She grabbed her purse and ran down. One look at Kai, and all her good resolutions flew away. He was so sexy, standing there on her stoop. His face lit up when he saw her. It was flattering. Especially coming from such a handsome man.
“Beautiful!” he exclaimed.
“Thanks. You look good, too.” He was also wearing jeans, this time with a sleek button-down shirt. Erin was glad to see she had judged the tone of their date correctly.
Erin was very aware that Michele and Katie's front window was right next to them. Katie peeked through the curtain, getting a good look at Kai. Then with a little wave, she was gone. Kai never saw it happen.
“I thought we’d stay in your neighborhood. I know a great Afghan restaurant nearby. Do you eat meat?”
“Good. It’s near the bridge. Do you mind a walk?”
“I love to walk.” It was a pretty night out, and since it was Saturday, there were plenty of people on the sidewalks.
“You sure picked the right neighborhood to live in,” Kai said. “It’s changed a lot since I first moved here. It used to be much more affordable, but then everyone discovered it.”
“I’m lucky. My floors are slanted and the kitchen needs a desperate renovation, so it doesn’t cost too much to rent.”
In that way, they talked about the city and what it was like living there and trying to succeed in a place where everyone came to try to succeed. Most of the people that Erin met came to New York from someplace else, trying to make a better life for themselves.
As they moved on to their past, Erin told him a little bit about her professor mom and dilettante dad, and what it was like growing up as an only child. He was surprised at that, saying she didn’t seem spoiled at all. She didn’t want to tell him that her father was the one that she and her mom had to take care of. She loved her father because he was interesting and fun, but he was not very reliable.
“My mom and I have a really great relationship,” she told him. “We always have. I guess she treated me more like a sister.”
In turn, Kai told her about his roving childhood in city after city as his father chased job after job, all of them in trucking. “Sometimes he’d be gone for weeks. But he was hard to deal with, and we never seemed to make ends meet. My mom was working, too, so I took care of my younger brothers and made sure they got off to school and did their homework. I’ve been working summers since I was fourteen. One place was a metal fabricator. They let me sweep up and do odd jobs at first. That’s how I got interested in metal casting, and when artists came I got to see how it was done.”
“Where did you go to college?”
“High school was the most I got. I’m self-taught. My first piece was accepted in an outsider art show that got some press. There were paintings by prisoners and spray paint artists. People who never had any training. There’s something raw and primal about that kind of art that I’ve always respected.”
It was fascinating, but Erin knew her mom would hate the fact that she was dating a man who only had a high school degree. It proved even more that Kai wasn’t her type. She was drawn to him, but she didn’t understand him.
“What’s wrong?” Kai asked as she went silent. “The restaurant is only one more block.”
“It’s not that.”
She hesitated. “I don’t want to offend you.”
“You can ask me anything. How can we get to know each other if we tip-toe around everything? Besides, I’m not easily offended. Or surprised.”
“Okay, since you insist. After a chaotic childhood like that, I’d think you’d want to pick a stable job where you know where your next meal is coming from.”
His eyes opened wider. “I thought you were going to ask me why I want to dominate women.” He considered her question for a moment. “I think people tend to recreate the environment they were raised in. I’m a child of uncertainty, so I’m comfortable with uncertainty.
My youngest brothers were mostly spared the chaos because they relied on me until my parents settled down in Harrisburg. David just finished his college degree. It took him six years because he had to work his way through, but he’s used to working hard because he always had to.”
“That makes sense, I suppose.” She sneaked a look at him. “So why do you?”
“Do I what?”
“Dominate women,” she awkwardly echoed his earlier phrase.
Kai laughed. “We’re here. So that question will have to wait for dinner.”
She liked the easy, confident way he spoke to the host and the wait staff at the Afghan restaurant. He had reservations for a table in the garden. Their low table was partly veiled by potted trees and vines climbing on the trellis. Over the top of the fence they could see the Williamsburg Bridge, with the curve of the suspension cable lit up by lights. Tiny Christmas tree lights were threaded through the trees, and their table was lit by several candles.
He had arranged for them to be seated in the secluded spot. It was a very romantic gesture, one she wished more of her dates would do. There was no romance left in the world, so to find it in Kai was the last thing she had expected.
“Do you drink wine?” he asked, and when she agreed, he ordered a lovely red wine. “Now, what kind of meat do you like?”
With that, he proceeded to grill her on her dining preferences. Garlic, onions, green vegetables, nuts, fruits, sweets… she felt like he was taking mental notes the whole time. His interest was a little overwhelming.
“Now you know as much about what I like to eat as my own mom,” Erin finally said. “Then you won’t mind if I order for us?” Kai gave her a smile and ordered several dishes when the waiter returned. “It’s part of the culture that the dishes are communal. We can share.”
The first dish arrived, with what looked like a pile of rice and a large flatbread. Kai ripped off a small piece of the bread and filled it with the rice and meat mixture. “This is pulao. They mix rice with lots of different ingredients. This is lamb meat.” He folded the bread over the pulao and took a bite.
