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Except that now, all of a sudden men are coming out of the woodwork and the only thing they have in common is a strong arm, an iron palm and the willingness to put them both to use - including Aileen's husband, whose determination to re-open the lines of communication begins with a long-overdue trip across his knee!
Welcome to How To Live Without A Man - meetings every Monday night. Bring your best potluck and a pillow for sitting.
This modern-day spanking romance consists of seven chapters/45,264 words. If you are at all bothered by heroes who don't think twice about turning their lady-loves bottom-up, then please don't buy this book.
"Good morning, ladies!"� Nancy Dickerman swept into the small classroom with her purse dangling in the crook of her arm, her coat thrown over her shoulder and carrying a cardboard box in her arms.� Just inside the doorway, she paused to juggle her burdens between one arm and her left knee long enough to both close and lock the door, then confronted the twenty or so women already seated in the ring of hard plastic chairs that circled the center of the room.� Reminiscent of covered wagons preparing for an Indian attack.� Aileen tried not to dwell on the negativity of that mental image, but there was no denying that her feelings regarding these sometimes silly, mostly useless classes were growing harder and harder to hide.
Finally, Nancy turned to face the group, her brightly painted lips splitting into a wide, welcoming smile.� "Everyone's here already?� Marvelous!� I've got such plans for us tonight!� Something special.� Something unique.� Something that's just what everyone in this room needs!"
Sitting to Aileen's right, the busty, red-haired Vivian whispered out of the side of her mouth, "A shot of whiskey and Coke?"
On the other side of her, pretty, blonde Wendy covered her mouth to smother a giggling laugh.
Aileen, positively matronly compared with just about everyone else here, including the self-help instructor, Nancy Dickerman, was better at hiding hers.� Smoothing her hands down over her skirt, she rolled her lips, locking them together and kept her laughing brown eyes firmly fixed on her knees.
It was a toss-up whether Nancy really was as oblivious to the little comments occasionally whispered into existence from Aileen's little corner of the room, or whether she was just really good at ignoring them.� If it was the latter, then Aileen was more than willing to give the instructor kudos for maintaining her cheerfulness and plastic-Barbie-doll smiles week after week.� Aileen's corner of the room weighed a little on the sarcastic side.� Depending on that week's "Woman Empowering" activity, it could be downright caustic.� Tonight was already shaping into a caustic night.
Dropping both coat and purse on the desk at the front of the room, Nancy hefted the box high in her arms and sidled between two chairs into the ring of chairs.� Ducking down, she showed the contents of her box to the first two women she came to.� "Take one."
The women looked into the box, then glanced at one another and up at Nancy before, hesitantly, each reached over the cardboard lip and pulled out a small hand-held mirror.� To Aileen's left, arms folded across her chest, Gail was already starting to shift and re-shift in her seat, as if she were sharing her close-fitting jeans with a swarm of tickling ants.� Gail wasn't smiling and, as the mirrors began to circle the room, when Nancy came to stand in front of her, she made no move to unfold her arms and take one.
"What are we doing with those?" Gail asked, her tone strongly suggesting that the 'those' in question could just as easily have been giant hissing cockroaches instead of mirrors.
Nancy's smile faltered slightly�as it so often did when it came to Gail Hard-As-Nails�but then she squared her shoulders and her Barbie-doll cheerfulness visibly rallied.� "We're going to do an exercise I read about in 'The Empowerment of Women' by Charleen Callivathy."
"What kind of exercise?" Gail asked, suspiciously.
"You'll see."� Delving into her box, she offered a mirror to Gail along with her sunniest smile and, when Gail didn't budge, wedged the handle into the groove between the fold of her arms and her chest.� Then she went on.
Aileen took the mirror she was handed.� She didn't want to, but she found herself staring at her reflection in the smooth, clean glass.� Yeah, she was definitely the oldest woman here.� On the backside of forty with two grown sons (the youngest still in college), and she looked it.� She had crow's feet at the corners of her eyes and gray streaks in the short brown curls of her hair.� When had that happened?
When everyone had a mirror, including Nancy, she set the box outside the circle and came to stand in the middle.� "All right, ladies.� I want everyone to stand up."
A few chairs rattled, some obeying faster than others.� Much more comfortable with lectures than group activities, Aileen wasn't the last to stand, but she was also a far cry from the first.� She watched with mounting confusion as Nancy bent to lay her mirror on the floor between her feet.
"Tonight," she said brightly, "we are going to begin by examining the source of our femininity and power as women!"
