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Read the jacket for The Rules here.


chapter seven*

07.25 04:21PM
Pacific Heights, San Francisco

Mind Your Peas and O’s

Training Moira to be submissive was like teaching a cat to fetch, and he had the scratches to prove it.

For the last three months, she had been flying in on a private charter every other weekend, though not often enough for either of their appetites. By the time he drove her back to the airport Sunday evenings, he looked like a lion tamer that had fallen into the cage. Moira was a very passionate woman, and communicated her pleasure with tooth and nail as much as any other part of her body. The battle scars of their play had become a measure of his performance, a source of pride.

She scratched his face one night, however, cheek to jaw. Mistaking his annoyance for mere vanity, Moira had laughed at his dark scowl. To clarify her misconception, Marshall put her face-first against the wall, accentuating his point with his stiffest crop.

“You. Will. Learn. Control.”

Eventually she would, but not that night. She completely lost her temper. Snarling her safeword, she stormed off to the guest room, slammed the door hard enough to wake up half of Oregon, and sealed it with a kick. She spent the next half hour communicating her displeasure with brow-raising vocabulary. Moira invoked swear words like a kids’ flip book; smashing them together to form nonsensical, humorous, and sometimes bizarre combinations.

A lesser Dom would slap the Brat label on her, but they’d be wrong. An experienced brat wields her misbehavior as a tool, deliberately pushing buttons to elicit a specific response from her Top. As a novice submissive, Moira wasn’t aware of this dynamic, didn’t know a Brat from a bottom. What she lacked in experience, however, she made up for with assiduity. Her defiance came from a joyous and forcefully free spirit, as did her snark and temper. Everything about her was organic, candid, and fierce.

Which meant her challenges were also fierce. She was intelligent, hard-working, demanding, and competitive. The world revolved around her incredible brain, so much that she spent their first dates deconstructing his psychology as a Dominant.

“I’ve read Ellis, Marshall,” she told him one night, while he was trying to teach her the importance of not being self-conscious. “You don’t have to project my C.”

“Moira, I’m not worried about your C at the moment,” he grumbled, lifting his head from between her thighs. “I’m more concerned with your O.”

He had been trying to give her a great orgasm for the last hour, and she was referencing the ABC Model of Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy.

“I love your sexy mind,” he said, prowling up her body as she watched with concern. Reaching her face, he scowled, then leaned in close to her ear, whispering tersely, “but don’t analyze me while I’m working.”

She started to protest, but he grabbed her by the hips, flipped her over and cracked her on the ass sharply.

“Hold still,” he commanded, as she gnashed and wiggled beneath him. He punctuated key points with a brisk smack. “I’m teaching you a valuable lesson about getting out of your head during a scene.”

It took a few more such lessons, but eventually Moira stopped psychoanalyzing and embraced her role as submissive: giving over to him, accepting and even enjoying his direction. These were hard won. As with many women, cultural gender conditioning had defined her sexuality. Inhibition, propriety, self-consciousness, self-denial. The latter of the four frustrated him most, knowing what she was missing out on if she could free her mind, but Moira was a cerebral woman.

In an indirectly causal way, her quirky intellect had brought her to him. She graduated Johnson Cornell in three years, returning later to complete her doctorate in Management and Organizations. She propelled through Mens-Club business circles with surprising velocity and finesse, so that by age thirty-two she had risen to Chief Marketing Executive for a global ad firm in San Francisco. The youngest C-Level in the history of the company.

But it came at a big price. While she commanded a multi-million dollar salary and was widely respected within her industry, romance did not fit into her schedule. Even more rare than free time was the man who could keep up with her. Executive men were generally older and married, and found her comparative youth sexy, but Moira was nobody’s side dish. Younger men lacked the experience and sophistication to warrant her attention, and their motives were shitty, wanting to knock her off her high horse or brag that they’d tagged her. Nobody under thirty was even on the radar, except as an occasional fling to slake her needs, and hardly even then. They ended up chasing her like lovesick puppies, or bailing without looking back. She preferred the latter. No complications.

So Marshall didn’t fret her hangups and transgressions. Resented at the office, she exercised her wry snark with him as much as she could, often pushing the limits of his forbearance. She jabbed and teased and argued and pushed. Everything. Marshall managed her difficulties with temperance, met her challenges with discipline, and exceeded her expectations every chance he could. He relished it, and both of them knew it.

Last weekend, Moira had taken ill with allergies. Marshall offered to host anyway. Fill her with gourmet soup, lavish her in Reiki massages and heavy quilts, and send her home revived. Much to his disappointment, Moira emphatically declined. Then yesterday she texted, saying nevermind, she felt better and didn’t want to wait two more weeks. He should come down to San Francisco.

