Brutal Prince: Chapter 17

AIDA

Callum gets up early, quietly slipping into the bathroom and closing the door so he doesn’t wake me up with the noise of the shower.

When I finally come all the way awake, he’s long gone, probably headed off to some meeting. I can still smell his shampoo and aftershave in the air. A scent that’s becoming increasingly erotic to me.

I’m basking in the satisfaction of the night before.

I never would have believed that Callum Griffin had the capacity to be so passionate or sensual. Frankly, it’s the best sex I’ve ever had, with the person I like the least. What a conundrum. Because it almost makes me feel friendly toward him, and I wasn’t planning on that at all.

My head is spinning. What the hell is going on? Is this Stockholm Syndrome because I’ve been enmeshed with the Griffins too long?

Luckily, I’m going home today, so I can regain a little sanity.

I wish it were for a happier reason. It’s the anniversary of my mother’s death—a day I always spend with my father and brothers.

I’m looking forward to it. I haven’t been back since I got married. I wonder if it will feel different now that I technically live somewhere else.

The Griffins’ mansion sure as shit doesn’t feel like home. There’s a couple of things I like about it—mostly the theater room and the pool. Everything else is always annoyingly tidy, like someone’s coming to shoot a magazine spread any minute. Most of the couches look like you’re not supposed to actually sit on them, barricaded with stiff pillows, and devoid of comfortable accessories like books or blankets.

Plus, their house staff is enormous. Cleaning ladies, cooks, assistants, drivers, security guards . . . it’s hard to feel comfortable when you know somebody could come creeping into the room at any moment, always retreating politely if they see the space is occupied, but still reminding you that you’re not alone and that you’re in some awkward class above them.

I try to talk to “the help”—especially Marta, since I see her most often. She has a seven-year-old daughter, and she listens to reggaeton and is the Michelangelo of makeup. She seems cool, like we could maybe be friends. Except that she’s supposed to wait on me hand and foot, like I’m a Griffin.

It’s funny, because the Gallos aren’t exactly poor, either. But there are levels to rich, just like everything else.

Anyway, I’ll be glad to get back to reality for a day.

Nessa kindly lends me her Jeep to drive home. I don’t actually have my own car. At Papa’s house, there were always enough random vehicles in the garage that I could take whatever I wanted, assuming Nero hadn’t removed the engine for his own bizarre purposes. I guess I could get one now. I’ve got plenty of money in the bank. But I hate the idea of begging the Griffins for a parking spot.

I head over to Old Town, feeling like it’s been months instead of only weeks since I was here last.

Driving up these familiar streets is like becoming myself again. I see the shops and bakeries I know so well, and I think how funny it is that Callum and I lived only a few miles apart from each other all this time, yet our worlds are so different.

All kinds of people have lived in Old Town over the years—when it was full of German farms, they called it “The Cabbage Patch.” Later, Puerto Ricans moved in, and an army of artists. And plenty of Italians, too.

My grandfather bought our house in the 50s. It’s a grand old Victorian—emphasis on the “old.” It’s four levels high, as dark and steeply gabled as a haunted house, shaded by overgrown oak trees and backed by a walled garden.

My father hollowed out an underground parking garage for all of Nero’s ongoing projects, so I drive down below street level to park, climbing the stairs up to the kitchen, where I surprise Greta by throwing my arms around her thick waist.

Minchia!” she shrieks, spinning around with a spoon in hand, spattering me with tomato sauce. “Aida! Why didn’t you tell me you were coming home? I would have made dinner!”

“You are making dinner,” I observe.

“I would have made better dinner.”

“I love everything you make,” I say, trying to snitch the spoon from her hand so I can taste the sauce.

She uses it to smack my knuckles instead.

“No! It’s not ready yet.”

I seize her around the waist and hug her again, squeezing her tight and trying to lift her off the ground.

Smettila!” she snaps. “Stop that before you break your back. Or break mine!”

I content myself with kissing her on the cheek instead.

“I miss you. The Griffins’ cook makes the shittiest food.”

“They don’t have a good cook, with all that money?” she says in amazement.

“It’s all health food. I hate it.”

Greta shudders like I said they were serving live rats.

“There’s nothing healthier than olive oil and red wine. You eat like an Italian and you’ll live forever. It’s not good to be too skinny.”

I stifle a laugh. I don’t think Greta has ever been within fifty pounds of skinny, and frankly I’ve never been a stick either. So we’re not exactly speaking from experience. But it looks miserable.