Aileen felt the heat in her cheeks as Nancy bent again, her hands disappearing beneath the hem of her white floral skirt.� A half second later, her white cotton underwear was a puddle of skimpy folds on the floor around her ankles.� She scooped them up in her hand, bracing her fists against her hips as she exclaimed with a smile, "Tonight, we are going to look at our vaginas!"
* * * * *
Two hours later, Aileen and her small group of friends were standing on the curb outside the community college.� She didn't think her face was going to be anything other than a brilliant shade of red ever again, not from now until the very end of her life.� One quick half glance around her�at these same six ladies who had for the past year waited quietly on this curb together after every one of these useless self-help sessions ended�and she could see hers weren't the only red-cheeks among them.� Except for Gail.� Gail hadn't blushed at all, she'd just deepened her frown into something darn near approaching a scowl.
In the end, it was Gail who spoke up first.� "All right, I'll say it.� That was even more useless than most of the lectures we've been stupid enough to attend."
In the far back, quiet Nova still had her hands pressed her to burning cheeks.� And frankly, if any of them should be immune to a roomful of people staring at her privates, one would think it would be Nova.� She'd had six kids, for crying out loud!� "Why do we do this to ourselves?"
"Because we're sheep," Vivian said, standing just behind Aileen.�
"Because we can't stand the idea of being old and alone," Lyra corrected.
"All right, we're man-hungry sheep.� Every one of us, man-hungry sheep with our panties in our pockets."
"I don't know which was worse," Aileen finally managed.� "Straddling that mirror or sitting through last month's lecture on masturbation."
"Thank God that wasn't an activity," Vivian said drily.
"That's it.� I give up."� For the first time, Gail unfolded her arms.� She knuckled her fists into her hips instead.� "What are we even doing here?� We've been doing this for a year.� Has any of us picked up anything helpful from that woman?� We ought to start our own group.� At least then we'd have half a chance of learning something useful."
"And it wouldn't cost us fifty bucks a pop," Wendy added.� Being as she was still in college, Aileen could see how that might be important to her.
Lyra, on the other hand, just laughed.� "We can't start a group."
"Why not?" Gail demanded.
"We don't know anything.� That's why we come to Nancy's silly lectures!"
"What kind of group did you have in mind, Gail?" Aileen heard herself ask.
Everyone fell silent while Gail glared across the street, staring through the well-lit gas station on the other side.� "How to get by without men."
Nova's hands dropped from her cheeks and she snapped around to stare at Gail.� "Hate men all you want to; I still like them!"
"Oh yeah?"� Turning, Gail faced her fully.� "Every last one of us is standing here�has been standing here�for over a year now, struggling to try and figure out how to bring back the magic, rekindle the spark, and light the fires.� We've changed ourselves until we're barely even recognizable from the other side of Nancy's crummy little mirrors.� We pluck, wax, tweeze, diet, tone up and slim down, jazzercise, sexercise and wrap our bodies in cellophane for men who are perfectly content to let us pay their way through medical school only to drop us like hot rocks the first time some cute little twenty-something in three-inch high heel shoes and size two slacks walks by."
Everybody looked at Gail.
"Except for Aileen, of course," Gail acknowledged after a short pause.� "And let's face it.� If Wyatt switched off the sports' channel and crawled off the couch long enough to have an affair, you'd probably throw him a damn party."
Aileen turned her face away; Vivian, on the other hand, shifted from Aileen's left to her right, stepping physically in between her and Gail.� Green eyes flashing in a rare show of temper, she quietly warned, "Leave her alone, Gail.� You don't corner the market on broken hearts just because your husband left you.� Every one of us has a reason for wanting to come to these stupid things.� Simply because she's still got a husband, that doesn't make hers any less valid than the rest of ours."
From the very back, a pretty little Latino woman named Penny, suddenly spoke up.� "Maybe Gail is right.� I'm reading a book, yeah?� It says, if you always do the same thing, you will always get the same result."
"But what would we talk about?" Wendy asked. "Really, I don't think we know enough to start our own group."
"We just spent an hour talking about our vaginas," Gail said with an unladylike snort.� "From here on out, just about any topic we picked would be better than that."
"I'd offer to let us meet at my place," Lyra offered.� "Except the indoor plumbing still isn't working."
"You're still under construction?"
"Still," she moaned.� "Which isn't exactly fair to the man.� I mean, he's working.� I just don't see anything getting done!"
"Well, I've got plenty of room at my house," Vivian said.� "I suppose there's no harm in meeting a couple times on our own.� We can always go back to..." Glancing once back over her shoulder at the community college, she sighed, "...to Nancy if we don't like it."
