Lucky Strike

IT WAS DIFFICULT, ROLLING along the tracks from London to Colliton on a forlorn and foggy morning, not to remember the train journey that started it all off. Charlotte laid her head back against the dusty blue-black check upholstery and swallowed down a lump. Nobody shared the compartment with her this time – was it the very same compartment they had used, all those weeks ago? There was nobody to make her take off her knickers and sit with her legs spread wide while they tapped away at their Blackberries, careless of anybody passing in the corridor outside. Nobody would demand she remove her earpiece and discuss erotic literature with them. Nobody. She was alone again, just her and her kink, rattling around together in the remote English countryside.

‘I should have known,’ she murmured to herself. ‘Should have known it was too good to last. Too good to be true.’ Melancholy music on the iPod tuned in with her mood, and she thought back to that last heated exchange between Bryant and Collins: the one when they had threatened to disband the agency unless Charlotte chose one of them or the other.

An impossible demand, and she had chosen not to make it. So here she was, on her way … well, it didn’t feel like ‘home’ any more. It felt like failure.

There were no Torture Gardens in Colliton; the most outrageous thing the town had to offer was a popular dogging spot in the forest. If Charlotte wanted to express her sexuality, she would have to trawl the online sites for somebody who didn’t live too far away – and even then, they would probably turn out to be all wrong. It was too daunting to contemplate. She would try to get her old job back at County Hall; meet up with old school friends; forget about her metropolitan adventure and settle back into the monotony of Colliton.

At the employment agency the next day, a spotty youth asked her why she had left her previous job.

‘Redundancy? Dismissal?’ he asked nasally.

‘No. Not really.’ Charlotte looked away, studying the cards, with their felt-tipped invitations to be a chef de partie or a stenographer.

‘Umm … why then?’

‘Personal reasons,’ she said.

‘You won’t get Jobseekers Allowance then.’

‘I know. That’s why I’m here.’ Charlotte’s voice was ragged, on the verge of angry tears, and the clueless boy took refuge in his biro, clicking it up and down to fill the awkward silence. ‘You’re meant to find me a job.’

‘Economic climate … is difficult,’ he mumbled. ‘Will your previous employer provide a reference?’

Charlotte bit her lip. She had been wondering how to deal with this.

‘I left rather suddenly,’ she admitted. ‘So … I’m not sure I want to ask them. I’m not sure I want them to know I’m here, to be honest.’

‘Really?’ The boy was intrigued. Charlotte suddenly had the horrible feeling he thought she had absconded with a large sum of company money. ‘That’s a shame. We can’t really offer you anything unless we have a referee. Two, ideally.’

Charlotte clenched her hands. She couldn’t ask her boss at County Hall – not after she had left without giving them notice either … but she needed money. She needed a deposit and a month’s rent so she could get away from her parents’ understated disappointment as soon as possible.

‘OK. You could try giving them a call. Umm …’ She gave the boy Collins’s office number and sat back, tense in every muscle, barely daring to keep her eyes open, as he dialled the number.

‘Am I speaking to Mr Collins? Hello. My name’s Paul; I’m calling from the Colliton branch of JobsWorth … I wonder if I could take a few minutes of your time to ask you about a Miss Charlotte Steele …’

Charlotte let the boy’s annoyingly ingratiating words drift over her, consciously shutting her ears, refusing to hear what he said. Only when the click of the phone handset filtered through did she lift the self-imposed ban.

‘So I’ll give you a call when I’ve phoned round some of our employers,’ the boy was saying.

‘Oh. He agreed?’

‘Er … yes.’ The boy shook his head. ‘As you must have heard. He said you were an excellent worker – very conscientious and that you consistently went above and beyond the call of duty.’

‘He got that right.’

‘Good. So we can start to find opportunities for you, Miss Steele. I’ll be in touch later today, hopefully. Good morning.’