“Where’s Papa?” I ask her.

“He’s up in your mother’s room.”

She means the music room. My mother trained as a classical pianist before she met my father. Her grand piano still sits in the sunniest room of the topmost floor, along with all her composition books and sheet music.

I climb the two flights of stairs to find Papa. The staircases are narrow and creaking, the wooden risers barely wide enough for Dante to ascend without his shoulders brushing the walls on either side.

Papa is sitting on my mother’s piano bench, looking down at the keys. He has the piano tuned and serviced every year, even though Mama was the only one who played on the grand.

I clearly remember her sitting in exactly that spot. It amazed me how quickly her hands could fly over the keys, considering that she was petite and her hands were barely any larger than mine.

I don’t have a lot of other memories of her. I’m jealous that my brothers knew her so much longer than me. I was only six when she died.

She thought it was a flu. She holed up in her bedroom, not wanting to give it to the rest of us. By the time my father realized how ill she was, it was too late. She died of meningitis after being sick only two days.

My father felt horribly guilty. He still does.

In our world, you know that you might lose a family member in a violent way. The Gallos have lost more than our share. But you don’t expect the silent thief, some disease striking a woman so young and otherwise healthy.

Papa was devastated. He loved my mother intensely.

He saw her perform in the Riviera Theater. He sent flowers and perfume and jewelry to her for weeks before she agreed to have dinner with him. He was twelve years older than her and already infamous.

He wooed her for two more years before she agreed to marry him.

I don’t know what she thought about his job, or his family. I know she adored her children, at least. She always talked about her three handsome boys and me, her last little surprise.

Dante has her focus. Nero has her talent. Sebastian has her kindness. I don’t know what I have—her eyes, I suppose.

I can play the piano a little. Not like her, though.

I see Papa’s broad, suited shoulders hunched over the keys. He touches middle C with a finger almost too thick to stay within the bounds of the key. Papa has a massive head that sits almost directly on his shoulders. Dark, curly hair with shocking streaks of white. His eyebrows are as thick as my thumb. They’re still black, and so is his mustache. But his beard is gray.

“Come play with me, Aida,” he says without turning around.

It’s impossible to sneak up on him. And not just in our house, where the stairs creak.

I sit down next to him on the bench. He slides over to make room for me.

“Play your mother’s song,” he says.

I spread my fingers over the keys. Every time, I think I’m going to forget it. I couldn’t tell you how it starts, or even hum it properly. But the body remembers much more than the brain.

She played this song over and over. It wasn’t her most difficult, or even the most beautiful. Just the one that stuck in her head.

Gnossienne No. 1 by Erik Satie. An odd and haunting piece.

It starts out rhythmic, mysterious. Like a question. Then it seems to answer angrily, dramatically. Then it repeats, though not quite the same.

There are no time signatures or bar divisions. You can play as you like. Mama sometimes played it faster or slower, harder or softer depending on her mood. After the second time through, it transitions into a sort of bridge—the most melancholy bit of all. Then back to the beginning once more.

“What does it mean?” I asked her when I was little. “What’s a gnossienne?”

“Nobody knows,” she said. “Satie invented it.”

I play it for Papa.

He closes his eyes, and I know he’s imagining her hands on the keys, moving much more sensitively than mine can.

I see her slim frame rocking with the motion of the music, her gray eyes closed. I can smell the fresh lilacs she kept in a vase by the window.

When I open my own eyes, the room is darker than she kept it. The oak trees have grown thicker and taller since then, crowding the window. There’s no vase anymore, no fresh flowers.

Nero is standing in the doorway—tall, slim, black hair falling over one eye, face as beautiful and cruel as an avenging angel.

“You should play it,” I say to him. “You’re better than me.”

He gives one quick shake of his head and heads back down the stairs. I’m surprised he came up here to begin with. He doesn’t like reminiscing. Or displays of emotion. Or anniversaries.

Papa is looking at the ring on my left hand. It weighs my hand down and makes it hard to play.

“Are they good to you, Aida?” he says.

I hesitate, thinking of how Callum stole my clothes last night, how he pounced on me in the car and cut my dress off. How his mouth tasted. How my body responded to him.

“You know I can take care of myself, Papa,” I say at last.

He nods. “I know.”

“Tymon Zajac came to Callum’s fundraiser last night,” I tell him.

