(Author’s note: this will be long. There’s no sex in this chapter; we’re building to that.)
I grumbled to myself as I packed. Traveling usually energizes me, even work travel… but I was not looking forward to this trip.
Three weeks in January, living out of a hotel in Quebec instead of my condo in downtown Miami. Spending at least ten hours a day whipping a failing, egotistical management team into shape at our branch office there. After talking to them several times as they botched one project after another, I didn’t see much potential for improvement. I recommended a bloody French-Canadian revolution to my boss, the business’s Chief Operating Officer. She declined the offer. Instead, she sent me up to Canada to right the ship.
I pulled my warmest coat from the dark recesses of my closet and laughed. Helen knew I didn’t even want these guys employed… and she knew I hated the cold. No wonder she and I get along so well, I wondered. Helen knows me too well, knows all about my kinks… she’s clearly a bit of a sadist as well.
My task – and my odds of success – were grim. I’d need to break down the three narcissist managers and create them back up as proper leaders. We had put the wrong people in power, or power had gone to their heads. The managers didn’t seem to find out a thing about harnessing their teams’ capabilities, which seemed strong. And as the managers continued to underdeliver, they shoveled more and more blame further and further from themselves.
I’d need to clarify what it meant to lead. I’d have to give the little boys at the helm some latitude to make better decisions – and a few mistakes – under my observation. To grow up. And I’d need to maintain the right mix of encouragement and criticism… for three weeks. I grumbled to myself again. I’m not good at pretending I like people, and after what I’d seen from them during conference call after conference call, I wasn’t at all sure that I would succeed.
Flogging them wouldn’t be fun… but a wondered occurred: perhaps flogging the right French-Canadian woman at night back at my hotel could be far more entertaining.
I had had the wondered before, and dismissed it. I didn’t expect to have the time or energy for that sort of fun on this trip. But as I packed, I reconsidered. The mere possibility offered the trip a ray of hope, some redemption.
I packed my travel gear into a second suitcase. An under-bed harness… leather wrist, ankle, and thigh cuffs… a very effective blindfold. A silicone ball gag. Spreader bars, jute rope. An assortment of clamps, beads and plugs… my long leather flogger; my old friend. Assorted whips. Some lovely canes and a riding crop. A very effective vibrator. Safety shears, just in case. I went online to add the bag to the luggage charges on my plane ticket. I snapped a picture of the open suitcase and texted it to Helen’s cell.
“I’m putting the extra luggage on your tab. Consider it combat pay; thanks. I promise not to use any of it on branch management… unless absolutely necessary.”
“You’re welcome. And if you leave stripes on Èdouard’s pasty ass, I want pics.”
The next morning was standard business-class travel, comfortable but boring… besides the moment I exited the airport in Motreal… feeling the cold leech the Miami life out of my skin. I checked into the hotel early, at 2:00. My room was an unexceptional modern king suite… but with exceptional views of historic Old Town. I spent just a minute taking it in; I would have to enjoy it later. I was due at the branch office.
The freezing cab ride did not inspire deeper love for Quebec. I arrived at the office at 2:30. I stepped into the reception area; the office was mercifully warm. I turned toward the coat rack and immediately began to extricate myself from my protective layers of clothing. I wanted to see management sweat, not the other way around.
“Bonjour!” An unseen girl’s voice from the reception desk at the far end of the room. I unzipped my coat and stomped the snow off my shoes. That greeting… a bit too friendly, too exuberant, I wondered. Too singsong. Not a great fit for a corporate office. Maybe that was typical here, though. I hung my coat on the rack by the door.
I looked up. Reception was empty besides me… and her. The girl with the voice. She was looking at me from behind her desk. My eyes lifted to hers… and they stayed there.
We held each other’s glance for just a moment too long, but in that moment, my impressions of her unfurled all at once, like a sail snapping full to the wind. The way she looked back at me. Staring, almost, frozen in whatever wondered she had about me. Something about her was unafraid, unembarrassed. Just from looking at her in that moment, I saw that she was things I wasn’t. In the best methods.
Her eyes were impossibly bright, clear, and pale blue. Her wide, silver-rimmed glasses seemed more like windows; open ones. Her unpainted lips parted just a little as she looked at me. Pale skin. If she was wearing makeup, I didn’t see it. High, round cheeks. Shoulder-length auburn hair pulled behind her, but it was wilder than that; it fought the barrette, it wanted to wave and curl. Her appearance was one of relaxed charm. This girl didn’t put on airs. This girl could be happy.
The reception desk hid most of her body. The contours of her sweater spoke of slender arms, a constrained, ample chest. Her proportions told me she wasn’t tall. Her pale neck… that neck drew my gaze from her eyes for a moment. But only for a moment.
She must have been college-aged; I assumed no one older would look like that, would stare like that, but maybe this girl would? I hoped so. She would have registered to me as bookish or mousy… if it weren’t for her boldness in holding my eyes for that moment too long. She wasn’t hiding. She wasn’t afraid… she wasn’t afraid to be herself. Something about me had earned her attention, and she didn’t have to hide that.
I wasn’t quite so unabashed. I broke the eye contact. Some part of me didn’t feel safe on that ride. I delivered myself back to the terra ferma of propriety. I was her boss’s boss’s boss, and probably 20 years older than her. Staring at this gorgeous girl any longer without getting back to company would be a loss of control that I couldn’t quite allow myself. Ever the striver, ever in control of my own and everyone else’s thoughts. I did it, I regained control; I stopped myself from admiring her… but I still envied her. I had to speak. She hadn’t yet broken her gaze.
“Do you speak English?”
I winced. I knew she did. I vaguely remembered confirming that with the office management shortly after she had been hired a few months back.
She slowly smiled, also shaken from the moment. She looked down, embarrassed a little. I didn’t know whether it was for her stare or in sympathy for me and my dumb line. But I was relieved; it wasn’t just me. She could be bashful, too.
She looked back up at me. Her eyes still froze me a little. With a high, French-inflected lilt, she returned to our corporate script. “I do, though I would love some more practice. I believe you are our American guest. I’m Chloe.”
I regained my footing, turning the blankness of my shock into a polite smile. “Alexander. It’s a pleasure to meet you, Chloe.” I remembered why I was there. My expression hardened. “Are they ready for me?”
She lookedat the gathering storm on my face, then at her computer. She seemed a bit scared.
“I’ll check. But something tells me they’re not.”