He was a strict and demanding college professor, turned professional director, who excelled at giving acting lessons. She was his shy and uncertain former student who became a professional actress under his tutelage. They fell in love, married, and won two Tony Awards before tragedy struck and a simple kiss ripped them apart.
After a six month separation, Peter Thorton decides to take matters into his own hands by making his famous wife, Kate, an offer she wouldn’t refuse. Plainly put, he wants her back and he intends to do whatever is necessary to achieve his goal, even if it means giving his stubborn, willful leading lady a daily reminder over his knee that she promised to obey him.
?It?s college summer stock,? Peter Thorton explained, stretching out his legs, leaning back in his chair and crossing his hands over his stomach as he addressed his now famous, legally separated, but-not-yet-divorced wife. ?The program is part workshop and part accredited course, offering students practical experience in putting on a major musical.?
?Sounds ? delightful, but why me?? Katherine Thorton asked, looking cool and untouchable in beige linen pants, white silk shirt, and a classy navy blazer. A look he intended to ruffle a little today. Although her current sense of style showed significant improvement over the bulky sweater she wore the day her college roommate introduced them.
?I?m hardly the ?teacher-type.?? She continued with a perplexed frown. ?What value can I bring to your cozy little mix??
Well, you won?t be working with the crew, that?s for sure. Assembling flats and sets had never been Kate?s strong suit.
?By doing what you do best,? he answered, maintaining a cordial smile. He preferred blunt and direct over sociable, but for today, at least, he?d strive to be?polite. ?Sing, dance, act?. I want you to play the female lead, so you can teach the students by example, and share any tips you think would benefit them. Be your delightful, usual self.?
Her eyebrows arched delicately. ?So, whom do you envision playing the male lead in this ?show??? she asked, derision plain in the tone of her voice.
When he merely smiled, she shook her head and glared at her agent seated safely behind his desk. Wise man. ?How could you, Don? You know how I feel about playing opposite him. Why would you even suggest such a thing??
Don leaned forward. ?Peter asked for you, Kate, and he?s willing to pay whatever it takes to get you.?
Kate settled in her chair and glowered at her agent for a moment before turning to Peter with a smile as false as the five-carat bit of sparkle she sported on her left hand. Just what did that gaudy bauble represent? He wondered, not at all pleased by the implication.
?So, which musical are you doing with the kiddies?? she asked, examining her hundred-dollar manicure and sounding thoroughly bored; a notion Peter found unacceptable. Granted, their marriage had its share of difficulties, but boredom had never made the list. So, he decided to improve his wife?s blas? attitude by leaning in closer to her.
?Kiss me, Kate,? he murmured in clear invitation. Eyes wide, she inched back and wet her lips. Pleased by her reaction, he retreated and smiled. His leading lady wasn?t as unaffected by his presence as she wanted him to think. ?Though a little long in the tooth,? he added, ?the musical has some fun numbers as well as larger-than-life characters. And, you would make a perfect Lilli Vanessi.?
Kate took a deep breath and shook her head as if to clear it, causing her chestnut curls to shimmer in the office light. When she glanced over and noticed his grin, she rolled her eyes. Yes, he was teasing her, but he?d meant it as well. Lilli was very much the prima donna, and from what he?d gathered, his darling Kate was toeing the line between professional actress and pain-in-the-ass diva.?
She leaned forward again to speak with her agent, so Peter shifted his chair back a few feet to give them some privacy. A gentleman would offer to leave the room, but he wasn?t anywhere near that noble. Besides, he needed to keep an eye on his wife. When cornered, little Katie tended to flee, and he refused to let her get away a second time.
Her doubts about acting with him came through loud and clear. He even considered himself somewhat flattered, until her accusations bordered on the ludicrous. Finally, when she argued he was nothing more than a rude, dominating bully, Peter cleared his throat.
She turned to glare at him. ?You could play the gentleman for once, and give us a few moments alone, you know??
Folding his arms over his chest, he shrugged. ?Perhaps, but since you accused me of being a boorish, petulant, tyrant, I didn?t want to act against type.?
?You are a tyrant. But you?re petty and controlling, not petulant,? she corrected.
