A thousand starry nights, p.17
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       A Thousand Starry Nights, p.17

           Addison Moore
 
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  “Good.” The sharp crack of a whip sends my eyes darting to the Mistress. “I want to teach you a few techniques. The proper handling of a subservient is of the utmost importance. Bend over onto the table.” She instructs me, and I straddle the padded stand, bracing myself against it with my hands. “Cup your palm.” She shows Aspen exactly how to do it. “Slap him against the round of his buttocks.”

  Buttocks. Shit. I want to laugh, run, lock the Mistress in the bathroom so Aspen and I can have some real fun.

  She goes on to teach Aspen the proper way to slap my face, and Aspen seems to take a little too much pleasure in that one. Then the right way to swing a flogger.

  “Move your wrist,” she barks until Aspen makes the air cry for mercy.

  “Sounds like it’s gonna hurt,” I tease.

  Mistress Melee is not impressed with my attempt at humor. “You’re too cocky. You need to be taught a lesson.” She reaches into her bag of tricks and pulls up a brown leather collar with a very short leash. “For your neck.” She leans in and secures it on me. It’s thick, three inches at least—and tight, making it hard to swallow. “And this.” She produces a black velvet mask identical to the one she’s wearing.

  Aspen giggles. “Now it’s my turn to say damn.” Her teeth graze over her bottom lip as she examines me like this. “It’s a good look for you. You should try it out around the office.”

  I scowl as the Mistress of my degradation taps her hands together.

  “Onto the roleplaying portion of our session. She looks to Aspen. “Have you considered what we spoke about?”

  I swallow hard, nervous to be out of the know in such a delicate situation.

  “I have.” Aspen lifts her chin with a renewed confidence I haven’t seen in her before. “Queen and servant.”

  I get it—she was presented with options and she went for royalty. It’s fitting.

  “I love it.”

  Melee slaps the chair just shy of my leg. “You mustn’t speak unless instructed.”

  “Aspen, you are his goddess. You are the deity he is to worship.”

  Easy enough, I’ve been doing that for years.

  “Make him give you the honor, the adulation you deserve. You are to be adored. You hold all of the power. He is nothing without you. Do as you wish to your servant.”

  I clasp my gaze to Aspen’s and hold it strong as iron. This, right here, is the crux of everything I believe. I might look like a first class clown in this leather leash, my ass primed for a whipping, but who the hell am I kidding? I’m already whipped.

  Aspen takes the flogger in her hand and wraps it tight around her palm. Something in her eyes turns as she rises to the height of her glory.

  “Lean against the table.” Her voice is tight, unfamiliar.

  I do as I’m told.

  “I’m going to touch you.” Her eyes stay hard over mine. “I’m going to hit you.” Her brows rise in partial amusement. “And then I’m going to kiss you.”

  “This is not sexual.” Mistress Melee interjects where she’s not wanted. “I won’t allow it to get that far.”

  “My rules,” Aspen snaps.

  The flogger dances down my body, across my abs, up and down my thighs before tracing to my face. Aspen instructs me to turn around and grip the table before taking a few solid swipes at my ass. A smile begs to crack from my lips, but I won’t let it. I don’t dare take Aspen out of the moment, especially when the promise of a kiss is on the line.

  She cracks the flogger over my shoulders with a ripe intensity, and I snap my head back in pain.

  I groan hard in lieu of the expletive that begged to rip from my throat.

  “Sorry!” she whispers.

  “That’s okay.” I shake it off.

  Melee gives Aspen a brief refresher, and before we know it Aspen is flogging like a pro.

  “It’s all in the wrist,” Melee charges as Aspen becomes increasingly efficient.

  After a good ass whipping, Aspen instructs me to face her.

  “Are you okay?” she mouths.

  I give the hint of a nod as I close my eyes. In truth, it felt like ecstasy and hell all rolled into one. I’d take both as long as Aspen were giving it.

  Aspen tosses the flogger to the ground. “I’m going to kiss you now.” She says it low but sharp, and my hard-on blooms to life about as controllable as a wildfire.

