“My goodness!” Mrs. Bennett said.
Miles turned from the fireplace as his mother entered the room. She was looking past him to Jennifer standing in front of the warm hearth. Jennifer had her hands held out to the crackling fire as she rubbed them together for heat. Her dress was drier than it had been when she climbed into his truck, but the black material remained stuck to her contours. The tangled matte of her hair still dripped droplets from its uneven ends.
Mrs. Bennett rested a hand on the back of the couch and said, “Sweetie, you must be chilled to the bone in those wet things. Let’s go upstairs and get you something dry to wear.”
Jennifer looked over her shoulder at Mrs. Bennett, offering a grateful smile and an agreeing nod. Mr. Bennett’s arrival on the scene kept Jennifer’s mouth shut and faded the smile from her lips. Miles knew the relative tranquility of the crackling fire and the wafting hickory scent-filled room was about to be shattered. Part of him wished he had no filled his father in on the morning’s events, but of course that would have only delayed the inevitable.
“This young lady,” Mr. Bennett said, his gaze encompassing everyone in the room, “won’t be needing clothing, dry or otherwise, anytime soon unless she’s tendering her resignation.”
Jennifer faced the room and quickly took a step forward away from the fireplace. She held her hands behind her as if they could assuage her discomfort. “I understand you’re angry with me, but I’d like a chance to explain.”
One look at his father and Miles knew it was not a time to go easy on his girlfriend. Ignoring the enticing protrusion of her cold nipples through the taunt black of her dress, he squared himself to her and dug deep for a stern voice. “I’d love some explanations. Let’s start with why you’ve been lying to me?”
Mrs. Bennett walked around the couch, stopping in the center of the room. “Before you get carried away, I’ll just take those wet clothes and get them drying.”
Jennifer’s gaze traveled between Miles and his father. As if her curves were not calling enough attention to themselves, she pushed her chest out and jutted her hips to the left. “Do you think I could have some privacy and maybe a towel?”
“Sweetie, you ought to be ashamed,” Mrs Bennett said with a chortle. She planted her hands on her hips and shook her head. “That wet rag isn’t hiding much as it is and despite what you might think, you don’t have anything they haven’t seen before.”
Mr. Bennett leaned on the back of the couch, squeezing the taupe leather in his hands. “You can jiggle your boobs and wag your tail all you want, but if you don’t start peeling off that sorry excuse for a dress, you’ll be doing it on a street corner for a ride home.”
Jennifer shifted to a more humble stance and bit on her lower lip. She fluttered her long eyelashes and gazed doe-eyed at Miles. “You aren’t seriously going to stand there and let him humiliate me like this are you?”
Miles stared back, noting the glistening of welled tears. He assumed they were of the crocodile variety and ignored them. “You didn’t seem to have a problem humiliating me in the middle of my meeting this morning.”
“You know I didn’t mean it like that,” Jennifer said. She grabbed at his hand dangling beside him and stroked the soft flesh of his palm with the lightest touch of her fingernails. “I’ve just been having a bad day.”
Miles pulled away from her touch and stepped backward, away from her and the fireplace. “What I know is you are going to either take your punishment or you’re going to leave here unemployed.”
Jennifer turned her back to the room, facing the fireplace. The firelight danced in shadows around the room. Her taut jawline revealed her strengthening resolve even as her cheek grew pink with untold shame. She reached a tentative hand across her chest to slip the thin strap off her left shoulder. The strap hung limp beside her bare arm and she looked over her naked shoulder at Miles with pouting lips and fiery eyes. “I thought you loved me,” she said.
Miles stared at her pale flesh as she extricated her arm from the hanging shoulder strap. “I do,” he said. “That’s why I’m not going to let you get away with the bad behavior you’ve revealed this morning.”
Mr. Bennett walk around the couch and joined Miles on Jennifer’s left. She turned her head from them and slipped out of the right shoulder strap. Stretching to reach behind herself, she grasped the zipper pulled it down with a whir. The wet fabric clung to her skin, holding it in place. She peeled it downward, exposing the pale flesh of her naked breasts. Pushed past her hips, the dress fell to a puddle around her feet. She raised her feet, one at a time, out of the puddle and kicked the dress aside. Adorned in high heels and black panties she crossed her arms over her naked breasts and glared over her shoulder at Miles and Mr. Bennett.