His right eyebrow rose slightly. ?While you, my dear, are close-minded, shrewish and ? petulant. Traits you should recall I neither appreciate nor approve.?
She scowled. ?What makes you think I need or want your approval? I??
Leaning closer, he murmured, ?You?re pressing your luck, Katherine. I?m beginning to think you?re in need of a few more acting lessons from me. You appear to have forgotten what I will and won?t tolerate.?
Her spine straight, she crossed her arms over her chest and glared at him. ?Don?t even go there, Peter. Those days are long passed.? At his raised eyebrow, she added, ?You may talk big, but your bullying lacks substance. See what I mean?? she snapped at her agent while jabbing a finger in Peter?s direction. ?He is impossible to work with.?
?Now, Kate,? Don said, keeping his voice low and soothing.
Yeah, his little termagant fairly bristled with indignation now, but she was no longer bored. The rumors Peter overheard about Kate?s thorny disposition appeared to be true. However, as peeved as she was, her open challenge still surprised him. She?d never been a coward, but she tended to avoid confronting him in public. Especially after he?d given her a warning.
Only half listening to Kate?s continued harangue, Peter came to realize she?d challenged him because she hadn?t believed he?d follow through. Undoubtedly, that was his fault. Ever since they?d lost their second baby, three years after the first, he?d pretty much let her do as she pleased. She?d been devastated, and he?d been so guilt-ridden over nearly losing her, he?d handled her like a delicate porcelain doll. Except, it appeared his Katie didn?t want light and gentle. She wanted strong and firm. Well, he was prepared to give her everything she wanted, and needed?right then if necessary.
Peter was still considering how he should handle his nettlesome spouse when her agent asked him a question. Unfortunately, he?d stopped listening.
?Sorry. I was working through an unexpected problem, and my attention wandered.?
?Kate wondered if you?d be willing to have someone, other than yourself, perform the male lead.?
Peter regarded her in surprise. ?Really?? he asked, recalling how she?d once declined to take part in a class because he?d refused to play opposite her during a memory exercise.
When she met his gaze with one raised eyebrow, he shook his head. Not a chance, darling. This is a package deal. Then he recalled hearing Kate had started dating again. Rumors were this gent harked from the halls of justice rather than the boards of Broadway, which made Peter wonder if that emerald-cut monstrosity she sported might be a token of the fellow?s admiration, or something more. Like an engagement ring.
?No,? he answered finally, refusing to explain further.
Kate regarded him with an even stare. Don?t you think you?re being a bit inflexible??
?If you think my behavior is inflexible,? he murmured, leaning in closer to her. ?Then you, my darling, are playing the brat.?
Her entire body bristled with the accusation. ?I am not a brat,? she insisted. ?I just don?t want to play opposite you again. From what I?ve heard, your temper has grown worse, not better, over the years, and if you?re trying to direct as well as act?. Well, experience has taught me your fuse gets shorter and shorter as the pressure increases. I?d simply like to lengthen the cord to keep things from blowing up. You need to direct, so why not let someone else play the lead, rather than over exert yourself??
?What? And let you stomp your sharp little heels all over a student? I think not, darling. I am here because you, my lovely lady, are a draw. Audiences adore you. But then, they don?t know you as intimately as I do, so they are taken in by your sweetness and light act. The deal remains as is. You either agree to play opposite me while I?m directing, or?.?
?Or?? she prompted, regarding him warily.
?Or, I will have to find an actress who is less contentious and more eager to work with me.?
Kate stiffened slightly, then smiled. ?I?m sure that won?t be at all difficult for you?darling.?
He grinned at her emphasis on the last word. Though she said it with a smile gracing her lips, he suspected she was silently substituting ?shithead.? Suddenly, he looked forward to the challenge this prickly Kate represented. Another reason he wanted to do this play with her was because he?d missed her teasing and warm companionship. Despite her brittleness toward him now, he knew how to soften her. The sex hadn?t been bad either, and he wanted her back.
They?d left things undone. She believed he?d been unfaithful, which he hadn?t, but she?d never bothered to ask. She?d just assumed. At the time he?d been so hurt by her unspoken condemnation, he didn?t have the presence of mind to examine the reasons behind her cold mandate for a divorce. And, when he finally thought about it, he realized she?d never questioned why he was kissing another woman, because in her mind she already knew the answer.