Down the street, the 636 bus rounded the corner and began to rumble its way towards them.
"I'll bring pop," Wendy said, shouldering her purse.
And for the first time in a long time, Gail actually smiled.� It was a small smile to be sure, and like the rest of her, it had a hard edge to it.� "I'll bring snacks."
"I'll bring my book," Penny spoke up again, and�like women with a plan�they all lined up at the curb while the city bus pulled to a gentle stop beside them, engulfing them in a warm cloud of diesel exhaust.
Aileen was the last to board, and she found a seat slightly apart from the rest of her friends.� Close enough to join the conversation if prodded, she nevertheless kept her thoughts to herself.� She didn't want to say anything, but she didn't think she'd learn how to salvage her marriage with them any more than she had with Nancy.� Maybe Gail was right.� Maybe she had no business coming at all.
As they were pulling up to Vivian's stop, the redhead tapped her shoulder and leaned down to whisper, "You're going to be there next Monday, aren't you?"� Aileen opened her mouth, but then hesitated and before she could formulate a convincing lie, Vivian smiled and teasingly said, "Let me rephrase, if you don't show up on your own, I will come and get you.� Don't let Gail get to you.� You know she doesn't mean half the things she says."
Aileen waved one hand.� "Water over the bridge," she said and smiled so the other woman would believe it.� After twenty-six years of marriage to Wyatt, she'd become something of a pro at hiding how she really felt.
* * * * *
Every light in the house was still on when Aileen stepped off the sidewalk and started up her the driveway.� The front door was locked.� Wyatt always locked it after he got home and while Aileen knew�in the same off-center part of her mind that said leaving the car unlocked in a busy parking lot was a good way to get it broken into, if not stolen�in this day and age, his insistence in doing so was only common sense, and still, she couldn't help feeling as if it were her he was trying to shut out.� Fishing her keys from her pocket, she pushed her way inside.
It was the middle of summer and the house was cold, but again, in a way that�to her, at least�had little to do with the air conditioner going full board through the vents.�� Even from here, standing at the bottom of their first floor stairs, she could hear the roar of football fans blaring from the TV in the living room, and for just a minute she considered whether she might not have a better night if she simply packed a bag and stayed at the local hotel.
Would Wyatt even notice?
Even more depressed, she shrugged out of her coat and hung it on a peg by the door before trudging upstairs.
Wyatt was sprawled in his easy chair in front of the TV, a beer loosely gripped in one hand and balanced on his thigh, shoes kicked off and stockinged feet propped up on the ottoman where he idly rubbed the bottoms of one aching foot back and forth across the toes of the other.� "Hey," he greeted, without looking up from the up-and-coming touchdown playing out on the screen before him.� "How was your class?"
"Fine."� She went into the kitchen and began an uninspired search for something to fix for dinner.� There were frozen pizzas in the freezer, so she popped two in the oven: a pepperoni for him and a supreme for herself.� Now that the kids were grown and gone, her cooking skills (which had never been all that great to begin with) had lately reduced themselves to a daily decision over which box to open, heat and serve.
If Wyatt had noticed that either, he still hadn't said anything.
Head bowed, Aileen stood over the stove while the pizzas cooked, another long evening of cheering crowds and all the things that weren't being said stretching out before her.� Her eyes began to tear.� She couldn't keep doing this.� The classes definitely weren't helping.� She still didn't know how to break down all the walls of silence and banality that had somehow sprung up between them in these last...oh whom was she kidding?...these last ten years or so.� These weren't new walls.� By now, they were very well established.�� They were practically growing moss.� But while the kids had been home, they hadn't been this blatantly noticeable.� And now neither, apparently, was she.
Tearing a sheet of paper towel from the roll, she turned the water on at the sink to cover the sounds of her sniffling.� Grown women didn't stand in the middle of their kitchens, screaming for attention like tantrum-bound toddlers, and that's the only thing that kept her from it.� She was forty-six years too old for that to be effective.
Jumping, Aileen turned to find Wyatt standing in the doorway, his empty beer in his hand.
She shut off the water.� Wiping her eyes, she then blew her nose�no point being quiet about it anymore�and threw the wadded towel in the garbage can.� She then got a cold beer from the fridge, exchanged it for the empty in his hand and went back to the sink again.� "I'm fine."
With nothing else to do, she rinsed the can before tossing it into the recycling box in the pantry.� But when she turned back around, Wyatt was still standing there.� He hadn't moved.� He hadn't even opened the fresh beer.� For the first time in recent memory, she found herself actually wishing he'd go back to watching his stupid sports.
