red rope lesson MENTOR

by Van ©2016

Chapter 1

Dramatis Personæ


Grace Scanlon came from old money and had inherited her fair share, as well as one of the family's many "vacation homes."  Situated on a bluff above a lonely stretch of the Central California coast, the "Beach Bungalow" had been built in the middle of the 20th century and was solidly in the Modern school of rectilinear, sparse, ornamentation-free architecture.  Most people, when presented with the floor plan, would say it easily qualified as a mansion, and that included Grace's neighbors, the closest of whom were slightly more than a mile away to the north or south.  The Bungalow was hardly a "bungalow."  However, from the outside it wasn't at all clear that it was even a single building.

From any one of the few and difficult to reach vantage points among the rocks and chaparral atop the bluff, all that was visible were a few scattered and separated balconies, decks, and concrete walls.  The impression was of several small structures tucked into the sere landscape, probably connected by unseen walkways or trails.  There was no visible main structure.  And given the surrounding native vegetation and sandstone color of what one could see, one might be forgiven for thinking they were seeing a cluster of bunkers or pillboxes, perhaps abandoned and now refurbished coastal defenses from WW-II.  One would be mistaken.

The Beach Bungalow was, in fact, a single structure, and in terms of square footage and accommodations it was, indeed, a "mansion."  Another word that might be appropriate was "anthill."  The Bungalow was a warren of mostly subterranean rooms at several different levels.  Its lounges, sitting rooms, library, bedrooms, bathrooms, kitchen, storerooms, etc., were all interconnected by stairs, open walkways, and corridors, and some of the rooms had clever interior balconies that afforded views of the public spaces below.  Subterranean, yes, but hardly a cave.  During the day, abundant light came from banks of picture windows facing the ocean and skylights overhead.  At night, there was artfully designed direct and indirect lighting.

The decor was uniformly Modern, with walls of the same sandstone color as the exterior, as well as warm, richly stained panels of wood and banks of ceiling-to-floor mirrors.  The furnishings were the best-of-the-best from various designers, and the art collection gracing the walls could only be described as exquisite and obviously quite expensive.

In terms of amenities, outdoors there was a sunken spa and a modest pool of the infinity variety.  One could float in the pool and enjoy the illusion that the cool waters stretched to the Pacific horizon.  There were also lounge chairs, cafe tables and chairs, and a large barbecue for al fresco cooking.  Indoors, there was a fully-equipped home gym, a large dry sauna, a yoga studio with a spectacular view of the ocean, and a home theater with a vast projection screen and comfortable easy chairs and sofas for seating.

Without a doubt, Grace lived in the proverbial lap of luxury and wanted for nothing; however, she had augmented her inherited wealth with lucrative royalties from more than twenty bestselling novels.  Grace was a famous writer, or rather, she would be famous if she granted interviews, accepted invitations to appear on talk shows, or attended book conventions.  Book-signing tours were an inevitable, necessary evil she participated in only under pressure from her publisher, but Grace kept them to an absolute minimum.  As it was, Grace Scanlon was... semi-famous.

That said, Grace was anything but an antisocial loner.  Her dinner parties and weekend salons were attended by the international crème de la crème of the literary, artistic, entertainment, and scientific worlds—or rather, by a select few of the crème de la crème.  Grace was intelligent, educated, well-spoken, and kind, but it was well known that she was "eccentric" in some of her interests.  A few of her circle of friends were like-minded, but the rest were, at best, tolerant.  All said, Grace was an amazing hostess and, more importantly, an amazing friend.

The eccentricities in question, Grace's recognized foibles, revolved around "power-exchange" and "bondage."  Both elements could be detected in her writings, but as subtle themes or devices.  The evolution and interactions of her characters' relationships sometimes involved rebellion against or acceptance of dominance and submission.  In terms of bondage, the plot elements of her novels that involved kidnappings or imprisonment were praised by reviewers for their emotional and physical realism.

