and the mercenary calculation and the heart on his goddamn impeccably ironed sleeve. Bastard. But right now all she really cares about is that Wes and his passel of charmingly frustrating contradictions fuck her into insensibility.

He seems to be thinking the same thing, too, because before she knows it he’s pulling her green T-shirt up over her head and she’s clumsily unzipping him. They’re still kissing, his head tipped up to meet her hungry mouth, hands restless against her body.

She finally succeeds in freeing his cock from its prison of summer-weight wool and he lets out a little ‘ah’ of pleasure at the cool air before she hitches herself onto him. He pushes her roughly back against the desk, then his hands glide down her torso to rest against the small of her back. They serve the practical purpose of protecting her from the sharp edge of the desk as he slams into her. Her head falls back and her mouth is open but thanks to the exquisite torment of the pre-show she’s already incapable of making coherent sounds, and just emits these little wordless moans: “Fuck yes, oh God I’m ohh…" The ferocity of it scares her a little bit. Such an edge to this; it's almost feral.

All it takes is his ragged whisper: “Such lovely little sounds you make. Don't stop.”

And she doesn't, she just holds onto him and rides it out.

Amazingly, he doesn't stop either. Just slows it right down to watch her as she comes, not even shutting his eyes when she's clenching round him and locking her ankles into his back to stop him from moving as she frantically grinds into him. She can't even force sounds out of her mouth anymore; just this strangled yelping noise that would be fucking embarrassing at any other time.

Then he starts again. Fucking into her at a furious pace and she realizes that she hasn't stopped, can't stop, that she's getting dragged under again and again. His hand is braced against the edge of the desk for ballast as he pistons into her with these jerky lunges that makes the solid weight of the desk shift beneath them.

His mouth worries at her neck and she's laughing and crying and scrabbling at his shoulders because nothing has ever felt this good. The effort of keeping her legs tight around him proves too much and she relaxes her grip round him, only to have him pause mid-thrust so he bumps against that white-hot place inside her cunt that she didn't know existed until she met him.

“No!” she practically screams at him, her throat hoarse and scratchy, and he tries to console her with a twist of his hips that makes more tears leak out.

“I want to come inside you,” he whispers into her ear like it's some kind of terrible perversion and it takes a while for the meaning of his words to penetrate the mush that used to be her brain.

“Yes, yes. It's all right. I want it too,” she frantically assures him, pushing at his shoulders, trying to get him to move again. “I'm on the pill. Please, Wes. Fuck me.”

But he's pulling out of her, sliding against her clit and she tries to sit up and ask him what the fuck he's playing at but he's scooping her up and placing her on shaky feet.

His cock is red and primed and she reaches out to touch it, touch him but his hands are already turning her around, bending her over the desk.

“You once told me that you could stay still while I fuck you,” he reminds her, rubbing his cock against her buttocks while she bucks her hips and tries to entice him back inside her. “I think it's time to see if you can keep your promises.”

There is no way on God's earth that she can keep herself motionless but already she's trying to lock her muscles into rigidity as she feels the wet head of his cock trace the crease of her cheeks.

“Are you going to… there?” she manages to gasp out in a tone that sounds far too tempted by the suggestion. Not like he ever had her pegged for being a nice girl.

In reply, he nudges against her with a little more conviction. “Am I going to fuck you in the arse?” And there's no way that those rasped words should seem like such an exciting proposition but they do. “Do you want me to?”

One of his fingers has got in on the act now, worming its way between her cheeks and she bites down on her lip so hard to stop herself from pushing back that there's a salt tang on her tongue and she knows she's drawn blood.

“Do you want me to fuck you here?” His finger pushes in a little farther, wet with her juices. “Do you want to get fucked in the arse, Faith?”

“I've never…” And those two words are pretty calculated considering she's not thinking too straight. His cock jerks against her thigh and she knows the thought of taking something of hers that no-one else had is going to keep him here just a little bit longer. “But I'd let you, Wes. I'd let you fuck me there, if you wanted to.”

His teeth sink into her shoulder as he slams his cock into her cunt. The pain's just more sensation, as he drills her spasming hole, his hands sliding down and around so he can pinch her clit and one of her nipples in this punishing rhythm, which makes her savage her lower lip again.

“Oh…oh…oh…” She can't move. She's not allowed to move because then he might stop again and she'd die so all she can do is moan in tandem with his thrusts and his fingers.

“Such a good girl, Faith,” he says, biting her earlobe now and rubbing her clit in this fast circular motion, which makes her want to swivel her hips to match. “Keep still. I'll take care of you.”

That's what does it this time. Not his fingers or his mouth or his cock. But the five words that unlock this rusty box buried deep inside her so something bursts open and spills out so that when he grabs her hips in this vise-like hold and shoves inside her with this choked cry, she can't help it.

“I love you!” As soon as the words have forced themselves out, even as she feels him spurting inside her, she wants to take them back. Cram them down her throat. Pretend they never happened.

He collapses against her, pressing her into the desk so the edge digs into her stomach, then he's pulling out, her cunt trying to cling onto him, the over-sensitized tissues dragging against his length.

Without him holding her up, Faith feels her legs give out and she's sinking to the floor.

He laughs then, this indulgent little chuckle, and she can't look at him but he's obviously looking at her. About to say something cutting about her outburst. Or worse, pretend that she never said it at all.

“You're bleeding.”

Her fingers prod her smarting lip and she pulls them away to stare dispassionately at the red stain.

“No, your shoulder.” He's already tucked his cock back into his trousers and crouches down to look at the thin trickle of blood that's inching down her arm from where he bit her.

