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«Copyright © 2014 J. Kenner The right of J. Kenner to be identified as the Author of the Work has been asserted by her in accordance with the ...»

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“I’m slipping the straps around your ankles now,” he said. “First the left, then the right. Sliding up your body, stroking your inner thighs, teasing your cunt with my fingers. Just a little. Just to make sure you’re aroused.

That you want it. That your body is primed.” “It is.” I realized that my hand had slipped down between my thighs. That I was cupping my sex. And that my hips were gyrating a little, as if seeking just the right amount of pleasure.

“I’m tracing my hands lightly up, over the curve of your ass, then cupping your waist, your sides, then going higher to bind your arms on the cross. Can you feel it?” “Yes,” I said.

“Spread your legs,” he murmured, and I realized that I already had. “And arms up and wide. Have you done it?” “Yes.” “How do you feel?” “Turned on. Curious. A little nervous.” “The pleasure you feel depends a lot on the buildup.

On making sure you’re prepared. I like to start soft.

Sensual. And there’s music, too. Are you familiar with ‘Carmina Burana’?” he asked, referring to the soaring cantata that was based on medieval chants.

“Yes.” “It’s playing in the background. Can you hear it?” “Yes,” I whispered, and I could. It’s one of my favorite pieces, rousing and uplifting and slightly disturbing all at the same time. It was, I thought, fitting to the moment.

“I’m letting the flails trail over your back, your shoulders. Then lower and lower until I’m between your legs, and, oh, Jesus, Kat, you’re already so wet.” “Yes,” I agreed, because at the moment that seemed to be the only word I was capable of forming.

“I flick it up, the strips of leather catch your sex, tease your clit. It doesn’t hurt, the motions are too soft yet, but it’s arousing. It ignites you. It makes the burn start to flow.” I swallowed, because I felt it. The buzz of heat between my thighs. The tease of the leather flicking against my sex.

I wanted to lower my hand, to stroke and touch and tease the low pulse of sensation into something wilder and more needy, but I knew that was against the rules, and I kept my hands firmly on the roof of the car.

“I do the same along your upper back—and, Kat, that’s where I’m focusing. But the sensation will shoot through you. You’ll feel it everywhere. You’ll—well, you’ll see.” I kept my eyes closed, the better to imagine.

“Do you feel it? The soft rhythm of the leather against your skin? Your upper back, first on one side of your spine and then the other. I’m getting into a rhythm, baby, back and forth, a bit harder, then a bit more, and the flails are landing in the same spot each time so that the sensation keeps building for you, up and up until you reach a point where you’re not only feeling it, but experiencing it. Where pain shifts subtly into euphoria.

Where you start to float.” “I feel it—oh, god, Cole, I do.” I had no way of knowing if it would be the same in real life, but in this imaginary world inside my head, I imagined my back turning more and more red. I imagined the pain rising, and then breaking just at the peak, replaced by something close to bliss. Something that spread through me, warming me, and even taking me outside of myself so that I could fly, tethered by the rhythm of Cole’s hand and the knowledge that he wouldn’t let me float away.

He kept it up, talking me through what I was feeling, taking me higher, and then just when I was on the verge of floating so high I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to come back down, he slowed the flogging, then stopped altogether.

“You’re primed, baby, and I’m right behind you now. I can feel the heat radiating off you, and I press kisses gently on the sides of your back even as I slide my hand between your legs and stroke you, my fingers teasing your clit, then sliding inside you.

You’re so wet, baby, so turned on. You’re right on the verge of exploding, and I’m going to take you there. I’m going to help you fly off one more time.” “Please,” I said, as I felt the pressure on my clit. As my sex throbbed and clenched, drawing Cole in, seeking satisfaction.

I kept my hands on the roof, but I wanted to touch myself. I wanted to bring myself over. At the same time, though, I wanted Cole to take me there, because he was so close now, and— “Now, baby. Come for me. Let me feel that sweet cunt clench onto my fingers.

Let me feel you explode.” And god help me, I did, my body arching and shaking with such violent release I’m certain I shook the whole car.

It washed over me in wave after wave, and there was one strange, giddy, wonderful moment when I feared it would never stop. That I would simply be lost in pleasure for the rest of my days.

But then the shaking began to subside and I could start to breathe again. “Oh, god,” I said, and realized that I’d been saying it over and over and over.

“Kat?” There was a hint of worry in Cole’s voice. “Baby, are you okay?” “I’m fine. I’m more than fine.” I could still feel the after-effects on my body, warm and tingly, and I knew that I wanted to experience this in real life, too. I wasn’t sure what that meant—I’d never really thought that would be something I would like. But I had. I did. “It was, I don’t know. It was so much more than I expected.” “I’ve never,” he began, and then stopped.

“What?” I urged.

“You’re not even here, and that was one of the most intimate things I’ve ever experienced.” “But you’ve done it before, haven’t you?” “Not with you,” he said simply.

I closed my eyes, shivering. Wanting to hold his words and the closeness to me. “Oh. Thank you.” Silence grew between us, but not uncomfortable. On the contrary, I felt deliciously close to him. “Can I ask you something?” “Of course,” he said.

“Do you know how it feels?” There was the slightest pause, and then he said, “I do.” “So you don’t just use it on women, you’ve actually —” “Yes.” The thought eased me somewhat. I wasn’t sure how I felt about the fact that I liked the sensation of being flogged. Granted, I hadn’t actually been flogged, but Cole had made it seem so real. So vibrant, and I couldn’t help but believe that I’d responded the way I would when I truly felt the sting of the leather.

Knowing that he understood the sensation as well made me feel less selfconscious about all this stuff I was learning about myself.