Papa sucks in a sharp breath. If we were outside, he might have spit on the ground.

“The Butcher,” he says. “What did he want?”

“He said he wanted some Transit Authority property that’s about to be auctioned off. But I don’t think that was it, not really—I think he was testing Callum. And maybe me, too. To see how we’d react to a demand.”

“What did Callum say?”

“Told him to fuck off.”

“How did Zajac take it?”

“He left.”

My father frowns.

“Be careful, Aida. That won’t go unanswered.”

“I know. Don’t worry, though—the Griffins have security everywhere.”

He nods but doesn’t look satisfied.

I hear a clattering sound in the downstairs kitchen. This house has no insulation—noise travels all over.

Next comes the rumbling sound of Dante’s voice, and a laugh that sounds like Sebastian.

“Your brothers are home,” Papa says.

“Come on.” I rest my hand on his shoulder as I stand up from the piano bench.

“I’ll be down in a minute,” Papa says.

I head downstairs. Sure enough, all three of my brothers are crammed in the small kitchen with Greta. Dante is trying to clean up the shards of the shattered plates Sebastian knocked to the floor with one of his crutches. Seb’s knee is still encased in some high-tech brace that’s supposed to be helpful, but instead has turned him into even more of a walking disaster than usual.

At least he is walking. Sort of.

“Hey, clumsy,” I say, giving him a hug.

“Was that you playing up there?” Sebastian says, hugging me back.

“Yeah.”

“You sound just like her.”

“No, I don’t.” I shake my head.

“You definitely don’t,” Nero agrees.

“Give me the broom,” Greta demand of Dante. “You’re just spreading the mess around.”

While her back is turned, Nero steals one of her orange rolls and stuffs it in his mouth.

Sensing misbehavior, she whips around again and gives him a hard stare. Nero tries to keep his face perfectly still, despite the fact that his cheeks are puffed out like a chipmunk’s.

“Those are for lunch!” Greta shouts.

“Eh esh lunsh,” Nero says, around an entire orange roll.

“No, it isn’t! And don’t eat without your father.”

Nero swallows hard.

“He’s not gonna eat. You know how he is today.”

“Well don’t make it worse!” Greta says. “And you,” she points a finger at Sebastian. “Get out of here before you break something important.”

“Alright, alright.” Sebastian slots his crutches back under his armpits and wheels around for the living room, just barely missing Greta’s kettle, while knocking over the broom.

Nero catches the handle neatly in his right hand, snitching another orange roll with his left. He passes the broom to Greta, keeping the roll hidden behind his back.

“Here, Greta,” he says. “You know I only want to help.”

“You’d help yourself to the shirt off my back, you devil.”

“Depends. What size is it?”

She tries to whip him with a tea towel, and he bolts out of the kitchen, pushing his way past Sebastian, who almost topples over.

Dante follows at a more leisurely pace. I leave last of all, eyeing the freshly-glazed orange rolls, but not wanting to risk Greta’s wrath.

Eventually, we do lure Papa down by bringing out his old mahjong set and opening the bottle of wine Dante brought. We play a rotating tournament, in which Nero eventually emerges victorious, but not without accusations of cheating and demands to recount all the pieces in case some were “misplaced” in the course of the game.

When lunch is ready, we physically force Greta to sit down and eat with us, instead of working the whole time. Nero convinces her to drink one, and then several glasses of wine, at which point she starts to tell us stories about a famous writer she used to know, who she might have slept with “once or twice,” until he wrote a character based on her that offended her terribly.

“Was it Kurt Vonnegut?” Sebastian says.

“No.” Greta shakes her head. “And I’m not telling you his name, he was married some of the time.”

“Was it Steinbeck?” Nero says, grinning wickedly.

“No! How old do you think I am?” Greta says, outraged.

“Maya Angelou,” I say, with an expression of innocence.

“No! Stop guessing, you disrespectful little beasts.”

“That’s not disrespectful,” Dante says. “Those are all excellent authors. Now, if we said Dan Brown . . .”

Greta, who loves The DaVinci Code, has had enough of all of us.

“That’s it!” she says, rising threateningly from her seat. “I’m throwing your dessert in the trash.”

Nero makes a frantic signal to me to go rescue the semifreddo from the freezer before Greta can wreak her revenge.

