Emma looked down at her newfound friend and finally began to relax a bit as she stroked the cat behind its ears. The cat had been the first to welcome her to the village. After getting used to the warm hospitality of Ireland, she was rather taken aback by the “spend your money then get off our island” attitude that pervaded the local population here. They never said it, of course, but were quick and abrupt with any services rendered and slow to be engaged in casual conversation. She may not have noticed if she had been traveling with a group of friends, or even just with one companion, but as it was she felt very alone. She had been wondering why she had decided to come here at all, thinking wistfully of her desk back at the office. At work, she had a purpose and provided a clear benefit to her colleagues. She felt worthwhile there and wished that she hadn’t left, not that she had much of a choice in the matter.
She remembered the mixture of humor and frustration with which her boss had explained the company’s policy on something called “comp time.” She had managed to dodge the system for her first two years since joining the company right out of college. Her extra effort had been recognized, and had landed her with a coveted international assignment despite her limited experience.
No one in her home office seemed to care how much time she spent at work, but she quickly discovered that her Irish superiors took a different attitude when it came to her lack of a work/life balance. She didn’t mind; she loved her job and found it invigorating. Her boss was grateful for this, presenting her an award for special services to the company. Most of the time these awards were simply treated as bonuses. In her case it was slightly different. Instead of a check, she was handed a round trip plane ticket to a sunny Mediterranean island and a voucher for a room at a luxury resort. Suddenly her boss’s questions about her dream vacation spot while waiting for straggling attendees at last month’s staff meeting didn’t seem quite so random. Had she known he was planning something like this, she may have given a bit more thought to her answer, or, more likely, would have tried to talk him out of it.
And so she found herself packed off for three weeks, practically shoved onto the plane by grinning colleagues. She had basked in the sun on the stony beaches for a few days, but the novelty wore off quickly as a deep loneliness set in.
The cat had helped. She had been sitting outside her hotel watching the sunset alone, as she always was here. The cat had approached her tentatively, taking several minutes to cross the few feet of railing that had separated them. She had been worried at first. Not an animal lover, she was never quite sure how to tell if one wanted to play or to fight. It was neither, in this case, becoming clear when the cat placed its front paws gently on her crossed legs and rubbed its face against her arm before settling in her lap.
She visited him ever day since then. He had been her only real friend here. Until she met Nick.
Nick had approached her much like the cat had. He was staying at a hotel down the coast, and explained that he had noticed her daily ritual of sitting on the front stoop with the cat. “Surely you must have more exotic plans for your time here,” he had suggested with a slight twinkle in his eye.
She gave a simple noncommittal shrug of an answer at first, but he was gently persistent until the whole story of her trip poured out. Although a bit taken aback by his interest, relief at the chance to have a legitimate conversation with another human being for the first time in nearly a week helped her words flow. Still, she blushed a little as she explained her reluctance and boss’s instance that she take this holiday. It had seemed like a perfectly logical argument in the harsh fluorescent lighting of the office, but here as the sun set over the beach it all seemed rather ridiculous.
He chuckled at her story. “Why don’t you join me for dinner and we can talk more. That is unless you already have plans with your friend here?”
She was puzzled for a moment before realizing he was referring to the cat. “Oh no,” she replied good-naturedly. “We go way back, but we’ve found we have very different tastes when it comes to food and it’s therefore better if we eat separately.”
Dinner was pleasant, and the conversation was lovely despite the unlikely couple they made. He was thirty five, a writer and a fellow expat living in Dublin who was staying here for a few weeks looking for inspiration. As a twenty-three year old classically trained scientist, she wasn’t expecting they would have much in common. Nevertheless, as the wine flowed she talked more and more freely, marveling afterward that she had opened up to him so quickly.
He had offered to walk her back to her hotel, but she had shrugged off his chivalry, insisting that she was quite capable of getting herself back until he eventually bid her goodnight and let her go on her own independent way.
Half an hour later, she was beginning to regret her decision. The island wasn’t that big. She should have been back by now, she thought as she walked along the dimly lit street wondering where she went wrong. She missed her phone, which of course had long ago run out of charge. How did people survive before GPS? She would have been thankful for even an old-fashioned folded map at this point, but the trip had been too hastily planned to allow for procurement of such things. She had assumed the place would be small enough for her to find her own way around. She could have meandered back to the coastal road and hailed a cab, but that felt like cheating. She had gotten herself into this mess, and would darn well get herself out of it. Besides, it wasn’t as though she was in a particularly rough neighborhood, she reasoned, thinking back to a certain night she wound up in the wrong part of New York at 3am. In comparison, there was nothing to be worried about here, she told herself in an attempt to stem the growing panic.
The tap on her shoulder nearly made her jump out of her skin. Spinning around to face her attacker, she found only Nick, grinning ear to ear at some joke she couldn’t possibly understand.
“What are you doing here?” she shrieked indignantly.
“Creepily stalking,” he replied with a smirk, “or helping, take your pick. I wanted to be sure you made it home, and it looks like you may be in need of some assistance. Unless you changed hotels since this afternoon?”
“I don’t need your help,” she spat, shoving him forcefully before running away. She didn’t run far though, and he easily caught up before she had gone more than a few hundred yards. He walked along side her a while longer before cautiously taking her hand. She huffed audibly, but made no attempt to escape from his gentle grip as they continued to walk down the darkening street.
