They retraced their steps, back to the warm, comfortable living room. Jillian felt awkward and out of place, dressed like this in such a prosaic setting, and it only grew worse when Min had her rotate in a slow circle so all sides of her were visible.
“Lovely,” Min said. “I’d even go so far as to call the pair of you sensational. Well done, and it’s been less than an hour. Hm, but you certainly don’t look like Jillian. I think a new name is in order. Jolie? No, you are that, but let’s make it something in English. You’re certainly a treasure, so let’s go with Jewel. From now until the end of your time with us, you aren’t Jillian, you’re Jewel. If you’d like me to, in order to make this less stressful for you, I can make certain that for the next few hours, you can’t remember anything other than being my pet Jewel. It would, in effect, keep you focused here and now without extraneous and currently irrelevant internal distractions.”
Jillian hesitated. That had its appeal, all things considered… but she’d never cared for being extremely drunk and unable to keep track of the consequences of her own actions. And Flair had told her that Min didn’t like doing that. Presumably she offered out of kindness anyway. Or because it was better than watching her temporary pet be miserably conflicted.
Jillian shook her head. Not that she was Jillian now. Thinking of herself as a free human woman named Jillian gave her that sense of wrongness; thinking of herself as Mistress’ human pet Jewel, on the other hand, felt right. Now that decree had been made, she was obviously going to get constant reminders every time she slipped, until she adjusted to thinking of herself the right way. “Thank you, Mistress, but I’m all right.” She hadn’t planned on saying Mistress, it just slipped out on its own, but it felt oddly easy and comfortable, and gave her that sense of rightness. But then, Jewel was Mistress’ pet, and that made it appropriate.
Oh god. Am I even going to be myself at the end of this? Are these weird things in my head going to go away? I hope so I hope so I hope so…
Min nodded acceptance. “If you find that it’s too much and you change your mind, be sure to tell me. I know you already spent a full day at work. In the fridge there’s a red glass bottle. When you get there, take a tablespoon of it immediately. It won’t taste bad. Any time tonight you feel you’re starting to tire, visit the kitchen as soon as possible and take the same again. For this long, it won’t have any side effects, it’s a fae potion, not a clumsy human drug, but you will sleep rather heavily to catch up once you do get to bed. You need to keep your blood sugar reasonable while using it, so make sure you nibble on anything that appeals to you while you’re working. Don’t let yourself get hungry.”
“Yes, Mistress.” It was even easier that time, the most natural thing in the world.
“There’s a guest list in the kitchen on the fridge door. Flair, you know everyone coming and what they need. I expect everything to be prepared in no more than three hours. Nikandros will certainly be here by then, and possibly the giants and Roshanak, so do theirs early.”
“Yes, Mistress, no problem at all,” Flair said cheerfully. “Is there anything I can get you before we go immerse ourselves in preparations?”
“No, it’s fine. I can get myself some tea and a snack. I’d rather you concentrated on what I’ve told you to do.”
“Okay. Back where we just were, Jewel, but the kitchen’s a different door.”
Jewel nodded silently, and fell into step with Flair. Back through the door to the huge bright room, through the other door to the corridor, and through a third door into a kitchen.
The shift in her balance, her weight being so far forward on the balls of her feet with her heels at least four inches off the ground, the pressure of the corset, were all starting to feel more natural now, as were the shorter steps the heels forced her into and the sway of her hips and the way the satin of her petticoats caressed her upper thighs as it rustled around her. The weight of her hair was easier to adjust to than the apprehension about inflicting damage on herself or someone or something else with these long nails.
But this was Jewel’s reality, right? Jewel dressed the way Mistress wanted her to dress, and Mistress was pleased when she felt sexy and beautiful. It was perfectly understandable for Mistress to want to show off her pets to her friends and for her to choose a look that would display everything to best advantage. Jewel’s first responsibility was to follow the orders she was given. Her second responsibility was to do so, at a minimum, calmly and without resentment, and if possible, cheerfully and with pleasure. And she was Jewel, because Mistress said so. No other identity in other times and places, no other name, nothing associated with any other identity, had any relevance.
All of those thoughts were accompanied by that whisper of approval somewhere in the back of her mind.
It was frightening to know she was being… what, trained? conditioned?… in a way she couldn’t escape or shut out or ignore. Yet it also made the fear lose ground, because there was something intensely comforting in the certainty that she’d know if she was letting Mistress down or going in the wrong direction, with no ambiguity. Feeling less frightened was frightening, since she was sure she should be scared out of her wits of being manipulated… but she’d gotten herself into this as surely as Doug had gotten himself into his current legal trouble, and no one was going to rescue her.
