The hand that lands on my butt is merciless. But I like it. And I want more. “Again,” I say, breathless from anticipation. The hand gives me seven more smacks, alternating between left and right. After each spank, the hand will rub my butt in circles, giving it tender loving care. Then, it will resume spanking at random, surprising me each time. “Ms Pink . . .” Right now, Ms Pink’s hand is soothing my butt and I can’t get enough of it. I want more. More.
“You’re enjoying this too much.”
“I’ve missed this.”
“You’re getting greedy.”
“Yes, so sue me. Sue me for wanting more of you after missing you for sixty days.”
Ms Pink leans over my body and her chin catches on my shoulder. “Are you supposed to talk to me like this?”
“I’m not your claim anymore.”
“You’re not my claim anymore,” Ms Pink’s lips curl into a smile on my cheek, “but you’re mine.”
I want Ms Pink’s assuring touch on me so much that it hurts and I don’t ever want to go through the pain again. “Don’t ever leave me again.”
“I have no plans to leave you. The only way for us to separate is if you choose to leave me.”
Ms Pink is no longer holding my arms behind me so I am able to push my body off the desk and turn to face her. “I will never choose to leave you.”
“You don’t know that.”
“I will never leave you of my own free will.”
“We shall see.”
Putting my hands on my hips, I glare at Ms Pink. “Why don’t you believe me?”
“I’ve been around too long to believe in ‘never’.”
“You don’t believe I’ll choose you over everything else?”
“What if leaving me will lead to greater good?”
“How would leaving you lead to greater good in the first place?”
“What if leaving me will resolve conflict that threatens to wreck the peace?”
I get the feeling that things aren’t as hypothetical as Ms Pink’s question. “Is this a decision that I’ll have to make one day?”
“It might get to that.”
I am silent for a moment as my mind takes time to think. I’ve always thought that there’s more to the sixty-day break Ms Pink took from me. Surely it isn’t simply a matter of making sure we really love each other. And there must be more to the ‘unclaiming’ than Ms Pink has revealed. But based on past experiences, Ms Pink isn’t going to tell me anything that she doesn’t want to.
“You’re not probably not going to tell me anything but I’ll ask anyway. What is the real reason for our sixty-day break?”
“I told you the reason.”
“Yes, you did. But is it the entire reason?”
“You don’t need to know everything.”
I take the indirect admission in my stride. While it bothers me to be kept in the dark about many things, I understand that Ms Pink has her reasons. And whatever she wishes to keep secret will be secret. Now, if this were a purely human relationship, I would probably be more upset. But my partner is not human. She’s not even an ordinary supernatural being. She’s the freaking vampire princess for goodness sake, and this throws off the entire balance in our relationship.
Yet something has changed between us since Ms Pink’s return. Something isn’t quite the same. I feel . . . freer. And Ms Pink has allowed me to take more liberties with her than before.
“Try on the clothes and tell Seo what you want.”
“I don’t suppose you built a changing room in here during the sixty days . . .?”
Ms Pink sends me a steely stare.
Okay. So some things haven’t changed. But I am no longer the cowed girl who shook and tried to cover herself while changing her clothes. I am now sexually liberalized and totally ready to strip down to nothing in front of Ms Pink. In fact, I’ll even throw in a slow dance for free.
“What are you doing.”
“Er . . . swaying my hips . . .?”
“You don’t have to do that.”
“But I want to.”
“Are you distracted?” I ask with a grin. When Ms Pink sends another cold glare my way, I walk towards her, drawing a curve with my hips. A bra strap slips off my shoulder. Perfect. “Am I distracting you?”
“Taeyeon.” Ms Pink’s tone is threatening but it doesn’t deter me.
“Yes . . .?”
“You look ridiculous.”
I freeze in mid-sway. “You’re no fun at all,” I say in a huff and march back to the rack of clothes that I’m supposed to try.
“You’re wasting Seo’s time. Stay focused.”
I want to say Seo has plenty of time since she’s a vampire like Ms Pink but I keep the thought to myself. I suppose losing our telepathy has its perks after all.
“I need to talk to you about my expectations. We’ll talk after dinner.”
Feeling like a child who is being reprimanded for wrong-doing, I stifle my urge to retort something snarky. Piling on the ‘bad behaviour’ isn’t going to change anything right now so I will stick to the task and get my wardrobe change in order. Everything else will be worked out during the talk.
“Is there anything else you would like to try?”
Ms Pink had left the office earlier, leaving Seo with me. I shake my head. “This is more than enough.” Running my fingers across the black leather jacket, I fiddle with the blue and pink zip and say, “Ms Pink’s designs seem to have more colours now.”
