Ivy was skimming through the emails on her laptop, looking for subjects to use in a future column when someone plunked a newspaper on the table and sat down in the chair across from her. Looking up, she found herself gazing into Jake Rutherford’s amber-colored eyes. Since the Starbucks they were in was a popular hangout for most of the reporters at the paper, it wasn’t unusual to see the sportswriter there. Tall and ruggedly handsome with dark hair and an athletic build, he was totally gorgeous. In fact, Ivy would probably have asked him out a dozen times over, if it weren’t for three minor little details. One, she had a hard and fast rule about dating guys she worked with. It just wasn’t worth the hassle. Two, Jake was a sports nut, which suited him fine since he was a sports columnist, but bored her to tears. And three, they were sort of in competition. She said sort of because she certainly thought she was a much better writer than he was. Unfortunately, not everyone at the paper thought so, and there was constant bickering between the section editors about whose columns were more important to the paper’s success.
A competitive person by nature, Ivy didn’t like anyone to think they were better than she was, and apparently, Jake was the same way. Which tended to lead to a lot of arguments around the conference table during staff meetings, as well as around the water cooler the rest of the time. The editors added fuel to the fire by constantly pitting her and Jake against each other whenever they got the chance. Of course, all of this rivalry was good for the paper. No only did it keep both their names in the public eye, but it also helped sell advertising space as well.
And yet despite all of the competition between them, Ivy got along okay with Jake. They would never be friends, but at least they could stand to be in the same room together most of the time.
“Read your column in the paper the other day,” he said, not bothering with the pleasantries of a greeting. “And I gotta tell you, I think you were a little hard on Curious.”
That was just like Jake, she thought. Almost everything that came out of his mouth was a challenge of some sort. Ivy’s lip curled. Judging by her fan mail, he was probably right, but she wasn’t going to admit that. “Really?” she said. “I’m surprised you noticed. I thought the only part of the newspaper you read were the box scores.”
He chuckled. “Oh, I read those,” he said, grinning. “But I read fan mail, too. Jimmy down in the mail room had so much of the stuff that he agreed to let me carry one of the boxes up to your office. A few of the envelopes fell open, and I couldn’t help but notice that most of them weren’t complimentary.”
She made a face. “Fell open? Right,” she sneered. “You’re disgusting.”
Jake shrugged. “True,” he agreed. “But it doesn’t change the fact that they’re right. You completely missed the mark.”
It was hard to really be mad at him when he was so blasé about the fact that he’d opened her fan mail and read it. But she still narrowed her blue eyes at him. “And you’re such an expert on the subject, I suppose.”
His mouth quirked. “I wouldn’t say that I’m an expert, but I’ve spanked a girlfriend or two,” he said. “And it was quite an enjoyable experience for all involved.”
Abruptly, and image of some girl draping herself over the gorgeous Jake Rutherford’s knee for a spanking flashed into her head, and Ivy felt her face color. Tucking a strand of dark hair behind her ear, she looked away. Being all macho like he was, she should have figured he’d be the type that would want to spank a woman. “Gee, if I’d known that you were so knowledgeable about the subject, I would have let you answer Curious’s letter.”
Jake chuckled. “Maybe you should have, since I obviously have more experience on the subject,” he agreed. “So, tell me, Ivy, have you ever even been spanked?”
Ivy’s color deepened. “My love life is none of your business,” she told him curtly.
His mouth quirked. “I’ll take that as a no. Or, that you were, and it didn’t go well.” He sized her up for a few moments, then shook his head. “Nope, you’ve never been spanked. I can tell.”
She slanted him a hard look. How could he possibly tell something like that? It wasn’t like she was an obvious prude or anything. She went out with a lot of guys, just none from work. And she would characterize her sex life as great. Though it obviously hadn’t drifted into the realm of that particular kink. “Don’t you have a column to write or something?” she said irritably. “I’m sure there’s some sport in season now.”
He flashed her a grin. “Attempting to get me to go away. A sure sign that I’m getting to you,” he said. “But thank you for your concern. I’m all caught up right now, though. So, back to you. If you’ve never even gotten spanked, do you really think you’re qualified to give advice on the subject?”
She lifted her chin. “Like you’ve played all those sports you write about,” she said snidely. “Look, I don’t have to experience something to give advice about it. That’s what intelligence can do for you. And if I don’t have knowledge about something, I consult with someone who does.”
Jake nodded. “I see,” he said. “That makes a lot of sense. Very mature of you. So, who did you consult about spanking?”
Ivy stared at him for a moment, flustered by the question. So what if she hadn’t consulted with anyone about spanking? She didn’t have to answer to him! She certainly didn’t get a say about what he wrote in his column. But she wasn’t going to sit around and discuss it with him, especially when he was getting the best of her. Snapping her laptop closed, she pushed back her chair. “I have to get back to work,” she told him.
Jake reached out and put a hand on her computer before she could pick it up. “Hold on a second,” he said. “I think we’re making a breakthrough here that could be vital to your future as an advice columnist.” He paused. “You didn’t consult with anyone, did you? Which means that you could have given that poor girl the wrong advice.”
She glared across the table at him. “I didn’t give her the wrong advice,” she snapped. God, this was so embarrassing, she thought. Jake was probably going to bring this up at the next staff meeting.
“You hope you didn’t give her the wrong advice, but it’s possible that you did,” he said. Leaning forward, he rested his forearms on the table, his golden-brown eyes dancing. “I think I might be able to help you out. How about I give you a spanking so you’ll know a little more about the subject?” Ivy couldn’t keep her jaw from dropping. “You have got to be kidding!” she said. “There’s no way I would ever let you spank me.”
