I was proud of myself. I was such a superb con-man that no one registered my wobbly legs when Peter talked about the stolen necklace, sparing a meaningful glance towards me. Did I mention that this particular necklace is worth one million dollars? While everyone gathered as much information as possible about said necklace, I pretended to help as much as possible. I winced when Peter came to me and whispered, "You don't happen to know anything about this, do you?"
I plastered my best megawatt-smile on my face and mustered up as much indignation as I could. "Peter, I'm hurt."
"No, you're not. But you will be hurting if I find out you had anything to do with this."
My stomach dropped to the floor and I felt myself flushing. Irritated I snarled: "Your threats are getting really annoying." Just to make a point I added, "Suit."
It wasn't the smartest thing to say if Peter's narrowed eyes were an indicator. I swallowed heavily at his next words. "Can the attitude, mister."
I inspected my perfectly polished shoes, wishing for this conversation to be over with. Very quietly I muttered, "Yes, sir."
It was the only thing I could do at that moment. It was one thing for everyone to know that Peter practically owned me but it was a completely different thing for them to know just how much control Peter had over me. Peter tapped me lightly on my shoulder and waited until I looked at him, then asked, "Neal, is there anything you'd like to tell me?"
"YES!" I thought. Oh god, I wanted to confess to him right then and there but see, last time something like this had happened, he threatened to put me over his knees in the middle of the office for everyone to see what he'd do to me. So I clamped my mouth shut. Or at least, I didn't confess. Instead I said, "No."
Peter gazed at me thoughtfully and I could already feel the first drops of sweat trickling down my spine. The urge to hop from one foot to the other to get rid of some of my pent-up tension was almost overwhelming. I kept my composure and smiled at him in my best "hey-I'm-innocent-back-off" way. Unfortunately he only frowned at me. Maybe I should try another tactic because he said conversationally, "Every time you smile at me like that there are alarm bells ringing in my head."
"You hear noises? Maybe you should see a doctor?" I grinned insouciantly. It wasn't often that I could get away with a statement like that without getting swatted. It was immensely satisfying.
My grin left when Diana entered the room and beckoned Peter over to her. They whispered to each other, all the while glancing at me. I pretended to look at some files again but their combined stares caused my hair to stand on end. Peter's face changed from curious to disbelieving to furious so fast that I closed my eyes briefly. They had found out and I was dead. Peter would out me here in the office and there was no way in hell he could keep me out of prison for this. He probably wouldn't want to keep me out of prison for this.
I told myself to keep breathing and stay calm. There was no way they could have found out. I had scouted the place thoroughly beforehand. It had been a well-planned action and all surveillance cameras had been cut off. There was nothing that could have given away my identity.
I watched Peter following Diana, wondering what they were doing behind closed doors. They were using Hughes' office, which was one of the few offices that had no glass walls. That wasn't a good sign – not at all. I gave up on concentrating on the files and headed out of the conference room to get some coffee. I had to fill the coffee-machine and when I finished this task Peter and Diana came out of Hughes' office, both looking grim.
I froze at the look on Peter's face. That was definitely his "Neal's-getting-his-backside-tanned" look. I hated that look, especially when I deserved it. I put my mug aside because my hands were shaking and really, no one needed to see the unflappable Neal Caffrey shaking. Seconds later I jumped because Peter's hands landed on my shoulders. He turned me around until I was facing him and the hard stare I received threw me into full panic mode. Which, by the way, is not a good mode for me.
"Neal, did you steal the necklace?"
Damn, a direct question! How was I supposed to obfuscate my way out of this? Indignantly I said, "I already told you that I didn't do anything. You could just pull up my tracking data, then you'd see that I was home all evening."
There were thunderclouds hovering over his head and steam was coming out of his ears in little puffs. Yeah, okay, okay, I'm being overly dramatic here but you get the picture. My stomach twisted itself into knots at this point and it was pure torture to keep up the eye-contact.
"You weren't home all evening. June mentioned that you'd been away most of it when I picked you up this morning."
SHIT! This wasn't going too well. I blurted, "June wasn't at home. She was at that jazz concert in…"
"The concert was canceled."
Oh. Too bad. I shifted my weight from one foot to the other, thinking about what to say next. Peter's next question didn't come as a surprise. "Care to explain to me why your tracking data showed that you were at home when you definitely weren't?"
Um, well, about that … "Maybe something went wrong with the anklet?" I ventured.
Peter took a deep breath and his fingers dug uncomfortably into my shoulders. "I'm asking you again, did you steal the necklace, yes or no?"
The right thing would have been to say "yes" but what escaped my mouth was a shaky, "No!"
"What? I didn't steal that damn necklace!" So there. I had done it. For the very first time I had told Peter a lie, a damn fat lie. I felt sick as soon as the lie left my mouth. I blinked against the sudden wetness in my eyes and swallowed the thick lump in my throat.
Peter's voice was dangerously low when he asked, "Then how are you going to explain that you're on a surveillance tape in all your glory?"
I gaped for a short moment then said, "That's impossible." It wasn't the most sensible thing to say which registered with me shortly after I had blurted out those words. Hastily I tried to clarify, "It's impossible because I haven't been there, Peter."
