She was awake long before the alarm clock went off. How had he found her at the cabin? That thought kept going through her head. No one had known where she was going, no way could anyone have followed her up the mountain road without her noticing, yet there he had been the next morning. Automatically she stretched out her arms to relieve some of the tension in her shoulders. At least she could be certain it was no dream this time. That last session on the cabin floor, trussed up in a painful hogtie with her arms behind her back, had been no fantasy.
She glanced over at the dimly glowing display on the clock. She still had fifteen minutes to herself before the day would start. He had no right to do that to her. It hadn’t been fun or erotic. No, it had hurt. And that had been his intention, to punish her.
Like the old cartoons there were two voices whispering in her ear. The angel on one side was telling her that it was all so wrong. He had no right to tie her up, to force her to obey him, to terrorize her into submission. And on the other side the little devil was pointing out that he did have the right, because she belonged to him and she knew it. Of course she had to be punished; after all hadn’t she tried to run away? The angel’s arguments were silenced when the devil told her to open her eyes and look in her closet.
She rolled over and propped up her head on one hand. The plastic bag with its pink rags dangled below a hanger. She had been the one who took the scissors to her suit, not him. Sighing, she dropped her head back onto the pillow and stared up at the ceiling. Did he own her? She couldn’t answer the question with a definite yes or no, and that was disturbing in itself. It felt so right to submit to him. It was a compulsion that came from within, one she could not ignore.
The radio clicked on. An announcer was halfway through the traffic report. Six o’clock, she had to be home before then. The mess on the freeway had almost made her late yesterday. From now on she’d have to pay more attention to the radio on her way home.
She tossed aside the bedcovers, stood up, stretched one last time, and headed for the shower. The hot water did wonders for her sore muscles. The water running down her legs felt good, reminding her of the way his hand had caressed her ankle.
She shut the water off. No time for daydreaming about that sort of thing in the morning. She had to get ready for work. She was never late and didn’t intend to start now. He certainly wouldn’t approve. She finished up in the bathroom and headed to her closet.
Her eyes kept coming back to last night’s handiwork. He knew exactly what he was doing when he told her to hang it in the closet. Every day she would have to look at the results of his order, a not so subtle reminder of the extent he now controlled her life. She took out the pastel green skirt and jacket suit. Soft and feminine, and she did look good in it. Though it was not what anyone would call a "power suit". A good choice, she thought with a wry smile, since I’m not feeling particularly powerful today.
On the way out the door she remembered the travel bag she had left in the car yesterday. She could bring it in when she got home this afternoon, no need to make a separate trip now. He wouldn’t be concerned with details like that. No, results were what mattered to him, not how she managed to accomplish those results. She was sure of that even though she couldn’t explain why.
Outside, she opened the car door and got in. Her bag was still in the back seat, undisturbed. She put the key in the ignition but caught herself before starting the car. The car had been locked overnight but she had still checked to see if he had taken her bag or left something else for her, even though she had no idea if he had a set of keys. Without thinking she just assumed he had access.
Like he owned it all, along with me, she thought. She turned her head, looking around the empty street to see if anyone was watching her. It was still too early for any traffic, and no men in trench coats were lurking in the shadows of storefront doorways. She shook her head at her own imagination run wild, started the car and headed to the office.
A block away in the diner the man sitting at the counter took another bite of his pancakes while he watched her car pull away from the curb. Putting down the fork he took out his pocket watch, opened the cover and checked the time.
She looked good in green but he didn’t care at all for her choice of earrings. He would have to do something about it. But first he’d check to make sure she got home on time for the next few days. And that she’d figured out the lesson behind the bag of rags in her closet. That particular order had been spontaneous; all he had planned on was the curfew. It had been very selfish of him to make her take the scissors to her clothes. He’d have to come up with more of the same.
The waitress behind the counter noticed his pocket watch. "Is that one of those old railroad watches? My grandfather carried one for years." She leaned over to look at it.
He held it out so she could see the face. "No, not for railroads, but the mechanism is just as old. This is what’s called a hunter’s case, with a front cover. It protects the crystal from breaks and scratches." With a practiced one-handed move he closed the cover with his fingers while the watch lay in his palm.
"Does it keep good time?" she asked, more to make conversation than out of any real curiosity.
He dangled the watch by its chain. "Not as accurate as one of those modern digital wristwatches, but it works well enough for my purposes."
"Purposes? Does it do something special?" The other customer at the far end of the counter stood up and reached for his wallet.
He smiled as he held it in his hand again. "When I open it, not only does it tell me the time, but it also reminds me of what has to be done. It regulates order in my little universe."
She gave him a puzzled look before turning around and walking back to the cash register. He dropped the watch back in his pocket. Rarely did anyone understand what he meant.
She had left for work at her regular time. That was a good sign. He didn’t miss her survey around the street after getting in the car; she must know he was watching her. Probably disappointed he wasn’t slouched against a lamppost across the street, fedora pulled low over his brow, pretending to read the paper but never turning the page. Or maybe he should be standing below a large flashing neon arrow that said "this is the guy".
The real significance was in what had not happened. No patrol cars surrounding the block, no squads of thick-necked detectives sweeping the neighborhood for the degenerate who had attacked her. She was coming along nicely. Maybe this would be the week they met face to face. Nodding in approval he returned to his breakfast.
She made it through Monday, arriving home well before her deadline. Tuesday she had to stop at the grocery store on her way home but still made it to the door with twenty minutes to spare. If she was careful she had enough time for one errand. Wednesday the traffic was very bad due to a broken water main but she still got home in time, though it had been close.
Three days and she hadn’t heard from him. No email, no note under the door, no phone call, nothing. She sat on the couch, head back and eyes closed, rubbing her temples with her hands. The drive home that afternoon had been slow motion agony. The line of cars had moved at a crawl, but the clock in the dashboard seemed to count off the minutes at twice the normal rate. When she had opened her front door she had raced into the kitchen to check the time. Three minutes to spare, but she had made it.
