Only the back hallway light was on when she got home. It was late, at least two hours past the time she’d told him she’d be home. She hadn’t phoned or sent a text, ignoring his calls and messages. It was selfish, denying him the simple courtesy of a call when she knew he would be worried, but what could she say?
She couldn’t very well admit to avoiding him because he was her weakness, the armor-piercing bullet in her well-crafted shields, the kryptonite that would bring her down and make her vulnerable to the Devon Whites of the world. Did she admit that she’d been happier in the past month than she’d been in years, except that it meant being human, which was counterproductive to her career, not to mention the fragile state of her heart?
Damn! He was sure to be pissed, but she was too. Her well-ordered world was topsy-turvy and she was too confused to sort it out right now, or to confront him with it.
He was in their bedroom when she walked in. Not reading or watching TV, but seated in one of the wing chairs by the fireplace with a direct line to the door, clearly waiting for her.
Briefly glancing his way, she didn’t stop as she crossed to the console table against the opposite wall and set down her bag. Without a word of greeting, she headed straight to the walk-in closet, disappearing inside. It was so easy to slip back into the cold, distant Giada of old, as familiar as a favorite old sweater she couldn’t bear to part with—except with Ian. With him it was stiff and uncomfortable, and left a bitter taste of regret.
Kicking off her shoes, she grabbed her nightgown and robe, and entered the bathroom. Their closet was the size of a small bedroom and had been designed with two doors, thank goodness. This meant she didn’t have to go through the bedroom again and was granted another short reprieve before facing her husband, which was well worth the added expense and change of design during building, way back when.
Dreading the inevitable confrontation, she took her time going through her nightly routine, taking twice as long to remove her makeup, brushing out her long hair until it gleamed, methodically moisturizing from head to toe, and then brushing her teeth for the full recommended two minutes.
Stalling, Ian would call it and he’d be right. She bent to rinse, jumping when his deep voice reverberated around the room like a gunshot.
“I was worried.”
The three words, said in a clipped tone, had her straightening, her eyes meeting his in the mirror as her hand flew to her chest as if she could still her racing heart.
“You scared me half to death, Ian.”
“Not a pleasant feeling, is it?”
She didn’t reply, instead twisting to spit out the toothpaste and wipe her mouth.
“Where were you?”
“I worked late. The stockholders’ meeting—”
“I called. You left at eight. That was two hours ago. Try again.”
“I went for a drive to clear my head.”
“So you lied.”
“No, I was at work, just not the whole time.”
“Semantics. You were upset when you left.”
“Don’t try to deny it. Carson called. He was concerned after being briefed by Marcy and security.”
“He had no right. What happens at work doesn’t have a bearing—”
“It does when you come home late, signs of the old Giada rearing her ugly head.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“He said you cancelled all your appointments this afternoon, some crucial in advance of the meeting on Friday. Marcy told him you came back late from lunch, upset when some man harassed you in the lobby. Who was he?”
“It was nothing. I took care of it.”
“Giada,” he said low, moving close until he was almost pressed full length against her. His fingers curled behind her neck as his thumbs beneath her jaw angled her face up to his. “Talk to me.”
Soft and full of concern, his voice and his gentle touch had her resolve wavering. She dropped her eyes, unable to bear the intensity of his gaze that could see past her guard, as if into her very soul.
“It was someone I preferred not to work with. He was pushy and wouldn’t take no for an answer.”
“Who was it?”
“I’d rather not get into it.” She tried to pull away, but his hold tightened, keeping her firmly her in place.
“And I’d rather you did. Clear the air, you’ll feel better.”
“I’d feel better if you’d leave me alone.”
“Fair warning. I don’t appreciate your tone.”
Fair warning, I don’t care. It was on the tip of her tongue. Although despite her agitated state, she wasn’t foolish enough to say so. She shrugged, the gesture successfully breaking his hold, although she knew if he hadn’t allowed it, she wouldn’t have. Turning, she reached for a tube on the counter. Once she had it in hand, she proceeded to rub moisturizer into her skin, pausing when she realized she done so already.
As she stared down at her glistening fingers, the familiar scent doing nothing to soothe her ragged nerves, Ian’s big hand came around and took the tube from her. His arms followed, enveloping her. The long fingers of one hand moved upward along her throat and lifted her chin until she was facing the mirror, staring at their reflections, his face alongside hers in the mirror.
She watched as he bent his head and with his lips next to her ear, his blazing bright blue gaze locking onto the deep brown of her own, he murmured sternly, “The attitude can go, too.”
“I agreed to this,” she snapped, “not so you could control my every thought and every word, Ian. Back off.”
