The door she had been watching for two hours finally swung open, spilling light into the dark hallway. Jane relaxed into deeper stillness, willing herself invisible. A tall man stepped into the hallway, shrugging his heavy traveling cloak into position. He turned back toward the office, pausing for a moment as though searching for some final words. Instead, he simply nodded a tightlipped farewell and swung the door shut. With a regretful shake of his head, he turned away from where Jane was hiding and walked to a fight of stairs at the end of the hall.
As he disappeared down the stairs, Jane sighed in relief at not being seen. She remained crouched against a wall until she heard sounds of a carriage leaving the front courtyard. Slowly, she rose and stretched her stiff muscles. Her right knee twinged in recollection of an old injury and a dozen other similar spots joined in unison. With patient determination, she willed her complaints into silence with the reality that her body was fully healed, strong, and unblemished. All that remained of old hurts were the memories. The moment passed as her muscles gave up their protests and settled into smooth motion. Leaving her rucksack behind, she set out down the hallway, pushing aside a bittersweet sense of feeling far older than she looked.
Stopping in front of the office door, she paused a moment, gathering herself for the mission to come. Silently, she told herself, “Needs must, when the Devil is due.” Reaching up, she knocked briskly on the door.
“Come!” a man’s voice called out from the other side.
She pulled the door open. Warmth and lamplight flowed out to greet her. A comfortable office lay beyond. Behind a large wood table off to one side sat a sandy-haired man, scowling down at a thick portfolio of papers. Jane was pleased to see that he was at least as handsome as rumored. He was a bit more ruggedly built and unkempt than she had expected. Despite having achieved so much by his early thirties, there was a streak of youthful carelessness in his features. She decided that Edward, the new Duke of Blackthorn, was distinctly more palatable than his uncle.
Still looking down, he began, “What did you forget…”, then stopped as he looked up to see Jane standing in the door. His eyes narrowed thoughtfully for a moment. Setting down the portfolio down, he rose politely to his feet. “Please come in.” Giving her a quick smile, he shifted his tone to a more friendly jest, “We should not want to let all the heat out.”
Jane returned his smile and stepped inside, closing the door behind her. She said, “Thank you.” With a slight curtsey, she continued more formally, “Your lordship, on behalf of Her Majesty’s Government, please allow me to extend sincere condolences on your uncle’s recent passing.”
The man considered her for a silent moment, then ventured, “Her Majesty’s Government is astonishingly prompt, given that my uncle only died this morning.” He gestured to dark night beyond his office windows, “It would seem an inhospitable night for a condolence call.”
She nodded acknowledgment, “I apologize for the haste, but there are aspects of this situation that merit prompt action.”
“My uncle’s seat in the House of Lords?”
“Assumption of your family’s seat in Parliament is part of a larger issue…”
“Before going further, Her Majesty’s government should know that I am giving consideration to renouncing the title, in favor of my sister. I find myself completely without desire to sit in Parliament. Moreover, I detest the prospect of being called ‘your lordship’ for the rest of my life. Nor, in truth, do I have the time required to manage the ducal estates.” He turned to gesture again out the window, this time at the red glow from the foundry buildings that lay beyond. “I am entirely occupied with other matters.”
She pursed her lips thoughtfully, then asked, “May speak frankly, for a moment?”
He gestured for her to continue.
“As you are likely aware, your uncle was somewhat difficult…”
He barked a sharp laugh, “My uncle was a goddamned ass, a miserable man to one and all. Does that suffice for frankness?”
Jane nodded with a slight grimace, “I knew the late Duke better than I might have wished, so I will not contest your description. At the risk of further discomfort, however, might I inquire as to your thoughts on your sister’s temperament?”
He frowned and looked away for a moment, then turned back to answer, “Alice may appear more pleasantly composed, but since you ask, I suspect you know that my sister is quite nearly as cruel and thoughtless as my uncle.” He lifted his hands in apology, “I fear that a streak of darkness has run in our family for many generations.”
He paused, looking at her with an intensity that left her unsettled. In a measured tone, he continued, “So, Her Majesty’s Government comes in the dark of night to discuss difficult topics. I would have expected a grizzled functionary to be dispatched on such a task. You, on the other hand, are far too youthful and attractive to ever be described as grizzled. I should not complain, perhaps, but something seems out of place. May I ask who you are and which ministry you represent?”
