Lucky charm

THE OFFICE SUITED CHARLOTTE well; it was not large but it was luxuriously appointed, with thick pile carpets and a smell of expensive leather from the chairs and the antique desk blotters.

With her opening day almost at an end, and nobody else in the office for the first time since she had sidled shyly in that morning, she went over to the window and looked down at the higgledy-piggledy Soho street life. The neon lights were just fizzing into lewd life in the sex shops of Brewer Street and the waiters in the Italian joint opposite were putting out menus, pristine napkins over their forearms. It was too far away to tell whether or not they were good-looking, but their bodies, in the dark red shirts and black waistcoats and trousers, were tempting enough.

Charlotte licked her lips. She was fantasising about any and every man she saw, these days, it seemed. Working in such a sexually charged atmosphere had turned her into a raging nymphomaniac – still, it was hardly surprising. She drifted off into pleasant reminiscences of her day while the streetlights popped on, one by one, in a golden haze before her eyes.

Walking up the final flight of stairs, she had smoothed her skirt down over her thighs, feeling the telltale bump of the stocking snaps beneath the silk-lined wool. Bryant’s phrase had stayed with her – ‘the suggestion of wantonness’ – and she hoped she had captured the effect. The skirt was a dark red tartan with golden thread in the pattern; the stockings were seamed but nude; the shoes were black high-heeled slingbacks; the shirt was white silk, two buttons undone at the top. Was it a mistake to wear knickers? If so, she would have to accept the consequences – for she was wearing her favourite red and black lingerie set from the expensive knicker shop down the street. The black and red meant that the bra was plainly visible through the gossamer-thin blouse – perhaps a bit more than a suggestion of wantonness there. But somehow she doubted her employers would mind. Leeway might not be given in the other direction, though, and she hadn’t bought a pair of tights since that fateful day in the forest.

Naturally, she was nervous – as anyone on their first day in a new job might be – but she was also excited. The lace stocking-tops rubbing together beneath the tight skirt might have been having an effect as well. Stopping to compose herself at the door, she realised that her nipples were pressing against the lacy confines of her bra. She took out her mirror compact, checked that her make-up was just that crucial bit overdone and tarty, and knocked on the door.

‘Enter.’ Both voices, dark and light, in shiver-inducing harmony.

She grasped the handle with both hands and turned it, standing in the doorway for a moment to assess how best to reach their twin desks, set at diagonal angles to each other, without tripping on the carpet fibres. The morning sunlight streamed in through the window, catching the imposing pair, who had stood to receive their new handmaiden, in its radiant beams.

‘Good morning, Charlotte.’ Collins was the first to speak. ‘Are you going to stand in the doorway all day?’

She took a hesitant step forward, but he shook his head and frowned, tutting slightly, making a downward motion with one hand.

‘Hands and knees, Charlotte,’ he instructed.

‘Oh!’ She covered her mouth with her hand, feeling dizzy and giggly. They really were going to continue with this dynamic, even in the office. How … interesting. Wondering if it would be possible to sustain total submission over the course of a working day, Charlotte dropped to her knees, thankful for the embracing plush of the carpet. She moved forward, unable to look her bosses in the eye, moving between chair legs and pot plants until she reached the desk interface, at the apex of which her new colleagues stood, side by side, smiling down at her if she had but known, though she imagined them to be stony-faced.

‘Up,’ said Bryant gently, and she perched up on her knees, back straight and shoulders back, breathing a little unevenly. She felt Bryant’s hand cup her chin and lift her head up so that she was looking up his long torso to the overhang of his head, right into his clear blue eyes.

‘Make-up is good,’ he said, but to Collins, not to her. ‘Nice shade of lipstick. What’s it called, Charlotte?’

‘Harlot.’

They chuckled in unison. ‘How perfectly appropriate,’ approved Collins. ‘Charlotte the harlot. It’s the very shade that always looks so good around a cock. Don’t you think?’

‘I certainly do,’ replied Bryant. ‘Good girl. You may stand, for the rest of the inspection.’

Charlotte rose to her feet, feeling shambling and awkward, her head hanging down over the flapping open collar of her blouse.

‘And such a stylish bra too,’ noted Collins with a vocal smirk.

‘I love a girl who doesn’t match her underwear with her clothes. Dark bras under white shirts …’

‘Visible panty lines are supposed to be such a fashion crime,’ mused Collins. ‘I never understood that. I once followed a girl the length of Oxford Street because she was wearing such an obvious pair of high-cut knickers under a very tight miniskirt. It defined her arse rather wonderfully.’

