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Hardened by Ashe Barker – Sample

Chapter One

HardenedLeeds, UK

June 2010

Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock. My cellmate’s tiny alarm clock counts down the endless stream of empty, torturous seconds, the inexorable creep of time as I wait for nothing at all to happen.

By now I really should be better able to endure the crushing boredom, but it gets no easier. Twenty-five months, three weeks, and five days have crawled past since I heard the three words that marked the beginning of this mind-numbing existence.

Take him down. The Honourable Mister Justice Merryweather decided in his wisdom that five years’ imprisonment was about right for my part in the bungled attempt to relieve an inner city sub-post office of its day’s takings. That was fair enough, I suppose, even though my job on that fateful day amounted to no more than stealing a fast motor and making sure I was outside the post office at the right time, engine running.

The rest of the gang I had hooked up with for that one and only job took it into their heads to take shotguns along though. One warning shot brought down the post office ceiling, along with the full weight of the law, which landed full square on all our heads. No judge will stand for firearms. I appreciate that sentiment now, though my resentment was bitter and real enough at the time.

I was fucking furious to be picked up by the police two days later and identified by a woman who had pushed her pram past the post office that day and happened to spot me waiting in the souped-up BMW. I remembered her too, pretty enough in a harassed, mumsy sort of a way. I watched her arse all the way down the street while my cock throbbed in my jeans.

My arrest particularly rankled because I’d performed my part to perfection. It was the rest who screwed up and even then all they needed to do was keep their mouths shut about who had been outside in the car. Like most young hotheads I was convinced I was invincible, too clever to be caught. Maybe I wouldn’t have been, at least not for a while, but for the dickhead who fired into the air, then topped it all off by letting his mask slip and was caught on the CCTV. We got away with over twenty thousand pounds in cash, but with the CCTV evidence it was only a matter of time before the plods rounded us up.

And speaking of time, I’ve had plenty of it since then, certainly more than enough to reconsider my priorities. My two-and-a-bit years older, wiser, and no doubt mellower self is now ready to acknowledge that his honour had a point when he described our gang as greedy, amoral, and a danger to society. I like to think I’m a reformed character these days, but that remains to be seen. The question will be settled more speedily if I’m successful in convincing the parole board to grant me early release on the grounds of good behaviour and a genuinely remorseful attitude. I’ve had to work on the latter, but I have my parole hearing in a month’s time and I rather think I might pull it off. As for good behaviour, that’s a matter of perspective but I lean toward the view that what the screws don’t see the heart need not grieve over. I manage to stay out of trouble by and large, and give the biggest idiots in this place a wide berth.

So, I spend most of my time cooped up in my cell, as do all the inmates of HMP Leeds, better known to those of us more intimately acquainted with the establishment as Armley jail. It could be worse; I’ve managed to earn myself enhanced status. This means I get a slightly bigger cell and I’m allowed a radio, books, personal photographs, that sort of thing. Oh, and a proper toilet, although it doesn’t have a door. We may live in virtual isolation, but prisoners get no privacy. This is one of the things I most miss about being on the outside, and it’s the main reason that once I manage to get out I won’t be back. Not ever.

I have plans, and they do not involve an eight by six foot room, bunk beds, and two cell mates who snore, fart, and generally make me want to punch the wall.

It could be worse. Johnny and Bako aren’t that bad really, and we sort of get along as long as no one touches anyone else’s stuff, which isn’t easy in such a small space. But we manage. Johnny’s doing three years for drug dealing, and Bako managed to con his employers out of a few thousand in trumped-up travel expenses. He’s hoping to be sent to an open prison soon as his was a white-collar crime. He’s non-violent and not considered a danger to the public.

I wouldn’t describe myself as violent either, but armed robbery is armed robbery and the system sees it otherwise, so I’ve spent my entire sentence in a closed facility. Still, I’m up for parole soon, and meanwhile I manage to maintain my sanity by spending as much time as I can in the prison gym, and by checking out Officer MacBride’s sweet little arse at every opportunity.

I’m not convinced of the wisdom of female prison officers working in a men’s facility, though I understand the theory well enough. Females defuse situations, and are believed to have a calming effect on us rampant males. I suppose it works, up to a point, as there aren’t that many men, even the hardened criminals who inhabit this place, who would attack a woman without a second thought. Still, it does depend somewhat on how you define calm. The delectable Miss MacBride has a distinctly unsettling effect on me, and I swear she does it on purpose. No woman can fill out a pair of trousers like that, or slink along the corridors oozing sex appeal, and not be aware of it. Can she?

In the past I would have been certain, but it’s been over two years since I got laid, let alone had the chance to hone my spanking skills on a pretty heart-shaped bottom, so I’m rusty. And horny. And bored. This is always a combustible cocktail in my view, so I check Bako’s travel alarm clock again to remind myself how much longer I have to wait before recreation time. I have an hour’s gym session booked and I need it. It’s been three days since I had a decent workout and I’m wound up tight as a spring. I need to work off some of this bloody frustration, get a sweat on and feel the burn or I’ll go mad.

Ten minutes to go. I lay back on my bunk and stare at the underside of Johnny’s mattress two feet from the end of my nose. I start to count.

