It was a Friday night and Sarah was waiting for Austin to come and pick her up. They were on their way to a party with his friends, the only party Sarah was allowed to attend, so she had been informed. She was terribly curious about Austin’s friends. She had seen them coming and going from afar for months. They didn’t look like military people. They looked like, well, normal people. But they couldn’t be normal, not if they were friends with Austin. Austin was the least normal man Sarah had ever met.
A knock at the door made her clap her hands with excitement. She rushed to the door and flung it open.
Austin stepped forward, pressed a tender kiss to her lips, and ran his hand down her back to cup her bottom. “Hello, my pet,” he drawled. “You look gorgeous.”
Those three words vindicated the two hours she had spent getting ready and squeezing into the little black dress that made her feel simultaneously sexy and self-conscious. Her full figure was very much on display in that garment, her full buttocks especially prominent under stretch fabric. She was panty-less to avoid any unsightly lines, a fact that made her feel vulnerable and naughty in equal measure.
“I have something for you,” he said. His other hand came out from behind his back, holding a box that looked like a large jewelry case. He flipped it open to reveal not a necklace, but a leather collar, complete with a tag. The little round disc was ringed with diamonds and bore Sarah’s name on the front.
“Oh, my God…”
He flipped the tag over and she saw that it had his name on the back, along with his cell phone number.
“Oh, my God!” Sarah clapped her hand over her mouth. “Are you serious?”
“You know I am,” he said. “I promised you this, did I not?”
“No, I mean yes, but…”
“But you thought I didn’t mean it.” He chuckled softly. “One of these days you’re going to realize that I always mean what I say. Turn around.”
He put the leather collar around her neck as if it were a necklace, but this was no mere necklace, no simple token of affection. It was a sign of ownership and it carried a weight that went far beyond the physical. As he buckled it at the back of her neck and she felt the cool tag settle against her skin, a sense of being owned swept over her like never before. She was literally wearing his mark now, his collar.
“It looks good on you,” he said as he turned her back around to face him.
“I can’t wear a leather collar to a party,” she objected.
“Yes, you can. The party we’re going to, it’s practically part of the dress code.”
She shot him a questioning look, but he just smiled. “Come on,” he said. “We don’t want to be late.”
They drove to a very nice part of town, to a place with a sweeping half-circle driveway, Grecian columns, and other such trappings of wealth displayed in a moderately ostentatious manner.
Sarah looked out the car window, feeling somewhat dubious about the whole affair. “So these are your friends? Are they all military handlers like you? Dog trainers?”
“They’re trainers of various kinds,” he replied.
“So… cat trainers? Horse trainers?”
“Something like that,” he smiled.
“You’re not very good at hiding secrets,” Sarah informed him. “I know you have something up your sleeve. Something about this party isn’t quite right, is it?”
“It’s very right,” he replied. “But I admit, it is going to be a little bit of a surprise to you, I think. Nothing you can’t handle.”
“Is everyone there going to be a weirdo? Because you know I love weirdos.”
“Nobody will be so weird as to mistake a dog for a purse,” Austin said.
“So you’re taking me to a party full of odd straight-edged people. They’re the weirdest of all. People who are weird, but don’t know it.”
“Is that right?” Austin seemed amused by her musings.
“It is,” Sarah said. “It’s very correct.” She was nervous. The weight of the collar on her neck was not significant, but it was a constant reminder of her carnal relationship with Austin, a relationship that was now displayed boldly for all to see.
They came to a stop outside a very nice house in a very nice suburb, the sort of place that would be used in real estate commercials, or life insurance, or incontinence, with white-teethed people with perfect hair running around in sprinklers and such. There was even a sprinkler operating when they arrived, watering a perfectly sown lawn where not so much as a dandelion dared rear its head.
Sarah’s first reaction was to instinctively recoil. The sorts of people who lived in homes like these were not her sorts of people. They were the sorts of people who looked at her art, frowned ever so slightly out of a sense of consternation, and went and purchased something that looked like something recognizable. A nice picture of a chair to hang above their chair, perhaps.
“Nothing,” Sarah said, her hand going to her neck so she could touch the tag with her and Austin’s names on it.