Seo nods. “You noticed the change. The fashion world is buzzing about it ever since Ms Pink launched an additional line for her collection last month.”
“I don’t really follow fashion news,” I have to admit, embarrassed that I didn’t pay more attention to Ms Pink’s business.
“I see. But do you know what sparked the change in her designs?”
“Er, she got inspired by something?”
“You. She got inspired by you.”
“There has been an increase in blue in her designs. And the change came about after she designed the blue dress for you. There would have been more press about the blue dress you wore to the fashion show but Ms Pink had it all hushed up.”
“I had no idea . . .”
“That’s Ms Pink. That’s who she is.”
I stare at Seo as she folds the clothes and packs them into pink paper bags. How does Ms Pink manage to surprise me time after time? Just when I think I know the depth of her feelings, she will prove that there is more to be discovered. What about my feelings? Do I love her as much as she loves me?
Most of my classes have ended, save for one, so there is plenty of free time for me to spend. But Ms Pink seems to be busier than ever. She sweeps back into the office and sits at her desk, making a number of phone calls. Meanwhile, I am seated on the couch, surrounded by resumes and job ads. But it seems a little pointless for me to do my work here when I could be at home, comfortable and relaxed.
“Ms Pink, why am I still here?”
“Where else do you have to be?” Ms Pink replies without looking up for as much as a second.
“Nowhere . . . but I’d rather be home.”
“It’s safer here.”
“Am I in danger again?”
“Does that vanguard look like a puppy to you?”
My back straightens to attention at the reminder. “But you killed the vanguard.”
“Am I wrong?”
Ms Pink rises from her pink leather chair and hands me a tablet. “Read.”
Black bushy brows and soulless black eyes stare back at me. Just looking at the picture is enough to give me the chills so this is one person I would rather avoid. According to the report Bushy Brows is called Qas Sogok and is one of the leading candidates for Parliament.
“Are they replacing someone?”
“Two. After Olympiasgate, chaos rained down on all of us. Fear is the sole reason why the Sovereign remains as it is, with Yuri replacing Olympias. But the Parliament works in a different way and two members were removed.”
“Removed?” A dark cloud hangs over me as I mutter the ominous word. “As in . . . killed?”
“But how will their deaths be explained?”
Ms Pink does not even bat her eyelids as she replies, “Nobody needs to know.”
“But won’t questions be asked?”
“Accidents. No foul play. No questions.”
I shudder. This business that Ms Pink is in sounds heinous.
“Exactly why I choose to stay out of it,” Ms Pink adds, as though answering my thoughts.
“So why are you telling me about Bushy Brows?”
“He is in the oil business. His wealth is immense enough to keep a few Sovereigns and Feds in his pocket.”
“But he’s human.”
“Why would any supernatural being take orders from a human?”
“When it suits their purpose.”
I shudder again. The more I hear, the more I fear. “Are you telling me all these because it has something to do with the vanguard that came for me?”
“Finally. You see the light.”
“Bushy Brows wants to kill me? Why?”
“You killed one of his minions.”
“Praneso? Praneso was working for him?”
“I suspect it is so.”
“But I thought Praneso wanted to kill us because of the ‘Persona’ reveal. Wasn’t that what he told us?”
“Chain reaction. Your involvement in his death put you in the crosshairs.”
“But nothing happened during the sixty days. Wouldn’t it have been easier for him to kill me then?”
“The Federation guaranteed your survival for sixty days when Miras made the recommendation. It wouldn’t look good on them if you died during that time.”
My mind is overwhelmed once again. “This is a complicated web of deceit and lies and corruption and—”
“You’ll be safe with me.”
Standing with the tablet, I hug Ms Pink. “And I’ll walk through fire for you.”
Hands pat and rub my back. “You already have.”
“That’s nothing, compared to what you have done for me.”
“You don’t have to compare.”
Loving Ms Pink more than ever, I press my cheek on her shoulder and close my eyes. Ms Pink is all I want. Ms Pink is all I need.
We get through the rest of the working day, focused on our work. Ms Pink on her business and other areas of concern and me, on my very last assignment. The weather is changing but it takes a particularly biting gust of cold wind to make me notice. I wrap my new PINK jacket around to keep out the cold and stay close to Ms Pink until we get to her car.
“Why are you driving your sister’s car and staying in her apartment?” I ask once we are buckled in.
“A pink car is too conspicuous.”
This does not sound good to me at all. “What about your castle?”
“I am having it checked.”
“You don’t need to know.”
I really don’t know hearing this. “But I want to know.”
“We’ll talk about it some other time.”
Ever so often, I am reminded that I am seeing a princess. Her haughty, high and mighty attitude is unlikely to go away and ‘you don’t need to know’ is a phrase that I am likely to hear more often than I would like. But I won’t give up. I will ask Ms Pink again and again. I will persevere.
