His House of Submission

He's a collector with some kinky interests on the side. She's here to catalogue his most prized possessions. But will she end up being one of them?From Justine Elyot, the bestselling author of ‘On Demand’, ‘His House of Submission’ is a dark, passionate romance for anyone who loved the Fifty Shades trilogy and Sylvia Day’s Crossfire series.Sarah turns up at Jasper Jay's country house thinking she has been hired to take an inventory of his large collection of historical artefacts.But when she and her lover, Will, are caught by the boss sneaking a peek at some of his more private pieces, she starts to suspect a more ulterior motive.Alone with Jasper in his secluded manor, Sarah finds herself enthralled by the enigmatic collector, especially given the intimate interest she shares with him.Pretty soon, they’re entangled in an intense relationship of domination and submission that excludes the rest of the world.Until it intrudes, in the form of a vengeful Will, bent on exposing everything his erstwhile boss has worked so hard to keep secret.From the author of the bestselling Mischief titles ‘Kinky’ and ‘Game’.
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His House of Submission


His House of Submission Justine Elyot

   

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   For one tense moment, as I perched with my legs wrapped around Will’s hips and his hands clasped beneath my bottom, holding me up, I thought he was going to stagger and fall with me on to the chaise longue.

   ‘Jesus, be careful,’ I hissed, still clinging to the open bottle by its expensive neck. ‘That’s Louis Quinze.’

   But thank God for sinewy, strong, horny-handed sons of the soil, because Will recovered his balance and continued in the direction of the drawing-room door, grimly intent on getting me to the bedroom.

   ‘I’ll take your word for it,’ he said, nudging the door open with his toe and carrying me into the vast hall. ‘You’re the expert.’

   He found the back stairs to the old servants’ quarters and plodded heroically across the parquet.

   ‘I hope you’re an expert too,’ I said, breathing hotly into his ear. ‘And not just when it comes to grounds maintenance.’

   ‘I’ve never had any complaints.’ He smirked and stopped to add another kiss to our already substantial tally. ‘All that digging comes in handy when you need to carry women upstairs and throw them on to beds.’

   ‘You’ve obviously dug a lot.’

   ‘Yeah.’

   But once we reached the third flight of steps he had to stop talking and concentrate on the job in hand. On our arrival in his room, with its sloping ceiling and low beams, he was starting to feel the strain, beads of sweat shiny on his forehead.

   It was clearly a relief to him when he was able to lower me on to his bed and stand straight, stretching his limbs and grimacing. I could have lived without the grimaces, but this at least gave me the opportunity to run my eyes with avid greed over his body.

   Will spent all day, every day, in the open air and it showed, in his healthy tan and his solid build, his broad shoulders and densely packed thighs. He wasn’t my usual type at all – sturdy and studly where I usually went for wispy and fey – but two weeks cooped up in this place with no other company had worked its erotic magic on me and now I thirsted for him.

   He fell to his knees on the mattress, towering over me, giving me the full roguish glint.

   ‘So now I’ve got you in my lair, Sarah …’ he whispered.

   ‘Your lair, eh? Your eyrie, high above the park.’

   I propped myself on an elbow and put the wine bottle down on the bedside table.

   ‘Something like that.’ He put a hand on my collarbone and pushed me roughly back down.

   ‘You sound as if you’re the hunter and I’m your prey,’ I said, reaching out and grabbing his wrist. ‘But I’m not sure you’ve got it the right way around.’

   He swung one leg around so that he straddled me and pinned me down with my wrists above my head.

   ‘I’m pretty sure I have,’ he said, leaning down low to rasp the words into my ear. ‘Aren’t you?’

   Enjoying the feeling of restraint I twisted and turned and tried to buck him off me, knowing I wouldn’t succeed, not wanting to succeed, but wanting the resistance, the friction, the arousing sense of powerlessness it all led to.

   He chuckled, understanding the game and its unspoken rules, and held me all the firmer.

   ‘No way, Sarah,’ he taunted, releasing one wrist and catching both in one hand, just to show me that he could. ‘Now I’ve got you where I want you, I’m not letting you go.’

   ‘You planned this, then?’

   He shut me up with a kiss, a fierce stamp of his lips on mine. His free hand closed around the neckline of my shirt then undid the top three buttons.

   ‘Of course I did. I’ve been watching you. Ever since you came here.’

   More buttons slid open, then Will’s rough palm was on my bare skin, beneath my bra cups, gliding over my ribs and stomach.

   ‘Nobody else to look at, is there?’ I whispered, but I was starting to lose the capacity for repartee, especially when his mouth descended on my neck, then the hollow of my throat, then my cleavage.

   The heaving of my chest and my little moan of pleasure must have given him the clue that it would be safe to release my wrists. I colluded with him now instead of fighting him. We were working together in the pursuit of pleasure. And this was where things always became a little awkward for me.

   I was so anxious to be ‘good in bed’ – to be active and passionate and skilled – that I lost all grip on what I was feeling myself.

   Objectively I knew that he was sucking on my nipple and it should feel good – it did feel good – but the feeling good was layered beneath my own worries about what I was doing to make him feel good. A former lover had enjoyed it when I massaged the back of his neck at times like these. Would that be a good move? I tried it. He seemed to appreciate it. Or was I irritating him and he was just too polite to say so? Not that he could say much, with a mouthful of nipple. Oh, God. It was too difficult. I couldn’t disconnect, could never go with the flow. If only the flow would just come and take me, throw me up on its racing tide and carry me, swirling in white water, into the depths where real, unforced pleasure lay. I knew it existed. History showed that it was real. Why couldn’t it ever be real for me?

   His head rose, his eyes peering at me from above my breasts.

   ‘Bloody bras,’ he muttered. ‘Whoever invented them wants shooting.’

   He plucked at the underwires until I obligingly sat up and unhooked it myself. I looked down at my breasts, amazed at how much larger my nipples could grow, then turned my face back to Will when he cupped them and rubbed his thumbs around the sensitive nubs.

   ‘I hope it didn’t kill the moment too much,’ I said apologetically.

   ‘Sh, don’t be daft. The removal of the bra is a rite of passage. I’m used to it.’

