On her way home, she thought she might apprise Martine of how the evening had gone. All the turnoffs looked the same; she could not remember which she'd taken that had led her to Naughty But Nice.
When she got home, she found him seated on their sofa, reading from a thick ring binder. He was dressed, too. Not in her underthings and heels, and not in his usual slovenly go-nowhere house-husband style, but in a crisp chambray work shirt, neatly pressed, perfectly clean jeans, and work boots she hadn't seen on him since before they married. He looked up, flashed a smile at her, and went immediately back to his reading.
It rubbed a raw place in her soul. She dropped her briefcase, put her hands on her hips and waited. He said nothing.
"Hi, sweetie," he said in a tone of studied unconcern. "How was your day?"
"No surprises, until now." She flicked a hand at him. "Why are you wearing that crap?"
He looked at her with eyebrows raised, then down at himself. "Interview. The construction project at the north end of Sepulveda. Didn't I mention it?"
It was clear he'd decided to rebel.
"No, you did not mention it," she growled. "Why aren't you wearing your...ah..."
"Your lingerie?" he said. "Because if I had, I probably wouldn't have gotten the job." He shoved the binder aside, rose, stretched, and grinned. "I start tomorrow."
She strode toward him wearing her fiercest angry-lawyer's glare.
"I did not give you permission to get a job," she said. "I did not give you permission to leave the house! When I get home, I expect you to be dressed as I've instructed you and ready to serve me." She stopped with her face a bare six inches from his own and screamed, "So get into the bedroom and into your uniform!"
After several seconds of agonizing silence, he snorted gently, shook his head and turned away.
"You've got some strange ideas, Lor," he said. "I'll wear what I want and when I want. I'll come and go as I please, the same as you do. As for 'serving you'..." He chuckled. "You should know better than to press your luck. Just a second." He headed into their bedroom and returned a moment later with a bundle of linen.
"Have a look at this," he said, and tossed it to her. She caught it awkwardly and rustled through it, uncertain what he wanted her to see, until she found it.
The stain was dark crimson, a near-perfect circle about four inches across. She fingered it tentatively, found it to be dry and slightly crusty.
"What does --"
"Oh, come on," he said. "Don't you have any idea what you did to me last night? I was still bleeding when I got up this morning! If you expect me to hold still for more of that kind of treatment, you're not half as bright as you think. Oh, one more thing." He retreated to the bedroom again. This time, he returned with her dildo harness. It, too, was dark with his blood.
She said nothing.
He took the phallus in hands that suddenly struck her as powerful, twisted it in half, and dropped the pieces at her feet.
"I hope you didn't pay a lot for that."
When she failed to respond, he went to the door and let himself out into the evening.
"You overplayed your hand," Sarah said. She nodded at Laura's untouched coffee. "You should drink that before it gets cold."
Laura nodded absently. Truffles's Irish coffee was among its chief delights, and was priced accordingly. But the mess with Denis was lodged immovably at the front of her thoughts.
"He didn't come back last night. He still wasn't back when I left for work this morning," she said. "I don't know what to expect tonight."
"Sleeping alone is a bitch, isn't it?"
"You know it. It's been three years since..."
"Since you last had to?"
Sarah stared down at the table as if hunting for the right words.
If she thinks he's gone for good, I'd rather not hear it just now.
"He'll probably be back, you know." Sarah laid no particular emphasis on probably. "But he's let you know pretty clearly that he has hard borders, and that you don't get to redefine them. You have to keep that in mind in the future."
Laura snorted a mirthless laugh. "I thought he was redefining them, not me." She leaned forward and said softly, "You wouldn't believe how tight he got, or how many times he came. If it wasn't what he wanted --"
"It wasn't," Sarah said. "Get it straight, girlfriend. He wanted to please you. He tried to accept what he thought you wanted. He couldn't. Now he has to convince himself that he was wrong." She paused. "Was he?"
"Not...not in wanting to please me. The rest of it..." Tears flooded Laura's eyes. "I'd enslave myself to him to have him back tonight." She laughed again. "Just don't tell him that if you see him, okay?"
Sarah grinned. "No chance of that." She fished a twenty from her purse, dropped it on the table and rose. "Gotta go home, babe. Marvin is expecting me in about ten minutes, and from the look of the Boulevard, I'd probably get there faster on foot."
Laura dried her eyes and rose. Sarah put out a hand, and she took it.
"Sarah, how'd you get so smart, anyway?"
Sarah gave her hand a squeeze. "I have a lot of smart friends. I just watch you guys and learn from your mistakes. Thanks for the service."
Laura laughed. "No charge."
She found Denis sitting at their kitchen table. He was hunched forward, hands folded before him, staring at nothing. She controlled her surge of anxiety as best she could, set her briefcase down carefully, and went to join him. He stretched a hand across the table, and she took it.
"How was your first day of work?" she said.
For a long while they sat in silence, with only the setting sun for illumination. He would not look directly at her. She wondered whether what she'd done had breached them irreparably.
Presently he said, "I guess it was as much my fault as yours."
"Does it...still hurt?"
He looked up and grinned. "It doesn't hurt, but I'll probably feel it for a week. Don't worry about it, sweetie. We hadn't set any limits, so how could you know? Especially given how provocative I've been."
Her surge of relief made her lightheaded. "So we're all right?"
"Yeah, we're fine. But don't do that again, okay? I don't get off on pain any more than you do." He rose and went to the stove. "How about some tea?"
He was wearing her pumps.
"Surprised?" he said. He took the kettle to the sink and filled it. "I can't imagine why. This is really sexy. I always wondered why women liked high heels." He put the kettle on the burner and turned the flame up high. "And you know," he said, "that little vibrator of yours is great. When you put it in my ass, I thought I might explode."
She gasped. "But you just said --"
"I said no more pain. The way you sawed at me with that dildo hurt me plenty. That wasn't sex, it was...I don't know, something I don't want to do ever again." He squatted before her and took her face between her hands. "Don't tell me you enjoyed it. You didn't come even once."
"No, you're right. I can't even say why I did it."
"I can," he said. "You thought I wanted it. I should have said something, but I thought you wanted it." He snorted gently and took her hands again. "I've done a lot of thinking these past two days, Lor. I know I'm not much of a man, the way the world sees things. But I am a man. It's time I started acting like one, don't you think? You know, working for a living, taking care of the dirty jobs, escorting you to your company's social functions, stuff like that?"
"I'd...I'd like that," she sniffled. "But --"
"And when we're at home enjoying ourselves," he said, "let's talk a little more. The sex is great, but I don't want any more misunderstandings." He grinned and wiggled his rump. "I'm not sure I can afford them."
She smiled as her sense of relief solidified. "Okay."
He clapped his hands gently against hers and stood up, wobbling momentarily. "Whew! How soon we forget. Now, would you like me in your black ensemble again tonight, or would you like a little variety?"
She laughed. "Well, I just bought a very nice red set. All silk. But they don't really go with those shoes."
He raised his eyebrows. "Don't you have a pair of red heels about like these?"
"Indeed I do." She rose and took his hand. "Come, let's explore my collection, and whatever else comes to mind."
He tugged her gently toward the stove and quenched the flame beneath the kettle.
"Let's do that."