Having built a career on dogged persuasion, she had preemptively rented a townhouse in Pacific Heights for the week, and miraculously managed to time her messages with the arrival of the keys via UPS. Marshall had nearly jumped out of his skin at seeing an unexpected delivery van pull into his driveway. Moira deftly swatted away all his reasons for waiting until the next session, accumulating three counts in the process, but she had won out. He arrived this morning, having driven four hundred miles through the pre-dawn in order to arrive early and prep dinner.

He quickly set about finding local grocers, butchers and liquor stores to fill the fridge and populate his recipes. He stumbled by sheer luck onto a small Italian deli that carried speck meats, where he bought a cured smoked ham. The plump Italian grandmother behind the counter waggled a stout finger at Marshall’s insistence that full-smoked would be too heavy for the dish, but she handed the neatly-wrapped ham over with a shrewd wink.

Grazie per l’aiuto, madre, sei un angelo,” he said, accepting the package. Thanks for your help, mother, you are an angel.

Non guardarmi così, cucciolo!” she laughed, ribbing that he’d given her an inappropriate look. Cucciolo meant puppy, and made him grin all the wider. What was it with Italians likening him to a wolf? “Vai con Dio e nutri la tua signora,” she’d finished, with a shooing gesture. Go with God and feed your lady.

Light in his step afterward, he’d went off in search of ingredients for gooseberry coulis, but could only find store-packaged or frozen berries, so he opted for fresh rhubarb instead. He threw in mango for color and texture, a perfect complement to the yuzu pudding, and of course soybeans for the tofu, lavender and agar.

All of which was the very scientific aspect of cooking, but the end result would be a silky, enchanting dish. His mouth watered at the image of Moira’s teeth sinking into slices of ham, her lips wrapping around chunks of mango and slurping it into her mouth. She would also appreciate the addition of blanched peas, an homage to their second date.

“Do you always eat in twos?” he’d asked, sipping his Grenache at the dining table in Agness, beams of sun streaming through the great room windows.

Moira paused mid-fork and scowled. “No.”

“Four peas,” he said, gesturing with his chin.

“So?”

“You had three, and added a fourth before you took a bite.”

Her scowl deepened. “That doesn’t mean I was counting them, Marshall.”

“No?” he smirked and took another sip. “Just a minute ago you had three almonds, and knocked one off.”

“Oh bullshit,” she scoffed, and shoved the peas in her mouth.

Marshall cocked an eyebrow. “Let’s find out shall we? For the rest of the meal, you’ll eat odd counts only.”

“What?”

“Only odd-numbered items on your fork. I’ll count your spoonfuls of soup, how many drinks of wine you take,” he gave her a playful grin. “Anything even-numbered adds to your count.”

“That’s stupid.”

“That’s three.”

She made a show of grumping, but her sparkling eyes put the truth to it. Like him, she reveled in the challenge. By the end of the meal, her count was eight and Marshall was pleased to see her visibly intent on complying with the rules. Overachiever.

Marshall included her peccadilloes in her training thereafter, giving her specific rules to challenge her habits. Putting on her stockings before anything else. Crossing thresholds left foot first. Moira protested too much, but always with a glint in the eye.

Equally intriguing was that Moira’s idiosyncrasies often mirrored his own. He chipped a glass in the sink once, and without thinking, pulled out an unblemished mate and threw them both away. Thirty seconds later, they were fucking savagely on the countertop, scattering dishes and splashing wine, Moira’s arms over her head, clinging to the cabinets. Marshall had never done anything like it before. His kitchen was his church, and the wild abandon of its desecration was maddeningly erotic.

Grinning at the recollection, he bustled from stove to counter to fridge, his playlist providing an energetic soundtrack of Rhye and MNDR. Marshall had found an apron in the linen closet, and thrown it on over his tailored white dress shirt, sleeves rolled to his elbows, a hand towel tucked in his belt. He set to slicing rhubarb for the coulis, swiftly working his way up each pink stalk. Surprisingly, the knife block at the condo was much to his liking, a fairly new, stainless steel Enso, with razor sharp Damascus blades that handled expertly, quick and natural in his grip. Enjoying himself, he was halfway through the task when his phone buzzed with a text from Moira.

Mbeetle (Jul25 04:21pm)
😡 I’m gonna be late, sry. Shit client. Shit day. Pls don’t be mad. Can I have an extra hour, SIR? ;

Normally he’d give her a count for the facetious “Sir”, but he put that aside. Moira valued punctuality as much as he did, always arriving at least ten minutes early to their sessions. The Eighteen-Minute Rule had never come up.

He read the message twice more. Please don’t be mad. She was worried about his response. The last thing he wanted was to add to her day with further stress. Swallowing his annoyance, and wiping his hands clean, he grabbed his phone and texted back.