“You so sure about that?” he asked.
“Yes. I’ve managed on my own for the last five years, thank you. I can handle myself.”
“I don’t doubt that. It might help, though, if you could learn to rely on someone else every once in a while. It can make things much more pleasant,” he said encouragingly as he caressed the back of her hand with his thumb.
She said nothing but slowed slightly.
“If you won’t accept my help, at least let me keep you company on the way back. Could be a long walk.” She only rolled her eyes in reply, the intent of gesture clearly visible even in the darkness, but still did nothing to free her hand.
They walked on in silence until the reached the top of the nearby hill. Emma’s plan had been to use the vantage point to reorient herself. She scanned the skyline but was quickly distracted by the sight of millions of stars above them.
“You don’t get out of the city much, do you?” he asked, noticing that her attention had been drawn upwards.
“I guess not,” she replied. “I grew up in a rural area in Michigan, but I guess I took this kind of thing for granted. After going to school in New York, then living in Boston, then Dublin, I haven’t seen this many stars in years.”
He settled on a low wall along the road and drew her down next to him. Nestled in his arms and staring out at the wonders of the universe, she was pervaded with a deep sense of peace. She could have stayed there all night, but sooner than she would have liked the chill began to seep in, making her shiver.
“Ready to admit that you’re lost? I can take you back, though there will be a price,” he offered, rubbing her arms in an attempt to generate a bit of heat.
“More or less than the price for a cab?” she tried to sound offended, but failed miserably.
“Hard to say.” He chuckled before his tone turned more serious. “I wasn’t thinking of anything financial, just a price more fitting for a stubborn brat who refuses generous offers of help. My services were free of charge when we left the restaurant, possibly even when I first attracted your attention later, but now you’ve racked up quite the bill.”
His words triggered something within her, something visceral. She didn’t quite know what he may be referring to, but found herself unable to decline. “I guess I’ll risk it,” she accepted.
The walk back to her hotel was quicker than she would have guessed. The brisk pace and comfort of his arm around her shoulders kept her warm. Outside the building, she attempted to say good night, but he held her firmly.
“Not quite yet. I don’t want to risk your getting lost again. You’ve demonstrated remarkable abilities in that department, and you have several more yards to go before making it to your room. Also, don’t forget, you still have a price to pay.” She marveled at how he could seem both light and menacing at the same time.
Her witty reply died in her throat, and instead she simply turned and lead him up to her room. Inside it was almost stifling from the heat of the day that had not yet dissipated from the enclosed space, but at least it served as a pleasant contrast to the cool night. Between the heat and the sight of he bed, she was overcome with exhaustion. She made her way over to crack open the window. Her breath caught as she turned back to the bed. Nick was seated at the foot and looking at her intently. “Get over here,” he instructed softly, though his expression told her this wasn’t heading in a direction that would be pleasant for her.
As she approached him, he grasped her arm and tipped her over to lay over his lap. Her surprise at this was intensified as he lifted up the hem of her skirt and rested his hand on her panty clad bottom.
“I warned you that there would be a price. Are you prepare to settle up?” he asked.
Her mouth gaped open, but no reply came out. He waited a few moments before slapping her firmly. “Answer me,” he grunted.
“I guess,” she mumbled, startled and enamored by the authority in his voice.
He slapped her again, much harder, and she heard herself shriek. “What was that?” he asked gruffly.
“That hurt!” she whined.
“It was supposed to. Now, I believe I asked if you were prepared to settle up and take your punishment, and I want more than a mumble in return. Care to try that answer again?” he asked, spanking her again to speed her response along.
“Yes,” she replied meekly.
She felt her panties dragged down below her bottom. She gasped and tried to squirm away, but it only made his job easier. He tightened his grasp around her hips to hold her in place as he dragged the garment down to her knees. She wanted to protest, but before she coud firm the words he returned his attention to building the sting in her bottom. He continued the punishment for several minutes, pausing only briefly to adjust her position after a few moderately effective squirms, seemingly unaffected by her slight gasps and moans. By the time he had finished, her resistance had vanished and she was sniffling into the comforter. He shifted her up to a hug and held her until her tears stopped.
“I trust you’ve learned a thing or two tonight about accepting help? And I mean accepting help before you make things difficult for yourself and those around you,” he prodded gently. She said nothing, but her contented sigh told him all he needed to know. “You don’t always need to keep people at arms length. You are capable of taking care of yourself, but that doesn’t mean that you have to. Let down your guard, let someone in, you may enjoy it,” he said as he gently tucked her into bed and turned to leave.
As he approached the door, he heard her mumble something into her pillow. “What’s that?” he and asked somewhat sternly as he turned back.
“Don’t leave,” she mumbled again, scarcely more audible, as if hoping he wouldn’t hear. She kept her face turned away, embarrassed by the admission of her desire and not wanting to see his reaction. He was quiet, but she didn’t hear him open the door. She felt the bed shift as he sat down behind her, felt his hand gently brush her hair back from her face and wrap around her waist as he settled next to her. She felt the warmth of his body and listened to steady beat of his heart lull her into a deep sleep.