In terms of genre, Grace wrote mysteries, action-adventures, science fiction stories, fantasies, all-of-the-above, some-of-the-above, and each new book drove her publisher's marketing department absolutely bonkers trying to decide on the appropriate pigeonhole.  The powers that be at Barnes & Noble had long since decided to punt, stocking her books in the "Literature" section.

In the Beach Bungalow, the only overtly public evidence of either of Grace's eccentricities was in the Great Room.  It was the multi-storied heart of the mansion, with multiple staircases leading up and down and overlooked by several interior balconies.  And in pride of place in the very center, lit from above by a skylight and dedicated spotlights, was a Maggie Kilborn sculpture: a life-size, nude, bronze maiden kneeling with her hands behind her back and her head bowed.  Her features were concealed behind the flowing curtain of her long, wavy bronze hair and her naked body was fit and athletic, with full breasts, a wasp-thin waist, strong thighs, and perfect feet.  Also, her arms and torso were bound with bronze rope in a reverse-prayer box-tie and her legs and ankles in a frog-tie.  Depicted with Kilborn's characteristic realism, the bound beauty was helpless.  The uninitiated among Grace's guests might not know the accepted jargon for the elements of her bondage, but all would agree that she was totally helpless.

Yes, the Kilborn sculpture was, in a word, blatant, but many internationally important museums had Kilborn sculptures in their collections, and no one would argue that meant the curators were "into bondage."  Still, as an artistic installation in a private home, the bronze might be interpreted as some sort of... statement.

There were other "statements" throughout Grace's home, many, many others, but all were exceedingly subtle, their true nature made clear only when they were put to use.  You see, in addition to her writing, Grace was something of a tinkerer.  She had a large and expensively equipped "hobby shop" in which she indulged her imagination, bringing elements of her eccentric interests into the real world.  More about that later.

As for Grace, herself... she was 5' 3", in her forties, and was beautiful—not classically beautiful, but beautiful.  Under some conditions one might characterize her features as being rather plain.  But then, she would turn her head... and your breath would be taken away.  Grace was beautiful, and something of an enigma.

She was also fit and curvaceous.  Her breasts weren't especially large, but they were definitely there, especially when she wore a sleeveless gown requiring a push-up bra.  Her skin was naturally fair and prone to freckles.  Her hair was currently medium length and dark- or honey-blond, but some whispered that she was actually a redhead.  Those of her friends and guests that were lucky enough to join her in the sauna knew that her neatly-trimmed pubic bush was reddish-brown, possibly dark red.  The lighting in the sauna made it difficult to be sure.  Grace Scanlon might very well be a natural redhead.

Grace dressed well.  She owned jeans, shorts, tank-tops, and t-shirts, and often wore them while tinkering; however, more often than not, one would find her relaxing at home in a designer dress or skirt and blouse.  It was a lifelong habit.

At the moment, Grace had a guest, and that guest was also her good friend and literary agent.  Grace was in the kitchen, putting the finishing touches on a selection of hors d'oeuvres and mixing pear martinis.  Preparations complete and tray in hand, she returned to the lounge where she'd left her guest... and smiled.
Chapter 1
Charlotte Roth was Grace's agent, confidant, and friend.  She'd taken over the Grace Scanlon account soon after joining Grace's publisher, replacing the author's previous agent, who had retired to Paris at the end of a long and illustrious career.  Charlotte had shepherded Grace's last ten novels on their arduous journeys from concept to the readers' hands, and had the rope-marks to prove it.

Actually, any marks Grace's ropes might have left on poor, long suffering Charlotte's fair skin over the last few years had all faded soon after her release from said ropes—Grace was far too skilled and experienced a rigger for rope-marks to become rope-burns or bruises—but playing the martyr was a part of Charlotte's personal dynamic with her supremely talented, beautiful, and eccentric Cash Cow, so occasionally bemoaning her nonexistent rope-marks was to be expected.  "Cash Cow" was both an accurate description of Grace's value to her publisher, Charlotte's employer, and an irreverent private nickname Charlotte had imparted on Grace soon after they met.