   ‘I bet you are.’ I reached out for his T-shirt, pulling it out of his jeans waistband. He followed my cue and removed it himself, his arms stretching up away from an expanse of mouthwateringly taut chest above a flat abdomen, everything where it should be. His skin was golden and he had a tattoo on his right bicep, one of those Celtic knots encompassing the muscle.

   ‘I like your tattoo. Celtic blood?’

   ‘Nah. Everyone was having these done back then.’

   He flexed his arm then pounced back down, his nose hovering millimetres above mine.

   ‘You don’t have any little surprises for me, then? Tattoos? Piercings?’ His fingers drifted over my nipples, my navel, towards my trousers, under the waist …

   ‘No, no,’ I gasped, before he came to land, palm-first, in my pubic bristles. Damn. Why had I not realised I was going to let him seduce me tonight? I squirmed, pulling my lower body away from his explorations. ‘Nothing like that.’

   ‘Hey, hey.’ He held up his hand, his lower lip jutting a little. ‘It’s OK if you don’t want to –’

   ‘I do want to. It’s just … I didn’t wax.’

   ‘Oh God, do you think I care about that?’ He shook his head and set to unfastening my buttons. ‘You can perm it and dye it pink for all I care.’

   The trousers were yanked off, followed by my knickers.

   He put his hand, sideways on, between my lips, as he gazed down at my unclothed pussy.

   ‘As long as it’s wet and ready for me …’ he murmured.

   I hoped I was. Was I? I couldn’t really tell, too much performance anxiety muffling the sensation, warping my sensual urges.

   He bent lower, pattering, remarkably delicately, on my clit with his thick, callused fingers.

   ‘Nice and warm,’ he breathed.

   I sat up and reached for his belt, but he batted me away.

   ‘Hey,’ he said, slightly reproachful, and I blushed in agony at making a wrong move. ‘I want to pay attention to you first. It’s not a game of tit-for-tat. Relax.’

   Relax. Yeah. Nothing like asking the impossible.

   ‘Relaxation doesn’t come easily to me,’ I muttered, still mortified.

   ‘No kidding.’ He kissed my forehead, then my lips, then he patted my cheek sympathetically. ‘Just try, eh? For me.’

   I tried. I lay back and shut my eyes and channelled all my awareness towards his fingers and my clit. His touch was rough but sure, but he didn’t say anything, leaving too much silence so that the ticking of his clock and the strange gurgles of the hot-water pipes intruded. How did it feel? How would I describe it?

   ‘You are enjoying this, aren’t you?’ he said, sounding puzzled.

   ‘Yes, but … can you just fuck me?’

   His fingers stopped what they were doing and he drew them out.

   ‘Sure,’ he said.

   My eyes were still screwed shut. I heard the sound of his belt coming off, then his jeans.

   ‘Most girls like a bit of foreplay,’ he said.

   ‘I’m just … it’s been a long time. I want to remember what it feels like.’

   I heard the opening and shutting of drawers then the snap of rubber.

   ‘OK. This is what it feels like. You could open your eyes, you know.’

   ‘I like to keep them shut.’

   ‘Didn’t realise I was that hard to look at.’

   ‘It’s not you. Please …’

   My plea was answered by the blunt arrival of a rounded cock head between my legs. His heat and scent moved down close to me, wrapping me in them, taking me out of my isolation, making me want him now. I put my hands on his shoulders, shivering pleasurably at the way they flexed and moved underneath his skin. He was so strong. I wanted him to make this hard, make it fast, pile-drive into me, obliterate my senses.

   ‘Please,’ I whispered.

   He thrust forward, just the forceful way I wanted it.

   ‘Yeah?’ he said. ‘That what you want? That good enough for you?’

   ‘Oh, yes. More. Please. More.’

   I opened my eyes and looked at his forearms, braced either side of my shoulders. How tense and powerful they were, holding him steady while he worked me. His chest heaved up and down, brushing my nipples with each jerking motion. He was handsome and he was fucking me. I was being fucked. What did it feel like?

   It felt like a series of shocks, stretching my hidden channel, a jolt jolt jolt. I looked for the sense of being overpowered, but as always, I looked too hard and couldn’t quite place it.

   I tried to reach out for it.

   ‘I need this,’ I said.

   ‘Yeah,’ he agreed, panting with exertion. ‘You need this. You’ve been needing it ever since you got here. Keep those legs wide, baby, cos you’ll be getting more and more of it.’

   Yes. This was working now. This was moving me towards my goal. He had been watching me, seeing the desperate slut inside the Peter Pan collars, he had known all along that what I needed was to be pinned down and given a good seeing-to. He understood what would keep me sweet and it amounted to being kept on my back with my thighs spread, taking plenty of hot, hard, grimy, sweaty fucking. He would give it to me and then he would tell his friends and they would give it to me and then …

   I was almost there. I slipped my fingers between our grinding pelvises and touched the spot, my hand immediately hot and damp.

   His cock was a nice one, firm and substantial, if not quite in proportion with his godlike body. My knuckles grazed against the root of it, feeling it rub back and forth, the rubber soaked and slippery now.

   He plunged and plunged and I felt my buttocks tense and my spine arch and oh, yes.

   ‘Oh, yes,’ I said it out loud, again and again and, just as I crested the high point and tipped back down the other side of the wave, I said, ‘Thank you, Sir.’

   And then I turned my head away and considered smacking myself in the face. Why on earth had I said that out loud?

   But Will didn’t question it, simply banged away all the more until his own orgasm ripped through his body – really, I could feel the ripping – and then collapsed on top of me.

   I always liked this moment, the hammering of twin hearts and the gathering of breath. Somehow this was a better payoff than the preceding orgasms.

   ‘You came, didn’t you?’ panted Will, rolling off eventually.

   ‘You heard me, didn’t you? Of course I did. Of course.’ I stroked his close-cropped hair. Beneath it, his scalp felt hot.

   ‘Just … you’re a bit of a strange fruit, aren’t you?’

   ‘What do you mean?’

   ‘What you said. When you came.’

   I turned my face away.

   ‘Don’t make fun of me.’

   ‘I’m not. Sarah, honestly, I’m not. Look at me. Talk to me.’

   I dared a glance from beneath low-slung eyelids. He didn’t look jokey or mocking. I opened them wider.

   ‘You and him,’ Will said. ‘You’d probably get on.’

