The pleading was done. Hope had been set aside. Dorinda sat in the little seat in the prow of the dingy, tense, angry and very much afraid.
"We’ll pick you up in a week," Mike assured her grudgingly.
She did not answer, but instead watched the phosphorescence as the oars disturbed the quiet water and the small craft cut its way towards the dark bulk of the island that had suddenly and frighteningly close in the silver darkness of the Aegean night.
"Have it all to yourself. Not a man anywhere. Ought to make you happy." Make’s tone was sardonic. It bit and hurt.
Dorinda refused to be baited. She did not want him to sense the tears in her voice. But, instinctively, her arms tugged rebelliously at the cold metal of the handcuffs that joined her wrists behind her back.
He saw the motion and jibed:" You don’t need hands, honey. No nasty man to save your honour from."
She turned and gazed at him with a cold hatred that touched his impregnability.
"You won’t starve," he complained defensively. "You can save the martyred look for the goats. There’s a few around." He guffawed coarsely, "Don’t suppose the old billy will want to make love ..."(Erotic Stories)
Her disdainful stare cut short his half hearted attempt at humor. His voice became acidly businesslike: "There’s berries and some fruit. You’ll manage. Besides there’s the house. It’s a quiet place. No one living there right now. But no telling what you might find if you can get in. Probably a few cans of this and that."
Dorinda’s only answer was to deliberately clink the chain that joined her hands.
"You can rattle those handcuffs all you like, honey. But you are going to wear them." Mike’s voice became grim. "Just a nice little bit of jewelry to remember me by. They’ll make things difficult for you. Bet hell, you’ve got all the time there is. You’ll surprise yourself with all the things you can do with your hands behind your back."
Driven by one last powerful stroke of the oars the keel of the dingy bit into the sand of the beach. The man sat, watching. His lips curled in a grin of bitter satisfaction. He made no move to help.
As though following a predetermined drill, Dorinda paused for the little craft to steady, then carefully rose to her feet and stepped out on to the sand, still warm from the day’s sun. It felt good between her bare toes. She took a couple of paces before she turned to face the man who was making good his threat to maroon her, naked, on a Grecian island. She knew what in doing so she conceded weakness. There would be no last minute reprieve. She should have trudged manfully up to the beach without this last meeting of their eyes.
"You’re a silly bitch," Mike assured her cheerfully. "Have fun with yourself." Already he was yards away from the shore.
Dorinda choked back the vitriol. He would only laugh. She stood impotently watching the dingy speed back to the yacht. A tense white statue in the night.
What does a girl do when she finds herself alone, sans clothes, sans hands, on an uninhabited island in the Aegean Sea! Dorinda considered her plight. She had never felt more vulnerable. Mike had shrewdly computed her hazards of survival and reduced her resources to the minimum by which she could sustain herself. Even if she lived on berries she would have to pluck them with her mouth. Her hands were lost.
Petulantly she tugged at the steel bands upon her wrists. They were snug. If she kept pulling them they would chafe. If only he had been content to tie her she might eventually have managed to free herself by some expedient or other. But Mike had laughingly explained that, without the key, neither she or anyone else could free her hands from their imprisonment behind her back. They would stay like that until he chose to return.
He had similarly, despite her pleas, imposed nudity upon her. It, too, was impediment. Bare feet must tread with care, bare skin must shun the wounds of bramble and brush. A naked girl must eye with dubiety any other human an unlikely chance might trust her way. Clothes are a form or armor. Without them a girl might find herself eyed with both doubt and desire. Dorinda knew that should a man come into view her first instinct would be to hide.
The rattle of an anchor and the muffled purr of a motor came clearly across the water. The yacht was under way. Dorinda watched it merge into the night. She cherished no belief that this was a joke, so that it would soon return to retrieve a frightened girl now amenable to its owner’s whims. Mike had said a week. So a week it would be. She wondered miserably if that which she now faced would indeed break her resolve. But thrust the thought aside. Yet it returned. The seven days could scare be other than a frightening ordeal. But what then! Mike could so easily leave her as she was and go away and forget her. He was capable of such an act. Dejectedly she turned her back upon the calm water and trod carefully toward the higher slope where she would find warm dry sand on which to spend the night. She would not explore Kyrexos in the dark.
Morning brought hunger and a disquieting confrontation with helplessness. She needed food. But what could she do to obtain it? Sand clung to her skin but she could not brush it off. Her captive hands could not reach her hair, so that she was f***ed to toss her head wildly to dislodge the particles and, hopefully, soothe the tangles. Angrily she made her way towards the trees.
The thought of berries was nauseating. Dorinda wanted food, real food! She decided to search for the house. Even with her hands fastened as they were she could probably contrive to open a can should she be lucky enough to find one. Kyrexos was little more than forty acres in extent. A mixture of uneven surface, bare rock and sparse woods of cypress and pine.
There were paths! Perhaps the goats had made them. Most were barely discernible. But the one she chose bore evidence of the work of human hands and the tread of human feet. She stepped out hopefully and soon found herself on a cleared road, a double track that vehicles had used. Dorinda followed it up an incline in the expectation of wider reconnaissance.
The vista was delightful. She paused to admire. A shallow wooded valley swept down to a wide sandy beach and the sea. To one side the house had been set upon the upper slope. Even from a distance it was evident that the mellow stone structure had been built by someone with both an aesthetic appreciation and a great deal of money. Its terraces and balconies had been contoured to make it a part of the landscape into which it blended. The chained girl gave a small sigh of relief. If she could find an open door or window, at least she would have shelter. Scanning the panorama she found no sign of life.
"Lovely view, don’t you think?"
Dorinda froze. The cheerful male voice had come form one side and slightly to the rear. She was shocked into inaction. It was too late to run, too late to hide. Whoever it was, he had already seen all there was to see. Why be coy? Besides, she had liked the sound of the voice, it was educated and English. She found herself with the feminine wish that when she turned around to face him neither of them would be disappointed.
He sat among the rocks, his sun colored skin merging with them so that she had been unaware of his presence. He wore only the briefs of a swimmer. He was looking at her with amusement but no surprise. Dorinda saw that he was just the right age and just the right build and just the right height. In spite of feeling all breasts and pubic hair she hoped he found her as beautiful as she found him.
"Good morning," she managed inadequately and blushed.
He quite frankly appraised her body. His eyes roving in search of defects, assessing her attributes. Piqued by the impersonal quality of his examination to her features, she demanded bravely: "Do you want to feel as well as look?"
