Nicola Vincent-Abnett

Nicola Vincent-Abnett
"Savant" for Solaris, Wild's End, Further Associates of Sherlock Holms, more Wild's End

Addled Kat part V

Addled Kat
by Nicola Abnett

“Shit,” said Kat, out loud, and then she looked around the tube train to check she hadn’t made an utter idiot of herself or annoyed anyone, just to be sure that she wouldn’t have to get off this train and onto another one.
It was about half-an-hour out to Golders Green station on the Northern line, not her favourite, as it always seemed so gloomily, deeply underground, and she didn’t want to break the journey, especially not because of her own stupidity. Nobody seemed to be paying her any attention, though, so she went back to her laptop, to scrolling down the comments page on her blog that she’d copied and pasted into a document so that she could read it anywhere.
She’d read, in the news, that there was a promise of full mobile and internet coverage all over the London Underground before long, but, right now, and, especially, right here, there was absolutely no chance of a signal, so, knowing she’d want to catch up, and knowing she’d have some time, she’d done the sensible thing. 
Of course, without a signal, she had no comeback. Perhaps that was for the best.
There was all the usual pedantry.
There was, for example, in the comments section for King of the Castle!
The Elizabethan period was from 1558 to 1603 and not a thousand years ago. Didn’t you do any history in school?
To which Kat wanted to answer, “Yep, but if you’d already been standing for five hundred years the Elizabethans might have added a new wing to you, too, with a window or two... Who knows?” Why were people so damned literal?
Then there was, King, Kat? Queen, surely! You are a woman, aren’t you? You should be proud! What happened to sorority? What happened to feminism? Why did your mother burn her bra and fight for the right to the pill and the abortion and divorce? Why did she fight for the right to vote, for crying out loud?
Kat tried not to compose the answer to that one in her head, but she couldn’t help herself. She almost typed it up, since her computer was open in front of her, but she knew she’d never post it. In the early days of the blog, she had posted answers to some of the less coherent, less well-thought-out comments, and it hadn’t made her any friends. It was much better to breeze past these things, but, on first reading them, at least, Kat never could... not quite.
“King Kat is alliterative,” thought Kat, “which is reason  number one, and certainly reason enough to use it instead of Queen. It also references a kids’ nursery rhyme, ‘I’m the King of the Castle, and you’re the dirty rascal’, which I can’t help thinking you are; and there’s reason number two, should I need a second reason. As to my mother... I’m not entirely sure how old you think she must be, but the suffragette movement began around 1900, and women first got the vote about the time of the first World War. Gender politics have less and less to do with language, thank heavens, and you should grow a sense of humour.”
       History, culture and architecture are clearly lost on you if you think that building anything modern inside anything as magnificent as a thousand year old structure is, in any way, a good idea or, the result, anything short of a monstrosity. Shame on you. I only came here because I run a google alert on ancient buildings and it led me, erroneously as it happens, to this site. It is drivel, sir, and you should not be allowed to misrepresent yourself as some sort of expert on any matter of taste.
Well at least that one’s simple,” thought Kat. “I’m a girl! And, by the way, Fuck Off!” It was not her habit to delete comments. In fact, she couldn’t remember ever having done it, but she might consider doing it for this idiot. The comment wasn’t relevant or useful, and it didn’t actually mean anything in the context of the blog or the other comments, and whoever had written it, and, of course, they’d chosen to remain anonymous... Whoever had written the comment certainly wouldn’t be returning to her site. She might just remove it when she got the chance.
Then, Kat scrolled down, and what came next made her start to smile. At least half of the remaining comments came from regulars telling the anonymous poster to do exactly what she had suggested he do in her thoughts. They had told him that he wasn’t wanted, that he’d missed the point, and that if he really had to be nasty, he should put his name on his comments, and be proud so to do. Maybe Kat would leave the comment after all; it made her feel good to see others coming so nobly to her defence.
It wasn’t the comments on the first castle blog that had made Kat say shit out loud on a Tube train, though, and the comments weren’t really outside her usual experience, except perhaps the one from the architecture enthusiast, but, once in a while, with her kind of flow of consciousness blogging style, that sort of thing was bound to happen. It was the comments on the second castle blog that really came as a shock.
Kat wished she could remember what she’d written, but, although she wrote her posts in a document, and then copied and pasted them onto her blog, she never kept the originals. She didn’t see the point of cluttering up the memory on her laptop with them, especially as they were on the web, and, therefore, out in the ether forever, and could never truly be lost. She wished she could read it now.
The first comment set the tone for what was to come. It read:
       Since when were you and Barista-Bob getting it on? I thought you couldn’t stand the bloke!
       It didn’t matter that they were ‘getting it on’, what mattered was that, somehow, in her latest blog, she’d clearly let slip that they were.
Next came:
       I refer you back to my earlier comment: ‘Kat and Bob sitting in a tree, K-I-S-S-I-N-G!’ Maybe I should’ve said F-*-C-K-I-N-G! 
And then:
       A dirty weekend in a castle? Who can blame you? Throw away the Nespresso machine and invest in a Gaggia, because it sounds like Barista-Bob might just become a fixture, and after you were so rude about his hair, too!
Shit! What the hell had she said?
What the hell would Joel say?
Thank heavens he was still just Barista-Bob. At least she hadn’t outed him. At least no one knew who he actually was. Kat felt the heat rise to her cheeks, and knew that her neck was glowing. There were more comments like the first three, and they all agreed with each other. The consensus was that she and Bob were a couple, were making hay, were at it like knives, were making the beast with two backs... There were any number of expressions for the sex they were presumed to be having and the quantity of it; some sort of competition even seemed to have developed between commenters to see just what obscure, funny and even distasteful euphemisms they could come up with. It was like some form of internet trumps.
Kat closed her laptop, and promised herself that she’d take another look at the blog when her phone had a signal that she could tether the laptop to. There was nothing she could do about it, though; she’d posted the blog that had caused the comments in the first place, and there was no point taking it down. The best thing she could hope to do was post a new blog, something witty and interesting, and, preferably, totally unrelated to Joel or to sex, and try to pull focus. 
She’d just have to turn today’s blog into yesterday’s chip paper, and she’d have to do it fast. 
With a bit of luck, her appointment with Sarah, the pubic hairdresser, would give her fodder for the next blog, and with some decent material and a following wind, she might have time to write something on the ride back to Clapham, and post it as soon as she got home.
It was all about damage limitation: damage limitation and keeping Joel out of it.
Joel had seen the first castle blog; he’d read it on Friday night, right after she’d written it, and Kat knew that he read her posts regularly. She’d written some fashion-based blogs during the week, for variety’s sake, and she’d only posted the second castle blog this morning. So, maybe, just maybe, if she posted a new one about something else this afternoon, he’d miss it entirely. She didn’t want him to see it; she really didn’t want him to see it.
Kat checked the time on her phone. She was early. If she was ten minutes early for her appointment, she could check her blog; she could see what she’d actually written.
It was a pointless exercise. Even if she got the chance to read the post, what difference would it make? She didn’t have another blog ready to go, so she couldn’t update the blog and curtail the interest. She couldn’t update the blog and put Joel off the scent. Besides, it didn’t matter what she’d written, because if Joel read it, he’d read the comments too, and, whatever she’d written, the comments were damning all on their own.
Kat’s regular readers, Kat’s fans, the very people that Kat thought of as her internet buddies, her allies, had let her down, had turned against her, had read her blog and come to their own conclusions, and they had effectively sealed her fate. If Joel got wind of the blog and read their comments, Kat was doomed, they were both doomed, and the whole thing was bound to be over, almost before it had begun. 
Kat really didn’t want that. 
She liked him. Kathryn Adler bloody liked Joel Gerber, and she really liked the sex... She really, really bloody liked the sex, and now she’d gone and ruined it... She’d ruined it by writing a stupid, unguarded, ill-judged shitting blog!
Stupid, Kat! Bloody stupid, Kat!
Kat had not quite finished berating herself when the Tube pulled in at Golders Green station, so she felt flustered, shoving her laptop and phone back in her bag, and pulling herself together to get off the train before the doors closed.
She shouldered her bag and tugged at her jacket as she took the long escalator ride back to street level. She expected to be annoyed with herself all the way to her destination, but was pleasantly surprised when she exited the station into warm sunshine, and the walk back down the Finchley Road took rather less than the quarter of an hour or so that she expected.