Faith scooches back, hits the leg of the desk and changes course so she can actually crawl under it, snagging her T-shirt on the way and dragging it on, tugging at her skirt so it covers her oozing pussy.

“I'm fine,” she insists, the sullen tone that used to get her grounded, creeping into her voice. But she's pretty much regressed now anyway, which is why she's cowering under his desk, eyes squinched shut and her hands over her ears so she won't have to hear him say something that she doesn't want to hear.

“Faith,” he says with a sigh, all long-suffering but restrained because he's never going to just come out with it and call her an idiot, even if she's acting like one. “You can't be comfortable down there.”

He bumps his head on the edge of the desk and swears under his breath. It's probably the most normal thing he's done in the whole time she's known him.

“I didn't mean it,” she whispers eventually, when he shows no signs of moving and she can't bear to look at the highly polished toes of his shoes anymore. “It's just something that people say when, y'know…” She tails off, uncertain of how to finish the sentence.

“You can't possibly believe no one else in the world has ever misspoken during the throes of passion?” He's not outwardly laughing at her, of course, but even this gentle prodding rubs her the wrong way, raises hackles she didn't even know were there.

“Shut up,” she hisses at him, weakly though, and squishes herself farther under the desk, fingers absentmindedly smearing the blood running down her arm. “Just shut up, would you?” She wants to be left alone to wallow petulantly in self-pity for a bit. Can=n't he see that?

“Faith, come on, now. Stop this nonsense.” He doesn't apologize, just offers that goddamn gallant hand again and a dishful of patronizing concern as well. “Come out from under there, please. Let's at the very least get you cleaned up before you start dripping blood on my carpet.”

The look she gives him rivals any stony glare he's ever laid on her, and he chuckles indulgently again, as if he's actually enjoying this underneath that facade of concern. The self-pity is rapidly turning into a flame of a rage, and she realizes that he's going to win this round, no matter what. And she sure as hell can't be bothered to have him clean her up again with one of his infinite supply of pristine handkerchiefs. Not this time.

Without looking away, she rakes her now-bloodied hand across the pristine cream-colored carpet, leaving a long rusty smudge. “Too late for that, sir.” she says flatly, shoving past him and pulling herself up shakily without his help. She wraps the T-shirt around her chest, and tugs the skirt down as far as it will go, ignoring the fact that his spent seed is running down her inner thigh.

And just like that, she walks out of his office and straight to the tiny bathroom, locking the door. She doesn't even look back to see if he's angry or hurt or indifferent. She's not sure she really wants to know anyway. And when he doesn't come after her, she turns on the sink full blast so he won't hear her crying.

She cleans up as well as she can, dabbing at the mascara smudges under her eyes, swabbing down his teeth marks on her flesh with a dab of Neosporin from the first aid kid under the sink and wishing to God she hadn't stormed out of there without her underwear in hand. She can't quite bring herself to leave the office either, and it's not for want of her favorite panties.

Of course she doesn't love him, she's not in love with him—but she loves needing him. She loves aching for his approval. And, heaven help her, she loves playing this game with him.

She cracks the bathroom door open, peers out cautiously. She can see him there in the inner office, on his hands and knees with shirtsleeves rolled up past his elbows, his back to her, scrubbing away at the carpet.

Oh, that’s just too fucking much. “Want me to get the cleaners in?” she says coldly, as she stalks back in. “Decontaminate the place? Because that’s going to leave your pants, sorry, trousers looking like you slept in them, as well as fucked in them.”

He turns, and yes, he was using one of his handkerchiefs, and bottled water at a dollar a swallow, to clean up her blood. Men.

“You’re remarkably mercurial, Faith,” he says. She lets her face tell him that she doesn’t know if she’s being insulted, and he smiles, standing up and brushing at his trousers, which, typically, fall back into shape, with the only crease being the straight line down the middle. “Your moods change so quickly, I despair of keeping up with you.”

It’s so unfair of him to lay that on her, when it’s what he does to her all the fucking time that she’s left with her mouth hanging open. “Me? I’m changeable? Look in the mirror lately? I’m not the one who—who—”

And she’s stammering, stuck, because when his face goes polite like that, she can’t reach him. She slouches over to where he dropped her panties and pulls them on, not caring that she flashes him as she wriggles them up and into place.

His face twists. “Faith, if we can move on now, I trust tomorrow you’ll be properly dressed again?”

He sounds as if it’s important to him and she knows she wants to wear it all again, fit her body into clothes he’s chosen, so that every moment she’s wearing them, it’s like his hands are on her, approving little strokes and pats as the material shifts against her skin. And she’s wearing holes in her bedroom carpet practicing walking in the shoes.

“If it matters, I will,” she says and maybe he’s right and she is whatever that fucking word was, because she’s feeling soft and warm now, just watching his face when she says that. She’s left out two words; ‘to you’, saying them in her head, but it’s like he heard them, the way his face lightens.

“Your attire, your behavior, your attitude—they always matter,” he says, “and if you bear that in mind, I think we’ll get along better.”

But will it still get her sessions like this? She hasn’t quite worked that out yet. Maybe there isn’t an answer. Maybe he just does this when he wants to, when he can’t not do it, and she’s got nothing to do with it. She doesn’t like that idea somehow. If it doesn’t matter, then she doesn’t matter, and she’s had enough of that all her life.

He stares at her, and there’s just enough tenderness in his voice when he snaps that she’s slouching, to be reassuring, even when she watches him drive off, taking the corner as sedately as a little old lady, as if it hadn’t been him who’d been living the Grand Prix fantasy last time she was in there with him.