"Did something happen at your class?"
"No," she said shortly.
He was quiet a moment longer.� Waiting for him to give up and go away again, Aileen stood staring into the empty sink, her hands braced against the counter, screaming inside herself because she didn't know how to start talking to him without losing it completely.� The minute she looked at him, she knew she'd really start to cry.� And then she'd start screaming.� And what was going to happen to them then?� They were headed for divorce.� She could feel that just as clearly as she could feel the cold metal of the sink beneath her fingers.� They were headed for divorce and she didn't know how to stop it.
"Did I do something?" Wyatt finally asked.
Oh God.� Here came the tears all over again.
"No," she tried to say, but her voice failed her.� There was barely any sound to it at all.
"Did I not do something?"
She covered her face with her hands.� "Go away please."
But he didn't.� He just stood there, looking at the back of her until she could all but feel the heat of that stare burning into the skin between her shoulder blades.� He probably still wore that closed, shadowed, uncertain, slightly frustrated look on his face.� As if he hadn't a clue what was really going on.� Except that he did know.� He had to.� He'd been living in the same house with her all this time, how could he not just know?
"What's going on with you?" Wyatt finally said, a hint of frustration creeping into his voice now too.� He even had the nerve to sound a little hurt.� "You don't want to go out to dinner.� You don't want to go to the movies.� You won't go to couples' counseling with me, and you won't talk to me."
"I do so talk to you."
"Yeah.� You say, fine."
"I am fine."
"The hell you are.� You know it, I know it..."
Unable to bear a lecture, she snapped around, stiff as a broom handle.� "Dinner's in the oven."
She would have pushed past him and stormed off down the hall to the bedroom they still shared, albeit more like roommates instead of lovers.� Right now, they didn't even feel like friends.
Wyatt caught her arm at the doorway.� "Aileen..."� Her name sighed out of him.� It was a burdensome sigh.� Like she was putting him out even to have this much of a conversation.
"You're missing your game."� She was losing it.� Shaking, the tears welled in her eyes and spilled quietly down her cheeks, fat salty drops of sheer misery that blurred everything before her, including him.� When he didn't let go right away, she caught his hand, trying to dig her nails under his fingers and pry her way out of his grip.� "Let me go, Wyatt.� Let go right now."� And in a final snap, that last brittle thread within her suddenly whipping free of whatever emotional anchor had tentatively tethered her to sanity, she reared back and shoved at his chest, all but screaming in his face, "I said, let go!"
His last thread snapped much more ominously and quietly.� At last a glimmer of real temper flashed across his face.� It was a familiar look.� One she hadn't seen on him in well over a year.� And yet, familiar as it was, it wasn't until he hauled her to the dining table and yanked out one of the chairs that her rattled mind assigned the proper action to what was inevitably going to happen next.
The most amazing combination of panic, rage and relief swept through her even as she dug in her heels, heaving backwards for all she was worth.� Wyatt gained a solid perch on that chair anyway and, with a flat tightening of his mouth and a strong yank, he brought her spilling facedown across his thighs.
She landed in a graceless sprawl, flailing with both hands to grab onto something�anything�and lever herself back up onto her own scrambling feet.� She latched onto his leg instead, unable to do anything more than shout�a wordless, furious squeak�when his arm wrapped her waist, hugging her hips into place across his lap.
"No!� No!"� She slapped back with her right hand.
'Yes,' was grabbing her wrist and securing that hand to her side with breath-taking ease.
No longer in a talking mood, he caught the back of her skirt and yanked it up her legs, bearing the seat of her panties amidst a whispering rush of cool air.
Aileen wasn't going anywhere, years of experience in this position let her know this, and yet it didn't stop her from trying, from kicking and wrenching her hips, struggling to roll over and off his knees.� Both her panic and struggles intensified when his fingers snagged the waist of her panties and impatiently tore them down her thighs, the elastic scraping the front of her hips and legs in the process.� What little leverage she had to fight him with, he ultimately stilled when he scissored her legs between his own.
That first smarting crack of his open palm caught her long before she was ready for it.� It was promptly and rapidly followed by many, many more, every one just as hard or harder than the smack that preceded it.� Helpless to do more than wiggle and shout, Aileen gave up from the start.� She threw back her head and just wailed.� It wasn't fair!� After a year of loneliness and neglect, he couldn't spank her; he didn't have the right!
Only he didn't seem to see it that way, because he wasn't stopping.� Spank after spank rained down upon her, covering the whole of her backside in an ever increasing bonfire of stinging hurt.� And it didn't stop.� Not until she was drooped, sobbing incoherently with a puddle of tears growing on the linoleum beneath her.