“You’re going to enjoy yourself,” he said reassuringly. “I promise. Let’s go in.”
He took her hand and they walked up the path on which no tendril of moss dared grow. Sarah’s sense of foreboding rose as they got to the front door. She couldn’t hear anything inside, none of the usual sound she would have associated with a party. There was no drumming, no singing, not a whiff of incense to be scented.
Austin knocked on the door. It was opened promptly by a very nice-looking man wearing a tidy cable-knit argyle sweater, pressed pants, and shined leather shoes. He was not as tall as Austin, but he was taller than Sarah. His hair was brown and cut in a floppy but professional style, sort of swept over toward his left ear. He was older than both she and Austin; Sarah had him picked as being in his early fifties judging by the way his hair was graying at the temples, salt mixing with bland pepper through the strands. His face was one of those faces that one forgets to remember and remembers to forget, or at least it seemed that way to Sarah, who was struck with the odd feeling that she’d met this man before in some incarnation or other.
His eyes were slightly narrowed and slightly angled downward at the outer edges, intelligent but more than that too. Something else she couldn’t quite put her finger on. She looked at each of his features; his mouth was slightly thin, his chin slightly pointed, his cheekbones high. He seemed like an intellectual, but not just an intellectual… why was he making alarm bells ring deep in the recesses of her memory? And why was he dressed like a catalog model for a preppy website stocking clothes for the modern professional?
Sarah cast a quick glance over at Austin. It was at that moment she realized Austin was dressed fairly similarly. Strange how she judged strangers for superficial qualities that she appreciated in someone she cared about.
“Robert,” Austin said. “This is Sarah.”
“Hello, Sarah, please, come in.”
The interior of the house was tastefully decorated, more eclectically than Sarah would have expected. There were small soapstone statues depicting Greek mythology, and several modern paintings that also took their roots from history. Not Sarah’s style at all, but hauntingly beautiful. The painting hanging at the back of the foyer took her attention immediately. It was a naked woman, plump after the style of Rubens. She was sitting by a stream with a half-smile on her face, her long dark hair swept to the side to reveal a collar of gold about her neck.
Robert saw her looking at it. “Do you like this piece?”
“I love it,” Sarah breathed. “I mean… the depth, the texture…” She failed to mention the subject, but that was what drew her most. The woman in the painting exuded calm, grace, and contentment, even though she was quite clearly owned in some way.
Austin’s arm looped around her waist. “Let’s go and meet the others.”
The moment Sarah entered the lounge she knew she was not attending any normal party. Some of the guests were sitting on the couches as might be expected, but others were curled up on the floor. And several were attached to one another by merit of leashes clipped to their collars.
Sarah stopped dead and stared in a way that was probably quite rude, but that she could not help at all.
“Everyone, you know Austin, of course,” Robert said, coming around them to make the necessary introductions. “And this is Sarah.”
“Hello, Sarah,” a series of voices responded. Sarah was still trying to take everything in. There didn’t seem to be any particular gender bias to things. One young man was sitting on a cushion on the floor between the thighs of a very beautiful woman with raven hair and long red fingernails who was gently scratching them across his scalp. Next to them a man was sitting with a woman, though she was curled up next to him on the sofa, her leash firmly wrapped around his hand.
On the other side of the room, two women were kneeling on the floor on either side of a very tall man with sideburns that were almost their own entities. He looked rather severe and Sarah avoided meeting his gaze.
“My wife,” Robert said as a pretty woman entered with a drink in her hand. She was wearing a gorgeous silver sheath dress and brilliant diamond earrings. She could have been the wife of a president, if perhaps not for the fact that she was also wearing a very thick black leather collar around her neck. It was trimmed with lace, which softened it just a little, but it was certainly the most striking element of her outfit in spite of the sparkling taking place above and below it. “Anastasia, this is Sarah.”
“Hello,” Sarah said politely. “You have a lovely home.”
“Thank you,” Anastasia said. “Austin has told us all about you; he says you’re an artist.”
“Yes,” Sarah agreed. She was an artist. An artist wearing a collar in a room full of other people some of whom were also wearing collars, all of whom apparently subscribed to the same notions Austin did, notions that were still somewhat new to her.