Chapter Thirteen

She’s ready for bed that night. Her mother’s still convinced she’s got a boyfriend after her night out two weeks before, and goes between sly, girlish giggles to peevish predictions of teen pregnancy. She’d know all about that, knocked up at seventeen. When the rambling, vodka-soaked questions probe and pry past endurance, she slams into her room, locking the door and stripping off the robe she’d left on after she’d finished showering. Naked, she slips into bed and stares up at the ceiling, drifting into a dream of a Wes who fucked her every day, twice a day, whenever she wanted him. Shit. They’d never get any work done.

The phone ringing doesn’t register at first, but then she’s scrambling for it, yanking it out of her purse and stabbing at buttons in the dark. Xander, she thought. In trouble, wanting a shoulder to cry on.


And she sinks back against the pillows and squeezes the phone in her hand as the heat flares up between her legs. One word and she’s wet a second later. God, he should bottle that voice.

“Yeah, it’s me, Wes.”

She can tell he doesn’t like that and she waits for him to say something, but it’s gone eleven; no way is this on the clock, and she can call him any fucking name she wants to.

“Tell me where you are.”

She wants to lie, flick on some music, say she’s at a club, a party, on a date, but he’d never believe that. Fuck, he might be in that car of his right now, staring at her window, knowing just where she is. That sends shivers over her, thinking of him that close to this part of her life.

“Where are you?” she counters.

There’s another pause, then he says, “In the library. Looking across at the chair you sat in.”

That’s kinda sweet, though remembering that room, dim and filled with words spoken and written, his low voice telling her what someone else wrote, her husky voice telling him her dreams, doesn’t make her feel romantic exactly.

“Are you wishing I was there, sitting in it?” she asks.

“I’m wishing you would answer my question,” he says, lemon-ice sour.

“In bed. I’m in my bed.”

“Do you own an alarm clock? You’re late so often, I realize that might be a foolish question—”

What? No, ‘what are you wearing?’ Her fingers are already trembling waiting to be told to touch herself and he’s asking about—oh, fuck it.

“Yeah, I do. And it works, I’m just not a morning person, you know?”

“Oh, believe me, I do.” The ice melts a bit there. “What time do you set it for?”

This is the most fucked-up phone seduction ever. “Seven, but I don’t, you know, get out of bed until about twenty past.”

“Set it for six.”

“No way! God, Wes, that’s the middle of the fucking night!”

“Faith.” Patience wearing thin, but she can hear the control vibrate in every word. “You will do as I say without commentary or profanity and you will tell me when you’ve done it and address me properly as you do so.”

Touch yourself, yeah, baby, harder, moan for me... No, he wouldn’t last long on a phone-sex line. Or maybe he’d be the one everyone wanted. She shakes herself out of thinking about it and puts the phone down and switches on the bedside light while she fiddles with the clock. Six. Christ, it’s pitch-black dark then.

“I’ve set the alarm for six,” she reports back, avoiding using a name and wondering if he’ll let her get away with it. The chilly silence tells her she’s out of luck on that one and she sighs loudly and repeats it, adding a ‘sir’ that slips out sounding more sincere than she’d planned.

“Good. Get up and shower and I want you perfectly smooth. And take more care over that. I noticed today that you’d cut yourself. That’s unacceptably careless.” Stung like a bitch too, thanks for caring. “Are you naked?”


“Faith, I wasn’t aware that you had trouble hearing or comprehending simple—”

“Yes, yes, I am. I’m in bed.”

“Do you recall what I said about interrupting me?” He doesn't wait for an answer, just carries on as if he hadn’t just thrown that at her and left her tingling, fingers drumming against her thigh. God, she could do it. He wouldn’t know. “You’re to brush your teeth for two minutes, starting in the top right—your right that is.”

Not a smidge of a smile in his voice and she’s rolling her eyes in disbelief until she thinks of how it’ll feel to do that and do it perfectly, then she moans, getting her hand to her mouth just in time to stifle it.

“Where are your hands, Faith?”

Or maybe not.

“One’s holding the phone, one’s just—by my side,” she says, making it true in a hurry.

“I see.” She sticks her tongue out because he sounds so amused at that.

“Want me to move my hand?”

It’s lifting, ready to go to her breast, dive down to where she’s already aching with emptiness when he says curtly, “If I did, you’d be moving it, wouldn’t you? Replace it at once.”

Sulkily, she puts it down on the cover and waits.

“At precisely 6.40, dressed in your work clothes, you’ll be waiting outside.”


“I’m taking you out for breakfast, Faith. Now go to sleep. And Faith? Sleep with your hands outside the covers, please.”

“If I don’t come, I won’t be able to sleep,” she spits out, wriggling her ass against the mattress as she rubs her thighs together without it doing anything to help.

She can hear his eyebrows going high on his forehead, she swears she can. “I didn’t say you couldn’t come,” he points out. “I have every faith in your ingenuity.”

And there’s a click in her ear and he’s gone.


Chapter Fourteen

The alarm goes off at six and it takes all the will power she can muster not to fling it across the room and burrow back under the covers. Her first vaguely coherent thought being, of course, fuck him, he’ll just have to fucking wait. Then, as her brain slowly starts to regain consciousness, she realizes with a dismaying inevitability that she’s going to be out there on the curb on time because she can’t not. She manages to stumble to the bathroom in the dark, grope for the light switch and blink against the harsh glare of the cheap hi-watt bulb.