Me (Jul25 04:23pm)
Since you ask so NICELY, I’ll see you at 8. No later.

That sounded more terse than he’d intended. He thumbed an addendum.

Me (Jul25 04:24pm)
The place is perfect, btw. Great view of the bay. There’s a fake leopard pelt by the front window, I can’t wait to see you on it. Naked and kneeling.

Better. He plopped his cell on the counter and returned to the coulis, scraping chunks of taut, red rhubarb into a sauce pan of grapeseed oil and butter.

She responded a few minutes later with a simple “ty :)”. Normally she would have a good deal more more to say about his intentions; the short reply was a fair indicator that she was indeed busy.

Moira’s work was a Hard Rule. While she had thrown herself into her training as thoroughly as he’d predicted, she also made it abundantly clear from the outset that no matter what, work came first. She’d built her life around her career, and certainly wasn’t about to squander it for a man. Not even him.

It had been a sticking point. Moira was always working. She took her laptop on vacation, took her phone into the bathroom, had once shouted down a subordinate naked and dripping in the shower. Nothing was allowed to impact her work. But after she sat through a dinner texting, he made a no phone rule, and Moira hadn’t argued. She knew. Her extreme work ethic was why she had hired a professional in the first place, rather than pursue a traditional relationship. She was also well aware of the value of a dollar, and the price tag of their time together, and at the end of the day, knew that the downtime was necessary. Marshall decompressed her.

By six o’clock, with dinner well underway, Marshall eased contentedly into his own Zen. Cooking. All six burners on the range blazed under stainless steel cookware, la nonnina’s ham roasting in the oven, succulent aromas filling the condo. He moved easily through the kitchen, stirring, tasting, tweaking, immersed in nurturing each dish to flavorful perfection. Cooking was a sensory endeavor, far beyond taste and smell. Color, texture, and mood all contributed to the experience, both for the chef and the guest. Feeding someone is a form of intimacy, a shared moment, and very gratifying for both, done properly.

Moira’s responses to his dishes were nearly as gratifying as to other intimacies, her bourbon eyes wide and excited, oohing and humming as she sampled the spread. Mango was a personal favorite for both he and Moira; attractive flesh with bold flavor, and very versatile, if a tad sweet. Their slipperiness made them tricky to work with, but sensual, their creamy coolness enticing to sensitive fingertips, or gliding on bare skin. He snatched a bowlful out of the fridge and laid them out on the cutting board for peeling.

Searching for a peeler, he found only one of the stainless-steel home kitchen terrors with a spear blade. Inspecting it with his fingers, his ears burned at their grating ritchety rattle. He dropped it back in the drawer with aversion, chose a vegetable knife, and set to work peeling manually. It beat like a Telltale Heart under the counter. Scowling, he yanked it out and threw it into the trash with a mix of self-satisfaction and relief. If he had more time, he’d bury the damn thing in the back yard, but as he turned back to the counter, his cell phone buzzed again.

Mbeetle (Jul25 06:09pm)
8 isn’t happening. How’s 9?

He leaned on the table with both hands, tapping a forefinger on the whitewashed oak. Two hours late. Would she be able to make it if he pushed back again? What if something else came up?

Too many things could go wrong between now and nine o’clock. Endless possibilities for peril. A million ways that something could go wrong. The familiar din of cooking behind him, the simmering and bubbling and clatter of pot lids, agitated his ears. The aroma of soybean and ham caught in the bridge of his nose, building pressure. Pinching it tight offered no relief.

Moira’s profile pic smiled from his phone, sheepish and coy. It was the first pic she’d taken just for him, snapped on her charter plane on the way home from their first date in Portland. A late April sun caressed her cheek, unruly hair frizzy and tousled, singular flyaway strands lit like copper wires flowing with live current. Whiskey irises peered at him self-consciously, though her mischief shone through, mirrored in her quirky smile. Afterglow.

What if she were rushing to make it by nine? Speeding through the narrow, roller coaster streets of San Francisco, teeming with cars and bicycles and pedestrians and those goddamn streetcars. So many things could happen.

He tapped her thumbnail to call her.

“This is Moira,” she answered perfunctorily.

“Moira, it’s me.” He cleared his throat and continued. “I got your text, and I understand you’re busy so I’ll keep it brief. I’m sorry, but I have to cancel. Eighteen-minute rule—”

“Hold on!” she snapped. Marshall winced at the scraping clamor of her shuffling the phone. She excused herself from the meeting, her voice distant and thin. Heels clicked hard on glassy marble, her gait projecting her opinion of his phone call with crystal clarity. Before he had time to dread, she was back.

“You’re fucking kidding me, right?”

“No.” He kept his voice calm and level, no mean feat. “I hope you understand.”