She hadn’t broken the pipe, she didn’t even know about it until it was too late and she was trapped. By the time it was on the radio she was right in the middle of what looked to be an endless line of cars in both directions. There was no way he could have blamed her for getting home late under those circumstances.
And yet, despite it all she was proud she had still made his curfew. Six o’clock and there she was, sitting on the couch. She had a perfect record, but did he know? She had no doubt he’d know if her record wasn’t perfect, and that she’d hear about it in distinctly unpleasant ways. She hoped he’d followed her home and gotten stuck in the same gridlock. Then he’d appreciate what she had to go through to ensure he got his way.
Thursday was anticlimactic. There were no traffic jams, no broken water mains, not even an alien invasion of flying saucers parked on the freeway. She had time to stop and drop off her dry cleaning before she got home.
The moment she went into the kitchen she saw the small box and envelope on the counter. She stared at it, hesitant to open the envelope and see what he had to say. It had to be from him; no one else had keys to her apartment. She still hadn’t figured out how he had obtained a set. The large block letters on the envelope, obviously from a laser printer, read "OPEN THIS FIRST".
She held the box steady with one hand while she slid the envelope out from underneath. The box itself was small and didn’t weigh much. She had no idea what could be inside. The envelope was a plain business one, with no other printing on it. She held it up to the light but couldn’t make out what was inside.
She took a steak knife out of the drawer and used it as a letter opener, slitting open the top of the envelope while being careful not to cut the contents inside. The contents consisted of a single sheet of folded paper. She put the knife down on the counter, unfolded the letter and began to read:
"You have done very well these last few days. Even I didn’t expect you to get home on time yesterday, but somehow you managed. I am impressed with your diligence, but I am forced to admit that I have not left you sufficient time after work. Starting next Monday you do not have to be home until 6:30pm.
I’m pleased to see you understood my purpose in asking you to cut up your suit. I want you to know I find the wardrobe choices you made this week were very attractive, exactly what I hoped to see. However, the earrings you wore on Monday do not suit you. They were too large and garish. Jewelry should enhance, not distract. Get rid of them. The box with this letter contains an example of what I consider acceptable.
Friday we will meet for lunch at ten minutes past noon. I know how much you like the pastrami sandwich from the deli across the street, though I don’t understand why you ruin it with that overpowering mustard. I look forward to introducing you to the delights of cream cheese as a palate-friendly replacement."
She put the letter on the counter and picked up the box. Unwrapping it she saw from the label it was from one of the better known local jewelers. She flipped up the lid. Inside were a pair of small emerald stud earrings, light green in color.
Her hands were shaking. Quickly she closed the box, set it down, and gripped the edge of the kitchen counter to steady herself. We will meet for lunch. Tomorrow she would finally get to see the man who had turned her life upside down. What was the old cliché about being careful what to wish for, because it might come true? She had been irritated at the cavalier way he chose to not communicate with her, but now that she had gotten her wish it turned out to be just as disturbing.
She picked up his message and the earrings and took them out into the living room. She sat down on the couch and placed them on the coffee table. She opened the box to look at his gift. She read the second paragraph again. That answered one question. He knew exactly what she wore to work every morning; in detail, judging by his comment. Monday, what had she worn that day? It took a moment for her to remember, the green outfit, one of her favorites, which explained his choice of emeralds. But which earrings had she picked to go with it?
She jumped up, grabbed the letter on the table and went into the bedroom. Opening her jewelry box she searched through her selection of earrings, trying to remember which pair she’d worn that day. Large and garish was all she had to go by, and that didn’t tell her much.
She picked out three possibilities. One she eliminated almost immediately, large golden colored hoops. She didn’t care for them herself and never wore them. That left the other two. But which one had she used this last week? Frowning she tried to remember back to Monday morning.
She drew a blank. Getting dressed was mostly automatic; it wasn’t the most memorable part of her day, especially given the events of the last few weeks. She had no clue as to which ones he didn’t like. Frowning, she stared at the earrings. She had to do something; "get rid of them" didn’t leave her many options.
Sometimes complex questions do have simple answers. She scooped up all three pairs in her hand and went into the kitchen. She opened the lid on the trash can and threw them away. None of them were particularly valuable, no 24 carat gold and not one diamond stone in the lot. One small problem solved; one big problem waiting for tomorrow. And how was she ever going to get to sleep?
She’d have to wash her hair. Then she’d have to pick out something nice to wear for tomorrow. And it had to be something he would approve of, from the side of the closet she considered safe. Plus it would have to match the emeralds. She didn’t want to disappoint him.
Friday morning at work started off bad and got progressively worse. The minute she walked in she had to track down a lost package mistakenly shipped to the wrong address. Then her supervisor dumped a rush project on her desk. "This has to be done by lunchtime. There’s a meeting at one and I need to have this ready. There’s a major contract being negotiated. This is critical in getting it closed." She always got the emergencies for the simple reason that she delivered by the deadline.
She worked frantically through the morning, not even taking a break. No one else knew but she had two deadlines, the report and more pressing the lunch date she dare not miss. Five minutes to noon and the report was ready, proofed and formatted. She had just enough time to print it before she went across the street to the deli. That’s when her computer decided to go on strike. No matter what she did it would not send the report to the printer.
In desperation she called the help desk. She hated to do it because the techs who manned it were so lacking in any sort of social skills. The Animal House was the nickname she and her co-workers had given the computer department. It had the highest concentration of nerds, geeks, creeps and jerks of any department in the company. Calling was bad enough but when the guys showed up to make repairs they spent more time trying to look down her blouse than inside her computer. Today of all days they would have a real eyeful, for she’d worn the lowest cut blouse she could get away with at work.
She described her problem to the technician on the phone. He read off the obvious procedures from his script, all of which she’d tried before calling. Half-heartedly he asked a few more question, and finally conceded it wasn’t her fault. She pleaded with him to send someone up right away, dropping a few heavyweight executive names so they’d bump up her priority.