I was nothing if not a master in digging myself deeper and deeper into trouble. I couldn't pinpoint if Peter was extremely furious or extremely pissed off but for a short moment he definitely had the "you've-got-to-be-kidding-me" look. I didn't like this look on him because it usually meant that he'd want to discuss my behavior later. Well, more accurately he'd want to lecture me while he imprinted his displeasure on my butt. I was drawn out of my thoughts by Peter saying, "Neal, what is the cardinal rule for your and my relationship?"
My mouth went dry and the prickling sensation in my eyes didn't help to ease my discomfort. I croaked, "No telling lies."
"That's right. So far you obfuscated, evaded, distracted and did whatever else you could think of to avoid lying to me. This is your last chance at confessing. Did you steal the necklace?"
"No!" I snapped. I regretted having said this single word immediately.
Dryly Peter commented, "Maybe you want to explain to me why I just watched a surveillance tape together with Diana showing you stealing the damn necklace?"
"It's impossible!" I whined. It was impossible! He was … just baiting me, making me sweat to be sure that I didn't do anything wrong.
"No, it isn't. I saw you and so did Diana. You're back for a long time, Neal."
All color left my face and my vision blurred from the tears that were threatening to spill over. "I'm sorry. I really am. Kate … she called me and told me that the guy keeping her would allow her to see me if I got it and I want t-to talk to her."
I didn't understand myself. I wanted her back so desperately, yet I wanted her to leave me alone. Making up my mind would probably help a lot. This was all Peter's fault anyway. If he hadn't caught me I wouldn't have gone to prison. I wouldn't have gotten attached to him and his regular visits. I wouldn't have started to long for him and his presence and even for his damn narrow-minded ten zillion rules.
"Kate," Peter stated flatly. "Of course, who else. Neal, that girl isn't any good for you."
Defiantly I stamped my foot – not a good move, I know, thank you – and snapped, "That's not up for you to decide."
Peter inhaled sharply. "You wanted to get out of prison and we had an agreement, didn't we?"
There was only one answer to that particular tone of voice. I mumbled, "Yes."
"We don't have the time to discuss this now so just tell me if you want to go back to prison or not."
"No," I shook my head. I looked at Peter pleadingly and totally convinced that he could make a miracle happen.
"You're clear about the consequences of your stunt?"
I pressed my lips together tightly and nodded. Yes, I was completely aware of the consequences. I wasn't sure I could handle the oncoming punishment but that wasn't the question, right?
"Alright," Peter said. "I'll take care of it and you'll go home. Claim to be sick or whatever. I'll come over later and we'll discuss what happened. Oh, and Neal, I want you to hand me that necklace when I'm over. Any questions?"
I shook my head, still too shaken by everything to speak. I wished we weren't at the office because all I wanted to do was to bury my face against his chest and have him hold me tightly. It was absolutely out of the question but when he let go of me I grabbed his wrist and hoarsely asked, "What about Diana?"
"I said I'll take care of it, didn't I?"
"No but. You understood what I said. Now go and wait for me while I sort out this disaster."
"I'm sorry, Peter." I meant it with all my heart.
Said heart made a flip-flop when Peter replied, "You're always sorry, Neal. I think I have to be more creative and thorough with your punishment so that it makes a truly unforgettable impression this time."
I was suddenly chilled to the bones while at the same time feeling all hot and flushed. An unforgettable impression? Oh, I was so not interested in that! Still, there was no other option. I quickly excused myself at work and claimed to feel sick. I didn't even have to play that part – I did feel sick.
I rode the elevator down, then started walking home. The nearer I came to home the less inviting it was. Peter hadn't instructed me to go home straight away, right? I could take a longer route and … let's say, have a coffee or something like that. Yes, that was what I was going to do. Peter would be busy at the office for a while anyway so it wasn't really important where I waited for him. I'd be home on time, I assured myself.
Four hours later I was jumpy as hell from all the caffeine circulating in my veins. I was still not at home though. I knew that I should be there and that I was digging myself deeper into trouble than I already was but I just couldn't bring myself to walk in the right direction. Every time I thought about going home, Peter's words about making an unforgettable impression on me came up. I could hardly pull myself together each time, which of course led to me being angry at him. What gives him the right to punish me? I had stolen the necklace for Kate and anyway, it wasn't as if the owner didn't have enough money to buy a new one. Also, they should have protected it better. I frowned, then decided not to tell Peter about my last thoughts, he certainly wouldn't approve of them.
As I wandered down the streets, my hands deep in my pockets - to prevent anyone from seeing them shaking – a car pulled up next to me. The window on the passenger side rolled down and Diana peered at me. I swallowed and walked faster.
"Neal! Get in the car!"
I stopped and swallowed again. Petulantly I asked, "How did you find me?"
She smiled at me which didn't make me feel better. "You're wearing a tracking anklet, remember?"
I groaned. "I hate this thing."
"Get in the car."
"And if I don't?"
"Would you rather have Peter get you?"
I swept my gaze over the cars, the shops and the people around me. Everything seemed so surreal right then. I wanted Peter to get me but at the same time I didn't want him to get near me anytime soon. I tried stalling for time. "He could have called me when he finished at the office. I would have gone straight home."
"Of course you would. Pity that only your mailbox is available, huh?"
