Phoebe finally did it! One day she dared to sign up for an online dating service – one that catered to people just like her, people with a fascination for spanking. Then she waited anxiously by her computer, hoping – and maybe fearing a little – that she’d get a response. And then it happened. She received an email from a man named Tom, who claimed to be seeking a loving, long-term relationship with the woman of his dreams. He wrote that he was old-fashioned, and knew just how to handle bratty behavior. Every inch of him sounded dreamy! Was he too good to be true?
After exchanging a few short emails and then talking on the phone, they agreed to meet for dinner the next day at a small pub. Their attraction was instant, but more than that, they connected on a deeper level. They talked for hours until closing time. Tom was reluctant to let her out of his sight. He told her to give him a call as soon as she made it safely home.
Hours later, she still hadn’t called him. He hopped into his car and drove all over town, the main roads and back roads, looking for her. He was stunned when he found her walking on the side of the road, drenched to the bone. Her car broke down, and she didn’t have her cellphone on her, although she had told him that she did. He knew then that it was time to show her just what a good, old-fashioned spanking actually felt like! But was it too soon? Would she want to see him again, when she discovered that the reality was nothing like her fantasy? It was a risk, but one he had to take, for he was falling for her hard. She was definitely one in a million, and she was his.
Phoebe Simons stared at the computer screen, her finger resting on the mouse. This was it; this was the turning point, the moment she actually committed herself to going through with something that she’d fantasised about all her life, but until very recently, never had the courage to face. The day she actually dared type the word ‘spanking’ into the Internet search box, the results were gobsmacking. There were literally thousands of sites. The subject was practically mainstream. She wasn’t alone in this seemingly perverse fantasy. And when she discovered there were a number of dating agencies to match like-minded people, excitement reached fever pitch. It had taken weeks to pluck up further courage to actually contact one of them, but once the thought had been planted in her mind, it had become a nagging obsession. What did she have to lose? She was single. Why should she continue to feel guilty about this, when obviously millions of others didn’t?
A phrase she’d imagined being barked at her a million times, ran through her head: Get yourself over here, young lady. Right now. You’re going to get the spanking of your life for being so damned stupid and defiant! She shuddered, and that familiar tingle ran up her spine and around the cheeks of her behind. Would she ever hear those words for real? Would the threat ever be carried out? God, she hoped so, but would she actually be able to deal with it when it did?
She exhaled a deep, tremulous sigh and gazed at the email she’d just spent the last hour tweaking to get it just right. It was a summary of her needs for the Internet dating agency for spankophiles. She hated that word. It sounded seedy and degenerate, and bore too close a resemblance to paedophile. She most certainly was not that, nor did she want anything to do with a man who was. No, her proclivities?albeit, so far, unfulfilled?were most definitely for consenting adults only. Despite a nagging little voice in the back of her mind, she clicked on send and the dreaded deed was done.
* * *
Phoebe checked her email every morning and evening for a week after that, but apart from the usual messages from her editor and agent, there was nothing exciting. She resigned herself to the fact that there probably weren’t any likely partners in the sleepy backwater of West Dorset. Apart from anything else, her age had probably put any possibles right off?and she’d lied about that! Only slightly, though. She’d shaved two years off her thirty-nine, but thirty-seven sounded a lot further away from the dreaded four zero. Anyway, she was tall, slender, very fit, and her years as a fashion model had taught her how to carry her height and stature with great presence. She’d not had the time or inclination to produce children, therefore was mercifully free of the stretch marks and other tell tale signs of motherhood. And her face barely bore a line or wrinkle. She’d earned that blessing though; she’d suffered the indignity of pimple-blighted skin throughout her puberty, adolescence, and way beyond. But an oily complexion paid dividends later in life. At thirty-nine, she turned more heads than the average twenty-five year old, but how could she say that in her resume?
By the following Saturday morning, she’d given up all hope and felt just a little humiliated at being silently rejected by unknown men!