  “I see what’s happening,” Melee touches my boxers with her riding crop. “Enough!” she barks, but Aspen is standing in front of me with her vinyl second skin, that fuck-me look in her eye, and my dick very much wants to oblige the queen.

  Aspen’s eyes travel down to my personal salute, and her lips open involuntarily.

  That’s right. Who’s in control now?

  Aspen steps in and wallops me hard across the face, open palmed, unblinking. This time she doesn’t apologize, she crushes her lips to mine and fucks me with her tongue, fast and furious, Mistress be damned.

  A violent groan rips from me. I thought I had envisioned every last scenario in the ways I could defile her, and, here we are, standing in stages of undress, at Jinx no less, in a version of reality that screams perfection. There’s no way my paltry imagination could have dreamed this up. I press my cock against her stomach as her mouth violently devours mine. This is an indescribable pleasure, a level of nirvana I wasn’t aware existed.

  “Time’s up.” Melee snaps out of character and peels Aspen off me. “I have another client in ten, and that gives me just enough time for a smoke.”

  Aspen touches her lips a moment. “You shouldn’t smoke. It’s really bad for your health.” She pats me on the cheek. “So sorry! But that was fun!” She jumps into the bathroom before I can get a word in. Aspen is downright chipper after our spank and flog session.

  “You’d better get dressed.” Mistress kicks my pants toward me. “I’m not allowed to leave couples alone.” She pulls out a cigarette and points to my dick with it. “You should go to the gym and take care of that in the shower. It’s just going to be murder trying to get any work done.”

  I get dressed and wait for Aspen.

  We leave together, and Aspen’s sisters steal her away for lunch, leaving me and my cock in a hard situation.

  Looks like it’s the gym for me.

  Red Sun Rising

  Aspen

  King Henry VIII was known to have a fine selection of mistresses in addition to his six consecutive wives. Love was hardly a factor in royal marriages. They were bred from necessity, out of loyalty, stability, the sheer size of the dowry. Sexual appetites and attraction were often excluded from the list of features when narrowing the field of a royal spouse. They simply regarded each other for what they were worth—their lusts relegated to others to fulfill. One of Henry’s would-be-mistresses, Anne Boleyn, was rumored to have rejected the King’s advances and denied him bedroom privileges unless she were crowned queen, thus leading Henry to begin the dissolution of his 24-year marriage to his first wife Catherine of Aragon. Henry hoped that maybe Anne would be the one to give him what he so desperately wanted, a male heir. That’s the real reason marriages end. Someone is not getting what they desperately need.

  The next few days, my free time is preoccupied with the fact I’m going to spend the night with Carter. Spend the night—our bodies fusing as one as we become intimately familiar with one another. I’ve dreamed of bedding Carter. This once nightly fantasy is being picked up and dusted—well, on its way to becoming a reality sooner than later. I’m doing all I can to appropriately prep for the big day, or more appropriately, the big lay. I’m toning and clarifying with the best of them. I’m actually shaving my legs regularly. I’ve even taken to the degrading, rather un-feminist task of landscaping my nether regions, and all this follicular trouble is for one lucky man.

  Late Wednesday, for far more hours than necessary, I hit the gym. Hard. I run like a fugitive on the treadmill, pump iron as if a championship belt were on the line, and indulge in one long hot yoga ses
sion that shreds my sanity.

  Come Thursday, I hobble to work, past Pepper’s desk where both Stevie and Kinsley sit nursing a cup of coffee and stagger into my office.

  “Shin splint, shin splint!” I repeat like some backward yoga mantra as the three of them follow me in.

  “God, Aspen!” Kinsley pulls a seat out for me before I ever get behind my desk, and I sit like an obedient child. My muscles burn like ice, the pain radiating from my shins all the way to the top of my scalp—never a good sign.

  “Thank you,” I huff as Pepper and Stevie take a seat on my desk, their faces filled with concern. “Long time no Lycra,” I huff instead of an explanation. “What in the name of Lululemon was I thinking?” I groan as if I were in hard labor. “That was a totally cookie worthy workout. I think I earned half a dozen at least.”

  Stevie frowns. “If calorie-laden food is your incentive, you’re doing this wrong.”