I reach a steady six hundred and fifty, and check Bako’s clock again. It’s after two in the afternoon. I’m already eating into my session and no screw has arrived to escort me upstairs to the gym. I roll from my bunk to peer out the small peephole in the door. I only have a view of a couple of feet in any direction, but it’s enough to know that there is no officer about to unlock the cell and let me out.

“Expecting someone?” Bako looks up from the newspaper he’s reading on his own bunk.

“Gym session,” I reply. “Should be up there by now.”

Bako shrugs. “Probably short-staffed again. And there’s been bother down on H wing.”

“Not my fucking problem,” I snap, and I kick the bottom of the door in my annoyance. I know better than to imagine I’ll get time added on at the other end of my workout session to make up for what’s lost now.

“Sit down, mate. They’ll be here.” Johnny is the more placid among the three of us; I put it down to the lingering effects of all the weed he’s smoked over the years. He’s content to while away his entire sentence on his bunk and must have gained at least three stones while he’s been in here. One of these days I’m convinced he’s going to come crashing through that fucking bunk and smother me. I really should suggest we swap, but the bottom bunk is best. I had to wait a long time for mine and I’m not giving it up.

I kick the door again, and drop into the one chair we have between the three of us. “Bloody fucking hell, I hate this,” I announce to no one in particular, and tunnel my fingers through my hair. The sooner I can get before that parole board the better. Meanwhile, I start my warm-ups, just in case the fucking screws do actually remember me.

It’s twenty minutes before the rattle of keys in the lock signals some action. The door opens, and my mood lightens just fractionally. Miss MacBride stands in the entrance, beckons me out, then steps back to allow me to pass.

“About time too,” I growl. I might have sworn and kicked up a fuss. I would have if one of the male officers had come along to escort me, but I’m not inclined to this time, not at Miss MacBride. I suppose the prison authorities must be right, she does have a calming effect.

She offers me an apologetic smile. “I’m sorry. I know it’s way past your time, but we don’t have enough officers on today and I got held up in the kitchen. You’ve still got half an hour though.” She sets a cracking pace down the wing and I console myself by hanging back a little, just enough to get a decent view of her gorgeous bottom.

Shit, that pert little arse is just begging to be spanked. I swear my hand is twitching.

I shove the offending limb in my jeans pocket and follow Miss MacBride to the end of the wing where she pauses to manage the locks. We pass through and head up two flights of stairs, then she stops again to unlock the door to the gym.

“Is no one else here?” I ask, surprised.

“Not today. Privileges are withdrawn because of the disturbances down on H wing.”

“How come I’m allowed up here then?”

“You’re on G wing, and I offered to do the extra escort duty.”


“Because I felt like it. Are you going to do those bench presses or not?”

I’m at least a head taller than she is but she tilts her chin with a degree of belligerence, which causes my cock to harden. Christ, in different circumstances what I’d like to do to this tasty little piece. I glower at her, but step into the room and stride across the tiled floor to get started on my favourite bit of apparatus.

I love the weights, could spend all day here if that was permitted. I load up the correct resistances and lay back on the bench to start my workout.

I glance over at Miss MacBride, stationed by the door. “How long do I have?”

“I’m off duty at three. I’ll stay until then, and escort you back to the wing.”

“I had an hour booked.”

“I know, sorry. There’s no one else to take over though, and I need to be off.”

“Something better to do?” I know I sound petulant, and this isn’t her fault. Even so, I’m pissed off and she’s the only one I can vent to.

“I’d stay if I could, but we’ve had some problems with staffing levels, and there’s an overtime ban so—”

“Yeah, right.” I return my attention to the weights and grasp the bar.

I spend the next thirty minutes pumping iron, conscious of Miss MacBride’s quiet presence. She doesn’t move from the edge of the room, nor does she do or say anything to disturb my concentration, at least not intentionally. The truth is, she and her hot little arse distract me just by fucking being there. I move from the bench press to the rowing machine to get some cardiovascular action, even though I know I’ll hardly work up a sweat before it’s time to go back down to the wing. Sure enough, I’m just getting into my rhythm when she calls out to me.

“Time’s up. Could you start your cool-down now, North?”

I glance at the clock on the wall above her head. It’s five minutes past three. Fair enough, I suppose, but still I don’t hurry.

I slow my pace and after a few more seconds allow the rowing machine to come to a stop. I take a couple more minutes to complete my cool-down stretches, and to her credit Miss MacBride seems ready to wait even though I know she’s already late and won’t be getting paid for babysitting me.

I have a brief opportunity to peruse her. I wouldn’t say she was a classic beauty, though it’s hard to be sure under that shapeless prison service-issue jacket. I’d certainly give her the benefit of the doubt. Her short dark hair is neatly cut close in to her neck, and her build is one I would describe as elfin rather than slender, though I’m not quite sure where I dredged that word up from. It just seems to suit her. Miss MacBride’s features are delicate: a finely shaped nose, deep blue eyes, small but full mouth with a slightly protruding lower lip that in my weaker moments I fantasise about nibbling. Her chin is pointed and all too ready to lift in a way I would describe as sassy if I were to meet her on the outside. In here, it’s just her interpretation of authoritative, and she is trying for that look now as I saunter back across the gym toward her.