She checked the time on her screen, 12:00 pm. He would expect her in ten minutes and she couldn’t leave. The best she could hope for was that he’d wait for her. She couldn’t leave until the report was printing.
Except for the receptionist in the front she was the only one still at her desk. Everyone else had cleared out for lunch. When the computer guy walked in, complete with one of those cases for spare parts, the room was empty save for the two of them. The case was always the giveaway. Computer types had to carry something technical looking; it must be some kind of status symbol. She watched him cross the room and approach her desk. He was one of the rare ones, older, better dressed, clean, and not bad looking. If she were really lucky he wouldn’t drool while he stared at her legs. Naturally it would be the day she also wore the shortest skirt that would pass the company dress code.
"Good, you’re here. I need this report printed immediately and it’s stuck. It has to be in the conference room before one, so please get it working as fast as you can." She stood up. "I have an appointment and won’t be able to stay. Here’s the file name." She pointed to a sticky note on the side of her monitor.
Instead of answering he put down the parts case on the floor, stared at her in a way that took in every inch of bare skin, and then took out a pocket watch. Without saying one word he opened it, took far too long reading the time, and finally put the watch back in his pocket.
She revised her opinion of him downward. He fit the pattern that earned the computer geeks their reputation of being rude and obnoxious. Given her streak of bad luck he probably was the new trainee too, without a clue as to how to solve her problem. "Look, this is really important. If that report isn’t ready the CEO isn’t going to be too happy. I’ll be back as soon as I can..."
"No," he interrupted. She stopped in mid sentence. Something wasn’t right.
"Sit down." That voice, she recognized it. But it couldn’t be. She sat down.
He picked up the parts case and put it on her desk. Opening the top he took out a sandwich wrapped in aluminum foil. He looked at the writing on it before setting it down in front of her. "Pastrami with mustard, the way you like it." He took out another sandwich and put it down on his side. "I prefer cream cheese, it doesn’t ruin the delicate seasoning of the meat. You really should try it."
She didn’t know what to say. It was him, the mysterious voice that had come to dominate her life. He had written the same comment in the letter last night; there wasn’t any way someone else could know about it.
"It’s undignified to sit there with your mouth open if you aren’t going to eat." He took out a bottle. "Iced tea, that’s for you." He placed it next to her sandwich. A container of potato salad and a dill pickle followed.
He sat down across the desk from her and began unwrapping his sandwich. "If you recall we did have a lunch date today. Ten minutes after twelve, as I told you. I thought you would be more comfortable meeting in familiar surroundings."
He’d gotten to her again. Her self-proclaimed owner, the man who had decided she belonged to him without even asking, sat across the desk eating a pastrami sandwich like their first face to face was a casual get together among co-workers. She stared at him, at a loss for words.
He stopped and pointed to her sandwich. "Eat your lunch. And this time I want you to finish it. Last week you ran out of the deli without finishing a perfectly good meal. I am not going to permit such behavior again."
Mechanically she picked up her sandwich and took a bite. The deli? So he had been there after all. Behind him the printer turned on and began feeding paper. "That’s your report." He didn’t even turn around to look.
He certainly didn’t lack for self confidence. No question this was the same man who had so deftly bent her to his will. Even here in the office a few quiet words were all it took to control her. She couldn’t bring herself to say anything until he gave his permission.
When he looked at her it was as if he were peering into the depths of her mind. His eyes were riveting in their ability to hold her. How did he intend to use that power over her? There were so many questions. She didn’t know where to start.
He didn’t give her the opportunity. "We don’t have much time today. I’m sure there’s quite a bit you’d like to discuss. We’ll have more time tomorrow evening. I will call for you at seven o’clock. I’ve made reservations at a nice place." He paused, a thoughtful look on his face. "I want you to wear that black dress, you know, the one you keep in the back of the closet for special occasions. The earrings are perfect for you too, wear them again tomorrow. You are forbidden to wear a watch. The rest I leave to your judgment."
She finally found her voice again. "Look, before this goes any further we have..."
"No," he cut her off in mid-sentence. "Tomorrow night you can ask me anything, and I promise I’ll give you an answer to every question. Not today. You and I both have to get back to work after lunch."
She couldn’t argue with his reasoning. Behind him the printer was still churning out the pages for the report. "Okay, tomorrow, but answer one question. How did..."
"No." He wouldn’t let her finish. "Save all your questions for tomorrow night. Make a list if you want. But don’t ask any questions right now."
He was stubborn as well as dominating. She wasn’t bound and helpless, kneeling in front of him now. This was her space, her office, and that gave her some moral support to argue with him. She tried a few more times to sneak in a question, but he remained obstinate. As soon as he saw where she was heading he cut her off. Interruptions like that from anyone else would be rude, but she couldn’t bring herself to use that label in describing him. She resigned herself to waiting another day. Idly she wondered if her black dress needed ironing.
He’d kept their lunch date short on purpose. As he expected she tried to launch into an interrogation from the first moment. He had no intention of letting her take control of the meeting. Her desk, like her apartment, was her personal space where she felt secure, in charge, at her safest. Naturally she would try to assert herself. And like her apartment he had to come in and take it over.
His promise of "anywhere and anytime" was no idle boast. There was no escape from his influence, not in her bedroom, not in a mountain cabin, not even at work. But for all the months of careful planning, and his precisely laid plans of the last few weeks, still she had one way to end it all, and there wasn’t much he could do about it if she chose that path.
His office was in the same building but nowhere nearly as nice as her work area. During the day he lived deep in the basement, next to the room full of humming machines, the computer servers that were the lifeblood of the company. For most of his life that had been the sum of his existence: structure, order and harmony, each component in the network fulfilling its designated role in his grand design.