“Jane Fessel, your lordship. As for my ministry, well, that is a longer story.” She took a deep breath and continued, “Please know that I have come straight from your uncle’s estate. My ministry had sent me there to protect him. I regret that I failed in this assignment.”
“My uncle needed protection? Are you suggesting that his death was not an accident?”
“Yes, your lordship. Your uncle was murdered.”
“You know my uncle’s solicitor was just here?”
“Yes, your lordship.”
“He said there was an inquest. A physician was called to the scene. She is apparently a very well respected Organic. According to my uncle’s solicitor, she was very definite that the cause of death was accidentally choking on a large piece of beef, swallowed too quickly. He did tend to eat rather rapidly.”
“I was the one who discovered the body, your lordship. I had the opportunity to examine him at least an hour before the physician arrived.”
“Are you then, sufficiently skilled as an Organic to dispute the findings of a trained physician?”
“I have some ability, sufficient to the need. I also had the advantage of investigating his injuries immediately after the incident… and I knew enough to suspect the possibility of foul play.”
“I see.” He turned suddenly and paced to the window, his head down in thought. After a long moment, he turned and walked back to her. “First, this ‘lordship’ nonsense must stop. My name is Edward. Second, it appears we will be chatting for some time. May I take your cloak?” He gestured to two chairs in a corner of his office near a coal stove, “We can sit down and more comfortably discuss your extraordinary claims.”
Jane nodded agreement and began to unbutton her cloak, then stopped suddenly. He looked at her puzzled and she explained, “As I said, I came straight from your uncle’s estate. I had been posing as a member of staff. Perhaps you are aware that your uncle had somewhat eclectic notions about what constitutes a proper staff uniform?”
“My uncle had a great many odd notions. Over the years, I have become accustomed to dealing with his nonsense. Fear not.”
Jane smiled in acknowledgment, then finished unbuttoning her cloak. She turned away as Edward stepped forward to take it off her shoulders. When he lifted the damp wool of her cloak away, her skin tingled with sudden coolness as her blouse was exposed to the air. Without looking, she knew this dampness had made her blouse’s already shear fabric completely transparent, which in turn would leave no doubt about the absence of underclothing, as mandated by the former Duke.
Jane turned back to Edward. She moved gracefully, with carefully feigned casualness, watching closely to gauge his reaction. The secret file on him from the Ministry had indicated that he was neither innocent nor prude, but also made clear that he was not nearly as adventurous as his uncle and sister.
From the rapid dilation of his eyes, she guessed that Edward did not know about his uncle rules for how women were to dress in his house. She was impressed, however, at the speed with which he masked any other reaction.
Edward turned away to hang her cloak on a hook near the door, keeping his expression neutral. He paused a moment, carefully arranging the cloak on the hook while giving himself a chance to think, before turning back. Looking at her with straightforward appraisal, he mused, “Curiouser and curiouser. You say you were sent to protect my uncle, which would suggest possession of martial skills. I would think such expertise would require no small amount of time to master. You further claim to be a talented Organic, which would again seem to require years of training. Your Ministry, moreover, would appear to have entrusted you to initiate discussions of an extremely sensitive political nature. And yet, I see before me an extraordinarily beautiful young woman – a young woman who has a fulsome and amazingly pert bosom, a narrow waist, and perfectly flawless skin. Your appearance would only seem possible for a young woman who is still in her teenage years. Despite this physical appearance, you obviously possess an intellectual maturity far beyond a teenager. I am left to conclude that you must be an extraordinarily talented Organic, one who is perhaps a bit older than she appears.”
With a subtly coy dip of her head, Jane replied, “I thought gentlemen never tell a woman she is older than she appears.”
“Perhaps, but when I trod on dangerous ground, I have often found it wise to set aside the habits of a gentleman.”
“‘Dangerous ground’, sir?”
“You did say my uncle was murdered, did you not?”
“Indeed,” Jane agreed, realizing that Edward would not be put off or easily distracted. She gestured to the chairs near the stove. “May we sit?”