She hadn’t been able to sleep, just tossed and turned. Not so goddamn ingenious after all, are you, you stupid bitch, she thinks ruefully as she glares back at her reflection in the mirror.

She’d kept her hands dutifully outside the covers as he’d requested; her sleepless eyes fixed on a water stain on her ceiling that mutated, at various points over the course of the night, into the Trix rabbit, that scary demon bunny from that weird-ass film Xander dragged her to, and the Mayor of Springfield.

She does her best to not think of Wes at all, but God, there isn’t an inch of her that hasn’t been marked by him in some way. Christ, she can’t even touch herself without it seeming like a pale imitation—like nothing—compared to the galvanizing force of his gaze, his fingers, his tongue, his cock, upon her ruined flesh. Ruined, because suddenly everything is so fucking complicated. Need is so fucking complicated.

She splashes water on her face and blearily steps into the shower. She showers quickly, only slowing down in order to shave her legs and carefully denude her pussy (although, inevitably, her bright pink generic razor doesn’t do nearly as good a job as his old-school kit). She uses the apple-scented shampoo and the Morning Mist body wash, then realizes (too fucking late, of course) that he might disapprove of such artificial scents. She steps out of the shower, towels off quickly, and tries to do something with her rebellious hair. Goddamn humidity. Finally she just runs some detangler through it and leaves it down.

She looks at the clock and she’s almost out of time. Fuck, clothes—dammit, did he say what he wanted her to wear? No. Shit. She wonders what’s clean and finds one of the vintage blouses (this one with slightly prim tiny black and white polka dots all over it) and the black pencil skirt. No underwear, she decides. They’d only get lost anyway.

She finishes with the black Mary Janes with the high arch. She looks in the mirror, satisfied, grabs her purse and over-the-shoulder bag and tiptoes down the stairs. She’s sure her mother is dead to the world anyway, but she can’t be too careful.

When she steps out of the house, thirty-five seconds late by her count, he’s already there waiting, car lights turned off.

She's glad of her shoe choice when she breaks into a bit of a trot across the yard and down the driveway. She swings the door open and plops down on the cushy leather seat with the heartiest “Good morning!” she can muster before a giant cup of coffee and a ciggarette.

She'd thought he was the morning person, but he's thin-lipped and stern, looking a little tired and pinched himself. The mellifluous voice of the early-morning BBC news announcer (so thoughtfully carried on the local NPR affiliate, of course) floats in the air between them.

Oh. Shit.

The clothes.

Fuck, he'd said work clothes, she remembers now.

They're speaking over each other:

“I can run in and change.”

“I thought I specifically informed you yesterday...”

She stops, shame and not a little excitement creeping up her cheeks, making her scalp tingle, sending a shiver down her spine.

“If I didn't know better, Faith, I'd say you make these errors to intentionally provoke me.”

She's looking at her feet now—mouth dry, she swallows uncomfortably and shakes her head, whispers: “No sir, I just forgot. I'm sorry. I didn't...”

“You didn't what?”

“I didn't exactly sleep well last night, okay?” She's finally meeting his eyes now, peeved. Well, it had been his fault she didn't get enough sleep. Mostly.

That makes him smile a bit, makes his eyes glitter in that wicked way. He places his hand on her knee, a parody of every inappropriate boss/secretary image she's ever had, and slides up her thigh, under the skirt, going right for the ripe, wet prize that waits underneath.

His eyes widen with mock-surprise when he discovers she's underpantsless. “You seem confident today, Faith.” He cocks an eyebrow when he finds her sopping wet. “Perhaps a bit too confident, even.”

And with that he leans in and slides his finger between her moist pussy lips and swirls the tip around her clit, pulling his hand away in a split second. “I'm sorry you didn't sleep well,” he whispers huskily in her ear. The needy scent of her wet snatch is filling the circulating air of the car now, canceling out the sticky, clingy scent of the morning mist shower gel—probably for the best.

He pulls out a handkerchief, wipes his finger clean, and tucks the square of white fabric back in his pocket, all in one smooth movement. He flashes her a goofy grin. “Hungry?”

What did he say yesterday? Mercurial? Yeah. Too stunned to speak, she just nods.

He knocks the car into reverse, peeling out of the driveway. “Good. Me too.”

He's stroking the bridge of her nose. What the hell?

Oh right, she'd dozed off there.

“Wake up, we're here.”

The clock on the dashboard says 7.20. They're in an underground parking garage, it would seem, one that's full of cars just as lovely, if not lovelier than his.

She knocks some sleep out of the corners of her eyes and tidies her hair. “Where are we?”

He shakes his head slightly. “Just follow me, Faith. And behave.” She sticks her tongue out at his back, but follows him all the same.

There's a plush elevator waiting, all mirrors and brass and red velvet. Classy. And an elevator attendant. Classier.

“43rd floor,” Wes says to the attendant.

“Right away, sir.”

She tries not to fuss with all the mirrors around, but can't help smudging a pinkie under her lipline to even out a stray feathering of lipstick and straightening the bow on her blouse.

And, he's not looking at her exactly in a disapproving way, but…Her hands fall to her sides, and she's suddenly conscious of the fact that she's probably slouching as well. She pulls herself up, smiling self-consciously. He tips her a little indulgent nod that makes her blush.

The elevator dings and the doors glide open to a wide hallway full of really old, heavy furniture and vases that looked like they were worth more than she'd make in three lifetimes of working double shifts.

There's a tinkling and clattering of crystal and murmured conversations. And suddenly, it's rather painfully obvious where they are.