Relationships between established authors and their agents and editors can be famously complex, tempestuous, close, and/or intimate, the stuff of literary legend.  Grace and Charlotte's relationship certainly fit that mold, but was light on the complexity and tempestuousness and heavy on the closeness and intimacy.  From the outside, it might even appear to be the typical Top/Bottom dynamic, but looks can deceive.

On occasion, Charlotte and Grace were lovers, but the professional aspects of their partnership held sway.  Mutual affection?  Yes.  Soulmates?  Not exactly.  However, it was clear, at least in private, who was always in charge, and it wasn't Charlotte.

Case in point, at the moment Charlotte was naked, having voluntarily removed her clothing upon arriving at the Bungalow and allowing Grace to lock them in a cabinet near the main entryway.  She was also seated in a comfortable and stylish sling chair in the Great Room, part of a conversation group not far from the Kilborn sculpture of the bound maiden.  The chair had a curved, tubular frame of chromed steel.  The sling's unified back and seat was of rust-brown leather and was thickly and comfortably padded.  It was a solid, exquisite example of the Modern style.  However, it had been "accessorized" by its owner.

The accessories in question, products of Grace's tinkering hobby, were rubberized steel clamps that gripped the chair's frame at strategic points and served to anchor various cuffs and straps of black nylon webbing.  The clamps could quickly and easily be removed without a trace, but at the moment they were very much in place, and so was Charlotte.

Wide nylon cuffs bound Charlotte's wrists to the chair's padded armrests and her ankles to the base of the unpadded frame.  Narrower nylon straps encircled and tightly bound her upper-arms, her chest, above and below her pert breasts, her waist, and her thighs, just above her widely separated knees.  Charlotte was in a very unladylike pose, and the snap-buckles securing the various cuffs and straps were all well beyond the reach of her fluttering fingers.  Finally, a smooth, wide strip of Elastoplast tape sealed Charlotte's lips and hugged most of her lower face.

Charlotte watched (meaning stared daggers) as Grace entered the Great Room and placed her tray on a convenient side-table.  She then settled into a chair identical to Charlotte's (but without added accessories), crossed her nylon-clad legs, artfully arranged them to one side, and smiled.

So...  Charlotte: naked, helplessly strapped in place, her knees splayed and private parts on lewd display, and her lips sealed.  Grace, elegantly clothed in heels, nude pantyhose, a somewhat short, thigh-hugging pencil skirt, a stylish, long sleeve blouse, and very much not bound and gagged.  As mentioned earlier, between Grace and Charlotte, it was always clear who was in charge, especially in private.

Charlotte continued to glare.  Grace had taken her sweet time preparing her precious hors d'oeuvres and drinks, and Charlotte was near the end of her patience.  The chair's cuffs and straps, however, had infinite patience.

Grace continued smiling, picked up one of the two pear martinis on the tray... took a delicate sip... then returned her amused gaze to her guest.

Charlotte tugged on her wrist cuffs, testing the straps pinning her torso in place (and thereby imparting an oscillating bob to her bare breasts) then heaved a truly tragic, tape-gagged sigh.  Maybe a little display of her obvious helplessness would move things along.

Or maybe not.

Grace returned her martini to the tray and gracefully stood.  "Silly me," she announced, "I forgot the napkins."  And with that, she turned and strolled back to the kitchen.

Charlotte, of course, had no choice but to let her hostess depart... and to resume her comfortable, naked, bound, and gagged languishing.
Chapter 1
Grace returned to the Great Room with the missing napkins—fine linen, ivory in color.  No paper napkins for Grace Scanlon, only the best of the best, in accordance with her sophisticated and particular tastes.

Charlotte greeted her hostess with more eye-daggers and sullen, dour struggles.

Grace resumed her seat, leaned towards her guest, carefully and delicately teased back a corner of Charlotte's tape-gag, then slowly peeled the off-white strip from her face.  As always, the Elastoplast's strong, hypoallergenic adhesive
surrendered its grip with great reluctance and stretched Charlotte's lips and skin.