“Understand!”

Hers was a sexy storm. He could easily envision her errant curls bouncing like caffeinated springs, vibrant eyes flaring with gold-flecked hues. He wanted her that much more for it.

“You drove four hundred miles to see me, didn’t you? And you’re here and I’m just running a little late and you’re all like ‘Oh, sorry eighteen minutes I have to cancel, bluh bluh bluh!’” He smirked at her husky impersonation of him. “How the hell would I understand, Marshall? It makes no sense!”

“I believe you understood the terms when you agreed to them,” he admonished. “And you’re right. I did drive four hundred miles, just to see you. You have to work, I get that, but Eighteen Minutes is a hard rule for me. Since I’m here, though, I would still very much like to see you. We can try again tomorrow.”

“Fine.”

But it very the fuck wasn’t fine, and she proceeded to explain why in egregious detail. Mostly she vented about Shawn Kiefaber, the client CFO, a hotshot, pretty boy who’d foolishly expected his smooth tongue and good looks to have more impact on Moira than it did. Annoyed when this failed, he’d taken to mansplaining the realities of FDA regulations. They’d spent the last hour debating whether the market projections could weather a nine-figure legal settlement, a prospect Moira assured him he would face if he didn’t follow her advice on disclosures. Throughout, she referred to him alternately as ‘a fuck-lipped Botox junkie’, or, somewhat prosaically, Shart.

Having exhausted her opinions of Shart’s dubious competence, she turned her sights on Marshall and the cancellation. Considering the day she’d had and his addition to it, the least he could do was keep a straight face while she provided a number of choice adjectives on the matter. He quietly endured, phone held to his ear with his shoulder as he returned to cubing mangoes, occasionally interjecting her increasing count, and entertaining visions of how he would put her dirty mouth to use.

“How the hell do you plan to stay working when you piss off your only client, Marshall? Have you even thought your business model through? It’s crap. And what the hell is eighteen minutes anyway! Some kind of—”

“That’s fifteen,” he said.

“What! Hold on!” she hissed through her teeth. “Hey Shawn, so what did you—” Her palm covered the microphone, the rest of what she said muted and hollow as if through a canvas bag. If that was Shart, and he’d just overheard any of what she said, she’d be furiously embarrassed. She returned a moment later, barely containing herself in a vicious whisper. “I am in the middle of a three-hundred-million-dollar meeting, Marshall! And you’re giving me spanks? I have to work!”

“What kind of assing lunatic are you? Do you have any—”

“Your count is now sixteen, Moira,” he interrupted, if only to staunch the bleeding. “Let’s call it, before you light the fuse to the cannon you just climbed into. We’ll reconvene tomorrow. 10am?”

“Sixteen?” A long pause followed. She grumbled under her breath before continuing. “Marshall I swear, if you—”

“So. Brunch. 10am?”

She let out a low, seething growl. “Yeah, fine.”

“Moira,” cubing mangoes, “speak clearly. Is tomorrow at 10am acceptable to you?”

“I said yes, Marshall!”

“Good. Don’t be late.”

“Great, bye.”

Call Ended.

He set his phone on the counter gently, exhaling in resignation, muttering a few choice words of his own for Shart. Couldn’t he have fuck-lipped somebody else? Moira, of all people? Even a complete idiot could tell within five minutes of meeting her she wasn’t one to be trifled with. Clearly Shart was a special kind of idiot.

Canceled. Fuck. At least she wouldn’t be racing the clock, taking unnecessary risks to make it on time. She’d be angry, but safe, and that gave him solace, at least. Time never lost a race anyway, not in the long run.

And now time was all he had. Time to finish dinner. Time to clean up the kitchen. Time to wait. It had been a long drive this morning, and a very busy day. He could use the rest. He’d wake in the morning energized, and knowing himself, still annoyed.

Scanning the kitchen, he took stock in what could be saved, and set to the task of killing burners, storing vegetables in containers and tossing them in the fridge, and plating the rest as a makeshift dinner. He ate on the sofa, looking out the windows past the medley of the San Francisco rooftops to the detached serenity of the Bay. He barely noticed the delicate ham, and tried not to notice the peas.

His business model? His career trajectory was no less decisive and dedicated than hers. Except that his was to do whatever he damn well pleased, whenever he damn well pleased. Shawn Kiefaber, fuck-lipped CFO and Idiot MBA, was not supposed to factor in Marshall’s day-to-day. Shareholders and regulations were non-entities, beyond how they affected stocks, which concerned him only insomuch as it afforded him the lifestyle he’d created. He didn’t work for the weekend, didn’t rue Monday morning.

