“You’re not working in bed are you?” Sydney asked Mark in passing, she went into the dressing area.

“No, I was checking emails.” Mark sat his laptop aside. “That was fast. How did it go?”

“It didn’t. I refused to speak to her.”

Mark grinned, impressed with her tenacity. “You’re torturing her.”

“Just a little. She needs to think about what she has done.” Sydney climbed into bed and snuggled into Mark’s side.

“How are you going to handle the situation?”

“I haven’t decided. On one hand, I understand why she would act out yet on the other I can’t see why she didn’t leave my service.”

“Ha!” Mark laughed and kissed her upturned lips. “She didn’t leave because you’re Sydney Cummings. Working for you is a pledge anyone would kill for. She probably raked in double her salary in gifts and favors from anyone hoping to gain an audience with you. The guidelines aren’t in place to hinder our assistants from living their own lives. They’re in place to protect them from getting caught up in drama,” He said with unrealized passion. “She betrayed your thrust meanwhile Charles and Natalie have served you well and put their relationship on the backburner for eight years without so much as a thank you.”

“Like you said, there are guidelines that are in place to protect them from people trying to gain favor with me. I depend on them to protect me. I can’t have them the subject gossip.”

At that Mark sat up and cupped Sydney face. “Sweetheart, our relationship could have single-handedly destroyed their lives. When the news of our relationship broke, they didn’t skip a beat. Unquestioningly, they protected both of us. Not just you, but both of us. Sydney, we didn’t break the rules. We rewrote them. No one will ever question another Dom/Domme union of our caliber again. This was no small feat and they jumped into the fire without prompt. We owe them the same respect.”

Sydney’s chest sank. “Call Charles, let’s talk.” she conceded.

Meanwhile, Natalie double checked the girl’s dresses; black A-line knee length silk shantung spaghetti strap dresses with a beaded and embroidered empire bodice that was sure to turn every head in the room. She hung the last of the two dresses in the dressing area and couldn’t help but feel a sense of sorrow. This was the first year she wouldn’t be attending and the one she most longed to attend. It was her last time to see Charles publicly without raising suspicion. During his apprenticeship their relationship had been uncomplicated: work, home, dinner, chat, and bed. A normal relationship. But the moment Charles became a Dom in his own right it was over---as though it’d never happened. They only saw one another when he came to handle business with Sydney and public events but never allowed to openly acknowledge each other. Natalie tried desperately to get over him but the harder she tried the deeper she fell.

Charles faired no better. He could get that little chocolate covered geisha doll out of his mind. His thoughts often went to them lying in bed the morning of his “graduation”. He lay with his arms draped around her soft almost fragile body watching the day take its shape outside the picture window and silently praying for the moment to linger just a little while longer—let her rest a little while longer.

It was of no use. Natalie had been awake for hours swaddled in his delicious embrace, lost the feel of his warm breath caressing the back of her neck. Swallowing her grief as best she could. But with each moment that passed, her sense of loss became increasingly protracted and painful.

One last time, they made love. Within hours, their relationship was over.

Natalie shook those images out of her head as she hung Sydney’s gown beside the others. She smiled weakly, impressed by her own design: a sage duchess satin strapless A-line gown, with a draped bodice accented with tiny crystals and chocolate sash hitting its empire waist in just the right spot then gathered in the back. “Understated elegance,” she said aloud, staring at the gown. She felt Charles’s arms snake around her waist from behind.

“Hey,” He kissed her necked and rest his chin on her shoulder, gazing at the gown.

“Hey,” Natalie’s logic side pleaded with her to pull away from him but the sentimental side won out this time. She leaned her head into his.

“Is that Sydney’s dress?”


“Is this is your handiwork?”

“I sketched it out for the seamstress.”

“It’s beautiful.”

It’s perfect,” Natalie run her hand over the crystals. Then a knot turned in her stomach, she closed her eyes ruefully. “She’s going to look magnificent. I wish I could see the looks on everyone’s faces when she walks in.

“You might have that chance.” Charles said with a warm smile in his voice.

“What do you mean?”

“I’ve spoken to Mark about us. I wanted him to approach Sydney. It turns out that he already has.”

Natalie’s chest caved in, she couldn’t move. “When did this happen?”

“I spoke to Mark earlier today about our situation. He mentioned that he’d already spoken to Sydney about it a few days ago. Has she mentioned anything to you?”

“He knew about us? No, she hasn’t spoken to me.” Traces of panic clipped her voice.

Charles shrugged. “Well that’s a good sign I guess.”

“That’s a horrible sign. You see how she’s treating #3, as though nothing has happened. Oh God, this is going to be brutal. She’s going fire me, Charles.”