Was it nature or nurture? Did he become the systems ad ministrator because it was his nature to control his environment, or did the demands of his career force him into being the leader? Through his office window he could see the status lights on the racks of servers, the flashing indicators representing messages traveling in and out of the data center over the internet connections, the load display on the console showing how much work was in progress. On top of one of the racks was a plastic toy statue of Chewbacca, from Star Wars. Legend had it that the miniature Wookie wandered the building after hours, gobbling up unsuspecting techs who dared to leave the server room when they should be manning the help desk phone.
Perhaps only the Jedi Knights could feel the Force, but he had his own way of sensing the underlying Force of his little kingdom of machinery. Any change in sound, the slightest deviation in the rhythm of the displays, he would intervene to put the offending bit of electronics back on track.
Logic ruled supreme in his universe, yet he had ignored it and rolled the dice in the biggest gamble of his life. Maybe the last if he didn’t make the point. Till now his way of life was a solitary one, not so much by choice as the harsh reality that the usual relationships did not last very long. Forced to admit he could not change, he had set out to find the kind of woman who could tolerate, maybe even prefer, the type of man he would always be.
He’d done his homework, learned what to look for, and had used all the resources at his command, regardless of ethical considerations, to find the right one. Everything he could learn about her said she was the one, and the last two weeks had seemed to prove him right. But sooner or later she had to know his identity, and that was the point where he would succeed or fail in a spectacular crash and burn.
He took out his watch and checked the time, 2:12pm. The outside door was closed; still no squad of uniformed police bursting in, guns drawn, intent on saving society from the bottom feeders of humanity. He ran down the list: stalking, breaking and entry, kidnapping, false imprisonment, probably some kind of terrorism charge too just so the prosecutor would make the evening news. By the time he got out of prison the airlines should be offering weekly flights to Mars. All she had to do was pick up the phone and make a call.
She checked the bedside clock radio. It was nearly seven, the time he would come for her. All she knew was that he’d made reservations at a "nice place", whatever that meant. It might be gourmet chili dogs at the monster truck races or the gourmet room at one of the five star hotels.
He would be on time. And she had to be ready the moment he arrived. She checked herself in the mirror for about the twentieth time. The black dress was flattering; he had good taste. The earrings were small green dots, barely visible. The only other jewelry she wore was a thin gold chain necklace, little more than a line around her throat. It fit her definition of minimal; she hoped he’d agree it wasn’t garish. She shrugged; if it wasn’t to his taste he’d tell her. He didn’t seem to have any problem in that regard.
This would be their first real date, though it was nothing like any date she had ever been on before. Normally she’d fret about what to wear, where they would go, if she had to carry the conversation, what to do if or more likely when he turned out to be another dud, and if she’d have to fight him off at the end. This time it was almost too easy. He’d picked out the clothes, he’d picked the place, he certainly knew how to capture her attention, and he’d had ample opportunity if his only interest was getting her into bed. He could have whatever he wanted; she couldn’t say no. She’d had all week to decide on that particular question.
She went out to the living room to wait on the couch, where she could stare at the front door. It opened precisely on the hour. He had a key, from where she had no idea, so she shouldn’t have been surprised. That was one of the questions on her list. She still jumped when the door knob turned.
A man coming to pick her up would have rung the doorbell, but he wasn’t an ordinary date. Ringing the bell was asking to enter, something her owner would rightfully ignore. She wasn’t running the show this time. He was going to do exactly as he pleased and she knew, even though she didn’t want to admit it, the way he casually ignored all the conventions secretly fascinated her.
She stood up to face him. He closed the front door behind him before he turned back and walked toward her. She felt as much as saw his eyes sweep up and down, inspecting her. She held her breath, eager to hear his approval.
He stopped at arm’s length. Nervous, she looked up at him. "You did well," he told her. She’d spent most of the day getting ready; his few words made it worthwhile. Warmed by his simple praise she looked down, almost embarrassed in her relief. "I have something else I want you to wear. I want you to hold out your hands, toward me." Unsure of what he intended she hesitated but quickly obeyed when his eyes narrowed in the beginning of a frown.
He took hold of her left wrist and drew her toward him. Leaning close he stared into her eyes. "Listen carefully. It’s important that you keep still until I’m done." The way he spoke, calm and deliberate, riveted her attention with his every word. "I’m going to put you in handcuffs. Real ones, like the police use." He reached behind his back with his free hand and brought out a gleaming pair of steel bracelets, linked together by a short length of chain.
The click of the handcuff closing on her wrist surprised her. She had never been arrested or handcuffed before. She recognized from TV shows the distinctive ratcheting sound. Without thinking she tensed as he slowly tightened it on her wrist but she willed herself to relax while he explained what he was doing. When he talked that way all she couldn’t seem to focus on what was happening.
The weight and the cool touch of the steel encircling her wrist reminded her he was using the real thing, not some plastic child’s toy. When he took hold of her right wrist and locked on the other cuff she didn’t object, even though she knew she would be unable to free her hands.
The accomplished fact of being retrained made it all the easier to trust him. He had her in his power. Whatever happened now was up to him. She told herself it wasn’t the first time, so she didn’t need to worry. Still, this was all so different than the previous meetings. Before now she had woken up and found herself at his mercy. This time she had given herself willingly.
Tingles shot through her body when his hands traveled up and down her arms. She couldn’t help but react to his touch. Being helpless brought her to arousal. She couldn’t stop it, nor did she want to. What she wanted was for him to pull her bound hands above her head, push her down and take her, right there on her living room floor.
Instead he let go and backed up to admire his work. Looking down she could see the small keyhole on each handcuff. She was neither a locksmith nor an escape artist; they would stay on her until he took them off. She didn’t even consider asking for the key.
He picked up her purse from the sofa and handed it to her. Did he expect her to go out wearing handcuffs? But what came next was even more of a surprise.
"Open your purse; take out your wallet, cell phone and keys. Give them to me." She started to protest but stopped before one word got out. There wasn’t any point in asking for an explanation. Awkwardly she held her open purse in one hand while she extracted her wallet.