"Thirsty?" Grace purred, then held the second martini glass to Charlotte's pouting lips.

Charlotte pursed her lips and took a delicate sip, but continued her hostile stare.  It was expected.

"You've gotten a haircut," Grace noted.  "You promised you were going to let it grow."

"I made no such promise," Charlotte huffed, shaking her head and causing her closely cropped brown locks to flutter into place... more or less.  "You ordered me to let it grow, and I've decided to ignore you.  I like my hair short."

Grace smiled.  "You look better with long hair."

Charlotte saw an opening to move the discussion to the purpose of her visit and she took it.  "June Kempe has long hair," she said with a smile.

Grace heaved a sigh, then picked up a touchscreen remote from the side-table.  "Yes, she does."  She tapped and slid her way through the remote's menus... then made a final tap.

Cosplay-1Across the Great Room, a mirrored panel slid upwards, revealing a titanic flat-screen TV.  The overhead lights dimmed and the image of a stunningly beautiful woman appeared, and she was stunning.  She was also dressed in a revealing and unusual outfit that might have been some sort of costume: black leather and lace elbow gloves, halter-top bustier (with a pointed, decorative collar), and decidedly low-slung pants.  She was showing significant cleavage, smooth shoulders, strong upper-arms, and a slender, bare midriff.  Her features were rounded and somewhat girlish, and her wavy hair was long and lustrously brown.

"You expect me to let such a ridiculous creature into my home so I can teach her how to write?" Grace chuckled.

"June is not a ridiculous creature," Charlotte countered.

Cosplay-2Grace's response was another tap of the remote, causing a second image to appear beside the first.  It was the same woman, June Kemp, and this time her outfit was even more abbreviated and was clearly a costume.  There was a full-length, sky-blue cape lined in gold satin with a layered, pointed collar, a matching brassiere, a loincloth with a front panel of white linen embroidered with a vertical blue and gold stripe, sky-blue arm bracers, and sky-blue knee boots.  A staff topped by a blue crystal completed the ensemble.

"That's not ridiculous, either," Charlotte huffed.  "It's cosplay.  Something to do with Final Fantasy."  She noticed Grace's amused but uncomprehending expression, and elaborated.  "Final Fantasy?  The very popular video game series?"

Grace shrugged, still smiling.  "If you say so, dear.  And correct me if I'm wrong, but to 'cosplay' is to dress up as a favorite video game, TV, or movie character?"

"Also anime," Charlotte confirmed, "and it's not ridiculous.  Thousands of fans do it at comic book conventions, movie screenings, and..."  Grace had tapped the remote a third time, a third image joined the first two, and Charlotte heaved a sigh.  "Okay, the ears on that one are a tad ridiculous."

Cosplay-3In the third image June's costume was similar to the second in that it was just as revealing, but there was no staff or cape and the predominant colors were red and black.  The ears in question were rust-red with black tips, in the manner of a fox, and were furry, pointed, and protruded from June's hair as if from the back of her head.

"A tad ridiculous?" Grace purred.  "And the 'Final Fantasy' princess or sorceress is not?  Is that one also from a video game?"

"Uh... I believe it's also from Final Fantasy," Charlotte answered.  "I assume the ears are necessary to the character... whoever or whatever she might be."

Grace was still smiling, but was also slowly shaking her head.  "A grown woman that plays dress-up," she intoned.

"I assume you read the drafts I sent you," Charlotte said.

Grace gazed at the images for a few seconds before answering.  "She has a good grasp of description and character development and is a more than competent writer.  A few rough edges, but nothing that can't be fixed.  Her main problem is focus.  Her plots are scattered and difficult to follow.  And as for her choice of material..."

"I get it," Charlotte sighed.  "You don't do video games, which means you don't get the references and jargon."

"And neither will all but a niche audience of potential readers," Grace noted.

"Yes, a niche audience numbering in the tens of millions," Charlotte countered in a perfectly deadpan manner, "but I can see how it all might leave you a little confused... grandma."