I retrieved my cell phone and managed to sound convincingly surprised when I said: "Oh, I didn't see that I…"
"Neal! Cut the crap and get in the car. Peter is far beyond being annoyed with you and so am I."
I froze on the spot, feeling my heart retreating deep into my gut while at the very same time it also twisted and churned. To be honest – I was terrified, absolutely terrified. The car door opened and I climbed into the passenger seat. I fumbled with the belt buckle for a while until Diana sighed, batted my hands away and buckled me up. I balled my hands into fists to stop them from shaking in such an embarrassingly obvious manner. Diana patted my fists soothingly and eventually I dared to look at her. There was open sympathy in her eyes even though her words sent a completely different message.
"You should probably relish the experience of being able to sit down."
I paled in utter shock. She didn't … she couldn't … Peter didn't … I gasped. "What?"
Diana pulled the car back into traffic, then replied, "I suppose you're in for a very rough session this time."
I stared at her wide-eyed and thoroughly humiliated. "I don't know what you're talking about!"
"You're going to get the spanking of your life and if you ask me, you deserve it."
"I didn't ask you!"
"What would happen if you talked to Peter like you just did to me?"
I didn't want to think about that nor did I have the desire to explain it to her. She ventured on, "That's what I thought. Damn it, Neal! You could be back in prison if it hadn't been me who found the tape! Peter and I destroyed all the evidence against you and if anyone finds out about this, Peter and I will lose our jobs! Do you even care?"
"It was for Kate," I defended lamely.
Diana slammed her hands on the steering wheel and shouted, "Stop being that pathetic about a girl that doesn't love you. Damn! Maybe I can join Peter in spanking the hell out of you!"
My face burned from shame and tears were forming in my eyes. Quietly I muttered: "There's no need for you to join Peter. He's more than thorough every time."
"Maybe it needs more people for you to get the message."
I shook my head. Tonelessly I said, "Peter is going to make sure that today will make an unforgettable impression on me."
I was hoping for a bit of sympathy but all I got was, "I hope he'll succeed."
I swallowed heavily and the rest of the ride was completed in silence.
Diana parked directly in front of June's house, which was a miracle in itself. I took this as an omen – nothing would spare me the wrath of Peter Burke. I shivered at this thought while Diana cheerfully rounded the car and opened my door. "Here we are!"
"Thank you, I got that much," I snapped, pointedly staring at the street.
It was impolite and I'd never have used the same tone with Peter but since she wasn't the one who was going to discipline me, I didn't care. Diana stared at me blankly, then held her hand out to me. I scowled at her and crossed my arms in front of my chest, radiating defiance in waves. It wouldn't do me any good and I was already in deep shit but … I just couldn't get myself to move out of the semi-safeness of the car.
"Well, how about getting out of the car now?"
"I wanted to drink another coffee."
I heard Diana take in an audible breath, presumably to calm herself down, then she said, "You've got plenty of coffee in the house."
"Not the kind I want to drink."
"Drinking coffee in the evening doesn't make for good sleep anyway."
I rolled my eyes. "I drink coffee whenever I want and I can always sleep."
"Neal, get out of the car. Oh, wait, are you afraid of going inside? Maybe because Peter is going to give you the hiding of your life?"
My head swiveled around on its own account and I gaped at her in shock. I managed to splutter indignantly, "What the hell are you talking about?"
"Cursing, how nice. You never curse, except when you're really frightened which you are right now. Get. Out. Of. The. Car. NOW!"
The clipped tone of her command and utter confusion mixed with humiliation caused me to lunge for the door handle, slam the door closed and lock it. The keys were still in the ignition and it would be so easy to slide over to the driver's seat. As I was contemplating my next move, Diana rapped at the window. She was talking to someone on her cell phone and ordered me to lower the window. I gulped, having a fairly clear idea who was on the other end of the phone.
I listened to Diana explaining, "He's locked himself in the car and is thinking about stealing it."
"What? I'm not! That's not true!"
"No, he didn't want to get out of the car. Do you want to come and get him? No, I don't think you'll cause a riot by bending him over the car and paddling him."
I blanched and in fascination watched how much my fingers shook. My teeth chattered so loudly that it was almost ridiculous. Diana held her cell out to me and said crisply, "For you."
I took the phone and weakly muttered, "Hey, Peter, how's it going?"
"I'm not going to answer that. You, however, will get out of the car right now. You have one minute to get to your room or I'll get you. Be a good boy and don't make it more complicated and hurtful than necessary for you." Peter's voice was still friendly but also held this determined tone that always got to me.
I handed the phone back to Diana who said, "Yes, I'll accompany him into the house."
I must have been insane for a short moment because I snarled, "I don't need a fucking babysitter to walk those few steps into the house."
I flushed deeply when I registered exactly what I had said. I was so, so close to dissolving into tears when Diana gave me the phone back wordlessly. Peter's voice was significantly less friendly than before. "Stop the bratty attitude immediately. We've got enough to discuss as it is."
I exploded. "You told her! How could you do that? Do you even care how humiliating this is?"
"It was that or you going back to prison. Oh, and do you care that Diana and I both put our jobs on the line. For some…," Peter broke off mid-rant. I was rendered speechless and slowly the realization of what I had done dawned on me. Peter gave me no chance to reply when he went on, "I believe we have to do some serious straightening out tonight. If you don't want Diana to be there as a spectator, I strongly suggest that you get out of the car and into the house."