Because her wrists were locked so close together she couldn’t hand it to him. He solved that problem by taking the wallet out of her hand. The cell phone followed, and then the last item, her key ring. It had both the apartment door and car keys. He opened a drawer in the end table beside the couch and dropped them all inside. "You won’t need them tonight."
With no money, no phone, and no keys she wouldn’t be able to sneak away once they left the apartment. For that matter she’d have a hard time wandering the street with the cuffs on too. He looked at her purse in a pointed way one more time. "Is there anything else in there I should know about?"
She looked down at her hands. How did he know? There was something, one item that she knew wasn’t supposed to be in there. She had taken a chance and now she’d been caught. She looked up at him. "There might be, I don’t know..." Her hesitation sounded like a confession of guilt. She had to tell him. "I put my wristwatch in here. You told me not to wear it. I thought it would be okay."
He stood in front of her, silent, waiting. She reached in and took out the watch. He took it out of her hand and added it to the drawer. "You were right to tell me. I told you it was forbidden, so don’t do it again. You know better." She could tell he disapproved. Ashamed she looked down. He was right, she knew it wasn’t what he wanted but she had tried to sneak it in.
"We’ll deal with the watch later. I want you to bring a jacket. I’ll get it for you." He went straight to the hall closet where she kept her coats and sweaters. Apparently he knew her apartment as well as she did.
While his back was turned she took the opportunity to explore her matching bracelets. First she tried to pull her wrists apart. She got nowhere, which wasn’t a surprise. That’s what handcuffs were supposed to do. Next she tried to slip one hand out of the cuff. They were a loose fit but too narrow to go past her wrists. The steel was heavier than regular bracelets. She stopped when he came back with her coat.
She had no idea how she was supposed to put the coat on. He solved that mystery by draping it over her hands and purse, concealing the cuffs. So he did intend for her to go out in public with her hands chained together. She didn’t like the idea but what could she do?
He took out his pocket watch and checked the time. "It’s time to go." He took hold of her arm and steered her toward the front door. Though anxious and worried about the embarrassment of discovery she still let herself be led out into the hallway and down to the street. Every time they met he pushed the bounds a little further. How much more before she had to speak up and say enough? The answer wasn’t so clear.
Outside her apartment building he took her to where his car was parked. On the sidewalk they passed one of her neighbors. Thankfully the woman only nodded a hello and kept going. She breathed a silent prayer of thanks she hadn’t dropped her coat.
In his car they pulled out onto the street into traffic. She kept her hands under her coat to conceal the handcuffs from passers-by. She had no idea where he was going but it turned out not to be very far. He drove for about fifteen minutes before he slowed and pulled into an alley. The alleyway was dark and deserted.
As soon as he turned off the engine he turned to her. "Stay here. I’ll be right back."
He got out, crossed in front of the car and slowly walked along the alley. He appeared to be searching for something, but otherwise she had no idea what he intended to do next. He made a complete circuit, to the far end and back, before he returned to her side of the car. She looked out the side window as he took out his pocket watch, opened the case, then quickly closed it and put it back in his pocket.
He opened her door and held out his hand. "It’s time. I want you to get out of the car. Leave your purse and jacket on the seat."
She got out and looked around at her surroundings. Why had he brought her to this place? It made no sense. For the first time she began to wonder if she could trust him after all. Distracted she didn’t realize she still had her purse clutched in her shackled hands.
He immediately snatched it away and tossed it onto the back seat through her open door. "Look at me." She turned around and looked up at his face in the light from the car’s interior. He took hold of the chain between her hands. "I’m going to ask you to do something difficult, something that may frighten you. I’m asking you to trust me and do it anyway, even though I’m not going to explain why, or what will happen later. This is very important to me, to both of us. Will you do as I ask?"
The question was simple but she sensed this was a turning point, a moment when her answer would change her life. She studied his face, looking for some hint he intended to harm her. What she saw was genuine concern. Taking a deep breath she nodded as she replied. "Tell me what to do."
The bridge was crossed and burned down behind her. She knew there would be no turning back now. She felt relieved more than afraid. He was in charge; whatever happened from this point on was his responsibility. She would do her best for him. She prayed he would be good to her.
He took out a key from his pocket and removed the handcuffs. "Take off your clothes, shoes, everything. Put them on the car seat. I want you to do it right now, and not one word."
It was tempting to turn around and check to see if she was visible from the street but she knew it would be wrong. He had chosen the place; she had to accept it. Taking a deep breath she reached behind her back for the zipper.
In moments her clothes were on the car seat, and her shoes on the floor. He took off her necklace but allowed her to leave on the earrings. It was all she wore. She stood in front of him, nude, head down, hands at her side, waiting for his next command. He put a hand under her chin and lifted her head up so he could see her eyes. "You understand what this means?" He didn’t see the need to elaborate.
"Yes," she answered. A simple answer but in her tone he heard all the explanation he needed. She had surrendered to him, obedient and trusting, her life in his hands to do as he pleased. He had dreamed of the moment; now that it had arrived he took a moment to savor all he had risked and won. He had her, now he must do his best to keep her.
But he didn’t have time to philosophize. The next few hours would be critical in building their relationship. He had to act quickly, decisively, and in a way that satisfied her expectations. He smiled as he nearly forgot one other important item. He had to be selfish too.
"Turn around, put your hands behind your back." She immediately spun around and held her arms behind her back. She had to know what he intended next.
The sound of the handcuffs was loud in the narrow confines of the alley, echoing off the building walls. He could feel shivers run through her as he tightened the cuffs. He put his hands on her upper arms and leaned close. Softly he whispered in her ear as he held her, "I promise I’ll do my best for you. You will never have cause to look back on this moment with regret."
He picked up her coat from the car seat and put it around her shoulders. He buttoned it while standing behind her, reaching around, his arms encircling her. "We’re going to go to a nice place, like I promised. We’re going home, our home." Home was his place, now hers as well. He had no intention of returning her to the apartment. From this night on they would be together.