They stared back in silence as the fire crackled behind the black mesh guard. She looked away, leaned down, pulled her heels off one at a time, and dropped them on top of her dress. Her thumbs hooked into the waistband of her panties and tugged them down past her knees, allowing them to fall around her naked feet. She stepped out of them and used her left foot to drop them on her heels. Her arms crossed in front of herself in a futile attempt to hide her nudity.
Mrs. Bennett stepped close to the naked girl’s turned back. She traced her finger along the edges of Jennifer’s bare buttocks, admiring the red glow and subtle horizontal stripes. “My, my,” she said, “looks like someone beat us to the job.”
Jennifer fixed her gaze on the mantle above the fireplace. Her embarrassed cheek glistened brighter in the flickering light. She took a deep breath and said, “I already told Miles, I was trying to keep things quiet.”
Mrs. Bennett gave a gentle slap to Jennifer’s left buttock as she leaned down to collect the pile of discarded clothing. Jennifer yelped, kicking her leg up and hopping in place for a moment eliciting a laugh from Mrs. Bennett and a chuckle from Miles.
“Sweetie,” Mrs. Bennett said, “you’re obviously not the kind of girl who keeps things quiet.” She wrapped the small pile of clothes into a ball in her hands and walked out of the room saying, “I’ll just get these things to drying and be right back.
Miles stared at the pale profile of his girlfriend illuminated in the firelight. Her snaked arms did little to obstruct his view. The soft bubble flesh of her breast peeked out from behind her arm and the titillating curvature of her buttocks was hidden only by shadows caused by the flicker of the fire. Her toned legs and tight abdomen were fully exposed and just as bewitching to Miles as the first time he had seen them. He knew there were things to be said that had nothing to do with her beauty, but his breath was caught in his throat and the words were lost in a fog of barely restrained lust.
Mr. Bennett removed his glasses and wiped a bead of sweat from his forehead. He sighed, shook his head and said, “Stop acting like you still have something to hide. Put your hands on your head and turn and face us proper.”
Jennifer’s jaw tightened and her cheek reddened a little more, but whatever protests might have raced through her brain were quickly abandoned in favor of silent compliance. She raised her hands, interlocking her fingers together on the top of her head and pivoted to face Mr. Bennett. A single teardrop spilled out of her right eye, running its way down her cheek to splatter against her naked breast. She lowered her gaze to the floor and nibbled at her lower lip.
Mr. Bennett paced the room between the coffee table and the couch. He spun his glasses by the thin gold arm held between his thumb and forefinger. “A month ago, I fired my daughter because you said she was not getting her work done. Your evidence was ambiguous at best and Rachel denied it all, pointing her own finger back at you. I didn’t listen to her because I trusted you. Rachel has a history of not being dependable or honest, but of course you knew that as well as I did. But here we are facing the same problem and Rachel isn’t involved. Could it be I trusted the wrong young lady?”
Jennifer twisted her head to follow Mr. Bennett’s pacing. The soft skin over her abdomen stretched tight over her muscles and her breasts swayed with the motion. “Things were far worse than you knew a month ago. Rachel left a hole too big for me to fill alone.”
Mr. Bennett stopped pacing and pushed his glasses back into place. He squared himself to Jennifer and . “You expect me to believe that when you wait to say anything until now. Come now Jennifer, do really think I’m that gullible or is it Miles you’re hoping to convince?”
“I’m not trying to fool anybody,” Jennifer said. “I’m just telling you the truth.”
Miles stepped closer to Jennifer and grabbed hold of her chin, turning her head to face him. “You can’t just go on blaming Rachel for everything. Not three days ago, you told me you had everything under control. Obviously that was a lie.”
Tears moistened the bottom of Jennifer’s eyes and her chin quivered. “Believe whatever you want to believe.”
Pangs of guilt tugged on Miles’ heart as the tears spilled from Jennifer’s eyes onto her flustered cheeks. Her swollen eyes bored their way down into his soul making him doubt everything he thought he knew about the situation. She was his angel and if she had lied perhaps there was a reason he simply didn’t understand. A reason, that if he knew, he would support her as her soft brown eyes begged him to do right then. Maybe everything was Rachel’s fault and he was just too blind to see it.