After they sat, he looked over to her, waiting for her to continue. Jane felt uncertain of how to proceed, not expecting to confront such insight and maturity from a man in his early thirties. Usually, flashing a nearly bare breast would be enough to subvert a young man’s reason, or at least distract him. With Edward, instead, her display had only prompted him to see through her disguise.
She began, “I have been an agent of Her Majesty’s Government for some years now, and yes, my Organic skills are such that I can maintain a youthful appearance, as well as heal the occasional bumps and bruises that are inherent in my occupation. My Ministry has no public name or face. Our role is to skulk about in the dark of night, doing whatever is necessary to keep England safe from surreptitious attack. For some time now, we have been on the trail of a dangerous plot, which appears to involve a number of very high-level persons.”
“That sounds suitably vague.”
“It has been difficult to tease out specifics. Generally, the plotters appear to oppose the technical advances being brought about by you and your fellow Mechanics. In particular, they have taken an interest in the small steam turbines you are developing, which somehow led them to an attempt to subvert your uncle.”
“Subversion? I would think my uncle would require little encouragement to participate in subversive activities. Do you know about the clubs he frequents… I mean ‘frequented’?”
“We do. A woman representing the plotters appears to have approached him in one of these clubs.”
“If she was attractive and willing to play his games, I’m certain he would have been receptive. Why would they have killed him? Are you certain it was murder?”
“He was receptive to her approach. Indeed, she had become part of his household, which is what prompted my Ministry to send me in to pose as part of the household staff. What I had not realized is that she is an extraordinarily powerful Organic. For someone with that level of control, it would be easy to make a person choke to death on a bit of meat pie.”
“I thought if an Organic inflicts harm on another person, that energy rebounds back to cause equal damage to the Organic. Everyone knows that if a man assaults a woman, she can Organically inflict injury or death on him, but that effort will injure of kill her in return.”
“Such is normally the case, although more talented Organics have devised ways to deflect at least a portion of the rebounding energy.”
“I fear I know little of such matters, as I am completely without Organic talent.”
“I am certain you have some small amount, though perhaps not enough to notice. Obviously, men generally have far less Organic power than women. The variability among men, however, is much greater. At the far end of the scale, there are a tiny number of men who become incredibly power Organics. Men with such power, unfortunately, often struggle to maintain their sanity, with unpleasant consequences should they fail. Even with women, there is some amount of variability in Organic ability. A few woman such as Darcie, who seduced your uncle, are quite powerful indeed. For a woman with that much power, there are ways to avoid the rebound of killing another person, which is part of what makes a powerful Organic quite dangerous.”
“So what happened to Darcie, after she killed my uncle, as you say?”
“Fortunately, she did not suspect my power, so I was able to incapacitate her. She is now being held in a metal-lined cell at my Ministry, from which she can neither escape nor injure others.”
“Locked away? No inquiry? No trial?”
“Please understand that cases such as this are rare. Such detention without trial requires both the Queen’s and the Prime Minister’s signature. We do not take these matters lightly. Darcie, however, is far too dangerous for any other alternative.”
“And you? Are you equally dangerous?”
“Some believe this to be the case. Ever since my talent became known to Her Majesty’s Government, my continued life and freedom has been conditional on performing missions, as required by the Ministry. They have managed to ensure I am kept quite busy.”
“Oh… please accept my apologies for… such a question.”
“It is best that you know. Please be warned, however, that Her Majesty’s Government would not be pleased if you were to pass this knowledge onto others. I would encourage you to be circumspect. Her Majesty’s Government prefers that the public considers Organic power to only be a blessing. For those of us who know it can be otherwise, the dark side of Organic power is best dealt with in the dark.”
“This information is quite disturbing… although one does always hear rumors, so it is not entirely fantastical. I suppose I am fortunate that no one feels the same way about Mechanics.”
“I would not be so certain. There are those who see Mechanics as an unmitigated evil. The plotters responsible for your uncle’s death hold these views quite fervently.”
Edward frowned thoughtfully. After a moment he asked, “So what is it that you propose I do about this threat? Please understand that I have no intention of running away and hiding.”
“No,” she smiled, “we would prefer that you run toward them.”
He looked at her a bit quizzically. “That course of action would appear a bit foolhardy. Perhaps you could explain somewhat further?”