The connection was cut and I hastily opened the door, pressed Diana's phone into her hand and walked into the house. Diana followed on my heels and I had to squash the urge to hiss at her with the demand of, "Back off!"
Inside the house I stood at the staircase and simply couldn't force my legs to cooperate. I knew that I should go upstairs, I really should but damn it! I had never been so scared of Peter and what he was going to do to me before. It wasn't the first well-deserved spanking I'd gotten from him but it was different this time. I broke the cardinal rule, next to a lot of others, and he was really, really cross with me.
I gave myself a mental push and reached out for the railing, then pivoted around and bolted for the door. I was almost there when June appeared right in front of my escape route. She smiled at me pleasantly, like she always does and said, "Neal, darling, that's not a good idea. Peter has been waiting for you for almost two hours."
"Two hours?" I thought in panic. I put this thought aside in favor of thinking about how to move aside June while at the same time keeping Diana off my back. All my thoughts vanished into thin air when June's smile grew brighter.
"Oh, there he is!" she chirped.
I turned around very slowly and with growing apprehension watched Peter running down the steps. He didn't stop once he was on the floor, instead he advanced on me. I was holding out my hands in what should have been a placating and soothing manner but he obviously didn't get my meaning. He spun me around, swatted me so hard that my eyes stung after the third blow, then spun me back. I couldn't even protest properly when he threw me over his shoulder because I was too busy gasping in pain.
It was only when we were already on the stairway that I became fully aware of what was happening and more importantly who was watching this little incident. I began to struggle against Peter's hold and thumped my fists on his back. It earned me another round of hard swats, which should have been a clue for me to stop fighting, but I had lost all commonsense at that point. I cursed and kicked and eventually Peter put me down on the steps. I jumped up, wanting to bring as much space between us as possible. Instead Peter locked his arms around my upper body and proceeded carrying me upstairs. My back was pressed against his chest, his iron-clad grip on my wrists hurt like hell and I seriously hated the few inches difference in height.
At first I was too dumbfounded to react but when I realized that I was being unceremoniously dragged upstairs to my room I began to call him the worst names I could think of. Even through my tantrum I could hear June's and Diana's sharp intakes of breath, then June's soft voice saying sympathetically, "Oh my, his impulsiveness will cause him to be really sore."
I wailed, caught the railing and held on to the bars as if my life depended on holding onto them. Peter was panting heavily, then gritted out, "Let go of the railing and stop throwing such a tantrum. NOW!"
I jumped but shook my head vigorously. It wasn't exactly clever of me to spit, "Make me!"
Peter didn't waste time with delivering the first sound swat to my butt. I yelped and simultaneously tried to squirm away from him and kick him. The swats increased in strength and soon enough my backside was blazing and I was begging. "Ow! Peeeeeter! Stop! Please! I'll go, I'll go!"
He stopped immediately, pulled me to my feet and steered me upstairs. I was sobbing and trying not to rub my aching butt and much too soon for my liking we stood in front of the door of my room. I knew that I was in more than enough trouble already but the sheer thought of Peter and I being alone in my room was terrifying. I planted both hands on the doorframe and braced myself. I heard an exasperated sigh behind me. "Do we have to do everything the hard way today?"
"Then go in."
I didn't move an inch.
Peter didn't sound exasperated anymore, he sounded as if he was ready to strangle me when he said quietly, "Go in. Or do you want June and Diana watching you get your bare butt tanned too?"
My testicles shriveled and my stomach did this unpleasant dropping-thing at this threat. I walked into my doom, shivering and feeling utterly miserable. Peter closed the door and my first impulse was to run away as quickly and far as possible. Peter's booming voice forestalled me. "Don't you dare think about running away again! Get the necklace."
I swallowed and walked over to one of my hiding place. I thought about asking him to turn around but the glare he shot my way convinced me that it wasn't so bad if he knew about one of my hiding places. I retrieved the necklace, carried it over to him and held it out. My eyes were downcast and my heart beat so rapidly that it was a tiny bit scary.
Peter inspected the necklace, then sighed loudly. It was his 'I'm-so-disappointed-in-you-I-can't-even-put-it-in-words' sigh. I loathed this particular sigh because it caused me to feel guilty and small and wanting nothing more than to be held by him while he assured me that he still loved me. Since I was still sniffling and fighting tears anyway that sigh opened the gate for more tears. I willed them not to spill over until Peter said, "Good, now take it downstairs to Diana and apologize to Diana and June."
My head snapped up and I stared at Peter's perfectly calm face in shock. "No!"
"No! Peter! Please, don't make me go downstairs again. They … they saw that you … you and I … I can't and …," I stammered helplessly and rather incoherently. How could he? It was impossible! I couldn't go downstairs now – I was a mess! Not to mention that I was absolutely mortified.
"They saw what? That I spanked a brat who was throwing an impressive tantrum? You will go downstairs and apologize right now or both of them will come upstairs and watch while we have our little discussion."
I'm a bit of an idiot, I admit because feeling mortified doesn't always lead to submission for me. Instead I allowed anger to sweep me up. I stamped my feet, hurled the necklace at him and yelled, "You go!"