He picked up her clothes from the front seat and tossed them in the back. She wouldn’t need the dress any time soon. "I want you to get back in the car. I’ll hold your head so you don’t bump it. Back to the seat, lean forward and sit down." With her arms behind her it was a difficult move but she managed. He kept his hand on the back of her head. "Good, now turn to the side and put your legs inside." That part was easier and one she could manage with some grace. She had to lean forward because of the cuffs. He loosened the buckle on her seat belt before fastening it around her waist.
"I know all this is difficult but you are doing very well." He picked up her shoes and dropped them behind the seat. She wouldn’t need them either. "You’re almost ready. One last thing, cross your ankles." He reached under her seat and took out the strap he’d put there earlier. She leaned forward and looked down to watch as he wrapped it around her ankles and pulled it snug but not too tight, hobbling her. "You won’t have to sit like this for very long. We don’t have much further to go."
When he stood up he didn’t close her door right away. She looked up at him expectantly, obviously excited at what was happening but concerned about what would happen next. On impulse he reached down and unbuttoned the top buttons on her coat. With her hands bound behind her back she couldn’t stop him. When she looked down to see what he had done he suddenly grabbed her hair with his other hand, pulled her head back and kissed her passionately while his free hand slipped inside to fondle her breast.
Her reaction told him all he needed to know. If not for the restraints she would have been all over him. She returned his kiss with equal fervor, and the way she tried to press herself against his hand could only mean she wanted more. In due time there would be more, later that night, but for now she must understand she would wait for him to decide the when and the where.
He took the shortest way home, partly due to his own eagerness but also to minimize the risk of someone seeing her and calling the police. Hopefully she would vouch for what was happening if they were stopped. He didn’t want to think about how he would explain driving around with a nude woman in handcuffs sitting next to him.
No explanations to the authorities were needed as the trip proved uneventful. In the driveway he hit the remote for the garage door. Not until the door closed behind him did he relax. He turned to check on how she was doing. She hadn’t said a word since he’d put her in the car.
He got out, went around the front of the car and opened her door. Inside the garage he wasn’t too concerned about nosy neighbors. He knelt down next to her and finished unbuttoning her raincoat. Her only reaction was to lean forward and flex her hands behind her back. No longer in a hurry he took another moment to enjoy the prize before him. He released the seat belt, pulled her coat open and pushed it back out of the way.
He reached up and stroked her hair. "You are very attractive. Did you know that?" He ran a hand up her leg, stopping on her thigh. Her reaction was to close her eyes and take a sharp, deep breath. Her body betrayed her reaction to being helpless and vulnerable, subject to his unrestricted touch. Tempting as she was in her current state it would be easier on both of them once he got her in the house.
She didn’t answer. He tried to remember if he’d forbidden her to talk. Maybe she had assumed it. "You do not have permission to speak." That would make it clear. There was no particular reason for the order other than the pleasure of controlling her.
He released the strap around her ankles and helped her out of the car. Taking her through the inside door he brought her into the house. It was time to keep his promise from lunch the day before. She would have her questions and answers, but the setting would be more to his liking.
She looked around the unfamiliar surroundings. It was clean but spartan in appearance, definitely a man’s place. Behind her back she tested her bonds one more time. The handcuffs were securely in place and would stay there until he took them off. Why did she have such a strong reaction to the touch of his hand when she was helpless? She couldn’t help herself. She wondered if he realized what they did to her. Maybe he did know.
Given her state of undress she expected him to head right for the bedroom but as usual he proved to be unpredictable. He took her into the living room instead. There he pulled a cushion off the sofa and threw it onto the floor in front of a chair.
"Kneel on the cushion, face the chair." He held onto her arm as she knelt down. "Keep your legs underneath, sit back on your heels," he told her. She had a good idea of what he wanted. She’d gone through the same thing before, last weekend at the cabin. Back straight, head up, eyes front, shoulders back and she remembered to keep her knees slightly parted before he had to remind her. She couldn’t see the expression on his face, which was just as well because she figured it wouldn’t be wise for him to see her own quick smirk of satisfaction. She had always been a quick learner.
She felt his presence, standing behind her. She concentrated on holding perfectly still, staring right into the leather upholstery on the chair back. It seemed like hours before he finally walked around her and sat down, though it wasn’t more than a minute. He hadn’t said a word, nor had he made a move to correct her. She was careful to keep her expression passive but she knew she’d gotten it right the first time, without any help. She met his gaze and held it. Not in defiance but as a show of the pride she felt at that moment.
"Spread your knees farther apart." She opened her legs and exposed herself to him without breaking eye contact.
"That’s better. Now then, you have some questions? As I promised, you can ask anything, for as long as you want. We’re in no hurry tonight, and I don’t expect any interruptions. No restrictions, you can speak your mind if you want to lecture me. However, you will maintain your position. You may begin." He leaned back in the chair and crossed his arms.
He might have all the time in the world but she didn’t look forward to kneeling at his feet till morning. She had spent several hours writing down a list of everything she wanted to know. It was on several sheets of paper, in her purse. Out in his car, where it might as well be on the moon. She’d have to work from memory first before taking a chance on asking him to retrieve her notes.
"I can ask about anything, and you won’t get mad? You won’t punish me if I say something you don’t like?" Considering her current situation it seemed to be a prudent question.
"Anything. You have my word. Tonight you are free to speak your mind."
He sounded sincere. If she couldn’t trust him by now she was in too much trouble for it to make any difference. Her mouth widened into a grin as the perfect test question popped into her head.
"Okay then, first question." She twisted to one side, held out her hands and shook the handcuffs. "What can I do to get these things off my wrists?" Quickly she returned to what she thought of as her position of attention.
