I know I said I would do it, and I was all set to go through with it, but when I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror, I lost my nerve.
I looked good and had, by chance, put on a costume that wasn’t as trashy as the usual garb around here. Maybe that was the problem: I saw my long limbs, my lithe body, my pale skin, and my pretty blonde hair, and I thought: what the hell am I doing?
I swore I would never do this.
When I started working at Kitty Bang Bang, I was a waitress only. Absolutely firm about that. I knew I had a killer body—and Chris, the old owner, and all of his skeezy friends and ‘associates’ pointed that out whenever they got the chance, in the sleaziest way possible—but stripping was not for me. It was a bridge too far. I needed money, but I’d seen where stripping leads: straight to turning tricks, being a mule, or just getting whacked because you were in the wrong place at the wrong time. Guys sometimes just flipped out and beat girls up for no reason.
The problem, of course, was that I needed money, and I needed it fast. Suffice it to say I’d chosen to love the wrong people and had the wrong friends.
So waitressing at Kitty Bang Bang seemed like a good deal, and Chris said no problem, with a smirk on his face that indicated he thought the allure of the money the girls were making would suck me in.
He doesn’t know me, I figured.
And I was doing just what I’d said I’d do: waiting tables, keeping out of the way, and not stripping.
Until we got this new owner.
Russians. These guys just didn’t give a shit. Not about rules, not about people’s problems, not about feelings, and definitely not about any previous arrangement I’d had with Chris. So Andrej—he’s a big meathead, with a thick neck and a thick accent and some scary-ass tattoos—made it pretty clear as soon as he took over: no stripping, no job.
I walked out, of course, because no one tells me what to do.
I’d find another job, right? I’m a hard worker and I have a pretty face, and most of the girls don’t even want to wait on tables when they aren’t dancing, because it isn’t where the big money is and it’s a lot of work.
I hit the pavement and figured I’d have a job in no time.
Now, when I say job, the only problem was that I needed a job that paid about fifteen hundred dollars a week, required no degree, background check, or training, and didn’t happen during the day. My choices were pretty limited.
But I thought whatever. I’m a good-looking, blonde, nineteen-year-old girl. I figured, after Andrej gave me the ax, I could find a job at The Den or Diamond Studs or any of the other craptastic strip joints along Brighton Avenue, because frankly, being attractive and not having track marks makes you the Brighton Avenue equivalent of a Harvard Business School graduate.
But fuck me if anyone would hire me on.
Not as a waitress.
Not as a stripper.
And finally I got the message. That prick Andrej had gone around telling everyone not to hire me.
So I marched back into his shithole establishment, and I told him to go to hell. He laughed at me.
To be honest, I didn’t believe for a minute that Andrej was anything but some Russian prick who liked to pretend he had mob connections so that everyone was afraid of him. I really gave him an earful.
I should have looked a little closer at his tattoos.
So long story short, Andrej had me over a barrel: no one on Brighton Avenue or anywhere else was going to hire me, and if I ever talked to Andrej like that again, I was going to end up somewhere dark. Like the inside of a carpet in a dumpster.
Okay… no, thanks to that either.
“All I want you to do, Natalie, is put on a nice show for my guests,” Andrej told me. “You’re a nice, pretty little girl, good as Russian doll. And I know I can count on you to keep quiet. You’re smart, and you need some money. So I pay for your little friend to stay at rehab place, and you take off clothes and keep mouth shut. Simple deal. No complication.”
“No sex,” I snarled.
Because no matter how desperate I was, I was not going down that road.
Andrej smiled. Personally, I think I got a few weirdo mob brownie points with him for being sassy. This girl Jen says those guys like a little sass. Not a lot—that will get your eye blackened—just a little.
“No sex,” Andrej said agreeably. “Two thousand a week. You work upstairs.” He had pointed at the office upstairs, where no one but thugs was allowed to go.
I’ve seen mob movies before, so I should have known where this was going. Irrationally, though, I said:
He smiled. It looked like he moved his head in an affirmative nod. But who knew with these Russians? For all I knew, he could have meant, “No.”
I folded my arms and glared at him. “You gotta say it.”
“No sex,” he said casually.
And then he stood up. I’m not sure I had ever seen Andrej standing before. He is a big guy. He towered over me, and he had a mean glint in his eye. The kind of glint that made me re-think the way I’d been so flippant with him.
I held it together, but only just.
“But your mouth?” he said. Then he put a big meaty finger on my upper lip and a thumb on my lower lip, and he pressed them together hard. It hurt, and I had an invisible bruise the next day that made it hard to eat. Not that I’d ever show him that. Then he mimed buttoning them, zipping them, and throwing away a key.
“You don’t know nothing about nothing,” he said coldly.
And then he mimed slicing his neck. “Or anyone.”
I was in too deep, but I didn’t really have a choice.
It was also—at least for a while—a good gig. He paid me cash, they spoke Russian ninety percent of the time, I kept my eyes on my tray. No one asked me for blowjobs—in fact, no one asked me for anything, and I went home earlier than the other girls most nights. It was pretty obvious that some seriously illegal shit was going on up there, but I told myself I was too dumb to notice it, and that was the story I’d tell anyone who asked.
I’ll admit, I got used to it, and I made a devil’s bargain. It wasn’t my business what Andrej was up to; him or his Russian friends, or his other friends who spoke English with accents. It was all Greek to me. Lucy had her room at Stoney Creek, and I got one extra hour of sleep, which made a real difference in my grades.
Because I am going to finish my degree and get a real job and get the hell out of here.
That went on for a while. I got used to Easy Street.
But then he showed up.
And all that went out the window.
“This guy,” Andrej said, his hands trembling, which scared the shit out of me, “you do whatever he says. Okay? No fucking lip, Natalie, I’m serious.”
“You told me—”
Andrej had his hand on my throat so fast I didn’t see it coming, and I was a little confused as to why my eyes were watering.
His eyes were bugging out, and I had a second to think this was the end, when someone spoke Russian to the left of us.
Or some Slavic-sounding language.
Again, not my business.
How to describe this voice? Not deadpan, because deadpan is for when you’re trying not to be funny. This was the kind of flat, controlled, serious voice that you just know has never been funny in its life.
Andrej let go of me as fast as he grabbed me, and he was shaking for real. Tremors just below the surface of his skin, which terrified me more than if he’d just wigged out.
I rolled my head along the wall to look at this guy—voice guy—and the stage lights were on behind him. But his silhouette was bulky—not like Andrej, leaner than that, and wearing the kind of suit that shines because the material is more than your monthly rent per yard. But muscles pressed against it in all directions, and… I don’t know. You just know when a person is someone you don’t fuck with.
I got the shakes just like Andrej. Right under my skin.
“Got it,” I said, just to have something to say.
“Upstairs,” Andrej whispered, and now he almost seemed to be pleading with me.
Another short sentence came from the mystery man, who had his hands in his pockets and hadn’t moved. This time his voice sounded like whiskey, and I don’t speak Russian, but I somehow knew what was said. I mean… ‘problem’ in Russian is ‘problem’ with a Russian accent, so it wasn’t that hard to figure out.
He said, “Is there a problem?”
“Nyet.” Andrej said, his eyes still on mine. “Natalie will go get into costume. She will be ready in five minute.”
This last bit definitely happened in English, because Andrej said it more for me than for the mystery man. In other words, Natalie would get into her costume and be ready in five minutes, or else.
I didn’t have a lot of time to think about it. But it was a pretty easy calculation, kind of like a Mack truck headed at you: if the ‘or else’ is something that made a guy like Andrej nervous, well… you better get out of the way.