He dozed off on the sofa, amid daydreams of storming into her goddamn meeting, punching Shawn in his petty head, throwing Moira on the glass table, and fucking her like a demon right in front of the team. Spreading her legs wide, exposing her, and shoving himself in fiercely. Her nails scratching at Marshall’s back as she gasped from impact, his fingers entwined in her silky curls, pulling her to meet him. The appalled and aroused faces of the marketing team, the purple splotches on the eggplant nose of some fool executive who’d never had the balls to take his woman with such ferocity. The room would clear in a flurry of laptops and briefcases and backwards glances. He’d stop long enough to lock the door, then finish her slowly, willfully. Security would come, and they’d saunter out together, taking their sweet time so that the office would have a great ending to their next water cooler story. Moira beaming like a prom queen, her blouse billowing, fired as fuck and free as the wind, and they’d breeze off to some exotic location that his passion-drunk mind couldn’t articulate.

***

07.26 9:49AM

He sat at the breakfast table in wool slacks and a fitted T-shirt, with a cup of coffee, his phone, and a simmering scowl. His temper was an unwelcome guest that would commandeer his day if he gave it rein, so he’d grabbed up the twine from the ham wrapper and busied himself with a series of double-coin knots. The day had dawned in a foggy drizzle, a cold light eking through the bay windows, washing the condo in a colorless malaise. It suited his dour mood, though difficult to say if that was per his prediction, or because of the text Moira had left the night before.

Mbeetle (Jul25 11:17pm)
I can’t believe you canceled! Right in the middle of a meeting! Hard rule! It wasn’t 18min, it was 2 hrs, makes no sense! I am so mad! I’ll see you at 10:19 NINETEEN, don’t even think of canceling!!!

Her ferocity had fueled her rise at the firm. Marshall would never consider quenching that fire, even if he could —and that was doubtable. Moira didn’t simply bend to established rules. Where they served her, she ignored them as inconsequential, and where they limited her, she ignored them with verve. Challenging the Eighteen-Minute Rule wasn’t about him, it was about her, confirming herself as commander of her own ship.

Foolish though it may be, the extra minute set his teeth on edge. She fucking knew better than to challenge a hard rule this way; zero-sum, and both outcomes a loss.

Seething, he sipped his coffee, hoping to souse the volcano rumbling in his belly. He’d used up the entire string, amounting to eight coins. Unraveling it, he set again to retying, wondering how many more he could draw out of it.

What he wanted was to harness her tight in a mile of rope, and spend the afternoon keeping her in heated, interminable hours of denial play. Crops, clamps, feathers, vibrators, wands; every tool in his arsenal enlisted, pushing her to the edge repeatedly, but not over. Her frustration would build to anger, being Moira, struggling against her bindings, but held fast, completely at his bidding.

He’d coax her to the brink of climax again, and hover there. Perched on a spear tip. At his whim, he could pull back again, or push her over into ecstasy. All she would have to do was submit.

“Say please, Moira. Beg for it, baby.”

And she would. Strong and fierce as she was, that surrender would be explosive. He would put her over hard, and smile at her carnal groan as the first waves rocked her, rope biting into her flesh as her body tautened. And on that he would build, protracting her euphoria, nearly to agony. Igniting nerve clusters. A-spot, P-spot, mons venus, anus, clitoris, nipples. Licking, fingering, spanking, rapt with Moira’s animal responses, her self-awareness crumbling at his command.

She’d languish, panting as he loosed the ropes and wrapped his arms around her in their place. Trapping the sensations within, his fingers gliding over the threaded imprints. Give her a sip of wine. Kiss her temples. Smooth her sopping curls atop her head and cup her face. He’d lavish her with praise and gratitude for her submission, and she would exhale, sated and relaxed, her stubborn resistance worn away, her walls shattered.

That’s when he’d slam into her hardest.

Just when she thought it was done, he’d begin the process all over again, with ferocity. Absolute domination of her will for his pleasure. Imposing orgasm, over and over. Painstaking hours of erotic torment, until their sweat-drenched bodies and minds unraveled beneath his relentless demand and they both collapsed in exhaustion.

His coffee had gone cold, and again he’d only completed eight coins. Slurping from his mug anyway, he peered out the bay window. He’d prefer the clouds would just commit to rain, pattering against the glass in a soothing cadence, rather than the doleful, uninspiring mizzle that struggled to collect into droplets on the pane. Lazy weather, and he was not in the mood for lazy. He wanted to cauterize.

Swapping his coffee and string for his phone, he checked for messages. No reply from her after their last exchange.

Me (Jul26 7:32am)
10:19 sharp? Your count is now 17. I better not cancel? 18. Attitude. 19. We agreed to 10am. Don’t be late, or I will send you home. Hard rule, Moira.