Kat strolled past Sarah’s salon and lingered in front of some of the shop windows while she warmed up her face under the sun, and cooled off her temper. She checked the time on her phone, again, and, with at least fifteen minutes to spare, she ducked into a café and picked up a bottle of water from the cooler. She took her laptop out of her bag, tethered it to her phone for a wi-fi signal, and loaded her blog.
Kat sighed with relief. 
She’d called Joel attractive, and she’d used the words ‘relationship status’, but she hadn’t said that she’d gone to the castle with him, only that it was his recommendation. She hadn’t, not for a moment, suggested that they’d slept together, even if she had suggested that they might; she did have to admit that, ‘I might even be tempted to invite him back for coffee’ did sound like code for, ‘I might even be tempted to invite him back for sex’, but they were all adults, after all, and she hadn’t been explicit... not at all!
Everything was in the comments. None of it was her. If Joel raised the issue, she had her defence, right there, in black and white, and, what’s more, she hadn’t used a single exclamation mark, not one!
Kat sighed again.
She could ignore it.
She needn’t rise to the bait.
This was just the internet. This was just the anonymity of comment-posters. This was just what happened to bloggers when readers thought they knew the writers whose stuff they read.  This was normal internet practice. She had nothing to worry about, nothing at all... not a thing.
“Kathryn Adler?”
The first thing Kat saw was a bosom, sitting on top of the narrowest waist she thought she’d ever clapped eyes on, but that might just have been because the breasts were really too large for the torso and extended out wider than the woman’s ribcage.
Kat looked up to see a stunning face hovering above the impressively shapely torso, even if the latter did rather remind her of Jessica Rabbit in a lab coat. The woman must have been about Kat’s age, although she might have been as much as five years younger, or, for that matter, older. She had thick, dark brown hair, which formed a naturally elegant widow’s peak over her forehead and hung in a long, curling pony-tail halfway down her back. Her eyes were big and blue and slightly hooded, and her cheekbones were like razorblades. Kat thought she must be from eastern Europe originally. She really was incredibly striking.
Then the woman smiled, and her top lip disappeared almost completely while her bottom lip split into a double teardrop, the heaviest, roundest parts of which met at the centre of her bottom lip, the delicate tips at the outer corners.
Kat felt a huge pang of jealousy. Who was this woman? And how did Joel know her? And how well? And why?
“I’m Kat,” said Kat, picking up her bag and standing.
“Sarah,” said Sarah, holding out her hand for Kat to shake, “welcome.”
“Thanks,” said Kat, smiling slightly, because she couldn’t help it somehow, but desperately wanting not to feel any warmth towards this beautiful woman.
“Follow me,” said Sarah, “and we’ll have a chat about some treatments.”
“Yes,” said Kat. “All right.”
“Let me take your jacket, and perhaps you’d like to hang up your bag,” said Sarah, after she’d locked the door to the small, but comfortable treatment room.
Kat did as she was told, almost without thinking, quite relaxed in Sarah’s company. She wondered how someone she was so jealous of could have such an easy influence over her, and she wasn’t sure that she liked it, but she couldn’t help going along with it, at least for now. Besides, she wanted to find out about Sarah, and about Joel and their relationship, whatever that was.
She felt that pang again, so much so that she pulled on the tail of her shirt, as if straightening it, even though it didn’t need straightening. Sarah caught the gesture.
“Sit,” she said, “and relax. There’s no need to begin treatments today. We’ll just run through a few things, and try to come up with a plan of action. There’s no pressure to make any decisions. You were recommended, I think?”
“Joel,” said Kat, “speaks very highly of you.” She perched on the edge of the couch, a very good quality cream, leather contraption that clearly had several settings for sitting, reclining and lying, with head and foot rests at either end.
Sarah’s face lit up.
“How is he?” she asked.
“Fine,” said Kat. “Does he recommend a lot of women to you?”
Sarah looked at Kat, puzzled.
“Gosh, I’m sorry,” said Kat. “That was inappropriate. It’s just that I’ve never settled on one beautician. I suppose I’ve never quite found anyone that suits me, and Joel speaks so highly of you. He insisted I come.”
“How lovely of him,” said Sarah, “but he’s an easy man to please.”
Kat felt another pang.
She wondered how much Sarah had pleased him with her beautiful looks and her amazing figure. How had Sarah’s hair felt in his hands? How had Sarah’s tits swung and quivered when...
Shit! Don’t think about it! thought Kat. Crap!
“So what are your preferred treatments? Or maybe we should begin with your preferred outcomes?” asked Sarah. “Do you know what you like?”
Kat thought for a moment that she was going to moan out loud, but all she did was sigh.
She was surprised, then, when Sarah reached out a hand, and placed it gently on her arm, just for the briefest of moments.
“We’ve got plenty of time,” said Sarah, “and I don’t charge for a first consultation, especially not for friends of friends, so why don’t you just put your feet up and talk to me about what you’d like, and we can take it from there... Water?”
Sarah had been sitting on a stool, lower than the treatment couch, unthreatening, but she got up to get a couple of paper cups of water from the dispenser in the corner of the room. Her back was turned for a moment or two, giving Kat time to swing her legs up onto the couch and get comfortable, relaxing back into the gently reclined chair. Then Sarah turned and offered Kat a cup of water before returning to her stool and sipping from her own cup, her clipboard discarded on the bench behind her.
“Do I know what I like?” asked Kat. “How many times am I going to be asked that this week?”
Sarah smiled.
“You’d be amazed how many people, men as well as women, are waxed or plucked or tanned or pummelled, or tinted, or manicured or whatever it is to please someone else, or even because they think that they should, because society somehow expects it,” said Sarah.
“I don’t think I would,” said Kat. “I don’t think I’d be amazed at all.”
“What do you do for a living?” asked Sarah. “If it’s OK to ask.”
“It’s totally OK to ask,” said Kat. “I’m a fashion journalist.”
Sarah raised an eyebrow.
Kat looked at her, and her eyes widened, and suddenly both women were laughing.
“It’s... not... funny...” gasped Kat, the water in her cup sloshing down her shirt as she tried to contain what was quickly becoming hysterical giggling.
“It... really... is...” said Sarah.
They laughed for a minute or two longer, before settling down. Kat took a sip of her water and sighed, relaxing properly for the first time since she’d read the blog comments on the train.
“You don’t like me,” said Sarah.
“That’s not true,” said Kat, shocked. “At least, it was probably true when I first set eyes on you, but I’m pretty sure I’m over it now. I rather like that you’re so frank about it, though.”
“Good,” said Sarah. “In that case, I won’t ask why.”
“I wish you wouldn’t,” said Kat, and then quickly changed the subject. “You think it’s funny that I work in fashion and I have body hair issues?” she asked.
“Do you have body hair issues?” asked Sarah, “Because, trust me, that wouldn’t be remotely unusual for anyone working in fashion. Models, designers, fashion victims, punters, pundits... Every last person, man, woman and ingénue that has been through my doors who’s had so much as a toehold in the fashion industry has had body hair issues. I’ve had thirteen year old wannabe models who’ve wanted electrolysis on hair that’s virtually invisible to the naked eye, growing in the smalls of their backs because they haven’t eaten solid food in three months. I’ve called social services more than once.”
“So body hair issues are nothing new?” asked Kat.
“Tell me what yours are, and if you’ve come up with an issue I haven’t dealt with before, I’ll treat you for nothing, for life,” said Sarah, “and, trust me, my reputation in this business has built me a pretty decent clientele that doesn’t mind paying its way.”
“Fair enough,” said Kat, “but I suspect I’ll be paying for my laziness.”
“Laziness?” asked Sarah. “That’s it? Well, in that case, at least it shouldn’t prove too expensive, and, as a friend of Joel’s, you qualify for mate’s rates.”
“Oh, I couldn’t do that!” said Kat.
“It’s fine... you really could,” said Sarah. “I charge some of my more demanding clients enough to cover it, I promise. You can repay me by being punctual and polite.”
“Two qualities my mother drummed into me from the cradle,” said Kat. “So I might just about be able to manage that.”
Kat and Sarah talked shaving and waxing and laser hair removal, and Kat disrobed, and Sarah examined, and they had a chat, and they laughed over some shared fashion insider tricks of the trade.
“So?” asked Kat.
“So,” said Sarah, “I think you’d be a great candidate for laser hair removal, and I’d be happy to do it for you. Think about it and give me a call, but if you’re as lazy as you claim you are... Although I find it hard to believe...”
“Good,” said Kat, smiling and holding out her hand for Sarah to shake. “I’ll do that.”
“I hope you will,” said Sarah. “I really enjoyed meeting you, Kat. Joel has great taste in women.”
“I was just thinking the very same thing,” said Kat, smiling, partly because she already liked Sarah, and partly because she was amazed at her boldness, especially considering the pangs of jealousy hadn’t entirely gone away, and, she thought, probably never would.
Sarah let out a shriek of laughter so spontaneously that she brought a hand up to her face to stifle it. Kat couldn’t help smiling along, even though she was puzzled.
“What’s so funny?” she asked.
“Nothing,” said Sarah, “except... You do know that Joel’s my brother-in-law, don’t you? I’m terribly fond of him, and everything, but...”
Kat smiled broadly, a huge weight lifting from her chest... from what she couldn’t help thinking of as her heart. If she hadn’t already intended to come back to Sarah for the hair removal treatment, she certainly would now.
“I’ll book an appointment, and see you very soon,” said Kat, as Sarah unlocked the treatment room door.
“I’ll look forward to it,” said Sarah.


