“Oh, Miss Swan. I’m so glad you’re back,” Jessica greets me anxiously at the doors of the elevator.
“What’s the matter?” This one might just be too twitchy to bother breaking in.
“My computer has some sort of glitch. Every few minutes, the login screen comes on and I can’t make it stop!”
I hold in my smirk. If I didn’t know better, I’d definitely accuse Edward of planting this. But I know he’s actually trying to fix this one. “Email a trouble report to IT,” I instruct.
“Yes, Ma’am,” she answers, scurrying to carry out my orders.
I sequester myself inside my office and pull out my cell. Ten minutes of research yields me three recipes for vegetarian chili. After a careful study of ingredients and reader reviews, I pull together what appears to be the ultimate recipe and write it out by hand. I am taking no chances. If I even want to attempt to surprise Edward, I have to stay off my electronic devices. Rationally, I know he can’t access my cell phone files, but there’s just something about Edward’s ability to know everything that makes me take the extra precaution.
I put the finishing touches on the shopping list and add one more item at the bottom of the page: collar. Sinking into my leather chair and rolling my feather pen between my hands, I let my imagination wander down the aisles of the grocery store. Now where am I going to find a suitable necklace to help create the mood of…servitude? Aaargh!!
Hearing voices outside my office, I tuck my shopping list away for now, along with my fantasies, and open the door.
“…here from IT to work on your problem.”
“Oh, hi, yes,” she giggles shamelessly. “I’m Jessica? Miss Swan’s new assistant?”
“How about you show me the problem?” says a voice much different from the familiar one I recognize from the basement.
Jessica’s gaze shifts to mine, and the dark-haired gentleman from IT peers back over his broad left shoulder at me. His face cracks open into a wide smile, and the largest dimple I’ve ever seen creates a sinkhole in his left cheek. He turns and offers me his hand. “You must be Isabella Swan. I’ve heard all about you.”
“Oh really?” I wonder what the hell Edward might possibly have told his co-worker about me.
Shrugging off my coat, I muse that I could’ve short-circuited our entire lunchtime discussion by simply answering her complaint about her invasive procedure by showing a little bit of empathy. Instead, something drove me to reveal my past. If I’m honest, I have to admit that I was eager to get some of that out in the open.
Though I cannot imagine ever finding the need to share all that went on in Marcus’s dungeon. By this point, I’ve developed my own unique style of taking charge of a scene. Depending on what a particular sub is looking for and my own desires du jour, I can pretty effectively create the right mood in the room. But it took me a while to hit my groove, and most of what I played out at first was a direct result of Marcus’s tutelage. He was my very own Black Velvet, trusted master for the course of a month’s worth of weekends, mentor, and finally, friend. It was Marcus who taught me that it’s not just okay to mix the tender in with the tough, it is absolute necessary. And he was truly a master in that regard.
“Your punishment is over, Edward. What do you say?”
What do I say? I’m mortified that I can’t hold off coming after three weeks of training. I’m humiliated to have released into your hand without permission. I’ve failed you; I’ve failed myself. I don’t even deserve the time you’ve spent trying to train my sorry ass. How can I expect to hold others accountable for what I can’t even accomplish myself? I’m already a fraud and I haven’t even begun. I’m a miserable piece of…
“Edward,” he says softly, lifting my chin in the palm of his hand, “Look at me.” Given permission for the first time since this session began, I reluctantly look him in the eye. And what I find there is not what I expected. Where I assumed I’d find disgust, I see compassion. “Do you understand why you’re supposed to thank your master after a correction?”
“Not really, Sir,” I answer honestly.
“When you walked in here tonight and knelt down in front of me, you accepted my dominance over you. I, in turn, accepted the responsibility for your needs. With me?”
“Good. Now what that means is that when you mess up, it’s my responsibility to correct you, and I hold the power to absolve you from any further guilt. I’m pretty much God inside this room. Once I deem the correction to be complete, you need to let go of all the bad feelings you’ve associated with the behavior that led to the punishment. That doesn’t mean you should repeat your mistake; it just means that the slate has been wiped clean. Can you accept that?”
Honestly? I don’t know. I’m still feeling pretty lousy over my screw-up. I’m here to learn, and the only way to do that is to be open with him. “I’m not sure, Sir.”
He rakes his fingers through my hair, settling his hand at the back of my neck. “Okay. This scene is over.” He regards me tenderly, brushing his thumb up and down the column of my neck. “Fuck, Edward, do you have any idea how gorgeous you are right now? If you hadn’t made kissing a hard limit, I swear I’d have my tongue wrapped around your tonsils right now.”