If she let her mind dwell on being Jewel, being property, all the rest of it that triggered that sense of rightness, experience so far suggested that it would gradually bring her fear down, maybe low enough to be manageable. Right now, she wanted that. Badly.
The kitchen, of course, was enormous, with gleaming pale marble counter-tops and warm polished maple cupboards everywhere, including a long island in the centre.
Flair pulled a sheet of paper off the industrial-sized stainless-steel fridge where it had been secured by a magnet shaped like a glass flower, and scanned it quickly.
“Nikandros, Dagrun and Sigrun, Nechtan, Sati, Henry, Alkippe, Eluned and Owain, Roshanak, Zipporah, Taiki… hm, not Hyld, but all the rest of Mistress’ closest friends plus a few. You’re going to see a lot tonight that’s going to feel very, very strange. Try not to be afraid of them, none of them will hurt us. Mistress would be furious. And most of the people coming are pretty kind to humans, although they can be kind of playful sometimes. All right, Mistress said Nikandros and Dagrun and Sigrun and Roshanak first. But before anything else…” She opened the fridge and took out a red glass bottle that could hold maybe two cups of liquid or so. “Spoons are in the drawer to your left… next one. It tastes sort of minty. I wouldn’t drink it for fun or anything, but it isn’t so bad.”
After the experience with the skin cleanser, Jewel found herself hesitating over actually swallowing something that sounded like a stimulant of some sort. Mistress said there were no side effects, but everyone was different, and besides, what if there were effects that weren’t unintended but that she wasn’t expecting? What if it had been an outright lie?
But, like everything else… there really was no choice, was there? Especially not with a rider in her head telling her that she was being bad for resisting.
Reluctantly—aware that she was failing her second responsibility by being reluctant, but unable to quell a life of training regarding candy from strangers and unidentified substances—she found a spoon that she was sure was actual silver, not stainless steel, and came to Flair to take the bottle.
Flair was right, the taste wasn’t as bad as human medicine. The aftertaste made her think of green tea, not a favourite drink but tolerable. She put it back in the fridge, and Flair took the spoon to toss in one of the two broad double-basin sinks.
“There we go. If you aren’t already feeling tired, the effect is slow and mostly will just delay starting to, especially if you keep up with it. I’ll warn you about anything that it isn’t good for humans to eat or drink, but anything else, you can grab bites while we work, that’s almost always allowed and that’s usually what I do when I have a lot of preparations so I don’t have to stop. Plus corsets make eating a big meal a bit uncomfortable, and it’s worse if you do it fast, so nibbling a bit at a time is good. All right. Let’s get to this.”
Within minutes, Jewel had discarded any thought of Flair being, well, less than intelligent and possibly a bit of a bimbo, with a considerable degree of shame for ever thinking it.
Flair knew exactly what each guest would need to eat and to drink and how they would need or want to have that served, which was obviously an extremely complex set of criteria. This was not a matter of having a white wine and a red wine and a complete set of appropriate glassware: it involved about eight different drinks that would have to be served in a variety of vessels. That included huge ones the size of a pitcher, of amazingly delicate metal and porcelain, and small ones that could hold little more than a shot glass could but shaped like a graceful goblet. No formal sit-down meal, but there were things to be left on a side table as a buffet and trays of finger foods to prepare that would ensure that anyone present could find something that was to their tastes. Apparently that ranged from vegetable matter even a vegan human would find questionable through to nearly-raw seasoned and marinated meat—Jewel didn’t ask what animal it came from. Some were things she’d never heard of and wasn’t sure what to make of—were they just from other human cultures, or something specific to the fae?
Flair directed the whole overwhelming task with calm efficiency, reminding Jewel frequently to eat some of it, the way she was doing herself.
Caught up in the job at hand, Jewel had only intermittent moments to spare for thoughts about what she was wearing or what was going to happen or her own helplessness to affect events. She had work to do, and a lot of it. Right now, only that mattered. As they filled trays and platters and bowls, she took them to the solar, trip after trip. That turned out to be another large room that looked like a mirror of the one with the curved wall of windows but with only one door and different furnishings, but she didn’t have time right now to look at much except the long tables against one wall, where the food was supposed to go.
