After a quick breakfast they drove into the city together, chatting idly about nothing much of consequence. John was in a good mood, and in spite of everything that had happened over the previous twenty-four hours, so was Sarah. She wasn’t happy in the way she’d been happy in her earlier years, the carefree way she’d felt about the world and everything in it. But John’s lovemaking had brought her a new kind of happiness, an animal connection of desire. Just being near him made her feel better about the world—no matter how broken it was.
John parked near the bank and they got out together. Sarah felt residual dampness between her thighs underneath her sweatpants, her juices and his still mixed together within her.
“I’ll see you in a bit,” he said, swatting her bottom lightly.
Sarah almost felt guilty about what she was about to do, but she knew John would never approve—and when John didn’t approve, he tended to show it with bottom-stinging results. Besides, maybe, if his errands took a while, she could get her stuff done and be back before he knew she was gone.
She went into the bank, walked through the lobby and out the door on the other side. As luck would have it, there was a taxicab rank there. She got into one before she could lose her nerve and asked the driver to take her to her home address.
“Not sure I can get in there, whole area is cordoned off from the tornado, miss.”
“Just get me as close as you can,” she said. “My house is in there. I need… well… I want to go back.”
The driver grunted and switched his meter off. “This ride is on me.”
“Thanks,” Sarah said, settling back in the seat. “That’s so nice.”
John had experienced an uneasy feeling as he watched Sarah go into the bank, but he’d pushed it aside. He wasn’t her keeper and she had every right to attend to her affairs without him hovering over her. John ran his own errands, then went back to the truck and waited, checking his watch every few minutes. After half an hour or so, the little bit of patience he had left waned and he went inside. There was no sign of Sarah at any of the tellers, and upon inquiry, he discovered that Sarah hadn’t actually done any banking business at all, though one of the tellers thought she had seen her pass through the lobby earlier.
The uneasy feeling that had been with him since dropping her off grew several fold. He followed the path she’d taken to the other side of the block and found himself looking at a street full of shops. Maybe she’d decided to get herself something nicer to wear. She had said she wanted jeans. He did a quick walking sweep of the nearby retailers, but there was no sign of Sarah and nobody seemed to have seen her.
A young man spinning a sign for a mattress store was John’s last line of questioning. He was red-eyed and smelled faintly of weed, but listened intently as John described Sarah to him, nodding along.
“I… uh… think she got into a car a while back,” he said. “She’s… uh… hot, so, I noticed her.”
“She got into a car? Someone picked her up?”
“I don’t know, man. What is she, your girlfriend or something?” He grinned. “You gotta keep her on a tighter leash, man. My girl… she was running around on me. So you know what I did? I told her, what’s good for the goose is good for the duck, man, and then I went and slept with her sister… drove her crazy!”
“I’ll bet,” John said, reserving judgment. He’d seen plenty of friends taking the same sort of approach in his younger days, though it had never appealed to him. “Thanks for the help.”
“No worries, man, good luck!”
John went back to his truck and thought. Had Sarah run off somewhere else? Been picked up by a friend? He didn’t think so. Closing his eyes, he tried to put himself in her shoes. What would Sarah be doing? He wished he’d gotten her cell number from her, but he hadn’t thought to. He hadn’t expected her to disappear the moment his back was turned.
Looking out the window, he watched a woman get into a taxi. A car. The sign spinner had said she got into a car. Maybe it was a taxi, or an Uber. If it was, where would she be…?
“Idiot!” He smacked himself in the forehead with the palm of his hand. He knew precisely where Sarah was—the last place she should have been.
He drove to the subdivision where he’d pulled her out of her broken house not twenty-four hours earlier. In the light of day it was a horrible mess. Some houses were untouched, others were utterly destroyed. Some, like Sarah’s, were partially demolished, leaning in unnatural ways, with various walls caved in, windows warped and broken.
There were still some crews working the area. They recognized John and let him in. He drove slowly and carefully toward Sarah’s house, avoiding debris as much as he could. He pulled up a ways down the block, got out of the truck, and walked toward the house. It would have looked nice once. It had obviously been well maintained, but the white weatherboards that once would have gleamed in the sunlight were splintered and bowed, ripped off entirely in some places. It looked more like a xylophone than a house.
He walked up to the hole where the front door had once been and peered through. Sure enough, there was a figure moving around inside. Though he was seeing it with his own eyes, John could not believe it. He’d suspected it. Perhaps he’d even known it on some gut level, but actually seeing her inside the half-destroyed house still somehow took him by surprise.
“Sarah!” There was no shortage of authoritarian anger in his voice as he shouted her name. Through the doorway, he saw her freeze in place.
“Come out here!” He boomed the order. “Now!”
He took a step or three back from the house, folded his arms over his chest, and waited for her to obey. A moment or two later, Sarah peeked out from under the crushed eaves of what had once been her home, her eyes widening as she realized she had been caught by a man who was planning on taking her over his knee and thrashing her for putting her life in so much danger.