Mbeetle (Jul26 7:43am)
19 count??? Are you fucking crazy??!! I will be there at TEN NINETEEN! I’M NOT EVEN KIDDING!!!!! OMFG

Me (Jul26 7:45am)
All caps. 20. More attitude. 21. 10:00. sharp, Miss Berthelsen. I am very looking forward to doling out this particular punishment.

Twenty-one. No way she’d endure it, not even half of it. She’d safeword, and hopefully not like last time.

Scowling at his coffee, he set the phone back on the table and snatched up his mug again. Brunch was ready, but he double-checked everything anyway. Last night’s ham was perfect for croque-meurice, a modified recipe of the bistro classic. The veggies he’d used for a simple salad, and he’d pureed the mangoes into a filling for crepes. Five minutes in the oven and brunch would be served.

He topped off his coffee and carried it over to the bay windows, standing just in front of the faux leopard pelt. A featureless gray sky failed to inspire or soothe. Soon he found himself pacing between the sitting room and kitchen, checking his watch so often it might as well have been attached to a bungee cord.

10:00 came and went, with no sign of Moira.

He’d been so preoccupied that he hadn’t finished dressing. A madras shirt hung on the back of the bedroom door, crisply starched and forlorn, and no longer appealing. She wouldn’t show, and he’d spend the day in a T-shirt. Setting his cup on the counter with an unsettling clawk, he grabbed the top of the kitchen threshold and stretched. Filling his lungs, extending his muscles, trying to wring the tension from them. It helped, but only a smidge.

Stubborn woman. What did she think he would do if she showed up at 10:19? He would cancel. Eighteen Minutes was a hard rule, non-negotiable. It wasn’t psychological titillation, like left foot first. This was serious business. As serious as it gets.

“Stupid complications,” he whispered, staring at the lone cup on the counter next to the intricately knotted string. He swept it into the trash.

Rules were easy, no ambiguity, clean and clear. That’s why he liked them. Why was it so hard to follow a simple rule? He’d made it very clear, eighteen minutes. Not nineteen. Of all the ways she found to challenge him, why that one? It was non-the-fuck-negotiable, written in black and white, and signed at the bottom. Did that not matter? She was a kid in a sandbox, tossing sand in every direction as she gleefully dug up one surprise toy after another, holding it aloft in wonderment, and just as quickly flinging it aside and digging for more. His rules were not toys, and most especially not Eighteen Minutes.

He’d have to send her home, and dammit, spend another day in the condo by himself. Without Moira, what he most wanted. Such nonsense. Swearing, he paced and superintended his watch. Time was unique in its ability to crawl and gallop simultaneously, especially when a marker loomed with equal parts dread and anticipation.

At seventeen of, he stood at the front door, watching the second hand on its laconic march around the face. The time ticked off until the minute hand nudged to eighteen. Time up.

He stared at the door. Holy shit, she was really going to go through with it. He grimaced, his mind whirring. Maybe she wasn’t being late on purpose? What if something really had happened? She couldn’t time her arrival that exactly, not unless she stood outside—

Marshall blinked. Reaching out, he twisted the door handle and yanked it open.

Moira startled, shoving her phone into a kelly green Barbour raincoat, but not before Marshall got a glimpse of the time. Her golden irises flared beneath the coat hood, stray chocolate curls spilling out. The hem of a white skirt rimmed the edge of the coat, bare legs stark against the gray walls of the hallway. Patent moss-green peep-toe pumps, Prada, he guessed, shone in defiance of the diffuse light. Springtime standing in his doorway.

Her expression turned impudent, and Marshall gave her a cocky grin. He’d thwarted her plan.

“You’re late,” he said.

“The hell I am!” she protested, yanking her phone back out and brandishing it like a badge. He ignored the bold white numbers, keeping his eyes trained on hers.

“Last night you agreed to ten o’clock, Moira.” He kept his voice level, masking his amusement. “It’s ten-eighteen. You’re late.”

Her eyes narrowed into a fierce glare. “This is such a stupid rule, Marshall. I don’t even—”

“That’s twenty-two.”

She dropped her hands to her sides, clenching her phone like a weapon, the other balled into a fist, a flush of anger coloring her cheeks. Her fury would stop a bus in its tracks, but Marshall was distracted by her lower lip, jutting out in plump indignation. The imp of the perverse took him: he mirrored her expression back at her.

Moira snarled like an enraged tiger. “Are you mocking me?”

“Yes.”

Having reached the human limit of black looks, she stomped the floor. “Oh my god you are such a shit!”

“Careful,” he warned.

“Are you going to let me in or not!”

Marshall ran the pad of his thumb over his fingertips. He could almost feel the sting of his palm on her bare ass.

“That depends on you,” he said, dipping his brow censoriously. “If you’re satisfied with your count, and ready to consent to it…” he stepped back and pulled the door open wider, “then please, come in.”