“Giada.” Her growled name was his last warning; one she didn’t heed.
“Let me go. I’m tired and ready for bed.”
“You can go to bed when you tell me what’s wrong. Whether that happens before or after I set your tail on fire is up to you.”
“You heard me.”
“No, Ian. I’m not in the mood.”
“That is profoundly evident, but we are not going backwards. What we have is too important to let that happen again.” His hands dropped to his sides, the loss of his touch visceral as he withdrew and he stepped back. “Since you’re obviously not ready to talk, I want you to go and bend over the end of the bed. Maybe after I heat your backside, you’ll be in the mood to tell me what the fuck this is all about.”
She blinked, her eyes shooting to his. A crack in his infamous cool was extremely rare.
“I’m angry, Gi, don’t push me further. Over the end of the bed, now.”
Stiffly, she walked by him, stopping a foot away from the bed. The sound of his belt zipping through the loops of his pants made her tense. They had a strap with a handle. Soft and supple, he’d used it on her for years during playtime. This wouldn’t be anything like those fun, sexy swats. His belt, still warm from his body made it seem more personal, more… real.
“Ian,” she began.
“Unless you’re ready to tell me what happened tonight, I don’t want to hear it. Raise your gown to your waist, bend over, ass high.”
“I had fifteen in mind; stalling will make it thirty.”
She swallowed, her eyes dropping to his hands that had doubled the one-and-a-half-inch wide black leather in two. It was new, only a month or so. She’d bought it at the same time she’d bought his new Italian loafers for his birthday. It would sting like a mother.
“Yes, this is real. And the count is now thirty. Before it gets to forty-five, I suggest you be the good girl you promised to be and obey me. Now.”
He spoke in a soft, deep murmur. It wasn’t coaxing, or imploring, or even demanding, it was matter of fact. And he would keep increasing the tally by fifteen counts until she wised up and did as she promised, no… contracted to do. Damn that stupid contract. In their line of work, their signature was their vow. He knew that and was the exact reason he’d put it all onto paper and made her sign. You insisted on it, Giada’s inner voice reminded her.
She turned and faced the end of their high bed. Lifting the short hem of her nightgown to her waist, she revealed that she wore no panties. Since they were stored in her dresser, not the walk-in, she hadn’t had any to put on. He would have made her peel those down anyway, undressing herself for him, part of the submission he demanded.
She stood on her toes, and her hands crawled over the soft throw folded at the foot of the bed as she eased her upper half down. Propping on her elbows, she twisted her head to watch him.
“All the way flat, with your cheek on the comforter, please.”
She frowned, yet did as he asked.
“Good, now spread your legs. I want you to feel every stroke and I want to see your response, all of them, including the slightest nuance.”
She inched her feet apart.
Shifting more, she felt the air circulating in the room waft over her already damp inner thighs.
Ian’s footsteps sounded in soft thuds as he approached.
“I thought we had settled things between us, Gi, but I suppose some slip-ups and the need for reminders should be expected.” His caressing fingers ran over her bare bottom, moving up to the small of her back. Once there, he lifted the sheer fabric of her gown and robe higher, uncovering every square inch of her from the waist down. His touch returned to her ass, rubbing and squeezing the area he intended to punish.
“Perhaps a maintenance night is in order, for the future.”
She glanced back at him. “What’s that?”
“A proactive approach to keep you on the straight and narrow consisting of a spanking session once a week. It will help remind you of the rules you agreed to.” He patted her bottom lightly, then began rubbing in wider circles, warming her up as he asked, “Is it too much to ask that you let your husband know where you are, Gi? It’s been raining hard. I had images of you in a ditch somewhere, for Christ’s sake.”
Guilt washed over her. She’d been childishly stubborn and avoidant. Selfish.
Burying her face in the bedding, hiding the stinging tears in her eyes, her voice was muffled as she said, “I’m sorry, Ian. That wasn’t fair. I should have called.”
“Yes, you should have,” Ian agreed as he slid his hand up her back, his fingers threading into the hair at her nape. Not allowing her to hide from him or herself, with gentle but firm pressure, he lifted her head and turned it to where they could see one another. He leaned in, his forearm propped on the bed beside her. “Especially after you said you’d be home early when we spoke at eleven o’clock this morning. You were fine then, looking forward to tonight.”
“I had lunch with my sisters. They said I was whipped.”
He grunted in irritation. “Does anyone’s opinion except mine and yours, who are in this marriage, really matter?”
“No,” she admitted.
“Taking marital advice from your two unmarried flighty sisters is probably not the best resource.”