“I’m glad,” I said. “I’m glad you like it, too.” “I need it,” he said, his voice flat and even. And then, before I could ask what he meant by that, he added, “Evan’s here. I have to go.” The call went dead, and I leaned back against the seat, still breathing hard, my skin still stinging sweetly from the flogging. I felt aroused and deliciously used.

Most of all, I felt cherished.

I closed my eyes and said a silent prayer that whatever was happening between Cole and me would continue to grow. Because now that he’d gotten inside me, I wasn’t entirely sure how I would manage without him.

I don’t remember ever going to Perk Up in a better mood.

Within fifteen minutes, Glenn had managed to completely bring me down.

“Do you really think the customers want to hear you humming?” he asked me as I filled two cups with coffee for one of the regulars.

“I don’t know why they’d mind,” I countered.

“Hot date last night?” Sarah—the regular—asked.

I just smiled, too much of a lady to kiss and tell.

Sarah winked as she took her coffee, and I returned to restocking the small fridge where we kept lemon slices and cream.

As soon as Sarah was gone and there were no other customers lingering within earshot, Glenn clomped to me and put his hands on his hips.

“That is exactly what I’m talking about. No one wants to hear about your sex life.” I looked up at him, a little indignant, a little confused, and a whole lot pissed off. “I didn’t say a word about sex,” I countered.

“And you damn well better not.” He pointed at the fridge. “Spotless,” he said.

“And I need you to open tomorrow.” I gaped at him. “I’m off tomorrow.” “Not anymore.” I stood up, accidentally kicking over a pitcher of iced coffee in the process.

“Aw, Christ, Katrina.

Clean that mess up, too, and hurry up about it. We’re gonna be getting all the students any minute now.” I ignored the growing puddle of coffee. “I’m closing on my house tomorrow. I’ve had tomorrow scheduled off for weeks now.” “Beth quit. Got a job filing at some law firm. That makes you the next in line.” “Dammit, Glenn, I can’t.” He stared at me. “Fine.

What time is your closing?” “Ten.” “You come here, you open. I’ll relieve you at ninethirty. You come back by eleven-thirty.” He raised his hands in anticipation of my protest. “Best I can do.” On the one hand, I wanted to kill him. On the other, I thought the fact that he remained alive said a lot about my incredible powers of self-control.

“Do you have any idea how hard I’ve worked to get this house? How much it means to me?” “And you should remember that they don’t give mortgages to the unemployed. Do your thing and then get your tush back here and clock in.” “Glenn,” I said sweetly, “do you know what I like about you?” His eyes narrowed slightly. “What?” “Not a goddamn thing.” And then, with as much flourish as I could manage, I yanked off my Perk Up apron, tossed it at his face, and marched out the door.

fourteen I didn’t have a reason to go by the house, but Glenn had pissed me off enough that I wanted to see it. Maybe I wanted reassurance that it was real and that tomorrow it would be mine.

I didn’t know.

All I knew was that I let myself in again, then stood at the center of the dingy room with the dingy walls and thought about all of this hidden potential.

And there was so much, I thought. Like people, so much of a property lay hidden beneath the surface.

I’d tried to say as much to Cyndee on a day when she’d been dragging me all over the city, looking at dozens of cookie-cutter houses with neutral-tone walls, flowers in just the right places. Fresh paint, fresh carpet.

Pretty, but sterile.

And I couldn’t help but wonder what evils those fresh coats of paint hid. Or what gateways to hell lurked under the safely beige rug.

Maybe it’s just the way I was raised, but the whole process of staging and showing, praising and selling seemed just one small step away from the grift. A short con that no one ever complained about. Set the stage, bring in the pigeon, and take the completely legitimate commission.

The process had a certain beauty that I admired, and the job had the kind of lifestyle that appealed. No countertop to trap you, no manager who smelled faintly of rotten milk yelling at you.

The possibility had been teasing me for a few weeks now, and the pull was getting stronger and stronger.

It was like what I’d told Sloane about Cole.

Eventually, I was just going to have to go after it.

I grinned. Going after Cole had worked out well.

Maybe that was a sign that a job selling real estate was where I should land.

“First things first,” I said, with a quick pat to the floor.

“Tomorrow morning at ten, you’re mine.” And why did I know for certain that buying this house was the absolute right move for me? Because I didn’t feel even the slightest bit foolish talking out loud to it.

I spent another hour poking around the house, measuring, taking notes, thinking about all the things I had to buy—in addition to the house itself—simply to make my meager amount of stuff fit into this tiny space. I planned to hit both Home Depot and The Container Store after the closing tomorrow. And then I’d spend the afternoon in the blissful haze of that lovely state known as home ownership.

After that, I’d see about finding another job. My job at Perk Up might have been crappy, but I’d been counting on the minuscule paycheck to cover the mortgage.

I was going to go straight back to the apartment to pack a few more boxes, but once I got in my car, I found myself heading toward the Windy City Motor Inn instead.

I knew that I should call Cole, but I didn’t. He would only tell me to stay away.

That every time I went, I ran a risk.

He was right, of course.

But I knew how to spot a tail and how to lose one, and when I arrived at the inn after my incredibly circuitous route, I knew I hadn’t been followed.

The inn was conveniently located next to a Taco Bell, and I parked in that lot, then went inside to buy an assortment of burritos and tacos. I took my bulging sack across to the motel, scoped out my surroundings, then headed to my dad’s room.

I tapped three times.

“Daddy. It’s me.” No answer.

I frowned and tapped again.

I pressed my ear to the door, but heard nothing except the pounding of my heart as my fear grew and grew.

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