“Thank God for small favors,” I say with a cheeky smirk, braver now that the scene has officially ended.
He chuckles while he unhooks my wrist cuffs from the bar suspended from the ceiling and kneels to release my feet. “Come with me,” he says, not looking back.
He leads me into the bathroom just outside the dungeon and turns the hot water on in the tub. Pulling the key from his pocket, he tosses it over to me. “Here. Take those off.”
After the final cuff is released, Marcus summons me to the tub, where a full complement of soap suds awaits. Christ, a bubble bath. Am I eight? I give him a fairly disrespectful eye roll. He answers with a stern look and a warning, “Get your striped ass over here and lose the attitude.”
I march over sullenly and step in when he directs me to. The water is hot and I’m less than enthused about exposing my raw ass to the elements. “Sit.” The second the water hits my tender skin, I hiss at the spike of pain, but the sting quickly subsides. Marcus slides around to my back and reaches around the lip of the tub to put his hands on my shoulders. He massages me, firmly kneading my sore muscles with his thumbs at my neck. Frankly, this is the part of our arrangement I actually find the most difficult, accepting this intimacy. But right now, his touch feels like heaven, and I drop my head back, close my eyes, and sink into his after care.
“You did well today,” he says.
“I failed,” I shoot back immediately.
“I pushed you because I felt you were ready.”
“And…I failed,” I repeat, exasperated.
“Edward, do you ski?”
“Ever go down a black diamond slope that was probably beyond your capacity?”
“Why not just stick to blue squares, or green circles, for that matter?”
“Well, first of all, that shit is boring. And secondly, because you never get better if you don’t push yourself.”
“Yeah, but what if you fall?”
“You get up.”
“Is it a moral failure if you fall on your ass?”
“No, but…” But what? Fuck it, he’s right again. “Fine,” I concede.
“You don’t have to continue to punish yourself. I took care of that for you. Do you see it?”
“Yeah, Marcus. I get it,” I smile, much relieved. He slides his hands down over my shoulders and onto my chest. “And thank you, by the way,” I tell him, genuinely appreciative.
He lines up his lips with my ear. “You sure I can’t kiss you?”
I have to chuckle. “Dude, you just beat the ever loving shit out of me! Now you want to kiss?”
“Fuck yeah, I do,” he answers, and the boyish grin he allows himself almost changes my mind. Almost.
Opening my email, I notice that Rosalie has forwarded me another twelve trouble reports since noon. I click through and add them to my growing list of data. The latest one—filed less than five minutes ago—Jessica Stanley, assistant to Isabella M. Swan.
Pacing a rut in the carpeting behind my desk, I reason that Emmett is probably outside her office right now, talking to this Jessica. It’s a simple procedure; he’ll be in and out in minutes. Chances are, Emmett won’t even have time to interact with Bella at all. And if he does? What have I got to worry about?
Seriously, dude, take it easy.
“Yeah. You two are kind of the toast of the chat network.”
“Is that so?” This guy is like an overgrown puppy who’s gotten hold of a pair of smelly socks and doesn’t know when to let go.
“You haven’t read any of it? Unbelievable!” he exclaims, shaking his head as if trying to remove water from his ears. “I couldn’t get Eddie to look at any of it either.”
“Eddie?” Somehow, the name sounds so utterly wrong, I can’t even connect it with my Edward.
“Cullen? Don’t tell me I’m barking up the wrong tree? Christ, how embarrassing!” His whole body slumps with the possibility that he’s made a terrible mistake.
“Oh! That Eddie!” I concede, unable to draw out his discomfort any longer. “And you are?”
“Emmett McCarty, Eddie’s office mate,” he says, offering his meaty hand.
“Does he actually let you call him that?”
He shrugs. “He usually squawks but I don’t pay any attention.”
“So why isn’t Edward up here fixing this for my assistant? I hear he has some magical patch or something.”
Emmett rolls his eyes. “The boss sent me to do all the patches today so Eddie can figure out the correlation among the data points and write a routine to—”
I hold up my hand to stem the tide of geek speak. “Sounds good, Emmett. Listen, do me a favor when you get back downstairs, will you? Tell Eddie that Isabella says hello.”
“Will do, Miss Swan,” he answers, as I turn my back and retire to my office. I really need to try to get some work done today, but I cannot resist sending a quick text.
