He twines the dangling sash around his hand. “You’re at my mercy, you know?”

“Is that supposed to frighten me?”


“No. It’s not. And if it did, I’d untie you now.”

“Isn’t it you who told me the painting of me bound like this wasn’t about bondage? It was about trust.”

His eyes widen slightly, and then narrow. “I also said it was the kind of trust I don’t have the right to ask for.”

“You don’t have to ask,” I whisper. “You already have it.”

“I know that, Sara. Now the question becomes, what will I do with it, and will you hate me when I’m done?”

“No.” Despite the binding, my ingers ind his hands. “I won’t. I can’t hate you.”

“We both need to know if that’s true.”

“It is,” I insist.

I want him to argue against or conirm my declaration but he gives me neither of those things. He simply leans in and kisses my forehead, a tender act that deies the way my hands are tied and what is surely to soon happen between us. And then he moves beside me and his ingers splay across my back.

“Lean forward and put your hands in front of you on the rug.”

I see the hard glint of challenge in his stare, and read the silent message he intends for me to see. If I can’t handle this, I’ll never be able to handle the dark secrets locked in his mind and in his past that he intends to reveal. And deep inside, Chris believes I’ll hate him before this is over, whatever “this” is.

And so it begins. Test number one, of what’s sure to be many.

My chin lifts in rejection of him assuming my failure. Then I walk my ingers down the rug and stretch as far as I can.

Chris’s hand goes with me, a gentle weight that doesn’t press.

It’s simply there, full of potential pleasure. For several seconds neither of us moves, and the sexual tension in the room crackles around us.

The rug tickles my ni**les and the cool air caresses my bare backside. I am exposed. Swallowing hard, I wonder how Rebecca did anything remotely like this in front of an audience.

Did she trust Mark the way I trust Chris? Or just love him the way I love Chris?

Chris caresses my back, and the erotic pleasure pulls me away from the grim place my thoughts have drifted. Sweet friction brushes down my spine with his touch, then over my waist, until his inger inds my tailbone and continues downward. In anticipation of where he will go next, my breathing is suddenly shallow, almost a pant. And when Chris begins the highly intimate, slow glide down the crevice between my cheeks, my sex clenches almost painfully.

“Did you like it when I spanked you, Sara?” he asks, his palm caressing my cheeks the way he had the night he’d actually spanked me.

My skin tingles beneath his touch and I can hear my breathing, short little pants I can’t seem to control. “I . . . I don’t know.”

His hand stills, his ingers widen and tense. “Did you like it when I spanked you?” His voice is low, taut, illed with command.

Somehow my hair draped over my face and my arms tunneled around me are not protection enough from this soul-searching moment. I squeeze my eyes shut, aware that I’ve exposed more than my body to Chris. I’ve exposed a part of me that I burn to understand, yet can’t seem to fully embrace. But I want to. No, I need to. I need to do this.

“Yes,” I inally whisper. “Yes. I did.” I hold my breath and wait for the reply that doesn’t come. One second. Two. No words follow. I start to get up.

Chris’s hand presses between my shoulder blades and holds me there, and the warmth of his breath teases my neck and ear.

“Stay as you are.”

Then he’s gone, and a wave of unexpected, irrational panic overcomes me. It’s all I can do not to sit up, and I take a deep breath and try to analyze what I’m feeling. I’ve just made a revealing confession that wasn’t easy for me to say out loud, and the last thing I expected, or needed, afterward was to be left lying here, na**d and bound.

This isn’t what I expect from Chris. This is the behavior of the Master in Rebecca’s journals. Of Mark. I feel insecure, uncertain. And damn it, I hate the deep insecurity that never seems to stop haunting me, making me question what I know of the man I love, who is nothing like Mark. He isn’t. I know this.

I force another deep breath and repeat that reassurance in my mind, and then suddenly Chris is with me, touching me, and I feel his na**d body aligned with mine. The tension inside me fades, warmth spreading over me where I’ve been chilled.

He turns me to my side to face him, his erection thick between my legs, his hand branding my rib cage. His eyes meet mine, and the insanely impossible mix of wicked dominance and sweet tenderness melts away any remaining insecurity.

He strokes the hair from my face. “You do know that there’s nothing wrong with liking it when I spank you, don’t you?”

Heat loods my cheeks and I look down, taken of guard by the return to our prior, explicitly erotic, conversation. His ingers slip under my chin and force my gaze back to his. “It’s just you and me, baby, and I’m not like anyone else who’s ever been in your life. There’s nothing to be embarrassed or ashamed of with me, ever. You can embrace who you really are, and we can be whoever we want to be together.”

My gut clenches at the reference to the way my father and Michael tried to create me and control me; Chris has hit the sore spot. It is a testament to how much he’s become a part of me that he sees this in me, when I hadn’t allowed myself to see it until this moment.

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