They're in the city, of course. At the nicest possible restaurant—one of those top-of-the-world joints with spectacular views. And just co-incidentally the one where Xander works the breakfast shift.

She wants to run away, freak out, anything. But her feet keep moving forward, no matter what command she sends to them. Great. Right, uh. Maybe he's not working today. Yes, it's possible. She racks her brain, trying to remember his schedule—right at the moment he comes around a corner carrying a tray laden with about the most decadent breakfast she's ever seen. And nearly drops it on some gray-haired lady's head.

He gives her that look that says “What the FUCK are you doing here?”

She gestures to Wes. His back's to them, conferring with the maitre'd.

Xander's look still says “What the FUCK are you doing here?”

She shakes her head and mouths, “I'll tell you later.” as Wes turns around. She snaps her mouth shut, assumes the correct posture, and smiles demurely.

“Sorry for making you wait.” He takes her elbow and steers her after the penguin-suited maitre'd. “We're meeting a client for breakfast. It should be illuminating.”

And that would be the moment her stomach goes from slightly flip-flopping to churning. She tries to smile, but it sours on her lips. He's positively giddy and she's freaking. Wonderful. A client, though. She hopes it's not another bitchy cow.

It's not, of course. It's just another tweedy English guy whose name she doesn't catch sitting in a plush and massive round booth. They slide in on one side of the empty half circle, and when she tries to slide a little farther in, Wes grabs the tender flesh of her inner thigh under the table, pulling her closer. It's all she can do not to whimper as he walks his fingers closer to her snatch, all while discussing some vagaries of the law she can't follow.

The service is impeccable, and she orders everything just as his discreet whispers in her ear direct—shirred eggs, coffee, fruit.

Things seem to be going well—well for Wes that is. Whenever he has a free hand, he's stroking her under the table, and she's desperately trying to keep a straight face, make small talk with the client, eat. And she's only just succeeding in not getting up, knocking everything off the table and shoving her pussy in his face and begging him to eat that. But no, she smiles sweetly, she takes tiny bites of her food, she's perfect. Well, as perfect as can be with his hand up her skirt, thumb resting slightly on her clit.

And then things aren't going so well.

“As much as I have faith in your abilities, Wesley, I'm afraid for the more complicated issues in this case, I've had to seek further counsel.”

“You can't be serious! There's no one who knows more about this than me.” An edge of petulance is sneaking into his voice.

“Yes, yes, Wesley, I know that. Believe me, I do. But in a case like this, as I've said, I need bigger firepower. And as competent as you are—and you'll forgive me for saying this—but bigger firepower just isn't your forte.”

“And just who did you propose to bring in to wield your big guns?” he says through gritted teeth.

Mr. Tweedy smiles slickly. “Lilah Morgan, of course.”

As soon as that bitch's name is brought up he goes cold as ice, Faith can physically feel the sea change. His hand’s off her now and he's running through everything robotically. He pays the bill, steers her out of the restaurant, still by the elbow—though she does manage to throw a tiny wave Xander's way as she's hustled out to the elevator.

They ride back to the office in silence. That clashing, cacophonous classical music is back on the stereo. She sits there, nearly invisible, watching him unconsciously grinding his teeth in anger the whole way back.

Chapter Fifteen

Of course, it’s too much to hope that she'd remain invisible. She just wanted to slink back behind her desk, type a few things, sneak out back for a cigarette. Or twenty. But no sooner are they back in the office then he slams some files on her desk and snaps, “Come in to my office in five minutes. I need you to take a letter.” Eyes wide, she nods silently.

He leans in, close to her face, “You'll answer when I speak to you, Faith.”

“Yes. Yes, sir. I'll be there in five minutes.” She tries to keep her face as still as possible, trying not to betray her real fear at his mood.

Five minutes, well eight minutes, is enough time to go to the washroom and clean herself up. Which means scrubbing at her still wet pussy with a damp hand towel, then sneaking off to the back yard to smoke half a cigarette.

She's still got that flippy feeling in her tummy when she knocks on his office door but it's not the one that makes her nipples go hard. More like the other one. The one where she thinks she might throw up. Because she's seen him pissed off. Fuck, that's like a half hourly occurrence but the trip back from the city was with a man who looked like he was cresting the wave of a homicidal meltdown. And it's not even nine-thirty yet.


Nope, not even nine-thirty yet and as she walks into the room, trying to keep her shoulders straight and her face expressionless, he has an open bottle of whiskey on the desk and is halfway down a glass of it.

His eyes are shut and he's clutching the glass like it's a life raft, or the next best thing, because the life raft sailed off without him. Then his eyes snap open and he smiles at her. It's completely devoid of humor; the smile a predator gives before they try to rip out your jugular. She's seen it a hundred times before and she's backing away.

“Y'know, I have a ton of stuff to do,” she says nervously. “All that paperwork from yesterday and the court orders you wanted me to file and you look…I can come back later.”

“Ah, Faith. I was wondering when you were going to honor me with your presence,” he says all silky smooth, then drains the rest of the glass in one gulp.

“Coffee. I'm going to make some coffee.” If she keeps on talking it means the silence doesn't start getting too much to handle and if she moves over here, then there's a table between them and she's got a clear path to the door. “You want some coffee?”

“What I want is rather immaterial,” he says, running his eyes up and down her body. “Come here.”

“I really think you should have some coffee.” Not because he's drunk, because he hasn't had long enough for that, but it takes time to boil up the kettle and pour the water into the cup and he might have a chance to get the fuck over himself.

