Polished warm wood or silky rose petals. Perhaps the satin of her wedding dress. The fabric slipping between her fingers reminded her of many things.
Yawning, she burrowed deeper under the covers and tried to ignore the encroaching daylight. She refused to open her eyes. What had Darren added to the laundry to make the pillowcase feel so soft? He’d bought a new fabric softener without telling her. She inhaled through her nose and smelled aloe vera and perhaps some other floral aroma. Delicious.
She rolled onto her back, stretched out her hand and searched for the familiar dimple in the neighboring pillow. There was no evidence of it. The pillow was plump and full; he’d not come to bed that night? She frowned. She hated it when he fell asleep on the couch. Never mind, she sighed. It didn’t matter. The days when he woke her up and kissed her into a state of arousal were long gone.
She opened her eyes a fraction. The ceiling was smooth. Odd, because the previous day she had stared straight at a thin crack in the paintwork. She squeezed her eyes and reopened them; this time she focused on the end of the bed.
What the hell was the closet doing at the foot of the bed?
She sat up, now wide awake and stared at the unfamiliar room. The white bedcovers, the mahogany dresser, and the thick pile of the pearlescent carpet. This was not her bedroom.
She’d been kidnapped. Drugged, too, because she had no recollection of an abduction. Running her fingers through her hair, she searched for a bump or something that might explain a concussion or a memory loss. Nothing, not a lump anywhere.
Kicking aside the covers, she climbed out of bed. The thick carpet pile drowned her feet. Looking down, an unfamiliar slip covered her belly and thighs, below her legs were as smooth as a baby’s bottom. Stretching out her trembling fingers, she examined her nails, which were scarlet and manicured. The wedding band was thicker, and the engagement ring heaped with diamonds, not the tiny stone Darren had given her.
Panic-stricken, she dashed to the bedroom door and yanked on the handle. It wouldn’t budge—Anna was locked in.
Spinning around, she hunted for her clothes, her handbag, which contained her phone, but there was nothing of hers in the room.
Darren was playing some ghastly joke on her, except practical jokes weren’t something Darren ever did. Her husband rarely deviated from his daily routine, never mind springing surprises on her.
The Spartan room had no photographs, nothing personal to indicate whose house she was in and if it was a hotel, it lacked the usual accessories—the coffee-making facility, the television, even a bathrobe hanging on the back of the door. When she drew back the curtains, the view out of the window was of a vast private garden with terraces and a huge swimming pool.
She recognized none of it. The skyline showed the outline of skyscrapers, the distant center of Sacramento, except it wasn’t quite the same arrangement of buildings, which meant she was situated on the opposite side to where she lived.
Feeling sick, she stumbled into the bathroom and retched into the toilet bowl. What kind of crazy person had taken her? Why couldn’t she remember a thing? Was it that drug, the one rapists used to numb the senses and wash away the memories?
My God. She pressed her hand against her churning belly. Had she been assaulted? She felt nothing, no soreness or anything to indicate she’d suffered at the hands of a man. Slowly, she straightened up and moved over to the sink.
After running the tap, she splashed a few handfuls of tepid water onto her flushed face. Fingering a loose strand of hair, she froze. It had been dyed. No other explanation for it. The hair curling around her fingers wasn’t straight blond, it was curly chestnut.
With a great deal of trepidation, she lifted her chin and looked into the mirror.
She wanted to scream, but the sound failed to escape her mouth.
The woman in the mirror wasn’t her.
The woman staring straight at her with her mouth gaping and her brown eyes wide open was an absolute stranger.
She staggered backwards, nearly toppling over the edge of the bathtub. Spinning around, she found herself reflected in a floor-to-ceiling mirror. More evidence that something was terribly wrong. It wasn’t just her face; her figure was different—less about the hips and breasts, sleeker and refined. She circled her hand around her neck, which felt thinner and the necklace around it was gold, not silver.
The nausea rose into her throat again, but she’d nothing left to retch up. Her mouth had gone paper dry and she wheezed, struggling to contain the panic.
A dream. This was a dream. It had to be. She was having one of those weird dreams where you wake up, then wake up again, until you’re in the right home. That’s it, she told herself. Get back into bed, and wake up again.
She made it halfway to the bed when a voice boomed from the other side of the door. “Henrietta?”
By now her heart was racing so fast it was on the verge of exploding. She didn’t answer. What did she say? Was she Henrietta now? Would her voice sound like this woman she’d never met?
“I know you’re in there. Unlock the door.” A deep masculine voice. It certainly wasn’t Darren.
He knocked on the door, drumming his knuckles repetitively. “You can’t stay locked in there forever, Hen.” He softened his tone, less demanding, but still steely.
Her legs shook, refusing to budge. If she opened the door, who would he see? Henrietta, or Anna—the woman occupying the wrong body?
She eyed the door, realizing she wasn’t locked in. The bolt was drawn across on her side of the door. She could leave anytime.
A low sigh made it through the door. “Look. This isn’t getting us anywhere. You agreed, Hen. You gave me your word or doesn’t that count anymore? I’m still your husband.”