“Can I get you a drink?”
“Please,” Sarah agreed. “The stiffer, the better.”
“Would you like it in a glass or a bowl?”
Sarah’s eyes widened. “Uh… a glass.”
Anastasia smiled. “That’s just a little joke. We save the bowls for dinnertime.”
“Another joke.” Anastasia smiled more broadly. “Oh, you’re sweet,” she said. “Come to the kitchen with me and we’ll find you something.”
Sarah glanced at Austin, then nodded. She was not so much nervous as she was intrigued and a little off guard. She had seen many strange things in her time. Stranger, even. But this she had not expected. She had expected a pleasant if somewhat bland evening, but that was clearly not going to be the case.
Anastasia led Sarah into a frankly cavernous kitchen and to a wet bar that was stocked beyond any expectation.
“This is your first time anywhere like this,” she said.
“In a kitchen, no,” Sarah deadpanned. “I have one of my own.”
Anastasia smiled. “I mean a party like this, but you knew that.”
“You mean with the collars and such? It’s a first,” Sarah said. “I’m so glad I didn’t forget mine.” Her fingers went to the little tag at her neck. “Imagine how embarrassing that would have been.”
“It’s okay, we have spares for anyone who forgot,” Anastasia played along with the joke.
Sarah smiled. She liked Anastasia. The woman was obviously smart, witty, and accomplished.
“So what can I get you to drink?”
“There are bars with fewer choices than you have here,” Sarah noted.
“I’ll make you my special drink,” she said. “I call it a B n’ H.”
Sarah took a sip, discovering that the drink was tangy and a little bit spicy and had a kick that made Sarah’s eyes water for a moment. “Wow,” she said. “That’s good. I mean, that’s really good.”
“I make it for Robert sometimes when he’s had a really hard day.”
“What does Robert do?”
“He’s a judge,” Anastasia explained. “I’m a barrister. I used to come up before him a lot.”
“But you don’t now?”
“Nowadays I go down more than I come up,” Anastasia joked with an exaggerated wink.
Sarah let out a laugh.
At that moment, they were interrupted by the arrival of Austin.
“What are you two ladies getting up to in here?” Austin made the inquiry with a particularly pointed look at Anastasia.
“I’m just helping Sarah settle in,” Anastasia said. “You didn’t tell her what she was in for, did you? Shame on you!”
“I knew she’d adapt,” Austin replied with a devilish little grin. “I thought it would be an interesting surprise.”
“Oh, so that’s what we are to you, hmm? An interesting surprise?” Anastasia was teasing, her eyes flirtatious. Sarah didn’t mind. Anastasia struck her as the sort of woman who probably flirted with most men.
Austin slid his arm around Sarah’s shoulders. “I’d hoped you’d be a good example, but I’m not sure of that anymore.”
“Is there a problem in here?”
Robert had followed him in. Sarah looked at him properly for the first time and saw a borderline handsome, perfectly charming face, dependable, responsible, trustworthy… and familiar.
“Oh, my…” She murmured the words under her breath.
“We’ve met before,” Sarah said, speaking to Robert while pressing closer to Austin. “You probably don’t remember me.”
“I meet so many people,” Robert said apologetically. “I can’t imagine I’d forget you, but I’m afraid I don’t quite…”
“I was dressed like a bush when we met,” Sarah interjected.
Light dawned behind Robert’s eyes. “You were one of the young ladies determined to save a tree, as I recall. Arrested for causing a disturbance on private property.”
“Yes,” Sarah said. “That was us.”
“It’s coming back to me now,” Robert nodded. “You did three days, didn’t you. Contempt of court.”
“That was what you thought it was,” Sarah agreed, biting her lip so as not to smile at the memory. It was three years hence, but the scene in the courtroom had in many respects been her finest hour. “I didn’t think a demonstration of photosynthesis constitutes contempt.”
“A half an hour interpretive dance of photosynthesis that prevented other cases from being heard did. You didn’t stop even when the bailiffs intervened, as I recall.”
Sarah giggled into her drink.