Peter looked at me with that special Peter disapproving look that quite frankly caused me to lose my nerve completely. I dissolved into tears once again and clutched at his jacket, muttering over and over again, "I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I didn't mean to … Peter, please, I'm sorry."
He gave me a quick hug, then turned me around and walked me into a corner in the kitchen. "Maybe the corner will help you clear your head. Stay put."
I hated corner time. There was nothing to do, nothing to see, and I was forced to think about what I had done. I should have obeyed Peter, I really should have but I found myself turning around and going to the cupboard for a glass. Peter was at the door and called out for Diana. "Diana, Neal will be downstairs with the necklace in a few minutes. Sorry for the delay!"
He closed the door and found me pouring juice in a glass instead of standing in the corner. The furious look on his face ripped a distressed moan from me. I let the glass sitting on the sink and scuttled over to my designated corner. Peter followed me and I hunched my shoulders in a vain attempt at making myself smaller, trying to appeal to Peter's protective side. He stood behind me, his chest touching my back and slapped both hands on either side of the wall, effectively trapping me.
"What … what are you doing?" I squeaked.
"Making sure that you do what you've been told to do."
"YOU don't tell me what I need to do. Keep quiet until you've changed your mind about going downstairs."
I flinched but still pressed out, "But--"
"Cut that little word 'but' out of your vocabulary. Every time you use it you'll get swatted. Understood?"
I gulped audibly and nodded. We stood there for at least ten years and my legs were beginning to ache. My backside was still throbbing dully and Peter didn't budge an inch. I wasn't only trapped, I felt trapped. I don't do well with being trapped and this time was no exception. I fiddled with the hem of my shirt until Peter told me to keep my hands still. I began to shift from one foot to the other instead. Two minutes of shifting and Peter ignited the dull throbbing in my butt to a blazing fire again. When he was finished I thought that this was the worst day in my life.
Peter turned me around to face him, and when I avoided eye-contact like the plague, he tipped my chin up. I must have looked absolutely pathetic because his eyes softened a bit. "Kitten, go downstairs and apologize."
I burst into tears at the gentleness in his voice and because he used that special endearment. It meant that he was angry - well more livid than angry – but it also meant that we'd get this sorted out. I flung my arms around his neck and this time he allowed me to cling to him for a while. I sobbed while he rubbed my back. It took me a long time to calm down. Peter sighed, told me to wash my face and then come back and take the necklace to Diana.
I didn't even try to stall for time in the bathroom and took the necklace from him without making a fuss. At the door I looked back at him and complained, "I'm doing this under protest."
"Noted. Now get."
I swallowed and new tears were prickling in my eyes. Peter came to me, rested a hand on my shoulder and gave me a light push. "Get going and don't forget to apologize."
I closed my eyes briefly and started on the long way downstairs.
There seemed to be more steps than I recalled and it didn't help that June and Diana were sitting in the foyer at a small table, sipping their coffee. They looked at me when I reached the floor and I managed to smile at them weakly. I knew that my face was still blotchy, my eyes swollen and red-rimmed and I really wasn't too keen to face them in my devastated condition. I straightened up, crossed the distance and handed Diana the necklace.
"Here," I said huffily.
"Neal!" Peter bellowed from upstairs.
I jumped, darted a guilty glance towards him then cleared my throat. It took me great effort to say, "That's the necklace I took, um, stole. Peter told me to give it to you."
"Thank you. I'll get it back to the owner now."
"What will you tell him?"
"Don't worry about that," Diana told me as she got up.
June followed her example and both women stood in front of me, waiting for me to say something. The reasonable thing would have been to put on my best megawatt-smile and apologize. Instead I said bitterly, "Well, there goes my chance of seeing my girlfriend."
I stalked away from them, pouting and scowling. A loudly shouted, "NEAL CAFFREY! STAY THE HELL WHERE YOU ARE!" stopped me. I obeyed instantly and stared at Peter's really furious face. Briskly he bounced down the steps and even though I expected the swats I still yelped.
"Oh fucking great!" I thought.
I already had lost track of how many times he had swatted me today or how many times I thought I was embarrassed beyond belief. He turned me around and walked me towards Diana and June. One of his arms was slung around my waist and held me tightly while he whispered, "You were supposed to apologize to them not antagonize them."
"You're taking away the only thing that will get me close to Kate!" I yelled.
My whole body hurt from the tension in it and my nails were leaving deep imprints in my palms as I clenched my fists further together. I desperately wanted to hurl something, scream and simply throw another tantrum. June, Diana and probably Peter exchanged a glance before June approached me. "My boy, if your Kate really wanted to see you she would have been here a long time ago."
That wasn't what I wanted to hear and for the first time that I knew her, I glowered at June. She wasn't in the least perturbed, just smiled at me sadly. "I'll leave you alone to attend to your business then," she said.
"June, wait!" I blurted, suddenly feeling like shit. June was a sweet woman who had taken me into her home and always supported me. When even she didn't think well of Kate, didn't that mean something? I caught her arm, then let go of it when she looked at me pointedly. Nervously and very well knowing that I had gone too far, I said, "I'm sorry, June, for … misbehaving in your house and … and for being rude to you."