His laugh was pure good humor. His words made no sense: "Good old Dave! Comes up trumps every time."
Dorinda was hungry and very unsure. If he decided to **** her there was nothing effectual she could do to stop him. At least he might feed her afterwards. If he was a gentleman the sooner the preliminaries were dealt with, the better.
"Who is good old Dave?" She inquired politely. "I don’t know him."
He was still amused. "Bet the blight’s used another name. What did he call himself?"
"I was put here by a man named Michael Sandos. He’s never been called Dave that I know of. I’m afraid you have mistaken me for someone else."
"Why the handcuffs then?" Obviously he thought he had scored a point.
"Do all your female guests arrive suitably retrained?"
Dorinda felt she could afford to make her voice appropriately tart.
"If you buy one from good old Dave they certainly do."
Evidently he expected her to understand the cryptic reference.
"Well, I haven’t been bought from good old Dave!" Dorinda said with finality. "And, in case you might be interested, I’m hungry. And I’d be grateful if you could get these damn things off my wrists. After that, d’you think you could manage something for me to wear?" Her words surged against an intangible barrier she could sense but not define.
He said it with an emphasis that consigned her other requests into limbo.
"But I can’t eat with my hands like this," Dorinda wanted to come to grips with whatever was floating in the air.
"Don’t worry, we’ll feed you, dear girl."
"We?" She looked at him quizzically.
"Terry and me. She is my s****r. Proper little baggage. Bought the place a week ago. Just moved in. Of course there’s Hislop and Amity." He chuckled. Hislop’s the butler cum handy man and Amity is the housekeeper. They probably sl**p together. But then, Terry and I do too, so who are we to complain? Delightful menage. You’ll love it."
He was probably joking. But either way it sounded better than Mike had planned for her. She fluttered her shoulders and rattled the single link between her wrists. She knew she made a pretty picture of impotence. "They’ll all accept me like this?"
"Of course my dear girl" Matter of fact, young Terry is in a bit of a bind herself at just this moment." He grinned apologetically as though he shared some amusing knowledge. "Had to keep my hand in y’know, until you showed up. And Terry’s dying to get her hands on you ... When she can, of course!"
He gave her a broad, boyish wink of shared understanding.
Dorinda understood nothing accept a mistaken identity which her companion refused to recognise. It all sounded a bit risqué but probably harmless. "My name is Dorinda Matson," she offered tentatively.
He advanced beaming, hand outstretched. "Mark Edmond," he announced brightly. Then, looking at his inappropriate member, "sorry and all that." A moment later, with complete naturalness, he took her in his arms and kissed her. It was quite a long kiss. Dorinda enjoyed it. She knew that if she had not been handcuffed she would have returned the embrace. When it was done she stood breathless and aware of another blush, his skin had felt warm and alive against her nipples. Mark took her arm in a b*****rly clasp. "Breakfast ahead," he announced heartily. "Young Terry’s going to get the surprise of her life ..."
It was Dorinda who was surprised. Terry seemed unaffectionately happy and unaware of anything untoward. She was very young and very beautiful and very naked. She stood against the fluted pillar on the terrace, a picture of grace and insouciance in no way marred by the silver chains that lifted her arms and held her wrists on each side of the column. Her nipples and the lips of her sex had been painted bright scarlet. Her pubic hair had been shaved into a perfect Cupid’s heart: the effect both startling and delightful. Her smile of greeting was as radiant as her voice: "Darling, I’m so glad. Now poor little me can shed her shackles again. Look at what Mark’s done to me. Isn’t he awful ....!"
There was a delightful simplicity about b*****r and s****r. A sort of puppy-dog exuberance that gathered others to the fold as though a shared enthusiasm in eccentricity was to be expected. Dorinda was far from naïve, and not without knowledge of things outré. If the Edmonds played fun and games she was prepared to be tolerant. But she was demandingly aware of her handcuffs, her nudity and her appetite.
"I think Mark is very nice," she said evenly. "I’m just hoping he can get these handcuffs off me and give me something to eat. I’m hungry."
Terry surveyed her with curiosity. Dorinda had the feeling she had said something odd and out of place.
"Oh, I’ll feed you, darling," the happy captive assured her cheerfully. "But of course, you’re joking about the handcuffs ....."
Dorinda had had a bad day and an uncomfortable night. Now she was confronted with what appeared to be light-hearted lunacy in which there was an undercurrent of the inexplicable. She was unsure weather to be pleased or frightened. She allowed herself to drift with the tide. Handcuffed as she was it became an easy decision.
She allowed herself to be daintily fed by a solicitous Terry. A Terry freed from captivity, but still innocently naked. All eager moppet deliciously enjoying a situation she seemed to understand. Dorinda strove to find comfort In the knowledge that, without a key, handcuffs posed a problem. It was not until the meal was done, that she had interrupted hew companion’s constant flow of chatter to try, once more, for a return to reality. But it was to Mark she turned. He had sat watching the two girls with a detached amusement, allowing his pert s****r to take the floor.
"Perhaps you have some tools. Hacksaws or something," she inquired diffidently. "And I’ve heard that oil or grease might make them slip ..." She looked at them both appealingly. "I sure would like to get them off and get some clothes on." Even as she uttered them her words sounded lost.
"But darling, I’m sure we have a key!" Terry sounded surprised.
It was on the tip of Dorinda’s tongue to irritably demand: "For Pete’s sake use them!" But instinct curbed her waspishness. So far they had been kind. She tried again: "My hand must have been behind my back for fifteen hours ..." She gave them both an expectant smile.
"Oh pouf! That’s nothing," Terry declaimed. "This awful monster kept me handcuffed for a week once."
"You had been a bad girl!" Dorinda hoped she had struck the right note.
"She’s always a bad girl." Mark contributed fortably. I sounded like a commendation.
"Well, I’m not a bad girl."
Her hint was broad. They ignored it.
"He doesn’t really mean I’m bad. He’s just sort of generalising. I’m not bad at all. I just like bad things." Terry giggled as though she had told all.
They were illusive as shadows. Dorinda was tired of their game. Best come to grips with whatever she must face. She caught Mark’s gaze. "Please unlock these handcuffs," she requested pleasantly but very firmly.
The silence made her feel like a c***d who had asked for a prohibited slice of cake. She could have sworn the glance exchanged between b*****r and s****r was one of puzzlement. It was Terry who responded in a mildly reproachful voice.