“As best we can tell, this group has been in operation for years. Their core members have likely been at it for decades. In all this time, we have utterly failed to identify more than a handful of minor members. The situation has become more urgent because they seem to be building toward the culmination of their plan, whatever that endpoint may be. Over the past year, several of my colleagues at the Ministry who were attempting to discover this plan have met rather unpleasant ends.”
She paused, searching for the right words, then continued, “Even if you tried, I don’t think it would be possible for you to run away from whatever is unfolding, which is why I propose you run toward it. I believe you should assume your uncle’s membership at the club where Darcie first made contact with him. This group appears quite interested in your work and also seems connected with this club. I believe they would take advantage of such an opportunity to make contact with you.”
“Why there? Why wouldn’t they come visit me in my office, as you have?”
“They have not made a habit of direct approaches. I believe they would feel more secure in revealing themselves if they could approach you at the Harrick Club. You would be more likely to have your guard down, and you would certainly be more susceptible to blackmail.”
Edward barked a laugh, “Blackmail indeed! Do you know what happens at the Harrick Club?”
Jane smiled, “I have been there many times, most often on missions, but occasionally for my own amusement.”
Embarrassed, Edward offered, “I did not mean to impugn…”
She waved his concern away. “Such amusements are an acquired taste. And even though I have developed something of that taste myself, I must admit that I find some of the club’s members to be more enthusiastic in their deviance than would appear healthy, either for them or their partners. So no, I would not normally recommend such a place to you. Unfortunately, the needs at hand suggest a different course.”
He considered her words, then turned up his hands in a gesture of uncertainty. “I fear I do not know much about how to act in such a place. Obvious inexperience on my part would seem likely to raise suspicions amongst such a secretive group of conspirators. Under those circumstances, I cannot imagine any contact with them would end well.”
“You are correct. Part of my plan, however, is to accustom you to the habits of such a club, so you can enter the Harrick Club with complete confidence.”
“How do you intend to do that?”
Instead of answering, Jane stood, then paced back and forth across his office, looking around as she did so. Edward found difficult to avoid staring at the gentle swish of her breasts from side to side as she paced. Even though her blouse had dried, it was still far too sheer to ever be considered modest.
She stopped at his work table and picked up his riding crop, inspecting it. She looked up at Edward with a sly smile, “My supposition is that your personal carnal fantasies do not include submitting to a woman wielding a crop. Would that be correct?”
He shook his head, chuckling, “Nothing could be further from my secret desires.”
She nodded, then asked with a light teasing tone, “But what of the obverse? Have you hidden away any dark longing to caress a woman’s delicate skin with such an instrument?” She lightly slapped the crop against her open palm.
Edward frowned uncomfortably, “When a horse requires a crop to behave, I have found the cause is inevitably the owner’s lack of ability and evil temperament. I prefer to control the animal directly. Resorting to threats with a crop signifies a failure.”
“While that is a fascinating observation, your lordship, I would note that you avoided providing a direct answer to my question.”
“I cannot conceive that any woman would consent to have her body used in such a fashion.”
“But tell me, your lordship, in your fantasies, does not the woman enjoy her experience?”
“Why have you returned to using ‘your lordship’? I had asked you not to do so.”
“I apologize Edward. I was being submissive in an attempt to make the topic less uncomfortable for you, which seems not to have worked. Please allow me to explain what I know of these matters more forthrightly and perhaps I can set your mind at ease. First, you should know that most dominants seek partners who derive enjoyment from their submission. I have met surprisingly few dominants who are true sadists, by which I mean that their arousal depends upon causing their partners pain. Fortunately for those few, there are masochists who are aroused by pain and find fulfillment in such arrangements. I earnestly wish happiness for these couples, but I find no need to hold them close. As for the rest of us who enjoy submission or dominance, the situation is a bit different.”
“Perhaps it is as you may say, but I would think anyone who plies a crop upon another person must surely be a sadist. How could it be otherwise?”
“It is a matter of intent – is the desire for dominance or pain? Dominants are aroused by exerting their will over submissive partners, whether by means of tying them up, or some form of corporal punishment, or dozens of other possibilities. Happily, submissives gain intense pleasure from the act of submitting to their dominant partner. The key, as I believe is true of any successful relationship, is that each partner finds their true pleasure in satisfying the other. Dominants feel deep fulfillment when their partner gains great pleasure by submitting. The reality is that most dominants are not sadists. If they cause their partner true pain, they are actually quite distressed.”