Charlotte, thus dismissed, picked up her bag and wandered off into the High Street, her emotions high and not completely comprehensible. It was good of Collins to give her a positive reference, wasn’t it? That was good. But no. It was bad. It was a formal farewell. It meant that he washed his hands of her and consigned her, happily, to her freedom. He could have asked to speak to her, but he didn’t. He could have raged at the boy and said he was owed four weeks work and if she didn’t get straight back and perform them, he would take legal action. That would have been a comfort. Well, maybe not a comfort. But it would have left hope … The thought that his voice had been in the room, pouring into the boy’s ears, the mellifluous majesty of it wasted on the cheap-suited drone, made her want to cry. And she did cry, in the porch of the county museum, until the sun came out and she decided to browse the National Trust shop instead of moping.

The next day, she donned the smartest skirt suit from her old work wardrobe, applied discreetly glamorous make-up and headed out of the house and towards the offices of Allder, Lewis & Allder, Colliton’s oldest firm of solicitors, specialising – cannily in this town of rich retirees – in the preparation of wills. The sun was out again and, as she walked along the flower-bordered Ropewalk to the town centre, she felt a tiny gleam of optimism flash through the dark clouds. It’ll be all right, she told herself. I will survive this.

She swung her handbag and almost skipped, pretending to be a girl in an advert for hair products, letting the warm sun touch her skin and prepare her for the process of rebirth.

‘Wake up, it’s a beautiful morning,’ she sang, passing the employee car park of a frozen food chain, its piled-high waste bins and general grottiness signalling the end of the fragrant Ropewalk and the start of the seediest area of town. Shame there were eyesores like this in such a pretty town, she thought idly for the millionth time, and then all coherent thought stopped abruptly, with the shocking clamp of a hand around her mouth and a backward yanking on to the dusty gravel.

She tried to yell that the hand tightening around her upper arm hurt, but all her breath was forced back into her throat by uncompromising fingers. In short order, she found that her mouth was taped shut, eyes blindfolded and wrists bound before she was pushed unceremoniously into the back seat of a car. Her kidnapper, though, had enough regard for her safety that he seat-belted her in. How odd. Why would he let her sit upright, where she could be seen from passing vehicles? The windows must be blacked out, she thought. Her heart leapt up her gullet, making her want to vomit. She made herself breathe deeply – vomiting wasn’t an option when you were gagged. Feeling the warmth of whoever it was hovering near her skin, she tried to talk, making those frantic stunted noises that are all the gagged have recourse to. He – was it a he? – said nothing at all, but he brushed a fingertip along her cheek, and she smelled his scent and … She stopped making the animal noises instantly. She recognised it. She knew who he was. And she smiled, forcing the corners of the tape upward into her cheeks.

Charlotte was in the car a long time, it seemed, but the driver’s pleasant taste in classical music helped her along. Once or twice, she even came close to dozing off, sealed in her silent darkness, unable to move or do anything for herself. If only she could talk, she thought, she would ask the driver to stop off so she could take a leak. It was starting to get uncomfortable. She wondered if he would insist on watching her, if she did. Probably, knowing him.

Just as she thought she might have to stain the rather comfortable seat, the car purred to a halt. The music stilled halfway through a crescendo; the front door clunked and then hers opened, allowing warmth to drift in and over her. The car must have been air-conditioned. The smell was … London. A city smell. Vague rumbling noise in the background was probably traffic, or even trains. Trains. How she loved the sound of trains.

She felt the seatbelt slither diagonally across her chest and stomach, returning to its origins, and then there was a hand on her shoulder, steering her along the seat and towards the open air. Does he think I don’t know it’s him? He must do, or he would speak. His voice would give the game away immediately.

He helped her to her feet, standing her on the ground with two supporting hands on her shoulders. Then one of them lifted and she heard his fingers clicking, loudly, just next to her ear, making her jump. Footsteps approached, and she was manhandled roughly out of her kidnapper’s grasp by another man. I don’t know this one!

Her feelings were confirmed by his voice, which was unfamiliar. ‘Come on. Let’s get you tucked up nice and tight and safe, shall we?’