He lifted a brow. “Really? Not even to further your education for your readers’ benefit?”
She rolled her eyes. “Oh, please!” she exclaimed. “Why would I ever let you spank me? You would obviously enjoy it immensely, while I would hate it. Which means that there’s absolutely nothing in it for me.”
Jake thought a moment, then grinned, and she couldn’t help but notice that his smile seemed to light up a good portion of the room. She almost kicked herself for having such thoughts about the enemy.
“It sounds to me like we have the makings of a little wager,” he said.
Her blue eyes narrowed. “Wager? Are all you sports guys obsessed with betting? What are you even talking about?”
His mouth edged up. “You agree to let me spank you,” he said softly. “If you enjoy it, you apologize to Curious in your column for being so hard on her, and tell her that you were wrong.”
Ivy almost laughed at the absurdity of such a wager. “That’s silly,” she said. “I’m not going to enjoy it.”
Jake shrugged. “Well, then you’re halfway to winning the wager already. So I can’t imagine why you wouldn’t agree.”
She did laugh then. “I can imagine,” she said, and then, after a moment, asked, “So, what would I get if I win?”
He shrugged again. “Simple. If you don’t enjoy it, then you don’t have to apologize to Curious in your column.”
“That’s not winning anything. So what else do I get?” she prompted, her competitive streak kicking in. She obviously wasn’t going to agree to it, but it was fun yanking his chain just to see what he would offer. “In order to have a wager, there must be something that you’re putting up. So, when I don’t enjoy it, what do you lose?”
Jake grinned. “Ah, the negotiation,” he said. “The best part of the wager. What are you suggesting?”
Ivy studied him for a moment. She had expected him to back down the moment she implied that he might have to give up something. The fact that he was still grinning worried her. She knew she should pick up her laptop and her purse and leave, but she couldn’t. She hated to admit it, but she was the kind of girl that always got pulled into the truth and dare games in college. Her pride would never let her back down from a challenge. And this was definitely a challenge. She just had to make the risk too great for him to agree to. That way, if he brought it up, she could always tell people that he was the one who had chickened out.
“If you win the bet, I have to humiliate myself in public,” she said. “If I win, you should have to do the same.”
His mouth quirked. “I hardly think that apologizing to one of your readers qualifies as humiliating.”
Her mouth tightened. “It’s not just the apology,” she protested. “I’ll be admitting that I was wrong in front of the entire city. To me, that counts as pretty major humiliation.”
His eyes glinted. “I think I may have misjudged you,” he said. “You’re pretty good at this negotiation thing. But okay. You obviously already have something in mind, so what is it?”
Her lips curved. “We have that awards dinner in a couple of weeks, remember?” she asked. At his nod, she continued. “If I win, you accept your award – if there is one – dressed up as a clown. Big baggy pants, floppy shoes, funny nose, the whole works.”
Jake stared at her as if she’d just told him she wanted him to dress up as the Sugar Plum Fairy and dance the Nutcracker. “You’re kidding, right?”
Ivy lifted a brow, but said nothing. She knew that Jake would never agree to the bet now. Like most men, he was more worried about looking cool in front of his co-workers than anything else. He would never dress up like a clown and humiliate himself in front of them. Especially when it was her opinion of the spanking that would decide who won or lost the bet.
But to her surprise, he nodded. “You’re on,” he said. “If you can honestly tell me that you don’t enjoy the spankings I give you, then I’ll accept my award – and there will be one – dressed up like a clown.
She frowned. Surely she hadn’t heard him correctly. “Spankings?” she repeated. “You said a spanking.”
His mouth quirked. “Don’t think I didn’t notice that you have complete say in who wins and loses this wager. We need a little something to balance the scales,” he said. “So, instead of one spanking, I’m going to give you three of them, at a time and place of my choosing. That will give you plenty of time to really reflect on them, and give me a serious, well-thought-out opinion.”
Ivy’s mouth tightened. Dammit! She was trapped and he knew it. If she didn’t agree to go through with it, then Jake would think it was because she was too chicken. “How do you know that I won’t just say I hated them, no matter what?” she asked.
He shrugged. “Oh, you could do that, of course,” he said. “But I’m depending on your journalistic integrity to keep you honest. I’m willing to take the chance. Are you?”
Even though she knew she shouldn’t do it, Ivy found herself nodding. “It’s a deal.”
Jake grinned as he leaned forward so they could shake hands. “Like I said, though, at the time and place of my choosing. So are you sure?” At her nod, he said, “Done. I’ll pick you up Friday around seven then.”
Her brow furrowed in confusion. “Wait a minute,” she said. “Pick me up for what?”
His grin broadened. “To take you out to dinner, of course.”
She blinked. “You’re taking me out to dinner? We didn’t say anything about a date.”
He chuckled. “What did you think I was going to do? Come by your office on my lunch break and give you a spanking? Besides, it’s not a date. You just have to be in the right mood to enjoy your spanking. And I’m obligated to help you get into the right mood.”
Ivy felt herself blush and quickly looked around to make sure no one had overheard. What had her pride gotten her into? Jake may not want to call it a date, but it sure seemed like one to her. And she was stuck now. “Fine!” she snapped. Getting to her feet, she grabbed her laptop and put it back into its carry-bag, then picked up her purse. “But I don’t like seafood.”
His mouth edged up at the corner. “You live in San Francisco, and you don’t like seafood?” he said. At the look she gave him, he held up his hands. “But okay, no seafood, then.”
Ivy stood looking down at him for a moment. “And you’d better reserve that clown costume, because you’re going to need it,” she said. Then, picking up her half-finished latte, she turned on her heel and swept out of the coffee shop.
© Paige Tyler and ABCD Webmasters, 2005
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