So I got into a costume—the only one I could find in five minutes—and got into the private room to give this guy the first dance of my life.
A private dance.
Two problems presented themselves right away, of course: one, I wasn’t a dancer, and two, I didn’t want to be.
And three: everyone in Kitty Bang Bang knew what ‘private dance’ meant, and I was no virgin, but I wasn’t into that.
There was also this problem: This guy, whoever he was, was just about the scariest person I’d ever seen in my life. He wasn’t especially big, though there was definitely some hard muscle behind his purple shirt. It was just… his eyes were dark, which is to say, they were blue, but they were dark—the kind of eyes that had a lot going on behind them and I just knew it wasn’t good. His jaw was square and covered in a stubble that looked as sharp as his gaze, and his mouth—plump lips, perfectly sculpted—was resting in an expression that was… well, unsmiling.
In like, a serial killer sort of way.
Good-looking serial killer way, but still scary as hell.
His hair was dark, almost black, and if he weren’t so scary and his arms weren’t so bulky, he would have looked like a model. There was a tattoo on his neck, and I could see some ink under his cuff.
It set my stomach on ‘cold’ right away.
He was sitting when I came in. Eyes on me like a predator: unflinching, unsparing, hungry in an ‘eat-you-for-dinner’ kind of a way. At the same time, I had a thought go through my mind, right through my brain, down my spine, and right to my pussy, where it throbbed: I could almost feel what that sharp stubble would be like against my inner thigh.
I realized that I was in a very bad situation.
I reached this moment of clarity too late. The door had just clicked behind me, and I had my hand on the handle. I turned it, while doing my best impression of a real stripper for Mystery Man.
But Andrej must have known I’d chicken out. The door was locked.
Mystery Man looked impatient.
Well, I thought. It was a good run. The realization washed slowly over me: of course things would have ended like this when I worked as a waitress at a Russian mafia-owned strip joint.
I was a lot of things, but above all I was a realist.
So I decided to get on with my life by getting out of that room with my life. If this guy was going to try to serial-killer me, I wouldn’t make it easy for him.
“What’s your name, tiger?” I said, throwing myself into my role. At that moment, I had a thought flit through my head: why had this guy asked for me, of all people?
His face didn’t move. He just blinked slowly, tilted his chin, and leaned back in his chair. His mouth didn’t smile, but for some reason he gave the impression of being very cruelly amused by what I had just said.
Sort of like a cat with a mouse.
Well, that didn’t take long. I was out of strategies. This guy didn’t really seem interested in me in a stripper kind of way, which was bad news.
I looked at the door with desperation, and then back at the guy. “You speak English?” I asked, dropping my stripper act.
Nothing. He just looked me up and down. I could actually feel his cool gaze like fingers along my body.
This guy was very, very hot.
But scary, I reminded myself.
“Um,” I said, and I looked at the stage. It was best to just get on with it.
Which is when I saw myself: silver panties, glittering bra, thigh-high stockings, clear plastic heels I could barely walk in. All of it supposedly coming off soon.
I met my own eye in the mirror.
I’d always believed that if anything ever came to it, I’d draw a line. It was about my own ethics and whatnot. But when I saw his cool gaze behind me, I lost my nerve.
“I’m Katie,” I lied hopefully, forgetting that Andrej had already used my name.
He looked amused. My heart lifted a little.
“Al,” he said plainly.
For a second I didn’t understand.
He kept staring, and the amusement drained out of his face.
“You don’t look like an Al,” I said doubtfully, trying one last time to make a joke.
Al narrowed his eyes. I physically felt his diminished gaze squeeze me in the abdomen, as surely as if he’d reached forward and twisted his fingers right into my gut. Embarrassingly, I also got a little pang of lust.
I had an idea then, and it made me have two feelings at once: maybe this guy was FBI or something. That gave me a hopeful rush, because then I wouldn’t have to… it was too embarrassing to even think. And he wouldn’t kill me. But it was also terrifying, because if he was a Fed or a cop, then Andrej would probably kill me.
“You’re not a cop, are you?” I asked.
Nothing. A little flicker of amusement, and quick shake of his right wrist while he sort of cracked his neck. This unintentionally called attention to his tattoos.
Yeah, no. This guy was not Fed or cop, and I had just pissed him off making that suggestion.
“Okay,” I said, more for myself than him. “I’ll just… start dancing now, then.”
Why not? If a tree falls and embarrasses itself right before getting knocked off by a hot, scary guy in the back room of a trashy strip joint, does anyone care?
I climbed on the small stage, which was a sturdy circular table with a pole running through the middle and LED lights under a thick plastic top that served as the floor. When I stepped up the ladder, a staircase for pampered dogs to get into their owners’ beds, I tripped and nearly fell… the shoes I’d grabbed were too big. I had to steady myself on the pole and my ankle twisted almost all the way to the floor. I smiled, and struck a pretty lame pose.
I could do this. And if I did it long enough, maybe I would think of something to get myself out of this situation.
And then I realized I had no music playing.
My face was red, a curious mix of embarrassment and fear, and maybe attraction… I didn’t know. Just get it over with, I thought.
“I, uh… need to, uh… put the music on,” I stammered.
I looked around the room, locating what I thought was the stereo system. Clumsily, I climbed off the stage and wobbled over to the system, only to be mystified about how it worked when I got there.
Okay, I thought. This was actually perfect. I could just bang on the door, tell Andrej I needed some music, and then escape.
In these shoes. Yeah, right.
I spent a lot of time in the corner, ‘inspecting’ the stereo, thinking about how I could slip out of my shoes, and which way I would run, and what I would do after I did. My throat was getting choked up, my heart was throbbing in my throat, and my stomach was giving a series of wrenching twists.
I jumped when I heard the music, and I looked over to see him setting his phone down on the table next to him. Music played from it.
No drinks, I noticed.
God. Even worse. Staying sober to methodically chop me up, I guessed. I’d noticed that all the Russian hatchet jobs that came through never did any drugs or drank any vodka.
Fuck. Had I heard too much, or seen something?
The song was R&B. He looked at me as if to say, ‘problem solved.’
Maybe he did say that.
But it was pretty clear: there would be no leaving, the door would stay locked, and I was going to have to dance.
I moved toward the stage, and started back up the doggie steps, my stomach churning.
“Don’t go on the stage,” he said.
I froze, and looked over at him. The heat of his gaze sent a flush through me that was scandalously… well, hot.
So hot. The back of my neck crawled with a delicious feeling, and I was mortified to feel a wave of hot liquid swell up in the silver panties. I could feel red crawl over my cheeks.
“Um… don’t you want—?”
His accent didn’t sound anything like Andrej’s, which was a strange thing to notice at the time, but I was in a tunnel and he was the only thing at the end of it.
I glanced nervously back at the door. “I don’t… we’re not supposed… to…”
His head moved slightly, as if he couldn’t quite believe what I was saying and he wanted me to say it again. He lifted his hand and beckoned me with his fingers, the way you would call over an underling.
My eyes went back to the door, as though anyone was coming to help me.
I wasn’t a hundred percent on even wanting to be helped. The side of my body closest to him was tingling as though he was stroking me with a feather. Fear wasn’t too far out of my mind, though; this guy looked mean and dangerous.
And hot. So hot.
“The door is locked,” he said, and I jerked my eyes back to him. I felt my mouth open, but I said nothing, because the air was locked in my chest, which felt like a horse was standing on it now.
“No one is coming until I tell them to,” he said, picking up the phone and tipping it side to side before setting it back down and turning off the music.
The pulse of the strip club below reverberated in the floor and walls. It seemed extra loud now that his phone was turned off.