“Come here.” It's sharp as a whiplash and he's conditioned her so well that she even takes a step in his direction. But someone else got to her long before he did and so she digs her heels in to the carpet and folds her arms.

“I'm going to go back to my desk now,” she says, keeping her voice calm, even though everything inside her is shrieking. “And I get that you're angry about the tweedy guy and what he said to you…” Why can't she just shut the fuck up? Why does she have to keep talking and make his nostrils flare and his eyes blaze and, shit, pour himself another drink?

He shuts his eyes very slowly, pinches the bridge of his nose like he's in great torment, then opens his eyes so he can give her a ferocious glare. “I really wouldn't try my patience too much today, Faith. It's in very short supply. Now come over here.” Each word is enunciated so crisply and distinctly that they're like bullets wedging themselves straight into her heart.

“No.” She's shaking her head and shuffling back as he gets up from his chair and comes toward her.

Her hand is on the door handle but he's already there, yanking her arm back with cruel fingers and swinging her around to face his wrath. She can smell the whiskey on his breath, feel the bite of his fingers, and it's like home away from fucking home.

“Which part of 'come here', didn't you understand, you stupid girl?” His face is twisted up and ugly and she's wriggling in his hold like a little fishy on a hook.

She's not entirely sure what he's going to do but she isn't going to wait to find out as she shoves him back and tries to keep him away with flailing fists as he uses his strength to slam her against the door.

“Get off me!” Her voice is shrill. “Don't you touch me!”

He has her shoulders pinned back now as he looms over her, blocking out the light and she waits for the sharp slap or the painful tug of her hair being pulled. It doesn't happen. All she gets is his thigh pressing between hers.

“But Faith, you're forgetting that you like it when I touch you,” he drawls, vowel sounds impossibly languid even as he rips the front of her blouse open.

It's a terrible sound, renting the air, swiftly followed by the seam splitting in her skirt as she tries to kick him but gets sidetracked by her tight skirt and the way he's pushed up against her.

“Not like this, you fuck!” Her hands are angry birds fluttering in the air. Hitting him, scratching at him and he's not trying to hold her back now but hold her off. She catches his cheek with her nails and he's bleeding but she doesn't care. He deserves it. “This is not what it's about! You're not meant to hurt me like this! Like everyone else does!” It feels good to force the words out. They were buried so deep inside her that she thought they'd stay there forever.

It's all shit. Was going to have such a good day. He was going to take her out to breakfast and maybe he'd fuck her afterward and kiss her. Now he's turning away, one hand clutching his bleeding face and he's on a collision course back to the desk, back to the bottle, and she's had enough of that to last her several lifetimes.

There's no one there to stop her as she reaches for the door handle again. And she's sighing with relief as she steps into the corridor and runs.

Lighter, cigarette, purse, jacket. It takes a millisecond to scoop them up and just as she's almost home and clear, she turns back and screams into the dense silence, “You've fucking ruined everything, you bastard!”

It's raining. Of course it's raining, as she trudges to the bus stop in shoes that pinch and a torn skirt and shirt. She looks like a superannuated teen whore who's just had an argument with her pimp. Which isn't a million miles away from the truth.

She's so fucking stupid. Thought it was just a game and that all the naughty spanking and the crisp orders in that fancy British voice were just directions on the map that took them where they needed to go. But not so much. Turns out he just wanted to give her some pain and that all the other stuff, the stuff that keeps her up at night, twisting in her bedclothes, hands between her legs, was just what he used to do it.

What is it about her that makes them all think she can take the hurt and keep coming back for more? She should just have the word 'victim' tattooed on her forehead.

The rain's sheeting down now and she's soaked through. Her skin underneath her sodden clothes feels wet and clammy and as she squints into the distance to see if she's anywhere near the stop, the bus whizzes past her, throwing up a spray of dirty water and soaking her just that little bit more for extra wetness.

“Fucking son of a bitch!” she yells, stamping her foot and wincing as the thin sole of her shoe simply soaks into the wet sidewalk. “Fuck! Fuck! Fuck! You're so fucking dumb!”

It doesn't matter now. She's about as wet as she's gonna get, she thinks as her whole body protests the thought of walking home.

The one good thing about the rain is that it washes the tears off her face as soon as they've leaked out. And there's plenty more where they came from. It feels kinda liberating to walk along, crying. Proper crying with these big hiccuppy sobs dragged out of her and snot coming out of her nose, which she wipes on her sleeve every now and again. She's disgusting. No one could ever want her.

It takes a while for the steady beep of the car horn to penetrate the pity party that's going on in her head. She slowly turns her head and sees the car rolling slowly along beside her. His car. All sleek and dark, just like him.

She pulls her aching shoulders back, wipes off her face and carries on walking. He can just go fuck himself because she sure as shit ain't gonna do it for him anymore.

He must be leaning on the horn now, because there's this constant, persistent, piercing whine emitting from the car and she pauses briefly to glare at him before she realizes that her best and filthiest look isn't effective when visibility's like, zero.

Then the door open's and he's sitting there all toasty and dry and with the most long-suffering expression on his face since records began.

“Faith!” he shouts. “Get in!”

And she isn’t going to do it. Not after what he did; but two things make her pause and stare at him, as she pushes back the hair that the rain’s decided to stick across her face so that’s she’s eating it. It tastes of sour windfalls, wasp-bitten and moldy now, so she spits it out and pushes it back.

Two things, and the first takes her a step toward him, and the second puts her ass on the seat.