"But darling, you don’t really expect to run around free, do you?"
"And why not?" This time the wasp was buzzing.
"Well … wouldn’t be right, would it?" Terry fluttered her hands as though dealing with an obstinately obtuse c***d.
"What on earth is wrong with wanting to use my hands and wear some clothes!" Dorinda demanded angrily.
The response shattered whatever equanimity she still possessed.
"I think the poor dear wants to be whipped." Terry offered her observation to her b*****r as though in explanation of an anomaly. "She’s probably shy," she added kindly.
"Now see here ...! Dorinda sat up straight pulling futilely at her imprisoned wrists in instinctive anger. The motion thrust her breasts into a flattering prominence. She bore Mark’s appreciative scrutiny with flushed cheeks and an inward tremor. "I do not wish to be whipped," she assured them with flat finality. "Or anything else either," she added without being quite sure what she referred to. Having enjoyed her breasts, Mark’s eyes raised to meet her own angry stare. He was obviously puzzled. "Do you mean to tell us that absolute clod never briefed you on the drill?"
"I’m not who you think I am."
They were full of surprises.
"Over to the column," Mark tersely ordered his s****r.
"Oh no darling! Please ...!" Terry wailed.
Mark rose to his feet. He had suddenly ceased to be a boy. Terry gave him a penitent grimace, shrugged her shoulders and resumed the pose in which Dorinda had first beheld her. She offered her wrists
for the fetters. When the metal bands circled them she pulled as though to assure herself that she was indeed securely chained. "I hate you," she said to her b*****r without conviction. She turned her mischievous eyes toward Dorinda.
"You watch your P’s and Q’s," she warned. "He’s quite merciless."
Dorinda yearned to run. But what was the use! There was still hope that she was involved in no more than a mild behavioural oddity. But she viewed b*****r and s****r with new and startled eyes.
"I wanted to be in on it," Terry complained petulantly to her b*****r. "You’re an absolute b**st, darling." Suddenly, perkily, she thrust her tongue out at him in a provocative gesture of defiance.
Quietly, without haste and without anger, Mark lifted his s****r’s left foot off the floor and fastened it to the side of the marble by a shackle, already provided. Terry must now perf***e stand on one foot. I a little while it would become a real punishment. "Little girls should be seen and not heard," he admonished without anger.
"Oh, Mark! I’m sorry. I didn’t mean ... Oh, no, not on one foot ... Please!" Her captive ankle struggled against the metal that held it a foot from the floor.
Mark laughingly bent and kissed the pouting lips. "You asked for it, darling. You know you did."
"Oh, all right! So I asked for it!" Terry admitted.
The siblings smiled at each other in pure love and perfect understanding.
Mark grasped Dorinda’s arm. "Come along," he said cheerfully. "I think we need to have a little walk."
Dorinda could not have agreed more. But she felt little optimism. The sight of the naked girl chained to the pillar made chaos in her thoughts. It was too unreal! Terry, instead of struggling and complaining, contrived to make herself quite beautiful. Perhaps she posed? Or possessed some unnatural grace. Standing on her one free foot she leaned negligently against the stone to which she was chained. The one raised leg by which she was being penalised enhanced the appeal of the picture that she made, as did the seemingly effortless raising of her arms to the shackles that held them so invincibly. She radiated the perfection of line and posture of an artist’s model. She was very beautiful. She gave the departing girl a smile of encouragement, her own condition forgotten. "Don’t be awkward, darling," she advised. "Or you’ll hurt when you sit down." The silvery peal of her laughter followed them from the terrace.
It was a pleasant room. A lounge in which perhaps a nude girl with chained hands might not seem too incongruous. Dorinda sat stiffly in the big arm chair to which she had been guided by a firm but friendly hand.
Bit early for a drink, I suppose," Mark smiled at her appraisingly.
"Handcuffed girls can’t hold drinks," Dorinda pointed out reasonably, but with a hint of sarcasm.
"No they can’t, can they?" Mark agreed as though grateful for the reminder. He remained standing. She flushed under his scrutiny.
"Couldn’t I be d****d in at least something?" She pleaded with deliberate coyness.
"No." He disposed of the request as though surprised she had made it.
"I think I could talk better if I wasn’t so ... so exposed."
He dismissed the subject with an impatient wave of the hand. But his smile was again that of the boy she had met upon the road. "Young Terry’s a chatterbox," he confided. "She has to sparkle. We’ll get to wherever we are going better without her."
"So you just chain her up and leave her standing on one foot?"
"What else? Besides, she loves it. Surely you saw that."
Dorinda had seen it all too clearly. It made her next question inevitable. "I am supposed to like it too?" She clinked her handcuffs.
Mark gave the question considered thought. "Actually I suppose not," he conceded. "We explained this to Dave at the time. The thing that really matters is that you are here. Crossed the Rubicon, so the speak."
"I was dumped here by a miserable S.O.B. out of spite. I was never offered a Rubicon to cross. I don’t know your Dave," she told him flatly.
"Remember little s****r’s warning about hurting when you sit down?" Mark answered nonchalantly.
He laughed amusedly at her motion’s admission of vulnerability. "For the moment you are saved by a discrepancy of a couple of days. You weren’t supposed to show up this soon. So I’ll listen to your story. Let’s have it."
She told it in detail. "Mike’s a bastard!"
"Sounds like a resourceful type. A bit crude perhaps. Makes hard work of things ... This marooning lark ...! I’d have you behaving in thirty minutes."
"Behaving?" His use of the word was suspect.
He laughed at her groping for what was, for him, obvious. "For a girl, behaving is doing whatever a man wants her to do." "You don’t really mean that." Dorinda chided. She prayed inwardly that indeed he did not mean it.
"I was never more sincere."
They stared at each other in confrontation. Between them an invisible gage had been hurled upon the rug.
Dorinda temporised. "This girl your Dave is to deliver: what is she? What do you expect of her? If you’ll tell me we won’t be so at cross purposes."
"Of course, love. Sensible girl," Mark d****d himself in a chair facing her and eyed his guest as though striving to gauge the effects his words would have. "Frightfully simple, really," he said airily.
Dorinda listened. The way Mark told it made everything sound exquisitely simple. Frightfully so!