‘Oh, I wish I’d seen that.’

‘Perhaps we could get Charlotte to do it.’

‘Good idea.’

‘One more button, Charlotte. You look wanton, but today I think I’m in the mood for slutty. No, I’ll do it for you.’

Collins reached out to undo a third pearl button, leaving her cleavage exposed right down to the front-fastening clip of her bra.

‘Do you get many visitors to the office?’ asked Charlotte nervously.

Bryant put a finger to his lips while Collins shook his head, giving his colleague a tragi-comic look.

‘Oh dear, speaking out of turn,’ he said. ‘Charlotte, you did not give us time to outline the rules, my dear. But now you have forced our hand, let me make it clear to you that, when you wish to speak, you must first ask permission. “Please, sir, may I speak?” is the preferred form. Do you understand?’

‘Yes, sir,’ whispered Charlotte.

‘Good. To answer your question, no, we do not receive visitors here very often. But those that we do will be perfectly aware of your position here, make no mistake. So there will be no need for rapid covering-up. Barring a police raid.’

She managed not to splutter, but gave him a very wide-eyed look instead.

‘What we do is not illegal,’ Collins explained. ‘We are not a brothel. But we do procure sexual services, although it would be very easily defended if any complaint was made. Bryant and I are lawyers. We know the law. But just be prepared – plenty of people do not. It is why we keep the service limited by word of mouth recommendation.’

‘Anybody who comes here will be a friend. We don’t bring clients to the office – we think it best that as few people as possible are aware of its location. So if we ask you to work naked, you may do so with the assurance that no shock or dismay will be caused by your nudity. At least, not to the visitors.’ Bryant paused to smile fiendishly at Collins, then at Charlotte, who was biting her lip. ‘That skirt is rather long. Perhaps you could lift it a little. I see it comes with a handy pin.’

Bryant reached out for the silver pin that adorned the corner of Charlotte’s kilt, unfastening it, while Charlotte rumpled the fabric diligently up her thighs, waiting for somebody to say ‘when’. Nobody did.

‘I like kilts, but I prefer the shorter, pleated version,’ commented Collins, watching the inexorable rise of the hem above the lacy ends of Charlotte’s stockings. ‘They always make me want to reach for my cane.’

Charlotte looked around her, as if she expected to find a cane somewhere within reach, but there was none that she could see.

‘I’ll introduce you to it sometime,’ Collins said, the words a tender promise rather than a threat. ‘Keep going then.’

The skirt had concertina’d almost to the crotch of Charlotte’s red and black knickers. Any higher and it would no longer qualify as a skirt, surely. No suggestion of wantonness any more – nothing less than a blatant broadcast. With megaphones.

Charlotte took a breath and hiked it ever upward. Even though the office was well heated, her thighs felt cold and her knickers struck her as ridiculously flimsy now that they were all that protected her modesty from the iron stares of her bosses.

‘You wore knickers.’ Bryant’s observation was on the obvious side, but hinted at another reading – that perhaps knickers were surplus to working requirements.

‘We have rules about knickers,’ said Collins. ‘You will find them on the rules we have prepared for you. They are rather complicated, so I won’t go into them just yet. The rules, that is. Not the knickers.’

Bryant laughed. Charlotte pressed her lips together, hoping that the wet spot developing beneath her was not spreading too visibly. The skirt was around her waist now, an inelegant bunch that showed off the high-cut briefs in all their silky boudoir glory. Bryant pierced the spare tyre of material with the safety pin, holding it precariously in position at one edge.

‘Hmm, it will have to do,’ said Collins. ‘We’ll buy you some suitable office wear. Perhaps after work, if you aren’t busy. Or sometime during the week. Would you like that?’

‘You’ll … buy me clothes?’

‘Yes. I think, in the circumstances, a clothing allowance is only fair. We can’t reasonably expect you to have a wardrobe as diversely whorish as we have in mind for you.’

‘Mmm, yes,’ fantasised Bryant. ‘Uniforms. Latex. Very short skirts. Very high boots. Scraps of slave-girl toga.’

‘Corsets,’ added Collins. ‘Special corsets, with special additions.’

‘I know a woman who makes those. Shall we book an appointment?’

‘I think we should. Or rather, Charlotte should. Remind her to call Miss Frost later.’