Because he came after her. No one’s ever done that before. She must’ve run away from home a dozen times when she was little—always to Xander’s house, where his mother sniffed and made it say a hell of a lot for one sniff, and fed her milk and cookies and let her sleep head to toe in Xander’s room in a pair of his Spiderman jammies, because Xander always wanted to be the hero. And her parents never called, never came looking. She and Xander would sit up late and watch the local news, waiting for her face to be on it, with her parents crying because their baby had gone. She found out years later that Xander’s mom called hers as soon as she saw her coming down the street, dragging a case that held all her clothes and dollies, but it didn’t wipe away the sting. And it didn’t stop her remembering that when she slunk back home the next day, there was nothing waiting for her but an indifferent stare.

And here is Wes, chasing after her like he cared. Not enough, wasn’t half enough, but it's something, and once she’s taken that first step, she thinks of the mess his car will be in when she’s finished dripping filthy water all over the leather and she scrambles in.

His hand’s shaking a little on the wheel as he pulls out into the traffic again and she hopes it’s not because he threw back another drink or four before leaving the office. Even from here she can still smell the whiskey on him and she has to bite back a wave of sickness. Doesn’t want to make that much of a mess.

“Where are you taking me?” she asks, making it that, not, ‘Where are we going?’, because she wants it on record that this is the way it is.

“Home,” he says, his voice as flat and discouraged as she felt.

“No! No way. I go home like this and Mom’ll—”

“My home.”

Oh. And she doesn’t let herself hope he can fix this but she lets herself admit that she wants him to.

The house is as tidy as ever, even if he must’ve been up even earlier than she was. No dishes in the sink and she bets there’s no leftovers in that giant, steel-fronted fridge either. He waves at the coffee maker and says, “Please start some coffee. I need to—” He lifts his hand to his cheek, where her nails have gouged three shallow scrapes in his skin, and lets it fall.

She’s walking to him before she can stop herself, needing to do something before he gets all gunked up with antiseptic. He stands still, looking a little wary, but he lets her get close to him and trace the scratches with the fingers that made them.

“I’m not sorry,” she says abruptly. “And if I didn’t have this fucking skirt on, you’d be walking funny for a week, you bastard.”

“Is this your version of TLC?” he says, with a glimmer of a smile in his eyes.

“No. I’d kiss it better, help you clean it up, if I wanted to do that.” She doesn’t slap him, though she’s toyed with the idea and her hand’s itching to leave a mark; doesn’t touch him at all, just steps back. “Brush your teeth,” she says. “You stink of whiskey.”

Something flinches in his eyes but she doesn’t back down and he leaves her in the kitchen, starting to shiver now as her wet clothes drag at her.

When he comes back, the coffee’s done, and she’s pulling open cupboard doors searching for something to put it in.

“Two door over, to the left,” he says quietly.

She turns and sees him in casual clothes, showered, hair wet, the red lines on his face the only sign of what happened. He’s in jeans—God, she’d have put money on him not owning any—and a soft dark green shirt. It throws her completely. Suits. He wears suits.

Then she sees that he’s got an armful of clothes. “You’ll want to shower and change,” he says. “These should fit.” She must’ve looked freaked, because he adds, ‘They’re new.” And the freakiness just keeps on coming.

“Why have you got them?”

He does that sigh, the one he uses when she’s fucking up something so simple a kid of three could get it right. “Just go through and get changed, Faith. There’s a shower at the end of the corridor.” His eyes track across the white-tiled floor. “And a small lake in here, by the look of it.”

She walks past him and snatches the clothes as she goes. Fine. She’ll get dry, and she’ll have a coffee, but then she’s going to tell him to take her home.

Except when she comes back, walking silently on bare feet, in a gray dress that clings softly and feels like wearing a warm cloud, he’s poured her a cup, the coffeemaker’s already been emptied and cleaned, and he’s jingling his car keys impatiently.

“Hurry up, Faith,” he orders, voice back to normal; cool and impatient. “We’ve got a lot of—”

“No.” She plants her feet, and folds her arms across her chest, and this time there’s nothing between them and the filthy look she gives him. “We’re not going anywhere, Wes. Not until we’ve had a talk.” She holds up her hands and makes a ‘T’. Might not get that, being English, but even so. “Timeout, Wes. Time fucking out.

He nods at her coffee. “Bring it,” and turns on his heel.

She follows him into the room with the tall ceilings and the view. The clouds have swept in so low now that it’s dark in there, with the rain smacking against the glass wall as if it’s angry about something. He turns on a couple of lamps, makes a corner of the gray darkness warm and bright, and she sits down in a chair, curls her bare feet under her and sips at the best coffee she’s ever tasted as if it’s medicine.

The silence that follows isn’t uncomfortable. He watches her without hiding it, and she finds herself shifting in her chair, not aroused, not exactly, but aware of him to such an extent that when he clears his throat and leans forward, she jerks, spilling coffee on her hand.

He’s about to pass her his handkerchief, she just knows it, and she brings her hand to her mouth and licks it clean quickly. Only a drop, after all.

“Faith—” She knows what he’s going to say and she’s all set to tell him where he can shove his apology, when he finishes, “that’s most unladylike.”

“Screw that.”

“I’m sorry?”

Right words, wrong way of saying them. She gives him a sneer he’d be proud of and sets her cup down on a glass table, knowing it’s going to leave a mark. “You heard me, Wesley. Cut the crap and tell me why that bitch can get you so worked up you do that. To me. To me.”

He glances away, then back at her. “She’s—she was, my partner.”