“You’ve got your hands full with that one,” Robert said to Austin.
“Oh, I know that,” Austin agreed. “I didn’t know about the incarceration, but it doesn’t surprise me.”
A few sips in, Sarah was beginning to relax. She had not at all liked the judge when she’d first met him. She’d found him particularly humorless and unresponsive. Now, however, he did not seem quite so bad. Part of it was the fact he had no ability to incarcerate her while standing in his kitchen, and part of it was the fact that he was actually smiling now, as he certainly had not done on that particular day.
“I knew I liked you,” Anastasia declared. “Robert told me about you when that happened. I couldn’t stop laughing in the restaurant. Scenes were made.”
Sarah’s smile grew to a grin. “I’m glad to hear that.”
Austin and Robert exchanged looks. “I think we should keep these two separate,” Robert said mildly.
“Is the party moving in here?”
The lady who had been caressing the younger man’s hair came into the room.
“No, Rebecca,” Anastasia said. “I brought Sarah in here to get her a drink and what would you know, the menfolk had to swap war stories about her. Apparently Sarah is a troublemaker.”
“Is that so?” Rebecca’s eyes settled on Sarah. “Yes,” she said. “I can see that.”
It seemed everyone at the party was immediately convinced of Sarah’s inherent deviancy. Sarah thought that might be because everyone in attendance was clearly some kind of deviant themselves. These apparently straight-laced people were far wilder than many of the free spirits Sarah was used to associating with.
“Have you met everyone?” Anastasia asked the question, shaking her head. “We haven’t introduced you properly at all, have we?” She looped her arm through Sarah’s and drew her back into the lounge where the remainder of the guests were.
“This is Chase,” she said, gesturing toward the young man now sitting on the couch. He was handsome, with sensitive eyes and full lips. Sarah recognized an artistic soul in him.
“Hello,” she said.
“Hi,” he smiled.
“And this is Earnest and his partners Sybil and Hannah.”
Sybil was pale and blond, a beautifully languid woman who seemed poured into every pose she took. Hannah was also blond, but a strawberry blond. Her mouth was wide as were her eyes. There was something about her that spoke to cosmetic tweaking of her features, a certain lack of blemishes and lines, although she was certainly in her mid-thirties and surely she couldn’t have lived that long without ever smiling.
“Hello,” Sarah said.
“Hello, Sarah.” Earnest had a deep baritone and unsettlingly intense eyes. He could have played Heathcliff in a community theater production of Wuthering Heights. Though he was wearing relatively modest and modern clothing, she could imagine him in a high collar, plying a lash in his large, haired hand.
“Hello,” Sybil and Hannah chorused in turn, following their master’s lead.
Sarah had known several polyamorous triads in her life. In her experience it was usually a result of open minds and free hearts. That did not seem to be the case in the instance of Earnest, Sybil, and Hannah. She could tell that he ruled their relationship with an iron hand. The women made no movement without reference to him and glanced at him frequently with adoring gazes that spoke to a kind of rare devotion. Looking at the three of them, Sarah knew she was in the presence of something unusual.
As conversation moved on they were like three little thorns in her mind, strange in some way that went beyond their clearly unorthodox relationship. She could not stop glancing over at them, watching how they interacted. Sybil stayed to his left, Hannah to his right. They did not seem to have much to say to one another, but each hung on his every word as if he were speaking deep wisdom every time he opened his mouth.
“We’re all here,” Robert said, interrupting Sarah’s observation of his guests. “I think dinner is ready, isn’t it?”
Anastasia nodded. “I’ll see if Matilda has it ready.”
So they had a servant. That made sense, Sarah supposed. She’d never seen the appeal of paying someone to clean her home and prepare her food, but that was because she was the sort of person who believed that money didn’t make her better than other people, she…
Sarah’s somewhat self-righteous mental tirade was cut off as she drifted toward the dining room and saw Matilda. Matilda was not any normal maid. She was a pretty woman with shoulder-length blond hair and pleasantly symmetrical features, wearing a collar as so many of the others were. That was where the resemblance ended, however, for she was naked. Completely and utterly naked.
Sarah shot Austin a shocked look.