All in all, the day is as cheerful as I could hope for, given the occasion. The only person who isn’t in as good of spirits as usual is Sebastian. He’s doing his best to smile and participate in games and conversation with the rest of us, but I can tell that the weeks of inactivity, and the loss of his favorite thing in the world, is wearing on him. He looks thin and tired. His face is pale, like he hasn’t been sleeping much.

I know he doesn’t want me to apologize again. But watching him try to navigate the narrow hallways and numerous staircases of the house on those damn crutches is killing me.

Even with that unhappy reminder, the afternoon ends too soon. Once we’ve all eaten and cleared the table, Dante and Nero have to get back to the Oak Street Tower project, and Sebastian has a biology class.

I could stay with Papa, but I know he’s going to finish the wine while looking through old photo albums. I don’t have the heart for it. All those pictures of Papa, Mama, and my brothers traveling in Sicily, Rome, Paris, and Barcelona, while I’m not yet in existence, or at best, a baby in a stroller. It just reminds me of what I missed.

So, I give my father a kiss and offer to help Greta with the dishes, knowing she won’t let me, then I go back down to the garage to retrieve Nessa’s Jeep.

I’m back at the Griffins’ mansion by 3:00 in the afternoon.

I don’t expect to find anybody home other than the staff. When Imogen isn’t working on family business, she’s spreading her influence over dozens of charities and boards, or else strategically socializing with the wealthy and influential wives of Chicago’s top citizens. Fergus, Callum, and Riona work long hours, and Nessa has classes almost every day — either at Loyola, or at Lake City Ballet.

Yet, as I enter through the side door into the kitchen, I hear two male voices.

It’s Callum and his bodyguard, sitting on the barstools in their shirtsleeves, jackets draped over the backs of their chairs.

I don’t know what they’re talking about, but I’m immediately enraged by the sight of the brutish boxer, who I now know is named Jackson Howell Du Pont. Callum met him at school, in his Lakeside Academy days. Jack is one of the many, many descendants of the Du Pont family, who first made their fortune in gunpowder, then later by inventing nylon, Kevlar, and Teflon.

Unfortunately for Jackie boy, the Du Ponts were a little too successful at spreading their name and their seed, because there’s now about four thousand of them, and Jack’s particular branch barely had enough scratch to pay for his fancy private school education, without the usual accompanying trust fund. So poor Jack is reduced to driving Callum around, running his errands, watching his back, and occasionally breaking kneecaps on his behalf. Like he did to my brother.

Fresh from the sight of Sebastian’s dark circles and unhappy smile, I want to grab the closest piano wire and wrap it around Jack’s fucking throat. Callum has wisely kept his bodyguard on the back burner, away from casa Griffin and out of my sight. But I guess he didn’t expect me home so early.

“What the fuck is he doing here?” I snarl.

Callum and Jack have already stood up, startled by my sudden appearance.

“Now, Aida,” Callum says, holding up his hands in warning. “That’s water under the bridge.”

“Is it?” I snarl. “Because Sebastian is still hobbling around. While this punch-drunk fuck boy is apparently still on your payroll.”

Jack rolls his eyes, sauntering over to the fruit bowl on the counter and picking out a nice, juicy apple.

“Put your bitch on a leash,” he says to Callum.

To my surprise, Callum drops his hands and turns on Jack, his face still but his eyes blazing.

“What did you say?” he demands.

I see the dull gleam of metal inside Jack’s suit jacket. A Ruger LC9 in the inside pocket, hanging over the back of his chair, instead of securely attached to his body. What a fucking amateur.

In two steps I’ve reached the jacket and pulled out the gun. I check that it’s loaded, then slip off the safety and chamber a round.

Both Callum and Jack freeze like deer at the sound of the bullet sliding into the chamber.

“Aida!” Callum says sharply. “Don’t you—”

I’m already pointing the gun at Jack.

“Leaving your weapon unattended.” I click my tongue, shaking my head in mock disapproval. “Very sloppy, Jackie boy. Where did you get your training, the Chicago Police Academy? Or was it clown college?”

“Get fucked, you lippy cunt,” Jack snarls, his blocky face red with rage, and his teeth bared. “If you weren’t married to him—”

“You’d what? Get your teeth kicked in like last time?” I snort.

Jack is so mad that I know he’d already be charging at me, if I didn’t have the gun pointed right at his chest.

Callum is in a more ambivalent position. On the one hand, I can tell he’s pissed that I pulled a gun in his kitchen and pointed it at his bodyguard. On the other hand, he doesn’t like the way Jack is talking to me. Not one bit.