   ‘Him? Jasper Jay?’

   I couldn’t refer to my employer by anything but his full name. We weren’t on first-name terms yet. Indeed, we weren’t on any terms. We had never met.

   ‘Yeah. Jasper Almighty Jay.’

   ‘You don’t like him?’

   ‘He’s all right. He pays me.’

   ‘What’s he like?’

   ‘Didn’t he interview you?’

   ‘No. It was a woman, his secretary or PA or something. He was in France, filming. Well, he still is. Anyway, why did you say that we’d get on?’

   ‘That thing you said. It was a bit kinky.’

   ‘Sorry.’

   ‘Shut up apologising, you daft ha’p’orth. Absolutely nothing wrong with a bit of kink. It was quite a turn-on, as it goes.’

   I exhaled gratefully. I hadn’t made such a prize exhibition of myself after all. Though I could still see, in the corner of my mind, a little mental film reel of Will down at the local pub regaling his mates with the story.

   ‘Thanks. So?’

   ‘So. Jasper Jay and you might have a little something in common.’

   ‘What do you mean? He’s into …?’

   ‘Get your kit back on,’ whispered Will, ‘or not, as you choose, and I’ll show you.’

   I couldn’t really be bothered with all the jeans and bra palaver, so I borrowed a threadbare towelling robe of Will’s and followed my half-dressed lover out of the bedroom.

   ‘He hired you to catalogue his collections,’ said Will, creeping barefoot down the back stairs. ‘But I wonder if he meant you to see this one.’

   ‘A collection?’ I whispered. Why was I whispering? Why were we creeping? It all felt deeply illicit.

   We tiptoed past the library, with its vast collection of first editions, some of which I’d managed to list. Past the drawing room and the morning room and all the other rooms, chock-full of antiques and artefacts. Up the main stairs to the first floor bedrooms, past my little bolthole and into …

   ‘Oh, I don’t think we should go into his room.’

   ‘Why not? He isn’t here. He’ll never know. Here, have a swig.’

   He passed me the bottle of expensive red wine, but I was too wary of spilling it, and besides, my mind was occupied with taking in the huge four-poster bed and the dark oak furnishings and the gigantic chest that took up at least a fifth of the large room’s space.

   Will took a key from his jeans back pocket and fitted it into the chest’s lock.

   ‘This is his private stuff,’ I agonised. ‘I don’t think we should.’

   Too late, though, because the lid was raised and I stared down into an abyss of deviance.

   ‘God,’ I whispered, lowering myself to my knees and peering inside. It was all so neatly compartmentalised, boxes within boxes, but some of the contents were in long fabric bags. For instance, the whips. And canes. And riding crops.

   ‘Is this what you’re into?’ asked Will, opening one of the boxes and showing me a selection of cuffs – leather, metal, fur-lined, velcro, you name it.

   ‘This is … I mean. Wow. It’s a collection. Does he just collect the stuff or does he use it?’

   I opened another box, my curiosity overwhelming my caution now, and found a selection of first-edition titles, some of which – like The Story of O – were familiar to me, others not so well known.

   ‘The Harem of the Flagellants,’ I read, my finger hovering over a cheaply but sturdily bound Victorian tome. I shivered.

   It was one thing to fantasise about these things, but quite another to see them in real life. I felt a strange kind of fear, as if I had skimmed a surface and been dragged underneath it. Now I was here in the underworld, could I get out again?

   Will hadn’t answered my question, so I asked it again.

   ‘Does any of this stuff get used?’

   ‘I don’t know. He hasn’t had anyone here for a while. When he stays here, he just buries himself. Doesn’t go out. It’s like hibernation.’

   ‘I guess his work is quite intense. Ever since he won the Palme d’Or.’

   Will shrugged.

   ‘Don’t ask me. I’ve worked here for four years but I wouldn’t say I knew him. This is the closest I’ve got to knowing anything about him. This here.’ He waved his hand at the boxes.

   I had opened another. It contained things I had never seen in my life before, silicone things that were a little bit like dildoes but with an outward flare halfway along the length.

   ‘What the hell are these?’

   Will snorted.

   ‘Don’t you know?’

   ‘I’ve never done anything kinky,’ I defended myself.

   ‘Butt plugs, my love,’ he said, picking one up.

   ‘Oh, don’t touch it!’

   ‘Why not?’

   I shook my head. I knew I was panicking, but I couldn’t seem to rein myself in.

   ‘Fingerprints,’ I mumbled.

   He burst out laughing at that, waving the butt plug in the air.

   ‘You’re funny,’ he said, between fresh gusts of mirth.

   ‘You’ll have to share the joke.’ A third voice spoke from the doorway.

   I fell backwards on to my arse, my hand clamping my mouth so hard and fast I almost knocked a couple of teeth out.

   I watched through wide-stretched eyes as everything seeming to crash into slo-mo. Will dropped the butt plug and raised himself to his feet, shoulders back, squared for combat.

   The man in the door was, presumably, Jasper Jay, though he wasn’t the way I remembered him from that medical soap he used to be in when I was a girl. Of course, a lot of water had passed under the bridge since then – fifteen years’ worth. He wasn’t a fresh-faced bright-eyed youth in a white coat now. He stood with one arm braced against the doorframe, in an expensive suit, its light biscuit colour accentuating his dark looks. He had that famous-person thing of looking somehow bigger and shinier and brighter than a real man. I hadn’t fancied him in the medical soap, or in the many news clips of him accepting the Palme d’Or, but now I could almost see the vortex of charisma inside which he existed.

   But now wasn’t a good time to be ogling my boss.

   Now was about the worst time ever for that kind of thing.

   ‘Shit, I thought you were in France,’ was Will’s pretty dreadful attempt at defending his actions.

   I remained silent, cowering on a Turkish rug of early nineteenth-century vintage, concentrating on keeping Will’s bathrobe tightly wrapped around me.

   ‘Shit, you’re fired,’ replied Jay laconically.

   ‘You can’t just –’

   ‘Yes, I can. Pack your things. Load up your car. Get out of here.’

   ‘But my rights …’

   ‘In what universe isn’t this gross misconduct?’ He stepped into the room, unfolding his arm grandly to usher Will through the door. ‘Not ours, at least. Goodbye. I’ll forward any holiday entitlement you had outstanding on to you.’