“Come on, we need to move it.” She opens the door and waits for me to pass her.

I deliberately don’t quicken my pace, just offer her a sardonic nod as I leave the room. She stops to lock it behind us as I continue along the austere, windowless corridor. One day, I promise myself, and soon, I’ll be surrounded by light and fresh air. No more windowless anything for me, not once I’m out of here.

The sound of Miss MacBride’s stout leather soles tapping on the floor echoes down the hallway, her footsteps rapid as she hurries to catch up with me. I have to wait at the top of the stairs in any case as she needs to unlock the door to allow me through. Resentful, I glare at her under my eyebrows, not quite ready to forgive her for this injustice, which is really none of her doing.

“I’m sorry, I’d let you stay longer if I could,” she mumbles as she fiddles with her monster bunch of keys.

I’m inclined to believe her, but I’m still too pissed off to say so. We complete the short walk back to my cell in silence.

I’m late. Again. Andy’s going to kick off. Again.

I close and lock the heavy steel door, fully aware that North is still glowering at me from inside his cell, then I sprint down the wing and through the double set of lockable gates to reach the octagon. That’s what we call the eight-sided central area, the hub if you like from which branch out the spokes of the eight wings that make up this section of the prison. Armley jail is a traditional Victorian building, austere but very functional, I suppose. There are newer sections—for example the education block, the kitchens, and the gymnasium—but the inmates are mainly housed in the old wings. There are communal areas fitted out with snooker tables and a television room, and a chapel of course, but for the most part their time is spent locked up in their cells.

I was surprised to learn this when I joined the prison service eighteen months ago. I had an image of the prison as a place of rehabilitation, where offenders might learn new skills, become ready to re-join society. The truth is we just contain the men for the duration of their sentence, then the system turfs them out and hopes for the best. It rarely works out well; the rate of recidivism is horrendous.

It’s not unusual for the men to spend twenty-three hours a day in their cells, and that can easily stretch to a complete lockdown if circumstances require it. Like now, for instance. We have staffing levels approaching crisis point, and the cutbacks are starting to really impact on the quality of life for the inmates. Education is curtailed, which means the men spend even more time locked up, free association rarely happens, and the gym is used more by off-duty prison staff than it is by the inmates. There is a constant undercurrent of discontent that has become worse recently, fuelled by long-running quarrels and jealousies that always simmer below the surface. It takes very little to ignite the tinderbox and frequent scuffles break out between prisoners, which is why the managers of the prison prefer to keep them locked up and separated. There have been several incidents of officers being threatened. Not me, at least not yet, but we’re all extra vigilant and almost all nonessential contact between prisoners is avoided. The austere regime can’t be helped, but I don’t blame the men for being resentful and sooner or later it’s inevitable that something will erupt.

There are days when I find it hard to remember what I found so attractive about this job, especially when I know that as soon as I get home I’m in for another round of complaining and criticism from Andy. My fiancé loathes my choice of career. He can’t even start to understand what drew me to the prison service and why I stay, and there are times I can see his point. I’m under constant pressure from him to resign, to find something ‘nice’ to do—maybe join him in the finance section of the local council. I could, I suppose, I got an A level in mathematics, but the idea of working in an office leaves me cold.

I hand in my keys and radio and head for the staff cloakroom. I could take a shower—the facilities for officers here are excellent—but I don’t. Andy will be tetchy enough because I’m going to be at least half an hour late and he wanted to go shopping. I knew I’d be pushed to get home in time so I suggested he go alone and I’d meet him in town, then maybe we could get something to eat together. He wouldn’t hear of that and insisted I head home first.

So I do. I nip through the traffic, relieved to have missed the rush hour at least, and dash into the flat we share just forty minutes late.

Andy is seething, as I knew he would be. He grabs his car keys and stalks out without so much as a word of ‘hello,’ ‘how was your day,’ or anything. I follow, wishing I had time at least to change my clothes. All the way into the town centre Andy refuses to so much as speak to me and I wonder, not for the first time, what he would have done if I hadn’t followed him out to the car. Would he have gone alone as I suggested to him? Or would he have stormed back in, demanding to know what I think I’m playing at?

One day, maybe, I’ll find out.

I take advantage of the frosty silence to think back over my day.

Four officers phoned in sick, which meant we were spread even more thinly than usual. That, combined with the scuffles down on H wing meant that most of the inmates spent the day locked up while those of us who did show up for duty patrolled the parts of the prison where trouble seemed ready to kick off. The governor ordered that prisoners could only leave their cells for essential purposes—medical appointments, court appearances, some visits. Education was cancelled, as well as all association and recreation. That strategy might be enough to keep the lid on for now but makes for a bored, discontented wing, and prisoners with a grievance are a volatile bunch. In the long term the policy causes more trouble than it solves.

Still, I got my fix of Jared North today, though I had to bend the rules and piss off Andy to do it. North was down to miss his gym session, but I offered to escort him and not put in for overtime. The wing supervisor was happy enough to let me do it, so I got to ogle him on the bench press for half an hour.

It was not especially professional of me, I know that, but I couldn’t help it. There’s something about that man, something I can’t quite pin down but that makes my stomach clench and causes me to dampen my underwear. He’s off limits, obviously, and I would never dream of making so much as a flirty remark to him, but I can look. And I can imagine.