So, why had she concluded he?d stopped loving her? What had changed? And, at that moment, he understood. He had. She?d wanted him to reassure her of his love the way he?d demonstrated the night she?d shown up uninvited at his apartment. Or the night he informed her they were getting married. Instead, he?d handled her like a fragile crystal vase that might shatter if he so much as frowned. He?d been wrong not to challenge her at the time, but he couldn?t turn back the clock. All he could do was move forward by getting her to accept his proposition. Once he got her back, he?d begin testing his hypotheses. Still, if his obstinate wife required proof of his intentions today, he wouldn?t hesitate to oblige her.
?No,? he agreed, ?it shouldn?t be at all difficult for me to find another beautiful actress to play the role.? He smiled when her nostrils flared in angry response. ?However,? he said softly, his gaze intent on her face, ?that is not what I want. If you refuse my offer, I shall be forced to examine those options, but I would much rather work with you. I thought we made an excellent team.?
The charming blush he loved causing, once again bloomed across her cheeks. But the slight lift of her chin accentuated how much thinner and sharper her features were from six months ago. And, though her make-up was artfully applied, he could see the faint outline of dark circles forming under her eyes. She wasn?t taking proper care of herself, and her new boyfriend wasn?t observant enough to insist upon it?or didn?t care enough to bring Kate to heel. Another mistake Peter intended to rectify today.
He knew all too well how to get his Katie to eat and rest when she was being stubborn, and he would do whatever was necessary to return her to top form. Even if it meant his darling brat of a wife went around with a sore bottom for a few days. But first, he needed her to agree to do the show.
?He is offering excellent terms, Kate, and it?s only for three months. Right now, I have nothing else to give you. So, as your agent, I advise you to seriously consider his proposal.?
* * * * *
Narrowing her eyes, Kate crossed her arms and sat back. Peter grinned at her like the cat that had devoured the canary and lapped up a saucer of cream as a chaser. She didn?t trust that look. More to the point, though, she didn?t trust herself?not when she was with him. She?d never forgiven him for cheating on her, but she?d never stopped loving him, either. However, he loved another woman, so why was he coming to her with an offer?
He wanted something. Something he wasn?t ready to reveal, yet. And, he?d changed. He seemed more commanding and insistent, like he?d been in the early days of their relationship.
Back then, he hadn?t let her get away with much. He insisted she do things the way he wanted. If she dared argue the point, she?d find herself panties down, draped over his knees, regretting her obstinacy.
She hadn?t forgotten the burn of his iron palm when it descended with displeasure. But what she remembered most about those days was the way he?d kissed and hugged her once she?d promised to do what he wanted. And, more often than not, what he wanted would only help her become a better person or actress.
During those moments when she curled up on his lap seeking the reassurance he all too willingly gave, he surrounded her with security, love and protection. She missed those days, but they bore little similarity to his attitude toward the end of their marriage.
?Where is this summer stock theater anyway?? she asked, neither caring about the location, nor ready to commit to the venture.
?Upper New York State. In the Adirondacks.?
?So, what else, if anything, is around there??
?Nothing much. The college provides the primary source of entertainment for the locals. This program is meant to give students a realistic appreciation for working in a regional theater, which I am confident your knowledge and experience will prove of immense benefit.?
?Flatterer,? she murmured under her breath. ?If I agree to this, I would need you to agree to certain stipulations as well.?
?And they would be??
?One: I get my own room.?
?Not a problem,? he conceded with a nod for Don to add her request. ?What else??
?Two: I may want to invite a guest to stay with me for a time. If I choose to do so, I will need at least two beds.?
His eyebrow arched slightly, but he gave another nod. ?Easily seen to. What else??
Surprised by his swift agreement, she added the one stipulation she suspected he would shoot down without blinking first. ?Three: you respect any boundaries I establish.?
?If I say there is to be no touching between us, you have to honor my request.?
?Darling. This is Kiss Me Kate. Are you familiar at all with the show??