Moira set her jaw, copper flames dancing in her pupils. Recognizing that look, desire erupted from his core. She’d only begun to fight. Scowling mutinously, her fist twitched.

He shot from the doorway, grabbing her by the nape of the neck. Her eyes widened for an instant, agog, and they crashed against the wall together, their lips fusing like molten steel.

Growling, she threw her arms around him and pulled tight, breasts pressing through the stiff fabric of her rain coat into his chest. Her temper flowed hot in her breath, fingers clutching the muscles of his back. His tongue found hers, lightning prickling his skin from his crown to the soles of his feet. She shuddered beneath him as he slipped his free hand around her waist.

“You dickhead…” she grumbled into his open mouth, despite the awkward use of her lips. “I hate you.”

“Twenty-three,” he hissed through his teeth.

Moira groaned, clutching his arm in a vice-like grip, her free hand yanking at his fly.

Marshall seized her wrist. “Consent.”

Whimpering, her mouth locked to his, she nodded.

He shook his head. “You have to say it.”

She pressed into him with surprising ferocity, desperate to meet him full force, their teeth scraping in serrated need. “Ysss!”

Marshall groaned with pleasure. He couldn’t kiss her deeply enough if he swallowed her whole. Her body surged, and he spun her around, walking her determinedly through the open door, kicking it shut with his heel.

They danced into the foyer, locked in vicious embrace. Moira fumbled with her coat between them, refusing to break contact with his mouth. Impatient, he grabbed the hem and ripped the snaps open. She leaned away, panting, shrugging out of the coat and tossing it in the vicinity of the coat rack.

She wore a floral sundress of crisp, white cotton, snug to her slender figure, with large orange flowers garnished in sprawling leaves, cinched at the waist with a patent leather belt that matched her shoes. Floral, likely De La Renta, but he barely had time to register the simple, classy sexiness of it before she threw herself into him again.

“I am so mad at you,” she snarled, her words fuddled by the eager meeting of their lips.

“Count will help,” Marshall replied simply, wrapping his arms tight around her waist, welcoming her tongue. Her hands roamed his body, squeezing and clawing urgently. God she felt good in his grasp.

“Fuck the count,” said Moira. “I just want you.”

Marshall grumbled in agreement.

The count always came first. It was a cleansing of transgressions, an absolution. Not to mention a primer, a clear signal beginning the real business at hand, without the ungainly, often bungling method of transitioning from one stage of a date to the next.

He’d get to it. For now, he just wanted her naked body against his.

He half-carried her to the sitting room, bumping against the back of the settee. Moira reached down and palmed his crotch earnestly, already stiff against his inseam. Dueling nebulae fought for control within him, one of need between his ears and another of desire between his legs. He pressed into her grasp, grabbing her ass and pulling her into him.

Moira’s greedy fingers were all thumbs. She tugged at the hem of his shirt with a scowl.

“Take this goddamn thing off,” she demanded.

He obliged, no sooner ripping it over his head, than her hands caressed the swells of his chest. Marshall slipped the shirt off his arms and before it hit the floor, Moira’s mouth traversed the valley between his pectorals. Wild with need, she kissed and licked with feverish abandon, raking her teeth against his bare skin.

Marshall shoved her hard against the back of the settee. She groaned as he sucked at her neck, her perfume biting his tongue. Moira’s scent, with its hints of leather and wood, flooded his nostrils.

Her fingers roamed over the rugged plane of his belly to his beltline, unzipping his fly, her hand shoving in and closing around his shaft.

Lust exploded through his frame. Moira sensed it and laughed wickedly, pushing him to the edge of frenzy. The back of the settee was too narrow to set her on; he grabbed her by the waist and spun her around, forcing her to let go of his cock. It stabbed free of its confines, inflamed and ravenous.

Finding the zipper on the back of her dress, he slid it down to the small of her back, and slipped his hands beneath the fabric and across her shoulder blades. Her skin burned, silky hot to his touch. He slid over her bra strap, delighting that such a thing even existed. One more item to tear off.

Moira writhed helpfully as Marshall peeled her dress off, exposing her delicious, alabaster curves. Moira wore La Perla almost exclusively, and today’s flavor did not fail to deliver. Matching bra and panties of ivory silk, edged in transparent white lace, exquisitely embroidered with delicate flowers and vines. They complemented her body with a divinity that would make Venus sigh. Marshall’s skull threatened to burst.

Moira slipped her thumbs into the waist of her panties, and tugged. Incensed, Marshall grabbed them and yanked them to her ankles himself, exposing her to him completely, threatening his sanity. Grumbling against their restraint, she stepped out of them and kicked them aside.

