Kristy had been driving him crazy, in one way or another, for practically his whole life. He and her brother Rocco had been in the same classes all through grade school. And Kristy had been the tomboy younger sister who’d insisted on shadowing them wherever they went. Not that Luke had minded all that much. Oh, he’d pretended to, from time to time, for the sake of his friendship with her brother. But the truth was, he’d had feelings for her that, even at the age of five, had made his insides feel all squirmy. Feelings that had excited him as much as they’d left him frightened and confused.
She’d been a year younger than him, small for her age, with big, brown eyes that darkened whenever she looked his way. She’d started wearing glasses when she was seven, which he found adorable. He’d thought her absolutely perfect. He’d wanted to pet her and protect her. To spoil her. To love on her like his cousins did with their dolls. And to tease her unmercifully.
When the neighborhood kids played tag or hide-and-seek or Marco Polo, and it was Luke’s turn to be “it,” it was Kristy he always ended up chasing—just for the squeals of mock-terror she released whenever he closed in on her, the way she was constantly aware of him, always checking to see where he was. When one of his cousins—usually Brenda—had wanted to play house, and Luke was drafted to play daddy, it was Kristy who he’d always insist should be the baby. By virtue of her age. By virtue of her small stature—which she’d hated, even then, to be reminded of. But especially because whoever played the part of baby had to do what daddy said.
When he learned that Luca was Italian for “Luke” and that di was Italian for “of” he damn near lost his mind. The idea that her very name was proof that Kristy belonged to him had given his pre-adolescent self a secret thrill. But even now, as an adult, he sometimes fantasized about talking her into getting a tattoo of her own last name because it was the closest he would ever come to seeing her branded with the words “property of Luke.”
He was in fifth grade when he finally gathered up the courage—after years of anonymous Valentine’s Day cards and April Fool’s pranks and Secret Santa gifts—to ask her to be his girlfriend. She’d accepted, even let him kiss her, and he’d gone to sleep that night feeling like he’d just been elected king of the world. But by the next day she’d come to her senses.
She’d sent him a note, asking him to meet with her on the playground after school. That’s when she broke his heart. When she told him that she’d changed her mind, that she didn’t feel that way about him after all, that she just wanted to be friends. He said something mean, about not liking her that way anyway, and ran off embarrassed, humiliated, hurt. And frightened of his very urgent desire to spank her. For real this time. To hurt her the way she’d hurt him. To make her cry and beg for his forgiveness.
Luckily, it hadn’t taken long for him to come to his own senses either.
Losing her as a girlfriend hurt. Losing her as a friend altogether wasn’t even an option. He’d made up with her the very next day, and they’d been friends ever since. But the other stuff never went away.
He was kinky with sadistic tendencies that his mother, a psychologist, had termed pathological. And while he’d always suspected that label was bullshit, his mother’s disgust when she found out what he was into had been real enough. He figured he didn’t need to see that
expression more than once—and definitely not on Kristy’s face.
And why should he risk it, anyway? Once he’d figured out what was going on with him, he hadn’t had too much trouble finding people with whom he could indulge his impulses. People with matching fetishes with whom he could play. But even though he knew there was nothing wrong with it, it was still a side of himself he tried hard to keep under control around Kristy. It wasn’t that he was ashamed, exactly. But he could never forget that day in the playground. How she’d caught one glimpse of his weirdness and run from him. He couldn’t bear the thought of it happening again.
But none of that was enough to stop him from sneaking up behind her now and snapping a damp bar towel across her upturned butt. She squealed and straightened, covering her butt with her hands, turning to put it out of his reach. And immediately losing her balance when her foot came down on an empty beer bottle that should not have been on the floor. A bottle Luke that would have sworn hadn’t
been there a moment earlier.
Luke reached for her instinctively. He grabbed her flailing arms, intending to steady her, to keep her from falling. But the way she seemed to melt into his grasp was unexpected, unsettling, and so exactly what he wanted it was hard to resist.
Before the urge to pull her close—to crush her against his chest and kiss her—became too strong, he set her away from him. If the gasp of pain she gave as her backside made contact with the wooden table was anything to go by, he’d used a little more force than he’d meant to.