He dragged her by the elbow across what she guessed was a yard – the ground was hard beneath her feet, like concrete or asphalt. When they stopped, she heard a heavy door being unbolted, then she was inside somewhere dark and airless, chilly and damp. Very carefully, they negotiated a staircase, then they were in a small room with a very heavy – metallic-sounding – door. Without being able to see a thing, Charlotte somehow knew that it was a cell of some kind. Her captor brought her across to sit on a small, not-very-comfortable bed while he himself remained standing before her.

‘Right then, Miss, I’m going to leave you here until the master calls for you, but you needn’t think you aren’t being watched – I’m to guard you, and I’ll be looking in through the grille in the door to make sure you’re behaving yourself. The bed is there, and just here,’ – he nudged something up to her toe, ‘is your chamber pot. Not easy to perform with your hands tied behind your back, I know, but I’m sure you’ll find a way. Any questions? No? Good. I’ll be back when you’re summoned.’

Charlotte had questions – scores of them – but none could burst through the sleek black tape that trapped her mouth. Besides, she was so relieved at the presence of the chamber pot that every other consideration had been temporarily driven from her mind. She waited the few seconds it took for the cell door to bang shut, then she stood up and worked hard at lifting her skirt and lowering her knickers with her tightly tethered hands, having to rub them up and down the small of her back to do anything at all. It was a struggle, but eventually she got the knickers down to her knees, with the aid of much wriggling of hips and bending of legs, and was able to drop down on to the pot with a muted sigh.

As the hot liquid clattered into the basin, she knew she was being watched – it was inevitable – but she was strangely serene. Her tenuously gathered wits told her that she knew what was going to happen. It was all written down and stored in a file on her old work computer. And so far, the script had been followed to the letter. All that remained for her to do was to sit and wait …

He made her sit there, beached on the chamber pot while her nether regions dried slowly in the cold cell air, for exactly one hour. Not that she knew this – to Charlotte, it seemed like an endless void of time. She had pins and needles in her wrists and knew that the rim of the pot had impressed itself into her skin by the time the keys jangled in the lock once more.

She made a vocalisation, an incoherent ‘Who’s there?’ her heartbeat picking up speed while her chest tightened.

‘Just me again,’ said the guard cheerily. ‘You need to get on your feet, Miss Steele. The master is ready to see you.’

Will I be able to see him, though? Charlotte thought, feeling that she ought to be able to exchange a joke with this man – he was probably one of their agency people, on call to perform in various fantasy guises. They had probably spoken dozens of times over the phone or at scenes. They were friends, weren’t they? Probably?

He was in role, though, and the casual chumminess disappeared from his voice, replaced by an official stiffness.

‘You’ll need to show a bit more willing, Miss,’ he reproved, grabbing her by the elbow to help her, slightly awkwardly, to her feet.

She made an apologetic noise, blushing furiously, and tried to gesture downward with her chin, to her knickers. They were still bunched at her knees, plainly visible beneath the hem of her flippy skirt.

‘I think the master will prefer you to keep them where they are, to be honest,’ he said. Oh, I know that you’re right, Charlotte thought, with a mingling rush of glee and dread. He will love the additional humiliation factor.

She allowed herself to be led, shuffling, trying to keep the knickers from falling further, across the cell and back out to the corridor. Making a bolt for it was not going to be an option, especially when the knickers finally slipped to ankle level on the way down a flight of stone stairs. She was tempted to just kick them off and leave them there, but the guard seemed patient enough with her slow gait, bringing her to an echoing chamber where her muffled slipshod steps were amplified alongside the guard’s heavy tread.

Eventually, they stopped. The air around Charlotte’s head seemed dense and full of dire forewarning. There was somebody else in here with them. Somebody was looking at her. And she couldn’t see him.

He must have made some gesture to the guard, perhaps a nod or an upheld hand, because suddenly the blindfold was removed from Charlotte’s eyes. She was still blinking, finding even the gloom of this subterranean chamber too bright for her long-sealed eyes, when the guard whipped off the tape gag, causing her mouth to sting and a gasp to fly out of its newly open lips.

‘Thank you, Saunders,’ said Collins. ‘Return to your post now.’