Finally, Flair stood back to look things over, and nodded in satisfaction. “If anything else comes up we can take care of it on the fly, but that should cover everything other than maybe the odd special request. We need to make sure the solar is all set up properly, and then we’re done.”
Why wasn’t it a surprise that nothing clung to her clothes, no matter how unavoidably messy a given process might be? Everything just brushed or wiped off, leaving the heavy satin as black and pristine as when she’d first put it on.
After all those trips to the solar already, the changes in the way she walked and carried herself no longer felt forced or unnatural, although she was aware of a certain amount of strain in her calves and hips, and some mild protest from her abdominal muscles.
“How are you feeling?” Flair asked.
“A little sore. My mind is doing okay, but my body isn’t used to this.”
“Mistress’ potion doesn’t just work on being overall tired, it helps with overworked muscles too. It’s been a while anyway, and it’s better not to wait until you’re exhausted to use it.”
Obediently, Jewel had another spoonful, and that felt right.
By the time they left the kitchen and strolled down to the big bright welcoming lounge and through the huge now-open doors and along a short hall to the solar, the aches had faded away. If that caught up with her later, it wasn’t going to be much fun, but the important thing was that she could get through the party without being a limping and exhausted wreck.
“There’s a bathroom for guests, we just passed it, it’s the door between here and the lounge,” Flair said. “There is no need for you to be in there, so if anyone tries to get you to go there, tell them you aren’t allowed to. It isn’t impossible that someone might try to get away with something if they think Mistress won’t see. Not Mistress’ friends, but there are some coming I don’t know well. They can’t go in the private part of the villa where the kitchen and our bathroom are, so unless you’re making a trip over there, stay in the solar, okay?”
The furnishings in the solar were as wildly diverse as the food and dishes. The chairs ranged from child-sized to enormous, and every one of them had a gap in the lower part of the back that crept forward into the seat, generally narrowing at the front into a rounded V. Some had low backs, some high, some none at all, a couple had high narrow backs that narrowed further at what was probably shoulderblade-level.
There were a couple of basins, like an oversized circular bath.
Some of the furniture consisted of low platforms, mostly quite large, with padded upper surfaces and one side raised and upholstered, though Jewel couldn’t imagine what for. While most of the furniture was of wood, those platforms and the basins seemed to be stone, though just as beautifully-worked as the wood. Flair looked it over, and had Jewel check that cushions were shaken out and that everything looked clean and neat. Both basins had to be filled with water, but since the bucket held an impossible volume of water without weighing more than a bucket of water should, it wasn’t that onerous a task.
“All good,” Flair pronounced. “We have a few minutes for a more substantial snack and a drink, even. Mistress won’t mind. Looking after ourselves matters to her. And it means we can follow orders better.” She contemplated Jewel thoughtfully. “You’ve had a chance to get used to it, I could probably tighten your corset a bit more now without it being uncomfortable.”
That wasn’t a necessity, not an order, and she could refuse without consequences.
On the other hand, the image she’d seen in the bathroom lingered in her mind’s eye.
Slowly, she nodded. “Sure.”
“Let’s stop in the bathroom.”
It didn’t take Flair long to undo the hooks down Jewel’s back, untie the corset laces, and tug them tighter, taking care to get the tension evenly distributed. Jewel took a deep breath, acutely conscious of the increased pressure. It felt good. Supportive and sensual at once.
“Yes. I think I could get used to this.”
Flair giggled. “See? I knew you’d change your mind. I don’t want to do it too tight so you start thinking corsets hurt or something. This’ll do.” She tied it off and fastened Jewel’s uniform again.
Despite the change, the black satin still fit close against her body—but the curves on display made her smile in delight. She ran her hands down her sides, just to feel the graceful sweep of it, the firmness and hint of boning under the satin that was such a contrast to bare flesh covered by even the most glorious fabric.
“That looks amazing,” Flair said, and gave Jewel a quick kiss on her lips. Jewel blinked, certain that she should be objecting to that from a woman and from someone other than her boyfriend, but right now, it just didn’t seem to matter. She wished she had time to venture into the warm wetness between her legs and see whether the erotic feel of corset and heels and satin could rival the sensitization effects of the pink goop in provoking a spectacular orgasm, but there just wasn’t time. Jewel resigned herself to just living with being aroused and her white satin panties being damp. And Mistress’ no-sex rule meant there wasn’t going to be any help for it at the party no matter what, either.
They had simple sandwiches of sliced meat and cheese and vegetables and a glass each of fruit juice, eaten perched on a couple of stools at the kitchen counter.