Hair Today... Gone Tomorrow!

At least, if I had it my way, that’s how it would be.

Most women and some men do constant battle with their hair, and I’m not talking about the daily shampoo, the grooming products, the hairdryer and straighteners, the decisions about how much gel is too much, which side and how high the parting ought to be, and whether curls really are in this season, or which shade of blonde is the right shade of caramel... I’m talking about body hair.

I’m talking pubes, so all you squeamish types can look away now!

Everybody’s doing it. Everybody’s making choices about what body hair to keep, and, if they keep it, how to wear it. Let’s face it, women have always done it, for as long as any of us can remember. You can go back in time, as far as you like, and, trust me, I’ve done my research, and you’ll find pubic hair airbrushed out of women’s lives since the Renaissance and beyond. There has been no such thing as hair ‘down there’ let alone in our armpits or on our legs for centuries, ladies, and now men are beginning to join us in our quest to be rid of the stuff once and for all, for the good of all humankind, for, heaven forbid we should ever offend another human creature by displaying anything so revolting as body hair.

Sadly, I am a lazy creature. I do not want to shave every day, and I do not always remember or find the time to do it, and I don’t always have a new, usable razor, and stubble growing in is... well... an unpleasant sensation, at best. Waxing is universal, and some of you brave folk even inflict the treatment on yourselves, although how you do it is beyond me, given the levels of pain involved. There is a downside, too! Let’s not pretend that waxing is any good for more than one week in four. Then there’s the thorny issue of the hair growing back, albeit it’s not as unpleasant as razor stubble, and, of course, there’s the need to grow it back far enough for it to be waxed off the next time. All in all, it’s an expensive, painful, unsatisfying business, and one that I, for one, am loath to continue pursuing as a means to this particular end.

Until today, I had not found a pubic hairdresser that I was wedded to.

We do that, don’t we? We find a dentist or an optician, a chiropodist or a hairdresser that we like and we stick with him, or her, for years, sometimes for decades. I’ve never found a technician of the waxing variety that I’ve built up a relationship with, never met anyone who’s treated my nether region in such a way as to make me inclined to return.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think there’s been anything intrinsically bad or wrong with any of the lovely women who have treated my private parts to their various attentions and ministrations, or anything unprofessional about their treatments; I just don’t think that waxing is for me.

A technician was recently recommended to me; in fact, she came very highly recommended by a man, and so I made an appointment and went to see her this afternoon. It was a revelation. Not only was Sarah extremely professional, but she was also beautiful, personable and funny, and we had a long and, I believe, very fruitful consultation.

The consultation wasn’t about her recommending the treatments she prefers, the latest in sugars and waxes, and hot and cold, and this, that and the other... They could put Nutella down there for all I can tell the difference! It was all about her finding out just what my needs are, and then meeting them as nearly as she can with a course of treatments designed around me and around my particular needs, which include not being in pain, not having nasty re-growth and not having to deal with my own laziness about booking further appointments. This is a merry-go-round that I’d very much like to get off, and if I could get off it without walking around with the contents of a rat’s back down my scanties for the rest of my life, or until they fall out with old age, that’d be splendid!
“Why wax?” she asked, “when you’re clearly not a fan!”
Sensible woman.
So, I’m checking my diary, and as soon as I can find a slot, I’m getting started on Sarah’s recommended course of action. It’s going to take a while, but her solutions are, she assures me, painless and permanent. There’s some money to be spent, but I’ve done the maths, and a lifetime of waxing works out a damned sight more costly than the course of treatment that I’ve opted for.

You can be sure that when my treatments begin, you’ll be right there with me, in that room, hearing and seeing, and feeling everything that goes on. If I like it, you’ll know about it. If it works, you’ll know about it, and if it all goes horribly wrong, and I end up with a nasty, ratty, minge, covered in nasty ratty clumps of grotesque short-and-curlies, well, you can be sure I’ll tell you all about that too.

It won’t come to that... Sarah assures me that it couldn’t possibly come to that... In fact, she’s willing to stake her reputation on it! She’d better be right!

<Shit! I haven’t heard from him, Ally! Shit!> Kat typed and hit send.
Kat’s phone beeped, and she picked it up.
<Calm down! What on Earth happened? I was only with you a few hours ago, and everything was fine then.>
<Did you see the blog? Go look at the comments!> typed Kat, and hit send.
Kat got up to make a cup of tea. She thought about cooking something for supper, and then she remembered the mac and cheese and the malted that she’d had for lunch in the diner, and she felt vaguely sick. She was nervous, and she wasn’t actually hungry at all; she was just looking for a distraction.
Five minutes later, Kat’s phone beeped again.
<There aren’t any comments, Kat. You only just posted the blog. What are you having done BTW? How’s it permanent? Is that a good idea for your pubes?>
What? thought Kat. What are you talking about, Ally? Then she remembered that the first thing she’d done when she’d got home was post the new blog, the one she’d written on the tube, the one about Sarah that she’d written for Joel to distract attention away from the second castle blog... Well, she had proof that it worked... on Ally, at least. Would it work on Joel? Could it?
<This morning’s blog, Ally. King of the Castle part ii. Can you read it, and then read the comments section, and tell me just how much trouble I’m in with Joel> Kat typed, and  hit send.
Then she glanced over the text.
She typed, <please xxx>, and hit send, again.
Then, while she waited for Ally to read the blog and the comments, and get back to her, she typed, <My pubes are fine, don’t worry about it, really. It’s all good stuff for the blog, too, and, if it works, you’ll be a total convert. Every nice girl will want this treatment, I promise you!>
Kat’s phone beeped, unexpectedly, almost straight away.
<Just because it’s the latest thing, doesn’t mean it’s a good idea, Kat. You just have to be organised and make a regular appointment, like the rest of us x>
<READ THE SHITTING BLOG! XXX> typed Kat and hit send.
Kat’s phone beeped again far too quickly, and her heart skipped a beat. She hoped that it wasn’t Joel. She really hoped it wasn’t him, and that he wasn’t texting about the second castle blog and all the vulgar comments.
Kat tossed her phone onto the sofa in disgust, and then laughed. If it had been the other way around, she’d have done exactly the same thing to Ally, and she knew it.
Kat picked up her phone and dropped onto the couch to wait for another text from her sister. While she waited, she picked up her laptop to check the comments from the second castle blog. Thank heavens there weren’t any new ones. Maybe no one was reading it now. Maybe she had managed to pull focus. Maybe that would be the end of it.
Kat glanced at the clock on the corner of the screen, wondering whether it was time to pour a glass of wine, and then remembered that she’d made tea. It was probably cold by now.
Her phone beeped.
<Will it bother him do you think?> Ally’s message asked.
<That’s what I was going to ask you!> typed Kat, and hit send.
Kat’s phone beeped.
<Some men wouldn’t like it. On the other hand, it doesn’t do his reputation as a ladykiller any harm.>
<Are you calling me a slut?!> typed Kat, and hit send.
Kat’s phone beeped almost immediately.
<Well... If the cap fits, little sister?! BTW You did protect yourself, didn’t you? Tell me you were sensible!>
<Daft question, Ally! Have you no faith?! Didn’t you take me to Boots to buy me my first ever pack of condoms?!> typed Kat, and hit send.
Kat’s phone beeped.
<Well that’s a relief!>
<Answer the question... Am I in the clear? Will he hate me for this, forever?> typed Kat, and hit send.
Kat had a slightly longer wait, and a new comment came up on her latest blog before her phone beeped again. Kat read it with dismay, and deleted it immediately, but she knew she was in for some trouble, and she knew that she was bound to have to police the site over the next few hours if she didn’t want to take down the post. The comment was basically an advert for a beauty salon offering hair removal treatments, waxing in particular, and Kat knew that it was only going to be the first of many.
“Crap!” she said, “Shit and Fuck!” She couldn’t let people advertise for free in the comments section of her site, but she didn’t want to take the blog down either, partly because she didn’t want the second castle blog to be exposed for Joel to see, but also because she thought the Hair Today blog was good and funny, and that the subject was worth giving some blog space to.
“Crap!” she said again.
Kat’s phone beeped.
<If the sex was as good as you say it was, and it was as good for him as it was for you, I really don’t think you’ve got much to worry about xxx>
<Amen to that! xxx> typed Kat and hit send.
Amen to that, indeed!
Kat’s phone beeped again.
<The kids want macaroni cheese for tea. How our sins come back to haunt us. Blegh!>
<Pour yourself a glass of wine... You can handle it! Happy cooking! Say Seeya, Kat x> typed Kat, and hit send.
Kat’s phone beeped a second later.
<L’Chayim! Seeya, Kat x>
<Seeya Ally,> Kat typed and hit send.
She tossed her phone onto the couch, put her laptop beside it, and got up to fetch a glass of wine, ready to hunker down and sort out her blog and get some work done. If she was unlucky it could turn into a long night.
Kat took a long sip of wine, and put the glass on the little brass tripod table at her elbow. Then she put her laptop back on her lap, turned off the mute button, and opened tabs for twitter, e-mail and her blog and comments page. She wanted to be warned when anything dropped into any of her in-boxes. First, she checked that nothing new had come in while she was saying goodbye to Ally and settling herself down, and the first thing she had to do was delete two more comments from people advertising their services as waxers.
Didn’t people read the content of her blog? Hadn’t she said that waxing was not good? Kat turned to the drop-down menu on her website and clicked on ‘settings’ and then on ‘posts and comments’. She hated making any of her readers and commenters jump through hoops to contribute to the site, so she generally put no restrictions on it. She looked at the options. She could make people sign in, or they could write whatever they wanted as long as they then copied a letter/number configuration, but that only kept out automated responses. It might stop some of the adverts popping up.
Kat hit the option, deciding to try it for an hour. She took another sip of her wine and opened a new document to begin writing some ideas for her feature about bespoke and made-to-measure tailoring.
Within the hour, it became clear that Kat would have to change the settings for her comments section, as six more beauticians specialising in waxing tried to advertise their services. On the upside, three women had left hilarious waxing stories, one of which had made Kat literally choke on a mouthful of wine. She swore she’d never subject herself to the ministrations of a first year beauty school student, performing her first ever bikini wax; it all sounded far too painful.
Kat went back to her blog settings for comments, checked the box marked ‘moderation: always’ and added her e-mail address to be notified when comments appeared for moderation. She didn’t want to do it. She didn’t want to feel as if she was censoring anyone, and she really didn’t want the extra work of constantly moderating comments so that they could be published in real time or as close to real time as she could manage, but she did want to discourage advertising on her blog. She hadn’t monetised it, and she really didn’t want anyone else benefiting financially from it. Besides, if anyone was going to get the benefit of the series of Hair Today blogs that she had planned, it really ought to be Sarah.
To Kat, it felt as if she was locking the stable door after the horse had bolted. The real problem, the potential damage, was to her nascent relationship with Joel, and it hadn’t even crossed her mind to moderate comments on the second castle blog. It was all too little, too late. She could go back and delete comments, of course, but if she did that after Joel had seen them it would only make her seem more guilty, to him, and certainly to the commenters.
Kat couldn’t win this one, and she knew it; she could only hope that, if she let sleeping dogs lie, the threat to her relationship with Joel would go away all on its own, soon enough.
The half-life of a blog, especially one like Kat’s that had a fast turnover of posts, was pretty short, and most of the activity happened within a few hours of posting, so Kat poured herself a second glass of wine, and switched tabs to check her Twitter feed, which had been tweeting merrily away in the background. She decided to stay up until the worst was over; she figured that by the early hours of the morning anyone wanting to advertise would probably have tried and failed, and she could put her settings back the way she liked them. In the meantime, she would surf the web, and maybe do some more research for her feature article. It’d mean a late night, but it’d be fun.