“I know. And they really ticked me off.”
“But I didn’t overreact, I left instead.”
“Good girl, then what happened when you got back to the office?”
“Devon White happened.”
There was a long drawn-out pause, and Giada watched as the muscle began to twitch in his jaw, usually a sign he was controlling his temper. Then he moved, determinedly hauling her to her feet. Startling her with this sudden action, she gasped when he went further, turning her and pulling her up on her toes. His fingers curled around her upper arms, not painfully so, but his reaction was so intense she pressed her hands into his chest to keep her balance.
He dipped his head so that they were nose to nose as he demanded to know, “What did that bastard say to you?”
She closed her eyes against the blaze of temper in his.
“No, Giada, don’t hide from me.”
Her head fell back, her lashes flying up.
“And don’t be afraid of me baby, never that. But this asshole messed with more than your head back in college and it changed you. Then, once we had you sorted out, you see him again and change back into the shrew? What bullshit was he spewing now?”
“He called me a bitch.”
While his eyes blazed with anger, he contained it. “That isn’t something you haven’t heard. What else did he say?”
It was true; still to hear him say it, stung.
“What else, Giada?”
Her anger flared. “He wanted to broker a multi-million-dollar deal and I turned him away. I couldn’t stand the thought of working with him, after what he did, it makes me sick.”
“Not surprising, you know what he is capable of: lies, manipulation, and backstabbing. I’d have done the same thing. Why did this bother you?”
“The old Giada wouldn’t have dismissed such a lucrative offer, no matter who made it. She would have doubled down and put in place rules that were in her favor. I didn’t, don’t you see? I walked away. What kind of CEO costs its stockholders, owners, and employees’ profits because her tender feelings were hurt ten years ago?”
“It’s like the saying goes. Nice guys finish last, and emotional women can’t cut it in business.”
“Are you trying to tell me because you don’t snap everyone’s head off or give them the deep freeze, you are an ineffective leader? Or, that feeling vulnerable after seeing a man who played you, took advantage of your innocence, and conned you into falling in love with him to get ahead in your father’s firm makes you weak?” He pulled her up higher as he barked emphatically, “Bullshit! What it makes you, is human. It doesn’t make you a pushover or a doormat. And not trusting a known con man is smart business.”
When Ian summarized the situation, it made a lot more sense.
“And while all of these doubts were swirling around in your head, you decided not to come home. To me. Care to explain that?”
“You were putting the blame at my feet, weren’t you?”
To that she said nothing. She also couldn’t hold his gaze, which was answer enough.
“You put more faith in an asshole you dated for a few months, years ago, than a husband who has loved you for ten years. Dammit, Giada. What were you thinking?”
“I wasn’t. I was reacting. Seeing him, despite all the time that’s past, brought it all back.” She bit her lip, trying to keep the tears from coming. “He really did a number on my head, Ian. He and his bimbo wife.”
His brows flew up.
“Yes, he married one of the mean girls that ditched me that night at the concert, another slap in the face.” She sagged within his grip; the stress of the day finally zapping her strength. Her head rolled forward to rest on his shoulder. “I’m embarrassed for letting him get to me. I’m an idiot.”
“You’re not an idiot.” As his arms wrapped around her and hugged her close, the pent-up tension in her body released along with a small sob.
“I’m sorry, Ian. I’m fucked up. I can’t figure out why you put up with me.”
“You can’t? After ten years, you can’t see what’s in front of you. After me faking divorce papers to get you to open your eyes? After entering into a damn D/s contract that allows me to spank your ass raw when you do stupid shit that threatens what we have? Despite that, you can’t figure it out? Dammit, Gi, what do I have to do to get you to see what’s right in front of you?”
Her face unburied from his neck as she asked in a whisper, “You love me?”
At that, his gorgeous blue eyes tipped up to the ceiling. “She still has to ask.”
“You do love me,” she stated more firmly.
“Yeah, baby, I do, although sometimes you are one colossal pain in the ass.”
“Oh, Ian.” Then the tears came, pouring down her face as if a switch had been flipped. “I love you too, but I’m afraid.”
“So you’ve said, yet you keep pushing me away with the hard-ass bitch routine. I see through it, Gi, and it doesn’t scare me. It makes me want to hold on to you all the harder, after spanking some sense into you. Which by the way, I still owe you.”
“What?” she yelped.
“You were two hours late, you didn’t call, you created all kinds of crazy ass shit in your mind about me when you promised to trust. I believe you’ve earned one hell of a butt busting. Don’t you?”
“Am I really supposed to answer that?”