Erin copied his example. She liked the taste. “Good. Different, but good.”
“It’s one thing I like about living in the city. You can try every food there is in the world if you stick at it long enough.”
It was dangerously seductive to Erin. She imagined more dinners like this as she and Kai explored the world through the food in the city. She liked listening to his voice and watching his hands as he delicately picked up each bite of food in his fingers. Maybe it was because they weren’t using their utensils, but it made the meal seem more intimate.
She was sliding down the path again, wondering if he could be a real romantic possibility. She liked so much about him. But there was an elephant in the courtyard, and she rushed into it to bring herself back to reality.
“So why do you like to… you know.”
“Dominate beautiful women?” he asked.
“I like to be in control. I had to learn early on to take care of things, so that’s what I do. That’s why I create things out of nothing, from just an idea and a feeling. Not only in my art, but in my life. I’m working with you tonight to create this experience, and who knows where it might lead? But if I play off you, your responses, then we can dance together in a new way for both of us.”
That sounded promising. “So… is there anything in particular you like to do?”
“Other than hair-pulling?” He said it suggestively, like he was remembering the way he had kissed her neck in his studio. “I mostly take inspiration from the moment. But lots of people do have their thing. You could call it a fetish. Some men like breasts, while I love a fine butt. You, my dear, have a very fine butt.”
Erin loved it. He made it easy to sit there and be complimented, like she was made to be admired and he wanted nothing more than to admire her. But at the back of her mind was doubt. A guy this good with words had to be dangerous. He was going to suck her in and make her fall in love with him while he dashed off to the next unique flower he came across.
“I like to play sex games,” Kai explained. “We decide what we’re going to do, and either one of us can stop what’s happening at any time.”
“But isn’t it about pain? S&M?”
“Did it hurt when I pulled your hair?”
She considered it. “Yeah, sort of, but it felt good.”
“It’s about stimulation, intense sensations, but it has to be done in a way that feels good. Nobody likes to stub their toe. But I bet I could give you the same amount of sensation in a way that would make you orgasm. It’s all about building it up slowly, mixing erotic cues with stronger feelings.”
She blinked back at him, considering that.
“Even more,” he added, “BDSM is about power exchange. You give up control to me, and I take us on a journey together.”
“I’ll show you.” Just then their waiter arrived with two more dishes. Kai waited until he was gone, to ask, “Will you do what I say for the rest of the meal? I won’t do anything overtly sexual here in public or ask you to. And you can stop the game any time you want.”
“Why not? You’re curious.”
Erin remembered what Michele had said about the dangers of going home with someone and letting them tie you up. If she was going to try it, why not here with all the restrictions that would place on them?
“Okay. What do I have to do?”
Kai laughed, but there was a wicked edge to it. “Just eat. Here—“ He filled a small bite of bread with some blackened meat and sauce from one of the new dishes and held it out to her, right in front of her face.
Erin took the bite from his hand. “Mmm! I like that one. What is it?”
“Beef and dumplings in a curry sauce.”
She swallowed and took a drink of water, and by the time she was ready for another bite of the delicious dish, Kai was holding up a small prepared bite of dumpling and sauce in his fingers.
This time she realized what he was doing. He was feeding her. The first bite had felt easy, she hadn’t even thought about it. But now for some reason it made her feel funny. Grown women didn’t let themselves get fed like a baby!
He lifted the bite higher, his eyes intently on hers.
Her eyes shifted quickly. Were people watching? There must be people watching. But the palm fronds of the plants were between them and the other diners. She could see them, but not very well. Maybe they could see her, but not very well.
Such a simple thing. But nervous excitement raced through her entire body. She felt alive. How could something so simple shake her like this?
Maybe it was because of Kai, all gorgeous and staring into her eyes in that sexy, intimate way he had.
Slowly she leaned forward and took the bite of food from his fingers. As she was chewing, still watching him, he murmured, “Good girl.”
She raised her hand to hide the food in her mouth. “You can’t say that to me!”
“It’s demeaning. Belittling.”
“I think you like it. It makes you all flustered and flushed, and I like you that way.” He leaned forward. “But you’re really such a bad girl. My bad girl…”
She felt oddly stroked and loved by the tenderness in his voice, yet she shouldn’t like it. But he might be right. It was certainly stirring up her insides like nobody’s business. It was all too confusing to sort out right now, so she just went with it. If she couldn’t handle eating a meal in a restaurant under his control, then she certainly couldn’t go any further with him. And she really wanted to see if they could go further.
So she went with it, sipping her water and wiping her mouth with her napkin, trying the dishes he suggested or eating from his fingers when he offered her a bite. At one point he held out his finger that was smeared with the curry sauce she loved. “Lick it,” he ordered quietly.
So she did, looking up at him as her lips closed over his fingertip.
He didn’t have to say it that time. The words were in his eyes, amused and proud of her for not fighting him. Good girl. He was always ready with a bite when she was, or urging her to try a dish on her own, so it flowed along very nicely.
Dessert arrived, a big square of honey-dripping baklava. Kai cut off a huge piece with a fork and held it out to her.