“No one can hear you,” he said calmly. So calmly it took me a minute to process what he had said.
What it meant.
My heart actually stopped in my chest. This was it, I remember thinking. This guy was here to knock me off.
My mind went hazy. I thought about running; breaking down the door with my bare hands. But the moment I moved in that direction, Serial Killer’s hands shot out, clamping down on my wrists. They were warm, soft, strong hands, and he didn’t squeeze my wrists, but it was clear: I wasn’t going anywhere.
“No one is coming for you until I say so. So until then, Natalia, you are all mine.”
The cold that had been growing in my stomach spread out through my whole body. I felt my head moving side to side—was I shaking my head at this guy?—and my feet moved on the floor, trying to take me backward.
“Look,” I said. “I don’t… I don’t do this kind of thing.”
I bumped into the stage almost immediately. My arms were stretched, and he was holding me as calmly as though I hadn’t moved. As soon as I made contact with the stage, I melted against it; my knees had pretty much given up on working and my legs were Jell-O.
He was out of his chair and standing in front of me, against me, in a flash. His hard body was against my skin, and I could feel the solid curves of his pecs, the firmness of his abdomen, the… er… large, solid outline of his cock against my thigh.
Somehow, just like that, he pulled my wrists behind me and transferred them to one hand. His lips were right next to my forehead, and I could feel his breath snaking over me like a caress. I had this completely insane idea that I would give anything—anything—to feel his lips on my forehead.
This is what I was thinking right before I was murdered?
His other hand moved up my back, and I shivered. Embarrassed that goosebumps had washed over my skin, I felt myself flush.
Then he grabbed my hair and pulled my head back.
Okay, I thought. The honeymoon is over.
I struggled to get my hands out his grasp, but they weren’t going anywhere. He had me pinned to the stage floor, pressed against it on my front side, and his hand had such a strong, firm grip in my hair that I couldn’t do anything but look up at his face.
“You can’t do that!” I hissed, but even as I did, I realized how futile it was. He could do it; he could do whatever he wanted. “It’s against the—”
“No one is here,” he repeated.
His voice and his expression were strangely—disturbingly—calm, not the way you’d expect a man who had you by the hair on a strip club stage, alone, locked in a room, to sound. He sounded like he was making toast for someone and telling them he was putting butter on it.
I struggled again. I didn’t want to, but instinct was taking over. I was blabbing, yelling, sassing, and I wanted myself to shut up, but the words just came out of my mouth. “Listen, you freak, fuck you!” I heard myself saying.
This guy was likely to get mad, and he seemed like a real bastard. The quiet ones always are. I forced myself to close my mouth, and I rolled my eyes around, looking for a weapon of some kind. As if I could get my hands free to use it, I thought miserably.
“Ow,” I said, as he pulled a little harder on my hair.
Maybe, I thought, I could sweet-talk him long enough to get him to let his guard down.
“Look, Al, listen. I’m not really a stripper, okay? You have the wrong gal. I know a lot of girls downstairs who can—”
Somehow, my body was getting turned around. I was disoriented as he stretched my hands up to the pole and wrapped something around them, fixing them above my head. I was still thinking about that while he pulled my panties down.
Then I thought, oh, shit.
Back to fighting, I decided.
“You fucking bastard! Fuck you!” I tried to kick backwards at him, but he very calmly pressed against my body and pushed my legs apart and against the table. One hand came around my face and covered my mouth, a thumb sliding the length of my neck in warning: shut up.
“Natalia, I want you to listen to me very closely,” he said, his stubble scraping my cheek, his lips right against my ear. A shiver of delight rolled down my spine, but it was followed directly by a wave of cold fear. I thought about biting his hand, but that seemed like a very bad idea.
I felt his left hand travel from my hands, which I was just starting to realize were bound by leather to the pole, down my left arm, over my shoulder, and along my ribcage, before stroking me right across my bare bottom.
“Hey!” I exclaimed into his hand, but it came out “mmmuuuh.”
“If you want to be a stripper and a little slut,” he continued, as though he were talking about the weather, while his hand traveled all over the back of my body. I felt his cock against my right buttock, and I looked down at that moment to see what his right hand was doing. “That’s your business.”
His right hand was flat against the table, strength coiled inside of it.
His voice was a whisper against my neck. “But working for men like Andrej Sulov is very, very dangerous.”
As he made this pronouncement, he moved his hand along my right buttock, along my hip, and up my torso, then back down. I had to close my eyes, overwhelmed by the deadly mixture of lust and fear twisting inside of me.
His warm body left me, and I felt his left hand seize me at my lower back, pushing me against the stage and holding me in place with large, strong fingers that allowed me to make no mistake: I wasn’t squirming away anywhere.
The first stroke landed right across my ass, in the center, and at first I was so surprised I didn’t even know what had happened. I thought it was ice water. The slap reached my ears after the icy sting, and that’s when I realized what it was.
He had just spanked me.
The burn of the swat welled up from deep inside me, spreading out across all of my skin, and a glow was crawling across my face. The next two slaps came before I could get my thoughts together.
I was getting spanked.
By a total stranger.
“What the f—”
Another hard smack on my bottom knocked the air right out of me. My ass was burning now, the heat radiating in waves to my lower back and my thighs.
“You need someone to teach you a lesson, Natalia,” he said, each word punctuated by a hard slap on my bottom.
I pulled on the strap binding me to the pole but lost my footing as I tried to kick back at him. He squeezed me harder at my waist, and the spanking rained down on me faster. Tears welled up in my eyes. “Stop it!” I yelled at him. “What are you—?” I squeaked. I meant to say, “Crazy?” but I couldn’t get it out. “Ow! Fuck! Stop!”
I went limp, and he slowed his spanking, which was a relief. I closed my eyes. If I just gave in, maybe he would slow down. I didn’t think I could take much more. My ass was throbbing, the heat rolling over me in waves, every smack biting into the intense sting that already burned there. “Please,” I blubbered. “Please stop.”
“I will stop,” he said, giving me another hard smack that made me whimper, “when you promise me, you will act like a lady.”
“What?” I yelled. What the hell?
“Act,” smack, “like,” smack, “a lady.” Smack.
Even though my bottom was on fire, and tears were streaming down my face, I had a flash of anger. Who the hell did this guy think he was?
He spanked me again. “Say it.”
Okay, I thought. I wasn’t quite cut out for defiance. My ass really hurt. And worse than that, I could feel my pussy throbbing, and a wetness that was threatening to slide down my thighs.
I had no idea what that all meant, but I needed to get out of this situation. Specifically, I needed him to stop spanking me.
Another swat ripped against my flesh. “Tell me you are going to act like a lady, Natalia.”
“Okay,” I said. “Okay, okay.” I sniffed.
His hand rested on my ass, and his skin was hot against mine. His touch brought the fire in my muscles to the surface, where it raged, throbbing so fiercely I had to shift my feet. His touch turned to a caress, and it felt awful and wonderful at the same time. “Okay, what?” he growled.
I had suddenly forgotten what he wanted. “I… I… I…” I stammered.
Another slap, a little gentler, but still painful, rained on my sore ass. “You’re going to act like a…” he prompted.
“Like a lady!” I almost shouted. “Yes. I will act like a lady. Please. Just please stop spanking me.”
I was out of breath, my butt burned, and I was shaking. My face was red-hot.
And my pussy was throbbing.
His body ceased to touch mine. A wave of heat rose up on my tender skin. I tried to look back at him, but he was in my blind spot.
“Are you going to stop working here, Natalia?”
I let out a shaky gasp. Yeah, sure, buddy, whatever.
“Okay,” I said. It came out a little more like a question. Because really, it was. Stop working here? A spanking?
