Page 36 of The Protege

Understanding dawns on his face. He seems to be considering something as he watches me. “Have you ever been spanked?”

I stare at Laszlo, barely comprehending the words, let alone the order in which they’ve come out of his mouth. “Spanked?”

“The pain releases endorphins. The heat. The submission. It helps with stress.”

Mutely, I shake my head.

Laszlo seems to take my silence as horror and he goes on briskly, “It’s something to think about. Meanwhile why don’t you try some exercise? There’s a gym on the fifth floor. A run would do you good.”

But I don’t want a run. I want to know more about what Laszlo just suggested. “Does it hurt?”

“Only if you roll your ankle.”

“Laszlo.”

His eyes are sparkling darkly. “Not in a way that you would dislike. Not unbearably so.”

I stare at him, my breathing shallow, unable to move a muscle. My eyes drop to his hands. I’ve always loved his hands. Large, square, strong hands that caress piano keys and scrub through his too-long hair. I’ve spent hundreds of hours watching them as he conducts, flips through a score, cooks us dinner. The thought of him using them on me is strange and arousing.

But this is a lot more intimate than we agreed.

“Only say yes if you’re sure. It’s something I can do to take care of you, to calm you down, if you want it and if you trust me to do it. But I’m going to need you to ask me, sweetheart, because I have to know for sure.”

He’s saying we can move the boundaries of our arrangement if I want. I picture myself face down over Laszlo’s lap. The pain releases endorphins. The heat. The submission. It helps with stress. I definitely wouldn’t be thinking about my nerves while that was happening. “Could you please, um, do that. Sir.”

He nods slowly, his hazel eyes very steady. “All right. I can do that for you. But few things first. I’m going to go very easy on you, as this is your first time. No tears. No marks tomorrow. It’s to make you feel calm, not a punishment.”

Immediately my mind shoots off in several directions at once. He might do this again. He might do it as a punishment, so hard it would make me cry. Leave marks. Would I enjoy that as much as I think I might? What would he be like if he did that? Sweet, understanding Laszlo, mercilessly punishing me. A wave of heat rolls through me as I imagine his eyes black and severe as he hurts me till I cry.

“You can say stop at any time. Not just now. Any time. But you don’t say stop, you say banana.”

“Why banana?”

“Because you’ve been known to tease me in the past and I won’t be able tell if please no, sir is your way of asking for me to be fiercer with you or asking me to stop.”

The deeper part of my sex clenches as I imagine crying out please no, sir and him only spanking me harder. That shouldn’t be such a turn-on.

He smiles faintly. “And I know how much you hate bananas.”

I do hate bananas. He’s known that for a very long time. Laszlo never laid a finger on me when I was a child that wasn’t a hug, but I’m reminded now of the way someone might punish a naughty child. I feel like I need it for letting my life get out of hand. And Laszlo’s the man to do it.

He looks down at what I’m wearing. “I need you to take your jeans off.” He gives the order calmly as if he’s done this hundreds of times before. As if he’s used to taking nervous women over his knee and spanking them, sometimes till they cry. The thought makes my heart and mind race. Who is this man, really?

“And my, uh, underwear?”

“No, keep them on. I can work around those.”

I wonder if he’s going to look away like a gentleman but he doesn’t, he just watches me, and waits. What about him, will he be taking any clothes off? I’ve never even seen Laszlo with his shirt off in all the years we lived together. Actually, that’s a lie. At home he always emerged from the bathroom swathed in a bathrobe. Several times when I’ve woken him up over the years or brought him cups of tea when he was feeling poorly I’ve always found him sleeping in a t-shirt. I don’t think that’s what he would have done if he was alone. I think it was for my sake. I was the same, always getting dressed before I came downstairs, not wandering around in a towel or my underwear. We were very mindful of each other, and we never went to the beach or the pool together either.

But I have seen him almost naked, at a hotel pool in Edinburgh when we were on tour with the youth orchestra when I was sixteen. I wanted to take a swim early in the morning of our first day, but Laszlo’d had the idea first. I watched him through the glass wall as he swam laps, my towel over my arm, rooted to the spot. There was no reason I shouldn’t join him and maybe I would have if there’d been other swimmers. But he was alone, slicing through the water with an unhurried freestyle stroke, muscled shoulders glistening in the water. As I watched he finished his laps and got out of the pool, water sluicing down him. I’d seen hints of his body over the years. His legs in running shorts, arms in t-shirts, or his shirtsleeves rolled back past his elbows. His throat in open-neck shirts. Hints of his chest when his shirt gaped as he reached for something or conducted. Every glimpse was burned into my memory and the sight of his whole body all at once was…mesmerizing. He didn’t look how the boys my age looked when I saw them at the pool. Laszlo was more muscular. Hairier. And oh, how I liked that. The thick patch of dark hair at the center of his chest narrowed as it trailed down over his belly and disappeared tantalizingly into his swimmers.

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