We arrive at the apartment as light gives way to darkness and the orange lights in Summer’s apartment cast a cosy glow over the interior. After putting our coats and jackets away, I take a walk round the living space before planting myself on the couch.
“Where are we going to move to after your sister comes back from her holiday?”
“My castle will be ready by then.”
Ms Pink smiles as she walks to me and leans down to join our lips. It is a thorough kiss and it saps all my breath from my lungs. When she finally pulls back, I am a lost cause and panting for more. “But before that, I want to have sex on Summer’s bed many more times first.”
Ms Pink’s words flip a switch on my libido and I am all ready to add one more time to the record when Ms Pink steps back and says, “Dinner is ready.” Damn it, Ms Pink! I have a feeling I am being played right now but I get up and follow Ms Pink to the dining area anyway. The dominance of black in the furniture is a far cry from the colours I am used to at Ms Pink’s castle and I find it interesting that her sister would choose relatively darker colours for her home.
Dinner is a sumptuous affair. Grilled fish, steamed vegetables and omelette rice.
“Who cooked this?”
“I hired a caretaker. She will cook dinner every day.”
“Can’t we have dinner out?”
There it is again. Ms Pink’s final say. “Not even one dinner?”
“Are things really that bad?”
“You are not my claim anymore.”
The dots finally connect. “So I am down one layer of protection?”
Ms Pink lifts a single brow as she chews on a slice of jelly (made of blood, of course) and doesn’t even entertain me with a reply.
I can only sigh. It looks like I’m stuck to Ms Pink until this whole episode blows over. I am about to be resigned to the fact when another thought strikes me: What about my job?
“How long will this last?”
“This ‘stuck to your side’ thing.”
“You will stay with me until you are safe.”
“But I have interviews to go to. And what if I get a job?”
“You won’t start working until next year.”
“Next year? But what am I going to do after graduating if I don’t work?”
“You don’t have to work. I’m rich enough for you.”
“It’s not about money,” I say, with exasperation on the rise. “What do you expect me to do all day long if I don’t have a job?”
“I already offered you a job.”
“But I don’t want to work in your company.”
Ms Pink stops chewing for a tense moment and glares at me. “You don’t have a choice.”
In this moment, I realize that I have to put my foot down. “I don’t want to join your company. You can spank me again but I won’t change my mind.”
“I have no qualms chaining you up in my office if you choose to be stubborn.”
“Stubborn? It is my right to get a job of my choice.”
“Your human right would apply if you were an ordinary human.”
“Are you saying I don’t have my basic human rights?”
Fuming by this point, I throw my fork and knife down and stomp away from the dining area into the bedroom.
“Come back, Taeyeon.”
I can tell by the tone Ms Pink is using that she is not happy with me now. But my own pride and anger does not allow me to back down. No. I will stand firmly by my decisions regardless of how dangerous things may be for me. I will not back down, no matter the threats Ms Pink is going to throw at me. She can spank me, whip me even, but I will not budge. I will not. With that thought, I slam the door shut and lock it.
“Open the door.”
“No. I am exercising my basic human right to reject your request.”
“Open. The. Door.”
“Now do you know how it feels when you tell me I can’t choose my own job?”
“Step away from the door.”
Ms Pink sounds positively menacing so I back away, unsure about her intent. Then I hear the lock twisting, a sickening crunching sound, and the door opens. Ms Pink’s eyes are glowing deep pink and I know I am in trouble. But instead of fear, a burst of strength surges within me. I can feel it. Like a wall rising from within. And I take a step forward, despite Ms Pink’s intimidating expression.
“I’m not giving in.”
Ms Pink takes two steps towards me and tries to take a third but her eyes widen and her face contorts as she bends over.
Concerned, I take wide strides to her. “Ms Pink!”
“Stop!” Ms Pink inches back, still crouched on the floor. “Don’t come nearer.”
“You’re hurting me.”
To say I am shocked would be an understatement. “What?”
“Your energy . . . is too strong.”
Unbidden, my hands lift to my face and I look at them and down at my body. “My energy . . . the Erika?”
“Yes,” Ms Pink says with a groan as she tries to stand. She looks paler than before as she leans against the padded wall. “Where did that come from?”
“I-I don’t know . . .”
“Looks like we’ll have to see Helene sooner than I thought.”
“Helene? Why do we have to see her?” I am not sure Ms Pink is thinking straight right now.
“She knows more about the Erika than me and she’s the only one I would trust right now.”
This sounds reasonable though I’d rather not see Helene if it’s not absolutely necessary. However, looking at the way Ms Pink almost collapsed in front of me, I think it is.