Grace smiled at her naked, chair-bound guest.  "Okay, as a favor to my marginally adequate agent who is still struggling with the concept of tact... I'll meet with her.  But I promise nothing else."

Charlotte grinned in relief.  "Good.  I know the perfect place and I'll set the whole thing up.  Uh..."  Her smile faded as she watched Grace open a drawer in the side-table and pull out a ball-gag with a black leather strap and a two-inch spherical mouth-plug of white silicon rubber.  "What about the hors d'oeuvres?" she asked as Grace rose from her chair and stepped behind her chair.

"I'm sure 'grandma' will enjoy them immensely as she prepares for bed and reads a chapter or two of Gail Carriger's new novel," Grace purred, then popped the white ball into Charlotte's compliant but unenthusiastic mouth and tightened and secured the strap's buckle at the nape of her neck.  "I suppose a boyish bob does have its conveniences," Grace conceded as she strolled to the side-table and picked up the tray, "like not getting in the way while one buckles a gag, but I still prefer the way long hair frames your face.  Until later, darling."

Her mouth filled more or less to capacity with silicon rubber and the ball-gag's strap buckled tight enough to make her cheeks bulge, Charlotte heaved a sigh as Grace climbed the stairs towards her bedroom, taking with her what had looked to be a very tasty array of comestibles and two barely sampled pear martinis... and then was gone.

The three images of the cosplaying June Kemp remained on the screen across the semi-darkened room.  Charlotte knew her hostess would reappear... eventually... probably with coils of rope, a leather arm-binder, steel handcuffs, or some other means of keeping her under control as she took her upstairs to share her bed... eventually.

Charlotte heaved another gagged sigh and focused on June's scantily clad, colorful images.  I hope you appreciate what I go through for your professional development, she mentally addressed the absent June.  If things develop as I hope they will, I know you'll feel appreciative... eventually.
Chapter 1
June supposed the place could be pigeonholed as a "fern bar," a bistro with hanging plants, dark wood paneling, understated elegance, and upscale clientele—not the sort of place frequented by June Kemp and her friends—not that June did a lot of sitting and drinking at all.  A few beers at one of the group's favorite burger or pizza joints?  Yeah, sure.  Sitting and drinking on a bar stool?  No.

June was standing just inside the door and scanning the room for Grace Scanlon... who she desperately hoped she would be able to recognize from her pictures on the dust jackets and paperback covers of her various books, all of which June owned.

At the urging of her agent, Charlotte Roth (her would be agent if June ever produced a draft Charlotte could get past her bosses), June was wearing her best outfit: open-toed heels, jeans (without stains, holes, or tears), a satin tank-top, and a really smart cotton jacket, all in black.  Okay, she was black-on-black-on-black, but June was way too athletic and had way too healthy a tan to be mistaken for a goth, emo, or artsy-type.

June was nervous.  After all, she was about to meet one of the world's great living authors (in June's enthusiastically sincere opinion, anyway.)  And then, she saw her—sitting at the bar—and she could only be her—and June's heart began to trip like the proverbial hammer—and she began sweating into the armpit liners of her jacket.

Grace was stunning.  She was dressed in a narrow, thigh-hugging skirt and a long sleeve blouse, both probably by some famous designer.  Her medium-length, honey-blond hair framed her beautiful face and she was—stunning!  And she was looking directly at June!

June blushed, willed herself not to blush (unsuccessfully), and hurried towards the bar... but in a casual manner... a very casual manner.  She smiled and offered her hand.  "Hi, I'm June," she gushed.  "I'm so pleased to meet you."

"I'm pleased to meet you, June," Grace purred.  "Charlotte has told me so much about you."

"I've read your books!" June blurted.  Her heart was still hammering.  "I mean, I've read them... and I like them... your books."

"Thank you," Grace purred.

Geesh!  Get a grip, you pathetic dweeb, June chided herself.  Grace had a strong grip, not a manly grip, of course—nothing about Grace Scanlon was manly—but strong.