Her last relationship had dragged on for over six years and finally succumbed to a gagging death just three months earlier. She’d never had the nerve to admit her fantasies to Peter, for fear he’d think her some kind of deviant. And no matter how much testing and pushing she employed to try and rouse him to anger?goad him into dealing with her of his own volition?he simply backed off and let her win. In fact, she’d grown quite certain that he could care less if her often-reckless antics caused her to break her stupid neck, especially where the horses were concerned, and there was plenty of room for serious accident there! Quite simply, he obviously didn’t love her, and he was most definitely never going to stand up to her. After so many years of having to be the strong, capable, stoical woman that her height, stature and imposing demeanour had thrust upon her, she doubted there ever would be a man who could handle her. Fact was, she intimidated most men the moment she looked them directly in the eye. They couldn’t deal with the challenge she set them. Phoebe despaired of ever meeting a man who had the balls to square up to her. The demise of her relationship with Peter was inevitable; it was just a shame she’d allowed it to drag on for so long. So many wasted years?wasted youth!
Phoebe sat heavily in the swivel chair and booted up her PC, feeling desperately miserable and lonely. She logged on to pick up her messages, knowing there’d be at least one from Mary, her editor, nagging her to finish the alterations on her latest novel. Yet again, another Saturday spent working, closeted in her study, gazing out the window at?granted?splendid scenery, but with nothing to look forward to at the end of the day. Ah, well, she’d take one of the horses out this afternoon; a good long hack always cheered her up.
What popped up on the list of new mail sent her heart leaping to her throat and made her palms flood with perspiration. A response from the dating agency. Her hand trembled ever so slightly as she opened it. There was a list of five potential suitors. Heart pounding, she opened the first resume and read. Then the second, then the third? and the fourth. Oh, no! None of these men were suitable. They were either inches shorter than her stately five ten, or demanded total obedience without question, ranging from unequivocal subservience, to outright slavery. One appeared more interested in what she could only describe as ? well, extremely deviant sex, and some other suggestions she didn’t even want to think about. Phoebe’s heart sank and she was on the verge of deleting all five resumes without even glancing at the last one. But as her finger poised above the word delete, a diminutive voice fair screamed in her head, “Read it first!”
Phoebe sighed heavily again and opened it.
“My name is Tom, and I am seeking a loving, long-term relationship with the woman of my dreams. I’m not a new-age man, I have very old-fashioned values and old-fashioned methods of dealing with irresponsible, foolish or bratty behaviour, and I will carry out earned spankings unmercifully. Having said that, I have huge respect for intelligent, loving, caring women and the right lady can expect love, protection, devotion, fidelity, support, respect and guidance from me. If you think you might be that lady, get in touch.”
He described himself as a youthful forty-six, six feet three, a regular scrum half rugger player, with black hair, blue eyes, and said he’d often been described as, “ruggedly handsome” followed by three exclamation marks. Phoebe figured that he was being modest. She had described herself as “not displeasing to behold!!” She recognised the bashful reserve in the overuse of punctuation. He was divorced with two grown children and had his own business?financially sound.
She exhaled the breath that had slowly snagged in her chest as she devoured Tom’s resume. He sounded too good to be true! Most probably was. Most likely he’d be a power mad pervert like the rest of them! She was shaking uncontrollably, certain in the knowledge that she would indeed get in touch. She was compelled to, no matter how disappointing she suspected it would probably turn out. She clicked reply and?fingers trembling?began to type.
“Hi, Tom. Just read your resume. We sound compatible. I guess you have my details, as I have yours. Read them and let me know if you’re interested, Phoebe.”
God! That was so feeble and cold, but she had clicked send before her courage could sneak away and leave her. Almost immediately, the mail icon flashed in the corner of her screen. “Shit,” she spat, “I bet that’s Mary with yet another nagging session!” She clicked the mailbox and for the second time that morning her heart crashed to a stabbing halt. It was Tom’s email address! Surely he couldn’t have responded so quickly? She opened it, and with her heart chugging away madly, began to read.
“Hi Phoebe, I’ve just read your resume and, God, we’re perfect for each other! We must meet, soon. Please get in touch. Tom.”
Phoebe’s breath came in small, staccato gasps and she felt her face flush with a blistering heat. He must have read her details and sent his response almost exactly at the same time she was sending her message. He was also an AOL member. Maybe he was still online! She quickly added his screen name to her buddy list and before she had a chance to click on instant message, a box popped up on her screen.
“Hi, Phoebe, it’s me, Tom. Do you want to talk?”