He held her as close as humanly possible knowing very well her words could be true. “Relax, we have Mark on our side.”

Natalie gave a short laugh. “You know better than anyone that my Mistress can’t be cajoled into doing anything she doesn’t want to do regardless of whose backing it has. Now what’s going to happen when, not if, when she objects? I’m fired and you’re finished. Then what’s next?”

“I’ll teach, you’ll find another job outside of the community and we’ll be together.” Charles said matter-of-factly.

Natalie couldn’t disagree with him more. “No, we won’t. This is my life, I enjoy serving my Mistress. She depends on me and yes, she can be difficult but I wouldn’t trade her for the world.”

Charles smiled to himself and then his phone rang. “I’ll be there in a second.” He said then turned his attention to Natalie. “That was Mark,” he sighed. “They want to see me.”

Natalie looked like a deer in headlights. “Should I go with you?”

“No, I’ll be fine.” He tried to sound upbeat for her sake. “Well, it’s off to the “field of screams.” He kissed her cheek and run upstairs. He knocked, entered and stood waiting for the fur to fly.

But it didn’t. Sydney and Mark sat up in bed and offered him a seat.

“What’s this I hear about you and Natalie?” Sydney intoned dryly.

“We dated for five years up until the time my apprenticeship was completed. After then, we never spent anytime personal time alone until recently.” Charles remarked equally as dry.

“Have you slept with her since then?”


“Why not?”

“It’s goes against regulation.”

“Your relationship as a whole goes against regulation. Why stop at the bedroom?”

Charles pinched his lips, coming up with the correct reply. “Continuing a sexual relationship would only have made matters worse. Besides, it’s not about sex with Natalie.”

“Do you love her?”


“Then why not leave my service and be together. You would risk my disfavor to be with her?”

“No,” Charles answered without hesitation.


“Because your happiness and her happiness are one in the same.”

Sydney shot a ‘good answer’ look to Mark before continuing. “You realize the position you’ve put me in. Charles, you’re supposed to be smarter than this. You’re my next in command. Why didn’t you come to me?”

Both Charles and Mark gave her befuddled expressions.

“You said it yourself: I’m your next in command. Sydney Cummings doesn’t relinquish control to anyone, so for you to make that statement means that I’ve proven myself capable. I neither asked for nor were given the title. I have worked my ass off and earned it. And with all due respect, you’re not the most accommodating person,” Charles said with proud caution. “We have observed all restrictions, none more so than Natalie. You appointed her as your closest assistant for good reason: you trust her above all the others, she is the most reliable and, dare I say it, you ‘like’ her. You’ve never liked anyone!”

“Don’t be a wiseass.” Sydney gave a slight grin.

“I’m not being a wiseass. To be honest, I almost pissed my pants when my phone rang,” he threw his hands up.

“I have that effect on men.”

“You have that effect on everyone.” Mark added and was met with Sydney’s rolling eyes. “I’m offering my opinion as an objective outsider. It’s not my place to judge the situation; this is Sydney’s personal affair. You both know where I stand on the matter. Charles, you and Natalie have my support. Sydney, I will respect whatever choice you make.”

Charles wasn’t able to reads Sydney’s reaction. Her face was blank save a small flicker in the corner of her eyes.

“Charles, it’s not that simple. I know that you can’t help who you fall in love with but at the same time….” Sydney stopped and sighed. “I need time to think this over.

A semi victorious smile crossed his lips. “So…that’s not a ‘no’?”

Sydney’s frown concealed a smile as she watched the exchange between Charles and Mark. “No, it’s not a definite “no” but it’s not a “yes”. I need you to understand my position. I don’t have a problem with you and Natalie dating however I can’t have you distracted. I need your full attention and if you can’t give me that then…” she stopped again, frustrated that she couldn’t find the words to articulate her feelings.

“I think what Sydney is getting at is simple: she needs you to be prepared to take the wheel and to be quite honest, I don’t think you’re ready.” Mark observed.

“What? You gave us your support!” Charles said, his anger began to rise. How could Mark flip sides so quickly.

“I will support you but I don’t think you’re ready to take on Sydney’s responsibilities. Sydney has the legacy of her father to uphold and the livelihood of her underlings to consider. One major mistake on her part can ruin lives. She’s trying to build a,” Mark turned to Sydney searching for his words. “She’s trying to build a dynasty of sorts; something tangible to leave the community should she decide to step down. You’ve seen her work; you know how intense she can be. What most people don’t see is the burden she carries. So please don’t take what I’m about to say the wrong way. I think you’re clever, perceptive and earnest but I don’t think you’re ready. You’re nearly there but not yet.”

Charles nodded in agreement. “What areas need to be addressed?”