My good sense screams at me to stay well away from G wing. Jared North, Prisoner Number KG8329 is an armed robber, for Christ’s sake, doing five years. According to his prison record he’s not been any real bother for the last year or so now and might have a shot at parole before much longer, but he’s most definitely bad news, a man to be avoided.

So why, when I could have just clocked off on time and headed home, did I volunteer for unpaid overtime just to escort him to the gym? And having done that, why do I now feel so bloody guilty for having dragged him out of there early? He was lucky to get any time at all.

Tomorrow, if I get a chance, I’ll drop by his cell and try to explain.

Any excuse…

I’m on the late shift today, two in the afternoon until ten at night. Andy always hates this, complains that I’m never at home and when I do get there I’m too tired to be decent company. I suppose he has a point, but mine isn’t a nice nine-to-five job and he knew that when we started seeing each other. He’s still sulking from yesterday and I was secretly quite glad to see the back of him this morning as he left for work. I had a few hours to myself so I got on with cleaning our flat and put something in the slow cooker for later. I was at the outer gate by quarter to two as it takes a while to get through security and onto the wing.

When I eventually get inside it’s to learn that two of yesterday’s absentees are still off sick and we have reliable intelligence to suggest there’s contraband on the wing. Usually that means someone managed to smuggle drugs in, but this time apparently it’s a mobile phone. The governor has ordered a cell search.

I’m paired with another officer and we’re assigned to search the even numbered cells. My colleague, Jim, is an experienced old hand close to retirement. I like him well enough, but I know he’s just working out his final months until he can draw his pension and he’s looking for a quiet life. He’ll be well and truly pissed off if we do find anything because the aftermath of that entails hours of reports and form-filling, and Jim just wants to clock off and go home to his Doris who’s making a shepherd’s pie this evening, I gather.

I find I have little interest in clocking off myself as it’s only Andy waiting for me, with his sour face and unending complaints. I’ll do any paperwork that might arise.

“Okay, everyone outside. Stand in the corridor.” Jim unlocks cell number two and the occupants file out past us to lounge against the emulsioned brick wall opposite. Their expressions are sullen but resigned; this is a common enough occurrence.

Jim and I step into the narrow cell and start the search. We strip the beds, lift mattresses, drag the bedframes away from the walls, then do the same with the small items of other furniture. We open drawers, cupboards, even lift the lid on the cistern. All personal property is examined, then one by one Jim does a pat-down of each of the men themselves. As a female officer I’m not permitted to do that so I finish off the cell search by shaking out the laundry. I try not to make too much mess, but this is never a tidy business and the men are expected to clear up after we’ve finished.

We find nothing and move on to repeat it all in the next cell along.

The cell occupied by Jared North is the eighth on our list. He rolls from his bunk and files out with the other two inmates. As I start the bed search I can see him leaning against the doorframe, his back to me. He is chatting to his cellmates, seemingly unconcerned that his belongings are about to be heaped onto the floor for him to sort out later. There are days I hate this job, and today is one of them.

I leave the toilet to Jim and quickly strip the top bunk. I find nothing and move down to drag North’s mattress from the metal frame. I might have missed it, but for the faint clunk as I pull the bed out. There’s something lodged inside the mattress cover. I glance up to see that Jim is still occupied in the toilet cubicle. I open my mouth to call out to him, but I don’t. Instead I run my fingers around the edges of the thin mattress to discover whatever it is that shouldn’t be there.

A hard, flat shape meets my questing fingers. It could be the phone we’re seeking. My heart sinks—North will end up on report for this, and probably find himself back on a basic wing. Bloody idiot, what was he thinking of?

I slip my hand inside the mattress cover to grasp the offending item, and I pull it out.

Not a phone. A camera. I turn it over in my hand. It’s one of those tiny digital things, the sort you just point and press, and quite new I’d say. And definitely contraband. Without thinking through what I’m doing I slip it into the pocket of my uniform trousers and continue with the search.

I refuse to even look at North as Jim concludes our business with the obligatory pat-down, though the prisoner can’t fail to have seen the mess I’ve made of his neat bed. He has to know what I found, but he’s saying nothing. Even more inexplicable, neither am I.

The following day I clock on, the camera still tucked in my pocket. Needless to say, I checked the memory card at home after my shift. North seems to like to take pictures of prison life, though I’m relieved to see he’s not particularly interested in photographing other prisoners. I would have to take issue with that; even hardened criminals are entitled to their privacy. The pictures on the card are of his cell, the wing, the laundry where he usually works. And there are several of me.

I resolve to ask him about those, though I’m not at all sure I want to know his answer.

I check the work rota, and find that North is in the laundry. I spend a couple of hours on paperwork and do my usual rounds of the cells and communal areas, then make my way along to the utility wing where our industrial-sized washing machines are housed.

North is occupied piling small bags of underwear into the huge dryer. Prisoners like to get the same underwear back from the wash as the alternative is to wear things that hundreds of other men might have worn before and of course no one likes that. Each man has a small cotton bag that they can mark with their name, and into that they place all their small, personal items of laundry. With luck, the bag will be returned to the wing with its contents still inside, but now freshly laundered. The system works, on the whole.

