But he’s not laughing. The man I now know to be the real Silas Stanton is fixing me with a withering stare. The rage that fueled my courage is replaced by a sense of unease.
“You can’t keep me here forever.”
“I don’t have to. I just need to keep you here long enough to hear what I have to say.”
He turns and walks to a table, opens a drawer, and pulls out a folder. He opens it and begins to read. “…it’s going to be like taking candy from a baby, Kimberly. Only the baby is old…” He flips a page. “I only have to string him along long enough to get enough cash or jewelry to flip. Once I pay down my bills and have enough for a new car, I’ll tell him goodbye. If he doesn’t die of old age first.” He looks at me. “L.O.L.” He pauses. “Should I go on?”
“How did you get my emails to Kimberly? Those are private.”
“Not when they’re on the company server. It’s easy for the company owner to get access to what comes across the servers.” When I fix him a blank stare, he smirks. “I guess you’re thinking the owner’s name was Lindel? It was before I bought it.”
He takes a sheaf of papers and slides them across the table. I have a sinking feeling as I thumb through them. How could I have been so careless? What was I thinking, using my company email account to blab about my plans?
The sinking feeling I’ve developed only grows deeper when he explains the special software he had developed after some suits started disappearing from the warehouse. He suspected it was an inside job, and as a precaution had inter-company correspondence scanned and flagged for particular words. My repeated use of the word ‘Craigslist’ apparently triggered a review.
“I’m not a thief,” I say, nervous now.
“No. But when I read your emails I discovered something even more distasteful.” He walks over and leans down. “A scheming little gold-digger.”
“Fuck you,” I say. Tears of anger are starting to sting my eyes.
“Careful, dear,” he says quietly. “I’m taking note of everything you say. I’m making a list.” He studies me for a moment. I feel small under his gaze. Kimberly was right; this was a bad idea. A very bad idea.
“Tell me, my dear. What if my trusted butler had been the real Stanton? Would you have exploited his personal loneliness for your own personal ends, justifying it as some sort of feminist payback?”
I bite back the retort. He looms over me, his presence large and intimidating. I wish now I’d not dressed as I did. I feel very much like a schoolgirl sitting before a principal.
He sighs. “Well, I don’t expect an answer.”
“Can I go now?” I ask quietly.
He turns away.
“Sure. Would you prefer a marked police car or an unmarked car to pick you up?”
“Police… wait…” I stand. “I haven’t committed any crime…”
“Really?” He picks up the folder again. “I did a little digging. It’s a shame how slack our HR office is. I will have to chide them for not doing a thorough background check on you. It seems they missed an outstanding warrant…” He holds up a piece of paper and a chill runs through my body.
I’d almost let myself forget about it. After five years, I’d convinced myself that investigators in rural LeClare County had given up trying to track me down, and the business who’d received checks I wrote on a closed account had just taken the loss.
I’d laid low after my move, taking only freelancing work, and had only taken the job with Lindel’s Fine Clothiers when the lady told me I was a shoo-in.
“Is there a background check or anything?” I’d asked, trying to keep my tone casual, but she’d waved me off. “Don’t worry about it. Can you start tomorrow?”
I’d been desperate when I applied to Lindel’s. I’d needed the work. Being an artist for hire wasn’t cutting it, because I started repeating the old habits of living beyond my means. It’s always gotten me into trouble. It’s what brought me here, to this house.
And now, it’s going to send me to jail.
“Why are you doing this?”
Silas Stanton walks over and sits down beside me. “Because when a young woman comes looking to tease a daddy figure, she should consider that she’ll get just that.” A silence hangs between us. His eyes are traveling down my body, lingering on the tight white shirt with the tantalizing neckline, the periwinkle skirt, and back up to my earlobes adorned with little daisies. I self-consciously put my ear to the side of my head. “What a tangled web you have woven, my dear.”
I close my eyes and feel tears squeeze from between them.
“Are you going to call the police?”
“I should,” he says. “As a businessman, I loathe what you’ve done. But jail would not teach you what I can. I’m offering you a chance to enter a very special correction program. Here. With me.”
“Correction program…” I stare dumbly at him. “What do you mean?”
“No questions.” His tone is cold and commanding. “You only need to know that you will not be harmed. This is a yes or no decision, young lady. No details. You either accept the unknown of my offer, or you accept the known of jail.” He pauses. “I expect a judge would not be at all lenient, given that you’ve gone into hiding, especially in conservative LeClare County.”
My heart is pounding.
He stands, walks over to the table, picks up the phone. “Choose.”