This guy was just a crazy pervert.
A hot, crazy pervert.
Fuck, Natalie, stop it.
He was against me again. His fingers slid down to my thighs, and I cringed as he touched the slippery wetness of my arousal. With an expert’s touch, he slipped one finger into me, and I expected more, but he stroked my clit, as though he knew my body for decades. I shuddered. Most guys are so stupidly klutzy with your body you’d rather they didn’t bother, but this guy stroked me and I thought I would come with one more touch.
But he didn’t give it to me. His finger traveled back down, dragging my juices up to the hole of my ass.
My face went hot again, because I squirmed. I couldn’t help it. From my chest a moan threatened to escape, so I bit my lip.
“I will be watching you,” he breathed onto my neck. “And I don’t ever want to see you here again.”
His hand was above me as he untied the straps holding my hands, and I fell forward when they were loose, because he pushed against me. I was so dizzy with arousal, fear, and confusion that I lay on the plastic tabletop, and he pushed my hair up so that my cheek was bared toward him. His touch with my hair was delicious, even though he loomed behind me like a demon.
I could still feel his thigh against mine, and I was frozen with fear and desire, both hoping that I would hear his pants unzipping and feel that obviously large cock against my wet thigh, just before he filled me up with it. My pussy throbbed; I wanted him inside me, just one more touch like the one before, and I would be screaming in ecstasy, I knew it.
It seemed like a long time passed like that, and it was pure torture. I no longer felt my throbbing ass, until he placed a hand on it again. “Next time,” he said, his hand moving over my hot, welted skin, “I won’t be so gentle.”
And then, just like that, he walked to the door. I saw the glow of his phone in his hand. I stood up, dizzy, looking for my panties, completely disoriented.
“Get dressed,” he said, without looking back at me.
I fumbled for the bottom half of the costume and put it on shakily. I almost fell again in those ridiculous shoes.
The door opened.
Andrej was outside. He looked at me, and the mystery man said something in Russian in a low voice and walked through the door.
Andrej followed him, after giving a final look back at me.
I looked around the room, stunned. I don’t know how long passed, me standing there, wondering what the hell had just happened. My eyes fell on the stage, where a pile of cash was stacked. I hadn’t seen it. I blinked at it stupidly. My ass throbbed.
The door opened again, and Andrej was red-faced, angry, glaring at me. “What are you waiting for?” he yelled, his accent stronger than ever. “Get out of here. Out! Get out of my club. Never to be coming back!”
Like I said, I was a realist. I did some quick calculations: the door was open, I was leaving, and I was broke. Never mind the rest of this shit, I’d think about it later.
I grabbed the cash, and I hurried past Andrej and into the dressing room. I was sure he, and anyone else who looked, could see my red ass, so a wave of humiliation rolled over me, but I didn’t have time to think about it. I grabbed my clothes, not even changing out of the stripper costume, except to peel off those stupid shoes and put on my own flats.
Then I walked as calmly as I could down the stairs, everything happening in slow motion. Two girls were on stage, doing the handcuff routine, the men staring at them like zombies. A redhead named Renee smiled at me and then frowned as I walked past her without saying anything, and I thought I heard her say “bitch” as I walked away. I continued right to the back door, which I figured was a bad choice as soon as I got there, but I wasn’t going back in. I was almost out.
The alley was dark but empty. Some lights were on in the buildings on either side of the place; at least someone would see me if I died here.
I walked fast, almost running, my breath ragged.
When I got down the alley, I gave one look back as I hailed a cab. It was pretty much a miracle there was one on Brighton at that time of night.
I saw an expensive black sedan parked right behind the door I had exited. It was tinted so dark the sun could have been inside and I wouldn’t see it.
The lights came on just as I looked at it.
And I just knew he was in there. Watching.
The wind picked up my hair and I was frozen again. Frozen by that same feeling—half-fear, half-dark, pulsing attraction.
“You want a cab or not, sweetheart?” the driver yelled, breaking my trance.
I opened the door. Did I?
The cabbie looked skeezy, but it was a real cab, and yellow. I sank into it, giving the sedan one last look. I think I wanted Mystery Man to know I was pissed off.
Or was it something else? My eyes were drawn to him in that sedan like a magnet, and inside my chest I felt something throb.
“Shit or get off the pot,” the cabbie said.
“Take me to… up the street here,” I stammered, pointing straight ahead.
“How far,” he drawled, annoyed.
“I’ll tell you,” I snapped.
I had the bills in my hand. They were all clean, new, stacked about a half inch high, and wrapped in a white wrapper with yellow edges. I saw a bunch of zeros, but I didn’t think it could be real money or a real number. Still, the top bill was a hundred, and I yanked it out and tossed it up front as I cut him off. “Here,” I shot.
I could do a lot of better things with a hundred dollars, especially since this pile was sure to have a bunch of ones in the center and evidently, I’d just lost my job.
But damn if I couldn’t think of anything else to do besides ride down Brighton Avenue to the very end, wherever that was, with my hundred-dollar bill, and see where I got.
The last time I saw Natalia in anything but a photograph she was five years old, and she was a real brat.
Well, things had changed in fifteen years, that was for sure—except for the brat bit.
When Andrej pointed her out to me, I was sure I had the wrong girl. All those goofy features I’d seen morph a little in photographs had come into being on her face to make a masterpiece: full lips, quirky nose, and wide eyes with straight, Slavic lids. Her hair was still blonde, a shade or two darker, but blonde, long and cascading to her shoulders, straight and thick.
Shit, I thought. She was gorgeous. She’d blossomed into a stunner.
I get stunning women all the time, but there was something different about her. A kind of regal, ethereal beauty that cut through the ridiculous costume she was wearing and the neon glow and trashiness of that place.
It had been two years since I’d checked in on her, which was part personal shit and part paranoia. It had obviously been too long. I’d thought she was on the straight and narrow. She’d looked like a nerdy little brat who would get some kind of scholarship the last time I saw her. No drugs, no boyfriend. Wearing a sweatshirt the last photo I saw.
Two years, and now she was working in a strip club, her long legs falling out of a slutty black skirt and cheap sequined tops.
Okay. Not what I’d expected.
But technically, none of my business.
I owed Kyril a few things, but I’d promised him only one: to keep her out of the wrong hands. I had never promised I wouldn’t let Natalia turn into a whore. It was disappointing. Sad. A little bit of a waste. Well, once I got a look at her, it was actually a huge waste.
But not my problem, and I’m not the kind of guy who takes on problems if they aren’t mine.
I don’t know why I kept Jake on her. He was a real inept guy, not even in the game, but I must have been paranoid. I know a lot of people would think I’m stupid. But for me, my word is my word, whether anyone will ever find out about or it not.
On the other hand, if I hadn’t have been paranoid, I guess I never would have found out that Natalia was being a whore for Andrej Sulov.
By himself, Andrej isn’t a very big piece of shit in this shithouse.
But it was too close to the line.
Because eventually, one of those asshole associates of his was going to recognize Kyril’s daughter.
And that, unfortunately, was my problem.
I’m not a funny guy. I don’t make jokes and I haven’t laughed in probably ten years. It’s part of the deal.
But it was hard not to laugh at Natalia, who was going by Natalie Paulson, as she wobbled into that room on those clear plastic heels.
Don’t get me wrong: she looked hot. But it’s my ‘job’ to notice details, and those shoes were a half size too big, which wouldn’t have stopped a real stripper, but it was pretty clear that Natalia was not that.
Interesting. And not much interests me, even something I’ve given my word about, even gorgeous women, especially gorgeous women, who fill a need that is pretty obvious and not much else.