"The fantasy had always been there," he explained musingly. "It was the same for Terry as for me. We were born with it as though we had carried it along from some other life or some other place. It was colored by that same wonder with which a c***d sees its first bird in flight or the branches of a tree against the blue sky. For us it had the beauty and rightness of all natural things. Scoff if you want. It was so. I suppose Terry was about six years old when I first tied her to the apple tree at the bottom of the garden. I wondered why she did not cry. But, for both of us it was the birth of an aesthetic glory most people never know."
"Aesthetic ... tied to a tree!" Dorinda protested.
His boyish grin was accusatory. "I watched your face when we left Terry chained to her column. You glimpsed it then."
"She’s an exhibitionist with a gift for posing. She is also very beautiful." Dorinda felt her defence slipping.
"You don’t really believe that’s all you saw," Mark told her discerningly. His voice has become earnest as though she must be made to understand. "As c***dren we played. She was always the damsel in distress. But I was never the knight in shining armor. The fantasy cast me in a different role. I was The Male: the Male to whom all females must submit by right of conquest. The wicked baron who chained the poor girl in his dungeon. He never did get as much publicity as good old Galahad. But without him there would never have been a romantic legend."
"Terry was entrancingly attuned. She always resisted in about the right degree to maintain validity. The degree of resistance always briefed me as to what I should do to her. When adolescence came she accepted the same joy with which I used it. We found her striated skin that same quality of golden wonder that had pervaded the enactment of our fantasy from the start. It was about that time that we also became lovers ..."
"Whips and i****t! What are you trying to prove?" Dorinda’s defences were still sliding away from beneath her feet. But she made her protest vehement.
"You don’t try to prove the Taj Mahal or Lake Louise in the moonlight. They are there. That’s the beginning and the end. Each is an entity with its own appeal and compulsion. So it is with our fantasy."
"And I suppose your parents approved these small pleasantries."
"We had to keep it under cover as we grew older. Awful bind actually. But they died in an accident not too long ago and left us quite a lot of money. That’s when we decided to buy The Island."
"Seems to me you have your heat’s desire. Why bother with some other poor girl?"
He shrugged. "Human perversity, I suppose. Always one more river to cross. Young Terry is absolute perfection. She and I have wondered how amusing it might be to have one that wasn’t."
"You mean k**nap?"
"Well, that is where good old David comes in. He is one of those resourceful blokes you go to when you want the impossible. Put enough money in his hand and he’ll produce it for you. We made only one stipulation. She had to be beautiful." He paused to give his next words weight. "You are beautiful."
The dark chasm had widened.
"Know what I think?" Mark asked good humoredly. "I think Dave persuaded you, and that everything probably went along OK until he hit on this quaint notion of setting you ashore to deliver yourself nicely stripped and handcuffed and ready for action. In the night you got scared and decided you had made an awful mistake and wanted out. Right?"
"Wrong!" Dorinda declared with all the emphasis at her command. "In a couple of days you are going to have an extra girl on your hands."
"Stretching coincidence a bit thin, don’t you think?"
"I have to agree to that," Dorinda conceded dejectedly. She looked across at him brightly. But don’t you see, a couple of days will prove me right."
"Suppose I have to concede that unlikely possibility too," he admitted unwillingly. "Seems sort of a silly game ..."
"So, couldn’t be real nice and treat me as a sort of guest in the meantime? I like you both. You might like me. Please unlock these handcuffs and give me something to wear." She put all the feminine
appeal at her command into her plea.
"Get the old cerebrum working, love. You’re not that dim."
"Spell it out." Dorinda said resignedly. "Maybe then I’ll believe."
"Oh, you will, ducky. You will." He was exasperatingly cheerful. "You see, darling, the crux of your situation is that it does not really matter whether you are Dave’s girl or someone else’s. If your story is true it puts you in about the same boat that Dave’s girl will be when and if she arrives. As far as Terry and I are concerned you are a simply first class bit of good fortune."
"You mean I’m k**napped. First Mike, than you?"
"Let’s call it displaced, shall we. Sounds less mercenary."
"Either way I am a prisoner?"
"What about the other girl when she comes? Will you free me then?"
"No. If one is good, two might bet better."
"What will you do about Mike when he roars up here looking for me?"
"If the apocryphal Michael shows up demanding female flesh, we may hand him the extra girl. Or give him some sort of fairy tale. We think you’ll do nicely for us."
How neat it was! Dorinda knew herself trapped by circumstances no one had contrived. Taking this engaging young man at his own face value she could understand the plausibility of his thinking. Now that the truth was out she relaxed into the depth of the chair and struggled absentmindedly with her handcuffs.
"What are you going to do to me? Chain me up to see how pretty I look?"
"Oh, that’s just part of it," Mark exclaimed with boyish enthusiasm. "You’re not a natural, are you’ I mean, not like Terry and me."
"Good heavens, no!"
"That’s all right then. "He sounded relieved. "Think what a marvellous time we’ll have training you."
Dorinda groped for the right approach. "What about conscience? Do you have any? What right have you to make me a prisoner? You can’t possibly expect me to play your silly games?"
"You will, y’know," Mark sauntered over to a cupboard. When he retraced his steps he was flexing the slender length of a wicked looking riding switch. Calmly he offered it for inspection. "You’ll do whatever this tells you to, darling," he chuckled. "Terry always does."
Dorinda cringed. She was naked and afraid. She knew nothing of pain. But looking at the thing he held she knew it foolish to suppose herself impervious to what it might do to her. She was bewildered. "But ... that’s cruelty! You are spoiling something good. Out on the road, there where we met, I liked you. I was glad you’d found me - even though I was ... like this. With most men I’d have wanted to run away. But I didn’t with you. Please ...."
Mark resumed his seat, one leg d****d over its arm. The riding crop resting across his knee where she could never be unaware of it. "It’s a bit of a poser, dear girl," he admitted. "You see, we really do
want you to understand. We don’t want you tot think we’re a couple of absolute bastards: we like you too. I’m in a similar position to some johnny who can play the piano by ear, or a chap who can do a long division in his head. They were born with it. They can never explain it. They can never get rid of it even if they wanted to, and they don’t want to. See what I mean?"
"You feel that just because you’re obsessed with this ... This ‘gift’ shall we call it, that any inconvenience or pain I may suffer is purely incidental and should be borne gladly ..." She looked at him beseechingly. "That I am ... That I’m well ... Sort of privileged to be chosen?"