‘Well, I think you’ll do,’ said Bryant breezily. ‘We’ll keep you like that for today. Come and look at your workstation. All the documents you need can be found there.’

Thus had Charlotte been introduced to the place where she would pass her nine-to-fives in the least nine-to-fiveish manner imaginable for as long as the three of them should find each other’s working company agreeable.

She had spent the day at her new desk in the corner of the office, her bottom in its silken casing perched on an ergonomic swivel chair with a kind of nubbed rubber cushioning which felt altogether too sexy to be businesslike. It kept her mind focused on her lower regions, which she supposed was the intention, but it did rather distract from the spreadsheets, as did the constant sight of her bare thighs above the stocking tops every time her eyes made a downward sweep.

Collins and Bryant came and went, never both present at the same time, popping in for a few minutes here and there to make sure that she hadn’t had a software crash or a particularly bizarre email request, but most of the time she was alone, reading requests, tweaking the website, checking over the accounts and noting down ideas for planned fantasy scenarios.

At lunchtime, Bryant had brought her a paper bag of edibles from Prêt-a-Manger and asked her, quite politely and without any trace of demand, if she would mind sucking his cock when she had finished. She did not mind in the least, and rounded off a good lunch of crayfish and rocket sandwich, packaged grapes and a fruit-of-the-forest smoothie with a generous mouthful of spunk.

All in all, it had been an interesting day. She thought she had the measure of the job now and, as the Italian waiters beetled around below, she drifted off into possibilities for fulfilling her clients’ dreams – venues, fixtures and fittings, transport, suitable men for the jobs.

She came to with a jump when the office door clicked open, spinning around to see Collins, his tall, angular frame striking her anew with its imposing presence. Had it been Bryant, she might have caught her breath, relaxed her shoulders, smiled an ‘oh, it’s you!’ but it wasn’t. She remained, spine stiff, face frozen in an expression of mute supplication, awaiting his terrifying pleasure.

‘Charlotte,’ he said, his voice so velvet low she had to strain her ears to snag its words. ‘How was your day?’

‘It was very good, thank you, sir,’ she said deferentially, feeling as if she ought to curtsey. ‘Is it over? I’m not exactly sure when it’s over.’

Collins moved further into the room, switching on a tall lamp in the corner.

‘You will be told when you are no longer needed. Every day will be different. Some days will take you out of the office. Sometimes you will be needed in the evenings, sometimes in the middle of the night. But that was explained in the Rules, I think.’

‘Yes – I just wondered if there were normal office hours – when nothing extra was planned. But I know to wait for your permission to leave now. Thank you, sir.’

There was a loaded silence.

‘Do I have it, sir? Your permission to leave?’

‘Have I given it?’

‘No, sir.’ Blood rushed to every extremity of Charlotte’s body, lighting it up with mortification, anxiety and excitement.

‘I have come here to review your day’s work, Charlotte. This is going to be a weekly feature of your employment here – a performance review. I think in general it will be held first thing on Monday morning, but I wanted to familiarise you with the procedure, so tonight’s version is simply a taster.’

He opened a store cupboard and drew out a high stool, of the kind Charlotte had not seen since school science lessons, made of varnished wood with an oval seat and a strut halfway up the legs to act as a footrest. This he placed in front of his high desk before moving behind it to take up his seat.

‘Sit down, Charlotte.’ He nodded at the stool. ‘And put your skirt back up. Nobody gave you leave to unpin it.’

Cheeks ablaze, Charlotte rolled the kilt back up to waist level and re-fastened it before perching herself, as demurely as she knew how with her knickers and bra on show, on the stool.

‘Don’t cross your legs. Open them. And you needn’t fold your arms either. Keep your hands holding on to the edge of your seat please.’

Under Collins’s close scrutiny, Charlotte rearranged herself as instructed, her thighs wide and legs dangling from the edges of the seat, highly conscious of what an inelegant and lewd sight she must make.

‘Your nipples are hard,’ said Collins with a flash of wicked teeth. ‘I can see them through your bra. Are you feeling a little bit hot and bothered, Miss?’

Charlotte knew she could not lie, not to Collins. ‘Yes, sir,’ she muttered.

‘I didn’t hear you.’

She looked up and repeated herself, a little belligerently. ‘Yes, sir.’

‘You like to be told what to do, don’t you, Charlotte? You like to be treated like a bad girl who needs constant supervision. Am I right?’

‘You’re right, sir,’ she whispered, the words so uncomfortable to speak, more uncomfortable than her ungainly position on that damned stool.