?I?ve heard of it. I?ve never seen the musical, but I believe it was originally produced in the 50s.?
?Correct. It is also about a divorced couple who are actors putting on The Taming of the Shrew. You have at least seen that play, I presume??
?Yes,? she answered, giving him and his superior attitude a sharp nod. ?In addition to the Taylor-Burton film.?
?Good. So, you should also realize there will be lots of ?touching? between us whether you want it or not. Furthermore, I will not allow you to put up artificial barriers in order to keep me at bay. We may no longer live under the same roof, but we do have a past, and I intend to draw upon those memories from time to time. However, if giving my word will ease your mind, I vow not to violate the sanctity of your bed unless you invite me to do so. But other than that?I make no promises about keeping my hands to myself.?
Kate frowned. Nothing he said offered her mind ease. Worried about what he didn?t say, she straightened her shoulders and met his calculating gaze. ?What if I disagree??
His smile turned wicked. ?You are always welcome to disagree with anything I say or do, although I warn you now there will be consequences for such action, and I assume you recall which form they?ll take??
Sitting back, Kate crossed her arms over her chest, creating a non-verbal barrier. ?Those days have long passed, Peter. We?re both too older and wiser now to play silly games of dominance and submission. Wouldn?t you agree??
One eyebrow arched. ?No, I don?t. Despite what your sharp words intimate, they weren?t games, Kate. Not ever. You may not believe me now, but I will put you over my knee if you continue to act the spoiled dilettante.?
Kate?s entire body went on instant alert. ?Try it and I?ll have you arrested,? she warned, inching her chair out of his reach.
?I doubt it, but whether you will or won?t makes little difference, since your threats can?t stop me from doing what I feel needs to be done.?
?Go to hell.?
Though she spoke the words softly, his eyebrows snapped together as if she?d shouted them. With a subtle shift in his position, he leaned forward and scowled. A reminder. Peter had a rule against swearing.
Kate?s mouth grew dry with uncertainty as an apology hovered on the tip of her tongue. Then, with a silent curse at herself for playing into his hand, she surged to her feet and glared at her agent. ?I won?t??
She didn?t get one word further before Peter grabbed her arm and yanked her face down over his knees.
?No!? she cried out, beating, pushing and kicking as hard as she could in an effort to get free. ?Let me go, you oaf,? she screamed. ?You have no right to??
His palm descended, cutting off her complaint. Since the swat had been applied over several layers of clothing it hadn?t hurt, but she still shrieked to let everyone know how strenuously she objected to the mishandling. ?Don, help me. Call the police!?
?Quiet, Kate,? Peter warned, his tone demanding her obedience, however, she wasn?t about to give in so easily. Shoving her fingers under his thigh, she dug in with her nails. He let out a sharp exclamation, then giving her a quick shift, trapped both her wrists in one hand. From experience, Kate knew Peter was about to get serious. He intended to spank her in front of her agent of all people, and she thought he?d been bluffing.
?Behave,? he commanded, delivering a second swat firmer than the first when she continued to struggle. Fighting him was a losing battle. It only made him more determined to prove his point. With both hands captured, she squeezed her eyes shut to check the tears of impotent rage flowing down her cheeks, clamped her lips together and stilled.
?Don, would you mind giving us a few minutes? I have a couple of things I?d like to say to my leading lady in private.?
?I didn?t agree?? she protested, cutting off her own words when his fingers tightened in preparation for another swat.
?Silence.? His third strike was a bit firmer yet, but all three had been mere warnings compared to what Peter could and would dispense if he decided she wasn?t heeding him.
Despite her desire to lay into him, Kate forced herself to go limp and lowered her head. Submitting galled her, but the consequences if she didn?t would hurt a lot more than her wounded pride pained her at the moment.
?Kate?? Don questioned uncertainly.
?She?s fine,? Peter assured. ?I won?t harm her; I only want her to listen.?
Kate opened her mouth to retort that her ears were a fair distance from her butt, but remained silent when Don shifted his chair back. The coward was deserting her to her beast of an ex-husband.
?Ah, sure. I?ll go get these changes added. Um, call me when you?re both ready to discuss things further, okay??