Husband. Henrietta’s husband. What was his name? Would she have known him if she had passed him in the street? She reached out toward the lock, curious to know more, yet reticent to put herself in danger. She halted midway as he started to speak again.
“This disobedience is exactly what I wanted to avoid,” said the disembodied voice. “You’re breaking the terms of our agreement.”
Anna slowly withdrew her hand. The edge to his tone wasn’t harsh or glaringly frightening. It teetered on the brink of something different—not anger or arrogance, it held her attention with its confidence and sternness. The stranger had a presence that fired up her imagination. What did he mean by disobedience? Her tongue remained glued to the roof of her mouth, paralyzed by indecision.
“I could insist you get your butt out here so I can punish your ass with my hand. But, I won’t. Not this time because we’re at the beginning of something new, not the end. This has to work for both of us.”
Heavens—he wanted to punish her ass? What kind of husband spanks his wife? She knew the answer but she doubted it immediately. Fantasy was one thing, reality was quite different.
“When I’m back tomorrow evening, this defiance ends,” he said firmly. “No more locking yourself away from me, Henrietta.” He slapped the door and the noise ricocheted around the room. “Next time I come for a fuck, you’ll be more welcoming.”
His footsteps creaked along the corridor outside until they disappeared.
Anna collapsed onto the bed and hugged her knees under her chin. She’d just encountered a man who wanted to fuck her, spank her, and whatever else. No amount of dreaming could conjure up such a scenario and she hadn’t a clue why she was there. The shock was taking its toll. She would try to sleep, then wake up again in her world, not this one. The plan had to work. This nightmare had to end.
The previous day
David Davenport straightened his necktie and checked his watch. He’d a busy day in the office and anticipated his hectic agenda encroaching into the evening. But, if he could make time for Henrietta, he would visit her.
He scoffed to himself at the idea of visiting his wife in her bedroom. How had it come to this? The blazing row they’d had nearly two weeks ago had triggered her exit from their bedroom and for a while a massive wedge had been driven between them. By letting her have her wish—more space, greater privacy—they had at least managed to rescue the relationship from instant termination and the resulting, less heated conversation had led to their new arrangement—an unlikely outcome, but not an unwelcome one.
On his desk was their wedding photograph. Why he left it there, he didn’t know. Touching the silver frame, he sighed. What had been promised on one day had been quickly shattered a few months later.
Following their nuptials, she’d changed to the point he struggled to recognize the woman with whom he’d fallen in love. The handful of times they’d had sex since the wedding, she had emitted a little moan when she came, then wandered into the bathroom without saying one word of gratitude. She’d shown not a jot of interest in anything kinky and avoided him, often deliberately leaving the house when he was home. The arguments had begun the day after the honeymoon. She’d called him a selfish arrogant bastard. The words had hurt. He’d not seen them coming. His previous girlfriends had found his confident manner endearing and his protective tendencies caring. The main reason his previous girlfriends hadn’t lasted was because they weren’t adventurous enough when it came to the kink. He needed both—the kinky and obedient wife.
So their marriage was over, or was it? Could he really salvage it like he’d done with so many of the businesses he’d acquired, or was it truly wrecked and irretrievably finished?
Nothing seemed to make sense, because when she’d submitted to him prior to their wedding, she showed such promise, and pleasure; she confessed as much when she begged him to reconsider his threat of an immediate divorce. Although she’d lied to him and manipulated him with her displays of submission and love, she’d convinced him it was in their best interests for her to stay—her motivation was rooted in money, his in hope.
Since he’d uncovered the dark secrets in her life, David had battled to contain his bitterness and anger. She betrayed him, lied to him, and yet, for some unfathomable reason, she’d failed to completely diminish the passion inside him. Perhaps this was how she bewitched those she met at the club she visited, where she dished out her discipline to willing participants.
Delving into her psyche hadn’t helped. “You’re a contradiction, Hen,” he’d pointed out a few days earlier. “It shouldn’t come as a surprise to you that you both like giving and receiving spankings; it’s just the control aspect we disagree over.” He’d tried to sound understanding, nonjudgmental, but she’d stormed off, muttering to herself.
It was inevitable that the pair of them, two control addicts, had spent much of their short marriage quarreling with each other. Then, to add to the disenchantment, she kept disappearing when he wanted to spend time with her. Suspicious of her constant absences, he’d instigated a private investigation and the detective had established his wife, the outwardly prim, dressed-in-floral-dresses Henrietta was a leather-clad dominatrix at a BDSM club where she liked to spank men.
After reading the report, including details of her FetLife activities, he’d thrown the document across his study. It was devastating to know she’d tricked him. The fuss and delays over the prenuptial agreement slotted into place. She was a gold digger. Money, not submission, had been the lure, and he’d fallen for her wiles with apparent ease.
When he exposed her secrets and demanded an explanation for her trickery, she’d cried huge crocodile tears trying to deny it. He showed her the photographs. She’d recanted her denials, begged for forgiveness, then out of the blue, she’d suggested to salvage the marriage that she behave like his submissive once again, just as she had done before they married.