Another prisoner is here too, but I know that Pearson is due a visit later so he’ll need to be making his way to the visitors’ suite before long, for processing.

“Pearson, you’re going to be late.” He has plenty of time, but I want to talk to North alone.

“No, miss. I’m fine for a bit yet.” Pearson seems quite content to continue shoving clothes into the steam press and slamming down the lid. I watch him for a couple of minutes before I try again.

“We’re short-staffed today, everything takes longer. Better get a move on, Pearson.”

“Is someone else coming, then?” Pearson switches off his laundry press and ambles over to where I’m stationed by the door. The regulations require at least two people to be present when the laundry is in use in case of accidents.

“Soon. I’ll let you out then I’ll stay with North until Jackson arrives.”

It’ll be at least half an hour before the next prisoner is detailed to come down and take over from Pearson, which should be ample time to ask Jared North about the camera. I precede the prisoner down to the gates at the end of the utility wing corridor and let him through. From there another officer will let Pearson back onto the wing, and onto the visitors’ suite. I relock the security gate and return to the laundry room.

North is still occupied with his task, though he does glance at me over his shoulder as I re-enter the huge room, then he switches his attention back to his work.

“I want my property back.” His curt remark is delivered without even looking at me. He straightens, flexes his muscles, and drags another wheeled bin of dirty laundry in the direction of an empty washing machine.

“You’re not supposed to have a camera in here. You know that.”

“Neither are you, Miss MacBride.” Now he does turn to regard me fully, one hip propped on the edge of the bin, his expression inscrutable. “Care to explain?”

I don’t. I don’t care to explain at all. I have nothing even vaguely resembling an explanation to offer, either to North or to myself.

“Where did you get it?” I try to inject a note of authority into my question.

He simply shakes his head.

I try again, piling on the officiousness as best I can. “Someone brought it in for you. I want to know who that was.”

More head-shaking.

“I could put you on report, you do realise that?”

Now he just chuckles. “But you won’t. You can’t.”


He continues as though I hadn’t spoken. “Because if you do, you’ll have to also explain why you didn’t report it yesterday. Why you hid it, and I assume took it home with you. And why you brought it back. I hope you did bring my camera back, Miss MacBride.”

“Why did you take pictures of me?” I blurt out the question, homing in on the one aspect of all this that makes me most uncomfortable. And most exhilarated.

He smiles and meets my gaze, though he appears rather calmer than I am right now.

“Because I like looking at you.”

“What do you mean? That’s, that’s…”

“You’re prettier than Mr. Drummond.”

“That’s not saying much.” Our wing supervisor is certainly no oil painting, I’m not sure I appreciate the comparison.

“Perhaps not. So, are you going to give it back to me?” He holds out his hand, one eyebrow raised in what could only be described as a direct challenge.

I tilt up my chin; assertiveness is everything in these confrontational situations between officers and prisoners. “No, North, I’m not. It’s a contraband item and it’s been confiscated.”

He appears quite unruffled. “I see. Very well, I’ll apply to the governor for it to be returned.”

“No! No, you can’t.” I take a step toward him, then pause, uncertain how best to proceed.

“Can I not? Oh, I understand, because then you’ll have to explain how it found its way into your pocket during the cell search. Yes, I can see that might be awkward. Still, that isn’t really my problem.” He starts to load the laundry into the machine. “Could you close the door as you leave, Miss MacBride?”

I stand, glaring at his muscled back, intensely aware of the camera nestling in my pocket. He has me, it’s as simple as that. I have no choice.

“Okay, you can have it back. But you have to delete the pictures of me.”

He turns to face me again. “Are you still here, Miss MacBride?”

I retrieve the camera from my pocket and hold it out to him. “Delete the photographs of me and, and you need to promise you won’t take any more.”

“I don’t need to promise you anything. Why didn’t you delete the pictures if it matters so much to you? You had all night to do it.”

Because they were yours. I scowl at him, reluctant to acknowledge the truth of the matter, even to myself. And perhaps because I was flattered by the attention, by the fact that this enigmatic, compelling man thought me interesting enough to want to take my picture. Even as I allow that ridiculous notion to crystallise, I quash it. He’s a criminal, a prisoner. He is not someone whose opinion matters to me.

I press the on/off button on the top of the camera and squint at the menu of controls that appear in the small screen on the rear. I try to navigate through to select and delete the pictures of me, but I’m soon hopelessly lost. It was easy enough to find my way around the gadget last night in the privacy of my own kitchen, but here, under the harsh scrutiny of Jared North himself, I’m all thumbs.

“Shall I?” He holds out his hand again, and I pass the camera to him.

In just a couple of seconds he has selected the pictures of me and they are ready to be erased. He hands the camera back. “You do it, then you’ll know for sure that they’re gone.”

I shake my head. “I trust you.”

“Really? How touching, Miss MacBride.” He hits ‘delete’ and the offending photographs disappear. “But can I trust you, I wonder?”

“I won’t report the camera, if that’s what you mean.”

“It wasn’t, but I’ll settle for that. I should thank you, I suppose, for rescuing me in the cell search.”

“Just… don’t take pictures of people, okay? And make sure no one else finds it.”