Grace released June's hand and indicated the neighboring bar stool with a graceful gesture.  "Please, join me."

June settled her black denim-clad rump on the stool indicated and continued to smile—but not like a empty-headed idiot, she desperately hoped.  The bartender came over and June ordered a Sam Adams Boston Lager, always a safe choice.  Grace was still nursing some sort of greenish cocktail with a lime garnish and didn't need service.  June sipped her beer and smiled.

"I've also read your stories and draft novel," Grace said with a smile, "courtesy of Charlotte.  You show great promise, June.  May I call you June?"

"Of course!" June blurted, then felt her cheeks burn with a renewed blush.  'Great promise!'  She likes my stuff!  "Thanks," June added, then took another sip of beer.

"You're welcome," Grace chuckled, "and please, call me Grace."

"Okay, uh, Grace," June responded (still blushing).

"Now," Grace continued, "Charlotte thinks I should become your mentor."

June couldn't think of anything clever to say, other than, "Uh, yeah."  She sipped her beer, again, hoping her hammering heart and sudden shortness of breath weren't the onset of some sort of stroke.

Grace's smile turned coy.  "I know her desire for me to nurture your talent is genuine, but I'm afraid her real motive might be nudging me past what she insists is my current writer's block."

June was instantly all sympathy.  "Ooooh!  You're blocked?  I hate it when that happens!"

Grace chuckled and sipped her cocktail.  "Actually, Charlotte is mistaken.  I have several projects in development, but can't decide which one should take precedence.  Rather than being blocked, I have a modest embarrassment of creative riches."

"I can believe that," June chuckled, then blushed, yet again.  Dweeb!  "Please, continue."

"I admit there has been a lull in my output," Grace purred, "causing a commensurate lull between Charlotte's bonus checks.  Hence, her concern."  Her smile broadened.  "I joke, of course."

"Of course," June nodded.  Grace Scanlon was... amazing.  She was incredibly attractive, almost a force of nature.  The word is 'charisma,' dweeb, June reminded herself.  Anyway, June felt herself drawn to Grace like the proverbial bee to honey, moth to a flame, or—she desperately hoped—protege to her mentor.  "I, uh, I'll try not to be too much trouble," she pressed forward, "when you mentor me, I mean.  I'll meet with you wherever and whenever you want and..."  She noticed that Grace's smile had taken on a wry twist.

"I haven't actually agreed to be your mentor, June," Grace said quietly.

June's brown eye's popped wide.  "Oh!"  She felt her cheeks all but burst into flame.  "I-I'm sorry, uh, I...  Sorry."

Grace laughed (and she had a charming laugh, June noted).  "No, I apologize."  Grace took a sip from her drink.  "Of course I'll mentor you," she continued.

"Oh, thank you!" June blurted.  She almost leaped from her stool to plant a kiss on her soon-to-be mentor, but stopped herself in time.  Thank god!

"That said," Grace said, "there will be no 'meetings.'  If I'm to be your mentor, you'll be moving into my home for the duration."

"Uh, okay," June said.  "You sure you have room?  I don't want to be any trouble."

Grace smiled and sipped her drink.  "I'm sure I can find space to squeeze you in," Grace purred.  "Also, this will be a mentoring and a collaboration.  There is no substitute for proper research, as I'm sure you know, but I've found practical research to be indispensable.  If I'm to be your mentor, you must agree to help me with my research and follow all orders and instructions.  I think you'll find my research exercises to be valuable, as well.  A breadth of practical knowledge is invaluable to a writer."

"I'm not sure I understand," June said quietly.

"You will," Grace chuckled, than gave June's hand a reassuring pat.

A thrill raced up June's arm and down her spine.  Grace's touch had been electric—not literally, of course.  There had been no static discharge, but June found herself reacting as to a kiss from a lover, something with which June had her share of familiarity.  "Uh..."  (June made a mental note to stop saying "Uh.")  "I mean, okay, but... what does it mean?"