  “Speaking of doing it.” Pepper nudges her shoulder in my direction.

  “Are you coming onto me?” I say it bored because I now see what the vulture-like circle is all about. They want all the dirty details spilled like a jar of cheap change.

  “Not I.” She bats her lashes. “Is Carter?”

  “I don’t kiss and tell.”

  “You don’t have to,” Stevie smarts. “He announces you’re his wife and kisses you in a crowd full of family and friends? He’s practically the town crier of kissing and telling.”

  “He’s a kissing tattletale.” Pepper takes a long drag of her coffee.

  “Speaking of tattletales.” Stevie nods to Kinsley. “Someone outed her, and now the wife knows. There’s a woman running around out there who very much wants to behead our sister.”

  “Good God.” I cringe a moment, recalling the moronic way I hinted at Kinsley and her little blonde head. If only her hair would have fallen out like I had wished, none of this would be happening. I sit up and take a deep breath, staring hard at my sister who is of an age where you would think she knows right from wrong, but, after years of people telling her she was very special and gifting her whatever her heart desires—no, she does not realize stealing someone else’s man is a grave error in judgment. “Listen to me.” I seal my hard stare over hers. “I forbid you to ever be in a room alone with that asshole again. Let him hack his marriage to pieces with someone else. Don’t be that person, Kins. You deserve someone who isn’t running around on anyone else. And, if the one you want is taken, then move the fuck on!”

  “Like Carter moved on while you were still with Henry?” Her anger percolates behind those baby blues as she calls me out on my hypocrisy.

  Carter burns through my mind like a solar flare. She’s right. He wanted me when I was still with Henry, and I’m damn glad he didn’t move on.

  “Carter and I are different.” Aren’t we?

  “Are you?” She feigns sympathy. “Everyone knows he gave his wife the finger because she couldn’t be you. And, ever since you started at Jinx, he’s been drooling after you in the halls. I bet he’s the real reason you left your husband.” Kinsley opens her mouth wide with disgust. “Poor Henry never stood a chance did he?”

  Most likely not. But I’ll never say that out loud.

  Kinsley’s face grows red with rage. “You had a dead marriage because all you thought about was Carter. So don’t go pointing the finger at me, little sister, when you’re not only sitting in the same boat, you’re rowing it.”

  “Henry and I aren’t together anymore because we were never a good fit.” I say it even-toned. Trying to outthink Kinsley is not a situation I expected to find myself embroiled in this early in the morning. “Carter and his wife didn’t fit, and that’s why they’re not together anymore. But you know what? He left her instead of sleeping with someone else. I left Henry before doing the same. That, my sister, is the difference between you and me. That idiot you’re bedding might be the adulterer in the equation, but you are in it by choice, full well knowing all of the circumstances. I’ll say it again because I love you. Get the fuck out of that relationship! You’re worth more than what he’s willing to give you.”

  Her gaze lifts behind me as she ponders this for a minute.

  “I was fired this morning by the studio. Replaced.” It comes out monotone, zombie-like. “Her uncle is a producer for the show, and she had me sacked.” The words stream out numb, defused of any emotion. “Are you happy?” Her eyes remain fixed on the dusty L.A. horizon. “Dillon called me an hour ago and said we’re over. Said he has to fight for his family.” A single tear rolls down her cheek. “I thought I meant something. But I’m not his family. I’m not his anything.” She walks out of the office, and Stevie chases after her.

  “Wait!” I call out. “Kinsley, please come back! You know I’ll never catch you,” I whimper as that familiar stabbing pain shoots up my thighs.

  “Trust me, it’s for the best.” Pepper hops off my desk. “Give her some space. I’m sure you’ll hug it out later.” She gives a forlorn look. “You and Carter really have a love story of the ages, don’t you?”

  “I don’t know about that.”

  “I do.” She heads toward the door. “I think you do, too.”

  * * *

  On Friday, Carter and I pick up Abby from school and shop for what amounts to thousands of gallons of paint. It feels normal like this, as if we were a family, as if we’ve been one all along.

  We head back to the house, and I set Abby up with the colors she picked out, loud pinks, angry reds, and Cinderella lavender-blues. Carter and I spent the morning sheeting the hardwood with plastic so the floors can survive a pigment-based apocalypse if need be.