   ‘Mr Jay, please … four years of good service.’

   ‘Ruined in the space of one night.’ Jay shook his head. ‘Like a film script, isn’t it?’ There was a pause. ‘I can’t help noticing that you’re still here.’

   Will looked at me, as if expecting me to leap to his passionate defence. Seeing this wasn’t about to happen, he made as dignified an exit as he could muster.

   I watched the knots between his shoulder blades, the buzz-cut V at his nape, retreat through the door.

   I looked up, expecting my neck to be next on the block.

   I ought to say something but I couldn’t think what so I waited, while tension and mortification played ping-pong in my emotional centre.

   He didn’t say anything either, which was odd. He just looked at me, not angrily or severely, just sort of … pensively. His eyes were wintry and sombre, but not hard.

   His abstraction was only broken when I cleared my throat and swallowed, looking desperately around me for any magical escape route that might present itself.

   ‘Sit down,’ he said.

   I was already sitting down, but I gathered from the direction of his waving hand that I was to go and sit on the side of the bed.

   There were armchairs in the room, but these wouldn’t do, it seemed.

   ‘Are you going to sack me too?’ I asked, the words coming out of my cotton-wool mouth in a thick wad.

   He made no reply but walked over to the chest and reached inside.

   I’d lost track of my heart. It had giddied up and up and now it was steeplechasing fit to collapse. What on earth did he have in mind?

   He drew out one of the many long, thin boxes and came to stand over me, a looming presence, shadowing me. I felt very small and very vulnerable and yet a part of me was revelling in my disgrace, making sure it recalled all the details to be mulled over at leisure later.

   He took the lid off the box and withdrew the contents – a wide strap of supple leather, with stiffer, darker, embossed leather at one end and a metal chain link intended for hanging it on a hook.

   ‘Do you know what this is?’ He presented it across his two palms where it lay, dormant but no less deadly, its antique tang gathering in my senses and whipping them up. ‘Take it. Hold it.’

   Uncertainly, I plucked the thing from him and read the gilt lettering on the leather handle. ‘Holborn Barbering Supplies’. The leather was cold and smooth and cruelly sensual to the touch.

   ‘Well?’ Jay’s voice was soft but commanding.

   ‘It’s a razor strop. Antique.’

   ‘Can you date it?’

   ‘Not precisely. Mid-Victorian, perhaps.’

   ‘It’s not modern.’

   ‘No, it’s too heavy to be modern.’

   ‘That’s right. You know about these things, don’t you, Sarah?’

   I looked up sharply at his use of my given name, which was spoken in a peculiarly intimate tone, with a whisper of caress behind it.

   ‘I … you hired me, after all.’

   ‘Yes, I did. I hired you.’

   ‘Do I still …?’ I couldn’t finish the sentence.

   ‘Have a job here?’ He stepped back and looked up at the ceiling, seeking advice in its elaborate cornicing and plaster rose. ‘Yes, I think you do.’

   I waited a moment for my breathing to regulate then said, ‘Thank you.’

   The silence between us was broken by the sound of bags being thrown heavily down the stairs.

   ‘Excuse me one moment,’ he said, leaving the room, presumably to direct the departure of Will. I wondered if Jasper Jay directed everything in his life like this, getting the details right, making art of the day-to-day. He had certainly orchestrated our first encounter to make it memorable. I stared down at the antique strop, picturing it employed for other purposes than the sharpening of blades. Had he used this on somebody? Had it fallen heavy on some bent-over bottom, marking it with a hot red rectangle?

   I heard the front door slam, the revving of an engine outside. I wondered if I should feel sorrier for Will, but I couldn’t summon much in the way of sympathy when it came down to it. He’d been caught fair and square with his hand in the … well, I could hardly call it a cookie jar.

   Jasper came back, but he didn’t enter the room, just stood with his hands on the top of the doorframe, leaning in, looking me up and down and over until I bristled with a weird exhilaration. At least the towelling robe was thick and he couldn’t see the way my nipples perked into stiffness under his gaze.

   ‘Come downstairs,’ he said at last. ‘I’ll light the fire. Have a drink with me.’

   ‘Oh … this robe … I should get dressed …’

   ‘No, you shouldn’t.’

   I stood up and dithered with the razor strop, mutely asking him what to do with it.

   ‘Bring it with you.’

   He walked off and I followed him, the leather clutched to my chest, trying to make my footsteps as barely-there as possible on the highly polished wood.

   He had lit the fire by the time I reached the sitting room. I winced at the sight of the two abandoned wine glasses on the low coffee table. Jasper picked one up and sniffed into it.

   ‘Christ, the fucking nerve of him,’ he muttered. ‘My best vintage.’ But when he put it down, he smiled at me, a dazzling, film-star smile that knocked me off course.

   ‘Sarah,’ he said, all effusiveness and warmth. ‘Sit down.’

   I sat on one side of the fire while he poured me some wine from an ornate cut-glass decanter, circa 1820s.

   ‘Aren’t you angry with me?’ I asked, taking a nerving sip while he seated himself in the opposite wing-backed chair with his own glass.

   ‘I’m assuming you were led astray,’ he said.

   ‘You’re assuming?’

   ‘Yes. Because that’s the interpretation that suits me. So I’m sticking to it.’

   I hid my confusion in another sip.

   ‘You can leave if you really want, of course. But I’d prefer it if you stayed. I went to some considerable lengths to find you, Sarah. Now you’re here, I have no intention of letting you go.’

   ‘What?’

   I put the glass on the card table and sat up straight. What could he possibly mean by that? The fire burned at the side of my face and I put my hand up to my cheek, protecting it.

   ‘The job you applied for wasn’t universally advertised, you know. I only had it placed in the university history department magazine I knew you wrote for.’

   ‘What?’ I said again.

   I thought back to the advertisement, quite a showy one for my humble little student history-geek mag. I’d presumed it to be just one of many, fired off to every university history department in the country.

   ‘After I read that article of yours.’

   ‘You read an article of mine? In Past Pleasures?’

   This made no sense at all. Why the actual hell would famous arthouse film director Jasper Jay read my obscure little postgraduate pamphlet?