He relaxed his sternly locked brow. ‘Just as I hoped,’ he said pleasantly. ‘I am going to give you permission to speak, Charlotte, so that you can give me your impressions of your first day at work. Anything you wish to tell me, you can tell me now.’

Charlotte sat up straight, gathering her thoughts, hoping to please Collins with her ideas and insights. ‘I think the job will suit me very well, sir. I am getting to grips with the website and all the different procedures you have to go through. All the vetting! Wow! I had no idea you were so very meticulous. But it’s good that you are, of course. I’ve had loads of ideas about how to put some of the clients’ requests into practice too. I know the perfect venue for that banquet one. And I’ve found a really good florist that can undercut the one you use. And I thought about advertising in the Student Unions for men to add to our roster – though obviously not everyone wants a young man … so we’d have to stick to the men’s magazines for the older candidates … all the same …’

Collins held up a hand, smiling indulgently. ‘This is good, Charlotte,’ he said, ‘but not what we are here to discuss. We can bring up all these ideas when we meet as a team with Bryant. I just wondered … if you liked it here. That was all.’

Charlotte looked down at the slopes of her breasts rising above lacy bra cups and between gauzy flaps of shirt. She looked at the skirt bulked around her waist and the spread milky thighs, striped with ruched black suspenders. The portion of stool seat visible to her was slightly slick with damp; a damp that must have proceeded directly from the heat generating between her legs.

‘Yes, sir. I like it very much.’

‘Better than local government, eh?’

‘Much better, sir.’

‘Good.’ Collins, who had been eyeing her sidelong, hungrily, but with enough restraint to realise that his meal would be tastier if he took it slowly, snapped back into severe business mode.

‘Bryant says he is satisfied with your performance today, but we have a few small matters to address.’ Collins flicked open a leather notebook, reading from it. ‘Speaking out of turn on three occasions. Wearing an overly long skirt. Using the washroom without asking.’

Charlotte gasped. ‘But nobody was here! Who could I ask? And how do you even know?’

‘Because, dear Charlotte, you have just told me.’

‘But … I … oh my God! How was I supposed to …?’

Collins drummed elegant fingers on the desk. ‘Phone? Email? Text message?’

‘What if neither of you is available?’

‘You wait.’

‘What if I can’t wait?’

‘You work on strengthening your pelvic floor, dear Charlotte. Which will be a useful thing for you to do anyway, because believe me, you are going to get thoroughly used in every orifice while you are working here. But you knew that, didn’t you?’

Charlotte was mutely open-mouthed for a while, electrified by the intense, almost savage, delivery of Collins’s statement of his intent for her.

‘And there was an awful lot of disrespectful tone in those last few exchanges,’ said Collins contemplatively. ‘Dear, dear, dear.’

Charlotte felt outwitted, realising too late that Collins had been winding her up with the deliberate intent of provoking her into a rule break. She determined to grit her teeth and accept whatever it was he had in mind for her. After all, it was unlikely to be anything she didn’t want, in the final honest analysis.

‘I’m sorry, sir,’ she said meekly.

‘Not sorry enough. Not yet,’ he said softly. ‘Push those knickers aside and play with yourself.’

The abrupt command surprised Charlotte, who had been expecting something along more traditional disciplinary lines.

‘Go on,’ he prompted. ‘Put them to one side. Show me how wet you are.’

Charlotte unveiled her glistening pussy lips, wondering if Collins would approve of their newly-shaven look. She had done it especially for him, thinking he would approve. He made no comment on it, though. He simply nodded and leaned forward a little, squinting through the lenses of his glasses.

‘I thought so. You’re soaking wet. That stool will need a good wipe down by the time I’ve finished with you. Well, what are you waiting for? Finger yourself.’

Charlotte was by nature an assiduous person, and when she set out to do a job, she made sure it was done to the best of her ability. She inserted three doughty fingers between those weeping lips and began to strum, looking up at a corner of the ceiling initially until Collins ordered her to face him, to watch herself being watched.

This was so difficult, she thought. It was almost impossible not to break the eye contact, unless she pretended she was doing something altogether different. Rather than frigging herself in the office for the entertainment of her strict boss, she was … making a sandwich. Cheese? Chicken? Butter, not that horrid low-fat spread stuff. Her fingers skittered manically, mechanically across her clit, a butterknife spreading their goodness.