Mr. Bennett stepped closer to Miles and Jennifer. “We could debate all day as to what you knew and when you knew it, but for the moment those facts are irrelevant. What we do know, what is indisputable, is that you started the morning off telling Miles you would stay home and you did not. Further, you delivered an update to a client that was supposed to have been delivered a week ago, you failed to deliver a trial version of our software to Harper & Son and, when Miles called you to ask about it, you proceeded to curse up a storm and avoid answering the question. These are the facts and these are the reasons you deserve to be punished.”
Jennifer fluttered her eyelashes in Mr. Bennett’s direction as more tears spilled onto her cheeks. “If I let you down, I’m sorry.”
Miles shook off his doubts. His father’s words sank through the fog clouding his view of Jennifer. Her excuses, Rachel’s involvement or lack thereof, mattered little, if at all, in the events of the morning. With her gaze fixed upon his father he saw her fluttering eyelashes for what they were— distraction and subterfuge. He felt the fool for having lost sight of the real reasons they were standing beside the fire.
“If?” Miles said, his voice raised to the level of trembling. “There is no if about it. You have let me down, let my father down, let our clients down, and I would hope you have let yourself down because if you are satisfied with your performance this morning, then we have a much bigger problem here than I thought.”
“Miles,” Jennifer said, turning her big, sad eyes on him.
“Don’t,” he said. “I’m done feeling sorry for you. If your butt wasn’t already glowing as red as those embers in the fireplace, I’d be making it that way right now. Considering your mouth has caused the majority of the drama this morning though, I think a good mouth soaping will suffice until your butt is ready for the paddling you deserve.”
Mr. Bennett’s head nodded approval. “That’s an excellent idea.”
“I have an unopened bar of soap under the kitchen sink,” Mrs. Bennett said returning to the living room with a shivering, wet Rachel in tow. “You can go stand next to the fireplace with your hands on your head, young lady,” Mrs. Bennett said to Rachel.
Rachel raised her hands to her head and navigated the outer edge of the living room, bypassing the couch and matching armchair to stand near the right edge of the fireplace. Her skin was damp with rain and glistening with the pink flush of mild embarrassment. Water dripped from her matted hair onto her naked back and her black panties stuck to her buttocks as if they were glued in place. Despite what had to have been a mortifying experience outside, Rachel retained most of her customary spark.
In a whisper barely audible over the crackle of the burning fire, Rachel looked to Jennifer and said, “Looks like someone else got a little too big for her britches, not to mention the rest of her clothes.”
Miles caught the glint of a response flickering in Jennifer’s eyes and cut it off without a voice. He grabbed Jennifer by the elbow and propelled her toward the kitchen. Mr. and Mrs. Bennett followed, leaving Rachel alone.
With Jennifer parked next to the kitchen sink, Miles opened the cupboard below and removed an unwrapped bar of soap. He tore the package open and laid the fresh bar on the counter top where Jennifer’s eyes couldn’t help but stare at it. Mr. Bennett stood on the opposite side of the kitchen with Mrs. Bennett, watching.
“It’s been a long time since I had a bar of soap in my mouth,” Miles said, with a quick glance to his mother, “but I can assure you it’s not an experience you forget quickly.”
Jennifer’s gaze remained fixed on the bar lying on the counter. Her lips were tightly closed as if she thought she could somehow avoid the punishment by turning mute. Her chest rose and fell while her nostrils flared in and out from shallow controlled breathing. The tears once welling in her eyes had dried away proving to Miles they were nothing more than props to influence him and his father. Her cheeks were still colored by embarrassment and anger and her arms quivered with the tension and apprehension of what was clearly to come. She took a step back when Miles lifted the soap in his hand.
“Don’t back away from me,” he said and snapped his fingers. He pointed at the spot on the floor she had stepped from.
Her gaze flickered to his parents. She sucked her lips inward and nibbled on them. He snapped his fingers again and she blinked. If there had been anyplace for her to run to, she surely would have ran, but there was no escape or at least no escape she was willing to risk. She stepped forward and stood her ground before Miles. He held the bar of soap beneath her nostrils. Her eyes watered.
“Pungent isn’t it?” Miles asked. Her nose wrinkled away from the soap. He moved it a little closer. “This is what it takes to wash away the stench of your atrocious language and the rot of your dishonesty. It pains me to do this, but you’ve left me no other choice, have you?”
He pushed the soap against her pursed lips. She pulled back, shaking her head from side to side and moaning her distress. Miles grabbed hold of her chin with his free hand, holding her head in place. He wiggled the soap up and down against her lips, pushing past them to grind the bar against her front teeth.