Slowly Charlotte’s eyes refocused, and the lean shadow behind the blocky shadow revealed itself to be Collins sitting at a desk, fingers steepled in the way she remembered so well, spectacles on, face absolutely impassive.

‘Miss Steele,’ he enunciated. She felt she needed to fill the subsequent silence, but she could not decide how. She breathed in a giant lungful of air, grateful to have that ability once more, feeling that she might have need of it sometime soon.

‘I gagged you. I didn’t cut your tongue out. Do you have nothing to say to me?’

‘I … thought I needed your permission to speak?’

At that, he smiled and a fleeting fondness crossed his face.

‘Yes,’ he said softly. ‘You are so good at this. It is why I can’t let you go. But, regardless of your ability to give me the perfect answer, there is a reckoning to be made. Explain why you left without saying a word to me, Charlotte.’

‘I didn’t say a word to Bryant either, sir.’

‘Master.’

‘Sorry, Master.’

‘That doesn’t even begin to answer my question. Well?’

‘I couldn’t make a choice. You were asking me to make a choice.’

‘Yes, I was. And I’m going to ask you again. A different choice this time. Stay here with me, or walk away. Make the choice, Charlotte. What do you decide?’

Collins rarely, indeed never, showed emotion, but Charlotte could see that his steepled fingers were just that bit more tensed. A knuckle cracked, shocking her into reply.

‘I want to stay with you,’ she blurted. Yes. Colliton was wrong for her, but Collins was right, so right. Never mind Bryant. Bryant had not gone to the lengths of finding and organising her perfect fantasy kidnap. Forget about him. Right here, right now, she could start a whole new chapter of submission, love and pleasure, with this man she had come to adore.

The fingers quivered and he broke their position, pushing the spectacles back up the bridge of his nose in the few seconds it took for him to collect himself.

‘Good,’ he said, calm restored. ‘I think you have chosen well. On this occasion.’ His brow furrowed again, and Charlotte remembered that she should be feeling a little anxious. She bit her lip and looked down at the floor. ‘But we still have outstanding matters to address, don’t we? Your reluctance to make a choice – when you have proven yourself more than capable of such a task – is an inadequate excuse. And I have yet to hear a word of apology from you for the pain you have caused me.’

Pain, she thought in surprise. He feels pain. He is not impervious, nor superhuman. He has vulnerabilities too.

‘I’m sorry. I really am. I never meant to … hurt you.’ How odd the words sounded, spoken by her, to him who so often meant to hurt her! But his hurting was at her unspoken behest, always, while she had caused a true and less easily-assuaged pain. ‘Please forgive me.’

‘I will forgive you,’ he said, rising from his chair and walking over to an old metal cupboard in one corner of the room. ‘But first you have to pay the price of that forgiveness. I’m sure you’re expecting that, anyway. And I hate to disappoint.’

He opened the cupboard, took a length of rope, a cane and a box from it.

‘Let’s not deviate from your script too far, though, shall we? I think we should maintain the illusion of this forced kidnapping I took such pains to set up, just for a while. Don’t you think?’

‘If you wish, Master,’ said Charlotte, trying not to smile. Oh, the cane. Oh, how she hated that thing. And yet she had been hoping for it … dreaming of it, back in her bed in Colliton.

‘Saunders!’ he said sharply, and she remembered the guard, turning around and seeing that he had been standing by the door all along. ‘Bring in the punishment equipment.’

What? Was that not it, that stuff in his hands? Rope, cane, box full of dubious toys … seems like punishment equipment to me.

Saunders wheeled in a strange item of furniture, something like a stepstool, padded all over in black leather.

‘I think we need to send a few photographs with the ransom note,’ Collins said to his henchman. ‘Make sure they realise that we are in earnest. When they see what we’ve done to her, they’ll be sure to start finding the money.’

Saunders came up behind Charlotte and untied her wrists, which she was allowed to stretch and rotate briefly before she was marched over to the stepstool affair and made to kneel on its ledge, arranging her upper body so that it lay along the slope on the other side, her face almost at floor level. The padded top of the device ensured that her bottom jutted out, presented in full curvaceous display mode, while a spreader bar fixed between her knees meant that she had to keep her thighs wide too.