   ‘Yes. Don’t look so shocked.’ He laughed. ‘It was forwarded to me by an associate who thought it … up my street. As it were. And it was. It was an amazing article. Superbly researched and lacking the usual prurient or hysterical tone one grows so weary of.’

   ‘You’re talking about … I can’t remember what I called it …’

   ‘“The Old Perversity Shop”. About that collection of Victorian fetish implements they found in Lincoln last year.’

   I looked into the fire, wanting to laugh for some reason. This was like a dream, unravelling so quickly and so absurdly.

   ‘The thing about your article, Sarah,’ he said softly, ‘is that it was written with more than academic curiosity. It was written with enthusiasm. With love.’

   ‘You think so?’

   ‘I know so. Only somebody close to the subject could have written about it in the way you did. No “ugh, those old-school freaks”. No “isn’t this interesting, in a scholarly, abstract kind of way, of course”. You understood the allure of those whips and cuffs. Didn’t you?’

   I was under the spotlight, on the spot. There was no feasible response to this other than a good deal of squirming and evasive body language.

   But something told me that Jasper Jay wasn’t a man who would stand for squirming and evasive body language.

   ‘Didn’t you?’ he persisted. ‘There’s no point trying to deny it. I see it in you.’

   ‘Do you mean to say that you read my article, placed the advert in the hope that I’d respond and, and …?’

   ‘Had you hired on the spot? Yes. My agent knew she had to give the job to Sarah Wells. So when Sarah Wells walked into the office … bingo.’

   He clicked his fingers and beamed with delight.

   My toes were curled right under and I realised that every muscle in my body was held in a state of supreme tautness, as if in preparation for some kind of desperate death-match. Did it mean I was scared? I didn’t feel scared. Not exactly.

   ‘But why?’

   ‘You’ve seen my collection. I had hoped to leave it until later in the summer, when you’d finished the more … orthodox … portion of your task and my filming schedule was complete, but it can’t be helped, can it? Even my strict timetable can be subject to sudden changes.’

   ‘Why did you come back? I thought you were in France till August.’

   ‘So did I.’ He sighed, sipped his wine. ‘Our leading man disagreed. Ridiculous bastard went and got his leg broken in a jetski accident. Next movie I make, I’m having everyone, cast and crew, living in a barracks and having to apply to me for passes to get out.’

   ‘Control-freaky.’

   He smiled at me again.

   ‘Yes.’

   I appeared to have finished the wine. Christ, that was quick. I needed to sip from the glass, for my hands to have something to do besides shaking.

   ‘Don’t be nervous,’ he said. I watched his fingers, long and white, stroke the stem of his glass. ‘Unless you want to be.’

   ‘I can’t help it,’ I said, a tad mutinously. ‘This situation isn’t covered in Emily Post. I don’t know what to say or do, or …’

   ‘Just say what you feel. Do what you feel.’

   ‘In that case –’ I put the glass down with an overstated flourish ‘– I’m going to bed.’

   He shrugged and smiled, watching me make as dignified an exit as I could.

   ‘Sweet dreams,’ he said when I reached the door.

   I looked back at him. His face was shadowed, his brow low, the smile a Hollywood-white tease.

   I fled.

   I turned the key in my door lock and sat down on the bed, catching my breath. Situation out of control. I had to try and slot the different pieces of the night into place, discipline them into making some kind of sense.

   One: I shagged Will.

   Two: Will showed me Jasper’s collection of BDSM gear.

   Three: Jasper caught us and fired Will.

   Four: It turns out he hired me because I wrote that article.

   My mental cataloguing stopped here, unable to proceed.

   He hired me because I wrote that article.

   Jasper Jay, the film director and winner of the Palme d’Or, had read my silly little piece on Victorian kinksters and hired me on the strength of it.

   Why had he gone to those lengths? Weren’t there professional evaluators of this kind of thing? Could he not have got somebody from an auction house?

   I felt creeped out, as if he had stalked me, which, in a way, he had. Where was the boundary between stalking and headhunting anyway?

   What did he really want?

   I lay down and let my thoughts drift around my head. The sensible course was clear. Tomorrow I would pack my bags and leave. This was all too weird and potentially disastrous. Shame about the money though and …

   Practicalities grew vaguer, blurring away. I still held the razor strop in my hand and its particular heft and texture beguiled me into fantasy. Jasper Jay, in Victorian times, my Victorian husband, with impressive sideburns and a cravat, sharpening his razor on the leather.

   Me on the bed, in my bodice and pantalettes, trying to fasten my corset.

   ‘You should get Jenny to do that for you,’ he says, and I watch his hands move as he plies the blade, swipe, swipe, swipe, from the top to the bottom.

   ‘That’s what I meant to tell you, dearest,’ I say, and my voice shakes. I’m nervous.

   He puts down the razor, one eyebrow raised.

   ‘My love?’

   ‘Jenny … and I … that is to say … we had a difference of opinion.’

   ‘Oh?’ I watch his fist close around the strop.

   ‘It was nothing really but I’m afraid I lost my temper.’

   ‘Have we not discussed your impetuous humours?’ The question is couched so gently, so reasonably, but my heart jumps to my throat.

   We have many such discussions. Discussions that don’t involve a great deal of actual discussion.

   ‘I know, dearest. But I’m afraid I lost my head for one moment and I … slapped her.’

   He sighs, lowers his head, puts a hand to his brow. He is at the end of his tether, I know, and I have worked so hard on my self-discipline, but we both know that my impulses overpower my will too often.

   ‘And she has left?’ he says in a low voice.

   ‘I’m afraid she has, dearest.’

   ‘And she will explain the circumstances to the agency and we shall be on their black list. Another black list.’

   I cannot deny it. I fidget with my corset laces, wrapping them round and around my finger.

   ‘Shall we discuss this now?’ I ask in a small voice.

   ‘Oh, yes, I think the more immediate the consequence, the more beneficial the lesson, don’t you?’

   ‘Yes, dearest.’

   He waits for me. I know what I have to do. I remove the corset and take my place at the foot of the bed, gripping the carved wooden footboard for grim life. I hear the little clink of metal as he removes the strop from its hook.

   ‘Now, my love,’ he says, pacing behind me. ‘You know I never get angry with you and I am not angry now. I know, however, that you are angry with yourself, aren’t you?’