Natalia’s sass to Andrej piqued my interest, mostly because I was curious what sort of ‘deal’ she had going on with him, and now that she looked like a newborn colt walking around in a costume that was so obviously not hers, I hated to admit it: I was curious.
Curiosity, though, killed the cat, and in a business like mine, you need to be curious about things that matter. And in the end, it didn’t really matter why Natalia Karkarov was such a bad stripper.
It also didn’t matter that when I touched her, she sent an electric shock through me. All that mattered was that Natalia Karkarov got the message: she needed to get out of town.
I’m not sure why I handled it the way I did. I don’t make it a secret that I like control, especially in bed, but I don’t handle business that way. My plan had been to terrify her, make her see how dangerous it was to be working in a strip joint, make her think I was going to kill her. Andrej was going to break it up, and she was going to wise up and leave of her own accord.
Instead, I tied her up and spanked her, and she didn’t react at all the way I wanted her to.
All it did was leave me wanting more of her.
I was actually glad I had to stop it, knowing that Andrej was coming back, because she was getting to me in a way I never intended.
Things were calmed down by the time I got away from her. She came flying out the back door and caught a cab. She didn’t even look back.
I lifted my fingers to my nose, to smell her scent, and for just one second I lost control again.
And that’s when she looked back.
I turned on the lights. She lifted her chin—such a defiant little vixen, exactly the kind of thing I would love to slowly mold into submission. The wind picked up her hair.
There was something more to her, too.
Go away, I thought.
And she did.
I leaned my head back against the seat.
Kyril was dead, and I was the only person on earth who knew what I had promised him, or what he had done for me. I could easily walk away from all of this and never think about it again.
I rolled to the end of the alley. Turned on the left blinker. Her cab had gone to the right.
“Leave it,” I said aloud to myself.
When I had turned the lights on, the flash of them had washed over her: navy eyes, pouty lips, fear in her expression, defiance held up against me like a shield. I could still smell her on my fingers.
I turned right.
At the end of Brighton Avenue, you’re back in the suburbs. The road gets narrower and narrower until it hits a T at a gated community. I’d never been this far east before.
The cabbie stopped at the intersection. “Left or right?”
The cab ride had been $72.50 so far.
I looked to the left and saw one of those strip malls with the same set of restaurants and stores in them: Chili’s, Bed Bath & Beyond, Chapters. I slipped the hundred at him. “I’ll get out here,” I said.
It seemed like nothing could go wrong in a strip mall like that.
The cabbie shrugged.
I got out and walked across the street toward the strip mall. Nothing was open, but I walked like I had somewhere to go. The cabbie had been starting to give me the creeps, and I just needed to be alone to have some time to think.
I didn’t look back. I was in the middle of a part of town I never went to, and I didn’t belong here; this was a place for soccer moms and people with regular jobs. It was where I wanted to be, but I was keenly aware that with my strip-club eye shadow and tight sequined shirt, jeans and shoes, and the bag full of money at my side, I was going to get into some kind of trouble if I ran into anyone.
I walked around the Chapters and to the back of the building, which was still well-lit, and pretty clean; there was a dumpster but it wasn’t a dumpster from my part of town. This was not the kind of dumpster bodies ended up in.
I looked around, and seeing nothing and no one, slid down the side of the wall and listlessly opened my bag.
My bottom burned, reminding me of what had just happened.
That guy. Fuck. What the fuck was he about?
And why did I hate him so much, for obvious reasons, but have the feelings I did when I thought about him?
“You are so fucked in the head,” I told myself, as a micro-fantasy flitted through my mind. What would it be like to have a man like that inside of you? And the way he had touched me.
I shifted on my sore bottom.
What the hell kind of wacko comes in to watch a girl strip, spanks her, doesn’t screw her, and then just leaves, leaving ten thousand dollars on the table?
I had no idea, and I had even less of an idea why I would be having the physical reaction to him that I did. Or why I would be thinking about him as anything other than a twisted fuck I had been lucky to get away from.
“What the hell,” I muttered. I opened my bag to take stock of my situation. Focus was what I needed.
A quick leaf-through of the money revealed that, unless it was counterfeit, it was, in fact, ten thousand dollars.
But I was no dummy. That money would have to be… I didn’t know… laundered somehow. I didn’t know much about the mob or the FBI or how it all intersected at Kitty Bang Bang—these were things I had decided not to think about and were coming back to bite me in the ass, almost literally. But if this guy was mob, I was in trouble, and if the guy was some sort of wacko Fed, I needed some unmarked bills.
I had watched my fair share of movies.
Okay, I thought. Okay, okay, okay…
I had some lipstick, socks for some reason, which I put on, Kleenex, and a pack of cigarettes from like six months before, when a girl named Janine had told me to hold onto them.
I peered inside, as if there would be something in there that would give me an answer. There was a lighter inside the cigarette pack.
I didn’t smoke, because I couldn’t afford it, but I decided that if ever there was a time, it was then. What the hell else was I going to do? I had no phone, it was three in the morning, the suburbanite shops wouldn’t open until nine, I was probably going to get mugged with this wad of cash, and I had a sneaking suspicion that heading back to my own part of town was a dumb idea.
I lit the cigarette and looked disdainfully at the bushes on the other side of the parking lot.
I guessed I could hide in there until dawn.
And then what?
Common sense told me to just blow this Popsicle stand. But what would I do? Where would I go?
For a moment, I had a pleasant daydream about disappearing into the country somewhere. With ten thousand dollars, I’d have enough to rent something, chill out, and figure out what to do next.
But there was school, and hell if I was ditching that now.
And then, descending on me like a black cloud, the real reason I couldn’t do that: Lucy.
I leaned my head back against the cinderblock.
What the fuck was I going to do? Who the hell was this guy?
My thoughts felt like they were moving through mud.
“Look,” I said, to no one in particular, not even myself. “You can see the stars.”
Bright, pink, green, and neon blue stars…
“What the hell are you doing?” I heard myself say.
I turned on Assobine Avenue, way at the end of town where the upper middle-class plebes live, oblivious that anything but brunch and Starbucks goes on in the world. Natalia had finally emerged from the taxi she’d caught, and now she was strolling into a strip mall like she knew where she was going.
I went down a street, but when I looked in the mirror, I saw that she had no idea she was being followed, so I turned off the lights and swung around into the parking lot behind a Starbucks.
I was used to tracking down thugs, who are paranoid, or higher-ups, who have usually been trained in some kind of counter-surveillance. So my first thoughts were that Natalia had a plan.
But no: she just sat down behind a Chapters bookstore. In plain sight. And didn’t even watch her ass.
I had gone into the situation half-cocked. Normally, my targets were men, and normally the job was something else entirely. I should have just scared Natalia the old-fashioned way. I should have researched her better, more like a target, less like a debt. And one thing I definitely shouldn’t have done—or be doing—was think about Natalia the way I was thinking about her.
I could see a few things more clearly now: Natalia was in way over her head, and she didn’t understand the game at all. What I couldn’t figure out is what kind of deal she’d struck with Andrej, or how she even struck it.
What was my plan? I didn’t even have a good explanation for why I was watching her. Something about her attracted me to her, but hell if I was going to let that kind of muddied thinking rise to the surface of my mind. I had done what I needed to do—in fact, I’d gone above and beyond any kind of call of duty that could be expected, considering that it would cost me nothing to leave town, right then, and get on with my life.
The thing I’d learned about this life, though, was that if you don’t live up to your code, you have to live with that forever.
But I had lived up to it. I’d kept an eye on Natalia, and I’d scared her off working for Andrej. There was no reason I couldn’t just walk away with a clear conscience.
