Ultimatum, page 1
1. The Decision
6. Forbidden Release
Copyright © 2012 Gemma James
All rights reserved.
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Cover images used under license from www.bigstockphoto.com
Cover design by Gemma James
NOTE TO READERS: ULTIMATUM is a novelette with a BDSM edge and contains material that is only suitable for adult readers. If dark and edgy erotic fiction isn’t your kind of read, you might not enjoy this story. Part one of a three-part series. Approximately 12,000 words.
SUMMARY: Kayla Sutton faces a question no mother wants to face: what would you do to save your daughter? Broke and desperate, she siphons thousands from the company she works for in order to pay for her daughter’s experimental life-saving treatment. But when Gage Channing discovers her theft, she is shocked to learn that her domineering boss has no intention of turning her over to the police. Instead he issues an ultimatum—submit to him, or go to jail.
Backed into a corner, Kayla signs his contract and spends her first weekend at his home, at his mercy, and is stunned when he awakens the desire she’d believed long dead.
1. THE DECISION
“You wanted to see me?”
“Yes, shut the door, Kayla.”
His tone issued a warning that echoed in my ears, and I almost jumped as the door clicked shut. As usual, his presence caused an unsettling tickle in my stomach. Gage Channing left no room for mistakes or excuses—every single one of his employees displayed their best behavior, or else. I shuddered to think of the woman he’d fired last week; she’d scurried from the building as mascara tracked down her cheeks.
“Sit down.” He gestured to the leather chair in front of his desk.
I sat, crossed my legs, and forced myself to meet his gaze. He had a way of piercing people with his eyes—they were startling, the kind of blue that dolphins played in. I got the feeling he saw right through me, as if he’d known what I’d been doing and had bided his time until the perfect moment presented itself to pounce. Was that moment now?
He slapped a folder on the desk. “Do you know what’s in here?”
“N-no, Mr. Channing.”
“I’m disappointed, Ms. Sutton.”
My heartbeat tumbled twice, then sped up. He rarely addressed me so formally, a fact which caused a fair amount of gossip in the office. Some speculated the boss had a thing for me, others went so far as to claim we were screwing like rabbits after hours. “I’m sorry, I’m not sure what you’re getting at.” Liar! He’d found me out; I was sure of it.
“I’m referring to the ten grand you stole from Channing Enterprises.” He opened the folder and pushed the evidence in front of me. Account statements. Ledgers.
Oh, God . . .
“I trusted you, Kayla. I even promoted you to personal assistant, and this is how you repay me?”
“I was desperate.” I swallowed hard as the reality of my situation threatened to choke me. He’d have me thrown in jail, and Eve . . . Eve would die without me by her side. “My daughter is sick. I needed money . . . please, I’ll pay you back. Every penny. Just—” I lifted my head and faced his granite expression “—don’t turn me in.”
If he was affected by my plea, he didn’t show it. “I don’t plan to alert the authorities.” He snapped the incriminating file shut. “But you’re correct when you say you’ll pay me back.” He steepled his fingers and rested his chin on them. “There is something I want. I’ve had a contract drawn up outlining my terms, and if you want my silence—and the evidence destroyed—you’ll sign it.”
“What do you want from me?” My voice quivered, and when he flashed a devilish grin, I gripped the chair to keep from bolting.
Gage got up and rounded the desk. His body overshadowed mine as he knelt beside me. A line of stubble darkened his jaw, giving him an undeniable hint of danger. “I want you as my slave.”
“Your slave?” My jaw dropped. Did I even want to know what that meant?
“Hmm, yes. My slave.” He lowered his gaze to my mouth, then lingered on my breasts; his inspection burned a hole through my blouse. In response, my nipples tightened underneath the silk. “Surely you’ve heard of BDSM,” he added.
I screwed my mouth shut. I didn’t like where this conversation was going at all.
“Bondage, discipline,” he said, inching closer, “punishment.” The last word he savored, as if fine wine dampened his lips. “I’d say you’ve earned quite a bit. Wouldn’t you agree?”
“I can pay you back,” I said. “It’ll take time, but I’ll get the money.”
“I don’t want your money.” Warm and minty breath breezed across my lips, inviting my mouth to mate with his. I edged away and clung to the side of the chair.
“I want your submission,” he continued, “absolute ownership of you and your body. That’s what I want.”
I worked my jaw, searched for the words to express my disbelief, but only ended up staring at him in stunned silence. The man could have any woman he wanted, and all it would take was a crook of his executive finger. “Why are you doing this?”
His face darkened. “I have my reasons.”
“You’re crazy if you think I’ll agree to this.”
“You’re too gorgeous to waste away in prison.” He placed a hand on my leg, right above my knee. I tensed, afraid to move, afraid he’d push his possession further if I resisted. “You know—” he gently slid his palm upwards “—the penalty for embezzlement in Oregon is up to five years.”
My breath hitched as he grazed the skin underneath the hem of my skirt. “Don’t.”
He raised an eyebrow. “No?” Gage reached for the phone. “Are you sure?”