“Put the gun down, Aida,” he orders me.

But it’s Jack he’s looking at with cold fury in his eyes.

“I will,” I say, lowering the gun so the barrel is pointed directly at Jack’s knee. “After he pays for what he did to my brother.”

I haven’t actually shot anybody before. I’ve been to the range plenty of times with my brothers. We’ve put up those paper cut-outs, sometimes a blank human silhouette, sometimes a zombie or a burglar. I know how to aim for center mass, how to group my shots. How to squeeze the trigger instead of jerking it, how to control the backfire.

It’s strange aiming at an actual person. I can see the droplets of sweat along Jack’s hairline, the way his right eye twitches slightly as he glares at me. I can see his chest rising and falling. He’s an actual person, despite being a raging douche. Am I really going to put a bullet in him?

Jack decides that the best way to get out of this is to try to intimidate me. Maybe he thinks it’s reverse psychology. Or maybe he’s just dumb.

“You’re not gonna shoot me,” he sneers. “You’re just a spoiled little mafia brat, a wannabe tough girl like your pussy-ass brother.”

Callum, more perceptive than Jack, sees my intention before I even move.

He dives for the gun, knocking my hands upward right as I pull the trigger.

The report is shockingly loud in the enclosure of the kitchen. It seems to echo around and around, deafening us.

I miss Jack, thanks to Callum’s intervention. However, the bullet digs a groove along the outside of Callum’s left arm, before burying itself in the door of one of Imogen’s custom cedar cabinets.

Like scarlet ink on white paper, blood soaks through Callum’s shirtsleeve. He glances down at it, stoically surveying the damage, before twisting my arm behind my back and pinning it tight.

“I said don’t,” he growls in my ear, furiously.

“She tried to shoot me!” Jack shouts in disbelief. “She pulled the trigger! You dirty little bitch! I’m gonna—”

“Shut your fucking mouth and keep it shut,” Callum barks.

Jack halts in place, frozen in the act of advancing upon me. His big, square face looks confused.

“If you EVER talk to my wife like that again, I’ll empty that clip in your chest.”

Jack opens his mouth like he’s going to protest, only to shut it again when he sees the look on Callum’s face.

I can’t really see it myself, since Callum still has my arm twisted up behind my back, rather painfully. But I can feel the heat radiating out of his body. I can hear the deadly seriousness of his threat. He means it. Every word of it.

“You’re . . . you’re bleeding on the floor, boss,” Jack says humbly.

Sure enough, a little puddle is forming on Callum’s left side. Seeping into the spotless grout between Imogen’s tiles. Another thing that’s really going to piss her off.

“Clean that up, please,” Callum says in the direction of the doorway.

I realize that at least three of the house staff are peeking in, trying to figure out what the hell is going on without getting themselves in trouble. One of the housemaids, Linda, seems particularly alarmed by the fact that Callum has me in an armbar. Martino the landscaper, who’s peering in the window, looks queasy at the sight of the blood on the floor.

“Go home,” Callum orders Jack. “I’ll call you in the morning.”

Jack nods, chastened. He doesn’t make eye contact with me as he hurries by.

I expect Callum to let go of me once Jack is gone. I assumed he was holding me like that to make sure I wasn’t going to attack his bodyguard again.

Instead, he starts frog-marching me out of the kitchen, down the hallway.

“Where are we going?” I demand, trying to twist my wrist out of his grip.

Callum only holds me tighter. Pain is shooting up my right arm into my shoulder, and my hand has gone numb. His left arm is wrapped around my body, his hand clenching a fistful of the front of my shirt. My back is pressed up against his chest. I can feel his heart pounding, rapid and furious as a war drum.

“You can let go, I’m not—OUCH!”

He’s shoving me up the staircase, pushing me so hard and fast that my feet are barely touching the ground. He keeps rocketing me along until we’re all the way down the hallway and through the doorway to our room. Only then does he release me, slamming the door behind him.

He turns around to face me, his pupils contracted to pinpricks, so his eyes look bluer and colder than ever. No longer vampirically pale, his skin is flushed with color, his jaw practically vibrating from how hard he’s clenching it.

“Look,” I say. “I know that got a little—”

He crosses the space between us in one stride, seizing a handful of my hair. He jerks my head back and kisses me ferociously.

It’s the last thing I was expecting. All the defiance goes out of my body and I sink against him, limp with relief. I think that he’s forgiven me, or that he at least understands why I did it.