“Oh, all right. Yes, I earned it, for jumping to conclusions, for acting like a psycho bitch, and for pushing you. I deserve a butt busting and more…” She paused, not quite able to bring herself to ask for what she richly deserved.
“Say it. What more do you deserve?”
“I deserve a hard spanking…”
“Almost there,” he encouraged.
“With your belt,” she added in a whisper.
“That’s my girl.” He hugged her tight, dipping his head to take her lips in a quick, hard kiss. “Now,” his hands fell to her hips as he guided her to the bed, “back in position. We’ll get this done then get onto more pleasurable pursuits that may actually end up salvaging our evening.”
“Pleasurable for you, maybe, though I highly doubt that rigid piece of leather has any pleasure in it for me.”
“Ye of little faith, and I mean that in more ways than one.”
He kissed her, hard. “Bend over, ass nice and high, feet wide apart.”
She settled back into position, pulling up her gown and robe again without being told. And, as she rested her chest down on the bed, sinking into the soft cashmere coverlet, she felt surprisingly at peace. Just as he had promised the other night, Ian hadn’t cut and run with this screw-up. Still, he’d been angry, more so than she’d ever seen him, and it was out of worry for her. So she prepared for a doozy of a belting.
His hand on her bare bottom the next instant made her flinch. “Relax, or it will be worse.”
“Easier said than done, sir.”
“Mm… I’ll be right back. Don’t go anywhere.”
She heard him move away, turning in time to see him enter the closet. Maybe he was relenting on the belt and going for their nice, butter-soft, worn-in strap. Now that would save the evening, or at least mitigate it, and the soreness of her soon-to-be thrashed backside. She was disappointed when he came back, something hidden in his big right fist, the other, empty.
He stopped by the nightstand and slid open a drawer. The only thing he kept in there was lube. She frowned, having a notion of what he had planned. The notion became proven fact when he stepped behind her and with the fingers of one hand, separated her cheeks. A stream of cool liquid drizzled onto her skin, spread the next moment by something round and smooth.
“Not a plug again.”
“Quit complaining. This will help you relax as it did the other night.”
“I think we need to define that term, sir, because it obviously means something different to you.” Her voice rose in pitch ending on a squeal as he pressed the prepared tip of the plug into the tight pucker of her ass. She immediately appreciated the size of the one he’d made her wear out to dinner on Saturday night.
Giada squirmed as it stretched her. “Ooo, that’s too big.”
“Sh, this is a medium-size plug, one you’ve taken before. It’s feels different because I haven’t aroused you like I usually do when we play. For your spanking, it will keep you from tensing up and clenching your bottom.”
“Mighty considerate of you, sir.”
Her sarcasm lost her the gentle touch on her bottom, earning her a solid open palm crack instead.
“Put the bitch away, Gi, or you’ll be standing through Friday’s stockholders’ meeting.”
She gulped; that was several days away. This was hardly her first punishment spanking since she’d ceded control to him and she knew he would deliver on that promise.
“I’m sorry, Ian, I’m nervous. That belt is going to hurt.”
“It is, or it would be playtime, not punishment. Besides, you agreed that you earned it, and afterwards, I’ll make sure your cooperation is rewarded. How’s that?”
“Can’t we skip straight to that part?”
The plug pressing further inside her was her answer. He went slowly, easing it into place. She felt a small pinch as the widest part passed through her tight ring of muscles, then it eased as they closed around the narrow stem, holding it in place. The fullness, as always, made her clit tingle and wetness began to gather.
With a gentle pat and the brush of his warm lips across her up-thrust cheek, Ian moved away, although not far.
A subtle warmth made her tingle where the plug rested. It grew as his fingers spread out low across the small of her back. She wiggled, at first thinking the heat was extending out from her pussy now that she was becoming aroused, but this was different.
“What did you do?”
“The lube is a warming gel; it will also help you remember not to clench. The more you fight against it and the plug, the warmer it will be.”
“Nope. If you’d rather, I could go get a finger of ginger from the pantry.”
She’d read about that; compared to warming gel, ginger was supposed to burn like fire. “No, sir, I’m good.”
“Mm… Hopefully, following this, you will be.” He applied light pressure on the small of her back, holding her still. Always, when he punished her, he touched her somewhere. It reassured her he was close, as much as it warned her that the lash was about to fall.
The sound of leather swooshing through the air preceded a blast of heat igniting across both cheeks of her backside. Not too bad, she thought, as the swoosh sounded again. The next few Ian placed fractionally higher, one above the other. By the sixth, the leather was snapping against her flesh with a resounding splat and leaving a line of scorching fire where it fell.