‘Take off her top,’ Collins ordered, and Saunders darted over, pulling the garment over her head, then, without prompting, unclipped her bra as well. The smooth leather was cold on her nipples and she was conscious of the guard’s eye, sizing up her breasts even though they were squashed to the slope of the punishment stool.

‘As for that skirt …’ said Collins laconically, and then his hands were on her, tugging it down while she gripped the sides of the slope. The knickers were long gone now, and they were swiftly joined by her shoes until she lay, entirely naked and exposed, ready for the two men to dispose of her as they saw fit.

‘You’re very compliant,’ noted Collins, his tone sharp, and Charlotte had to rouse herself from the luxury of her submission to play the role of agitated victim about to undergo cruel and unusual treatment.

‘You can’t do this!’ she exclaimed. ‘You … when the police get hold of you … you bastards!’

Collins laughed, deep and long. ‘We are the police,’ he said chillingly. ‘Aren’t we, Saunders?’

‘That’s right, guv.’ Saunders was tying her ankles to the stool now, then looping the rope up and around her torso, lashing her to the fetish furniture until she was almost a part of it.

‘You’re here until we get our money, young lady, and until then, we will do what we want with you. Do you understand?’

Collins forced her head up, taking her chin and wrenching her neck to meet his iron gaze.

‘I understand. But you can’t make me accept it. I will never accept it.’

For a fleeting second, Charlotte thought about spitting in his face. But no. Collins would absolutely hate that. He did set such store by elegant behaviour in all situations.

‘You will accept what we give you. All of it. Starting now.’ He straightened back up to his full height and watched Saunders complete his expert bondage work. ‘Good. Trussed up like a little chicken, Charlotte. Tied up and ready for your whipping. Because you are going to be whipped. Long and soundly, until your bottom is red and hot enough to glow in the photograph we will take of it. What do you think of that?’

‘You evil pervert!’ she cried, finding the line laughably hokey even as she said it. Ah well. She wasn’t best placed to hone her improvisational skills, bent double over a leather punishment stool, naked and in knots. ‘You won’t get away with this.’ She tried to struggle in her bonds, but Saunders had an impressive way with rope, and the best she could do was squirm.

‘No? Well, if you’re going to call us perverts, I suppose we ought to live up to our billing.’ Collins brought the box down beneath her nose and opened it, selecting a large black silicone butt plug and wafting it in the air before her. ‘I think you’ve earned this, young lady.’

‘Oh my God! No!’ she squealed, recognising the plug as Collins’s favourite Instrument of Sanction. He had used it on her in the past, at times of extreme displeasure with her, and it commanded serious respect.

‘Did you hear that, Saunders? I think she’s starting to get the message. We mean business. Lubricate her.’

Charlotte was unable to prevent anything they wanted to do to any part of her, and all she could do was lie there in her tethers while Saunders greased a finger and began to circle her tensing anus with it, massaging it into the sensitive skin of her cleft until she could feel her muscles begin to pulse and twitch, helplessly betraying her arousal.

‘I think she wants it!’ Saunders was amused.

‘Is she wet?’

Charlotte’s breath hitched at the touch of another finger at her lower hole, dipping in and then slicking out.

‘Is she ever! Fuck me, she’s dripping.’

‘Hmm, wait till after the caning, then. I bet she’ll be even wetter.’ His hand descended briefly on the back of Charlotte’s neck, ruffling the hair at her nape affectionately. He knows I will.

Saunders re-lubed the finger and sent it, in one clean swift stab, up inside her puckered ring, wiggling it about a bit to get a feel for her size and stretch. Charlotte wanted to roll her hips so very badly, but she could not so much as jiggle them. She gritted her teeth and lay flat, resigned, while Saunders introduced the large fat plug slowly into her captive backside.

‘How does that feel, Charlotte?’ asked Collins, interested, though her faint squeaks and moans were providing quite a detailed answer.