Edward looked unconvinced, “This view of the matter would seem to be a paradox. By your reasoning, the inner meaning of one person striking another with a crop is entirely opposite from the outer appearance. If I may be so impertinent to ask, do you speak of these matters from personal experience as a dominant or a submissive?”
Edward’s eyebrows raised in surprise.
Jane grinned at his reaction, then explained further, “These games, and indeed dominance and submission, at least in this context, are simply games of pleasure, fantasies, mere playthings. The acts of dominance and submission that take place in the bedroom usually have very little to do with behavior outside the intimacy of that moment. I know men and women who have attained similar levels achievement and authority as your own, but who find great enjoyment in submitting sexually to a skilled dominant partner. For these otherwise powerful people, submission in these intimate moments is a rare opportunity to relax. Their partner is the one who makes all decisions. From the submissive’s point of view, the dominant carries the full burden of responsibility for a successful outcome.”
“Stranger and stranger. But how is it then that you claim to enjoy both roles?”
“I enjoy the game itself. Perhaps I have become overly debauched, but I find ordinary sexual encounters to generally be boring in comparison. The frisson provided by games of dominance and submission, and the myriad of forms through which those games play out – this is a wondrous spice, giving verve and flavor to a diet that would otherwise quickly become bland.”
“I see. This… interest is what you believe of me as well?”
“You have yet to deny a fantasy of wielding a crop upon a willing woman – a woman who receives great pleasure from your ministrations.”
After a thoughtful moment, Edward gave her an apologetic shrug and said, “To do so feels rather awkward.”
Jane nodded, then replied, “Perhaps a small demonstration would be helpful.”
He looked at her questioningly. She reached down to the waistband of her full skirt, explaining, “This is an innovation of your uncle’s, which I believe borrows from some of your advances in spring steel.” She drew a long, slender wire, up from the side of her waistband. As the last of the wire left the fabric, her entire skirt simply fell away, landing in a semicircle of wool around her feet on the wooden floor. All she wore beneath the skirt were a pair of lace-up heeled boots, which reached just below her knees. She watched Edward’s reaction as he took in her smooth legs and sex, devoid of any body hair. He did an admirable job not ogling her, but even his suppressed reaction left her reassured that he liked what he saw. She walked over to him and bowed her head down, holding out the crop to him in both her hands.
After a brief hesitation, he took the crop from her. With a small curtsey, she turned to face one of the chairs and leaned forward, bracing herself by holding onto the arms of the chair. She said, “If I may suggest sir, the first element is to tease. The flat of the crop may be used to caress your subject’s buttocks in a gentle, circular motion, lifting away occasionally to move to a different spot… or, on occasion, to strike unexpectedly. For your subject, the uncertainty of whether the next contact of the crop will be gentle caress or a stinging impact stimulates her arousal. It is also helpful, sir, if the initial strikes of the crop are kept moderate, until you gain a sense of your subjects tolerance and desire. I believe you will find, as her arousal grows, that her tolerance and desire will also grow.”
From behind her, she heard him shift around. He replied, “I see.”
Without further warning, she felt the fingernails of the back of his hand lightly trace a path across her left buttock. She shivered at his unexpected touch. When he reached the cleft between her buttocks, his hand drifted away from her skin. She realized that she had been holding her breath, so she relaxed to breath in. Just then, the flat of his hand smacked her smartly across her right buttock. An electric shock jerked through her, arching her back and lifting her head. The sharp report of his hand’s impact echoed across the office.
The analytical part of her mind marveled at the perfection of his stroke. It was sharp enough to be intense, without being so strong that it was painful. She wondered if he had gotten lucky, or if he perhaps had more experience than he had suggested.
A moment later, he slowly grazed the back of his fingernails over her right buttock, sliding with teasing lightness across her skin where his impact had left her stingy and ultra sensitized. The non-analytical part of her mind shuddered with delight.
She heard a soft chuckle behind her as his deep voice intoned, “I decided to start with direct contact, so as to better modulate the force. It appears my choice was effective.” He punctuated his final words with a smack across her left buttock.