Shit! thought Kat as she read from her direct message column. How romantic is that?
DM from @JJ_Horner <Fancy an assignation?>
DM from @AddledKat <You couldn’t just say ‘Fancy a fuck’ like a normal human being?>
DM from @JJ_Horner <I don’t want to just fuck you.>
Kat breathed in sharply with the pleasant shock of realisation and the memory of what they had done before. Then she sighed deeply, and she realised that she was making the kinds of sounds that women made in porn movies, the kinds of sounds she never thought she’d ever made, or, for that matter, would ever make... Except that she knew Joel had caused her to make those sounds, was causing her to make those sounds without even being in the same room with her. 
“Shit!” she said. “Crap!”
DM from @AddledKat <Call me. There’s something I need to talk to you about first. Sooner is better.>
The tone sounded on her laptop for new e-mail, and Kat switched tabs. The e-mail notified her of new comments on her blog, and she switched tabs again, thinking it would be a simple enough mopping up job, to separate the adverts from the genuine comments, to label the former as spam and approve the latter, and that would be that.
Kat cast her eyes down the short list of commenters’ IDs, and gasped. Barista-Bob was among them, and he hadn’t commented on the Hair Today blog.
Kat moved her cursor over his ID to bring up the comment so that she could read it. It hovered there for a moment, as she plucked up the courage to click on it.
The phone rang, and Kat jumped, and the cursor was no longer hovering over Barista-Bob’s name, having sprung several inches across the screen. For a moment, Kat wasn’t sure whether to answer her phone or check Joel’s comment.
She fumbled beside her on the couch, and picked up her phone. She looked at the screen; it said ‘Joel’ across the top, and had red and green buttons across the bottom, labeled ‘decline’ and ‘answer’. Kat stared at the phone for a moment.
Shit! she thought. Then she reminded herself of what she had wanted to talk to him about, and she took a deep breath and answered the call, trying to sound breezy, and knowing that she was failing.
“Joel,” she said.
“Kathryn,” said Joel.
“You read the blog,” said Kat.
“I did,” said Joel.
“And the comments,” said Kat.
“Indeed,” said Joel.
“And you commented,” said Kat.
“Yes,” said Joel.
“I haven’t had a chance to read the comment,” said Kat.
“Or moderate it,” said Joel.
“Oh!” said Kat.
“Indeed,” said Joel.
“You’re not making this very easy,” said Kat.
“Should I?” asked Joel.
“I don’t know why you wouldn’t,” said Kat. “Not really...”
“Go read the comment,” said Joel. “Moderate it.”
The line went dead, and Kat turned the screen of the phone to face her, and looked at it, as if that would make any difference to the fact that Joel had hung up. 
She couldn’t make head or tail of it, and Kat realised that, rather than being upset, she was actually cross; she was cross with the commenters who had been so crass about her supposed relationship with Barista-Bob, and she was cross with Joel for appearing to be cross with her. She wasn’t cross with herself, though. Kat was innocent; she had done nothing wrong, and she bloody well wasn’t going to feel guilty about any of it. This was the internet; it was the luck of the draw, and, today, her luck had been a bit crappy. Joel should be sympathetic not angry; it was her reputation at stake, after all.
Kat wielded her mouse, and did not hesitate when the cursor landed over Barista-Bob’s name. The comment appeared immediately. She read it, and then she read it again. She wondered if she could quite believe what she was reading as she felt a tear gather in the corner of each of her eyes, and grow and spread along her lower eyelids. They made it difficult for her to read the comment for the third time, until she blinked, and they ran down her cheeks. She sniffed, pulled her sleeves down over her hands, and wiped her cheeks. Then she sniffed again, very  hard, and thought for a moment about posting Joel’s comment.
Kat’s phone rang. She picked it up and looked at it. Joel’s name appeared across the top of the screen. She sniffed once more, coughed and swallowed. Then she hit the accept button at the bottom of the screen, but she didn’t speak.
“So,” said Joel, “about that assignation?”
“Can I just say, first,” said Kat, “before we go any further...”
“You can say whatever you like, Kathryn” said Joel, filling the silence left by Kat tailing off.
Kat swallowed again.
“It’s Kat,” said Kat. “And can I just say, that might just be the most romantic thing anyone has ever said to me, or about me.”
“Written,” said Joel.
“I’m still not going to approve it for posting, though,” said Kat.
“That’s OK,” said Joel, “because, if I know you at all, you’ll soon get fed up with moderating every single comment, and you’ll take the restrictions off your comments page, and, when you do, I’ll post it anyway.” 
“You wouldn’t!” said Kat.
“Try me,” said Joel.
Kat thought he sounded as if he was smiling. She hoped he was smiling. If he was smiling, maybe she wouldn’t have to make a fool of herself by crying all over the place.
“Where and when were you planning for this assignation to take place?” asked Kat, “because what with moderating idiots’ comments, I’m a pretty busy woman.”
“Can you have it covered by Sunday, do you suppose?” asked Joel. “I’ve got a place in the country, for the weekend. I’ve got to work or my editor will be ready to kill me, but I’ll cook something for us on Sunday night and drive you back into town on Monday morning. What do you say? Save me from myself?”
“When you say a place in the country?” asked Kat. “Are we talking about the castle?”
“Aren’t you the greedy girl?” said Joel. “I might just have to take back my invitation for that... No, it’s a–”
“Don’t!” said Kat. “Don’t tell me. I’d rather have the surprise!”
“You’ll come then?” asked Joel.
“I’d love to!” said Kat.
“Good. If you catch the train from Euston to Milton Keynes, they run very regularly, and I’ll pick you up the other end. Just one thing, though,” said Joel.
“And what would that be?” asked Kat.
“I don’t suppose you own anything you might describe as... Gothic?” asked Joel.
“Gothic?” asked Kat.
“I thought we might dress for dinner,” said Joel.
“Leave it with me,” said Kat, breaking into a smile. “I’ll see what I can come up with.”
“Just let me know which train you’re on,” said Joel.
“I will,” said Kat. 
There was a pause.
“Say, seeya later, Kat,” said Kat, without thinking.
“Until Sunday, Kathryn,” said Joel.
“Sunday, Mr Gerber,” said Kat.