‘Uncomfortable,’ she gasped. ‘Please …’ The widest part of the plug was now stretching her ring, making tears blur her eyes. ‘I can’t.’

I could safeword. But the thought was gone before she could even have articulated it, and the plug was past the barrier now, firmly seated and unignorable, showing her her place in this scenario.

‘Let me see.’ Collins came around to the back and rotated the plug a few times, then he pulled it partway out, making her babble and plead for mercy, before popping it back in and then, for good sadistic measure, repeating the process. ‘I love this one,’ he said. ‘It really is my favourite. The inflatable one is good as well. Perhaps another time.’

When he came back into Charlotte’s line of vision, a quick strain of her neck muscles informed her that Collins was no longer carrying anything. So where was the …?

‘You may begin when I give the word, Saunders.’

Charlotte meeped in dismay – so she was to be caned by a stranger, not by the expert Mr Collins? His shiny shoes, so close to her nose, splayed outwards a little, and then he was crouching before her, so close that the expensive cloth of his trouser hem brushed her face. He held her by the chin, keeping her pale face upraised towards his.

‘You are going to look at me, Charlotte,’ he murmured. ‘Hold my eye. If you look away, it will be the worse for you.’

‘Oh …’ Charlotte was beyond words. She had never had to do this before. In the past, she had always been able to shut her eyes and become the pain, weightless in subspace. This thing Collins was asking her to do was almost unimaginably difficult – and yet she wanted to do it. She wanted to go the extra submissive mile, because he was doing this for her, and she loved him for it. Would it be easier if he relaxed his expression just a fraction, was ever so slightly less convincing a cruel, authoritarian kidnapper? No. He was Collins. He was what he was. He played every scene to the hilt, and that was how she wanted him. Relaxation could come later.

So she breathed in, set her jaw and opened her eyelids as wide as they would stretch.

‘She’s ready. Give her ten, Saunders. Hard.’

She looked at him, steadfast, through every burning stroke. Her broken cries, her hisses, her contortions of expression, never interrupted the line of contact between Charlotte and her master. Each swish of the rod was a pulse of energy setting her on a journey through pain and love, a journey that set her on fire, that tested her limits, that took her deep inside herself, but that eventually would see her home safe.

‘No more,’ she begged on the eighth stroke, but she didn’t mean it. She didn’t use her safeword. The plug send shockwaves through her every time the cane landed, and then the ferocious fizz of pain streaked across her skin. Two more. Just two more. Her eyes were swimmy now, but she could still see Collins’s face, looking so cold, because it had to, because that was the rule – her rule as much as his.

The ninth stroke made her body convulse, straining against the bonds, sweat beading on her brow. ‘Thank you, sir,’ she whispered, and she saw he was struggling against an impulse to smile. She had won. She had done it. She had not given in.

‘Make the last stroke a good one, Saunders,’ said Collins, his voice very low now, dark smoke in the echoing room. Charlotte let the rod whistle, let it lay its stripe across the hot, stretched skin of her bottom, let the sting grow and grow and grow while she whimpered, then she blinked, hard and looked back at Collins.

‘I love you,’ she said.

He cupped her cheeks in big, warm palms. ‘I know. I love you too,’ he said. ‘Saunders, take a photograph, would you? Then you may go.’ He dropped one kiss on her damp forehead, waited for the camera to flash, then moved back around behind Charlotte, trailing one fingertip along her spine, down into the small of her back, up again and into the crevice of her buttocks. Charlotte began to gasp, feeling the sting and the sensation together, especially when he stopped at the butt plug and gave it a little tap before proceeding onward, to the water valley beneath.

‘Oh, wet, as ever, oh, you are ready. I’m going to take you.’

There was nothing Charlotte could have done about it anyway, but she uttered a silent prayer of thanks, trying to thrust her bottom further towards him, but finding it impossible. He was there, quick and sharp, wide and long, inside her again. She sighed and purred, drenched in lust and emotion, sure that she would come without permission, she was so close already.

‘Please, Master, may I come?’ she asked, before he was even fully sheathed, causing him to chuckle as he placed his hands on her burning backside.