I rise, panicked. “Okay. I’ll… stay…”
What the fuck am I saying? I don’t know him. What am I getting into?
He puts the phone down.
He pushes a button by the phone. A moment later the door opens and the woman who greeted me at the door walks in.
“Mina, if you would please escort Miss Clement to her room.” He looks at me then, and his expression is hard. “I’ll be seeing to you momentarily.”
“This way, dear.” The maid turns and walks from the room and I follow. The awe I felt when I first walked through the house has been replaced by confusion and fear. The impressive staircase now looks ominous. I look up; the multiple flights end in darkness, but Mina the Maid is already mounting the steps and I can only follow, dread weighing on every step.
On the third floor, I find myself trailing Mina down a hallway. Her heels don’t click here. There’s a thick Oriental runner under our feet. Or maybe it’s Turkish. Either way, I’m sure I’m walking on a carpet that’s worth more than I’ve made in my entire life. More portraits line the walls. I glance up at one and almost gasp to see Silas Stanton’s stern face glaring down at me. But the man in the portrait is in period dress. Beside him is a smallish woman with a pretty, serene-looking face. His hand is on her shoulder in a way that could be protective or possessive. Ancestors? I want to ask, but Mina has moved ahead and I have to hasten to catch up.
She stops at a doorway near the end of the hall and pulls a key from her pocket. The lock clicks as she turns the key and she stands aside as the door opens. I walk through it, stop, and look back at her.
“Is this some kind of joke?”
I look around the room.
“Joke, miss?” Mina shakes her head. “Mr. Stanton does not joke.”
But there must be a mistake. I look around again, just to make sure my eyes aren’t deceiving me, and when I turn back, the door is shut. I rush over, turn the knob, but it’s locked. I jiggle it lightly, then harder, before pounding on the door.
“Hey!” I call. “Hey! Come back! You can’t lock me in here!” I put my ear to the door, hoping to hear Mina’s returning footsteps. But there’s only silence. I turn away from the door and face the room.
A single cream-colored ivory bed with a pink coverlet and matching canopy. A shelf filled with books and toys. Toys. Teddy bears and dolls stare down at me. A round white table with the letters of the alphabet painted around the edge. A tea set sits in the center. Another teddy bear stares at me from one of the two chairs.
A wardrobe. I walk over and open it. Inside there are dresses more suited to a conservative adolescent schoolgirl than a woman.
Despite the furniture being to adult scale, this is clearly a child’s room.
“What the hell is going on?” I ask no one in particular.
The door opens. It’s Stanton.
“You wanted to be spoiled,” he says. “I aim to please. It’s all yours. Do you like it?”
“It’s…” I look around the room. “It’s creepy.”
He chuckles. “You wanted a sugar daddy. You wanted a man who would shower you with things. But you forget the Golden Rule. The one with the gold makes the rules. During your tenure with me, I’ll be your tireless benefactor. Some of the things you’ll receive, you’ll like. Some you won’t. Some you may grow to appreciate, even if you don’t at first.”
“You mean like this stupid room?” I ask.
“Yes,” he says. “This room…” He walks over, takes my arm, and pulls me to the bed. “And this…”
He sits down, and before I can even process what is happening, I am face down over his lap and fighting… what? I don’t even know what he’s doing. But I realize it soon enough. The air of the room feels cool on my bottom as he lifts my skirt. Then there’s the jarring sound of his hand coming down hard on my bottom, and an explosion of pain that jolts through both upturned cheeks.
“Ow! What the… let me go!” The sting causes me to buck and try to tilt myself forward so I can crawl or even fall off his lap. But his arm winds around my waist, lifting me up and back with uncanny ease. I scream in pained outrage as he smacks my ass again, sending the burn burrowing deeper into my skin. I put my hand back and it’s as if he is waiting for it. Before I can shield myself, he catches my wrist.
And then the spanking begins in earnest and I’m between livid and horrified until the pain becomes too much to bear. I’m cursing, then crying, but he’s silent, methodical. The room is full of the sounds of my wails, and as I look back I catch the sight of the arc of his arm as it swings downward right before another searing impact from his hand. He spanks me with a cadence—left cheek, right cheek, left cheek, right cheek. The blows are all hard, the only difference being how high or low they fall. Sometimes they are on the crest of my buttocks, sometimes lower, just above my thighs. Those are the worst. My skin is sensitive, and tears run into my open mouth as I sob.
I’m vaguely aware that I’m begging for mercy, rocking my hips back and forth to the extent that I can, and writhing when that avails me nothing.