Phoebe’s heart was pounding hard as she typed her reply. “Hi, Tom. We must have overlapped. Coincidence or fate, I wonder?”
“Fate. Definitely. Look, one to one over the Internet is all very well, for business dealings, but I really want to be looking into your big brown eyes when we speak. When can we meet? ASAP. Today, tonight … God! Yesterday isn’t soon enough!”
“Well … I suppose we could meet for a drink later. Somewhere on neutral territory.” She couldn’t believe this was happening so quickly. She typed on. “Are you familiar with the Archway pub in Theakston?”
“Know it well. Seven o’clock suit you?”
“Fine. How will I recognise you?” Phoebe wiped a bit of perspiration from her brow.
“I’ll be wearing a Farnworth Rugby Club T shirt. And you?”
“Fancy asking a woman what she’s going to wear at a moment’s notice! I have no idea until I’ve turned my wardrobe inside out. I’ll spot you … and I promise, you’ll spot me too, I’ll be the one turning all the men’s heads!”
Shit! That was outrageous! She was already trying to make him jealous and she hadn’t even met him yet!
“You’d better hope that’s all the turning you’ll be doing, once I decide you’re mine, young lady!”
A delicious mixture of fear and anticipation snaked down Phoebe’s spine at the thinly veiled suggestion that he would turn her over his knee. And the young lady. Why did that tag have such a shuddering impact on her?
“See you later,” she replied and quickly logged off. Her poor belaboured heart could take no more. She had to prepare for tonight!
* * *
By five o’clock that evening, Phoebe had tried on most of her clothes and discarded them in disgust. She hadn’t bought herself anything decent to wear in years. Her clothes were good quality, labels mostly, but old. She and Peter had hardly ever gone anywhere; he wasn’t interested in romantic dinners at good restaurants. His idea of a decent meal was Chinese take away washed down with a bottle of cold beer.
The excitement of that morning had lost its edge by then, though. She’d convinced herself that for all his strong, delicious words, Tom was probably going to be a real let down once she met him face to face. Although, a part of her?the hopelessly optimistic part?kept whispering, “But he wouldn’t have lied about his appearance if he intended to actually meet someone. He wouldn’t have the nerve.”
She eventually settled on old faithful, a knee-length, figure hugging black dress with wide off-the-shoulder straps that accentuated her broad shoulders, and a fairly plunging neckline that showed a tantalising glimpse of cleavage without being too blatant. She opened a brand new packet of lace-topped black stockings, and dusted off her only decent pair of heels. She wasn’t used to wearing heels, she didn’t need to, but it gave her an advantage?they made her more imposing and impressive than normal. She spent an hour on her make-up and hair and by six-thirty she stood back and took a long look at herself in the full-length dressing mirror. The results of her efforts were quite stunning. She was curvaceous and sexy. Flat tummy, no bulges. Long tapering legs and cascades of waist length, lustrous, deep coppery auburn hair emphasised her height. The lightly, but expertly applied cosmetics further enhanced her deep brown eyes, accentuated high cheekbones and classic jaw line. She felt good and looked good. She counted on her good looks to conceal a bad case of nerves.
“By God, woman, you’ve still got it, even if you are an ageing old bat!” She chuckled and winked at her reflection. If nothing else, she’d enjoy the opportunity to wow a few of the local yokels tonight.
The journey to the Archway took only half an hour along the main road. Phoebe had considered taking a cab so she could have a drink, but decided against it. Tom might offer to drive her home, and if she didn’t want anything further to do with him after tonight, the last thing she needed was for him to know where she lived. After taking a deep, calming breath and making a final check of her lipstick, she closed the front door of her secluded country farmhouse and climbed into the Range Rover. As she drove up the long winding driveway, the recently familiar crunching, whining groan of an ailing wheel bearing grated on her nerves.
“No! Don’t give me any trouble tonight, you bastard! Break down tomorrow if you must, but not tonight, Okay?” Begging and complaining had never worked before, when it came to car repairs, but she kept trying.