But I immediately realize that I was very wrong in that assumption. As soon as our chests touch, I can feel that his body is still burning and shaking, every muscle throbbing with the effort of containing the emotion inside of him.

His tongue fills my mouth and his lips grind against mine, so hard that l can feel my own lips starting to swell. He’s crushing me against him, still determined to subdue me, even though I already submitted. It’s only when my knees are literally buckling beneath me that he picks me up and carries me to the bed.

He pulls my shirt up over my head. Like a child, I cooperatively lift my arms, but once the shirt is over my head, he pulls my wrists back down behind me, the cotton t-shirt still wrapped around one arm. Swiftly, Callum crosses my wrists, using the twisted-up shirt as a rope to knot them together.

Then he unbuttons my shorts, and with one hard jerk, he pulls both my shorts and panties down around my knees.

I feel very stupid standing there, arms bound behind my back and ankles effectively tied as well, unless I want to try to step out of my shorts without falling on my face.

“Callum,” I say hesitantly. “Can you—”

Callum is in the process of unknotting his tie. He pulls it off from around his neck and approaches me with the material held taut between his two hands, like a garrote. I’m mildly concerned that he’s about to strangle me. Instead, he gags me with the tie, cutting me off mid-sentence and knotting the tie tightly behind my head.

I can taste the raw silk against my tongue. Must be expensive.

I have a vague idea that Callum plans to tie me up and leave me here, as punishment for shooting at his employee. But I soon realize Callum has no intention of leaving. He sits down on the edge of the bed and roughly pulls me down onto his lap. He throws me over his thighs, so my face is down by his shins and my bare ass is up in the air.

In a flash, I realize what he’s planning, and I start to wriggle and squirm wildly, trying to kick my feet free of my shorts, and shouting through the gag, “Don’t you dare—” though it comes out more like, “Der do dah—”

Callum lifts one large, strong hand and brings it whistling down on my bottom. There’s a sharp, cracking sound, almost as loud as the kitchen gunshot, and then an instant later the stinging hot pain hits me.

Erggg!” I shriek through the gag.

SMACK!

I didn’t even know he’s lifted his hand again and already he’s spanked me again in the same spot, even harder this time.

SMACK!

SMACK!

SMACK!

His precision is vicious. Each hit is landing in precisely the same spot on my right buttock, making it feel like it’s been dipped in gasoline and set aflame.

I’m kicking and trying to roll off his lap, shouting all kinds of curses. Callum has me pinned tight, his left hand bearing down between my shoulder blades while his right hand administers the punishment.

I give one particularly vigorous struggle and Callum barks, “Hold still! Or you’ll get twice as many!”

That only makes me kick all the harder. How fucking dare he try to spank me! How dare he threaten me! When I get free, I’m going to punch him right where I shot him, and then I’m going to kick him someplace worse.

SMACK!

Callum has brought his palm smashing down on the left side now. FUCK! Why does it hurt even more? How is he slapping me so hard? He’s like a jockey whipping a horse!

SMACK!

SMACK!

SMACK!

I’ve never actually been spanked before. I can’t believe how it’s making my ass burn and throb.

Callum told me to hold still, but I can’t. I can’t help flinching away from the next blow, squeezing my legs together and squirming on the hard surface of his trousered-thighs.

This is having its own embarrassing effect.

I am naked, after all. The squeezing and squirming of my bare flesh against the fine wool of Callum’s trousers are creating a whole lot of friction in very inconvenient places . . .

My nipples are rock-hard inside my bra. I can feel warmth and wetness between my thighs. I can’t see it, but I suspect that my cheeks are burning as red as my ass.

I stop struggling, mostly because I don’t want to make myself any more inadvertently excited than I already am. I also don’t want Callum to notice. It’s fucking humiliating. If he realizes the effect this is having on me, I’ll never be able to look him in the face again.

But he already knows. He’s so goddamned perceptive. The moment I stop fighting him, the moment my breath changes, and I tense up, he stops the spanking. He pauses for a moment, his heavy palm resting on my throbbing buttocks.

Then he starts kneading my ass, gently.

The rubbing feels unutterably good. It’s like the time I stole one of Dante’s special brownies and ate the whole thing before getting a massage. Each squeeze of Callum’s hand sends pulses of pleasure running down my neurons, making them glow like a string of Christmas lights.