Eddie, your friend Emmett says we’re at the top of the chat charts! Woo hoo! ~I
Ignore him…I always do! –EdWARD
I can practically visualize his eye roll.
So it doesn’t bother you then, EdWARD?
Not in the least. Unless it bothers you…?
Not really, but I wouldn’t mind if the chat program crashed. Just sayin’!
Why, Isabella Swan, are you suggesting what I think you are?
This conversation never happened…
End conversation. The time flashes at the top of my phone screen. 3:35. Wow! I believe I’ve set a new record for lack of productivity today. This could become a problem. I set myself on task and put in a solid two hours before heading out. Jessica’s head pops up over the wall of her cubicle.
“Leaving already, Miss Swan? I was told you’re kind of a Come-Early-Stay-Late kind of a boss.”
“Not today, Jessica,” I say. And before I can help it, my mind has already rearranged her label into Leave-Early-Come-Later. “Good work, today. See you bright and early tomorrow?”
I don’t experience yesterday’s melancholy feeling at not being met in my office on the way out. I have a directive from my master and I intend to carry it out flawlessly tonight.
I make a great show of saving files to a memory stick and tucking it away in my laptop case because I know Rosalie is watching. I’m leaving at 5 tonight and the only Swan business I’m doing tonight is Isabella. Emmett is just exiting the elevator on our floor as I prepare to get in.
“How’d your patch go on 35, asshole?” I cuff him on the arm in passing.
“Aw, don’t be sore, Eddie. She’s cute. Can’t say I blame you for trolling around the upstairs action.”
“Gee, thanks for the seal of approval. Did you get her assistant up and running?”
“No, man.” He shakes his head miserably, “I tried and tried, but I couldn’t figure out how to insert the disk into her hard drive. Could you remind me how that works again?”
“Why’d you tell Isabella about the chatter?” I ask, ignoring his nonsense.
He waves it off. “She couldn’t have cared less,” he says, sounding disappointed.
That’s my girl, I think proudly. “Later, Emmett.”
I don’t see Domenic waiting, and I hope she’s given herself enough time to arrive home by 6:45.
I set an aggressive pace for myself, tucking my hands into my coat pockets and pulling my hat down over my ears. It’s cold outside but my plans for tonight’s scene keep me warm. Lost in thought, I arrive at my building way ahead of schedule.
“Mr. Cullen. I have a package for you, sir.”
“Excellent, Andre. I’ll take it up with me now.”
“Certainly, sir.” He disappears behind the counter and returns a few minutes later with a medium-sized box. Andre knows how to be discreet; it’s one of the reasons I gave him a disportionately large holiday bonus last week. Some of the return addresses are provocative, to say the least. This one is from costumekink-dot-com.
“Thank you, Andre. My friend Miss Swan will be arriving with groceries in about an hour. I trust you’ll help her to the elevator?”
“My pleasure, sir.”
For now, I grin inwardly.
“Key Food, Domenic. And don’t take the scenic route, please.” Why didn’t I give myself more of a cushion?
“Here we are, ma’am,” he says, mercifully sooner rather than later. I’m up and out of the car before he has time to walk around and open my door.
I pull the top basket off the stack and grasp the wire handles, rushing through the produce section. Peppers, onion, carrots, garlic. Check! Canned crushed and diced tomatoes, Worcestershire sauce, chili powder. Check! Two kinds of beans. Check! Half slab of cornbread. Check! Vegetable oil? Better safe than sorry, I decide, throwing in a bottle of canola oil.
So much for the food items. Now, for the challenge…
Traveling back to the entrance, the produce section offers few options. Perhaps I could combine a series of twist ties together? No, that is definitely not a sexy look, and would probably end up scratching the hell out of my neck. Aisle 2, condiments, pickles, soups. Would Edward like to wrap a wet noodle around my neck? I seriously doubt that. Aisle 3, baking needs. Flour, sugar, chocolate chips…I got nothing. Cereal…how about a Froot Loops necklace? Nah, how can I expect him to find me sexy if I smell like artificial fruit and preservatives? Aisle 4, Health and Beauty Aids. What have we here? Pills, shampoo, tampons, soap, power bars…dental floss? Cleaning supplies, sponges, stationery? Wait, how about a roll of packing tape? I’m starting to feel a bit desperate if wrapping tape around my neck sounds sexy. Aisle 5, Pet supplies. Biscuits, kibble, leashes…collars…oh my fucking god.
Should I be that bold? Could I? Do I really have any other option?