The wheel bearing had begun to play up shortly after Peter left. He’d always been as happy as a pig in muck when he was tinkering with cars. As far as Phoebe was concerned, filling the damn thing with gas was a pain in the neck. She’d been happy to let Peter deal with everything else. Now, though, she realised she’d have to sort these things out herself. She should have had the car fixed weeks ago, but, in truth, she just couldn’t seem to make herself get around to it. Throughout the entire drive, the wheel whined and shrieked abominably. As the turning for the pub came up, she realised that she’d forgotten to pick up her mobile phone. It was sitting on the kitchen dresser, on charge.
Damn! She was such an idiot. That should teach her to be so bloody vain! Ah well, no matter, she was almost there now. A potential breakdown during the journey home was the last thing on her mind.
She stepped through the pub door at seven-fifteen, deliberately late. Her heart had resumed the nervous, hammering thud of earlier, despite her resignation to the fact that this meeting was going to be a disaster. Still, she was determined to make an impression. She straightened up to the full six feet the high heels afforded her, and took long, lithe strides across the bustling room. Once one head turned, the others soon followed, and admiring gazes lingered on her shapely body. She tried desperately not to appear like she was looking for someone, but for some reason, tonight, the hungry stares were making her feel uncomfortable and exposed. Phoebe looked straight ahead and made for the bar. She ordered a coke from a heavy-bosomed young barmaid, who, quite clearly from the sour expression on her face, hadn’t expected any kind of competition to catch the eye of her many admirers. Normally, the girl’s annoyance would have amused Phoebe, but not tonight. Why was she feeling like this? It was almost as though someone was silently admonishing her. As though the impenetrable, iceberg exterior that she wore like armour was melting away under the heat of a knowing, disapproving gaze.
A soft, deep voice from directly behind made her flinch uncharacteristically.
“You like to turn heads, don’t you?”
Phoebe twisted around to face him, her palms suddenly breaking out in a slick sweat. She had to raise her eyes to meet his gaze. God! He was six feet three. And built like a tank. And? Christ! Gorgeous! Those eyes; a spine-tingling, cool ice blue. Absolutely riveting. He wore a wry grin on full, generous lips and one dark eyebrow was raised in what could only be described as a you’re already treading on thin ice warning. His hair was predominantly black, greying at the temples and cut, not severely, but tidy in a business-like way.
For a moment, Phoebe was lost for words. She hadn’t prepared for this. She swallowed harder than she would have liked him to see. She thought she would intimidate him! Dear God! He’d already terrified her with a single flick of an eyebrow, for crying out loud. She quickly gathered her thoughts and responded. “I aim to please,” she murmured unconvincingly.
He smiled at her discomfort. “Shall we sit down? I’ve bagged us a quiet table over there in the corner.” He stepped aside and waved her past.
Phoebe gave him her best attempt at a nonchalant nod and walked?not quite so confidently as the admiring glances persisted?to the proffered table situated in a secluded corner by the open fire.
He sat opposite her and placing his elbows on the table, leant his chin on very substantial fists. He gazed with unashamed admiration into her eyes. It took all of Phoebe’s courage and then some, to maintain eye contact.
“I knew you would be beautiful. I could tell when I read your remarks in the physical appearance column of the agency form. Too modest. A dead giveaway.” He grinned again, warmly this time.
Phoebe relaxed a tad. “Yours also. Too many exclamation marks.”
“Bet you didn’t believe it, though, did you?” His gaze never left her. Phoebe smiled and averted her eyes for an instant. “No. To be honest, I didn’t. I’d convinced myself you’d be very disappointing.” She resumed eye contact. “But you’re not, and you know it, don’t you?” she countered, feeling her confidence reasserting itself with each passing moment.
“You don’t look thirty-seven. I’d have guessed more like thirty-two or three at most,” he said with an appraising twitch of his eyebrows.
Phoebe felt a stab of guilt despite his remarks. She stared into her glass and said, “It’s okay, you can drop the compliments now, enough is enough. We’re impressed with each other’s looks. Let’s move on, shall we?” She realised she’d been a little too sharp with her reply and regretted it immediately. He reached out and placed a long, tanned finger under her chin, lifting her face so she could not avoid his eyes. He levelled a smouldering stare, then slowly, almost imperceptibly, shook his head.
“You’re not in charge here, Phoebe. You should know that from the start. I am. I always will be. So you may as well deal with it right now and stop trying to face me down. It’s not worth it. You’ll lose.”
