top of page

Steph and Kalle: the spa

Steph felt her eyes grow heavy as she lay back in the hanging wicker chair, wrapped snugly in a soft towelling robe.

Every muscle and knot and worry line seemed already smoothed and loosened after the couple of hours she had spent traipsing around the steam rooms and hot tubs and plunge pools, and she hadn’t even had her massage yet. Swedish spas were truly next level, she thought, as an unfamiliar sense of drowsy contentedness washed over her.

The building, in the centre of one of Stockholm's busiest streets, was once the city's bathhouse, built sometime in the early 1900s. The high ceilings, wood paneling and dimly-lit wall scones were so different to every slick, modern spa she had ever been to, and it had an almost hypnotically soothing effect. If she closed her eyes, she could almost sense the generations and generations of people coming here to be cleansed and soothed by warmth. It wasn't like her to be so fanciful, she thought, mentally shaking her head. But this city did strange things to her.

She'd first come to Stockholm in the dead of winter, to negotiate a deal. Her management consultant firm was determined to take over a hot but mismanaged Swedish tech startup. Anders Jensson, the founder who had built the next-level translation app in his bedroom, was as charming as he was maddening. He repeatedly insisted that he did want the company to succeed, just without him giving up an iota of control over day to day operations.

‘There’s nothing for it, Steph. You’re going to have to set up camp in bloody Ikea-land until this idiot sees sense,’ her boss, Trevor had furrowed his brows as he waited for her inevitable argument.

Drizzle streaked the windows on the unrelentingly grey London day back in February, and Steph remembered she had to drop by the house that evening, to pick up the last of her stuff. Matt and Tina — twenty-four-year old Tina, because we were just being that cliché — would be out visiting Tina’s mum. Steph, who had tried and failed for five years to get Matt to spend time with her family, had typed several vicious text responses before finally sending a thumbs up emoji.

Five years in which she thought they were building a life together. Steph was still shell shocked by the speed at which her life had imploded. You would have thought that after five years, raising the topic of marriage wouldn’t be considered entirely unreasonable. The ultimatum hadn’t been ideal, granted, but when he stared in horror, as though she’d rocked up to their first date in a wedding dress, she’d blurted it out before she could stop herself.

Propose by New Years Eve or we’re done.

He’d nodded, promised her he would think about it. Her heart plummeted and deep down she’d known that she would be single by January. And yet, like the self destructive moron she was, Steph had gritted her teeth and acted the perfect girlfriend all through his family Christmas. Matt had seemed completely normal, giving her a nice enough gift (a gold, heart-shaped pendant she’d never be caught dead in but it was the thought that counted), and slinging his arm over the back of her chair as his family pulled crackers.

She had almost convinced herself that maybe, somehow, he would surprise her. They went to the pub with his mates for New Years Eve, like they always did. All night, Steph was on tenterhooks, her stomach twisting every time he reached into his pocket for his wallet, thinking that this was the moment he’d produce a ring.

He didn’t. Didn’t even mention it. If he’d just given her little speech about how he loved her but wasn’t quite ready yet, she’d have waved the whole thing away. Laughed it off, insisted she was relieved he’d known she hadn’t really meant it.

But he didn’t even bother with that. He blew her off altogether. Let her stew in misery, wondering what he was thinking, struggling to keep a smile on her face as his mates’ girlfriends chatted about their upcoming weddings and the clock ticked towards midnight.

‘It’ll be reflected in your bonus, obviously,’ Trevor added hastily. ‘Wouldn’t expect you to put up with all that snow and pickled fish for nothing.’

Steph nodded numbly. ‘As long as it is.’

In fact, the darkness and neverending snow of a harsh Stockholm winter had been oddly soothing. Steph could hide in this strange, beautiful, candlelit city where everyone appeared hunkered down for the winter in a silo of misery just like her. Other than her daily sparring matches with Anders — which she’d worked out a long time ago were a game to him — she’d been able to exist in an odd sense of suspended animation. It wasn’t that she’d forgotten she had no home to go to and that Matt was parading Tina and their blissful love all over social media, but somehow it was too faraway to properly register.

She was going to have to deal with it sooner or later. A sliver of ice cut through all that hot tub wellbeing. No the crystal steam rooms could completely erase the memory of Matt’s gushing post on Tina’s birthday a couple of weeks earlier.

The woman who taught me what love meant.

Hadn’t Steph done that? She’d certainly been trying. Or — she’d thought she was. Maybe Steph didn’t know what love meant either. Perhaps he’d been trying to love her all that time, and Steph was just fundamentally unlovable.