Jane gasped in pleasure and shock. Recovering, she asked, “Are you certain you have not done this before, sir?”
“Never, though perhaps I should have ventured down this path a long time ago. It does seem… quite invigorating.”
Jane nodded her agreement as his hand slid back and forth across her buttocks in a relaxingly lazy pattern. Just as she was lulled into the rhythm, he wielded the crop in his other hand, striking it upon her right butt cheek, which was currently exposed. She heard the flat crack of the leather head of the crop against her skin a fraction of a second before the sharp intensity of the sting travelled up her spine. She wondered if the delay in the feeling the impact was because the signal had detoured through her sex on its way to her brain. She could certainly felt wet warmth growing between her legs. His hand caressing her rear continued its pattern, sweeping across the intense spot he had left on her right buttock. Suddenly, ‘crack’, the crop swung across her left cheek.
Back and forth he moved, caressing her with hand and crop, carefully distributing the impact points of the crop across her bottom. She marveled at his level of control and its effect upon her. She was unexpectedly quite aroused.
Emboldened by her need, she asked, “If I might request, sir, that you place a thumb within my cleft and press downwards? I should be ever so grateful.”
She softly groaned with gratitude as he complied with her request, sliding his thumb inside her and pressing firmly down upon the most sensitive spot on the inside of her vagina. He massaged his thumb back and forth as he continued applying the crop on her backside. Her breath shortening as her urgency grew. Without being asked, he somehow knew to bring the side of his forefinger up against clitoris. Her most sensitive region was now trapped between his thumb and forefinger, which he squeezed together firmly while continuing his massaging motions back and forth.
In short order, her orgasm broke free, starting in her pelvic region, then growing, rumbling, and shuddering through the rest of her body. He slowed his ministrations as her orgasm began to dissipate, stopping entirely when her shuddering ceased. She took in a deep breath, luxuriating in the afterglow of her climax, then let her breath slowly back out.
While her orgasm had been fairly gentle and short lived, the speed and dexterity with which he had brought her to that point shocked Jane. Even more unnervingly, she had begun her ‘demonstration’ of submission with no expectation of such a conclusion. There was nothing she could recall from Edward’s secret file at her Ministry that would suggest such ability. The file had listed an ordinary number of prior lovers, most from high-society, although not all. Every name in the list had been female. While women of his social class were expected to be discreet, Jane knew quite well the limits of such discretion. Whispers of Edward’s prowess would certainly have spread widely enough to have become part of his file.
Setting aside this puzzle, she straightened up and turned toward him, bowing her head and saying, “Sir, I humbly apologize for my slatternly request to achieve climax. Such had not been my intention when we began.”
He waved a hand dismissively. “I also found the experience far more compelling than I expected. Have no fears, I was only too happy to have made it satisfying for you.”
Making a discrete gesture to the rather large lump jutting forth from the crotch of his pants, she replied, “I am grateful that you found the experience compelling. I eagerly wish that I might express this gratitude in equal measure.”
With an discrete smile, he asked, “And how would you achieve that end?”
Wordlessly, Jane sank to her knees in front of him, reaching up to unbutton his pants. As soon as his penis was released, it sprang to attention, pointing straight at her. She took a moment to admire his generous length and girth, happy he was large, without being uncomfortably oversized. She pushed her tongue against her upper palette, working as much saliva as possible into her mouth. Then Jane leaned forward, taking him completely into her mouth, pressing him down her throat, not pausing until her lips were resting firmly against his abdomen.
She heard him gasp, and she smiled as best she could around the base of his penis. She knew that she had been flaunting her abilities, but surprising him with such a beginning had been very rewarding. She reached out to take his hands in hers and guided him to wrap his hands around the back of her head, showing him that he could guide her head in and out. Hesitantly at first, but with rapidly growing urgency, he pumped her head in and out her with his hands, slamming his full length into her throat again and again until he orgasmed with powerful jets of warm semen pulsing down her throat. With a loud groan, he slid out her her, stumbling backwards two steps before catching his balance.
In a gravely voice, he said, “Now that was completely unexpected. I don’t think I’ve cum so quickly – not since I was a hopelessly randy teenager.”
Jane rose to her feet, grinning as she met his eyes, “Now we are even, which is an excellent way to start.”