She tensed in anticipation of the seventh, but the heated plug in her ass did the trick, the pinch and burn on her inner tissues making her muscles relax to avoid it.
“Good girl,” he murmured. Obviously, with her legs spread, he was seeing every nuance as he’d mentioned.
The belt whooshed and fell, again and again. By the fifteenth stroke her entire backside was ablaze.
Thankfully, he paused, his big hand stroking the skin that she knew had to be scarlet red.
“Halfway,” he said softly. “You are doing so well, Gi. Moving down to your thighs.”
That was all the warning she got before the leather connected at the very top of her right thigh where her cheek and leg met. It was a spot more tender then her ass and she hissed in response. Her husband heard, she could tell by the added pressure low on her back, but he didn’t relent, strapping the other sit spot the next second.
“Oh,” she cried out for the first time. “Smack my ass instead.”
“Nope, your cheeks are as red as I’d like them to get.” He didn’t slow as he replied, continuing to lay down the belt in a slow steady pace from side to side. Ten was all Giada could take when her hand flew back instinctively.
Ian stopped, gathering it into his own at the small of her back and safely out of the way. “Almost done, Gi.”
“No more on my thighs, Ian, please.”
“Who decides when, where, and how much?”
“You do, sir,” she agreed on a hitching breath.
“That’s right. Spread your legs wider and point your toes in.”
Her head jerked around and she gaped at him. “Why?”
“Since your butt is red and your thighs are stinging, I’ll paint your inner thighs with the remaining five, to give you a break.”
She bit back a smart ass comment about his thoughtfulness and willed her legs to function. In the end he had to help her, using his foot to nudge her feet farther apart. Then, without further delays, he swatted her as yet untouched inner thigh with a resounding stroke.
“Ouch!” she cried as her feet tapped out a little dance, moving from the spot he had put them.
“Gi, that was half as hard as the others. Get back into place.”
Sniffing, she did, though it took a bit of time.
“Stalling isn’t going to help, you know. Do I need to tie you for the final four?”
“Good, now stay still and we’ll be done.”
Another zip of leather whistled through the air and struck her tender skin, then another and another. The next one came up between her thighs to land with a wet splat right on her pussy. She shot upright like she was spring loaded, her hands flying to soothe the stinging skin between her legs.
She frowned at Ian as she rubbed. He arched a brow at her in disbelief. “Not a very penitent expression in the wake of a punishment. Do I need to add a few more?”
“No,” she gasped, moving into him and burying her face in his chest. “I’m truly sorry, Ian. I won’t be late without calling or worrying you again. I swear.”
His touch warm and soothing on her back, he pulled her closer. “I’m gonna hold you to it.” His mouth lowered and took hers in a searing kiss; she was just beginning to forget about the stinging heat the belt had created as it shifted deeper and inward, when he lifted his head and broke it off too soon.
“Let me see about easing the sting from that last stroke.”
On all fours on the bed the next moment, the mattress shifted as she felt him kneel in place behind her. Good as his word, his lips and tongue soothed away the ache created by that final stroke. It created an overwhelming need to come, however, and she arched her back, canting her hips so he had uninhibited access to all the places she wanted him. His fingers joined in, two sliding inside her, while the others tugged and twisted the still embedded anal plug.
“Ian,” she keened. “I can’t wait.”
“You don’t have to,” he called as he stood and plunged inside her.
Fullness from dual penetration sent her flying into the stratosphere. Calling his name, she rocked back, taking more of him as another orgasm dovetailed into the first. Or maybe it was the same exquisitely long climax. Either way, it went on and on as he drove into her harder, his fingers curling into her hips as he pulled her back with each forward thrust. She heard his low growl an instant before the warm splash of his release bathed her insides. Out of strength, she collapsed face down on the bed, completely spent.
In a twilight haze, she felt him withdraw, returning in a moment to wash her with a warm cloth and apply a cooling lotion to her skin. Then he lifted her and tucked her beneath the sheet on her belly.
“Ian?” she asked, when he switched off the lights and joined her.
“Think you’ll ever get tired of my crap?”
He sighed and kissed her forehead. “No, sugar buns. I signed on to deal with it till death do us part, remember?”
“Thank goodness, but I don’t know whether to be ticked off over sugar buns, or grateful that you have a really big shovel.”
“Didn’t I mention counseling resumes next week? Your pile is higher and deeper than I can dig out all by myself.”
“I think that’s a smart idea.” She nuzzled her face against his neck. “And I promise to be on time for every session.”
“Thanks, sweetheart. That means a lot.”
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