Pretty hair, soft blue eyes, a soft, helpless center masquerading under a tough exterior and long legs—these were not reasons to get involved. In anything. You could find a hot girl anywhere. I could get any girl I wanted.
But Natalia had something that intrigued me, whether I was ready to admit it to myself or not.
So there I was, getting involved in something I did not have to do. Breaking Rule #1 in this game: above all things, if you want to get out alive, look out for yourself, and only yourself. If you’re doing anyone a favor, do it because it pays you.
This had a payoff of zero. Zero street cred, zero rep, zero money, zero code, zero clear conscience. So what the fuck was I doing?
I was not too far from her when she lit up a cigarette. It wasn’t hard to sneak up on her, and I’m good at what I do. So I heard her distinctly when she said there were stars, and then she fell over. Went down like a dead body.
My thoughts went first to a sniper. She crumpled so quickly, my first thought was a sniper. Drugs never occurred to me. Jake had only seen her remain sober when everyone else did them.
I scanned the area. Nothing.
Gun in hand, all my senses on alert, I crept toward her.
I felt her pulse. It was weak, slow, her respiration shallow. “Natalia,” I said.
It’s not a good idea, I thought.
It’s not a good idea to carry a woman’s body slung over your shoulder through a parking lot and into your car. Always a chance of CCTV, always a chance someone will be looking. I needed the city cops looking for me like I needed a swarm of mosquitoes in my face.
But I had this nagging voice, or feeling, gnawing at me: I couldn’t just leave her there. Why not? She was nothing to me, I’d given it a shot, I’d paid off my debt, I couldn’t control an out-of-control girl who was too stupid to get lost when she was told to and given the money to do it.
Instead I started thinking: the chance that anyone would see me here in the clean, crime-free suburbs at this hour of night was actually a lot less than anywhere else. And people only look at CCTV if they have a reason to.
Natalia wasn’t going to give anyone a reason. She had no family, and she was from Brighton Heights, which meant whenever she stopped showing up somewhere, people would figure she’d ended up like all the other girls from Brighton Heights: dead or somewhere else.
Even as I scooped her up and tossed her over my shoulder, I was still trying to talk myself into the rules I swore by. But once I had her in my arms, there was no way I was going to dump her back on the ground, no matter how many times I said I would.
Her weight was light, but dead weight was dead weight—I’d know, I’d carried a lot of it. It wasn’t a cakewalk to move quickly and get her into the car, and the fastest way to do that was to toss her over my shoulder. That’s when she puked, and it was pretty clear what had happened.
“God. Damn. It,” I muttered.
I laid her out in the back seat and took her pulse again—still weak, but about where it was before—and then I drove to avoid a tail, just in case, before pulling over and taking my kit from the back seat.
It was a standard paramedic supply of drugs, including dosable Narcan, which seemed like the likeliest candidate. No harm if it doesn’t work. Just 0.1 mg, just enough to keep her alive. I injected it, waited, and felt the return of her pulse. One tenth of a milligram more.
Not enough to wake her up.
She made a sound, and stirred, which was a good sign of two things: one, not a heavy user. Two, she was going to be okay.
I drove out to my place in the Highlands. It was a temporary measure until she was stabilized.
And then, me and Miss Karkarov, or Paulson, or whatever she was going by, were going to have a really serious talk.
The first thing I felt was hot, which was about normal in the crappy apartment I rented, with no air. I slept with the windows closed because everyone yelling on the street kept me awake. So I wasn’t tipped off right away to anything being strange. My memory didn’t catch up just because I woke up. In fact, I had the idea I’d been out drinking—which I rarely did, but when I did, I usually overdid it.
I kicked them off like a reflex, and that’s when things started happening. It was cold in the air around me.
My eyes flew open. Instead of my dingy apartment, dim light from the narrow space between my window and the brick wall of another apartment building edging from behind a ratty curtain, this room was bathed in a pale blue light. Instead of patchwork furniture I’d practically fished out of the dumpster, one expensive-looking and modern, perfectly clean table rested against a spotless white wall. A blue orchid plant almost four feet tall was the only object on a shelf.
Beneath me, very soft, sweet-smelling sheets caressed my skin, on a non-lumpy mattress.
I sat up.
A soreness in my arm registered with me, but I paid it little attention because all of the events from the day before started coming into my head—all but how I got here. I vaguely remembered a taxi ride to get away from that psycho guy… the money… shit. What had I done?
A quick survey of the room indicated that there was no one else in it. It didn’t look like a hotel. I couldn’t say why, it just… didn’t.
I scanned for my purse.
Nowhere in sight.
I looked down at my arm, and two very bad pieces of information came into view.
One, I was naked.
Two, I had an IV in my arm.
I jerked the covers back up over my body.
The light in the room was getting brighter, and a blue orb on the desk where it came from was fading to purplish pink. It was actually a very pleasant way to wake up—if you happen to know where you are, and you don’t have an IV in your arm, and you don’t have a set of memories that began with getting spanked by a random stranger, trailing off into a fog of taxi rides and money and strip malls…
I couldn’t see my purse. I couldn’t see my clothes. I didn’t want to get up and walk around, but what else was there to do?
I surveyed the IV situation. It looked pretty professional, which at first reassured me, but then I took for a bad sign. Drugged? Probably. Serial killer danger level was getting pretty high.
For a second, that thought gripped me by the guts and I almost completely lost my shit, thinking about Hannibal Lecter and all that.
But I was fairly practiced at getting my cool back. Panic was not the remedy for anything.
Luckily for me, dealing with Lucy had put me in a lot of emergency rooms, where there was nothing much to do but watch. So I knew I could pull the IV drip out without too much hassle.
On second thought, I pulled out the whole thing. It hurt like a fucker, but if this crazy psycho, whoever he was, wanted to get more drugs in me, he’d have to start a new IV.
I felt like crap, I noticed, as soon as I stood up and wrapped the sheet around me. By then, there was a nice brightness in the room, so I had a good clear view of the fact that there was… nothing. Just a door to what was obviously a bathroom, which I scurried over to, because I had to pee.
Crisis or not, serial killer or no, one thing I couldn’t put up with is having to pee. So if this stop ended up being the difference between life and death, I probably wouldn’t totally regret it.
The bathroom was huge, and I couldn’t find the light, so I just hurried in. The light activated for me, to reveal a huge room with a huge tub and another orchid in a small window and not much else besides spotless white and brown granite. It looked like a spa.
The toilet was in a small room off to the side, again with the automatic lights, and as I peed, my sanity started returning.
Okay. I had to get out of here.
I didn’t flush, thinking this obviously high-class room was like my own apartment, where you were alerted to everyone waking up every time someone flushed the toilet anywhere in the building. I gave the small window with the orchid a look: the glass was frosted, and it was too small to bail out of, even if I broke the glass. An option, if all else failed—I could always hope that someone would see me waving.
And decide to call the cops.
Before Serial Killer did me in.
I tried the door in the bedroom area next.
Of course it was locked. I tried again anyway, but it was as locked as locked could get. And the cold feel of it in my hands let me know it wasn’t some wood door I could kick at and get anywhere. I sat back down on the bed.
There was a large frosted window, which seemed to have changed from just opaque white to frosted as I had been sitting there, behind the orchid. It was big enough to climb out of, and it seemed like outdoor light was behind it.
I took a look around again.
There was nothing to use to break it except, possibly, the blue orb on the desk. Or the chair… or the IV stand?
What kind of idiot serial killer leaves you with all that ammunition?