“Take me. Do what you want with me, but please, don’t throw me out. I couldn’t face the humiliation. Everyone thinks we’re the perfect couple. I need the money to save face and start a new life.” Her pleas still rang in his ears as fresh as the day she’d admitted to her extramarital activities. She’d repeated over and over that she’d not slept with anyone. It was the one silver lining he continued to cling onto in the hope that deep down she might allow his dominance to nurture her. Consequently, he couldn’t escape the allure of her divine body and their mutual need for sex.
However, she dictated the essence of the terms, not him. She’d wanted more money, more than she was entitled to according to the pre-nup, so she’d offered him one year of her life as he wanted it. Let him enjoy the pleasure of her body, punish her when she disobeyed him, and then, she could walk away with the millions she desired.
Now, after that reasonably sensible discussion, they had another agreement in the place of the marital one. She’d argued for it and he initially, and somewhat begrudgingly, agreed to honor it. The question was—would she?
He snapped his briefcase shut and carried it out of his study into the vast atrium of the house. The hall was brightly lit by the morning sun.
Coming down the stairs, her hair catching the rays was Henrietta. Dressed in tight-fitting jeans and a bosom hugger of a top, she looked stunning.
“David,” she announced his arrival with an artificial smile—he recognized them better now. “Still here?”
“Just leaving.” Once, he might have expected a peck on his check or some other affectionate display of farewell. Today, he was grateful she was acting the part specified—courteous and respectful.
She reached the bottom step. They stood close enough for him to see the gloss of her lipstick and the thickening of her eyelashes with mascara. God, she was beautiful.
“I’ll probably be late,” he confirmed. “So if I come to your room—”
“I’ll be out. Tennis club.” She jumped back at him with her chin stuck up high.
David hid his scowl. So far little if anything physical had happened as a consequence of initiating their new arrangement. The tennis club was just an excuse for a gossip with her friends, assuming she was really going there.
How to rebuild trust? The only way David could tackle the doubts was by demonstrating his faith in her. He nodded, accepting her excuse without comment.
He unclenched his fist, loosening the grip on his attaché case. Her magnetism remained powerful. If only he could persuade her to be what he desired. She was capable and had in the past demonstrated she was willing—so what had gone wrong? David wished he could pry apart Henrietta’s stiff outer shell and find out what made her tick inside. It apparently went far deeper than her need for kinky sex. His own motive bothered him, too—why was he giving her a second chance when she’d shown him little respect and taunted him with her exploits?
She lowered her eyes and for a few seconds, she seemed to lose her haughtiness. Almost brushing against his shoulder as she walked past him, she sashayed her hips as she moved. She knew exactly how to hit his buttons. His stomach muscles rippled, flexing as he fought the need in him. She still had it in her.
“We have an agreement, Hen,” he said softly. “It needs to be honored. I demand it.” He added a firmer edge to his tone.
She flinched, a slight jolt as if struck by electricity, but perceivable even so. “I know.”
“My flight tomorrow doesn’t leave until late in the morning. I’m going to stop by your room and remind you again of my expectations.”
She paused mid-step and pivoted on her toes to face him. “And if I refuse?” Her eyes didn’t blink.
He would never force himself on her even with blanket consent on her part. He had other methods, ones she would find hard to resist, especially as she’d watched him write them down when he drafted the document and she’d offered not one word of protest.
“Obedience,” he said, raising his eyebrows.
She didn’t flinch this time—they were both quite aware of her penchant for discipline. She turned her back on him and continued to walk away. He waited for a riposte, another excuse—something about not waking her too early. However, she said nothing.
Was she really playing hard to get or was she changing her mind about the whole thing?
The problem David had in understanding his wife was that either option could be valid. She really was that much of a mystery to him. He wanted to solve that mystery. She’d infected him with a strong passion, and it wasn’t love, not after how she’d fooled him into thinking she was in love with him. No, what she’d awoken fully was his dominance and goddammit, he was going to make this work.
“I will have my needs met, Hen,” he called after her.
She halted by the door to the library where she hid from him for hours out of sight.
“If you want us to survive this year,” he continued, having caught her attention, “don’t keep walking away from me. If you rescind your side of the bargain, there is nothing to stop me divorcing you tomorrow. I have all the evidence I need to hammer you in the courts.”
He hated the idea. It was the last thing he wanted to do. He hated threatening her too. It went against the nature of his dominance to seek control through coercion rather than mutual trust. However, he held the upper hand and she would know that too. The deck was stacked against her and time was ticking. If she didn’t start recognizing their agreement soon, he would have to make his wishes more explicit, less implied. His heartbeats pounded in his chest—she was too tempting to lose without a fight.
She cleared her throat. “I will be there in the morning. I’m trying to… adjust. I’ve a few changes to make before I’m ready to be what you wish.”
With her back to him, David couldn’t interpret what she meant. What changes? What else had she kept from him?
There was one thing that she had no excuse not to follow through since it didn’t involve him touching her. “Oh, and Hen, you will contact Malcolm about the fundraiser. He’s expecting your help and you will give it.”
Her shoulders went stiff. She and Malcolm weren’t friends. It would do her some good to think of others and practice her charm on something more productive.
“Of course,” she said sweetly, turning slightly so he could see her dazzling eyes.