Phoebe’s blood rushed with a sudden adrenaline spike. She could hear her heart drumming in her head. How long had she waited to hear those words? Spoken with such confidence and command, by a man with the physical and emotional strength to enforce them? She felt faint. But a wicked, persistent, self-destructive little inner voice insisted, “Don’t let him get away with that! Arrogant bastard! You show him you won’t be pushed around.” She sat back in her chair beyond the comfortable reach of his electrifying touch.
“If you studied my agency details carefully, Tom, you’ll know I’m not the submissive type. Don’t try to bully me, because I’ll resist, vigorously.” She shot him a defiant glare combined with an equally challenging smirk.
His reaction was nothing like she expected. He merely smiled and leant back easily, his gaze altering from smouldering to something verging on pity.
“I did study the description you so carefully composed, Phoebe. I also read between the lines. And that’s where the real truth lies. You might never have submitted to anyone or anything in your life before, but you’ve always wanted to, haven’t you? Always dreamt of the sheer bliss of willingly placing yourself in a man’s charge, relieving yourself of the burden of control, the crushing weight of self-reliance. You ache for a strong man who’ll break down your defences, by force if necessary, and expose your vulnerabilities.”
He fixed her with an implacable, merciless gaze. Plainly, he knew that every word he said was piercing her aching heart like so many knives. She remained speechless, winded by the sheer impact of his uncannily accurate insight. He continued his attack on her crumbling armour without pity or remorse.
“You are self-destructive, reckless and defiant. Desperate for someone to love you enough, care enough, to say no to you, fondly, but very firmly and decisively.” His ice-cold eyes narrowed slightly at this and the dark, velvety voice deepened to a vaguely menacing tone. He leant right across the small table, his face just inches from hers, his eyes boring deeply into the soul he’d just so thoroughly laid bare. “I am that man, Phoebe. And I know that you know it. We are meant for each other. We’ve both spent our entire lives searching for one another. And now, at last, we’ve met. And I will not let you slip through my fingers without a damn good fight!”
He leant back, his implacable gaze riveting her to the chair. Phoebe felt like a frightened rabbit frozen in the headlamp glare of an oncoming car. He folded his arms and said in an even tone, “Now what do you have to say for yourself?”
Phoebe’s breath had lodged somewhere so deep inside her that she began to wonder if she’d ever be able to let it out. There’d been no small talk, no prissy preamble, no light-hearted icebreaker. He’d cut to the chase within minutes of their first meeting. But then, she’d been sassy and provocative from the instant they laid eyes on each other?she’d walked through the door sassy and provocative, for Chrisakes. She was getting just exactly what she deserved. And everything he’d said was agonisingly true. It was as though he’d been reading her secret life story from the pages of an open book.
No man had ever been so insightful or intuitive as he’d just been. No man. Ever. Until that very moment, Phoebe hadn’t even entertained the concept of love at first sight. Now, although she wasn’t completely aware of it, she was falling desperately, hopelessly, and completely in love with this total stranger. But, that mean-spirited, self-destructive little inner voice he’d so easily recognised still refused to be silenced.
“You’re very sure of yourself, aren’t you?” she said. “You think you know all about me, but you don’t. You know nothing. And you haven’t even taken the trouble to find out. You’ve just assumed an awful lot.” She levelled her very best indignant glare and held it. And she was pouting, she knew it, but it went with the territory. She couldn’t help herself.
Tom shook his head sadly and breathed a long, impatient sigh. “Phoebe, why are you fighting this? I’ve just given you the first and best opportunity you’ve ever had to be open and honest about your needs. Why do you persist in denying yourself the one thing you’ve desired more than anything else in your entire life?” He made a dismissive and?it appeared to Phoebe?somewhat derisive gesture with his vast paw. “You think that ‘tough cookie’ exterior you’ve built around yourself fools me for one millisecond? You think I can’t see right through your feeble defences?” He shook his head more forcefully this time and the strong, square jaw line flexed angrily as he clenched his teeth. Fixing Phoebe with his most terrifying glare yet, his broad brow furrowed into a darkly ominous scowl. “If you could only see yourself, sitting there, pouting like a spoiled little brat. You walked in here looking for a confrontation and that’s exactly what you’ve got, but now you have it, you don’t know how to handle it. If we weren’t in such a public place, I’d turn you over my knee right now and spank your bare backside until it bled!”