<Crap! It’s got to be black! I hardly own a stitch of black, but if it’s not black, it’s not really Gothic!> typed Kat and hit send.
Kat’s phone beeped.
<What about that All Saints thing with the wide elastic strapping across the back... You look amazing in that.>
<It’s grey and splotchy, and it’s short and Goth, and not in a good way> typed Kat, and hit send.
Two minutes later Kat’s phone beeped. She picked it up and checked the screen, as if she didn’t already know what Ally would say.
<It’s inky and freeform, and your legs are amazing, and didn’t you just buy the Jimmy Choo Cosmic shoes? You’ve got to wear them, and I thought you said Gothic! Way to contradict yourself!>
<Floating, romantic, fairy-tale Gothic, not Emo-Goth! Joel’s too short for the Cosmics (maybe), what about the Gestuz with the lace? At least it looks right.> typed Kat and hit send.
Kat waited and waited for what seemed like ages. She was pulling dresses out of her wardrobe, hanging some on the back of her bedroom door and others on the insides of the wardrobe doors. The real possibles were arranged on the bed.
She had a vision of herself in the other Gestuz dress, the one that she’d worn that first night at the White Cube, the one she’d been wearing when she’d walked away from Joel, the backless dress with the billowing skirts that moved with her hips and her hair. That’s what she wanted him to see.
The other Gestuz dress... and she realised what a fan she’d become of the brand over the last couple of seasons... the other dress, the one with the short underskirt and the long, straight, lace overdress was the most gothic piece she had in her wardrobe, but it was strictly for sitting, or better yet, standing still in. It looked amazing with her hair swept up and a slick of Chanel’s Rouge Noir lipstick, but it didn’t move on her body, and she wanted to feel sexy as much as she needed to look good.
Kat’s phone beeped as she held the lace Gestuz up against her body for about the tenth time. The brand new, pristine, Jimmy Choo box with the black, suede Cosmic pumps in their flannel bag, inside, sat on the bed, begging to be packed. They’d bring Kat up to the dizzying height of six-three-and-a-quarter, but she was still thinking about taking them. She was confident, J.J. Horner wasn’t the sort of man who was threatened by anything, least of all a tall woman, or her stiletto-heeled shoes.
Kat looked at her phone; Ally was taking a long time to text her. Then she jumped when the phone beeped in her face.
Ally’s message said, <What about this?>
Kat looked at the picture that went with the text.
Obviously, Ally had taken so long to text because she’d got changed into one of her own dresses and got one of her kids to take a, somewhat wonky, picture of her in it, complete with scrunchy and slippers, and no make-up, but it was... What time was it? Before seven on Friday morning, for goodness sake.
<It’s perfect!> typed Kat and hit send.
Kat’s phone beeped. 
<I’ll courier it over as soon as I get in to work. Make sure you’re home this morning. Keep it... I haven’t worn it yet, and I’m already convinced it’ll look better on you than me. Have a good time! xxx>
<Best sister EVER xxx> typed Kat, and hit send, and she meant it.
She looked at the picture again. The dress was the same shape as the one she’d worn to the private view: fitted through the body, right down to the hips, and then soft and flowing in acres of skirt from the hips right down to the floor. She looked longingly for a moment at the box with the Cosmics inside, and knew that she wouldn’t need them. The dress would look its best skimming the floor, and, if she took herself all the way up over six-three, there was a good chance that wouldn’t happen. She switched one Jimmy Choo box for another, and then changed her mind again, and went for a pair of Marc Jacobs vermillion sling-backs with silver studs on the straps, and kitten heels. She threw a Guerlain lipstick, colour to match, into her make-up bag.
It was Friday morning, and Kat was packing for Sunday afternoon, and, what’s more, she was pretty sure that she wasn’t going to change her mind. She folded a fine-knit, almost gauzy, Rick Owens, body-wrapping cardigan in a colour somewhere between deep bottle green and black onto the bed to wear over Ally’s dress, in case the house in the country, whatever it was, happened to be cold, and began to think about travelling clothes.
She hadn’t been this excited to meet a man since the last time she’d arranged to meet Joel, and the last time she’d arranged to meet Joel there was also quite a lot of trepidation involved. This time... This time, she had a pretty good idea of what she might be getting into, and the stuff she didn’t know about only excited her more, not less.
The fact that his blog comment had been so amazingly romantic, the fact that he was so obviously prepared to make it public, the fact that the other, crass commenters hadn’t fazed him, the fact that this amazing man always seemed to want to sweep Kat off her feet and whisk her away only added to the pleasure, to the anticipation, to the goosebumps forming on her forearms.
It was going to be Sunday, and it was going to be October, so Kat made sure that her shearling boots were brushed and her cashmere leggings were clean, and after that it was all silk and cotton jersey layers, topped off with an old leather jacket from Gap. She’d had it a dozen years, since she was in her teens, and it had been one of her first serious fashion buys, but it was a soft, buttery colour with a worn out texture to match, and it had been modeled on an old Levi jean jacket, so it looked and fit like a classic. She fished out a pair of biscuit coloured men’s Dent driving gloves that she’d found in a vintage shop in Leicester when she’d visited one of her younger cousins at university, and a classic, striped Paul Smith scarf for a splash of colour, and then hit the shower.
Kat had some calls to make, and she liked to be washed and dressed when she was working, even if nobody knew that she was. She had about half of her feature article for Grazia, but had organised a phone interview with one of the people at Hilditch and Key, hoping to get additional information and maybe even an appointment with one of the tailors. That reminded her, she must pop in to see Bucky when she got back from wherever it was that she was going.
The dress turned up just after Kat‘s non-existent lunch, and it was almost better in the flesh, so to speak, than it was in Ally’s photo. It fit beautifully, and the rows of eyelet holes that crisscrossed her bosom and made a V low on her waist, accentuating its narrowness, made Kat’s hourglass figure appear even more voluptuous. She hadn’t even seen the eyelets in the photo, only the shape of the dress, and she hadn’t seen the label, either. She laughed when she saw that it was yet another Gestuz. She should have known.
All those little eyelets made her wonder about underwear, and then she remembered what she was meeting Joel for, and she felt her neck begin to flush. She imagined her nipples rubbing against the silk of the dress and the yards of fabric swishing against her naked buttocks, and she imagined all the amazing sensations she would feel on Sunday night.
All she had to do was get through the next couple of days, and she had plenty of work to keep her going. She’d thought about catching an early train on Sunday, but decided against it. The afternoon was better... Late afternoon, even. He’d said dinner, hadn’t he? She didn’t want to appear too eager, and he’d said he had work to do. It was only... what? Fifty-six hours... Just fifty-six hours, and counting, and she’d be back in Joel’s arms, and it couldn’t come fast enough for Kat.
She felt like a kid at Christmas, and she realised that’s the only time she’d had that feeling: when she was a kid, and when it was Christmas, or on her birthday, or her Batmitzvah, or Ally’s, and on Ally’s wedding day. Kat had never had this feeling, had never felt this sort of anticipation, these butterflies in her stomach in anticipation of an assignation... Kat had never had this feeling about a man... Ever.
Kat checked her bag on Saturday night, and was dressed and ready to go by noon on Sunday. She thought about finding someone to have brunch with, but it was too late to make plans, and she felt foolish. 
Kat had been so intent on making good use of her fifty-six hours, and on distracting herself, that she had diligently chased down every research lead, made all her calls, charmed two tailors into giving her phone interviews, got far more insider information than she ever could have anticipated, and had written two thousand really good words on the differences between men’s and women’s shirt buying habits. In fact, she had a better feature than any fashion journalist had any right to expect, and all before supper time on Saturday. 
She read and reread the article on Sunday morning until she was certain of the position of every comma, had added photo reference, and parcelled the whole thing up to send off to her prospective editor on Monday.
There was nothing left to do. She was high and dry. She sat in the flat for an hour, wondering whether she ought to unpack and repack, but the dress was perfect, and she’d packed more jersey layers to replace the ones she was wearing to get on the train. There was literally nothing to do... Not a thing.
Finally, at one o’clock, Kat could stand it no longer, and she walked up to Clapham North Tube station to wend her way to Euston, a journey that shouldn’t take more than forty minutes. When she arrived at Euston, the 13-50 for Milton Keynes was waiting on the platform. Kat couldn’t bring herself to get on the train. It was too early; it would get her in just after two-thirty. How would that look? Joel really would think she was desperate!
Kat bought a coffee on the station and sat at the table for two nearest the entrance to the café. It was close to the station exit, and there was a draught blowing across her legs, but she’d rather be cold than desperate, and, with any luck, her shearling boots would keep the worst of the freezing air at bay. It really was too cold for early October, but at least it was bright and sunny.
Kat wrapped her hands around her paper cup and was glad that she’d bought a pain au chocolat, even though it was stale because it was kept at a temperature that was too cold for the delicate, buttery pastry.
It didn’t matter, the coffee and pastry kept her busy for ten minutes.
The trains to Milton Keynes ran far too frequently. She couldn’t believe the next was due at 13-54, but at least that one would be easy enough to miss. The one after that was 14-17, but that still arrived in Milton Keynes before three o’clock. She’d bought the large sized coffee; she’d make it last.
Just after twenty past two, Kat decided to text Joel.
<If I’m lucky, I might be on the 14-34, arrives MK 15-27.> she typed and hit send. Then she left the café and checked the departure board. It turned out the 14-34 was the slow train, taking twenty minutes longer than most of them. Kat guessed that it probably stopped at every lamppost. That suited her fine. She’d still be early, but only by half-an-hour. Half-an-hour early wasn’t early at all, it was merely punctual... Punctual was allowed, surely?
Kat picked up the latest copy of Grazia in the newsagents on the station, along with a couple of other fashion magazines, and boarded her train. She thought about buying a newspaper; she liked the Sunday newspapers and always checked out the fashion supplements, but they’d have to wait. This week, Kat really wanted to check out the features in the latest Grazia and its competition, just to give her confidence about her own article a bit of a boost.
She was right, the train did stop at every station on the line to Milton Keynes, but she had reading matter, and she was content. Twenty minutes into the trip, she made sure to text Joel with her ETA.
<Should arrive as expected on the 15-27. See you on the platform.> she typed and hit send.
Her phone beeped a moment later.
<Looking forward to it, Kathryn. I hope you brought your appetite.>
Kat read the text twice. It didn’t need a smiley face, or a winking one for Kat to understand that while Joel might be referring to the dinner that he had promised her, an appetite for food was not the only thing he was referring to. Joel was known for his cool, understated prose. He was known for his calm punctuation. He was known for not needing to employ the exclamation mark. He was known for the beautiful positioning of the comma, and the perfect placement of the semi-colon.
Kat was beginning to understand, perfectly, how he had earned his reputation.