“Fucking hell, Moira,” he grumbled, voice already raspy from sucking air. His heart hammered against his chest wall, blood searing in his temples. “You are so beautiful.”

“Take me,” she panted desperately, “I need you now.”

“Bend over and grab the edge of the sofa.”

Moira stood on her tiptoes, the heels of her Prada lifting off the floor, and leaned over the back of the settee, her body a negative silhouette against the dark gray fabric.

Fuck the count, he wanted her. He grabbed her hips, positioning himself to slam into her. She ground against his standing erection, heat radiating from the hot blood of her vulva. At the moment, his sole purpose in life was to ravage her, take her ferociously and slake his need.

Peering over her shoulder at him, eyes blazing, she gave a wicked grin, that sexy quirk at the corners of her mouth.

“Put it in,” she demanded savagely. Luring.

Topping from the bottom.

Marshall ground his teeth hard, and squeezed her hips. Stilling his panting chest. Dammit. Exhaling roughly, he angled his protesting hardon back into his fly. Moira stared in disbelief.

“The hell are you doing?”

“Seducing me, Moira?” He zipped up emphatically. “Almost had me.”

“What?” she asked, but before she could say anything else, Marshall took her by the elbow and stood her up.

“I made brunch,” he said, and marched her through the foyer to the kitchen, specifically ignoring the delicious way her naked ass jiggled, or how pretty her breasts were in their lacy cups. “You are a very effective seductress, and what you did was sexy as fuck, but as you damn well know, count comes first.”

“You can’t be serious,” she scoffed.

“I am very serious,” he said, though he considered a moment whether he might not be completely sane. He was right there, all he had to do was spread her legs… Leading her into the breakfast nook, he pulled a chair out for her.

“You’ll sit, and you’ll eat.” He smacked her bare ass and planted it on the seat, appreciating the contrast of cool, hard wood against her pliant skin. “And then we’ll address your count. And then we’ll get back to seductions.”

“You’re being ridiculous. Can I at least get dressed?”

“No. As you are.”

Moira cocked her jaw and peeked at him from beneath her lashes. His hunger rekindled. Few things sparked him as instantly as a woman gazing up at him, and she in particular knew exactly how to hit that button.

“Don’t even try it, missy.”

“I don’t know what you’re—”

“As a matter of fact,” he interrupted, “don’t talk at all. You’re going to get yourself in more trouble than you can manage, and that’s assuming you haven’t already. Sit quietly, like a good girl.”

Her expression darkened like a brewing storm. “I am not—”

“Moira, your count is already twenty-three.” He gave her a black look of his own. “ You were mad. Don’t. Push it.”

“Fine.”

“Good.”

He paused to see if she might have another rejoinder, and found his eyes betraying his resolve, wandering over her exposed body like hounds on a steak. He ground his teeth again, willing himself to gather some semblance of control.

“You will remain silent while we have brunch, and after, you will present yourself for your count. On the leopard. Twenty-three if you behave yourself, and you are walking a perilous edge, Sweetness. So be good.”

Moira’s lip stuck out, eyes flared with insolence. For her sake, before she could say anything foolish, Marshall turned and marched determinedly into the kitchen to throw brunch in the oven.

Gathering dishes for the meal, he glanced at her occasionally, sitting stiff-backed, in nothing but her white bra, green Pradas, and wild curls. A few minutes later, she leaned on the table with her elbows, smiling prettily and batting her lashes as he brought dishes to the table. Still defiant, being Moira after all, but obeying his gag order. Submitting, if only barely.

Although gagging her held a certain appeal.

Marshall found himself breathing easy for the first time since their phone call last night. He finally had things under his control. She was here, tomorrow was Friday, and then the weekend. Four days he would have her, and he smiled at the prospect, and all the wonderful things that would involve.

Moira plucked a crepe off a dish and took a bite, humming with pleasure. She’d arrived hungry. Her eyes caught his, and she scrunched her face up in a cutesy smile. Infuriating woman. He couldn’t help but smile back at her. She considered him a moment, then sweetly offered up a piece of her crepe for a bite.

He eyed her inquisitively, expecting a trick, but her face was soft, becalmed. An olive branch. Wrapping his hand gently around her wrist, he took the crepe and set it back on the dish. Turning a direct look on her, he brought her hand to his mouth, and slurped a drip of creme off the tip of her ring finger. Then the middle, and lastly her index, which he pulled to the knuckle and sucked firm. Slowly, staring into her eyes for each, rolling his tongue around it like cloak and licking it clean.

Eyelids fluttering, Moira gave a low, breathy groan. Marshall grinned, and kissed her knuckles. She beamed at him, her smile contented and sparkling, filling the room with her sunlight.


Unpublished Work ©2017 John F. Pendleton

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