"Nothing sinister," Grace purred, "I assure you.  I would never do anything to harm my protege."

"Okay," June said (proud of herself for not responding "Uh, okay").

"I'll have Charlotte drive you out to my bungalow," Grace said, "after you have a chance to make arrangements.  Now... let's talk and get to know each other."

"Uh, sure." June responded.  Dweeb!  Idiot!  Stop saying 'Uh!'

Grace signaled the bartender and he began preparing another drink for June's new mentor.
Chapter 1
It took several days for June to get her act together—not that she dragged her feet and not that there was any external pressure to hurry things along.  It just took time to put her life on hold, and that was with Charlotte's help making the arrangements.  Organized and efficient, like always, June's agent-wannabe had even e-mailed her a checklist.  Anal retentive much? was June's initial reaction, but soon she was grateful for the advice.  Charlotte seemed to have thought of everything, and eventually all preparations for June to move into the "Beach Bungalow" were accomplished.

The appointed hour arrived and June's phone chimed, right on time.  "Hey, Charlotte," June answered.

"I'm out in front," Charlotte answered.  "Why aren't you ready?"

"I am ready," June chuckled.  "I just don't like standing around in the street.  I'll be right down."  She hung up before Charlotte could make a snappy answer, then shouldered her laptop bag, extended the handle of her suitcase, took one last look around... and exited her apartment.

Charlotte was waiting in front of the building, as promised, beside a black Lexus town car.  She was dressed as usual during business hours: heels, pantyhose, skirt, blouse, and jacket, all in shades of gray.  "About time," Charlotte said by way of greeting as she opened the trunk.

"And hello to you too," June laughed.  She was wearing sneakers, jeans, and two tank-tops, a black tank-top underneath, and over that, a heather-gray tank-top with Badtz-Maru (Hello Kitty's grumpy penguin friend) emblazoned on the front.  She also had a tan suede jacket, but was carrying it draped over her laptop case. "What's your problem?  It's not like you're double-parked."

"I want to be on the interstate and well out of town before rush hour starts," Charlotte explained.

"Nice ride, by the way," June said as she placed her suitcase and laptop in the trunk and Charlotte closed the lid.

"It's one of Grace's," Charlotte explained as she climbed behind the wheel.

June tossed her jacket in the back seat, settled into the passenger seat, and reached for her shoulder belt.

"Wait!" Charlotte ordered.  "Checklist."

June smiled and rolled her eyes.  "Rent is prepaid with two postdated checks.  Utilities are on vacation hold, including cable, and my landlord knows you'll be collecting my mail, at least once a week."  She reached into her jeans pocket and produced a pair of keys.  "Here are copies of the keys to the street door, my mailbox, and my apartment door."  She handed the keys to Charlotte.  "I have copies of all my journals and work files on my laptop and/or thumb-drives."

Charlotte pocketed the keys.  "Okay.  Now... Grace told you she likes to perform practical exercises, right?"

June nodded.  "Research."

"Well..."  She opened the compartment in the console between the two seats and pulled out a pair of chrome-steel handcuffs.  "You've just been kidnapped.  You're to keep track of your feelings and reactions to the experience of physical helplessness, loss of control, uncertainty, etc."

June stared at the handcuffs.  "Kidnapped?"

Charlotte extended her hand, offering the cuffs to June.  "Put these on your ankles.  They should be the right size."

June made no move to accept the handcuffs... which apparently were anklecuffs.  "Uh..."

Charlotte rolled her eyes.  "Did you or did you not tell me that you used to let your little brother and his friends tie you up when you were supposedly watching them for your parents?"

"When did I tell you that?" June asked, still mesmerized by the shiny bright cuffs.

"That night we got drunk and I had to take a cab home?" Charlotte purred.

"I was not drunk," June countered, "only... buzzed.  You were drunk."

"But you did confess that you were a terrible babysitter," Charlotte chuckled, tossing the cuffs onto June's denim-clad lap.  "Tight, but not too tight."