“More than that,” she says flatly, knowing she’s right. “You fucked her, didn’t you?” She shudders thinking of Lilah in that bath, with Wesley’s hands on her, Lilah’s perfect hair spread out on the pillows of the bed.

“One normally does get intimate with one’s wife,” he says. “But the marriage lasted for a shorter period than you’d think.” He looks thoughtful. “I might have been willing to have our business arrangement continue, but Lilah’s always been an all or nothing woman.” He shrugged. “Flawed, though, and her so-called power lies mainly in her contacts.” The smile that curved his lips was cold enough to make her coffee ice over. “As lawyers go, she’s a good whore.”

“Jealous, Wes?” It slips out. God knows she doesn’t like the bitch, but that was low.

Anyone else would have got angry, but he considers it and waves a dismissive hand. “No. Once, perhaps. Not now.” He smiles at Faith. “Today’s setback is down to you, you know.”

“Me?” He can’t be trying to blame her for—

“You met Lilah. She formed certain conclusions about you.” He smiles again. “I’m not jealous, but I do believe she is. Congratulations, Faith. Even looking as disreputable as you did that day, she saw you as competition.”

They’ve gone so far from where they started that she’s dizzy. “Forget her. Just fucking forget her. Wes, you tried to—you—” And the tears well up and over. “And you haven’t even said you’re fucking sorry,” she hisses at him, struggling up to her feet.

He looks down at his hands, folded in his lap. “Would you believe words?” he asks.

“They’d help! They’d be something! I was scared in there, Wesley.” Now she’s on her feet, the words come easier. “You were drunk, like him.”

“No. I wasn’t. Angry, yes, but not—”

“Fuck that! You were going to—”

“Rape you?” He looks up at her and it’s that toneless voice. “Force my unwelcome attentions on you? Hit you to hurt you, not just to—?”

And she thinks back and she wonders. Maybe not those things, but it doesn’t matter. “You crossed a line, Wesley.”

He stands up and comes over to her, hands loose at his sides. “And I can’t promise I won’t do so again. I told you, Faith, I warned you—this is what I am. Fucked-up, to use your words. I’m not safe.”

His phone rings, just as she’s trying to find words and he steps back, taking a quick, ragged breath.

“Leave it,” she says, but it’s too late, he’s walking over to a low desk in the darkness and she doesn’t need to hear him say her name to know it’s Lilah, because he’s rigid and stiff with dislike as he listens to her gloat and when he tries to answer a flood of spite screamed so loudly down the phone that Faith can hear most of it, he stammers, just a little, and it’s all she needs to make up her mind.

Three steps and she’s by his side, and as he grips the receiver white-knuckle tight, she leans in and kisses the scratches she left, tasting nothing but clean skin. He pauses mid-word and she takes the phone from his hand and drops it back in its holder.

“You were talking to me,” she reminds him. “And I’m still waiting for an apology.”

“I can’t just—”

“Yes, you can. I’ll know if you mean it, trust me.”

He frowns, as if she’s confusing him by making it that simple, and he’s right, it isn’t, but he came after her, and when he tells her he’s sorry, she knows he means it at least, and she sighs and lets some of the tension leave her.

“You want to go back to the office and work now, don’t you? Dig up something you can use to get that client dumping her and back with you?”

“Presently, yes,” he says and he’s getting the confidence back, she can tell. “But I’d left the morning free—” And just like that she’s getting tingles spreading out, because she wants to know; if it hadn’t gone wrong, what did he have planned for her?

“So what were you going to do? After breakfast I mean?”

He smiles, sending shivers chasing over her. “I was going to make you come at the table. Was I close?”

And if he wasn’t then, he is now.

But she doesn’t want to give in that easily. She ignores the arousal flaring up; doesn’t welcome or need it.

“You don’t even have to ask, do you?” she asks shakily, sounding as exhausted as she feels. She sits heavily back in the chair. “This is getting tiresome, y’know? I’m starting to see the pattern. Christ, everything in my life seems to form the same crappy pattern eventually. It’s like the fucking linoleum in my mom’s kitchen—the color of mud.” She’s not going to fucking cry again, so she takes another sip of her cooling coffee and tries in vain to keep the edge out of her voice.

Then he surprises her by sitting down next to her. He doesn’t look at her directly, just takes her hand in his and brushes his thumb across her wrist, slowly, gently, like a little mantra. He doesn’t say anything, except: “I know.”

“I won’t be a convenience to you. Not anymore.”

“I know.” She can see in his dark, clouded features that he does. He knows better than anyone. How fucked-up is that? God, they’re like the masochist Astaire and Rogers, a fucking matched set. “Believe me, this isn’t what I wanted. I never—”

She cuts him off. “What, you never lost control of the game before? I’m willing to bet Lilah never even gave you that chance.” She matches his flickering, increasingly evasive gaze with a look of burgeoning self-possession. “I’m sure as hell not giving you another one.”

He seems to take this as some sort of definitive declarative statement. “I’ll drive you home if you like.” His voice is flat, expressionless.

She turns the word over in her mind and realizes that it’s ceased to mean anything to her. She almost laughs. “Fuck, anywhere but there. Can I just stay here for a little while? God, I’m just really fucking tired.”

“I’m sorry. That was rude of me. You stay. I’ll go back to the office and do some work.”

“You look pretty exhausted yourself. Would you like to—”

He cuts her off with a curt “No," then says, "Help yourself to anything you like. I believe you know where the bedroom is?”

“I remember.” She’s hoping against hope that she’s not blushing as she says it.

“Good. I’ll be back after lunch.”

She doesn’t take another breath until she hears his car pulling away.