She tried to jerk out of his grasp, but he held her fast. It was possible her reaction was partially due to residual soreness from the towel snap. But remembering how this all started did nothing to help him regain control. He pressed her back against the table again and held her there even as she squirmed. He noted the blush on her cheeks, the dazed look in her dark, dark eyes, the breathy way she said his name. “Luke.” And he felt himself growing hard.
What the fuck are you doing?
“Sorry.” He let her go and took a hasty step back. “Are you okay?”
She nodded, frowning slightly. “Yeah, I think so.” She glanced down at the floor and added, “I might have twisted my ankle, but otherwise…”
“Fuck. Are you kidding me?” Resisting the impulse to inspect her foot, Luke bent to pick up the bottle. “On this?” he asked as he deposited it back on the bus tray she’d been using. “What happened? Did you drop it?”
Kristy shook her head. “No. I don’t think so…”
“You need to be more careful.”
Her mouth opened in a little “O.” “You’re blaming me
didn’t put the bottle on the floor.”
“Who cares about the bottle? Luke, you hit
Luke’s lips compressed. “I smacked you. With a towel.”
“Oh, c’mon. It wasn’t even wet!” It was damp, though, and he’d rolled it into a rattail. And he knew damn well that, handled correctly, it could pack as much sting as a whip. What the fuck had he been thinking? Obviously, he hadn’t been! “I’m sure you’ve had worse,” he muttered defensively, no longer sure that was the case.
Kristy glanced away, blinking hard. “Th-that’s not the point, is it?”
No, it damn well wasn’t. Luke suppressed a groan. “I’m sorry, all right? Now, c’mon. Sit down.” He took hold of her arm again and urged her into the nearest chair. “Rest your ankle while I finish cleaning up; then I’ll walk you home.”
“You don’t have to do that,” she protested weakly.
“Yes, I do.”
“Really, I’ll be fine in a minute. Just let me—”
When she started to rise, he put a hand on her shoulder and pressed her back down. “Would you stop it? Just sit there for a moment, and don’t move until I tell you. You got that?”
She shot him a mutinous look, but something in his expression must have told her he was not in the mood to be fucked with. She dropped her gaze. “You’re awfully bossy all of a sudden.”
Luke bit back his first retort, that there was nothing sudden about it; also his second, that it was about time she’d fucking noticed; eventually settling on something vaguely jocular. “Well, that’s good, right? Since I am
“Only technically,” she corrected as she slumped in her seat and crossed her arms, looking annoyed and adorably pouty.
Luke chuckled as he went back to work. “Only technically? What does that even mean?”
Kristy shrugged, refusing to answer. Luke regarded her curiously. Something was up. Either her ankle was hurting a lot more than she wanted to admit, or…Or what? Could it be she liked him being bossy? Or that she’d liked that unexpected sting from the towel? Or being made to sit still when she didn’t want to? Was it possible they could once again change the rules of their friendship without ending
their friendship? Dare he hope?
“Are you saying that I’m your boss in name only?” She was correct, in a sense, he supposed. But the thought didn’t appear to be making her any happier than it made him—which was not very much at all. He found that encouraging.
“What other way is there?” she asked after too long of a pause. And either she was daring him to tell her all the ways in which he wanted to boss her around or she was genuinely clueless.
He might hope for the former, but he’d be a fool to ignore the possibility of the latter. “That’s what I’m trying to figure out. You’re
the one who said it.”
She shook her head and went back to studying the floor between her feet, paying no attention as he got out the mop and began to clean the floor.
“If you’re not going to let me work,” she said, finally breaking her silence, “then I don’t know what I’m doing here. You should let me leave early.”
“C’mon, Luke. Why not, huh? I could go home now.”
“Or you could sit there and do as you’re told,” he replied, striving for a firm, matter-of-fact tone, even as he picked up his pace, mopping the floor in record time, anxious to avoid a direct confrontation this early in the game. Things were getting interesting. But no good would come of rushing things between them. He didn’t want to push her too hard or too fast and risk having her shut him out again.