He pockets the camera, then leans back on the laundry bin to regard me with undisguised interest. “So, why didn’t you report me? That wasn’t very officer-like of you.”

“It’s complicated. I suppose I believe people should have a chance, that’s all.”

“Bullshit. You know the rules. So do I. It’s my job to break them, yours to enforce. So, why didn’t you?”

I step back and start to turn away. “I have to go. Like I said before, we’re short-staffed.”

I march across the laundry, the sound of my stout leather boots echoing around the space.

“Wait, Miss MacBride.”

Something in his tone stops me in my tracks. Halfway to the door I halt and turn to face him again.

“Come back here.”

It’s a command. Here. In this place, I issue instructions and prisoners obey. Somehow though, that seems not to apply between Jared North and myself. Putting one foot in front of the other, I make my way back to stand before him

“I meant it. Thank you for not reporting me. I do appreciate it. I’m curious about why you kept your mouth shut, but if you prefer not to say I can live with that.” He smiles at me, and there’s genuine warmth in his slate grey eyes. They’re a beautiful colour, deep, rich, very dark. And very, very sexy.

Out of my depth now, totally at sea, I offer him a brief nod. “I really do need to be getting off.” Even so, I make no move to leave.

“I know.” He cups my chin in his hand, his touch gentle but confident. Something coils and clenches, deep in my stomach. My breath hitches as he lowers his face toward mine. “I meant it, you know. You really are a whole lot prettier than Drummond. Quite lovely, in fact.”

“North, I—”

“Shhh,” he whispers, then he brushes his lips across mine.

I gasp, but I don’t pull away. Instead, I stand perfectly still, my lips parted, waiting.

North is unhurried. He rests his forehead against mine as he cradles my face between his hands, but still he does nothing to deepen the kiss, if it was even a kiss at all.

“What are you doing? You shouldn’t…” My protest is whispered, breathy.

“No,” agrees North. And still he doesn’t release me. Neither does he back off.

Moments lengthen, time seems to stand still, but I’m the one who cracks first. Suddenly I can stand it no longer. I reach for him, looping my arms around his neck and I stretch up on my toes to slant my lips over his.

It’s as though he was waiting for me to commit, to do something, anything. He responds instantly, plunging his tongue into my mouth to stroke and taste me. His fingers tangle in my hair, combing the cropped strands back from my face as he takes over to deepen the kiss.

I hang on to him, even as I berate myself for what I’m doing, what I’m allowing to happen. This is wrong, on so many levels. This is forbidden. I’m breaking every rule, every principle, all my values tossed up in the air. I hate myself even as I reach to tangle my fingers in his dark, silky hair to pull him closer.

Without breaking the kiss North starts to move, pushing, walking me backwards until I’m pressed up against one of the huge machines. He plants his left hand beside my head and continues to kiss me, as the other hand trails a leisurely path down my regulation-issue jacket to rest at my hip. He presses against me, the bulge of his erection unmistakeable against my lower abdomen. Without conscious thought I slide my hand between our bodies to reach for him, then stroke my fingers along the solid length of his cock.

“Ah, Miss MacBride, that feels good.” His tone is low, a sensual murmur as he nuzzles my neck.

“Yes, I—”

“Anyone here? North? What are you up to?”

I am jolted back to my senses as Jackson’s voice rings out around the utility room. His footsteps sound as he marches toward where we are concealed behind the industrial washer. I stare up at North, desperate now. We can’t be found here, together. We just can’t.

North lays a finger over my lips to signal me to be quiet.

He calls out to the other man. “I’m here. Won’t be a sec.”

“Where’s the stuff for C wing?” We hear the sound of wheeled bins being shunted around as Jackson searches for his first delivery of the afternoon.

“Over there, by the door.” Jared steps away from me, and winks. He actually bloody well winks at me before he turns and strides off to help the other man. By the time I peer around the edge of the washing machine North is ushering Jackson out of the room. He glances back over his shoulder and lifts a hand to me as he follows the other prisoner, leaving me alone to make my escape.

My heart is in my mouth as I clock on for my next shift. I can’t face North again after what happened yesterday, I just can’t. I report to the poky, cluttered wing office to learn that staffing levels are a little better so the lockdown is relaxed. Education is reinstated, and some free association is permitted for prisoners with enhanced status.

I’m stationed on G wing as usual so I take up my normal position at the end of the recreation hall to keep an eye on things. Aside from my personal tribulations we’re still on alert for potential disturbances. The cell search of a couple of days ago did nothing to calm the prisoners’ mood and we all know that if there’s going to be trouble, it will start out here.

Today though things seem unusually calm, and I spend an hour exchanging clipped pleasantries with the men who wander down toward my end. For the most part they are civil to me, and I find it works best if I return the courtesy. We all get along better then. Not all officers see the point in engaging in conversation with prisoners, an attitude I find frankly baffling. My more experienced colleagues such as Jim insist I’ll come around to their way of thinking eventually. I sincerely hope not.

“Go on, you can take your break now if you like.” The wing supervisor, Mr. Drummond, has arrived to take over the watch. He’s an officer with twenty years under his belt and he reckons he knows everything there is to know about incarcerating offenders. He’s a great believer in keeping prisoners in line, showing them who’s boss, in whatever way seems to work. Mr. Drummond has been on report for using ‘excessive force’ a number of times and actually brags about it. He makes me nervous, and the men loathe him. But he’s in charge and I’m not, so I nod and move toward the outer gate.