Steph jumped and hurriedly blinked away the hot tears prickling behind her eyelids. Shit — her massage. She’d just tell them something had come up and she had to cancel. Her entire body was so coiled with tension that she was fairly sure any masseuse would just ping right off her.

‘I’m so sorry, I actually have to —‘


Recognition finally dawned and Steph’s heart plummeted. Kalle stood before her, his uniform smock and flowy trousers skimming his muscles in a way that brought a startling tingle Steph hadn’t felt in

— actually, she couldn’t quite remember any time she’d felt such a sudden shock of lust.

Yes, she could.

It was on their date.

Right before she ran out in tears like an absolute fanny and deleted his number.

‘It is wonderful to see you again,’ he lied smoothly, his soft, low, Scandinavian-lilted voice sending tingles over her tingles. He was a little taller than her with close-cropped dark hair and startling aquamarine eyes framed by thick black lashes. ‘But, of course, as we know one another, I can ask a colleague to —’

‘It’s fine, honestly,’ Steph said hastily, suddenly terrified at the thought of him disappearing as suddenly as he had appeared. ‘We’re grown ups.’ She scrabbled with what little dignity she could muster out of the horribly low hanging chair, her heart hammering. ‘In theory at least.’

He nodded, a warm twinkle in his eye. ‘As you wish.’ He led her towards the treatment area, moving with a louche, almost insouciant ease that brought heat pulsating to her core.

This was what had made her run away. Sometime in the never-ending darkness of February, it occurred to Steph that maybe she needed to get back on the horse. It was too soon for anything other than a date, but a little warning bell in her mind was tinging that the heavy numbness with which she was stumbling through her days wasn’t exactly healthy. She’d met Matt online, so, filled with a sort of thrilling trepidation, she’d downloaded the same app and reactivated her account. A few hours later, she’d stumbled back out of the St Eriksplan wine bar into a fresh snowfall, choking back dry, empty sobs.

It had been the way his eyes held hers, swimming with frank, unabashed lust. It was knowing that the same hunger was in her own eyes, as ever cell in her body cried out to be touched by him. It was the promise of the unadulterated pleasure they would find in one another.

It was the knowledge she had never felt this way about Matt.

For years now, she’d told herself that every relationship settles into cosy, routine sex. The crazed lust of the honeymoon period never lasts. The odd lazy Saturday morning, occasional mid-week fumble when he’d been out with the rugby boys — that was perfectly standard, normal, grown up relationship fare.

Sometimes, she even persuaded herself that there had been a crazed lust in the first place. The raw, ravenous heat she felt when Kalle gazed at her from across the table that night whispered that her relationship with Matt had never been good enough. And she hadn’t been ready to know that yet.

So she’d ran.

But now, as Kalle closed the door of the tiny treatment room, Steph felt something inside her blossom to life. She was single. Her life was her own. She could seek pleasure and adventure whenever and wherever she damned well pleased. She felt almost dizzy with the flush of liberation.

The treatment room was warm, lit only by flickering candles. It smelled of soothing oils, the plinky-plonky pipe music already lulling her nerves into submission.

‘I owe you an apology,’ Steph blurted. It was probably too late with Kalle, she thought with a pang of disappointment as he smiled with professional distance. She could hardly blame him after the way she behaved.

‘Not at all.’

‘An explanation, at least.’

‘Nothing is necessary,’ He gave her a small smile. ‘I am a big boy, I can take rejection.’

‘No, I wanted you.’ Steph’s stomach lurched as she realised she had actually said the words aloud. She had never been so bold in her life, but suddenly the thought of Kalle not knowing how she felt was worse than any terror she felt at telling him. ‘I’m sorry, that was a bit blunt, but —‘

‘I wanted you too,’ he said simply. ‘Please take off your clothes.’

Steph had showered and changed out of her wet bikini after the hot tub, and was wearing only underwear under her robe. Not even fancy underwear, she remembered, cursing the fact this possibility hadn’t occurred to her. Marks & Sparks finest, a bit greying and clinging to her soft curves in what she was fairly confident was a supremely unflattering manner.

She took a deep breath and met Kalle’s gaze, a riptide of confidence flooding through her at the wolfish appreciation in his eyes. She untied the robe and hung it on the hook, resisting every urge to hold her arms across her body. Oh, shit — she had to take her bra off. She’d had massages in Sweden before, and the masseuse didn’t leave the room for her to appear, magically naked, safely beneath layers of towels like in the UK. They stood there, merrily chatting about how sitting at a desk all day causes back pain while Steph fumbled clumsily for her clasp.