“Come. Here.” He said the words in a low, authoritarian growl.
Her eyes darted about, as if she was thinking about running away.
“Don’t you dare,” he growled, taking a step toward her. “Come here.” He jabbed his finger in a gesture toward the ground in front of him. Slowly, skulking like a guilty little kitten, she came out from under the ruins of the house and sidled toward him.
“Did you miss the cordon back there?” He jabbed his finger toward the bright orange tape fluttering in the breeze.
“I guess I must have,” she shrugged. “What’s the problem?”
“The problem is you scurrying around inside a house that could collapse at any moment. Nobody knew you were here, Sarah. If something had happened while you were inside, that would have been it for you.”
“Oh,” she said. “Well. That’s a good point, I guess.”
Her insistence on being stubbornly casual about the danger she had put herself in was frustrating. Tiring of talk, John reached out, took her by the hand, and led her away from the house with long strides. She dug her heels in after just a few steps, not that it did much of anything. Her relatively slim and slight frame didn’t introduce nearly enough drag to stop him.
“Let me go! What are you doing!”
He turned toward her and fixed her with a stern look. “I’m taking you home.”
“I was home.” She couldn’t help herself. Though she tried her very best to bristle at him, her little smirk told him she was being a smart ass.
“I’m taking you back to my place. And once we get there, you’re grounded.”
“Grounded!” She let out a splutter. “I’m not some teenager you can ground, John. I’m a woman. I’m a homeowner. I’m a taxpayer. I pay your salary, so why don’t you ground yourself!”
He didn’t dignify that with a response. She wanted to not only put herself in danger but act like a little brat when she was caught? That was not going to fly with him. Not for a second.
He marched her to his truck, opened the passenger door, and swatted her ass hard when she tried resisting passively. The moment his hand met her deserving bottom, Sarah yelped and leaped into the passenger seat, scowling at him furiously.
“Someone might have seen that!”
“If you don’t want people to see you getting your butt smacked, try behaving yourself.” He closed the door, walked around the truck, and got into the driver’s side. She was still scowling, but she made no further complaint as he put the vehicle in gear and set off toward home.
“You can’t tell me what to do,” she said as the broken houses of her neighborhood dwindled into the distance.
“Have you already forgotten what our deal was? You stay with me, you follow my rules.”
“It’s a stupid deal,” she said. “And I only made it because you got me drunk.”
“Oh, is that right?” John shook his head with a dark chuckle. This girl really would say anything to get her own way. She was about the most stubborn little thing he’d ever encountered. His palms tingled with the desire to smack her round bottom again. She needed discipline badly, and he was going to make sure she got it.
“It is right,” she said. “I want to renegotiate the deal.”
“We can renegotiate the deal,” he agreed. “Right after I spank you for sneaking off to a restricted area and putting your life at risk.”
“That’s not fair!”
She argued similarly all the way back to the house, not realizing that every bratty statement and attempt at getting herself out of trouble only got her deeper into it. John did not respond to the rest of her arguments at all, a fact that only served to make Sarah say increasingly ridiculous things.
“I bet you planned this all along,” she said suspiciously. “You set me up! You knew I’d try to go back to the house, so you sneaked along behind me and then you caught me all because you want to punish me. Well, you can’t punish me, because I’m a grown woman! And you’re… well… you can’t, alright? John? Can you hear me? John!”
By that time he’d pulled into his driveway and turned the car off. Sarah sat in the passenger seat, watching him with wide eyes as he walked around the car, then opened her door and took hold of her by the hand once more.
“John!” She said his name as if saying it would somehow get her out of trouble.
He marched her into the house without speaking, where he wasted no time whatsoever in sitting down and taking her over his knee. Sarah tumbled over his lap with a wail of complaint, limbs flailing, but it didn’t do her any good. She was still wearing the sweatpants he’d gotten for her, which made it easy to bare her bottom and start spanking her deserving cheeks with hard slaps that left bright pink palm prints across her pale skin.
Sarah put up quite a fight, squirming and cursing and kicking out until he had to put one of his legs over hers and clamp her thighs between his. That left her in a much more precarious position, her butt raised higher than before, her hands supporting her on the carpet, her hair falling into her face as John set about really tanning her hide, his palm finding her bare bottom over and over again with unerring accuracy, which made her voice rise in feminine protest.
“Fucking stop it, John!”
“No,” he said firmly as his hand slapped one cheek then the other in a quick peppering motion. “You put yourself in danger. You deserve this and a whole lot more. Consider yourself lucky my belt is still on my pants, young lady.”
That seemed to give her pause for all of two seconds, during which he landed a half dozen more sound swats to her pink bottom. There was something innately satisfying about spanking a young woman who not just deserved it, but desperately needed it. Sarah didn’t seem to have any kind of instinct for self-preservation whatsoever. She’d ignored dozens of cordons and signs to go back to the house, and for what?
