“That was Mark,” he supplies.

I give an awkward nod. “I’m late back to work.”


He grabs his wallet from his pocket and tosses a hundred dollar bill on the table for what I estimate to be a forty dollar ticket. He’s sliding on his jacket, clearly ready to go, and I quickly reach for my purse to pay my half of the tab.

“Don’t even think about it,” he says and his easy-going manner is nowhere in sight. My hand freezes on my wallet and I open my mouth to argue but decide against it. He is edgy and…mad? Surely not. Why on earth would he be mad?

“Thank you.” I slip my purse over my shoulder.

He pushes to his feet and motions to the door. I stand up and fit my briefcase strap over my shoulder with my purse. “You don’t have to walk me back.”

His eyes glint with a hardness that matches the set of his jaw. “I’m walking you back, Sara.”

His tone is steely and almost as sharp as Mark’s had been. Uncomfortably, I head to the exit, unsteady on my heels as he holds the door and I step outside. What’s wrong with him? Why has he gone from fire to ice?

We begin our walk, faster this time, and the cold wind has nothing on the chill between us. Conversation is non-existent, and I have no clue how to break the silence, or if I should even try. I dare a peek at his profile several times, fighting the wind blowing hair over my eyes, but he doesn’t acknowledge me. Why won’t he look at me? Several times, I open my mouth to speak but words simply won’t leave my lips.

We are almost to the gallery, and a knot has formed in my stomach at the prospect of an awkward goodbye, when he suddenly grabs me and pulls me into a small enclave of a deserted office rental. Before I can fully grasp what is happening, I am against the wall, hidden from the street and he is in front of me, enclosing me in the tiny space. I blink up into his burning stare and I think I might combust. His scent, his warmth, his hard body, is all around me, but he is not touching me. I want him to touch me.

He presses his hand to the concrete wall above my head when I want it on my body. “You don’t belong here, Sara.”

The words are unexpected, a hard punch in the chest. “What? I don’t understand.”

“This job is wrong for you.”

I shake my head. I don’t belong? Coming from Chris, an established artist, I feel inferior, rejected. “You asked me why I wasn’t following my heart. Why I wasn’t pursuing what I love. I am. That’s what I’m doing.”

“I didn’t think you’d do it in this place.”

This place. I don’t know what he’s telling me. Does he mean this gallery? This city? Has he judged me not worthy of his inner circle?

“Look, Sara.” He hesitates, and lifts his head to the sky, seeming to struggle for words before fixing me with a turbulent look. “I’m trying to protect you here. This world you’ve strayed into is filled with dark, messed up, arrogant ass**les who will play with your mind and use you until there is nothing else left for you to recognize in yourself.”

“Are you one of those dark, messed up, arrogant ass**les?”

He stares down at me, and I barely recognize the hard lines of his face, the glint in his eyes, as belonging to the man I’ve just had lunch with. His gaze sweeps my lips, lingers, and the swell of response and longing in me is instant, overwhelming. He reaches up and strokes his thumb over my bottom lip. Every nerve ending in my body responds and it’s all I can do not to touch him, to grab his hand, but something holds me back. I am lost in this man, in his stare, in some spellbinding, dark whirlwind of…what? Lust, desire, torment? Seconds tick eternally and so does the silence. I want to hold him, to stop whatever I sense is coming but I cannot.

“I’m worse.” He pushes off the wall, and is gone. He is gone. I am alone against the wall, aching with a fire that has nothing to do with the meal we shared. My lashes flutter, my fingers touch my lip where he touched me. He has warned me away from Mark, from the gallery, from him, and he has failed. I cannot turn away. I am here and I am going nowhere.

Chapter Twelve

January 12, 2012

There are roses everywhere in my room, and I feel like a princess who’s found her Prince Charming. Okay, so maybe he’s not exactly my childhood version of Prince Charming, but life changes how you look at things. I just finished counting the vases again because I can’t help myself. There are twelve of them, each holding a dozen beautiful, sweet-smelling buds. New buds soon to blossom. And the card. Imagine me sighing right now. The card is so perfect. I can’t stop staring at the words ‘they are delicate and ready to bloom like you are, little one’. Like me. I do feel the roses are like me. I do feel ready to bloom, ready to go wherever he leads me. He’s hard sometimes, demanding, but he makes me feel protected. He makes me feel special. I think I’m ready to put aside my fear of the things he wants me to do with him, and to take the next step. The idea of him being my ‘Master’ is incredibly arousing. He is so…powerful.

I know I’ve let fear hold me back. I’m not really sure what I’m afraid of. Unfamiliar feelings? What he will do to me if I grant him full control? He has kinky desires and it’s scary to think about taking part in those things. What if he binds me and does something to me I don’t like? And why does the idea of being that submissive to him turn me on? That I could want that is a part of me I don’t understand, but I know I can no longer run from me, any more than I can run from him. I need him. I need him so badly that the pain of potentially losing him is far worse than the pain he might inflict during our games. I can-

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