In for a penny, in for a pound, she told herself firmly. Kalle had turned away, was busily opening bottles of oils in a distinctly professional manner. Steph tried to ignore the trickle of disappointment. Well, of course. He was a professional. She’d paid for a massage. Naturally, she was getting a massage. She unclasped her bra and hung it next to the robe, then hopped on the table, trying not to notice the way her breasts jiggled like excited puppies.

Thrilling uncertainty churned through her as she put her face in the cushioned hole. She was just getting a normal massage. There was nothing to be nervous about. Blinded by soft, lavender-scented towels, she could only sense him moving around, clinking delicate bottles, spraying scented oils.

He draped towels over her and pressed firmly on one shoulder, then the other, firmly walking his hands down her back and over her bum and her legs. Her muscles relaxed under the pressure even as they throbbed with anticipation. It was an effort not to gasp as he lifted her hair, combing it with his fingers before tying it back.

Kalle removed the towel from her back and trailed his fingers lightly down her spine, ending the touch with a gentle pat on her bottom.

Hold on a minute.

That wasn’t a normal massage. She’d had her bum kneaded a time or two, but that had been a definite — cupping.

Or was it?

It was.

It wasn’t.

Get a grip, Steph.

Kalle drizzled hot oil over her back and began to massage. He alternated firm and gentle strokes, soothing her nerves with a hypnotic rhythm until Steph realised that she didn’t care what was happening or what was about to happen. She gave herself over to the simple pleasure of the present moment, tension and worries melting away under Kalle’s masterful touch.

He was on her legs now, his strong fingers digging into her thigh muscles, creeping higher and higher and —

Oh, please —

Steph squirmed, a gasp escaping as her earlier acceptance evaporated and she needed him with a pulsating urgency. For an instant he froze. Steph did too, blood rushing in her ears.

This was it. Either he would pull back, soundly — and deservedly — tick her off, or —

Or he would let his hand sweep higher.

Almost — but not quite —

He lightly brushed the tops of her thighs. Steph moaned, opened her legs a little. Her breath caught at the tiny cool breeze rushing over her underwear, a stark reminder of how thrillingly exposed she was.

Kalle perched on the side of the bed, a definite sign this was no longer a standard massage. She felt the firm heat of his thigh against hers but for what felt like eons, he did not touch her. She could almost feel his gaze trailing over her body, making her want to scream with anticipation.

Then, finally, he ran his hand over the soft cotton of her knickers, tracing his way over one cheek, dipping ever so gently into the middle then all too quickly over the other. The noise that choked out of Steph was neither gasp nor moan, and he chuckled. She realised that she had unconsciously arched her back, displaying her arse for him with an animalistic need. He patted it one more time then placed his hand, with gentle firmness, on the soaking fabric between her legs.

He leaned forward to murmur in her ear, his breath hot and tingling against her skin. ‘You want this?’

‘Mmhmm.’ He’d barely touched her and Steph was almost beyond words. Desire ravaging her like whitewater, her knuckles were white as she clutched the armrest fearing she might otherwise spin into orbit. ‘Please.’

‘Oh, yes,’ he whispered, nuzzling her neck with soft kisses while his hand remained vexatiously still. ‘It is very nice when you beg for me.’

He pressed his fingers just a tiny bit more firmly against her, and pressure built with such force Steph felt she might growl with it.

‘I have thought about you so many times since we met,’ he continued, in an almost conversational tone. He kept his palm flat against her, crooked his index finger to tenderly meet the nerve centre that threatened to shatter her into a million pieces.

‘Please, please, please…’ Steph babbled as sparkles swirled insistently through her, curling her toes as the universe shrank to Kalle’s index finger.

‘Remembering how beautiful you looked that night. How much I wanted to touch and hold you, and kiss away the sadness I could see in your eyes. Wishing the universe would bring us this second chance.’

Quite abruptly he pulled away and Steph wanted to roar — then he slid his hand inside the back of her underwear to meet her slick centre. He covered her neck and shoulders and spine with hot kisses as he stroked, slipping one finger inside her then two, drawing tiny circles around and over her clit. Steph bucked, thrashing against his touch as her orgasm erupted with breathtaking force.

Release shuddered over every inch of her, soothing and invigorating, life cascading through her like a waterfall.

‘That — was —’ Steph murmured as her senses slowly came back to her. ‘That was worth waiting for.’

‘Turn over,’ Kalle commanded softly. ‘It is time to do your front.’