   ‘Yes, dearest.’

   I tilt my pelvis forward, bend a little at the knees.

   ‘And in order for you to forgive yourself, the matter must be dealt with so that you can feel refreshed and prepared for a new start. Is that not so?’

   ‘It is so, dearest. Oh, I am so sorry to disappoint you.’

   ‘I will admit to some disappointment, Sarah, and some sorrow that we find ourselves once again in this position. Let this punishment be swift and sharp and then all can be forgiven, if not forgotten.’

   Not for a few days, at least. Every time I sit.

   He steps forward and parts the cloth of my drawers, the split exposing my bottom. His hand is sure and firm. I hear the shush of the strop rubbing against his trousers, dangling from his other hand.

   I should not admit to my faults while he is shaving. I must learn to pick a time when that strop is far out of his reach. Perhaps on the way to church on Sundays.

   I will pay for my ill-timed confession now. I squeeze shut my eyes and lower my head, trying to relax my neck muscles.

   Oh, the sound it makes, the mighty whoosh, the burning crack of impact. It is so heavy and yet so fiendishly flexible. It snaps across my poor posterior, over and again, marking me with shame, making my skin blush.

   As my husband whips me, he lectures me on my shortcomings and how they must be overcome. He points out his position in society and at his place of employment and how I must be a credit to him and our home and family. He reminds me of my position, my vow of obedience, my promise of submission.

   And the strop catches me in every painful place it can until I scorch beneath its scorpion tongue.

   ‘Enough,’ he says, his voice laden with exertion. ‘I trust that the lesson is well inculcated.’

   ‘Very well, Sir,’ I whisper.

   ‘Good. Then let us forgive.’

   After the discussion, there is always forgiveness. He shows it by placing the strop beneath my breasts and holding it there while he lowers his trousers and underwear and places his manhood between my nether lips.

   He bathes it in my dew, noting well how it flows, for he knows how these discussions excite me. He plunges hard into my tight heat, stretching my cunny wide, slapping his thighs up against my sore bottom. But this rough usage is no punishment, oh, no, it melts into the purest pleasure. He holds the strap against my breasts while he thrusts, its well-worn surface rubbing against those tender buds.

   He takes me well and thoroughly, until I sob with a presentiment of the flood to follow, and then he puts the strap between my legs and presses it to my pearl and then, oh, yes, oh, my dearest love …

   I opened my eyes and then sat up straight. Oh, what the bloody hell was I thinking? The real strop, the antique, possibly worth a shedload of money, was pressed to my clit, all shiny and slick with my juices.

   I grabbed a tissue and rubbed it clean, but when I put it to my face and sniffed, my scent and the leather were all mixed in one incredibly sexual cocktail. What if I’d destroyed the delicate balance of the textile? Did I not know better than to masturbate with precious artefacts? History 101, surely. Though I didn’t remember seeing it in the textbook.

   I put the strop aside and began packing. It seemed my only course.

   * * *

   ‘What’s that?’

   Jasper at the breakfast table in the cavernous kitchen, laconic, handsome, dangerous.

   I put my bags down on the trestle.

   ‘I think I ought to go.’

   ‘Why?’ He bit into a triangle of toast.

   ‘Um, because I don’t really know what’s going on.’

   ‘And you like to know what’s going on, do you, Sarah?’

   ‘Generally speaking.’

   ‘You don’t like stories?’

   ‘I don’t … follow.’

   He patted the chair beside him and for some reason I didn’t think twice about going over there and sitting down.

   ‘Do you or don’t you? Like stories?’

   ‘Well, yes, I do.’

   ‘Do you always know what’s going on in a story?’

   ‘Sometimes. If it’s blatantly signposted, I suppose. More often not.’

   ‘It’s dull, isn’t it, when you know the ending.’

   ‘Not always.’ I had an idea what he might be driving at. ‘I can watch film versions of classic novels over and over, even though I know the ending.’

   ‘That’s a different kind of pleasure,’ he said.

   ‘Maybe.’

   ‘The thing is, Sarah, if you know the ending, you can’t explore any other possibilities. If you know what’s going on, you can’t be surprised. You can’t have your breath taken away. You miss all the best bits. Do you see?’

   I swallowed. He was very close to me and I was intensely conscious of it. So intensely conscious that I was having some difficulty processing thought.

   ‘You’re very …’

   He leaned closer.

   ‘Very what?’

   ‘Very … I don’t know.’

   ‘Don’t go, Sarah. If you don’t go, I’ll make you bacon and eggs.’

   Breakfast. Probably a good idea.

   ‘That would be … acceptable,’ I said.

   ‘And I know you’re an accepting person,’ he said, rising and moving towards the cooker top. ‘An open-minded soul.’ He opened up a pack of bacon. ‘Incidentally, do you have my razor strop?’

   Oh, God. I thought of it on my bedside table, still perfumed with essence de Sarah.

   He turned around, my silence putting him on the scent.

   ‘Sarah?’

   ‘Oh. Yeah.’

   ‘You’re scarlet.’

   ‘Am I?’

   ‘Is there something you want to tell me?’ He threw the bacon in the pan, never taking his eyes from me.

   ‘I don’t …’ No, I didn’t want to tell him. But perhaps I ought to. But then what? What would he do or say? A tremor quickened in my lower stomach, a tightening at my core.

   ‘Well?’

   ‘It’s just … I spilled something on it. I’m sorry. I’ll get it professionally cleaned.’ What was I saying? Was I really going to explain what had happened to some remote tradesperson?

   ‘Bring it down,’ he said.

   ‘Now?’

   He nodded, the corners of his mouth tight.

   My legs were heavy on the ascent of the staircase, and I felt sick with panic, yet at the same time exhilarated, as if I were embarking on some fantastic adventure.

   When I sniffed the leather, my faint hope that the aroma had faded overnight was dashed. Maybe Jasper wouldn’t notice. But no. That was just exactly the kind of thing he would notice. In fact, he probably knew what had happened already. I had the feeling he could see inside me, peel away my layers and pluck out my private thoughts.

   I put its metal ring around my finger and let it dangle on my way back downstairs. All the beautiful pictures watched me pass, all the ballerinas, bons vivants, burlesque girls. They were the witnesses to my onward march of shame.