She gazed at me thoughtfully for some time then extended her arms to me. I all but fell into her embrace. I closed my eyes when she gently patted my hair and told me that she didn't bear a grudge. I was unbelievably grateful for that. Very soon she pushed me away from her and tucked a stray lock behind my ear. It was such a motherly and comforting gesture that a small smile appeared on my face. Unfortunately the smile vanished when Peter said, "Neal, come here."
Longingly I watched June's retreating back then turned around to face Peter and Diana. I was expecting them to look grim, furious, hell, probably like devils incarnate but all I saw was sympathy. I swallowed against the heavy lump in my throat and forced my feet to take me into the dangerous radius of Peter's arms. Diana laid a hand on my arm and gave it a quick squeeze. "Peter could set up a meeting for you. He knows how to contact Kate."
"Right," I snorted. "He wouldn't do that."
"You could ask," Diana suggested.
I glared at her, then looked at Peter stubbornly. "So, Peter, would you set up a meeting with Kate for me?"
"If that's what it takes for you to get over this obsession, I'll definitely consider it."
I gaped at him, then clicked my mouth shut. "You're just saying it because Diana is here."
"Neal, my patience with you is non-existent. Diana is right, you should have just asked."
I didn't trust my ears. Disbelievingly I asked, "This whole mess could have been avoided? Just like that?"
"Just like that," Peter confirmed.
I was feeling dizzy and thought that fainting would come in very handy right now. Unfortunately I only wavered on the spot before Peter steadied me. A fine con-man I was – I couldn't even fake fainting. I felt self-pity rise up inside me as I thought of all the swats I had already gotten and the ones I surely was going to get. The humiliation of June and Diana knowing and having seen firsthand that Peter spanked me colored my ears in a bright red. I hid my face against Peter's chest and clutched at him. I was shaking badly, this whole day had been a horrible, horrible mess so far.
Gently but forcefully Peter pried my hands off him and asked, "Didn't you want to say something to Diana?"
I inspected my shoes thoroughly when I mumbled, "I'm sorry."
A well-placed swat landed on my butt and I yelped, "Ow! Peter!"
"You will look at her and apologize properly. I don't care how embarrassed you are right now. You brought this on you all by yourself," he growled.
I lifted my head and blinked several times to clear my vision. Hoarsely I said, "I'm sorry for having stolen the necklace and causing trouble."
I fell silent and Peter cleared his throat. Diana's eyes were twinkling and she looked as if she was going to break out in laughter at any time. I was annoyed and crossed my arms above my chest, defiance again winning the upper hand. I got rid of any kind of defiance as soon as Peter grabbed my wrist, dragged me to the stairs and told Diana, "Come on then and watch how we straighten things out."
I panicked. Utterly and completely panicked. Peter didn't expect me to kick him and let go of me in surprise. I sprinted upstairs and slammed the door behind me, then locked it. Seconds later I heard Peter knocking at the door. "Neal, open the door."
I shook my head, then became aware that he couldn't see me and said, "No."
"Neal, do you really want me to break the door down?"
I slid down into a crouched position and leaned my back against the door. I couldn't help it – I started to sniffle. In a very small voice I replied: "She was laughing at me."
"Neal," Peter began in a tone that was full of exasperation.
"Neal, come on, open the door," Diana interrupted. "I have no interest in watching Peter and you straightening things out. That's your private business."
"Seriously?" I asked.
"Yes, seriously. I still expect your apologies - sincere apologies."
I swallowed, got up with a few hints from my sore backside that it wasn't too happy with me at the moment, and opened the door. Words of apology just flowed out of me and embarrassingly so did the tears. When I was finished apologizing to Diana, my head was pounding from an oncoming headache. She didn't hug me but her voice was gentle when she said: "Apologies accepted."
"I'm not sure I'll ever be able to look you in the eyes at work," I mumbled.
"You will. You're a con-man after all. Though I have to admit that I never thought you'd be such a brat."
"Is that supposed to make me feel better?"
"No, you deserve to feel guilty and very uncomfortable for the stunt you pulled."
I swallowed and looked from her to Peter. He didn't say a word and Diana bid her goodbye. Peter hugged her before she left, then turned to me with an icy look on his face. Subdued I said, "I suppose you want me to stand in that corner again?"
I stood in that corner for hours – I swear! The corner was boring, utterly and horrifically boring which meant that the only thing I could do was to think about the reason why I was bored out of my mind. The list of broken rules was long: stealing the necklace, telling lies, not going home when I was told to go, being rude to Diana and June, throwing more tantrums than I wanted to remember, yelling, kicking and struggling, running away and hurling the necklace at Peter.
My breathing hitched when I thought of all the broken rules and what Peter would make of them. A hard and sound spanking was a given, I knew that much. That knowledge didn't help to ease the increasingly queasy feeling in my stomach. I was tired, my emotions were running wild and I just wanted to get it over with. Why couldn't we just get on with the task at hand? Anger boiled up inside me again.
"Don't," Peter said simply.
"Don't what?" I countered acidly.
"Don't push yourself into a state to throw another tantrum. You already showed your temper enough today," he replied in that totally casual voice that he always used when I stood in a corner. It was driving me crazy!
"Maybe not enough," I mumbled.
"What was that?"
Despite my quickly said "nothing" Peter got up from the chair and walked over to me. I tensed up involuntarily, expecting the first swat. Peter surprised me by embracing me from behind and resting his chin on top of my shoulder. Sternly he said, "That's enough for today, Neal. We've got a lot to straighten out, don't add to it."