Hastily, I run through the remaining aisles. Meat and fish, dairy, frozen, newsstand, soda and chips. I already know there’s no other way to solve this problem, and the reality that I’m minutes away from offering Edward an actual collar to fasten around my neck excites me beyond repair.
Standing before the array of pet supplies, I try to imagine each around my neck. I suppose it would be suspicious if I tried on a couple? There’s the metal chain link, adjustable to any size, cold as hell, and a girl could seriously get her skin pinched with that one. There’s a wide selection of leather collars in varying widths, lengths, and colors. And then we have the spiky studded bulldog collars. Hmmm, no thanks.
Cognizant of the time, I hastily select a red leather buckle collar of medium width and length; I won’t forget I’m wearing it, but it won’t cut off my breathing. I have a ‘holy shit’ moment as I pull the collar from the hook, certain that 99% of all purchasers of said item do not plan on wearing it themselves.
Too bad for them, I muse, as a warm gush of fresh juices releases into today’s unfortunate panties. I’m almost certain Edward will have something else in mind for me to wear, and whatever it is, I hope it goes with red leather.
It’s 6:30 and I’ve paced the floor thirty times. Fuck, Isabella, don’t be late tonight. Her costume is laid out on her bed, the kitchen is immaculate, awaiting her occupation, and my laptop is cabled to the massive plasma screen in the TV room. I’ve changed into jeans and retired my shirt, socks and shoes for the night.
I wait, impatiently, for her arrival.
At 6:38, I hear her key in the door and rush to help her open it. Eager, much? Fuck it. I’m totally wired right now, and I don’t care if she knows it.
I turn the knob and she falls forward into my bare chest in surprise. “Well, hello to you, too, sweetheart,” I chuckle.
Her eyes crinkle in the corners and she gives me a happy kiss. I’m already retrieving her bags from the hallway before she can regain her balance, and I settle things into the kitchen.
“Is there anything that needs to be refrigerated in here?” I ask.
“Nope. It’s all good.”
“All right then. Are you ready, princess?”
Her smile turns more serious. “God, yes.”
I absolutely cannot resist crashing my lips into hers. My little assignment has clearly jumpstarted her evening, and I’ve been ready since we rolled out of bed this morning.
“Show me what you selected for your collar tonight,” I demand, my breathing already labored.
Her eyes click from mine to the bags, and she roots through until she finds what she’s looking for. With her eyes downcast, she pulls out a red leather dog collar and presents it to me in the palm of her hand. Jesus Jehooziphat Christ!
My cock responds instantaneously, hardening inside my boxers to the point of discomfort. I want to jump up and down and sing the Hallelujah Chorus; I settle for clearing my throat and taking the collar from her hand.
“I’m extremely pleased by your choice, Isabella.” Even I can hear the change in my voice. It’s lower, darker.
“Thank you, Sir,” she says proudly, beaming but looking at the floor.
I cup her chin and lift her face to mine. “Tell me you want to wear this for me.”
“Please, Sir, will you put the collar around my neck? I want to wear it for you.”
Fuck me. I give her the hand signal to lower herself to her knees, and she automatically clasps her hands behind her back. Opening the buckle, I loop the leather behind her neck and pull her hair out of the way. Finding the hole that allows for a tight but comfortable fit, I buckle the clasp and check with her that it’s okay.
“Yes, Sir,” she answers promptly.
For one brief moment, I consider bagging the costume I over-nighted yesterday and just have her cook and serve me naked but for this rugged accessory, but I decide in favor of the kinky costume. What a surprise, my inner snarkmeister cajoles. And how fortuitous she’s somehow managed to choose something that coordinates perfectly with her outfit.
I loop one finger through the large metal ring at the front, where the leash is meant to attach. Despite the fact that she’s purchased a dog collar, she’s never written one word about being led around by a leash, and I’m not taking liberties tonight. Besides, she’s got a meal to prepare and serve, and that would take us…off topic, to say the very least. She responds to my hand signal to rise, and I work to contain my glee over my perfect little sub.
“I need to see your recipe,” I tell her, hoping she won’t be disappointed that she can’t surprise me.
She nods and pulls the handwritten recipe from her pocket. “Ah,” I smile, “Vegetarian chili. Perfect choice,” I say approvingly. But I’m not really looking at the recipe beyond figuring out the timing.
“Okay, princess. You have four minutes to change into your uniform and get yourself back behind this kitchen counter. Off you go!”
She’s off like a shot. I adjust myself inside my boxers and flop onto the couch, keeping all the remotes handy. I am the luckiest fucker on the planet.