Without meaning to, I moan and press my thighs against the outside of Callum’s leg.

“You like that?” he growls, his voice lower and rougher than ever.

His fingertips dance down the crevice of my ass, slipping between my thighs to find confirmation of what he already suspects. Sure enough, his fingers slide easily across the slick surface of my cunt.

“I thought so,” he breathes.

Without warning, he plunges two fingers inside of me. I let out a deep, desperate groan. The inside of my pussy is so swollen and warm that those fingers are the most pleasurable thing that’s ever been inside me. They feel tailor-made, super-powered, as custom-fit as one of Imogen’s fucking cabinets.

Callum slides his fingers in and out, enjoying the anxious, pleading sounds I’m making around the gag.

Oh my god I want to be fucked.

I want it so bad I feel like I could be willing to die after, if I could only get what I need for five straight minutes.

“Look what you did.”

Callum touches the wound on his left arm. When he brings his fingertips down in front of my face, I can see that they’re shining with fresh blood.

“I’ve had enough of you flying off the handle,” Callum says. “It ends tonight. From now on, you’re going to be the wife I was promised. Helpful. Useful. Obedient.

Hooking his arms under my body, Callum stands up, lifting me off his knees. He throws me face-down on the bed, wrists still bound behind my back and knees bent under me, so my ass is pointed up in the air.

I hear a button popping and a zipper going down. Callum’s strong, warm hands grip my hips, the right one disappearing momentarily as Callum lines his cock up with my entrance, then returning again.

He rams inside of me with one thrust of his hips. He goes all the way in, bottoming out with the front of his thighs flush against the back of mine. He grips my hips tight, letting his cock stay fully sheathed, so deep that I feel the head throbbing against my cervix.

Only then does he pull out again, almost all the way, before thrusting all the way back in.

He does this several times, letting me appreciate the full length of his cock. Then he starts fucking me hard. Harder and faster, our bodies slamming together with a sound not as sharp as the spankings, but much more rapid and insistent.

To be desperately aroused and then aggressively serviced like this is just so . . . satisfying. On the level of popsicles on a hot day, or a bratty kid falling on their face. I am at peak happiness. I don’t just want this. I fucking need it.

But then Callum really starts to torture me.

He reaches around my hip and finds my clit with his fingers. He lightly teases me with his fingertips, then gradually starts to increase the pressure.

I’m panting and moaning into the gag, trying to buck my hips to get more pressure on just the right spot.

Callum isn’t giving it to me. He knows what I want, but he’s denying it.

His arm is wrapped tightly around me. He’s still thrusting into me, deeper and deeper. He leans over and growls in my ear, “Are you going to be a good girl, Aida? My good little wife?”

I’m whimpering, almost begging. But I don’t want to say it. Goddamn him, I don’t want to say it!

“Tell me,” Callum croons. “Tell me you’ll be a good girl.”

No way.

I’m not gonna do it.

I’m totally going to do it.

Squeezing my eyes tight shut, I nod my head.

Callum presses hard against my clit. He rubs me in time with his thrusts, just in the right spot, just the right way to make me accelerate through the stratosphere.

Blast off. We’ve left the planet, ladies and gentlemen, it’s pure flaming stars up here.

I’m floating, flying, zooming at a million miles away, experiencing a kind of pleasure that I’ve never even imagined before. Hard, fast, endless.

I lose all sense of what Callum is doing. I’m just gone.

I don’t come back to earth until Callum pulls me into his arms, wrapping them tightly around my body.

He’s taken off the gag and the makeshift handcuffs.

I’m laying naked on his chest, all his clothes stripped off, too.

My body is rising and falling with the rhythm of his breaths. His chin nestles against my temple.

His breathing is steady and peaceful. His arms are warm and gentle around me. I don’t know if I’ve ever felt his body this relaxed. I’ve seen him stiff and controlled, but never calm.

“Did you get there, too?” I ask him, after a minute.

He kisses the side of my head.

“Of course.”

“That was . . .”

What, exactly? Insane? Shocking? Confusing? Breathtaking? Unforgettable?

“I know,” Callum says.

There’s a long pause, and then I can’t help asking, “Have you ever done that before?”

Another long pause, in which I think he won’t answer.

Then, finally, he says, “Not like that.”

Dear lord.

I’m a pretty opinionated girl. I thought I knew what I liked and what I didn’t like.

But I might have just discovered a whole new category . . .

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