"I didn't do anything!" I protested loudly.
"Since when is talking back classified as 'nothing'?"
So he'd heard what I said. Today wasn't my day, really it wasn't. "I'm sorry," I replied and meant it. I leaned back against his solid body, seeking the warmth and comfort of him. I often wonder why I trust him, why I feel safe with him even when he's going to tan my backside. It should have been wrong except that it felt completely right to me. It just felt right for Peter to be in control, setting the rules and making sure I follow them.
Peter didn't react verbally to my apology but he kissed my cheek. Quietly I asked, "Are you really going to arrange a meeting between Kate and me?"
Peter let out a long-drawn sigh before he answered, "Yes, Neal, I will."
"Because maybe you'll see what everyone else sees in Kate. That she's using and manipulating you."
"Shhh, don't. I know that you still love her. I don't need to understand it but I will help you to see her."
"You don't like her," I stated.
"No, I don't but I don't have to either."
"I'm not sure if I really want her back and … and that terrifies me," I confessed.
"You'll figure it out and I'll always be here for you, as well as Elizabeth."
"Maybe I want her back because she won't spank me?" I offered in an attempt to change the subject. I really didn't know what I wanted and I didn't want to sound even more pathetic than usual with declaring my undying love for him and Elizabeth. That would leave me even more vulnerable than I was already. Somehow I had become dependent on Peter and the stability and love he provided. He didn't need to know the depth of my feelings – at least for now.
"You don't expect me to react to that, do you?"
"No, not really," I admitted quietly. "Am I done with standing in the corner?"
"Not really but it's time to move things along. Please take your shoes off and get over to the chair."
I did as I was told and wondered why Peter wasn't going with me. He went to my closet, rummaged around and realization hit me like a truck – he was getting the paddle. A whimper escaped my throat and I ran to the bathroom to hide. Right before I was able to slam the door shut Peter grabbed my wrist and pulled me into a tight hug. I squirmed and begged but it was of no avail. Eventually I gave up and slumped against Peter, already sobbing and pleading that he not use the dreadful thing.
Wordlessly Peter walked me over to the chair, sat down and pulled me down to sit on his lap. I wound my arms around his neck and clung to him. I was a pathetic ball of misery and he hadn't even raised the paddle yet. I wasn't sure if I'd be able to survive tonight.
"You know that I'll paddle you for lying directly to me, don't you?"
I nodded and mumbled into his neck, "You've only used this thing once and it really hurt."
"It'll hurt much more tonight."
I let out a shuddering breath, curled myself together on his lap and tried to calm down. Peter rubbed over my back and arms soothingly until my body stopped quaking and quivering in fear. "Come on, Neal, you want to get this over with as much as I want to. Tell me which rules you broke, please."
The politeness of his voice was going to drive me nuts at some point. I swallowed the new bout of anger down hastily and in an almost normal voice told him about all the broken rules. He nodded in approval. "You got them all, I'm impressed."
"Does that mean you're not going to paddle me?" I asked hopefully.
"No, Neal, that's out of the question. I'm going to paddle you in a bit."
I swallowed audibly, knowing very well that there was more to come.
"There's still one thing I'd like to know," Peter said.
"Your anklet. It showed that you were at home when you clearly weren't, please explain that to me."
I opened my mouth but never got a word out. Peter interrupted me by prying me away from his neck and holding my face in his hands. The piercing look could cause an iceberg to melt and I crumbled at his words. "No lies, no obfuscating, just the plain truth, Neal."
"I stole a key for it."
Peter sat very still for a long time and only the tension in his hands told me that he'd heard me. I turned beet-red and sat very still too. I scuttled away when he demanded: "Get the key, Neal."
I got it and was back at his side in less than thirty seconds. Surely he'd be reasonable and see how obedient I was right now? That had to count for something! "You're … you're not going to kill me, are you?"
"No, I'm not." The dark tone of his voice wasn't very appealing. He pocketed the key, then beckoned me to stand between his parted legs. "I'll take the key to the Marshall's office tomorrow and tell them that your anklet is having a malfunction. The anklet will be replaced. Until that's done Diana, Jones or I will babysit you."
I stared at Peter dumbfounded. He went on, "You're grounded for the next two weeks. No going out, nothing. Believe me, in the first week you won't even want to think about going out anyway. For the next seven days I'll come over after work, then it'll be thirty minutes of corner time. After that I'll spank you. Maybe that will make an impression."
I was all saucer-eyed by the end of his little speech. "That's a joke, right?" I croaked out in despair.
"You'd rather want me to dish out all those spankings tonight?"
"No!" Tears were welling up in my eyes about the unfairness of life in general and Peter's rules in particular. "That adds up to eight spankings! I won't be able to sit down! How do I explain that at work?"
"You'll be on sick leave for the next few days. I want you to spend a few days by yourself. That means no impromptu visits from anyone. Is that understood, Neal?"
"I sense a 'but' coming."
"I'm not allowed to use that word anymore," I replied sullenly.
"What is it?"
"I don't need a babysitter!" I said hotly. "Can't Elizabeth come over instead of Diana or … or Jones?"