“Shit! It’s colder here than it is in London! Does this car have heating?” asked Kat.
“Not if you want to get more than fifteen miles to the gallon, Kathryn, no, it doesn’t.”
“Well in that case,” said Kat. “How fast does this thing go? And how far away is this house?”
“Faster than you’d think, and not too far,” said Joel.
“Let’s do it then, shall we?” asked Kat, throwing her holdall on the back seat, fastening her seatbelt and rubbing her gloved hands together.
“You’re not really cold, are you?” asked Joel.
“I’m fine,” said Kat, smiling at him.
Joel suddenly leaned towards Kat, and, taking her cheeks in his hands, he kissed her gently on the mouth. Their lips softened and parted slightly, but their tongues didn’t meet. Kat felt herself relax, and she sighed as she hunkered down in her seat.
“Right,” said Joel. “I think we’re ready then.”
Kat didn’t notice where Joel was going, except that he was driving out of town. She didn’t have a car. She’d learned to drive a long time ago, but she didn’t like it much, so she didn’t take much notice of where she was or where she was going. They’d been in the car for twenty minutes or so when she realised they were in parkland with rolling green, and well-placed mature trees and several imposing structures; some of them were buildings, but others seemed more like follies to Kat, and some were simply statues. Then she thought she saw a bridge, old and fancy, and made of stone.
“What?” she asked, sitting up and beginning to take notice of what was going on around them. She realised that they were driving up a track across the parkland towards a building... the most impossible of buildings...
“Stop the car!” she said.
“What?” asked Joel, stopping the car.
“I said, stop the car!” said Kat, again.
“Kathryn,” said Joel. “I don’t know whether you’ve noticed, but I have stopped the car.”
“Shitting hell!” said Kat.
She unbuckled her seatbelt, opened the passenger side door and got out of the car. Joel followed suit.
Kat stood beside the car and looked up the track at the building in front of them.
“You’re not honestly telling me?” asked Kat. Shit!”
“What was the question?” asked Joel.
“What is it?” asked Kat.
“Gothic,” said Joel.
“You’re not kidding!” said Kat.
“Really, Kathryn, must you deploy quite so many exclamation marks?” asked Joel.
Kat stopped looking at the building, and glared stolidly at Joel for just long enough for him to take her seriously.
“OK,” said Joel. “That is, indeed, where you will be staying tonight. It is a gothic temple, built in the eighteenth century, I believe. There are two bedrooms, so you can have one for yourself.”
“Are you shitting me?” asked Kat.
“No, Kathryn,” said Joel. “I’m not shitting you.”
“First the castle, and now this?” asked Kat, spreading her arms to take in the building. It was of triangular construction with turrets at two of its corners and a tower at the third, with various arched and folate windows, with multiple roof levels and with fancy brick and stonework. It was a veritable feast for the eyes, a fairytale gothic masterpiece on a human scale. On a grand scale it wouldn’t have looked out of place in Transylvania!
“Where did you find this?” asked Kat.
“The same place I found the castle,” said Joel. “This is one of my favourites. I often come here to write.”
“How can you work here?” asked Kat. “How can you do anything here? How can you do anything but sit open-mouthed in wonder?”
“I hope we’ll be doing a little more than that, tonight,” said Joel.
“Wow!” said Kat. “Be careful, there, or you might just find yourself succumbing to the need for an exclamation mark.”
“Oh, I wouldn’t go that far,” said Joel. “Now, how about we get out of the cold, get back in the car, and drive up to the house. We could even go inside, if you fancy it?”
“If I was the sort of girl who dreamed about fairytale castles,” said Kat, “this is the sort of fairytale castle I’d dream about.”
“In that case,” said Joel. “I do hope it lives up to your very high expectations.”
“I don’t see how it could possibly fail,” said Kat. “Just look at it!”
Moments later, Kat was spinning slowly around, her arms wide to either side of her body.
“It’s bloody round!” she said. “And it goes all the way up!”
“It is,” said Joel, dropping her holdall on the couch, “and it does.” He smiled as he watched Kat tip her head back and look up at the mezzanine floor above and the painted, domed ceiling beyond it.
“It’s shitting purple!” said Kat. “And look at all the...”
And then she was gone, dashing up the spiralling stone steps before appearing, leaning over the purple painted, circular balustrade that overlooked the sitting room below.
“You can have the room on the left,” called Joel. “I’ll bring up your bag.”
“Can you believe this place?” asked Kat, looking up at the intricately painted ceiling with its profusion of gold dots and its magnificent heraldic shields.
“I can, as it happens,” said Joel, coming up behind her. Kat turned and put her arms around his neck. He dropped her bag, put his hands on her hips, and kissed her mouth. His lips lingered for a moment, and then they parted.
The cold was ebbing out of their hands and feet and faces, but still the insides of their mouths felt pleasantly warm compared to where the skin of their faces touched. Kat felt hot breath on her cheek as Joel breathed out through his nose, but, as the kiss lingered, she felt his next breath mingle with hers, in her mouth, and suddenly their flesh was warm and pliant and ready.
Joel pushed Kat’s hips away from him, slightly, with his hands, disengaged his mouth from hers, and, their faces an inch apart, he said, “why don’t you take a minute to unpack and I’ll show you the rest of the place.”
“There’s more?” asked Kat.
“Not much,” said Joel, and their cheeks were so close that when they smiled, their faces touched again.
Kat bent and picked up her bag. She turned instinctively to the right, and then remembered that her room was to the left, but, instead of retracing her steps, she simply ran around the balustrade, taking the long way, laughing as she went.
The bedroom was tiny and round with a neatly made bed and towels laid out for her. Also on the bed was an elegant brown gift box with gold embossed writing. Kat had never shopped in the store, but she knew the logo, and the shop’s reputation, and she blushed slightly as she lifted the lid, tentatively on the Coco-de-Mer box. Nestled in the pink tissue paper was a set of underwear, a bra and panties, made almost entirely of lengths of black silk ribbon.
Kat checked the size on the bra. It wasn’t exactly right, but it was a damned good guess, and, since the bra was just a frame and had no cups at all, there was almost no chance that it wouldn’t fit, the panties, too.
She held the garments to her chest, still flushed, and smiled. Then she gasped a sharp intake of breath, dropped them on the bed and unzipped her holdall.
Kat’s dress didn’t need underwear. In fact, there was no way that Kat could wear this underwear under her dress; it would look terrible. The bra formed a big floppy bow in her cleavage falling over and between her breasts, mostly exposing them, and the panties formed another big bow falling into the cleft of her backside, but all that ribbon fabric under her elegant fitted dress, would ruin its lines.
She couldn’t wear the gorgeous, sexy gift from Joel and the dress, and she hadn’t brought a dress that she could wear the lingerie with, so she was just going to have to get creative.
Kat took the Marc Jacobs sling-backs out of her bag, dug out the matching lipstick and undressed.
It took her a minute or two to work out how to tie the ribbons in the bra, and how to get into the panties, but when she had she was rather thrilled with the results. She slipped on the sling-backs, pinned her hair up in a loose pile on top of her head, with tendrils falling all around, and slicked the bright red lipstick across her lips. 
She looked at her face in her hand mirror and then held it away from herself to try to see as much of her body as she could. There wasn’t a mirror in the room, and she couldn’t go down to the bathroom to check how she looked without risking bumping into Joel, and that would never do.
Then she remembered something she’d seen any number of models doing backstage at shows, and took out her phone. She picked the camera app from the menu, pointed the camera to face her, held the phone at arm’s length and took a photo. Then she looked at it: Not bad.
She took another photo of her breasts. Her nipples looked pale, and not as dramatic as she would have liked against the falling black silk ribbons of the bra. She looked at the photo again, and realised that she could just see her bottom lip at the top of the picture. It gave her an idea.
Kat took out her lipstick. Making sure that the ribbon was out of the way, she carefully outlined her areolae, and then painted her nipples with the bright red lipstick. They puckered and hardened as she worked, stimulated by the attention.
When she had finished, Kat blotted her nipples with a tissue and took another picture. The effect of her rouged nipples was much more enticing.
Kat’s thumb hovered over the picture for a moment. She had an idea. She took off her sling-backs and tip-toed out of the bedroom and down the stairs. Once at the bottom, she hit the message button on the picture, attached it to Joel’s mobile phone number and typed <behind you!> She hit send.