"You put it rather well, old girl!" Mark admitted wryly. "Not fair to expect you to digest out fantasy all at one sitting ... hence the handcuffs. There’s one thing I want to avoid in speaking of the fantasy and that’s to be flippant. We British ... you’re American, aren’t you! We British tend to use flippancy to get us over the hurdles. But it’s not appropriate in this. Honestly it isn’t."
It was hard to be angry with him. Dorinda listened quietly. Tension dissolved.
"The word transcendental comes to mind," Mark continued thoughtfully. "Terry and I are governed by this thing I am trying to make explicable. It is the most powerful f***e in our lives, except perhaps our love for each other. But even there I’m not sure ... The nub and essence of understanding it is to face the fact that we are driven by a f***e, a compulsion that gives us an extra dimension in life beyond the norm. We still move within the framework that contains others. But we have been given an additional faculty of sexual expression. Even that does not say enough, because above and behind it always is a glimpse and awareness of an ineffable beauty, something subliminal."
His voice trailed into silence as though the effort of expression had wearied him. He sat, pensive and distant.
Dorinda knew he would not break the silence. Her heart went out to this man who would always be a boy. She might fight him. But nonetheless he had managed to evoke a picture in her mind. She knew herself within the grip of something she was ill equipped to cope with. She wished the whip was not so blatantly evident. Was it only by the medium of its bite that she would fully understand?
The sat mute for a long time. Each busy with their own thoughts. It was a beginning and an end. Dorinda no longer believed in anything other than what Mark had just told her. She would not escape. They would not let her go. No one would rescue her. The handcuffs became vividly real upon her wrists. No wonder they had refused to unlike them. What was she now? What was her status? A captive... A slave ... some sort of plaything, a sexobject? What about sex?
"What are you thinking?" Mark asked irrelevantly
"Am I a slave?"
"Yes." He had a gift for monosyllables.
"What must I do?"
"You mean to avoid this?" He held up the black white.
"I suppose so," she admitted grudgingly. "I can understand that it is implicit in the question of obedience. That’s what slavery is, isn’t it? Total obedience? I’ve been looking at the damn thing ever since
you produced it, knowing it won’t be the least bit heroic if you use it on me."
"I will use it on you." He said it not as a threat.
"Why? I’m sure I’ll be a coward. One good swipe and I’ll crawl." She looked at him hastily and anxiously. "Please don’t think I’m a natural crawler. Honestly, I’m not. If I could fight you and get away I
would. But I’m so damn helpless. They way I’m fixed you can do anything you like with me. I’d be crazy to invite a whipping over pride ... or, because of distaste for something you demand of me."
His boyish grin was back. "Thinking of good old sex?" "I suppose so." Se felt a faint blush rising. " I may as well be honest about it. I am no novice, I've used my mouth and tongue . Were you hoping for a virgin?"
"We'd be too great a shock for the poor c***d. As I said: for Terry and I you are perfect. But you'll still be whipped."
"But why!" It was both an expression of curiosity and rejection. "I honestly don't think it's possible to be a slave without being whipped. The whip creates a state of mind , and by continued use sustains it. I don't expect you to be pleased about getting marks on that lovely skin. But I think you'll come to recognise the truth of the precept."
"I expect you can bludgeon anyone into anything." Her eye was on the crop. Mark chuckled and held it up for a better look. "Terry and I are as curious as you. Its something new for us too. You are our first slave-girl. We think we know your mental processes and how to deal with them. After all, Terry's reactions have been a lifelong study for us both. But, admittedly, it's an experiment. We are looking forward to it." He eyed her quizzically. "I'd like you to look forward to it too.....But I expect that's a lot to ask?"
"You might talk me into it." Dorinda confessed demurely. "But I'm scared to death of that whip. I wish you hadn't showed it to me."
"Well, look at it like this." Mark tried again. "You know how a snake sheds it's skin once a year. We think you are going to have to shed yours. You know, the protective veneer of custom and usage. We think you'll find that becoming a slave is more a case of forgetting rather than learning. There's bound to be an instinctive resistance: that's where the whips comes in."
"Could we talk about something else?" Dorinda's voice was apologetic. "That awful thing frightens me so I can't think straight. I have to accept that you are going to use it on me. But don't let's harp on it."
"Slaves do not direct the topic of conversation." She felt her heart miss a beat. It had started! She gazed at Mark imploringly. "You mean I'm a slave as of right now? That I have to do what Terry said:
"Mind my P's and Q's. Honest! I will try and be what you want. But please help me. I don't want to stop liking you."
Mark came and gently kissed her lips. It wasn't a b*****rly kiss. "You are very sweet." He said, " I don't want to stop liking you either." Without a pause, he went to the wall and pressed a button.
The woman was trim and neat, thirtyish. Attractive in her way. A Cockney, Dorinda guessed. They had there own peculiar stamp. She evinced no surprise, simply a respectful attention. "Dorinda, this is Amity. She will be the first one to give you help." Mark's eyes twinkled at her bewilderment. "Do as she says. She's quite nice." As Dorinda left the room she turned for one last communion with the man whose possession she now presumably was. " I'm absolutely lost, you know." She confided in faint desperation. Mark was smiling pensively. He was again the rather exiting young man she had met upon the road. Amity's hand guided her gently through the door.
"Bit lost meself, Miss." Amity advised cheerfully. "This bit's me first go, like. I know what to do. I'm 'oping you knows the drill." They had advanced part way through the house when the captive planted her feet firmly and stopped. Amity seemed human. It was worth a try. "Hold on a moment." Dorinda pleaded. "You may as well know that I haven't the faintest idea about any drill or much of anything else. I feel as though I've been let lose in a lunatic asylum. I want these handcuffs off my wrists. Can you do that for me?" "I'm going to in a minute, Miss." Amity looked at her charge doubtfully. "You ain't going to give me no trouble are you?"
Dorinda plunged. "Do you realise I am being confined against my will?" "Oh yes, miss. Proper lark, ain't it?" "Its k**napping. You could go to prison. Please let me go." "Suppose you have to try, miss. Seeing we just met, like. But I got my orders. Me and 'Islop thinks the world of the master and misses. Get up some rare tricks they do. But we wouldn't 'urt 'em for the world. You'll have to do whatever they want you to. This way please." Dorinda knew the full demoralisation of nakedness and chains. This woman, no bigger and probably no stronger than herself, could handle her with ease. Could hurt her terribly should she now essay to struggle or to run. She was close to tears as she allowed the firm fingers to guide her to where they wished to go. It could have been a pleasant room. But it was bare stone. Its only furnishing were not reassuring to a girl without clothing. They consisted of a large wooden chest in one corner and a rope hanging from a pulley in the centre of the ceiling. Dorinda's apprehensive eye followed the latter to where it ended at a small electric winch on one wall.