“What,” he said, putting his hand on her lower back. “Nobody ever took their clothes off at one of your parties?”
“Well… yes… but…” There wasn’t really a but.
“Thank you, Matilda. It all looks lovely,” Robert said, pressing a brief, almost chaste kiss to the woman’s cheek.
“Did she cook naked?” Sarah whispered the question to Austin. “Isn’t that a health and safety issue?”
“I’m sure she wore an apron,” Austin murmured back.
The guests sat at Robert’s invitation. Well, some of them did. The two women with the stern man knelt on the floor on either side of his chair, so did the young man who had come with Rebecca. Sarah made darn sure she got a chair. Anastasia sat to Robert’s left, the maid Matilda sat to his right, her nipples pink and perky over white china.
Dinner was food. Sarah barely noticed it. She was far too distracted by the company, and the dynamics between the guests. It was obvious that the people they were with all engaged in the same kind of relationship she had begun to explore with Austin. Some of them clearly took it to a greater degree than others. The ones on the floor both made her curious and slightly uncomfortable. What made them sit down there? It couldn’t possibly be as comfortable as sitting at the table.
“Why are they on the floor?” She asked the question sotto voce as conversation rose around them.
“I’ll explain it all later,” Austin promised her. “Right now, let’s just say it’s because they enjoy it and it’s part of their relationship.”
“It’s got to be hell on their knees,” Sarah murmured under her breath.
The actual content of the conversation was fairly innocuous, though there were a few differences from a normal dinner party. Earnest fed his two companions from his own fork, which made the meal take quite a lot longer than it otherwise would have. When one was taking a bite, the other let out a whine.
“Sybil, quiet,” Earnest said firmly. “You will wait your turn.”
“If only she could operate a fork on her own,” Sarah muttered under her breath. “How sad for her to have such a debilitating condition.”
“Shh,” Austin replied.
“You shush,” Sarah replied. “You can’t take me somewhere weird and expect me to pretend it isn’t weird.”
“I’m not asking you to pretend anything; I’m asking you to be polite.”
“I’m not not being polite,” Sarah said in terse tones.
By this stage, other diners were starting to notice the little nexus of tension at their part of the table. Conversation was quelled as questioning eyes turned in their direction. Austin smiled somewhat grimly at his friends as Sarah took a defiant bite of her dinner.
She understood that some of the guests had entered into an agreement with their partners to take on subordinate roles. She understood that they enjoyed that too, but for some reason observing it made her feel prickly and a little bit rebellious.
“Is everything alright?” Anastasia was to Sarah’s left, a perfect position to overhear her grumbling.
“Everything is lovely,” Sarah said. “I especially like how I can put my own food in my own mouth.”
Anastasia gave her an incredulous half-smile and shook her head in warning. “Shh,” she said, giving in to a little giggle. “They’ll hear you.”
“They’ll hear me, but will they be able to do anything about it? I mean, they can’t use their own hands…”
“Oh, Sarah, no… shhhh,” Anastasia said, making a quieting motion with her fork. “It’s not like that. It’s a way for them to feel connected… you’ll understand when you’ve learned a little more about this lifestyle.”
“Do you have a question, Sarah?” It was Earnest who spoke, his clipped tones and the resonant, Gothic tone of his voice striking some form of existential terror into her breast.
“Do you need a spare fork over there? Seems to be cutlery rationing taking place,” she quipped.
Neither Earnest nor his companions found her little joke to be amusing. Nor did Austin.
“There could be some crate time in your future if you’re not careful,” Austin said loudly enough for everyone to hear. There was a series of little chortles in response to his comment, which she had not understood. Obviously there was some joke she was not getting. There was a lot she was not getting there in the judge’s house.
“Pets that don’t behave spend some time in their crates,” Robert said, gesturing toward what Sarah had first taken to be a large sideboard in the corner of the room. She now realized that it was no such thing. It was a cage of sorts, large enough for a human to fit inside quite comfortably, as long as they were content to sit or kneel or lie down.
Only then did Sarah make the connection. She was being threatened with being confined if she did not behave.
“Seriously?” She hissed the question at Austin.
“Seriously,” he replied firmly.