‘You are thinking of something else,’ Collins realised indignantly. ‘Stop daydreaming. Is it because you are afraid you might come?’

‘Yes, sir,’ shuddered Charlotte, forcing herself to obey. ‘No, sir,’ she amended, aware that this was not the complete truth. ‘It’s embarrassing, sir.’

‘Good.’

Charlotte curled one finger up into her tightly-furled bud, finding it slick and slippery with her juices. Was Collins going to fuck her? Was he going to let her come? Was he going to punish her? Oh, the thought of it made her body convulse as she pictured herself bent over the stool, maybe tied to the wooden legs, taking stroke after stroke of Mr Collins’s belt.

‘Your face is very red. Are you going to come?’ Collins could have been asking her if she had settled the stationer’s account.

‘I … think so …, sir.’ Her fingers were blurs of activity, scrabbling, squishing, pressing, pushing.

‘You’d better stop then.’ Charlotte, almost tearful with reluctance, took her supercharged fingers from the channel and lifted woeful eyes to her tormentor. ‘Hmm, orgasms must be earned, dear Charlotte,’ he admonished her. ‘Stand up now and come over here.’

Now so wet that she made a tiny sucking sound with each step, she approached the desk, her knickers still dragged diagonally across her mons, baring the largest part of her nether regions.

‘Hold out that hand.’ Collins took it and held it to his beaky nose, taking a good long lungful of her female scent. ‘You’re incorrigible,’ he said. ‘I shall have to whip the lewdness out of you, shan’t I?’ He mock sighed and Charlotte tried not to break into a grin. ‘Very well. Bend over the desk then.’

Exhilarated and yet afraid, Charlotte tilted herself over to press her warm breasts and stomach into the cold mirror-shine of the desk. Collins took her hands and pulled them up to his side of the desk, so that she could cling on to the edge. She heard him open a desk drawer, but she did not dare look up, keeping her cheek flattened to the surface while he stood and moved around to the other side where her red and black frilly bottom adorned the polished oak. One hand descended on the cascading frills, ruffling them lightly.

‘These are nice,’ he said, his voice sardonic. ‘Favourites, are they?’

‘Yes, sir.’

‘All the same, they’re coming down.’ He bared her bottom, letting the scanty panties fall until they snagged against her suspender snaps and were held captive at mid-thigh.

Charlotte could feel two hands now, squeezing the mounds of her buttocks then brushing them, following the curve down to the cleft of her sex.

‘I’m wondering how much these can take,’ Collins explained, his voice, as ever, unaccountably dark and melancholy. ‘Do you know? Do you know your limit, Charlotte?’

‘No,’ she said. ‘I’ve never really … gone that far.’

‘These Performance Reviews are partly designed to find it. We balance your achievements against your transgressions and your shapely little rear here pays for any deficit. You will inevitably make mistakes. We all do. Most of us do not have to reap quite the same consequences as you will, though, Charlotte. Because you are special, and you need this.’

Charlotte felt warm. Special. She was special to him.

She felt warmer still on the first measured crack of his hand against the bare flesh of her arse, shocking her out of contemplation, shocking her into the moment.

‘Just an introduction then,’ he said. ‘Just a taste,’ and his hand continued to rise and fall, with sharp impact, while Charlotte kept her fingers tense at the ledge, working hard at keeping her squirms minimal.

‘You won’t forget the rules now, will you, Charlotte?’ The smacks were hard, but in a considered kind of way, as if he was making sure he didn’t peak too soon. They left their imprints across the widest part of her bottom and downwards, pinkening her thighs to the stocking tops. Charlotte knew that this was nothing, that this was mild, that this was a mere feather-duster tickling compared to what lay in his reserves, but it was still getting a little uncomfortable and before too long she thought she might have to utter a low cry or a squeak. She tried to clench her buttocks, but he responded by putting extra weight behind the next few strokes, and she conceded defeat, offering him her full soft globes to do with as he wished.

Once they were warm and the colour of strawberry pulp, Collins changed his tactic, picking something up from the desk – whatever the thing was he had taken from the drawer, she supposed.

‘As a reminder to keep the hemlines high,’ he said, gripping the roll of skirt material for a moment as a tactile cue, ‘I shall give you twenty strokes of my best leather strap. This one is supple, Charlotte, and has proved rather popular with my submissives through the years. I suspect you will find much to appreciate in its combination of strength and sting.’

Charlotte was just processing the words ‘my submissives through the years ’ and surprising herself with a pang of jealousy when the strap swung and caught her across a bar of skin already well-prepared by Collins’s hand.