Kat slipped back into her sling-backs and left her phone at the bottom of the stairs. As she heard Joel’s phone beep, she entered the main room of the Gothic Temple right behind him.
Joel looked at his phone.
Kat thought she heard him gasp, but she couldn’t be sure. He didn’t turn straight away. His head dropped a little further, as if he was concentrating. Then he looked up, as if he was looking for her leaning over the purple balustrade above.
“I really am behind you,” said Kat.
She’d seen a million models pose, seen a million women trying to look their best... seen every woman she’d ever known trying to look her best, but she didn’t want to do that. When it came down to it, she didn’t want to put her hand on her hip or in her hair. She didn’t want to pout and put on the whole glamour thing... That wasn’t her.
She didn’t feel awkward. She felt sexy. It wasn’t that she didn’t know what to do with her hands, because they rested quite comfortably on her thighs. She could feel the silky softness of her skin and the warmth of her fingertips against the cool of her exposed thighs. She knew, too, that her rouged nipples were erect, not because they were stimulated by the application of the lipstick, but because the air in the room was just cool enough to harden them.
It felt like an age before Joel turned, but when he did, his eyes widened slightly, his left eyebrow raised, and he smiled with an open mouth.
“You look...” he began.
“I do, don’t I?” asked Kat.
She looked him squarely in the eyes and began to turn, slowly. His eyes left hers as they shifted first to the profile of her breast and then to her hip as it turned towards him. Then she allowed her head to turn with her body as her almost naked bottom, with only the silk ribbons framing her arse, and the bow falling in its cleft came into his field of view. She heard his breath.
She felt the cool air around her, and longed for the heat in her skin, longed for the electric tingle of his hard, flat palm connecting with the soft flesh of her backside.
She felt his hand on her waist instead, warm and dry, and firm, but gentle. She turned as he directed, and then stepped back out of his grasp.
“But perhaps you meant it for later?” she asked. “Perhaps I shouldn’t have!”
Joel grabbed her wrist as she turned to step away from him, and the jerk of her body as it came to a sudden stop made her tits quiver. She thought for a moment that she couldn’t breathe, and she revelled in the sensation.
“No,” he said, calmly. “It’s fine.”
Kat fixed her gaze on his face.
She knew how this worked.
“No! Really!” she said, and jerked her hand free of his grasp as he relaxed his hold on her wrist.
Joel’s reaction was precisely what she wanted and expected. His right hand whipped against the flesh of her left thigh, high up where it was soft, and the heat in her skin was instant. She gasped, and took an involuntary step towards him.
Joel’s right arm came around Kat’s waist, and his left hand, the fingers splayed, the palm flat, hovered in the air, centimetres from where it had landed on Kat’s thigh.
He looked into Kat’s eyes for a moment, and then she threw back her head, and he buried his face in the soft angle of her throat above her collar bone, forcing her head away at an angle.
Kat had to balance with her feet apart, unable to move her head, held in check by Joel’s arm, and utterly at his mercy, exactly where she wanted to be.
She brought her hand around to the back of Joel’s head, and massaged the rough edge of his shaved hairline where it met the hard ridge of muscle at the nape of his neck.
The tingle in her thigh seemed to go on forever, radiating outwards, as the heat in her neck increased with Joel’s hot breath and with the scouring sensation of his stubble pushed hard against her delicate skin. She didn’t care. She wanted more. She wanted much, much more.
“Don’t move,” said Joel.
Kat straightened her head a little, and slowly released her grasp on Joel’s head, but the tone in his voice told her that she must do as she was told, and she had no reason to defy him.
Kat remained still, more-or-less, as Joel stepped away from her.
Kat watched him looking at her body, at the smudged rouge of her right nipple where he had held her body against his and crushed her breast. She could see the corresponding stain on his shirt. Joel hadn’t seen it. Kat liked that he preferred to look at her.
Joel undid the top three buttons of his shirt and pulled it off over his head, never taking his eyes off Kat.
She never took her eyes off him, either.
“You’re beautiful,” she said.
“No,” said Joel.
He wasn’t emphatic, but, then, he was never emphatic. Kat said nothing. In fact, she didn’t respond at all, but she remembered the exchange, and she stored it away for later. Kat would use anything to get what she wanted, and she knew exactly what she wanted and exactly how to get it.
Without taking his eyes off her, Joel kicked off his shoes, and began to unbutton his jeans. He wasn’t wearing underwear; he seldom did, in Kat’s experience, and there was something incredibly sexy about that. Everything about Joel was incredibly sexy to Kat, every damned thing.
Joel stepped towards Kat again, took her left breast in his hand, lifting it into a bulging cleavage, and bent his head to take the rouged nipple into his mouth. Kat bent her head to watch, mesmerised. Her nipple hardened as his hand closed around the lower half of her tit, distorting its shape, and when he was close enough for her to feel his breath, she could hardly bear the anticipation. 
Joel closed his lips around her nipple and sucked hard. Then his hand tightened, squeezing, and the sucking relaxed a little. Then she felt his teeth nibbling at her nipple, and she wondered whether it could possibly get any harder.
Kat smiled, slightly, and pulled Joel’s head harder into her breast, flattening his hand against her ribcage and pushing her breast against her body so that it spread even higher under her chin, the ribbons of the bra riding high over the swell.
“You really are beautiful,” she said.
He pulled his head away from her breast, and looked up at her. He had both hands high on her ribcage, but he had pulled away far enough for her hand to have fallen away from his head.
“No,” he said, “I’m not.”
Kat held his gaze, again.
I think you’re beautiful,” she said.
Joel’s hands tightened slightly around Kat’s torso.
She put a hand, tentatively, on his shoulder. She could feel the tension in his body, and the sensation excited her. Their gazes held for what seemed like a long time.
“Don’t talk nonsense,” said Joel.
“It’s not–”
This time, Joel swung with his left hand. This time, he swung at her right breast.
Kat felt the tingle and the heat in her flesh, she felt her skin turn pink with the warmth, and she felt the quiver and tremble of her soft flesh. Then she felt something else, something new. She felt the movement of the cool silk of the long ribbons of her bra as they swung with the movement of her body, she felt the cool silk swing against the tingling flesh of her breast, and she gasped with the pleasure of it.
Then his tongue was in her mouth. The warm, urgent, probing flesh of his tongue was dancing with hers; they were breathing the same breath, sharing the same heat... and then he stopped.
“Wait,” he said.
“No,” she said. “Do it again.”
“What?” asked Joel.
Kat stood in front of Joel, her feet a little apart. First she ran her hands down her thighs.
“Do it to me, again,” she said.
Then she cupped her breasts.
“Do it,” she said. “Please.”
“Turn around,” said Joel.
“No,” said Kat, holding Joel’s gaze, unblinking.
“Now,” said Joel.
Kat turned her back on Joel, but having done so, she looked over her shoulder at him. She watched as he pulled back his right hand and then released it, smacking her hard on the backside. She whipped around as he brought his hand back for a second time, and this time, the smack landed on her thigh, on her left thigh, almost exactly over the first smack. A bright pink imprint of his hand appeared almost immediately on her white flesh.
“Yes,” said Kat, “like that!”
Joel stared at the mark he had left on Kat’s thigh, and then stared harder as she ran her fingers almost lovingly over it, tracing his handprint.
Kat turned and, using the same fingers that she had used to trace Joel’s handprint, she began to trace the print that was appearing on her backside.
Looking over her shoulder, again, she could see that Joel’s erection was at its hardest, that there was no turning back, that she had all the power.
He seemed not to know what to do with his hands, but she had a few ideas.
Kat leaned forward at the waist, a hand on each cheek, now, sliding her fingertips into the cleft between them. He’d like that, and if he didn’t like it enough to take things into his own hands, she’d just have to tell him what to do. She liked telling him what to do. She liked the effect it had on him.
Joel groaned slightly, and Kat wiggled her hips, swinging the ribbons on her knickers so that the cool silk glided over her backside, cooling the hot skin where he’d slapped her. She was wet. She was very wet, and any minute now, she’d slide her fingers into her wet cunt, and watch Joel, watching her finger-fuck herself.
God she felt hot.