"Babysitters get paid," June noted.  "I was watching the munchkin and his friends 'cause I had to."

Charlotte smiled.  "You don't want me to have to tell Grace you chickened out on the very first exercise, do you?"

"No," June sighed... then picked up the cuffs, leaned down, and closed them around her ankles.  The ratchets clicked as the cuffs tightened.  She followed instructions, making sure they weren't too tight, but this was her first experience with steel restraints.  The individual cuffs were joined by about twelve inches of nested links, so she'd be able to take short steps if she "made a break for it" once they exited the car, but it would be a somewhat slow motion escape attempt.  "You have the key, right?" she asked her kidnapper (somewhat belatedly).

"Oh!" Charlotte said in wide-eyed, mock surprise, "I knew I'd forgotten something."  Her smile returned.  "Of course I have the key, doofus."  She reached back into the console compartment and pulled out a second pair of chrome handcuffs, but this pair were of the hinged variety, without a connecting chain.  "Turn around and put your hands behind your back."

June's eyes were wide, again.  "Uh..."

Charlotte smiled.  "Don't make me summon my brutish henchmen," she purred.

June rolled her eyes, again.  Then... she heaved a sigh and followed Charlotte's orders, twisting at the waist away from her kidnapper and placing her hands behind her back.  The cuffs closed with more ratcheting clicks, and the deed was done.  June turned hack to the front and Charlotte fastened her lap-belt, pinning her in the bucket seat, the strong nylon belt stretching diagonally down from her right shoulder and across her waist.

June assumed she was as kidnapped as she was going to get, but she was wrong.

Charlotte produced a pair of wire framed aviator shades with leather side-shields and an attached safety cord.

June frowned.  "I don't really need... Oh!"  Charlotte had placed the glasses over June's eyes, carefully positioning the frame's wire loops behind her ears, and was tightening the safety cord's barrel-clamp.  The glasses had a hitherto unsuspected feature.  The lens exteriors were coated with a bluish, reflective coating, but the interiors were also coated, and that coating was black and opaque.  The sunglasses weren't sunglasses at all, but a cleverly disguised blindfold!  She felt Charlotte fussing with her hair, pulling it free of the cord, re-tightening the barrel clamp, then combing her long locks back into place with her fingers.

"There," Charlotte said
.  "Only one more thing.  Two things, actually."

There was a pause while Charlotte readied her final "thing," giving June a chance to assess her situation.  Ankle cuffs in place—check.  Handcuffs in place—check.  And as for the sunglasses... June found she could see nothing.  They weren't totally lightproof, but their efficiency as a blindfold was 100%.  A tiny amount of light leaked past the side-shields and from around the nose-pads, but not in a way that would let her form a visual image of any part of the outside world.

And then...  "Hey!" June complained.  Charlotte was placing earbuds in her ears.  They effectively deadened most outside noise, but June could still hear her captor's voice.

"Now," Charlotte was saying, "the only thing missing is a gag, but we'll forego that part of the exercise, in case you get carsick.  However, you're to consider yourself pretend gagged.  Understand?"

"I don't get carsick," June huffed.

"Hush," Charlotte chuckled.  "Kidnap victims should be seen and not heard.  I hope you like Classical music," she added as she started the engine.

"Classical is okay," June said, "but I'd prefer Top 40."

"Too bad," Charlotte purred.  "Grace specified Classical.  I think she wants to widen your horizons.  Now, no more talking."

June heard a quiet click, then music began playing through the earbuds.  It wasn't overly loud, but loud enough to drown out all ambient noise.  "Charlotte!" she whined in complaint, and was silenced by an unseen finger pressing against her pouting lips.  The finger withdrew... and the car began to move.

Cuffed at the ankles and wrists, belted in her comfortable seat, blindfolded by a pair of expensive sunglasses, and with the March Militaire Francaise of Saint-Saens' Suite Algerienne droning in her ears, the "kidnapped" protege sped towards her waiting mentor.
Chapter 1

Chapter 2