   Jasper was breaking eggs into the pan when I re-entered the kitchen.

   ‘Ah,’ he said, looking up. ‘Show me.’

   He held out the hand that wasn’t occupied with pushing the bacon around with a spatula.

   I laid the strop across his palm, tenderly, giving it the respect I had forgotten to accord it last night.

   He put down the spatula and inspected the strop at close quarters.

   ‘Where’s the spillage?’ he asked.

   It wasn’t visible but I pointed towards the damned spot.

   He frowned.

   ‘I don’t see anything. What did you spill?’

   He bent closer and then drew in a breath, raising his eyes to mine. I held myself perfectly still for a horrible second, then he smiled the most radiant smile I had ever seen.

   ‘Oh, I see,’ he said.

   I had nothing to say. I stood there, panting a little, wondering why my legs wouldn’t let me run away.

   He wrapped it around his hand, slowly, making sure I paid attention.

   ‘What shall we do about this?’ he wondered aloud.

   ‘I can get it cleaned,’ I repeated.

   ‘No, no.’ He shook his head. ‘I’ll take care of that. That wasn’t what I meant.’

   With a tremor of shock, it occurred to me that I had been meaning to leave, so all of this was technically avoidable. The thought crashed into my head but I didn’t want to let it in. I didn’t want to leave now. I wanted to know what was going to happen. I wanted to read the next page of the story.

   ‘What did you mean then?’ I whispered.

   ‘What am I going to do with you?’

   The pan hissed and spat behind him. He sighed and turned his attention to it, putting down the strop and picking up the spatula.

   ‘Sit down,’ he said. ‘No, before you do that, take your bloody bags back upstairs.’

   I wanted to ask him what he was going to do with me, since the words hung so agonisingly and tantalisingly between us, but I did as I was told instead, running up the stairs two at a time and flinging the bags on the bed.

   Anything could happen, I told myself, racing back down. Anything could happen and I want it to!

   The plates were on the table and he was already digging into his food.

   ‘You look like you could do with a square meal,’ he said. ‘There’s nothing in the cupboards. What have you been living on?’

   ‘Soup, mainly,’ I said, sliding into the chair opposite him.

   ‘Not that foul packet stuff I saw on the shelf?’

   ‘Yeah.’ I felt guilty for my consumption of powdered soup. Obviously it was the Wrong Thing to do.

   ‘That won’t do. You’re going to need your strength, my girl.’

   Jesus, what was happening to me? Lightning bolts, electricity up and down my spine and all over my skin. As for my crotch, I could barely sit still, it felt so full of sparks.

   ‘Am I? For … what you’re going to do with me?’

   ‘All that cataloguing,’ he said, deadpan. ‘Takes it out of you, I imagine.’

   ‘Please,’ I said. ‘If you’re going to … make me pay … can you tell me how?’

   ‘Later,’ he said. ‘Eat your eggs. You need protein.’

   He refused to refer to the subject again, questioning me instead on my background and education until the food and the mugs of strong tea were all gone.

   I wanted to talk about him, since his experiences were so much more interesting than mine, but I sensed that he didn’t take well to interrogation and would dispense information at his own pace. I watched him speak, watched the light and shade fall across his face, followed the expressive motions of his hands. All his animation seemed to be channelled into them, while his facial expressions remained serene and controlled. He is master of himself, I thought, and that made me want to squirm even more.

   ‘Finished?’ he asked when I laid down my knife and fork.

   ‘Yes, thanks.’

   ‘You’d better get to work then. Go on. I’ll wash up.’

   I hesitated. Wasn’t he going to mention the strop débâcle?

   ‘What room are you working in at the moment?’ he asked.

   ‘The, uh, the one with the piano.’

   ‘The drawing room,’ he corrected me. ‘I’ll be in the study. Come and wait outside in, shall we say, two hours? That’ll give me enough time to devise something suitable.’

   Instant shivers. Something suitable.

   ‘Run along then, Sarah,’ he said with a ghoulish smile. ‘We mustn’t neglect our work, must we?’

   But I’m afraid I did neglect my work.

   Over and over again I came to with a start, some ornament or other in my hand, after drifting into reverie. If I carried on like that, something was going to get broken. And then what might be my fate? I kept going to the door and looking around it, towards the study, listening. Sometimes I could hear his voice, faintly, making telephone calls, or the tap of a keyboard.

   While he worked, he was thinking of me. Thinking of what was to be done with me, for my shameless behaviour with his property.

   And while I worked, I was thinking of him. Thinking of how he compelled and disturbed and attracted and repelled me. I had never met a man who could do all those things simultaneously before. Perhaps there was no other man in the world who could.

   The hands of all the antique clocks made their slow progress through time until the two hours had elapsed and I put down my clipboard and pencil, patted down my skirt and left the room.

   I could keep walking, walk to the front door, walk to the car, get in the car, drive away.

   But I stopped at the study door and lifted my hand and …

   I heard his chair creak.

   I knocked.

   He didn’t reply.

   I knocked again.

   ‘Come in.’

   The study was a glorious room and his desk was one of my favourite pieces in the whole house. Mahogany with brass handles and a green leather writing area in the shape of a cross, on top of which his computer looked somewhat incongruous. He should be writing longhand with parchment and ink. There was a raised gallery at the back of the desk, along which were perched a procession of film awards, the Palme d’Or in pride of place.

   I breathed in the beeswax and stillness, letting it calm my jangling nerves.

   ‘Sarah,’ he said, sitting back in his oxblood leather chair. ‘Now we come to the real test.’

   ‘Do we?’

   He opened a drawer and brought out the strop. I chewed on the inside of my cheek, staring at it.

   ‘When I was at university,’ he said, ‘I directed a Gilbert and Sullivan opera. The Mikado. Do you know it?’

   ‘Yes,’ I said, discombobulated by this line of conversation.

   ‘There’s a song in it about how the Mikado dispenses justice. He’s particularly keen, he says, to let the punishment fit the crime. I like his way of thinking.’

   He stroked a finger along the strop. My eyes followed it, hypnotised.

   ‘I see,’ I said, filling in the tense space with the useless remark.

   ‘So what punishment do you think would fit your crime, Sarah?’

   He smiled up at me, for all the world as if he had asked me what flavour ice-cream I preferred.