Kat took hold of the ribbons that skirted her arse cheeks and pulled them first up into her cleft, before making her buttocks dance again for Joel, and then out again, out and wide. Then she brought one hand around to the front, pulling the fabric of the knickers out of the way so that as much of her was exposed as possible, and ran the other hand, fingertips first, down the cleft of her arse. When she reached her naked pucker, she paused, circled, and teased it.
“Oh Kathryn,” said Joel.
Kat looked over her shoulder.
Joel’s balls were high and tight, and he had his cock in his hand and was pumping it slowly, but firmly, up and down. His eyes shifted from her arse to her face and back again.
Kat stopped playing with her pucker and straightened up.
She turned to face Joel, who stopped pumping his fist, although he didn’t let go of his cock.
“It’s Kat,” said Kat, taking a step towards Joel, hands on hips, shoulders back, head high.
“Your name’s Kathryn,” said Joel. 
“My friends call me Kat,” said Kat.
“Everyone and anyone calls you Kat,” said Joel. “I prefer not to be just anyone.”
Kat looked into Joel’s eyes for a moment.
“Hah!” she said.
It was her right breast again. It quivered and trembled and the heat of the slap seared through her.
“Again!” she said.
Then it was her left.
“Again!” she said.
Then it was her left again.
And her right.
Joel turned her around and slapped her backside twice, hard.
And then again.
She turned and tried to kiss him, but he stepped away from her.
“Oh, Kathryn,” he said.
Joel’s hand was fixed around his cock, and he stood naked and motionless before her.
She looked him squarely in the eyes, but she did not contradict him. She glowed with the warmth in her skin. She tingled all over with a sensation that she did not yet fully understand, but which she knew she did not want to live without. She had not come, not yet, but she had never felt so fulfilled.
All she wanted, now, was for Joel to feel fulfilled. She did not know how he could feel as amazing as she did, but she knew she could make him feel good. She knew she could make him feel very, very good.
Kat smiled at Joel.
She put her hands on his shoulders and ran them down his chest, over his nipples and towards his navel, as she dropped first to one knee and then to both.
She reached up to twist and pull at his left nipple, and she dipped her tongue into his belly button as she released his fingers from around his cock.
She stroked his thigh, and reached both hands around to grasp his backside and massage his hamstrings. Joel was excited, but he was also rigid, and she needed him to relax if she was to do what she wanted to do... what she really wanted to do.
She ran an index finger up the outside of his penis, and then two down his belly behind his penis, which was so erect there was hardly room for manoeuvre behind it. She ran the same two fingers down the inside of his thigh, and Joel took half a step to the side, involuntarily.
“That tickles,” he said.
“It’s supposed to,” said Kat.
Then she placed her right palm firmly against the inside of Joel’s left thigh, and squeezed, slightly. Joel’s muscles tensed and relaxed in response, and his right hand came down to caress Kat’s face. She turned her head to kiss his palm, and then she took his thumb in her mouth, cheeked it, nibbled the outside edge, very gently, and then took it into her mouth, against the flat of her tongue, and sucked on it.
Joel gasped, and Kat felt his cock flex close to her face. Now that his legs were a little apart, she reached her left hand around his balls, which really were high and tight, and, cupping them in her palm, she found the seam beyond. Then she pushed her index and middle fingers, hard, into his root, beyond his balls, beneath the seam. 
Then she pushed her right hand down behind his penis as far as it would go, so that she could take a firm hold of his cock where it met his body, curling her fingers around the base with her index and middle fingers gripping the shaft.
Kat did nothing with her hands to begin with, nothing but exert firm, even pressure.
She looked up at Joel, taking the tip of his thumb between her teeth, and snarling at him slightly, before letting it go. Then she placed the tip of her tongue, made into a point for the purpose, over the slot in his glans, and vibrated it slightly. She lapped her tongue over his helmet, and then followed its edge all the way around, before closing her mouth over the head of his cock, firming her lips around his glans, and then peeling her lips back over it, simulating the action of her vulva when he penetrated her. 
She did this two or three times more before she began to massage his root with the first two fingers of her left hand, slowly at first. Then she lowered her mouth further over his cock, sucking firmly as his helmet met her soft palate and she had to control her gag reflex. Any man liked to see his cock disappear as far as humanly possible into a woman’s mouth, and she doubted that Joel was an exception to that rule.
She felt his hands tighten on her head. She felt him resist the urge to push her head down further onto his cock. She pulled her cheeks in a little more firmly, sucking a little harder, and then she set her right hand to work, pulling and turning anti-clockwise on the upstroke, putting equal pressure on the downstroke and twisting clockwise, at the same time increasing the pressure and frequency with the left hand on his root.
Kat sucked all the way back on Joel’s cock running her tongue over his helmet and squeezing it through her lips before taking it back down into her mouth, as far as it would go, building a rhythm. She could feel the pulse in his cock-vein, against her tongue, and the involuntary throb and twitch of his member as he got closer to coming.
She tightened the circle of her index and second fingers around the base of his cock, and pulled and twisted a little harder, making sure that she had enough strength not to disappoint at the end, and she pushed the tips of the fingers of her left hand firmly into his root, rubbing him almost as she might masturbate herself.
Her hands worked at a similar, fast rhythm to each other, while her mouth worked slightly slower, taking in almost his entire shaft, working the head, maintaining pressure between the tongue and palate, and constant, steady suction.
How well did she know him, she wondered. She thought she knew him pretty well. He was a gentleman, but he was also a demanding lover. He treated her like his equal, in every way, but especially as his lover... Not the same, but certainly equal.
If he let go of her head... If he did not speak... She would take that as a sign that he did not want to, or did not expect to cum in her mouth. If not...
Joel’s fingers were locked into her hair. He didn’t thrust into her face, nor pull her head into his crotch, but he held her there.
Kat increased the pressure on his root for the last time, massaging firmly with the flats of her fingers and closing the palm of her left hand a little tighter around his balls, which seemed to have retracted almost entirely in preparation for dumping their load. She grasped the base and shaft of his cock a little more firmly with her right hand and pumped a little faster, exerting a little extra pressure on the upstroke, and maintaining the twisting action as she brought her mouth down to meet her hand, feeling the pressure of his swelling helmet as it pushed into her soft palate, controlling her gag reflex all the time.
She knew he was close. She knew he was very close.
She felt a tremble in his thigh close to her cheek, and she knew he was about to speak.
“Kat,” he gasped. “Yes.”
That was all.
His cum poured into her mouth, but she timed her swallow as he called her name, and there was no gagging, even as the first powerful surge hit the back of her throat with force. 
He tasted sweet and salt, and somehow familiar, and as the spunk rolled around her mouth, her hands pumped out the last of their rhythm and her head came down to take the full length of his cock for the final time. Her grasp loosened around his cock and her hand relaxed against his root, and the rhythm abated.
Kat sucked the last of the spunk from Joel’s member as it began to soften, and it left her mouth as warm and almost as dry and clean as it had entered it.
The tension in Joel’s thigh that had made him tremble, slackened, and his knees unlocked. He breathed deeply and sighed, and his shoulders dropped, and then his chin.
Joel’s hands relaxed in Kat’s hair, and he stroked it and played with one long curl. Then he touched her cheek with the back of his hand, and reached down, and, taking Kat’s hand, helped her to her feet. He took her face gently in his hands and kissed her long and slowly. Then he lifted her in his arms and walked towards the spiral staircase.
“You can’t carry me up there,” said Kat.
“Don’t contradict me, Kathryn,” said Joel.
Kat looked into Joel’s face, and seeing what she saw there, she simply smiled, and put her arms around his neck.
“No sir,” she said.
“Good girl.”
“Where are you taking me?” asked Kat.
“To bed,” said Joel. “You look wonderful on your knees, but if I’m going to return the favour, I want you flat on your back.”
“Sounds like a plan,” said Kat.

“I’m glad you think so,” said Joel.

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