Then I pause, look back over my shoulder. I know Jared North isn’t in the recreation room because I’d have noticed—definitely. I escorted Bako, one of his cellmates, down to the education block earlier so he’s not going to be back for a while yet, and yes, the third man is playing snooker. That means there’s a reasonable chance I’ll find Prisoner KG8329 alone in his cell. I can’t avoid him so I might as well face the problem head on. At the very least I owe him an apology for my appalling behaviour yesterday, and I’m still uncomfortable about the way I curtailed his gym session earlier in the week. This might be an ideal time to talk to him, especially as I’m on my break so I can’t be accused of time-wasting.

I turn on my heel and march back along the wing to the cells at the far end.

North’s door is ajar, and I hear the low hum of the radio coming from inside. I halt at the entrance and peer round the door. All three bunks are empty. Disappointed, I start to withdraw.

“Something I can do for you, Miss MacBride?” The voice is drawling, not quite mocking me but not far from it. There is something in North’s tone that always causes my stomach to clench. Despite what happened between us yesterday I know he dislikes me, and I understand why. I’m a screw, it’s in the nature of our relationship that he should distrust and despise me, but still his contempt hurts. That kiss yesterday confused things but I doubt anything has fundamentally changed. I wish the situation were different. I wish I could impress him, somehow manage to earn his approval, if only a little.

My apology for grabbing and groping him yesterday might help. I step right inside the cell. North is seated at the table behind the door, which had concealed him from my sight at first. He has a pen in his hand and a sheet of paper laid out in front of him.

“I’m glad I’ve caught you.”

One dark, sardonic eyebrow lifts. “Oh, were you thinking I might have slipped out then? Gone down the pub, perhaps, or decided to catch the latest Bond movie? Leeds United are at home this afternoon, maybe you thought I’d be at the match.”

I know better than to react. I take a deep breath and continue. “I just wanted to talk to you for a moment, that’s all. But if I’m disturbing you, it can wait.” I take step back, intending to leave him to whatever he’s doing.

“Wait, Miss MacBride.” His tone is stern and authoritative. I find myself obeying. Again. He lays his pen down on the table and smiles at me, his expression nothing short of dazzling. “That was uncalled for. I didn’t mean to be rude. What was it you wanted to talk about?”

I step back inside and pull the door closed behind me to reduce the likelihood of being overheard. There is nothing wrong in an officer speaking to a prisoner one to one, but this conversation is private and I prefer to keep it between ourselves.

“I wanted to apologise, about yesterday. And about your gym session.”

“Oh?” He lifts that eyebrow again but says nothing more to help.

“Yes.” I decide to concentrate on the gym; it’s the less personal of the two incidents. “For cutting short your workout. I know how much you enjoy using the gym, so…”

He leans forward, his elbows resting on the table. “As I understood it, you were doing unpaid overtime just escorting me up there.”

“I was, but you still had to finish early and I’m sorry. That’s all, really.”

“Was it your fault?”

“That’s not the point. It wasn’t your fault either, but you were the one to lose out.”

“You didn’t answer my question, Miss MacBride. I asked you if it was your fault.”

I shake my head. “No.”

“So, why are you here? Really?”

“I told you, to apologise.”

“Why, if it was none of your doing? How were you responsible? Why do you think you owe me an apology?”

“Because I was late taking you up there, and I made you leave before your hour was up. I was already on overtime—”

“Unpaid overtime.”

“Yes, unpaid, but I was there anyway, so I could have stayed longer. I should have. I could tell you were angry, so I thought…” I run out of words. This was a bad idea, I should never have started this conversation.

“And yesterday?”

“I should never have done—that. It was unprofessional.”

“Which bit?”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, was it unprofessional to hide my camera from the cell search? Or to take it home with you, then bring it back in here for me? Or maybe it was the kiss that’s bothering you, although that was the bit I preferred the most.”

“All of it,” I confirm, utterly miserable. “I can’t even start to think what got into me. Or what you must think. I don’t normally leap on prisoners like that.”

“No? That’s a pity.” He pauses, cocking his head to one side as he peruses me with interest. “Is that it? Have you covered everything now? All your sins laid bare?”

“It’s enough. You’d be within your rights to report me for sexual harassment.”

His eyes widen, then he laughs out loud. “Miss MacBride, you really are full of surprises. You thought I was angry with you? Offended even?”

“Yes, of course. Or you should be. I behaved like a, a…”

“A slut?”

“What? No!”


“Well, yes. Perhaps. I’m not like that, though, not really.”

“And that bothers you?”

“Yes. A little.”

“A little?”

His expression of disbelief suggests I’m not fooling him at all. He’s right. Under his questioning I find myself wanting to admit that his displeasure over the last couple of days bothers me a lot. Much more than I at first realised.

“More than a little,” I agree. “I’ll try to make it up to you?”

“I see. And how do you intend to do this, Miss MacBride? Extra visiting privileges, perhaps? Or maybe some more money to spend? Do you have money for me, Miss MacBride?”