The futility of my situation spilled from my eyes. Upset with myself for displaying weakness, I wiped the tears from my cheeks. “Don’t call.”
As if I’d given him permission, he uncrossed my legs and wedged them apart. “I love natural redheads.” He slipped his fingers under the edge of my panties, smoothed them over my crotch. “Are you just as red here?” he asked, grabbing a pinch of hair.
With a nod, I closed my eyes. My entire body tingled, and not in a good way. I couldn’t believe my boss was doing this to me. In his office in the middle of a workday.
“I’m tempted to leave you natural, at least for a while. I want to see you first.”
My face burned with humiliation, and it took everything I had to keep my legs apart. I balled my hands until my fingernails bit into skin. “This is sexual harassment, you bastard. It’s illegal, and so is blackmail.”
He withdrew his hand, and by the time I looked up, Gage had reclaimed his seat. “Don’t think of it as blackmail. Think of it as an alternative to prison. I’d much rather punish you myself.” He opened another folder and slid the contents across the desk. “You either submit to me or go to jail. Either way, the decision is yours.”
With unsteady fingers, I fiddled with the paperwork, but couldn’t bring myself to read his demands. “What exactly do you have in mind?”
“Let’s start with the basics.” He gestured toward the contract. “You’ll be my submissive for the next six weeks, beginning immediately upon your signature. I prefer a live-in arrangement on the weekends. During the week I expect you to follow my rules.” He leaned back in his chair
“What about Eve? I spend most of my time at the hospital.”
“I’m aware of that, and I don’t have an issue with you seeing her, but the weekends belong to me, understand?”
If I could shoot daggers with a single glance, he’d feel my pain. “What else?” I tossed the contract down and crossed my arms.
“I expect absolute obedience.” The corner of his mouth curled. “I won’t hesitate to punish you when necessary. Of course, you’ll choose a safe word.” He frowned, as if the idea didn’t please him. “However, should you decide to use it, our contract will become null and void, and I’ll turn you over to the police. If you speak with anyone about this, the same stipulation applies.”
Tears of desolation dripped down my cheeks, and I no longer cared about hiding them. His ultimatum terrified me. I wasn’t a stranger to abuse, but being someone’s slave—in every sense of the word—was a terrifying concept. “Eve will wonder where I am on the weekends.”
“She’ll benefit from our agreement. I’m allowing you to keep the money, which in turn ensures she gets the treatment she needs. I understand it’s experimental, and that you don’t have the luxury of time.”
I narrowed my eyes. “How did you know about that?” I hadn’t talked to anyone about Eve’s treatment. It was too painful a subject, and the last thing I wanted was platitudes thrown in my face. The insurance had refused to cover it, and Eve was out of options.
“I have my sources.” He leaned forward with a smirk. “I have vested interest in you, Kayla—ten thousand dollars worth. You’re desperate, and I know you’ll give me what I want because even though I’m giving you a choice, your love for your daughter won’t.”
“There’s a hole in your logic. Even with the ten grand, I’m still short.”
“You underestimate me. I’ll pay for her medical bills in full. She’ll be taken care of.”
The bastard had me, and he knew it. “What will you do to me?”
“It’s all there in the contract . . . but to put it succinctly—” he leaned forward with a glimmer of excitement in the depths of his eyes “—whatever I damn please.”
I forced my attention onto the papers. Certain words and phrases popped out: Flogging. Bondage. Nipple torture. Anal play. I stared at him, slack-jawed. “You’d hurt me like this?”
“Yes,” he lowered his voice, and something about his deep timbre shot through me, “but there’s a flimsy line between pain and pleasure.”
“I think I’m gonna be sick.”
“Decide now. I’m growing impatient.”
“Please, Gage. Don’t make me do this. Please, I’ll—“
“You’ll save your begging for later, preferably while on your knees.” He held out a pen. “But either way, decide.”
I glared at him. “Do I have a choice?”
“Of course, just as you have the option of backing out of our agreement whenever you wish.” He tapped the pen against the desktop. “That’s the beauty of this. The choice is yours.”
“But if I don’t agree, you’ll turn me in and Eve won’t get her treatment.”
“That doesn’t sound like much of a choice. That sounds like coercion.”
“I want you, and I’m willing to cross a line to get what I want. Just as you did to save your daughter’s life.”
I snatched the pen from his hand and stabbed the paper with my signature, essentially signing over my soul to the devil incarnate. I’d only experienced this kind of claustrophobic captivity one other time in my life, and it was a time capsule of hell I’d buried deep in my memory. Would Gage unearth it?
“Excellent.” He grabbed the contract and enclosed it in a safe. “And since today is Friday—” he scribbled something on a piece of paper “—here’s my address. Go to BodyScape Spa first and ask for Glenda. I’ll call ahead and make arrangements.”
I moved toward the door, my steps heavy, as if he’d already shackled my ankles.
“Oh, and Kayla?”
I stiffened at the sound of his voice. “Yes?”
“I want you on my doorstep wearing nothing but a trench coat in two hours.”
He was insane if he thought I was going to do that.