Didn’t matter. The knot in my stomach got tighter, and I started to panic again. I closed my eyes, calmed my breathing, and made a decision: I had to at least try to get out. Even if I was acting out the final scenes of a really B-grade thriller in which I was one of the first girls to die.
It all happened pretty fast: I tied the sheet around me and bunched up the nice, down-filled covers in one hand, thinking ahead to the broken glass and how I would cover it to get out of the window after I broke it. I’d learned that in elementary school from a firefighter. I lifted the IV stand: too light. I walked over to the desk and picked up the orb. Heavy. Heavy enough to break glass, but not too heavy to launch if I used two hands. Perfect.
I acted quickly from there, the plan slowly unfolding in my mind: throw the orb, line the window with the blanket, start climbing out.
What if it’s the third floor?
Whatever, have to try.
The orb was in my hands, over my head, already swinging, when I heard the door click. It gave off an eerie, futuristic computer sound and then unbolted.
It was too late to stop throwing; the orb was moving on its own momentum.
Well, once you’re in that far, there’s nothing for it but to keep going. I put all my force behind the orb and chucked it at the window.
Something hooked me violently around the waist, and I was flying through the air, waiting for the crash of glass, expecting something terrible, thinking about how to scramble toward the window once I landed wherever I was headed…
I was hurled onto the bed, into its softness, and immediately covered by the weight of solid muscle. A dull, loud thump followed, and then I felt an impact—the pressure of it, and the body on top of me made an equally dull thumping sound, and hissed in my ear.
Another dull thump.
The weight rose off of me, but I lay there, feeling a little bit like what a captured rabbit must feel like. Maybe, I thought, if I just lie there, this would all go away.
“That glass is shatterproof.”
The voice licked at my insides and made a shiver run down my spine, and I’d be lying if I said it was not somewhat pleasurable.
It was him.
The memory of Mystery Man, and his ice-cold stare, his fluttering fingers, his hard cock, and his hands clamped powerfully around my wrist, flooded my body and brought my tender skin back into the forefront of my mind. It was at that moment, as my bottom flared up with the ghostlike imprint of his hand, that I realized I was lying with my whole backside completely exposed.
I scrambled to turn around and pull the sheet over me.
I was yelling before I had time to think about it. The way you yell at mice or spiders or muggers on the subway.
“What the hell are you doing here?” I screamed.
The guy didn’t smile, and I could tell he was not a smiley kind of guy, but his face registered some amusement. It was, after all, a ridiculous question.
At the same time, I sneaked a glance at the door. Locked again.
But… he would eventually have to go out the door. So there was a chance…
If he didn’t kill me first.
“What you’re doing here,” he said calmly, answering the question I should have asked, “is recovering from a drug overdose.” He walked over to the IV stand and looked at my handiwork. Then he seemed to decide it was unimportant and started putting the IV away.
There was an uncomfortable silence as he did this, while I tried to figure out what tack to take.
“You a doctor or something?” I said, because the silence was freaking me out.
“Are you a habitual drug user or something?” he asked, ignoring my question and turning his cold, hard, disarmingly sexy stare on me.
“What?” I said hoarsely. I was thirsty now.
But forget about telling him that. He’d probably drug my water.
“Whatever you took last night, Natalia, was a narcotic. You’re fortunate to be alive. I want you to tell me about your drug habit so that I can get you on the proper rehabilitation—”
Why did this guy insist on getting my name wrong?
“I don’t fucking do drugs,” I spat.
And I didn’t. That was Lucy’s mistake, and I was paying for it, but not like Lucy was.
His body went still, and he cocked his head that same way he had did back in the strip club. “The evidence,” he said coldly, “suggests quite strongly that you do.”
I made a derisive noise and snorted at him. “Well. Asshole. Whoever you are. I don’t.”
“I think you and I have a misunderstanding here, Natalia—”
“And that’s another thing, my name is Natalie. Eee. Natalie.”
Another cold silence, during which I had just enough time to contemplate that I both wished I hadn’t said that, but couldn’t help feeling the clutch of anticipatory excitement because I had, and now Mystery Man had the same wolf-like look on his face that he’d had just before he’d spanked me raw.
My bottom burned while he stared at me. He didn’t get flustered. Not in the least.
“Your name is Natalia, Natalia,” he said calmly. “And I think you are in need of a bit of clarification.”
I don’t know why. I jutted my chin out. This guy was obviously bonkers, and I was obviously going to be his lunch, or stuffed human doll, or whatever perverse thing he had in mind, but he could go fuck himself if he thought I was going to make it easy for him. “Oh, yeah?” I challenged him. “Maybe you need some fucking clarification—”
I didn’t really know where I was going with that anyway, so it didn’t matter too much for my sentence that I didn’t get to finish it. The wind was knocked right out of me by either surprise or centrifugal forces as he moved like a panther, whirled me around like a rag doll, and had me strewn across his lap in one quick motion.
I started to throw my hands around, but he caught them pretty quickly, and in a series of rough motions, none of which actually hurt, he had my arms pinned at my back in one hand, which he pressed down on so that I was pinned over his lap.
This left my feet free to kick, so I did, and I gave it my best shot writhing and squirming, but all this really did was make me tired.
Also, it didn’t stop him from smacking my bottom again, a rain of smacks that echoed in the room and bit hard into my already tender flesh. My eyes were stinging from the first slap, and I struggled to free myself, but he kept spanking me. Every slap seemed harsher than the last.
“Ow! Jesus! Stop it! Fuck you!” I was yelling.
All the while, he was speaking calmly, and I began to realize that for all the sharp pain it was causing me, he was spanking me calmly as well.
I started to wilt, and as I did, the pain didn’t go away, but he slowed his spanking or eased up on it. His voice came through between the slaps.
“You are in need of some clarification about our relationship, young lady. You are disobedient, reckless, and prone to doing some very naughty things. I am going to discipline you, and you are going to clean up your act, and you are going to behave like a proper young lady and not a druggy whore.”
I let my body relax into his lap, giving up—temporarily—on fighting him. My ass burned, and that same humiliating wetness was welling up between my thighs. My cheeks burned with shame, but I bit my tongue and relented.
For now, I thought.
“Now,” he said, moving his hand in a gentle caress over my bottom, which burned in two distinct ways: one painful, the other making me even wetter than I was. I hoped he somehow didn’t notice.
“The first thing I need you to do is tell me what you’re using.”
His words came back to me, and my anger flared up again. Druggy? Whore? Not me, you fucker.
“I don’t fucking use drugs,” I spat. “And I’m not a fucking whore.”
The spanking started again, and it was vicious this time. I started to cry, and as his firm hand sliced into my skin again and again, I fought back, but finally relented, and then finally, because the pain was too intense to bear and the heat felt like a serious burn, I sobbed, “Okay, okay, okay. Please. Stop. Please, I can’t take any more.”
His hand ceased its sharp punishment of my bottom, and the wave of heat that rose off my skin was almost as bad as the spanking.
“Good, Natalia. That’s more like it. Submit to me, and tell me what I want to know, and you won’t need any more discipline.”
I was exhausted from so much kicking. Even if I wanted to resist him, I couldn’t. The only thing I didn’t want was to get spanked more, because of two things. One, I didn’t think I could handle it, and two, my body was betraying me in the worst of all way: by getting more turned on than I had ever been in my life.
“Okay,” I breathed. “Please. Please listen to me, please don’t spank me again. I swear I’m telling you the truth.” I had to catch my breath.
His hand rubbed my bottom. I didn’t know if it was a promise or a threat. My skin stung and my heart felt strangely crushed, and my pussy was throbbing with the kind of wild lust I swear I’d never felt in my life before. Fat tears dripped out my eyes. What a fine way to go.