"Elizabeth has her own business and isn't responsible for coddling your bratty ass." Peter's voice had become unusually loud.
Embarrassed I muttered, "I'd just feel more comfortable with her around."
"This isn't about you feeling comfortable or not. Drop your pants, please."
That was it. The point of no return. I didn't want to comply and made a last attempt at rescuing my butt. "Peeeeeter!"
"Now would be a good time, Neal."
I remained frozen and Peter growled. He unzipped my pants and they fell to the floor with a soft swishing sound. I stared at my pants around my ankles and asked feebly: "It'll hurt like hell, right?"
Giving up the fight I pulled down my briefs with shaking hands and lowered myself over Peter's thighs. Peter pushed my shirttails up and secured my legs. I was busy with breathing evenly, or at least trying to do so. Very softly I asked, "You still love me?"
"Always, kitten, always."
The words had just left his mouth when the paddle hit my butt for the first time. The sting ripped a yell from me. The swats rained down on my ass with steady force while I instinctively tried to wiggle free from Peter's hold. He covered every little patch of flesh in precise patterns and left nothing unharmed. My ass was blazing and I was howling in pain until I became reduced to a wildly screaming, crying and begging creature.
The spanking itself didn't last very long but it had made an impression on me. I vowed to myself to never do anything that could leave me in such a situation again. I was limply hanging over Peter's thighs, crying and feeling very sorry for myself when he let me slide down from his lap to between his legs. I rested my head on one of his thighs and awkwardly slung my arms around his waist. He stroked my hair, made soothing little noises and gradually the crying subsided. Every little movement shot a sharp prick through my body though. I tried to keep very still.
"Neal, get up. The usual corner will be fine."
My head snapped up to look at Peter, completely stunned. "Corner? What? Why? I already stood there and … and you never make me do corner time twice!"
"You didn't stand for thirty minutes in that corner. There are still ten left. Now go please."
He helped me to get up and even guided me over to the corner. New tears spilled over on our way because my ass was clearly very impressed. I was standing stiffly in the corner, muffling my sobs by biting on my fist when I heard Peter picking up his cell phone and calling Elizabeth.
"Hey hon, how was your day?" he said cheerfully.
That was my undoing. I allowed my misery to take over. I stopped stifling my cries and gave in to the shivers that wrecked my body. I didn't hear anything other than the blood pounding in my ears and I didn't feel anything other than loneliness and hurt. I actually jumped and squeaked when Peter's hand landed on my shoulder. He squeezed and asked quietly: "Do you want to talk to Elizabeth while I get ready for bed?"
Ready for bed? That meant he'd stay with me through the night? I wouldn't be alone and he wasn't mad at me anymore, right?
I gulped in air and despite being emotionally exhausted and not being sure if I could hold a conversation, I reached out for the phone. I pressed my forehead against the wall and sighed in relief when Elizabeth's concerned voice floated to me. "Neal? Sweetheart? How are you feeling?"
"Sore. Unbelievably sore."
"So it was a bad day, huh?"
"Yeah. Well, it's better than going back to prison."
"I hope so. Peter will set up a meeting with Kate soon."
I swallowed, then mumbled, "I'm not sure if that's what I really want."
"You'll figure that out."
"I hope so," I said thickly.
There was a short silence, then she spoke conversationally, "I heard you need a babysitter tomorrow?"
I cringed and muttered, "Peter thinks so."
"I have a client in the morning but I could come over at lunchtime. You know how I love to babysit." I could picture her grin as she said that. It even coaxed a smile onto my face as well. Then I remembered what Peter had told me about Elizabeth not being responsible for coddling my bratty ass. That comment still stung.
"I'm … Peter doesn't want you to babysit me."
"I see. Peter doesn't make my decisions though. How about casserole for lunch?"
"Eliiiiiizabeth," I whined. "Peter will think that I tricked you into babysitting me and then I'll be in even more trouble."
"Do you want me to come over or not?"
"It's settled then. I'll deal with Peter. Sleep well, sweetheart," she chirped.
I called out for Peter who took back the phone after telling me to get ready for bed too. Even though I hadn't had dinner I wasn't even remotely hungry. It was around eight in the evening and under normal circumstances I would have fought Peter. Today was an exception – I was very much looking forward to lying down, hopefully nestled up against him as closely as possible.
I quickly ran through my bathroom routine, pulled my pajama top on, then decided against underwear and pants. Slowly and in some serious discomfort I made my way over to the bed where Peter was already waiting for me. He had changed into sweatpants and a t-shirt and was scribbling notes on a file. I groaned and nagged, "You're working in bed?"
"Would you rather have me working at that table over there?"
"No." I climbed into bed, hissing and gasping as I settled down with my head against his stomach.
"Diana will be over tomorrow morning to look after you."
"Great," I sulked.
"Oh, cheer up. You know that Elizabeth is coming over later and she'll spoil you rotten."
"You've married such a great woman!" I averred. I made sure to let my honesty show in my statement. Peter pulled me in closer, tucked the comforter firmly around me and I asked, "You're not mad at me, are you?"
"It's over and done with. You know how we work."
"There are still seven days of reminders ahead?"
I thought about throwing a tantrum or sulking or at least pouting. In the end I simply fell asleep while Peter absentmindedly stroked my back as I listened to the gurgling noises of his stomach.