“I’m sorry!” I wail. “I’m sorry!” I don’t even know what I’m sorry for, but begging him to stop hasn’t worked, so I try contrition, which is genuine enough. I am sorry. I’m sorry I went shopping instead of paying my bills. I’m sorry I’m irresponsible. I’m sorry I ever thought this was a good idea.
“Please,” I say when that doesn’t work. I breathe the word through gasping sobs. “Please, please, please…”
And he stops, finally, and pushes me to my feet and turns me so that I’m facing him. My skirt falls back in place and underneath my bottom throbs like a heartbeat.
“Lindsay, stop crying.” He has me by the upper arms and gives me a little shake. “Calm yourself down.”
“C-c-calm… calm down? It hurts!” I manage these words before breaking into a fresh gale of tears.
“Calm down,” he repeats, but he says it softly, and the kindness in his tone is so unexpected that I feel my hiccoughing breaths start to level out. He keeps his hold on my arm, his gaze on mine, until I am somewhat collected. It’s not easy, though. My ass feels like it’s on fire, and were it not for his holding me fast, I’d reach back and rub it.
“Do you want to know why you were spanked?”
“Because…” I hasten to answer and stop. I’m an adult and he spanked me. What possible rational reason can he have? I stare at him, my expression obviously belying my confusion. “I don’t know!”
“Hmm.” He lets go of my arms but tells me to keep my hands at my sides. I ball them into fists to resist soothing my bottom. “You may think it’s for your plan to string along and deceive what you thought was a gullible old man. But your detention here is the consequence for that. The spanking was for your rudeness to me when you thought I was a chauffeur and your profanity against me in the drawing room.” He quirks a brow. “Had you been less arrogant, you might have listened to me when I was in the driver’s seat, my dear. I warned you, did I not, that the man you’d come to meet was old-fashioned?”
He crosses his arms. “You may rub your little bottom now.”
I reach back and slide my hands under my skirt, wincing when my palms come in contact with the hot, punished skin exposed by my skimpy panties. I look around the room.
“So… you’re just going to keep me here in this… kid’s room and spank me?” I look back at him. “Is this some kind of kinky roleplay game you’re into?”
“If you’re asking me if I derive immense pleasure from the paternal role, yes. If you’re asking me if this is a game, it is not.” He rises from the bed, forcing me to look up at him. “You solicited the Internet for a daddy…”
“A sugar daddy,” I say.
“Well, I saw daddy, because both your emails and your background indicate a young lady in need of paternal oversight. Whether any sweetness is derived from our time together is strictly up to you, but you have chosen me over jail, so here is what that means. I will act in all ways as your father figure. Be a good girl, and you’ll be rewarded. Disobey or act in a disrespectful manner, and you’ll be punished.”
He looks at his watch. “My. Look at the time. I’ll send Mina in to help you dress for bed.”
“I can dress my…” I begin, but he cuts me off.
“My staff is an extension of me. If you are in any way churlish, you’ll find yourself over my knee again. Good night.”
“Wait!” He stops, but doesn’t turn, so I walk around him so I can face him. “So what happens tomorrow when I’m supposed to show up for work, or don’t come home?”
“Tomorrow, your friend Kimberly will get an email from you saying that the company is sending you out of town for a bit. Don’t try to email anyone from here. Your signal is scrambled, just as it was in the car. I checked into your townhouse complex. The neighbors above and below? A couple of college guys and an airline attendant, all of whom are rarely home. You won’t be missed. As I said, ‘Good night.’”
Then he’s gone, leaving me staring at the door until Mina comes back in, bearing a tray of milk and cookies and smiling as if I’m a houseguest rather than an abductee who has just been spanked like a five-year-old by her employer.
She walks over to the wardrobe and opens one of the drawers that run along the bottom. I stand in uncomfortable silence as she pulls out a demure white gown with lace on the collar, cuffs, and hem. She lays it on the trunk at the foot of my bed and begins to turn down the covers.
I want to ask her things. I want to ask her if she knows why her employer is doing this, or what I should do. But then she speaks again, and what she says makes me realize I have no ally in her.
“Is there anything else I can do for you, little miss?”
“No,” I say. I’m suddenly tired, too tired to fight, too tired to even try and figure out exactly what I’ve gotten myself into. “I can change my own clothes.”
“Very well. I’ll sneak back in later for your glass and tray, quiet as a mouse.” She smiles. It’s a pretty smile. Her serenity is unnerving.
She leaves the room, and I’m alone, unable to even fathom what the next day will bring.
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