I revel in his primitive order, and that hand on my backside, promising something erotic and thrilling, and I grow more intrigued. I do not understand this feeling I have when I’ve spent years fighting to be independent, free of controlling men.

I’m out of my head and back into the fiery storm of nerves as we enter his bedroom. This isn’t our first time together. I stare at the massive king-sized bed, set on top of a pedestal, which promises seductive pleasures, and some kind of buzzer sounds in the other room. I think it must be the delivery chute in the kitchen, which is much like that of a bank drive-through.


“Most likely my messages,” Chris says from behind me, then sets my bags down on top of the pedestal. “I’ll be right back.” He motions to an open door by the bathroom. “That’s the closet. Take whatever space you like. Nothing is off-limits.”

Nothing is off-limits. Isn’t he telling me that by having me stay here while he’s gone, he’s inviting me into his life, his secrets? It is more than an olive branch. It’s an entire tree.

I squat down next to the expensive Louis Vuitton suitcase Chris had bought me for our Napa trip the weekend before, and I unzip it. I shrug my purse off my shoulder and set it on the floor next to it. I flip open the case, and there lying on top of my things are the journals and the box I’d taken from Rebecca’s unit. I wasn’t about to leave them at my apartment, where I felt they might fall into the wrong hands. They hold her secrets, and I wonder if they hold someone else’s as well. I intend to stack them in Chris’s closet but a passage I’d read suddenly burns into my mind.

I reach for the top journal that is bookmarked and walk to the pedestal at the side of the bed, out of view from the doorway, and sit down. Pulling my knees to my chest, I begin to read the familiar passage and the words ripple through me with painful clarity. This is Chris’s world.

Suddenly, he is in front of me, towering above me. I feel him in every pore of my existence even before I dare to lift my gaze to his. I know what I must do but I am scared. I told him I wasn’t. I told myself I wasn’t. But I am.

Chris kneels down in front of me, and though he doesn’t look at the journal, it is the white elephant between us. He’s removed his jacket and my gaze catches on the bright coloring of the dragon tattoo on his right arm. I reach out and touch it. It is a part of him, his past, his pain. I want to be a part of him, to truly understand.

“Whatever you read in that journal has nothing to do with you and me.”

Emotion tightens my throat and I do not look at him. I trace that tattoo, the bright red of the wings that flex as he grips his knee. “But it does,” I whisper.

“It doesn’t.”

Reading him the passage seems the only way for him to understand. I force my gaze from his arm to Rebecca’s writing. “Like the thorns on the roses he loves to give me, I welcomed the pain of the flogger biting into my back. It is the escape from all that I have lost, all that I have seen and done, and regret doing. He gives this to me. He is my drug. The pain is my drug. It ripples through me and I feel nothing but the bitter bite of leather and the sweet silk of the darkness and pleasure that follows.” My gaze lifts to Chris’s.

Tension crackles off him and he takes the journal from me and sets it on the nightstand. “If not for those journals bringing you to me, I’d curse the day you ever found them.” He slides his hands to my face and forces my gaze to his. “You aren’t Rebecca, and we don’t have, nor will we ever have, the kind of relationship she had with Mark.”

“Mark.”

“Yes, Mark.”

“How can you be sure?”

“Because he can’t just be happy with those who invite this lifestyle and welcome it. He has a thing for bringing in innocents who don’t belong in this world and training them as subs. He gets off on the power of it.”

In the back of my mind, there are questions about Mark, but there is only room now for where this takes me with Chris. “You’ve trained . . . subs?”

He scrubs his jaw and then runs his hands down his jean-clad legs. “Don’t do this to yourself or to us.”

“That’s a yes.” My voice is barely audible. And is that what he wants me to be? Am I confused about where we are going? Do I really have any idea at all where we are headed?

“It’s a no, Sara. I’m not Mark. Master and sub was too much commitment for me. I do not want to be responsible for someone’s well-being. Not beyond one session. I got my fix and then quickly moved on.”

His fix. I hate this choice of words. I barely know the man who uses them, who lived them. But it is Chris and it confuses me. “What does that even mean?”

His jaw clenches.

“I need to understand, Chris.”

His lashes lower, the lines of his face hardening. “There are rooms you go to,” he surprises me by explaining. “You can choose to be masked and I do. I don’t want faces and names.”

My mind goes crazy with what might happen in those rooms. “Never?”

“That was my style, Sara. No commitments.”

He didn’t say “never” and I press for more, for how his past affects us now. “And yet I’m here.”

“I told you. I’ve broken all my rules with you.”

“Why me?”

“Because you’re you, Sara. There is no other answer.”

The part of me that is never confident, that is never completely convinced this talented and famous man can really want me, struggles with this answer, but yet, I feel this way about him. He has become my escape and my sanctuary. I think he is telling me he sees me the same way, but I know we are lying to ourselves and each other if we think nothing else matters. “You can’t just shut this all out, Chris. You can’t just meet me and be who you were before. I need to understand it and be a part of it.”

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