“Of course not.” I am indignant at the suggestion. I might have something of a temporary crush on this particular prisoner, which has led to some serious lapses in judgement, but a bent officer I am not. “I just wanted to make it right, that’s all, and if you think I’m going to let you use this as an excuse to get extra privileges then you can think again. It’s not happening.” I turn to leave.

“Wait.” The single word drips with authority. It’s another command; he expects me to obey.

I turn to face him, my hand still on the door. “Yes?”

“I accept your apology, Miss MacBride, but if you were in the wrong over all these matters, and you clearly believe that you were, then that deserves a punishment, does it not? Isn’t that how these things work?”

“Is it?”

“I think so. And so do you. That’s why you’re here.”

“I have no idea what you mean.”

“You came here to be punished.”

“No, I didn’t.”

I tip up my chin as he gets to his feet to pace to the far end of the cell. He leans on the wall eight feet from where I stand and he watches me. His arms are folded across his chest, and just like yesterday he is quite still, quite calm, which is more than can be said for me. My heart is thumping, my breathing rapid. I dread to think what is happening to my blood pressure under that cool, hard scrutiny.

At last, he speaks. “Miss MacBride, you deserve a spanking. A good, hard spanking and I’m more than happy to oblige you.”

“That’s ridiculous!” I can’t believe he actually said something so outrageous.

“Is it? Okay then. You can close the door on your way out.” He makes no move toward me, nor does he return to his bunk. For myself, I am rooted to the spot.

His gaze is unwavering, assured. The corner of his lip quirks. He watches as I struggle to find my next words. He is patient, leisurely almost, allowing me all the time I need to process his shocking and wholly inappropriate suggestion. My voice when it emerges is more a strangled squeak.

“All right. Thank you.”

“Is that ‘all right, thank you, I’m leaving now’? Or ‘all right, thank you, please spank me’?”

My eyes must be like saucers. I can barely comprehend what he is proposing. “What, here? Now?”

“Here and now is where we find ourselves, so yes, I think that would be best.”

“Will it hurt?” Jesus, where did that come from?

“Oh, yes. Would you want it any other way?”

Probably not. My pussy is moistening as I anticipate what’s to come, despite the impossible situation. For heaven’s sake, anyone might walk in.

“You have keys, Miss MacBride. If you’re worried we might be disturbed you could always lock the door.”

I gape at him. Did I really voice my only objection out loud?

He smiles at me again and holds out his hand. “Let me, Miss MacBride. The keys, please?”

And—I do it. I actually hand over my keys to one of the prison inmates. It’s the cardinal sin among officers, and I’ve committed it without a murmur of protest. North steps around me to pull the door closed and uses my key to lock it. He then hands the heavy bunch back to me.

“You need to keep these safe, Miss MacBride.” He murmurs the advice, then drops a light kiss on my forehead.

Beyond amazed, I take the keys and shove them back in the pocket of my uniform trousers. Then I stand and stare at him, totally at a loss for what to do next. North helps me out of my predicament by sitting down again on the chair where he was seated when I entered. He leans back, his expression serious though not threatening in any sense. He hasn’t said so, but I have no doubt that if I chose to I could just unlock the door and walk out of here and he wouldn’t lift a finger to prevent me leaving.

“I’ll be spanking your bare bottom, so if you would be so good as to lower your trousers to your knees, then you can lie across my lap.”

“I… I…”

“Do not keep me waiting, Miss MacBride.”

“My name’s Molly.” I blurt it out. It seems important to me that if I’m to accept a spanking from this man, and it seems that I am doing just that, then he should at least know my name.

“Molly? That’s pretty. It suits you. I’m Jared, though I imagine you already knew that.”

I nod. I checked his records, though we never use other than last name and number to address a prisoner. “Jared,” I repeat. “I knew someone at school called Jared.”

“Did you?” He pauses for a few moments, his head cocked to one side. “Are you playing for time, Molly?”

“No, of course not.” I take a step toward him.

“Good, because even though we’re locked in here it won’t be long before someone comes looking for you. We wouldn’t want to be disturbed, would we?”

“No. I’m on my break, I have half an hour…”

“I see. That should be enough time. Shall we get on, then?”

“Yes, of course.” I move to stand beside him, wondering how to proceed. What is the protocol for this? Is there even such a thing?

“Your trousers, Molly. Bare bottom, remember. Perhaps you’d like to take off your jacket, too.”

I chew on my lower lip, every professional instinct, every shred of modesty I ever possessed screaming at me to turn now and run. I do none of that though. Instead, my fingers are shaking as I unbutton my uniform jacket and take it off. I lay it across the bunk I know to be Jared North’s then I unfasten the front of my trousers and lower the zip.

“Push them down, please.” He is implacable and not letting me off any of this. I have no choice but to do as he says. At this moment I have no notion where this craving to be spanked came from, even less where it has been lurking all these years. But once he shone his spotlight on my suppressed desire, I was somehow caught in the beam, unable to step away. And now, if I’m to receive the spanking I apparently crave, he will require me to prepare myself for it. I must bare my bottom, and submit to him.

It’s time to embrace the inevitable. I hook my thumbs over the waistband of my loosened trousers and I shove them down.

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