He burst out laughing. "A good one! I like a challenge." He dug into his front pocket and took out a small key. "You can use this key to unlock your cuffs. To answer your question: there is nothing you can do on your own to remove them, because I can’t think of any reason to give you the key. I intend for you to wear the cuffs as often as I like, for as long as I choose. Next question."
She didn’t really expect it to be that easy. But there were many ways to approach a problem. "Why? Why the handcuffs? Why do you make me kneel like this, stripped and bound?"
His expression went from playful to serious in an instant. There was no laughter before his answer this time. "Because I can. Because I want it." He paused for a moment, leaning forward. "Because you will do it for me."
Simple and to the point; she had to admit he was right as well. All he had to do was ask. She remembered one of the top questions on her list.
"How did you get the keys to my apartment? Do you have my car keys too?" That mystery had bugged her for weeks.
"I won’t tell you. Not yet. I will share as much information with you as I think appropriate, but some areas I keep to myself. I won’t explain why. Next question."
So she wasn’t going to receive total enlightenment tonight. For some reason it didn’t bother her. She decided to see just how honest his answers would be.
"Are you going to take me to bed? Are we going to make love? When?" She couldn’t believe she’d ever hear herself asking blunt questions like that to any man.
"Yes I am, and yes we will." He took out his pocket watch and popped open the cover to check the time. He closed the cover and put the watch back in his pocket. "As for when, your answer is: right now."
He was out of the chair before finishing his reply. Before she could react he reached down, put his hands on her waist and lifted her up off the cushion. No sooner did she get her feet on the floor than he bent down again, circled her legs with one arm and hoisted her over his shoulder, her head hanging down behind his back. His arm around her legs held her in place as he headed for the bedroom. Her last thought was that she might be too clever for her own good. Then he was softly rubbing the back of her knee with his free hand and she forgot all about questions and answers for the rest of the night, and most of the next morning.
They’d spent all day Saturday in the house, alternating between quick meals, talking, and workouts in the bedroom. Sunday he slowed down the pace. They had a leisurely breakfast and took time to get cleaned up. He even went out to the car to retrieve her clothes.
He didn’t give her permission to get dressed though. The weekend had gone far better than he had ever hoped. Which made it all the more difficult to bring up what had to come next. He ordered her to follow him down the stairs to the basement. What came next hadn’t been planned but she’d left him no choice.
Her wrists, locked in leather cuffs, were held high over her head by a chain hanging down from the ceiling. Her ankles were bound together by a larger set of leather cuffs and linked to an eyebolt set into the floor. A wide leather strap connected her ankle cuffs and then looped over her legs near her waist, so that she couldn’t stand or even rise from her current position. A padlock in the overhead chain allowed him to adjust it so she had no slack. The posture collar was locked on her neck.
He had told her the wristwatch was forbidden. Instead she had tried to bring it along in her purse. The price for her disobedience was a trip to what he called the time out room. It was more of a large closet in the basement rather than a real room. It consisted of grey concrete block walls, a bare slab for a floor and a stout close fitting solid steel door.
"What were you thinking? Did you really believe I would ignore it?" She wouldn’t look at him. He grabbed the collar under her chin and forced her to look right at him. "You knew what I wanted. Forbidden means exactly that. You are an intelligent woman who can grasp the spirit behind the letter of the law."
He wasn’t exaggerating. The way she had tried to sneak around a direct order was intolerable. An attitude like that had to be cut short immediately. "No matter how close we become there will always be a line. Don’t you see it has to be that way?" He didn’t know why she had done it but it was an accomplished fact now, a black mark he could not overlook. "My place is on one side of the line, you place is on the other side. We may talk, laugh, play around, even argue, but when the line is reached it all stops. When I tell you to do something, that’s the line. End of discussion, you abide by my wishes even if you don’t like it."
For the moment she was under orders to remain silent. His questions were rhetorical. If she were to answer it would only make her punishment worse. "Never forget you are the one who is owned. Those are not empty words. They carry an obligation, a duty you failed to carry out."
She started crying again. He hated the necessity of disciplining her but it was his commitment, his duty to show her he would be a strict master who did not let her stray outside her borders. He wanted to hold her, wipe away her tears and tell her everything was all right. He knew if he did he would lose her respect, and ultimately she would leave. She would walk away from him and rightly so, for he would be a failure if he wasn’t strong enough to hold onto her.
She had her eyes closed. "Look at me." His tone was quiet but firm. He didn’t need to shout to get his point across. She opened her eyes. "Do you understand why you are here?"
She tried to nod but the collar made it difficult to move her head. She had to lean forward and back again.
She had defied him. That was the troubling part. Maybe she had thought she’d test his resolve, maybe it was careless inattention, or maybe it was laziness. He didn’t know why but he knew what had to be done.
"This is how it will be. Your punishment will be to stay here for a certain period of time. Afterwards the incident will be forgotten and never mentioned again. I want your promise there won’t be a next time. Can you do this for me?"
She attempted a nod again. He stood up, took out his watch and checked the time. "I’ll be back for you when your time is up. Until then I want you to think about what you’ve done and how you will make sure we never have this talk again."
Her punishment lasted for only an hour. When he released her he held her close, the two of them sitting on the floor of the room. She cried, promising between bouts of tears she would never do it again. He reassured her, talking softly while stroking her hair. Finally he picked her up in his arms, carried her upstairs, and gently they made love one more time.
Later they went out for dinner. The coming week they would move her things into the house. On the way home he decided to stop at the video store for a movie, something light to wind down what had been an intense weekend.
That night they were watching a movie on TV when his cell phone pager went off. He picked it up from the end table and looked at the display. "Bad news, a server just went down." He sat up and studied the message. "Looks like it’s going to be a long night."
She rubbed the back of his neck. The movie wasn’t all that great but she wanted to be next to him. It had been a long weekend, an emotional rollercoaster of ups and downs. She had her eyes closed and was half-asleep from exhaustion when the pager went off. "Do you have to go in?" She had seen the memos at work about 24 hour on call staff but never thought it might affect her.
