When it was over, he turned me around, tugged my dress and bra down and clamped my ni**les, ordering me to endure the pain for fifteen minutes. Assuring me he will know if I take them off sooner. And then he was gone, and I stare after him, my sex spasming from the orgasm he shouldn’t have been able to give me. Every nerve ending I own is aware of the sting of my bottom and ache of clamps biting down on my ni**les. I am unable to stop the pain, unable to fight my desire for him. I am helpless. I am frighteningly aroused.

***


I stand in my bathroom, with my second cup of coffee on the counter next to me, brushing my long brown hair to a silken mass. It is eight in the morning and I will soon leave for the gallery. ‘You can start tomorrow’ should have been a lead into me asking ‘what time?’. Since I had not had enough sense to do so, I’d decided before bed to wake early enough to arrive thirty minutes before opening.

With a brush of powder, I finish up my makeup and step into the emerald green sheath dress, a black jacket, and black heels, which is my ‘go-to’ special occasion outfit. The same outfit that I’d worn to my teaching interview years before when, like today, looking professional was the goal. I am, after all, attending to adult needs today, rather than that of high school kids wearing jeans and t-shirts. Not that I ever opted for jeans myself, as some of the faculty did. My youthful appearance seems to be far more intimidating in high heels and skirts than in casual wear. With high school students, respect can go a long way. I inspect my appearance in the full length mirror behind the door with approval. It’s not Chanel or Dior, like many of the gallery customers will favor, but on my budget, it will have to do.

After finishing my coffee, I make my way to the car, and I’m officially as nervous as my students normally are on their first day of school. I can’t believe I’m really taking this job and I feel both terrified and excited. “Right,“ I say to myself. “Like there was any doubt you would?”

Guilt twists in my stomach at the idea of Rebecca’s potential misfortune being my good fortune. I am not sure I can live with that idea. No one has met with misfortune, I promise myself. I’m going to find out that Rebecca is perfectly fine and happy, and be able to embrace this world I love, if only for a while.

By the time I arrive at the gallery fifteen minutes later, I am having doubts about Rebecca’s safety again. I wonder why, if Rebecca is perfectly fine and happy, and I am to believe she has been whisked off to some exotic haven in a way permanent enough to let her things go, would the gallery say she is returning?

I have forever longed to spend my days surrounded by fine art, and I know that the day I leave this world behind for mine, it will be painful. But I am on this path now, and in my gut, it feels as if I am doing what I am meant to do. Even as I park in the back of the gallery and get out of my car, my heart feels like it might explode from my chest.

I cross the small employee parking lot, and after testing the door, finding it, not surprisingly, locked, I knock several times.

The young girl I’d wanted to hug the night before appears and smiles a warm welcome, before opening the glass door. “You must be Sara.”

“That’s me,” I say and return her smile. “I guess you heard I was coming?”

“Yes, and I’m so glad you’re here.” She is wearing a pale pink dress with a pin clip in her dark hair that makes her look even younger than when I’d first met her. “We really are short staffed so this is a blessing.”

I enter and let the door shut behind me. The woman-—or girl, rather--doesn’t seem worried about re-locking it, which concerns me. This might be a small gallery but it is considered one of the most prestigious, with highly sought after art, and plenty of money moving through the place.

“I’m Amanda,” she declares. “I’m an intern for the next year, working as the receptionist.”

“Nice to meet you, Amanda,” I say.

“Mark’s having breakfast with Ricco this morning to discuss last night’s event.” She motions with her head. “I’ll show you your new office.”

I hesitate before following, and at the risk of offending Amanda, turn and lock the door. I give her an apologetic smile. “Sorry. I’m an art fanatic and the idea of someone busting in here and stealing some of the art is enough to make me downright nauseous.”

She pales visibly. “Thank you. Mark would have been furious to find it unlocked.”

The discomfort and true fear that rolls off of her is disconcerting. I know right then that the protectiveness I had felt for her last night was going to become a common theme.

I fall into step with Amanda and we head down the narrow hallway, behind the art displays. “Mark’s a tough boss, I take it?”

She gives me a quick glance. “He’s rich, good looking, and pretty much perfect. That’s what he expects here, too. I’m not always so good at being perfect.”

“Other people’s perfection is a facade we create when we are second guessing ourselves,” I tell her, but deep down, even in the short meeting I had with Mark, I agree with her assessment of him. Well, except the rich part. I have no idea if he has money, but if he does, it’s not from simply managing an art gallery.

“Hmmm,” Amanda murmurs skeptically, “I guess I do second guess myself around him, but only because he’s so intimidating. When the man looks at me I feel like I’m going to come unglued.”

I picture those intense gray eyes of his, and just the idea of seeing Mark again has my adrenaline racing and I am not quite in touch with myself enough right now to know why. Since I have no intention of sharing this with Amanda, I smile with encouragement instead. “I bet we can make him a little less intimidating if we stick together.”

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