“Stooopppp ittt!” Her plea became a whine as the heat and color rose in her bottom. He was sure she wasn’t comfortable, but the spanking he was giving her was absolutely nothing on how it would have felt if a house had fallen on her head. She thought he was mean, maybe even cruel, but spanking her was the best way John knew to get the message through to the part of her that might actually listen. Talking wasn’t going to do any good. Sarah was the sort of girl who said what you wanted to hear and then went and did whatever she was going to do anyway. She’d proved that by sneaking off from the bank right under his nose.
“I’ll stop it when I think you’ve learned your lesson,” he said. “When you understand that it’s not okay to sneak and lie and put yourself in danger.”
“Well, I hope your arm isn’t tired, because you’re going to be spanking me a really fucking long time,” she yelled back, defiant as ever.
John stopped, both his brows rising. So she thought it was a good time to challenge him? Well, she’d soon learn what a mistake that was. He kept her in place with one hand wrapped around her waist, and used his other hand to flick the buckle of his belt out of place. The thick dark leather slid out of the loops of his pants in one smooth motion. He doubled it over, making sure there was a nice smooth plane with which to contact her deserving little ass.
With his arm raised high, John snapped the leather down across the middle of her ass with a crack that echoed around the room. Immediately a hot pink stripe appeared across the center of her cheeks. Sarah let out a cry, which was cut off as he laid another stroke above the first, and then one below it, not sparing her any of the leather’s infernal lash.
“Okay! Fuck! I’m sorry!”
She wasn’t sorry. She’d just realized that he could do more to her than swat her butt. John snapped the belt down across her ass three more times, her whines and cries becoming higher pitched as the hot pink lashes became small welts in a couple of places.
“I’m sorry! John! I said I’m sorry!” The desperate tone in her voice and the fairly desperate state of her bottom made him still his hand.
“What are you sorry for?”
“I’m sorry for lying and for sneaking, and for… anything you say!”
“Anything I say? You don’t get it, do you, Sarah? What the hell were you thinking, going back there? You know it’s not safe! You don’t need to be told that! You’ve got enough intelligence and common sense to know better. So why were you acting so carelessly?”
“I was thinking it would be nice to get some of my stuff back before the insurance people put a bulldozer through my house,” she yelled back, her anger overcoming her contrition.
“Stuff can be replaced, Sarah…”
“Oh, yeah? You have my mother’s engagement ring lying around somewhere? You have my baby pictures? You have a spare set of ashes? That can all just be replaced? That’s bullshit, John, and you know it. Everything I had is fucking gone. I just wanted…” She burst into sobs, which made spanking her utterly pointless because she was obviously in far more pain than he would ever have wanted her to feel.
John looked down at her red-bottomed figure now racked with tears and swore softly under his breath. Why hadn’t she just said all that in the first place? It would have saved her a hell of a spanking. He knew why, of course. Sarah couldn’t do anything the easy way, and she certainly wasn’t the sort to ask for help even when she needed it.
“I was going to say, stuff can be replaced… but you can’t be,” he said, pulling her up into a bear hug. “Listen, you can’t go back into the house. It’s far too dangerous. There’s a risk of collapse and fire. I won’t let you do it, Sarah. I’m sorry.”
She did not make any kind of a coherent reply. She just buried her face in his neck and wet his shirt with more tears than he’d known could come from a woman. It was almost as though she’d turned to liquid, and all he could do was hold her close and try not to put too much pressure on her sore bottom as he let his palm run over the hot skin in a soothing caress.
“You wanted baby pictures? That’s why you went back?”
“I wanted our pictures. I wanted my mother’s clock. I wanted my father’s model boats. I wanted… I wanted my life!”
“I’m sorry, sweetheart,” he murmured in her ear.
“That storm took everything I had left,” she sobbed. “There’s just me now. Only me. And I can’t… I don’t…”
He could feel her helplessness and hopelessness as she trembled against him, overwhelmed by what he was sure felt like a very real sense of isolation even though she was pressed against his body at that very moment. Sarah had known loss all her life, it had left its mark on her and become the one thing she both believed in and feared the most.
All John could do was hug her until the tears started to abate. He wrapped his arms around her, holding her until she began to slide away from him, becoming more composed in spite of the fact that her pants were still around her knees and her bottom was bare and bright red.
“I’m sorry,” she said. “You’re right, of course you’re right. It’s too dangerous to go back in there. I was being stupid.”
“You weren’t being stupid. You were being impulsive and sad and… it wasn’t the right thing to do, it wasn’t safe, but you’re not stupid.”
She shrugged and tried for a watery smile. “It’s all the same thing. I’m sorry I’ve caused you so much trouble.”
“Hey,” he said, taking her chin between his thumb and forefinger. “I knew what I was taking on when I asked you to come back here. You’re allowed to be trouble.”
She frowned slightly, not really understanding what he meant. He wasn’t surprised. It had been such a long time since Sarah had been able to rely on anyone that the notion there could be someone who would look out for her even if she was less than perfect was probably hard to fathom.
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