Her pelvis jolted against the desk and she yelped, feeling the burn more intensely than she had ever imagined she would in all her years of fantasising about it. She managed to take the first half dozen without breaking position or yelling the place down, but as the strapping continued her broken vocalisations turned into cries of outrage – ‘that hurt’ or ‘ouch, ouch, ouch’ – but never did it occur to her to ask him to stop, or beg for mercy. By the twelfth, she was biting her lip hard and letting go of the desk periodically to try and shield her bottom. Each attempt to do this was met with a firm replacement of her hand in its permitted station and a warning that she would get more for disobedient conduct during a punishment. He wants me to cry, she realised by the fifteenth. He wants me to plead through my tears. And, despite the tightness and soreness of her rear, her final thought was, I won’t.

He added one more to the total of twenty, catching her off guard so that she howled in surprised pain, but then he put the strap aside, laid a hand on the fervid heat of her bottom and said, ‘You take it well. Repeat after me: “Thank you, sir, for correcting me.”’

Charlotte, spluttering and gasping a little in the wake of the onslaught, said, ‘Thank you, sir, for correcting me.’

‘Well, Charlotte,’ he said, his hand still enjoying her posterior heat wave, stroking the scarlet flesh in a way that somehow offered no relief, ‘I don’t think we’re anywhere near your limit yet. But I will find it. Trust me.’

Charlotte shivered, wondering, not for the first time, what went through the mind of a man like Collins. Why did he want to hurt her? Why did he want to master her? But then, she might as well ask why she wanted him to hurt her – she was no closer to finding that answer.

‘Open those legs wider,’ he commanded with a sharp smack to her humbled flesh. ‘I’m on the horns of a dilemma here … it all looks so tempting.’ She heard him open and close a drawer.

‘Damn,’ he said. ‘No lubricant. Well, that solves my problem, I suppose.’

The sound of his swift footsteps mingled with the jingling of his belt buckle and the soft shush of fabric, then there was flesh on her flesh, his hands on her hips, his knees bending hers at the back and his cock, large and thick, slipping speedily into her cunt. She cried out and kept her fingers tightly wound around the edge of the desk, for he began forcefully and only carried on more so, his thrusts making her knees knock against the wood and her bottom take a secondary pounding from his lower abdomen. She was being used, pure and simple; she was a tight hole and a hot cushion for him to pound into and against, a slippery wet cavern to fill with his seed. She could have any face, any form; she was just a convenience. The thought made her come, a first time, but Collins was not finished. He held back, keeping the rhythm measured but brutal, making sure that he wrung a further, sob-inducing climax from Charlotte before releasing inside her.

She felt so tired, so used, so defeated – he had, after all, made her cry – and yet so happy. So complete. So exactly where she wanted to be in the universe.

‘Get dressed,’ was Collins’s curt command. ‘We’re meeting Bryant for dinner. Then we’re taking you shopping.’

‘At this time? Won’t the shops be shut?’

Charlotte made an attempt at emergency repair of her outfit, which was now crumpled and sweaty beyond redemption. She looked like a girl who’d just been well fucked after a hard spanking. But Collins wasn’t going to let her escape the truth of that, and she was going to have to parade it in front of all the patrons of the hotel where they would dine.

‘Not the kind of shops I have in mind.’

Charlotte was pretty sure that their little trio had raised a few eyebrows in the hotel restaurant, especially the way each man would pause to squeeze her hand or stroke her cheek. Her feet were locked at the ankle, her left in Collins’s right, her right in Bryant’s left, and, at one point, Bryant’s fingers found their way under the snowy tablecloth to investigate the wet, sticky interior of her knickers.

‘I see you didn’t just review her performance,’ he said ruefully to Collins, withdrawing his hand and wiping his fingers on the pristine linen napkin. ‘You road-tested her as well.’

‘Wouldn’t you have done?’ asked Collins, holding up a hand for the bill.

‘Well, yes. Of course I would.’

They shopped in the backstreets and alleyways of Soho. They bought clothes of barely-there silk and shiny vinyl, buckled leather and stretchy lace. Accessories of metal and maribou, silicone and whalebone, were scooped up in armfuls. Charlotte modelled and demonstrated all of them, in cramped back rooms behind coloured door strips, for her bosses’ pleasure. All of the purchases came in so handy for the office, in their many and various ways. But that’s an entirely new story.

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