I gagged for what seemed like the tenth time and heaved more of my lunch into the toilet. I’d probably never eat chow mein again. Getting to my feet, I braced against the stall and closed my eyes. Gage was all I thought about. Nothing else penetrated past the haze in my mind. I tried to imagine him touching me . . . doing more than touching me, but my stomach rolled again at the thought.
I stumbled out of the stall, still shaking, but at least I’d stopped vomiting. Katherine, the receptionist, quirked an eyebrow as she reapplied her lipstick. “Let me guess, knocked up?”
“Bad food at lunch today.” Refusing to rise to her bait, I joined her at the sink and calmly washed my hands. Katherine was one of those preppy girls, the kind who never had a hair out of place and wouldn’t be caught in a morgue wearing anything other than a designer label. She also didn’t hesitate to bare her claws if she thought someone was poaching on her turf. In her ice-blue eyes, Gage Channing was off-limits to everyone but herself.
Why couldn’t he have chosen her to torment and terrorize?
I left the restroom, praying she wouldn’t feed the office grapevine with stories of a pregnancy, and got stuck in rush-hour traffic on my way to BodyScape Spa, which proved to be a more humiliating experience than I imagined. Maybe it was because of Glenda’s familiarity with “Mr. Channing’s preferences,” but I couldn’t help but speculate on the number of women he’d sent there. Had there been others like me? Women he’d coerced and blackmailed? Or had they gone willingly? Gage was exceptionally attractive, and he was wealthy and successful to boot. A formidable package for sure, rolled into six feet of toned body, a head full of black hair, and a striking gaze that had the ability to pin you to the wall. I wasn’t immune to how easy on the eyes my boss was.
For the past three years, I’d been immune to men period, and I’d certainly never entertained the idea of going to bed with my employer. It weirded me out to realize he’d been waiting for the perfect moment to ensnare me—to subject me to his twisted brand of sexual games.
“This’ll hurt,” Glenda warned. She ripped the wax off my leg like a Band-Aid. I bit my lip to keep from groaning. I should be grateful it wasn’t my bikini area. Gage had given Glenda instructions to leave me natural, but trimmed, down there.
The rest of the appointment went by much like the past hour had—in a daze. By the time I unlocked my car, night had fallen, and my nerves had multiplied. I wasn’t ready for this. I didn’t think twice about driving to the Hospital. I’d be late due to the detour, but I wasn’t about to disappear on Eve without saying goodbye. Two days was a long time to someone so young.
Downtown Portland reflected a glittering skyline on the Willamette River, and Christmas lights lit up Pill Hill—which was home to the hospital. The temperature had dropped, and I was still rubbing my hands together when I arrived on Eve’s floor.
“Good evening, Kayla,” the nightshift nurse said, “Eve’s been asking for you.”
Guilt clawed at my gut. How could I expect my baby to understand? “Thanks, Mel.” I headed to Eve’s room, and her tiny face lit up the instant she saw me. Every day she grew paler, smaller—the hospital bed nearly swallowed her whole—but her eyes still sparkled with innocence.
“Mama! Look what I color?” Eve proudly displayed her scribbled doodle.
“You drew this? You’re so talented.” I pulled her into a tight hug and held on a little longer than I normally would. The thought of being away for two days broke my heart. God, I was going to miss her. I blinked back tears and tucked her into bed. She jabbered on for a
“Eve,” I began gently, “I’ve gotta go away—”
My breath stalled at the sound of his voice. Time had done nothing to erase it from my mind. I slowly turned. He stood in the doorway, a stethoscope dangling from his neck. God, he was a doctor now. Last I’d seen him, he’d been on the verge of entering medical school.
Last I’d seen him, I’d broken both of our hearts.
“Ian . . . it’s been a long time.” What kind of idiotic response was that? Seven years, and that was all I could come up with?
His hazel gaze darted to Eve, and I didn’t have to guess at the confusion on his face. Seven years ago I’d been pregnant; Eve was three. “And apparently a lot has happened since.” He brought a hand up and fiddled with the pen in his shirt pocket, and his eyes drifted to my left hand. Sometimes I still felt the phantom weight of my wedding band.
“You work here now?” I asked before he could ask the questions I saw in his eyes—the ones I didn’t want to answer.
“Just transferred from Salem.” He stepped inside and closed the door. “I heard your daughter was here. I wanted to come by and see you. See if I could do anything to help.” He opened his mouth, then snapped it shut. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have intruded like this.”
“It’s okay, you’re not.”
He moved to Eve’s bedside; she’d settled into a light doze. “Leukemia?”
I wrapped my arms around myself and nodded.
“What phase is she?”
“Acute. She stopped responding to chemo.”
“Jesus, Kayla.” He ran a hand through his short hair; it was lighter than I remembered. “I’m sorry.”
“We’re not giving up.” I lost count of how many times I recited the phrase daily.
Ian was about to say more when my cell vibrated in my pocket. I pulled it out, and upon recognizing Gage’s number, willed my face into a neutral mask. “I’m sorry, I have to go. I . . . I have a business trip this weekend. I tried getting out of it.” I nibbled on my lip and looked at Eve. “I hate leaving her.”
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