"Aven't really got started 'ere yet." Amity sounded apologetic. " You mean the rack and the thumbscrews haven't arrived!" The prisoner was feeling less co-operative by the minute. She knew that had Mark's smiling features been present the view would have seemed less sinister. Amity tittered. " Don't suppose they'll go that far, miss. No need really."
"Is that rope hanging there for the reason I suspect?" Dorinda asked grimly. Amity looked embarrassed. "Fraid it is, miss." She produced a key ring on which there were a number of very small keys.
"Specs one of these will do the trick....." She stepped back and looked doubtfully at the girl who wore the handcuffs. "I want to bring them 'andcuffs round in front, miss. Question is, what you going to do when I unlock them?"
It was all quite absurd! Gentility in slavery. She remembered hearing once that the English made a fetish of having things 'nice'. Their police were always frightfully polite. Here now this woman who was to all intents and purpose her wardress or jailer kept calling her miss. Everybody expected to much of a girl whose clothes had been taken from her and whose hands had been chained behind her back!
"I'm damned if I know!" She grinned ruefully at her cockney companion. "Since we are all being polite I'll tell you straight that I ever get the b**stly things off my wrists. I won't want them back again!"
Amity sighed. "Must be a funny feeling, ain't it, miss? I mean, being undressed and all. And them 'andcuffs! Wouldn't like them at all, I wouldn't. But my! You d 'ave lovely breasts and nipples. Really smashing." Dorinda dealt with this verbal montage as best she could. "It's a rotten feeling to be stripped naked by f***e and kept that way for everybody to have a good look. And these blasted things on my wrists that hold my hands behind my back make me twice as naked . I can't cover anything. They make me as helpless as a babe in arms. I suppose I could kick you right now. But it would hurt my bare toes more than it would hurt you. But thanks, anyway, for admiring my breasts and for not calling my nipples tits. I hate that word."
"Get us back to square one." Said Amity pensively.
"Are you waiting for me to give you my word of honor that I’ll be a good girl and not fight?"
"Oh thank you miss. Would you?"
"Why the hell should I!" Dorinda was trying to come to grips with an elusive inconsistency hard to define. ""it’s like asking me to help out at my own execution, or to walk out on thin ice to prove it won’t hold up."
Amity considered. "Well, look at it this way miss." She offered thoughtfully. "Don’t know how it was with you in America, but when I was a k** and I had inked my b*****r in school I had to go out in front of the class and ‘old my hand out to get it ‘it with a cane what ‘urt something cruel. The last thing I wanted to do was ‘old out that ‘and. But I always did."
"But you knew what you were getting." Dorinda protested. "I’ve been told I’m in something that goes on and on, and I don’t know where it goes. I’m scared. I know it sounds silly and ... And sort of ungrateful. But it would be a lot easier for me if you all used f***e to do, or make me do whatever it is you think you have to. Where did the idea get around that I have to help and like it?"
"It’s like I was saying, miss. They’re a rare pair, they are: Miss Terry and Mr. Mark. Got something up their sleeve, they ‘Ave. One of them there psychological efforts I expect. Does a lot of practising on Miss Terry, Mr. Mark does. Rare old games they get up to."
"Oh, his s****r."
"She loves it, miss. Don’t you believe different! Don’t mean to say you’ll love it too. But you are a different subject, see. Different background and attitude. E’ll get them there reactions out of you what ‘e can’t get out of ‘er. Tell the truth, miss, me and ‘Islop sort of looks forward to seeing ‘ow you’ll be in a month’s time."
"So I’m an interesting experiment!" Dorinda’s words dripped frost.
Amity ignored the ice. She had become animatedly involved. "That’s ‘ow it ‘ud be best for you to look at it, miss. Bloomin’ awful for you to feel put upon. See. I ‘secks that’s why no f***e ain’t been used. Mr Mark, ‘e’s up to some little dodge ‘h though up for himself. Not that Miss Terry ain’t capable of thinking up some pretty pickies too."
"I suppose I’m a sucker," Dorinda sighed. "And, mind you, I’m not promising a thing, but if I promise to be good this time, what happens then?"
"Oh miss, you got it all wrong." Amity looked distressed. "You don’t ask questions, see. You don’t tell me what to do. Or make no bargains. You’re a ... I ain’t a’going to say, not yet I ain’t."
"You mean I am a slave?" Dorinda cocked an eyebrow.
Suddenly they both laughed.
"Sounds silly, don’t it?" Amity tittered. "I mean, you ain’t behaving right for one thing. ‘Cepting you ain’t got no clothes and you do ‘have them ‘handcuffs. I ain’t never seen a gal ‘what acted less like no slave nor you."
"But that’s the point, miss. You are just what the doctor ordered. They want to make you over, like." Amity turned a most serious gaze upon her captive. "I wouldn’t laugh, miss. Honest. I wouldn’t! Me and ‘Islop thinks they knows what they’re doing."
"How about taking the handcuffs off me on trust?"
They measured each other. There was no enmity in their assessment.
"I’ll unlock one cuff miss. You can ‘ave a good stretch."
"Oh no you don’t! I want both wrists completely free from my stretch. You have no idea how I’ve come to hate those bits of steel."
Once more the eyes questioned. Amity grinned. "All right, love. You win. I got a good feeling about you ..." She busied herself with the keys. A few moments later Dorinda was free. Her companion stood back, the shining cuffs with their single link dangling from one hand.
Until that moment the captive girl had not realised how badly her shoulders had ached. It was pure bliss to raise and flex her arms. She did so again and again in an ecstasy of sensuality. Even closing her eyes to better savour freedom.
"You do ‘have a loverly shape, miss, if you’ll excuse me saying so." Amity’s tribute sounded entirely genuine.
It ended as all things must end. Dorinda did not push her luck. Nor would she evade an issue.
"Well?" she asked innocently.
Amity held up the wicked bits of metal. "In front please, miss."
"Do me a favor," Dorinda pleaded like a little girl asking for candy. "Let me hold and feel those rotten things for a moment before you lock them on me. It’s an urge I’ve got. I won’t try anything, I promise."