  I’m almost done with the base coat of my mural when I get a text from Lincoln.

  You ready to make that payment to SG? They’ll work with a wire transfer. Are you at the house? I can pick you up in ten.

  My body starts to tremble, to downright shake as if I were having my own private earthquake. It’s happening. Lincoln, my brother, my savior, has done the impossible. I can always count on Lincoln.

  I text him back telling him where I’m at, and he’s here in five. I kiss both Abby and Carter goodbye, citing a Kinsley emergency, before finding myself numbly planted on the passenger’s side of Lincoln’s car.

  “Where did you find them? Did you speak to them in person? Did you tell them I’m divorcing Henry? We should have had you show them a picture of me so they can call off the dogs.” I’m all hopped up at the idea of this nightmare finally drawing to a close.

  “Dogs are right.” Linc frowns into the bumper-to-bumper traffic. “They put a bounty on you. If the loan isn’t paid out, one of you winds up maimed or dead while the other one scrambles to find cash. They pay a bounty to the ‘dogs’ and continue the slow torture until the debts have been restored with interest. They’re fair in that respect.”

  I swallow hard, unable to catch my breath. Lincoln and I head into my new bank across town where I’ve taken the moral obligation to set up a fund for widows (one of which I would love to be at the moment), and I wire money that was never mine to begin with to another account. I ask Lincoln to get me a drink from the deli next door, and I wire over a hundred grand into my mother’s account as well. There. All debts paid, making me the official criminal Henry had destined me to become. The teller gives me the balance, and I stare blankly at it. I’m all done with Sonic Glass. I might have even granted myself access into my stepfather’s good graces again.

  Lincoln reappears and stares at the receipt from over my shoulder.

  “You want to hear something funny?” he whispers hard into my ear, and I cringe. Lincoln only ever uses that vaguely threatening tone when he’s about to set someone straight. “Between what you just wired and what you have left—that’s the exact amount of money Cash asked me to track down.”

  I close my eyes without moving an inch. It’s happening. I’m going to prison, but I’ll die before I let that happen.

  My silence condemns me
and inspires my brother to blow out a deep sigh.

  “It’s okay, Aspen. I already figured it out. Next time let me clean up the breadcrumbs for you. Better yet, borrow the fucking money from me to begin with.”

  I spin on my heels until I’m holding his gaze.

  “Do they know?”

  His pale eyes pierce into mine with a level of disappointment I’ve never seen in him before as he shakes his head just barely. “But they will.”

  * * *

  The evening of Stevie and Ford’s wedding is blissfully balmy, a typical paradise kind of night that only a Southern California springtime can host.

  Stevie. Her hair flows like an ebony river. Her curve-hugging dress is delicately ruched, the color of a pale rose. Ford looks stunned as she walks down the aisle. If I squint my eyes, he looks identical to Carter. For a moment I envision this is my wedding, Carter is the groom, and it’s five years ago. Guilt rolls through me because I’ve just inadvertently blinked Abby right out of existence, and I would never want to do that. That little girl has worked her way into my heart, into the tender part of me that divides soul from spirit. She’s become an extension of me in some strange way. But every now and again I see an echo of Cher, and my heart pinches because the past jumps in my face like a freight train.

  Ford Cannon’s backyard (if you can call it that) is a sprawling acreage with both rolling hills and flat pasture lands. It’s a lush night, sweaty if you get right down to it, and the oils from the sea of roses perfume the vicinity.

  Stevie makes her way down the aisle on the arm of our father and her mother. It’s an odd sight, Terri so close in proximity to Hans Lionheart. She was his mistress briefly, as was my mother, but Terri was far more obsessed. Terri has a dangerous edge to her, and I doubt anyone would willingly cross it.

  The ceremony gets underway, but it’s Carter I can’t stop stealing glances at. He stands less than five feet from me. We’re so close to holy matrimony it feels sacred to be here with him. When the pastor asks Stevie to say her vows, I echo them in my own heart and send them on the tail of a star to the only man I’ve ever loved.

 
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