Mrs. Bennett laid a supportive hand on his shoulder. “Let me show you how it’s done.”
Miles turned his head to his mother. She reached out and took the soap from his hand with a smile. He dropped his hand to his side and stepped back from Jennifer. Mrs. Bennett stepped up to the sink and turned the water on, dousing the soap beneath the stream. She lathered the bar between her hands. Though the soap was no longer near her mouth, Jennifer looked more worried than before as Miles retreated to the other side of the kitchen.
Mrs. Bennett shut the water off and held the bubble-covered bar up for Miles to see. “A little wetness goes a long ways toward making these things work,” she said. “Sort of like sex.”
Lifting the bar of soap toward Jennifer’s lips, Mrs. Bennett said, “Be a good girl now and open wide for me.”
Jennifer’s gaze was glued to the bar of soap, following its slow progress toward her mouth. She shook her head as she had done before and pulled as far back as she could without actually stepping away. Thinking back to his own previous experience with his mother and a bar of soap, Miles couldn’t recall being quite as stubborn and resistant as Jennifer. Of course, he had realized from the start it was inevitable and resistance was only going to pile on extra punishments he wasn’t going to like. Jennifer probably didn’t think there was anything worse they could do to her.
With her free hand, Mrs. Bennett reached up and pinched Jennifer’s nose closed. Jennifer’s eyes grew wide and her cheeks puffed until finally her mouth burst open, sucking in air. Mrs. Bennett shoved the bar into Jennifer’s waiting mouth and let go of her nostrils. Jennifer tried to spit the soap out, but Mrs. Bennett’s hand kept the bar firmly in place. Moans of distress erupted from Jennifer’s throat.
Mrs. Bennett stared into Jennifer’s bulging eyes. “This part isn’t like sex, sweetie. Try not to swallow.”
Jennifer opened her mouth wide and shook her head, attempting to pull back from the soap and the hand holding it. “GAH! Um Saur Eeee!”
“Of course you are, sweetie,” Mrs. Bennett said. She caught a stream of thick white drool dripping from Jennifer’s mouth on her finger and wiped it on Jennifer’s chest to dry. “Now, I want you to bite down and sink your teeth real good into that bar or if you want to keep fighting me, you can go stand out front until your ready to cooperate. Understand?”
Jennifer’s eyes filled with all the nasty expletives she knew and for a moment Miles thought she was going to explode with them. The burning in her eyes and the soap taste permeating her mouth must have changed her mind. Her jaw quivered and then she clamped down on the soap.
Mr. Bennett looked at his watch and touched Miles’ sleeve turning them both away from the scene at the kitchen sink. Keeping his voice low, he said, “I meant to tell you earlier, Mr. Harper is going to be calling us back soon.”
Miles raised an eyebrow and threw a sideways glance at his girlfriend. “About Jennifer?” he asked.
Mr. Bennett shook his head. “Apparently matters escalated with the young woman Julian was disciplining this morning. She walked off the job, pretty much stark naked from what I heard. Mr. Harper is hoping we can help him head off a lawsuit and seeing as this is partially our fault on account of Jennifer, I’ve already said we’d help.”
“I guess Mom has things in hand here,” Miles said, nodding.
Mrs. Bennett let go of the soap and stroked the side of Jennifer’s face. “That’s a good girl. Now, come along, it’s time for you think about all those lies you’ve told and all that nasty language you keep throwing around.”
She took hold of Jennifer’s elbow and gently guided her out of the kitchen and back to the living room. Miles and Mr. Bennett followed and watched for a moment while Mrs. Bennett parked Jennifer on the opposite side of the fireplace from Rachel, only Jennifer was facing the room at large. Jennifer twitched from side to side and tried to step away from the fireplace, but Mrs. Bennett held her in place with a stern finger wagging in the air between them.
Mrs. Bennett said, “I’m sure you don’t much care to have the fire toasting your spanked buns, but this really wouldn’t be punishment if you were enjoying yourself. Now if you stand still and behave yourself for the next fifteen minutes, I might just let you go back to the kitchen and rinse your mouth out. If not, the days got plenty more hours left in it.”
The ringing of the office phone echoed from outside the living room. Miles looked at his father, weary of the morning’s activities, and said, “It sure never rains but it pours.” Mr. Bennett nodded agreement and together, father and son rushed toward the home office.