“I’m ready for the truth, Natalia,” he said calmly, still rubbing my bottom.
I pondered for a second what to say, but I knew I didn’t have much time to ponder. This guy was not Mr. Patience.
Drugs. What kind of drugs would I use, if I used drugs? They called me Shirley Temple at work because that was the only drink name I could think of when I first ordered one, and I’d thought it had alcohol in it.
I heard those guys talk about drugs, so I knew the names of them and basically what they did. And I knew that Lucy had an opioid addiction, and half a dozen names of things she sometimes took. But they all scrambled in my head.
I didn’t use drugs, I wanted to scream.
But… that hand was going to start spanking me again if I gave the wrong answer, so…
“I’m waiting,” he said menacingly. “The truth should be easy to remember.”
I took a deep breath. “I can’t remember—”
He swatted me hard. “Don’t give me that.”
“I can’t… because… I am telling you the truth! I don’t do drugs!”
A final slap landed on my bottom, and tears erupted from my eyes, but he left his hand there, making the heat throb mercilessly on my skin. I was too tired to wriggle away from him.
I sobbed. “I don’t want to lie to you,” I blubbered. “Please don’t spank me again. I don’t know how… I don’t…”
Suddenly, it came to me.
“The cigarette,” I said. “That has to be it. It was someone else’s pack, I don’t even smoke, I just…”
I trailed off, waiting for another barrage of spankings, the torture of expecting them both cruel and delicious, my stomach twisting in the kind of knots I’d only ever gotten from racy late-night soft porn movies.
What the hell?
He patted my bottom.
There was a long pause, while I squinted my eyes shut, my bottom throbbing in expectation of more spanking.
Then he sucked in his breath. “The windows in this room are shatterproof, Natalia. The door is locked from the outside and there is no way for you to leave. Please do not engage in further… destructive activities attempting to do so.”
He lifted me up, so I was sitting on the bed, sniffling, trying to pull the sheet around me. His eyes took a long, hungry walk over me, but his face stayed immeasurably still, revealing nothing of what that hunger was about.
A chill traveled through me.
“I will bring you some clothing and some food, but if you attempt to destroy my property again, you will be quite soundly punished. Am I clear?”
I had a desire to tell him to fuck off, I really did, but I decided to play it smart. I was already calculating my next move, for one, and my bottom hurt so badly I didn’t dare say that to his face. Not right then.
“Okay,” I sniffled.
He put a finger under my chin and lifted it to meet his terrible, smoldering gaze. His eyes alone were entangling me, claiming me, looking at me like I was something he definitively owned.
“When I ask something of you, Natalia, I want you to say ‘yes.’”
I stared at him.
“Is that clear?”
I swallowed. Partly my pride, partly my fear. “Yes,” I said bitterly.
“And one more thing,” he growled, putting just enough pressure under my chin to highlight the vast difference in our strengths.
Message received, right through the center of my being.
“Call me sir when you talk to me.”
His eyes went dark again and burrowed through my core.
“Yes, sir,” I said quickly. “I understand.”
I should have left it at that. But I have an attitude problem.
“Sir,” I added, as he rose from the bed.
The unknowable flicker of dark amusement I had seen in him before flashed in his eyes, and his mouth actually turned up in a smile that—well, you could interpret a lot of different ways. And I didn’t have a lot of room to maneuver.
And then… he left.
I didn’t have time for this.
The feel of Natalia’s skin beneath my palm burned, but it wasn’t just that.
I didn’t need things to get complicated. I’m a man of no complications, which means I’m a man who uses women only for what I need, no more, no less. When you have as much money as I do, that’s a transactional matter.
I locked Natalia back up in her room and walked down the hallway in the dimming light. My back hurt where the orb she had chucked at the window had bounced back and struck me. I had no idea why I’d had the impulse to protect her, but I had. I had that impulse even now, twisting inside of me, making me feel uncomfortable feelings that were very dangerous in my profession.
In the kitchen—never used—her ratty purse was set on the counter. I opened it and dug through the contents. One slightly crumpled pack of cigarettes, which I set on the counter. A tube of lipstick, looking like it hadn’t been opened in years. Keys, presumably to her rattrap apartment. The money I’d left her, still wrapped, the wrapper slightly torn where she’d pulled a bill or two out.
Her own wallet was also ratty—nothing more than a satchel full of change, a five-dollar bill, and a handful of business cards.
I dumped the contents on my table and rifled through the trash. Some gum wrappers—Bubblicious bubble gum, for fuck’s sake. Melon-flavored lip gloss. A Hello Kitty keychain with no keys on it.
I pushed the cigarettes, keys, and wallet aside and swept the rest of the purse and contents into the trash. I locked the wallet and keys in a drawer for safekeeping, and then I took the cigarettes to my workroom to see if Natalia’s claim was true.
It would make my life a lot simpler if it were, I thought. Taking care of a drug addict was outside of the promises I’d made, and I could dump her in rehab and wash my hands of this whole ordeal.
If she wasn’t doing drugs, then I had problems on my hands. The kind of problems that lurk around less in your mind than your body, the kind of emotional entanglements that lead to making stupid decisions. I needed to get Natalia straightened out, on the right track, and out of my hair as fast as possible.
Out of my mind.
I needed to get the feeling—not that I’d admit to myself I was feeling anything—that Natalia gave me out of my body.
The idea with Natalia had been to scare her away from here and out of sight of Viktor Piotrivich’s associates.
It had somehow gotten out of control.
I pressed my hand to the biometric lock on my lab and looked into the retina scanner, summoning the willpower I’d learned to have in my life. Lack of willpower got you killed. In all things, be under control.
I knew, then, somewhere deep down inside, that there was more to me wanting Natalia to submit to me than just complying with my promises. I knew that I wanted to make her mine in a different kind of way.
I just chose to ignore it. I was under control, because that’s who I was.
The door opened and I went into mechanical mode. Machines don’t make mistakes, and machines don’t make errors in judgment.
It didn’t take long to survey my supplies and catalog my level of skills to know I didn’t have the right skill set for analyzing these things. Mechanically, I contacted Dr. Reeler through our secure communication channel—by leaving a draft of a message on an encrypted email server.
I would have to wait.
Minutes passed—and I knew full well that it might take hours for Reeler, who was on the other side of the world, to check his messages. The climate in the workshop was controlled to a tenth of a degree for humidity and temperature, but I felt tiny beads of sweat forming on my forehead. I felt them first, and then traced the source of them, only to discover I was still thinking of Natalia.
Natalia’s defiant smile. Natalia’s bubble gum, Natalia’s clumsy dancing. Natalia’s mouth, and what it would feel like to push her to her knees and make her open it for me, how hot that pink-red plum would feel when it closed around me. Natalia’s sweet pussy juices, which I could still smell as if she were here in the room. Making her well up like a swollen river by disciplining her, until she went limp like she had in my arms, and then sinking into her flesh while she bent over to let me have her any way I wanted.
The thought never really materialized in my mind as a fully formed idea—just a feeling, a fleeting fantasy.
I wanted her on her knees, her legs spread, her chest against my mattress, taking me deep inside that wet pussy, and everywhere else I thought of, not because I made her, which was easy enough to do.
I wanted her to do it because she wanted to.
I stared at the feed in Natalia’s room for a full thirty minutes.
I had a moment of relief when I saw her from beneath the covers, obviously alive and well. A warm, sweet feeling—the very kind I have been at pains to avoid my whole life—spilled over me, kicking up pangs from my cock to my chest. I was weak for only a moment, before I swept her away.
That’s all until next week’s installment! If you’re aching to finish right now, though, just click below and buy the book!
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