Phoebe gasped a little in spite of her resolve and her sultry brown eyes widened in shock. There! She’d forced him to say it! After such a paltry gesture of defiance. It would have taken hours of her razor tongue to have gotten even a modicum of this response from Peter. Fuck Peter! Any man she’d ever known, for that matter! She’d endured two miserable marriages and a string of hopeless affairs trying to raise that particular rebuttal. Jesus! Yes. He was right. Her entire adult life! Her pout deepened and she looked down at her empty glass, studying the melting ice cubes with brattish resolve. She could feel the embarrassment colouring her cheeks. Most probably the deep scarlet hue he’d colour the cheeks of her backside, given half a chance. She wanted to cry. She wanted to fling her arms around his neck and wail, “Yes! Everything you’ve said is true. I want you. I need you.” But old habits die hard.
“Phoebe, look at me.” His voice had returned to the warm, velvety, embracing tone. She raised her eyes, but not her face. He gave her a stern sideways look. She raised her chin and sulkily met his gaze. “We’ll talk about anything you like. I’ve been too hard on you for a first meeting. But it had to be said. All of it, Phoebe. But now it has, we can ease the tension by talking about the weather if you want. It’s your choice.” He grinned impishly and winked at her.
Phoebe let out the breath she’d held for so long and felt the knotted muscles in her back and shoulders ease a little. She managed a weak smile in response to the amused twinkle sparkling in his oh so beautiful eyes.
From that moment on they talked and laughed and talked some more. About everything. Her writing, his security systems business, her horses, his love of sailing, and their mutual love of all things literary. Phoebe even admitted to the dilapidated state of her car, both mechanically and the horrendous rubbish tip that was its interior, which, she remarked, was odd because she was quite particular about the tidiness of her house. He too admitted his car was an alternative trashcan. They had so much in common, it was incredible. For the most part, Phoebe wondered when the dream would end and she’d wake up.
By eleven-thirty the pub had virtually emptied and the landlord was plainly impatient for them to leave. And that was the moment she’d been dreading ever since she realised she never wanted to be without this wonderful man again. But, there was no way she was going to succumb to his charms and invite him back to her place. Nor would she go to his. Not on a first date, no matter how strongly she felt.
Tom exhaled a long sigh and shrugged sheepishly. “I don’t want to let you out of my sight, now that I’ve finally found you. But, I don’t want to pressure you either. When can I see you again? Tomorrow, for dinner? I know this fabulous restaurant near Camworthy. You’ll love it.” His crystalline eyes were definitely pleading.
Phoebe nodded enthusiastically. “I’d love to. And at least I’ll have a chance, and an excuse, to go buy myself a new dress.” She giggled. He laughed with her.
Tom’s face suddenly took on a slightly worried look. “Are you sure your car will make it back to your place tonight? From what you’ve told me, it’s just about ready to die. Perhaps you should leave it here and I’ll run you home.”
Phoebe’s heart leapt and she cursed herself for having mentioned her stupid car. This was just what she didn’t want to happen?for entirely different reasons than she’d originally thought?but nonetheless she still couldn’t push aside the vulnerability of him knowing exactly where she lived, just yet. She’d told him she lived close to Littleham village, but not the precise location. He’d said he knew it, and had had no compunction at all in telling her exactly where he lived?Topsham Hill?a very well to do area of West Dorset, as she recalled.
She shook her head and waved a hand dismissively. “No, no, there’s no need for that. I exaggerated slightly. It’ll get me home, no problem.”
“You’re sure?” he insisted, frowning. “Do you have a mobile phone and breakdown cover, just in case?”
“Yes. My phone’s in the car and I’m with the RAC. I’ll be just fine, don’t worry about me.” She’d lied about the phone, only a small thing, but it made her stomach screw up in agonising knots.
He frowned for a moment, then shrugged. “Okay, I guess I was just clutching at straws to stay with you for a bit longer. Do you feel safe enough to give me your phone number, so I can call you to let you know where and when for dinner tomorrow?” He smi