?Of course,? Peter replied civilly, as though he conducted a polite business meeting rather than a discipline session with his former wife. When Peter eased his grip on her wrists, Kate suspected the reprieve was temporary. So, at the sound of the door opening and closing, she tightened her fists in preparation for what would happen next.
?Unh uh,? he murmured in warning. ?Just relax, Kate, so I won?t feel compelled to point out how you are currently positioned for a purpose I have yet to properly fulfill.?
She arched back to glare at him. ?Lay off the caveman tactics and let me up.?
His gaze resolute, she grimaced at the sight of his palm rising a fourth time. Ruing her inability to keep her mouth shut, she tensed as this swat fell with a force that had her kicking out in response. ?Oww. You bastard. Stop that.?
?Not until you learn to keep a civil tongue in your head, young lady,? he warned giving her two more swats that were even harder.
?Oww! I?m sorry.?
?Not yet, you?re not, but you will be if you don?t start behaving. The next time you swear, both your pants and panties are coming down. Understand?
Before she could reply, another sharp, stinging sensation caused Kate to yelp out in pain. Lesson learned, she gritted her teeth to keep from making a third scathing comment and panted until the pain subsided.
?Better. Now, I told you to be silent, and I meant it. All you have to do is lie still for a moment and listen while I tell you how things are going to change between us.?
?My arms hurt,? she complained, furious she couldn?t suppress the tears of frustration and defeat spilling from her eyes.
?Then stop struggling,? he scolded, his words emerging like a gentle caress as he released her wrists and lightly rubbed her arms to return the circulation. ?You only tense up when you fight me, and you won?t win, you know??
Kate refused to concede, but she wasn?t foolish enough to rise simply because he?d loosened his hold. Though she did pull her hands forward once he?d finished his massage.
?I asked you a question, so I expect an answer, Kate,? he insisted, his voice firm with warning as he stroked her still-clothed backside. In the past, he?d always delivered his punishments on the bare, but her agent?s office didn?t provide much privacy. All the same, he?d warned her, which meant he would lower her pants in a nanosecond if he deemed it necessary.
Despite his gentle stroking, she could tell by his tone of voice he wasn?t going to let her up, yet. So, she?d say whatever she must to get him to release her, and then she?d have his ass thrown in jail for abusing her.
?Yes, I know I can?t win,? she answered finally. ?You are much stronger than I, so in a physical contest I am no match against your superior force and will.?
He sighed, then firming his hold; he brought his hand down again for the seventh time.
?What was that for?? she yelped, arching back in protest.
?Do you think I can?t tell when you are only pretending to agree in order to placate me?? When she didn?t answer, he said, ?I can keep this up all afternoon, Kate. So, you?d best decide how long it?s going to take before you?re convinced I?m serious.?
She ground her teeth together. Admittedly, she had goaded him with her jabs, but then she hadn?t believed he?d carry out his threat. He certainly hadn?t followed through during the last years of their marriage, although he seemed different today. More adamant, yet concerned, too. And, even though his arms restrained her, the firm touch of his hand sliding along her backside and thighs soothed her. So, despite the precariousness of her position, she perversely enjoyed the attention. She felt secure?and she hadn?t been this content in a man?s arms for a long time.
None of that changed the fact she was still inwardly furious with him for spanking her in front of another person, but she had difficulty reconciling her righteous anger with the part of her that purred in response to his dominant and possessive posture. Her emotions were so jumbled and opposite each other, she no longer knew what she wanted.
Unwilling to fall into the trap of mistaking comfort for love, she turned her attention to gaining her release without the total loss of her pride. Not an easy task by far.
He expected a verbal reply to his question, but she didn?t remember what he?d asked, so she posed a query of her own. ?Why are you doing this, Peter??
?Because I want you to hear me out, and your head was too full of arguments to listen. I get your attention far more quickly when you?re positioned this way.?
?I?ll listen now,? she answered on a sigh.
?Yes, you will. Because you understand the consequences if you don?t. But I?m still not letting you up.?
Fighting against tears and her own desire to be loved by this man again, Kate asked coolly, ?So, what must I do to get you to let me go??
?Has it really been that long, Katie??