He thought for a moment. "No, I can do it from here unless it turns out to be hardware. That’s a critical machine; it can’t wait until morning." He looked at her. "You getting sleepy?" He put his arm around her shoulder.
She began rubbing her palm over his chest. "You could keep me awake."
Reluctantly he stopped her by placing his hand over hers. "Not tonight, though you tempt me." He picked up his pocket watch and opened it.
"What time is it" she asked.
He closed the case and looked at her. "Time for you to go to bed, and time for me to go to work."
"Can’t I stay up with you a little..." she began.
"No, do as I say." He pointed to the bedroom. "You’re going to bed, but you’re going to keep me company too." He took her hand and stood up. "Go get ready for bed." She was going to get her sleep but not quite the way she expected. "Come downstairs to the office when you’re done."
Hearing the magic words, do as I say, she didn’t argue. While she hurried off to get ready he went down to his basement office. He have to run through the error logs first, then run file system checks, maybe even hardware diagnostics. Time consuming, but it came with the job. He turned on his workstation and watched it boot up while he waited for her. Behind him on the floor was the latest addition to the office, something he’d added for just such a contingency. He didn’t like to be hit with a problem when he didn’t have the proper equipment to solve it.
When she came in she stopped as soon as she spotted the cage in the middle of the floor. It was the first time she’d seen it from the outside but she knew exactly what it was. He got up from his desk and went to her. She had on one of his shirts as a pajama top. He put his hands on her arms and looked deep into her eyes.
"This is what we are going to do. I’m going to sit over there," he nodded toward the desk, "and you are going to sleep in here while I’m fixing the server. I’ll be in the room with you every minute. Any questions?"
"Will I be able to see you?" She wouldn’t be afraid as long as he was with her.
He smiled and kissed her. "No blindfold, no gag, no restraints. See? I turned it to the side so you can watch me."
She put her arms around him. There was no question she would do it, but it was a relief to know it wouldn’t be a repeat of her first experience. "What should I do?"
"House rules, no clothes in cages. Take off that top first." Since nearly all her clothes were still back at her apartment she’d had to improvise. While she unbuttoned the shirt he unlatched the door to the cage. "Now in you go, head first." She knelt down and looked inside. He’d made some changes; there was a blanket spread over the padded bottom and a pillow at the far end. She crawled in.
"Watch your head, its low in there." She looked back at him over her shoulder. It was very close quarters. The top bars were inches above her head. He closed the door as soon as she was inside. The sound of the padlock snapping shut on the door latch was unmistakable. She would not be leaving on her own.
He crouched down next to her so he could reach in and pull up the other half of the blanket, covering her. "I don’t want you to get cold."
She laid her head down on the pillow and pulled the blanket close around her. She looked out at him from behind the bars. "You promise you won’t leave me alone?"
He stroked her cheek. "I promise. I’ll be at the desk. All you have to do is yell if you need anything." He took hold of her hand. "Don’t worry. I’ll be watching over you all night long."
He stood up and went back to his desk. She curled up as best she could in her blanket and peeked out at him as he worked. He’d type something, wait, scratch his head, and do it again. Every so often he’d turn around and check on her. At some point she closed her eyes and dozed off.
She had no idea what time it was when she woke up but it must have been early in the morning. In the dim glow coming from the screens on his desk she could see him sitting close by, cross-legged on the floor, watching her.
"I fell asleep. Are you done? What time is it?"
He reached in and gently brushed a wisp of hair out of her eyes. "No, I’m waiting for a job to finish. Don’t worry about the time."
"Aren’t you tired? You need to sleep too." She wished she could do something to help him.
"This isn’t the first all-nighter I’ve had. How about you? Did you sleep okay? Are you comfortable?"
She snuggled into her blanket. "It’s very cozy in here. I feel so safe and warm and..." She slipped a hand out from under the blanket and took hold of the bars separating them. "I was dreaming about you." The bars were far enough apart that her hand could fit through but she instinctively knew that wouldn’t be right. They represented her boundary line. She’d learned that afternoon not to play word games with his rules. He could reach in but she could go no further than the cage bars.
He put his hand over hers. "I hope it wasn’t a nightmare." His smile told her he was joking. "You go back to sleep. I have more work left to do." He stood up and went back to his desk.
She had never met a man like him. He was caring and decent, but he expected the world, including herself, to operate on his terms. If she hadn’t known his other side she would have called him conceited or arrogant, but the words didn’t really fit. He didn’t act superior, boasting of his abilities while complaining of widespread incompetence in others. He was fun to be with, had a wry sense of deadpan humor and was polite. If anything he was too formal in how he spoke, even when it was just the two of them. What set him apart was the way he routinely told her what to do and didn’t hesitate to correct her if she didn’t get it right; right being his way or no way. She never had to guess with him. She knew what he wanted, what he expected from her, and what she could do to please him.
She was reminded of the old saying, about a place for everything and everything in its place. He’d created a special place for her, and then put her where she belonged. Not just figuratively but in a very literal way. Even with her eyes closed she could feel the bars of the cage surrounding and enclosing her. It was a place he had set aside for her and no one else, where all the worries of the world were locked out, kept far away while she slept in her own little space.
She didn’t notice the pocket watch on the floor until she heard the faint ticking. He never went anywhere without it, so he must have left it there. Odd how it seemed to dictate her life even though it was nothing more than a collection of old gears and springs. Yet every time he opened it to check the time it seemed to tell him what she had to do next. It was all a matter of perception. To everyone else it was an antique timepiece, but for her it had become a small window on her future, a window only he could look through. All he had to do was open it and take a quick look inside. Then he’d know what to do with her.
She’d never seen inside the case. All she had to do was reach out, pick it up, and see the mystery he held in his hand. It would never happen. She tucked her arms back inside the blanket and closed her eyes, listening to the steady ticking next to her. It was his place alone to choose her future; she was content to be in her place, at his side.