Dorinda took the handcuffs from a quite willing hand. She sensed that her companion understood her strange need to hold and to handle the potent bits of steel that could so totally render her a helpless captive. She played with them. Examining them in a way she had never been able to. She had never actually seen them before. Locked behind her back they had been invisible. She slid the cuff round and round though its ratchet, savouring the series of clicks until it had completed its circle. Savouring her momentary power over the things that had prisoned her so long and which were about to prison her again. It came almost as a surprise when she realised that somehow in the past minutes while they talked she had come to accept the inevitability of offering her wrists that they might be once more locked within the metal bands.
Yet when the moment came it proved to be one of the most soul searching acts she had ever performed. Only by a compulsion of will could she return the shining circlets and hold out her hands. Every instinct cringed as she watched Amity cuff the proffered wrists. She winced at the small clicks as notch after notch was pressed home to make the inflexible metal snug with a dreadful intimacy.
When she was done she knew relief. Decision had been taken from her. It was Dorinda’s first glimpse of that small beneficence of bonds. Her first lesson in a new school. In fascination she held up her linked hands and found an unexpected beauty in their joining. The handcuffs were no longer a dangling shapelesness. They had become potently a living part of her from which she could never escape.
"I suppose now I have to walk over to that rope?" she inquired helpfully. She felt sure she had divined its purpose. She had read the books ..
"Yes please, miss."
Once more she must offer her hands and watch as they were secured. She rejected a silly instinct to run when she was left standing for the few moments it took Amity to reach the wall and press the switch. Unreality flooded her as the rope tautened and the prisoned hands began to rise. She followed their brief journey almost with disbelief as, starting from the waist level, they came up before her eyes, above her head, and stopped only when her nudity was as taut as the rope itself. Her heels were still on the floor. She was not suspended. But she must stand very straight and more helpless than she had ever been. She felt all breasts and pubes. Her first reaction was thankfulness that no male was there to see. But this was replaced by a tingling knowledge that Mark might walk in at any moment. No doubt she was stretched and exposed like this for some purpose! A sinister phrase from fiction drifted into her mind: ‘Held for questioning ...’ It was a position in which few girls would be stubborn.
"Coo! You do look lovely, miss." There was actually a trace of envy in Amity’s voice.
"Let’s change places then!" For a moment Dorinda managed to feel playful- "I’m sure you’d look just as good. I expect it it’s a very flattering pose for any girl."
The cockney girl meditatively ran caressing fingers up and down the planes and curves of the pinioned girl. Her touch was soothing. Dorinda found she could not resent the intimacy. The touch was reverent as in the handling of anything of beauty, an exploration of tactility.
"’Ow does it feel, miss? A bit draughty like?" She stood back and admired the living statue she had helped create.
"O Amity. I’m scared! I’ve never felt so vulnerable."
Amity tittered. "You mean if there is a gentleman around like! Get there’s a lot of blokes would give all they got to get a good look at you like this."
"Amity ...? Is Mark going to see me?"
"That would be telling, miss. Remember? No questions."
The captive girl twisted in frustration. There had remained in her mind throughout a nagging memory. "Amity, don’t be angry. But before he called you Mark was playing with a whip ... He was just trying to scare me, wasn’t he? I mean ... he was just joking ..?"
Amity laughed delightfully. "You know very well he was not joking, miss. That there whip is for pretty girls who ask too many questions."
Suddenly she kissed her prisoner lightly on the lips. A moment later she was gone. The door closed. Dorinda stood naked and alone.
A quailing Dorinda felt quite certain Amity had gone to produce a whip with which to prove her assertion. Would she return in a moment and send the lash curling round her shockingly available person? How awful to stand and watch yourself whipped, denied all defence! But as the minutes passed the captive found her mind possessed by other imperatives.
Escape! That was the first thing in any prisoner’s thoughts, was it not? But she wasted little time on it. From the moment Mike had set her on the sand and rowed away, she had been robbed not only of liberty but of hope. There is no escape from an island. She was faintly ashamed of her tractability with Amity. She could have fought. She was unsure if her compliance had been dictated by the compulsions of helplessness or from her instinctive liking for those cheerful people who held her captive.
Her wrists were beginning to hurt. She stood on tiptoe to easy the strain. She guessed that if she was left long in this position she would come to feel very sorry for herself.
Why were they unkind? Why must she be their slave? She felt guilt in being infected by their rational approach to a treatment of her that was nothing short of outrageous. She could not use the word criminal in thinking of any of them. But they had k**napped her! Actually she had been delivered into their hands neatly stripped and chained. They had accepted her as a gift. She posed herself the question that she now be confronted by a couple of rescuing policemen, would she press charges? She knew she would not. So where did that leave her?
It left her thinking of Mark Esmond. He had reached out touched her with that power men have over women and which women have over men. In love? Nonsense! She scarcely knew him. But a girl did not have to know a man to feel what she felt. He would stay in her thoughts as she had first seen him. A golden Apollo enjoying her nakedness.
Dorinda considered thus with urgency. Hung as she was she would be a ripe offering for its lash. It could find her everywhere. She could deny no part of herself. But it was too unreal. It was out of character. Or was it? She had a memory of how Terry had suddenly dropped banter and obeyed, of how Mark had become when he had shown her the black horror and assured her earnestly that she would feel it. She suspected unhappily that she might have to be cut by its thong before she could sentiently accept its reality.
The whip would make her a slave! That was the theses. Unhappily Dorinda glimpsed plausibility in the postulate. She did not feel slave now. She felt herself only a frightened girl, stripped, her hands chained high above her head. If Mark was to have his way there must come a division, a sundering, a confrontation! She considered humouring him. In his boyish moods it would be easy to make a play of his desire. To enact a charade. To kneel in submission and call him ‘Master’. Even to do the same for Terry, and for Amity and Hislop. If she must. But she had little hope that a voluntary surrender would satisfy. He would mould her as his fantasy had moulded him He would make her a dream come true.
She felt an erotic excitement.
Terry cam in like a breath of spring. She wore clothes. Not much, but enough to be considered dressed. "Darling, you look gorgeous! If only we had an artist! That pose should be immortalised." She did a small dance round and round the tethered girl. Her eyes feasting. "I say love, you do have a super shape, y’know, Mark’s damn lucky. How about lunch?"
Always to be caught off guard. Expected to be whipped she was given lunch. "Lunch? Like this?" She was annoyed at sounding shocked.