“You are out of your fucking mind,” she declared boldly, no longer bothering to keep her voice down. It was obvious that they were being listened to by that point. All attempt at polite discussion had been abandoned in favor of looking at her with unmistakable judgment.
“Come here,” he said, taking her by the hand. “Excuse me,” he addressed the rest of the group. “Sarah and I need to have a little talk.”
There was a smattering of murmurs as Austin led Sarah out of the dining room and up the stairs to a spare bedroom, which Sarah noted he knew the precise location of without having to look around. He shut the door behind them, and she unleashed before he could.
“You embarrassed me!” she accused him hotly. “Taking me out of there like some… like some…”
“Like a badly behaved little brat,” he said, sitting down on the bed. Sarah opened her mouth to respond to his comment, but all that came out was a squeal as he yanked her over his thighs without any warning at all.
Her dress pulled super tight over her bottom, stubbornly covering her cheeks but providing nothing in the way of protection against his palm. It hurt from the very first slap, a pain that not only stung, but embarrassed her further. Everyone knew what was happening to her. Half a dozen people were out there picking at their vegetables and probably listening to the sounds of her being punished.
Fine. If Austin wanted to make a spectacle, she’d help him. She let out a bloodcurdling scream, so loud and so piercing that he was forced to stop spanking her to cover her mouth for a moment.
“Stop that this instant,” he growled in serious tones. “I am not spanking you that hard.”
Sarah bit his hand.
Austin swore and shook his fingers, two of which bore the marks of her teeth.
There was a tap at the door. Sarah was sure that she had been saved, but all that happened was Austin slid her off his lap without a word, went to answer the door, and exchanged a few words with Robert. Sarah didn’t hear precisely what was said, but he soon shut the door and turned back with something in his hand. A length of leather with a round rubber ball in the middle. A gag.
“What the fuck is that?” she said, knowing precisely what it was.
“It’s what you’re going to have in your mouth for the rest of this session, and for the rest of the evening if you’re not careful.”
“I’m not putting that in my mouth,” Sarah said.
“I know,” Austin agreed. “I am.”
He had a look of quiet determination that made her stomach do flip-flops as he came toward her quite nonchalant, as if gagging women was something he did all the time.
“Austin! No!” She tried being firm, but it didn’t work on him. He was still advancing and she was running out of places to go. Finally, in an act of desperation, she threw herself face down on the bed and buried her head under the covers so he could not possibly put it in her mouth.
A very hard slap to her bottom made her realize the foolishness of that plan. Austin didn’t ask her to come out of her little hiding spot, he simply spanked her until not coming out was no longer an option.
Sarah came up for air and to screech his name. Austin was lightning quick in taking hold of the back of her neck with one hand and slipping the ball into her mouth with the other. In seconds she was gagged, the leather straps secured behind her head.
Unable to speak, or scream, or do anything other than breathe heavily through the holes in the ball, Sarah gave Austin a wide-eyed look with no small amount of fear in it. She had never anticipated such treatment, and although she might have provoked it, finding herself unable to speak was very unsettling.
“It’s alright,” Austin said. “This isn’t going to hurt you one bit. It’s just going to ensure that you don’t scream the house down in your efforts to avoid a very, very well deserved spanking.”
Sarah let out a little whimper. From the moment she’d stepped over the threshold she’d sensed she was out of her depth. Now she was so far out of it she felt as though she were sinking. Tears began to well in her eyes as she looked into Austin’s eyes and silently begged him for some kind of mercy.
Austin caressed her cheek gently, then pulled her back over his thighs to resume the spanking. Completely powerless, Sarah could do nothing to stop the hard swats that landed again and again, painting nigh unbearable heat across her bottom.
It did not take long for her to start crying, and then sobbing. Waves of upset were crashing over her, emotional pain mingling with physical. She did not entirely know the source of it, but she knew that it was almost too much to handle.
Sensing that she had reached her breaking point, Austin pulled her up and cradled her in his lap, holding her close as he removed the gag, allowing her to breathe more deeply and speak again.
“Sarah,” he said consolingly. “It’s alright. I’ve got you. It’s okay.”
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