A few minutes later, I walk off the elevator and into Chris’s apartment, taking in the twinkling skyline. Exhaustion begins to seep into my bones and I head to the bedroom, pausing at the doorway, entranced by the giant, unmade bed.

Baby, the ways I’m going to f**k you are too many to count, but not tonight. Tonight, I’m going to make love to you.


And he had. I have no idea if that means he’s falling in love with me, but I am falling in love with him. I have already.

I wet my suddenly parched lips and kick off my shoes before walking to the bathroom and finding Chris’s shirt, which I’ve saved to sleep in. After undressing, I pull the shirt over my body and inhale deeply. The scent of Chris is a little piece of heaven. I head to the kitchen and spend some time exploring, pleased to find a box of macaroni and cheese that I quickly whip into dinner. Once it’s ready, I cave in to curiosity and end up at the door of Chris’s studio with dinner, my laptop, and my phone in hand.

I flip on the light and I don’t see the gorgeous city surrounding me. There is only the roll of tape lying by the stool. I squeeze my eyes shut and I can almost put myself back on that chair with Chris’s mouth and hands on my body. I settled my things on the floor by the wall where I intend to get comfortable, but I don’t sit. Now, and only now, do I let myself think about what has randomly slipped into my thoughts today, to be dashed away. The painting.

Slowly, I walk forward, my pulse accelerating as I near Chris’s depiction of me, bound by the ankles and wrists, in the center of the studio. As I bring it into view, my throat goes instantly dry, and heat burns low in my belly. It’s a black-and-white image, which he favors, and well developed with fine details, too well developed to be a draft. He’s been working on this for a while and he left it in the open for me to see, this morning and now. Chris does nothing without purpose. This is a message or a challenge. I’m not sure which, or maybe it’s both. I’m not clear on either. And considering I’m both aroused and uncomfortable, I’m not even clear on what I feel. This is Chris’s sanctuary. What does it mean that he’s bound me in real life and on canvas?

Nine

Tearing my gaze away from the painting, I walk to where I’ve left my things. Knees weak, I slide down the wall and sit there a moment, trying to make sense of what I’m feeling, when a mission for knowledge hits me. Powering up my computer, I google “pain for pleasure” and find myself greeted by an eyeful of bound na**d bodies and dungeonlike playrooms. Whips and chains appear to be a predominant theme and the idea of educating myself isn’t working. I’m just plain freaking myself out. I try bondage and BDSM and it’s pretty darn close to the same results.

Finally, I land on a site that highlights stories like “Toy with your lover” and contains links to products such as a pink fuzzy paddle and a pair of butterfly nipple clamps. Picturing Chris with anything involving the words soft, pink, and butterfly is almost comical.

My cell phone rings and with his usual perfect timing, it’s Chris. I punch the answer button. “Hi.”

“Hi.”

The instant I hear his voice, the unease of moments before begins to uncurl and disappear, and I know it’s simply because he is Chris. It’s the only explanation I require anymore. My lips curve and I can tell he is smiling, too, and alas, that knowledge tears down any wall my unease over my Internet searches might have erected.

“What are you doing?” he asks.

My hesitation is all of two seconds, and considering how uneasy I’d been minutes before, my confession falls freely from my lips. “Eating macaroni and cheese and searching a site called Adam and Eve.”

A low rumble of deep, sexy laughter fills the line and sets my blood to simmering. “Adam and Eve and macaroni and cheese. I wish I was there. See anything there you like?”

There is mischief in his voice and I can imagine the wicked dancing in the depth of his green eyes. “So you know the site?”

“Yes. I know the site.”

This surprises me and I wonder if some other woman tried to soften his dark side by presenting him with the softer side of BDSM. Maybe one of the L.A. actresses I’d read about him dating before meeting him. It’s an unpleasant thought for too many reasons to count and one that doesn’t fit the puzzle that is Chris. “I find myself the least intimidated by pink furry paddles and a pair of butterfly nipple clamps. Nothing quite in your league.”

“Don’t decide for me,” he orders, his voice going all low and rough, but still gently seductive. “Let’s discover what works for us together. What made you start looking up sex toys anyway?”

“The painting.”

“Of you in my studio.”

“Yes. Of me. You wanted me to see it this morning and tonight.” I don’t phrase it as a question.

He’s silent a moment, and I sense one of his shifting moods, the subtle edge of one of his many layers. “Yes. I wanted you to see it.”

“To scare me?”

“Does it?”

I hesitate too long and he presses. “Does it scare you, Sara?”

“Is that what you’re hoping for, Chris? To scare me away?”

Now he is silent too long and I am about to press him, when he dodges the question with a surprising revelation. “The painting isn’t about bondage to me. It’s about trust.”

A lump forms in my throat at the thought of my secret, and the poison I cannot escape. “Trust?”

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