"Of course not, silly. I’d have to stand here and slip bits and pieces in your mouth. Up on the terrace, where we had breakfast." The captive’s heart leaped. Hope revived. A moment later her hands were once more free. Gratefully she rubbed the chafed wrists, then held them out questioningly to her exuberant companion.
"Not now, darling. Having you handcuffed makes a lot of work for poor little Terry. Come on, let’s make you devastatingly beautiful."
The bedroom of a wealthy girl. Closets full of clothes. A bathroom to put the Romans to shame. Pyramids of cosmetics. Suddenly Dorinda knew how naked she had been. How terribly bereft is a naked girl. Robbed of her armour, her secrets and her pride.
But she was not naked now. Terry was a fairy godmother with miracles galore. Dorinda was quite sure she had never before been so expensively bathed or clad. Never had she been given such perfumes of felt such nimble fingers so cunningly enhance her loveliness. When she finally stood before the mirror both girls gasped in approval of a svelte someone, enchantingly feminine, they had not previously met.
"Mark’s a lucky blighter," Terry was reverent.
Dorinda floated on a cloud of female ecstasy.
Mark’s radiance when he beheld the vision was her victory. Dorinda knew that she had captured him in bonds quite different from those she had so recently shed. She glowed and forgot about whips and handcuffs. Her moment was now. Terry flirted around them like a ray of pure sunlight. She was irrepressible.
Mark still wore only the briefs. On Kyrexos he would need no more. It was his island. His kingdom. Dorinda supposed she could add that she and Terry were his girls. If all he wanted was a slave, he already had a radiantly willing one in his s****r. ‘Young Terry’ The way he said it spoke of love. She adored him. They allowed her chatter to envelop them in gaiety. Dorinda wished the moment could last forever, Mark amused and amusing, but faintly preoccupied.
No one of the three of them was anxious to bring it to a close. Each had their won reason to prolong the mood. When, finally, b*****r’s and s****r’s gaze locked and held Terry said, flippantly: "I suppose it’s schooltime."
"Yes," Mark agreed heavily. "I’m afraid it is." He turned courteously to Dorinda. "Do you mind ..."
She knew it was not a question but an order.
Meekly, with all the grace she could muster, she followed him from the room. As they left, Terry held out the silver handcuffs. As Mark thoughtfully tucked them in his belt, Dorinda reflected that the shining things had become a symbol of her new life.
The bare stone room had seemed appropriate when she, too, had been bare. Clothed she felt awkward and out of place in it. She felt foolish, not knowing where to stand or what to say. Mark solved her dilemma.
"Strip." It was an uncompromising word.
Dorinda revolted. Having gained the harbour of clothes, and such glorious clothes! She cringed from the thought of surrendering to him. "No," she told him flatly. "Please don’t make me."
Mark nodded thoughtfully and went to the big chest. When he turned he was carrying the black whip, or its twin.
"Please ...!" Dorinda appealed desperately. "Don’t spoil it. We all felt something good at lunch. Don’t make me hate you."
"Terry doesn’t hate me. I whip her often."
Dorinda had no answer.
"I have explained it to you once," he continued patiently. "I won’t do it again."
Dorinda looked longingly at the closed door and the wide window. But realised, farcically, that she could have run better in bare feet than in the high heels with which she was now shod.
"All right then. I’ll do whatever it is you want me to do. I’ll even try and do it well. I’ll try to please you. But if I do that may I wear some little thing ... anything at all?" she implored.
Mark considered. "Very well, your briefs."
It was a small victory. But it sustained her. She posed in front of him. "Do you want me to strip tease or just undress?" She wondered if she had anything to lose by provoking him.
"Please yourself." He was watching her with amusement. She supposed his great experiment was under way.
She had never been a bride, but supposed this was how it was on your weeding night. Not wanton. But very female. The fact that he had seen her naked over a period of hours, strangely enough, in no way diluted the shock of baring herself before him now. She divested herself of each bit of fabric lovingly and sorrowfully. She had worn them for such little time. They made such a sad pile against the wall where she dropped them on the stone. There was nowhere else to put them. The tempo of male breathing told her she had accomplished her task not without skill and artistry. Without shame she turned, in all her glory, and faced him.
"What must I do, Master?" She hoped it was the right note.
"Kiss my feet."
It was an obvious start. Dorinda performed the slave obeisance with all the grace and willingness she could muster. She felt pleased with herself. If only Mark would play it as a game.. It might be fun. She knelt before him waiting.
"Now wash them with your lips and tongue. Swallow. Don’t spit!"
The game vanished unborn. He had breached her defence right at the start. Mark wore only the skimpiest sandals. His feet were well soiled. Obedience would degrade, perhaps nauseate. Tears came to her eyes. She had wanted so much to excel.
He saunted to the wooden chest. Sat comfortably leaning back against the wall and kicked off one sandal. She knew his searching eyes could read her thoughts. She followed, kneeling at his feet, yet certain she could not do what was required of her. She looked up at him piteously blinking back the tears.
"Would it help if I whipped you now?" he asked kindly.
The incongruity was a groad. With a bitter sob of determination Dorinda blindly and feverishly began the impossible.
But nothing is impossible. Telling Terry of it afterwards she coined the quip that one toe led to another and when a girl had sucked one she had sucked ‘em all. She was amazed at the detergent quality of saliva and the innocent pinkness of each toe as she released it from her lips. She hoped, miserably, that whatever it was she was f***ed to swallow would not poison her. It was probably just Kyrexos dust. The job was long. By the time her lips and tongue had cleaned both feet she had had time to reflect that a girl can make infinite adjustments if she is sufficiently frightened.
There was no rest. He stood up. "Remove my briefs. Clean what you find there. Do no more than that. Then replace."
Dorinda had expected this. She was aware of the importance men attached to this act. The order came as a less of a shock than the previous one. She dealt with her humiliation completely. In handling his swimming briefs she was obliged also to handle her hated handcuffs again. He made no move to help. He had placed them under the belt. She must leave them as she found them. Her fingers on the steel, she wondered how long to would be before she felt their bite again. She knelt back on her heels, hoping for approval.
Mark spat on the floor.
He must want to whip her very much. He would tax her tolerance until it broke. He had not spoken. But she knew what she must do. She bent swiftly and cleansed the spot on the floor with a willing tongue.
"Run and fetch me a drink, slave girl."
Dorinda looked up aghast.
Mark laughed at her surprise. "Why