‘So eager, Charlotte. I should refuse you, but tonight I find that I can’t do that. You may come as many times as you wish.’

She took him at his word, feeling her tremors build as soon as he began his initial thrusts. He rode her through two more, pacing himself so perfectly that she was weeping by the time he relented and finished emptying inside her, the tip of his cock nudging against the butt plug with each foray forward.

‘I love your tears,’ he said, wiping himself off and grabbing her hair at the nape of her neck, pulling it gently but firmly. ‘But you must stop crying, Charlotte. I’m going to untie you now, and we are going home.’

‘Home?’

He began to loosen the cords, leaving her to gather herself until only periodic sniffs betrayed her emotional overflow. His fingers traced the patterned lines the rope had left, stroking the woven indents. Charlotte might have been untied, but she was no more mobile than before, her limbs heavy and stiff.

‘I should take out the plug,’ mused Collins. ‘I know you hate this bit … brace yourself …’

But she was too tired and she let him pull it out without her customary mild fuss and resistance, though she still yelped with the momentary pain.

‘You’re bad at that usually, but that was better. Was that obedience or sheer exhaustion?’

‘The latter,’ she murmured, happily bent over the stool, enjoying the residual throb of her caning – always a moment to treasure.

‘Charlotte … can you stand?’

‘Uh uh,’ was all she could manage. Collins tutted fondly, then picked up her naked, welted body and carried it out of the chamber.

She must have fallen asleep in the back of his car, because her next memory was of cold leather against her very sore, nude bottom, and a seatbelt crossing between her breasts and … Collins sitting beside her, one hand on a thigh while he frowned at a mobile phone screen.

‘Where we going?’ she mumbled. ‘Where’s this?’

‘You’ve never been to my home before, have you? We’re going there.’

‘You’re not …’

‘Not what?’

‘I asked Bryant once if you were married … he never did answer me … I just thought …’

‘The things Bryant leaves unsaid are usually the ones that reveal the most about him,’ frowned Collins. ‘I’m not married. Unattached. Never found a submissive who wasn’t needy or wildly attention-seeking or irritating in some other way. Until now.’

‘Until me?’

‘Until you, Charlotte. You know what you are, and you get on with being it. You make it all so simple and so pleasurable.’

‘I am more than a submissive, you know.’

‘I do know that. Of course I do. But you don’t bang on and on about it, unlike some. I know you have other ambitions and interests. I will respect that. Outside the bedroom … or should I say, the dungeon … you will be treated as my equal always.’

‘So we’re … establishing a partnership … are we?’

‘If you like.’

‘Will I get to know you? I don’t know you at all.’

‘I don’t let my guard down until I know I can, Charlotte. I think I might be able to … just slightly … perhaps, now. I used to be a punk, you know.’

Charlotte gasped then choked out a laugh. ‘What? What? You?’

‘Hmm. Tartan trousers with safety pins. Down the 100 Club every Friday and Saturday. Can you imagine it?’

‘No! Not at all!’

‘Well, if you’re a good girl, I’ll show you the photographs some time. Not the ones with the unfortunate lime spray-paint job on my hair though. They may be lost for all time.’

‘Were you in a band?’

‘No. I managed one though. Bryant was in it. He played bass. Or so he claimed. I don’t think he knew more than one chord.’

‘You met … through punk rock ?’

‘Is it so strange? Lots of kinky sex in the punk iconography, you know.’

‘Well, yeah, I suppose that’s true. But wow all the same.’

‘Wow indeed.’

‘So you and Bryant go right back to the Seventies.’

‘Further than that. We were at school together. Hated each other, though. It was music that brought us together – I don’t think anything else would have worked.’

‘It seems a shame …’

‘A shame? What seems a shame?’

‘The agency. All your work. Your … you had such a dynamic together. You were like psychic twins. You always understood what the other was going to do. Is it really all over?’

Collins did not reply, because the car had descended into an underground car park, indicating that the destination had been reached.

‘Is this a public car park?’ asked Charlotte nervously, once the door had been opened by Saunders, the chauffeur.