When his hand at last came to rest on the back of her thigh, Wyatt said, "Don't you ever tell me you're fine when we both know you're not.� I'm all through with fine.� I'm sick to death of it!� Is that clear?"
Aileen managed a nod.
His hand caressed her fiery globes once, then he dropped her skirt down to cover her and relaxed his hold.� She tried to stand, but her knees were shaking.� He wasn't ready to let her go yet anyway and pulled her back down to sit�with a yelp and a wiggle�upon his knee.� "Now let's talk.� I want to know what's been eating you?"
Aileen sat on his lap, tears running down her face, sniffling because her nose was running.� She was a mess and she knew it.� She was always a mess after he spanked her.� Knowing how she must look, even without the jumble of emotional baggage currently riding on her shoulders, never put her in a talkative mood.
As the silence between them began to drag itself into another wall, his hand moved from lightly caressing up and down her back to settle threateningly on the heat of her buttocks.� "We can have this discussion one of two ways, Leena: face to face or with you facing the floor and counting tiles."
She didn't need to count the tiles.� They'd lived thirteen years in this house.� She already knew there were 36, unless one counted the multicolored tiles within the tiles, in which case there were 864.
Aileen sniffled again, her hands in her lap, just letting tear after tear roll off her lashes and splash down onto the backs of her fingers.� At last, she managed a mournful, "I wish things were the way they used to be, that's all.� Back when the kids were here.� And needed me.� I miss being needed."
"They've got their own lives now, honey, but I guarantee they're still going to need you."
She shook her head, unwilling to believe a word of it.� "No, they don't.� And you don't need me, either."
She actually felt him startle.� "What the hell does that mean?"
She tried to stand up and walk away, but he grabbed the back of her skirt and back down she plopped onto his thigh.� He held up his other hand, one finger pointing at her in silent warning.
"You don't talk to me!" she exploded.� She pushed at him, fighting to get up all over again.� The tears began to pour out of her, and she could hardly talk for all the hiccupping, gasping and crying.� "You never spank me anymore!� I can't remember the last time we made love!� You don't want me, Wyatt!� Because if you did, you'd turn the damn TV off and once in a while at least pretend like you want to be with me!"
Abruptly shifting his hold from her clothes to her arm, her upright position became a downward sprawl all over again.� If anything, his broad hand felt even harder and significantly less forgiving than before.� She fought back one-handed until he grabbed her wrist again, and all Aileen could do was shout as he paddled her backside with breath-shaking intensity.
"Do you have any idea how prickly you have been since Justin went to college?" he demanded, the steady rise and fall of his arm providing a stinging emphasis to his scolding.� "It doesn't have anything to do with want, Leena, and you know it!� I was trying to be considerate!� To let you have your space!� And for the record, I don't pretend to want you any more than I'm pretending to spank you now!"
A last resounding swat bounced off her scalded buttocks before he pulled her roughly upright all over again.� Once more, she was made to sit upon his right thigh while he completely ignored her mewling gasps and frantic attempts to rub out the fire.
Clutching her aching bottom, Aileen struggled to pull herself together and stop crying.� She didn't want to put her head on his shoulder.� She didn't want him to hug her.� She really didn't want him not to hug her.� And worst of all, with all her heart, she didn't want to have to admit that...she'd missed this as much as she had.
Her face was wet with tears and her bottom hurt so much that she could barely sit still.� She had to be insane, she knew, but the truth was there.� She'd missed this.� And more than that, as she sat there stubbornly staring anywhere but at him, she suddenly realized something known only to wives with fire scalding them from behind:� No man would bother to spank a woman he didn't want.
Wyatt wanted her.
Unable to help it, Aileen threw her arms around his neck.� Hugging him fiercely while she sobbed, she burrowed into his shoulder.� Little had truly been resolved, but she felt better.� She felt immensely better.
"Thanks," she sniffled.� "I needed that."
Wyatt chuckled his hand running languidly up and down her back.� Every so often, it dipped down low enough to stroke the bare flesh of her bottom beneath the roll of rumpled skirt still gathered around her waist.� "I think you needed it too.� In fact, I think you need it so much, I've half a mind to spank you every day for the rest of the year."
Aileen snuggled closer, hiding her smile against the warmth of his neck.� "Only one year?"
He laughed and leveled a playful swat at her already tender backside.� Then his arms came up around her, and they held each other without speaking.� Like old married people intent on staying that way.
That gave her hope.� She curled into his embrace thinking, perhaps, they just might be fine after all.