   ‘I think you’re the Mikado around here. I think it’s your decision.’

   ‘Ah, my decision. Yes. That’s a good answer. And I like the bit about being the Mikado too. The emperor. Monarch of all I survey.’ He tapped his fingertips on the strop, then picked it up and slapped the end into his palm. ‘How far has your interest in this kind of thing gone?’

   ‘This kind of thing … meaning …’

   ‘You know what I mean. What have you actually done? If anything.’

   ‘Nothing. I’ve only …’

   ‘Fantasised?’

   ‘Written about it,’ I said defiantly.

   ‘Ah,’ he said, leaning back in his chair. ‘I thought you might know the score. You’ve played this so well, like an old hand. But you’re new to it all. And, lucky for you, I’m not. You do want to try it, don’t you?’

   ‘I’ve always wanted to.’

   There. I had crossed a line now. I had delivered myself right into his hands.

   ‘Good. Come over here then.’

   He put the strop back on the desk as I drew level with him and he placed his hands on my hips. He rose from the chair, regaining the height advantage he had temporarily lost. He was so unnervingly close, as close as a lover. He would barely need to move at all to kiss me.

   But he didn’t kiss me. He just held my hips and spoke softly into my ear.

   ‘You don’t have to do a thing I tell you to, Sarah. You can say no whenever you like. Is that understood?’

   I nodded.

   ‘I want you to say yes, though. In fact, I want you to say, “Yes, Sir.” Can you say that for me?’

   ‘Yes, Sir.’

   He sighed.

   ‘That’s perfect. Are you ready?’

   ‘Yes, Sir.’

   ‘You’d better be.’

   He let go of me and took a step back, picking up the strop again.

   ‘Well, Sarah, I don’t know if this will ever be the same again after the way you’ve treated it, do you?’

   ‘No, Sir.’

   ‘Exactly what was it you did with it? I want to hear your confession.’

   ‘Oh, God!’ I really don’t want to tell you out loud.

   ‘Understandable, that you should mix me up with a deity, but I’m not your god, Sarah, just your master. Now tell me what you did. I want the truth.’

   ‘I put it somewhere I shouldn’t have.’

   ‘And where was that? The airing cupboard?’

   ‘No, Sir.’ I probably shouldn’t have giggled.

   He slapped the leather down on the desk with some force and I jumped.

   ‘So?’

   ‘I, uh, put it next to my, uh, private parts.’

   ‘Your private parts.’ He mimicked my prissy voice. ‘And once it was there, slap bang up against your private parts, what did you do with it?’

   ‘I, sort of, rubbed it against them.’

   ‘You masturbated with it,’ he said, narrowing his eyes in mock horror. ‘You committed the sin of self-abuse. With my razor strop.’

   ‘Yes, Sir,’ I whispered, shaking with humiliation. Or arousal. Actually, both.

   ‘And what did you think about while you were doing it?’

   He was too cruel. He knew exactly which buttons to press to rack up the shame and mortification.

   ‘Must I answer that, Sir?’

   ‘Of course.’

   ‘I thought about how it might be used.’

   ‘What, sharpening a razor?’

   ‘No. You know.’

   ‘I don’t. Enlighten me.’

   ‘As a thing to, to, hit me with.’

   ‘Oh. As an instrument of punishment, you mean?’

   ‘Yes, Sir.’

   ‘On your hands?’

   ‘No, Sir, not my hands.’

   ‘Where then?’

   ‘Uh.’ I put a hand behind me, providing a dumb show I hoped he would pick up on.

   ‘I’m not a fan of mime, Sarah. Say the word.’

   ‘On my … bottom,’ I whispered.

   ‘Oh, I see. That’s what you thought about while you were rubbing my razor strop all over your soaking wet cunt, was it? The way it would feel on your bare bottom?’

   The word ‘cunt’ made me quiver with shock, and yet it also made me want to hear it again, in his rich, dark voice, again and again.

   ‘Yes, Sir.’

   ‘Well, now we’ve arrived at the truth of the matter, I have an idea of what I should do with you.’

   ‘Do you, Sir?’

   ‘Yes, I do. Bend over the desk, Sarah, with your elbows, yes, like so.’

   He pushed my spine into position and moved my arms until they were the optimum width apart. I looked down at the green leather I had so often admired, and the gold-leaf pattern that surrounded it.

   Jasper Jay, the famous film director, had his palm on my rump, rubbing at the cotton skirt that covered it, assessing its thinness. His other hand lay heavy on my shoulder, holding me down, steadying me. He had placed the strop across my back, resting it there, as a sort of permanent reminder. Was he really going to use it on me?

   ‘Let’s see how you take this,’ he said, to himself.

   He took his hand from my rear and let me experience a moment of pure anticipation before he brought it cracking back down, hard, across my outthrust buttocks.

   It forced a breath from me, but not a cry. It was piquant rather than painful, spicy and peppery, moreish. He knew it, so he gave me more, fed my craving, for another dozen strokes, during which I shut my eyes and gave in to the delirious knowledge that I was having my bottom smacked by the internationally fêted Jasper Jay. Lucky old me.

   ‘What do you think of the show so far?’ he asked, his hand falling relentlessly.

   ‘Mm hmm,’ was all I could think of to say to that. I hoped he interpreted it as blanket approval.

   ‘I’ll take it easy this first time,’ he said, though I was beginning to gasp. ‘But one day, Sarah, when we know each other much better, I promise I’ll make you cry.’

   One day when we know each other much better. What did he have in mind? I almost pushed myself up, twisted my head towards him, curious to know more.

   But he stopped just then and began lifting my skirt, and all other thoughts rushed away, replaced by the imminent display of my pink lace briefs.

   His hand pushed the fabric up my thighs, rippling over the protuberant curve and gathering at my waist. Extra warmth, on top of that which he had spanked into my skin, soaked through the lace when he touched it, then he grazed it with his fingernails and the sparks snapped through me.

   His hand landed, confusingly, on my bare thigh. I had not expected this and I squeaked and raised my spine a little, but he pushed me right back down.

   ‘Lovely lacy knickers,’ he said, covering them with medium-strength strokes. ‘I’m going to spank you until this pattern transfers itself to your skin. Won’t that be pretty?’

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