‘Yes.’ Collins smiled charmingly. ‘Out you get then.’

Charlotte was allowed one consternated expression before having to step gingerly out of the car, wincing as her cane stripes peeled reluctantly from the leather. Collins came out behind her, pressing her bottom to his trousered thighs and urging her on, barefoot across the concrete, to the elevator shaft.

‘It’s cold,’ she muttered, teeth chattering, but Collins was busy thanking Saunders for his work tonight and promising that the cheque would be in the post tomorrow. The elevator, like the car park, was mercifully empty, though when it stopped at the lobby to let Saunders out, there were a couple of people standing across by the main door who could have caught a flash of Charlotte’s nude front view. The lift doors shut before anybody’s decency was outraged, though, and they continued up to the top floor and out into the landing of the penthouse suite.

Collins’s apartment had floor-to-ceiling windows on every side, and from them all of London could be seen. A galaxy of lights surrounded them, from the yellowish glow of the neighbouring apartment blocks to the circular fluorescence of the London Eye. The eternal wink of the Canary Wharf tower could be seen from the bathroom, while the bedroom looked out towards Heathrow, the undercarriages of aircraft flashing red and green as they took their diagonal upward path to the skies.

‘You live in the sky,’ said Charlotte wonderingly.

‘It’s the only way to escape the constant crowds in London,’ he replied, coming up behind her, pressing her to the window, which was as yet uncurtained. ‘They would love to see this.’ He dipped a hand down across her belly, placing his palm flat on her navel, and kissed her neck.

‘Perhaps they can,’ she said nervously. Some of those other apartment blocks were only a few yards away. Most of them were lower, but not all. It was conceivable that somebody could be looking out of their window, up to Collins’s eyrie.

‘I don’t care,’ said Collins darkly. ‘I don’t care what they see. I’ll display you any time I see fit. What do you think of that?’

‘Oh,’ was all Charlotte could say, the sound coming out as a moan. Collins’s fingers were sliding lower, positioning themselves at the juncture of thigh and crotch.

‘I am your master,’ he said into her ear. ‘Say it.’

‘You are my master.’ She let her feet slip further apart, let him push his fingers up inside.

‘Good. So let’s have you kneeling on the rug now, shall we?’

Charlotte, perfectly obedient, waited for him to withdraw his fingers before placing herself as ordered on the thick cream rug. She tucked her arms into the small of her back, the stance Collins always favoured for the way it made her spine arch and breasts jut.

‘Shut your eyes, Charlotte.’ Collins’s voice was seductive smoke, wafting over her sensitive skin. ‘Don’t open them unless you are told. Just allow yourself to be touched, felt, used.’

Charlotte shut her eyes, listening to the soft footfalls around her, then feeling a hand on her shoulder, then a cupping of a breast. Her nipples swelled, and a circling thumb sent messages lower down, resulting in an answering bloom in her clitoris. She waited patiently while the hands took their sweet time, examining every inch of her breasts before inspecting her marked bottom, cruelly pinching at the welts so that she jerked and cried out, but did not open her eyes. The hand smacked at her sore bottom until she was gasping and whimpering, but she never broke position and she kept the eyes tight. Then, ah yes, then it was where she wanted it, in the wanton wetness between her legs, giving her pleasure after the pain, giving her what she needed. She kept as still as she could, trusting her master’s hand to know how best to bring her to her crisis, letting it flick and rub and press. While one set of fingers kept up this work, another set speared her hot, tight cunt, penetrating it with wicked efficiency. Charlotte was going to come soon, she knew it, and she did not have to ask permission today, so she simply let her breathing pattern give Collins the clue he needed, coming closer and closer, panting for air, feeling the tiny ticklish curl of her incipient orgasm, building, building, building … There were hands on her breasts now, two hands, and yet there were still hands … on … everywhere … oh, oh, ohhhhhhhh.

She let the tornado blow through, and then she dared to open her eyes.

Bryant was smiling at her, while Collins lurked at her hind.

‘Hello, Charlotte. That looked nice. Would you like some more?’

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