“That’s too much,” she protested.
“I think it’s just enough.”
She examined the large chunk on his upheld fork. She did love honey, which she had told him during his earlier cross-examination of her food likes and dislikes. It looked delicious, and she really wanted some.
“All or nothing,” Kai told her.
“Fine!” She opened up wide but could hardly get the baklava into her mouth. When she bit down, honey drooled from both corners of her mouth.
He laughed at her as she worked on the baklava to get it to a manageable size. Even before she was finished, she had to laugh along with him. “You are sadistic,” she told him.
“Oh, you have no idea.” But he was laughing, too, so she couldn’t take it seriously.
“My face is sticky now,” she said.
“Here.” He picked up the moist towelette and ripped open the foil package. “Lean closer.”
She put her face up to him and he carefully washed the honey from her lips. His other hand gently held her chin. Again she had the feeling of being a kid, of being taken care of by her parents. Of feeling safe and secure.
“There, all clean.”
She smiled. “Now my lipstick is gone.”
“Give it to me.” Again, just the hint of an order wrapped in sugar.
She went into her purse and handed over her lip balm, tinted just darker than her lips. He read the label, then sniffed it. “Do I smell peppermint?”
“I think so. There’s something in it that makes my lips tingle.”
“We’re going to get along just fine.” Kai motioned her forward again. He carefully smoothed the shimmer over her lips. She rubbed them around make sure it was spread.
“How does it look?” she asked.
“Perfect.” His face was close to hers, and she realized he was going to kiss her.
“I want to see if that’s really peppermint,” he murmured as he leaned in and kissed her. His lips were hot against hers, urgent, striking a fire that ran through her body.
She forgot to breathe, lost in his mouth as he kissed her on and on. Then his fingers tightened in her hair, a reminder of last time, driving her higher.
Instantly she was ready for him. Maybe it was the long, slow build-up as he had fed her and took care of her through the meal. But when he claimed her mouth as his own, she felt it in every fiber of her body. It was pure passion sparked by a single kiss.
Finally Kai drew back, his fingers still tangled in her hair. “I can’t tell if it’s peppermint, but something’s making my lips tingle.”
His lips were shimmering now, too. It looked great on him. She could imagine him wearing guy-liner and rocking it out in the kind of clubs he probably went to. It was strange and wonderful at the same time.
“And now I have to replenish you.” He stroked the tiny wand across her lips then handed it back to her. “There, you’re perfect again.”
Erin almost felt let down as he paid the waiter and they finally walked out of the restaurant. Out on the street, he suggested they walk around the neighborhood some more.
“How did you like your first scene?” he asked.
“What’s not to like? It’s different, but fun. I see what you mean by calling it a game.”
Erin tried to focus as they talked about music and what they liked to read. They had completely different tastes. Kai went to bars where the music was so loud you couldn’t talk to anyone, while she preferred vintage pop—Backstreet Boys and R.E.M were her style. He read the Voice and the Free Press while she got the NY Times every Sunday and read every section in a long, leisurely ritual.
He also had a terribly casual view about his income, and was vague about the various odd jobs semi-related to the art field that he did to supplement his creative work. He said flat out that he didn’t use credit cards. She had a feeling he had cash stashed under his mattress, if he had anything at all saved for a rainy day.
She was shocked when he told her he’d been living in the same loft for nearly three years, and it wasn’t even legal to live there. She couldn’t imagine lying in bed at night knowing the fire department could kick everyone out at any moment.
Even worse, she kept thinking about their first kiss. As sexy and packing a punch as it did, it hadn’t been romantic. A first kiss should be romantic, shouldn’t it? Not the punctuation at the end of a kinky sex game. That wasn’t the kind of first kiss you had with your husband. That was the kind of kiss you had with a one night stand. And she had never had a one night stand.
A panicked feeling was rising inside of Erin at every word he said. They were worlds apart, but the blazing chemistry kept engulfing her in the tone of his voice and the way his hand grazed hers as they walked. He was nothing like her dream guy, in fact on paper he scared her a little, but she wanted him in a way she had never felt before. Like they were standing on the edge of a cliff, and she wanted to hold his hand like they had in the subway, and jump over the edge together.
It was such a strange feeling, knowing that she could abandon all restraint with this unrestrained man. Nobody would know—now that she was away from her family and her friends, she could do anything she wanted to without having to worry that the entire town was going to talk about it. He wasn’t the right man for her, but did that matter? Why move to the city if she was just going to do the same, boring things all the time?
No, they weren’t right for each other. But it was right for her right now.
Standing under a streetlamp in a pool of light, Erin suddenly made up her mind. Even though it was doomed to never go further than tonight, or maybe a week, or if she was lucky to the end the project. But she couldn’t let him go without a real taste.
She knew she was playing with fire. She would have to keep telling her heart this was only sex, fun and sex. An exciting exploration on the wild side that she could remember when she was older and sitting across the dinner table from her husband and teenaged kids who would try to tell her she didn’t know anything about kids today.
"Do you want to come to my place?" she asked.