Part One

It Never Happened


New York

I’m sitting in my mother’s hospital room where she is sleeping soundly, her body trying to fight off stage 3 breast cancer. I lean back in the recliner, pretty sure my normally neatly trimmed blond hair is standing on end and turning gray from the hell of the past three days. Nearby, my father pays attention to his notebook computer, no more rested than I have been for the past week. We were sideswiped by the cancer diagnosis, the timing vicious since I’ve just lost someone close to me. Worry for my mother and guilt over that death eat away at my mind and body.

To most, Rebecca had been an employee at my San Francisco art gallery. To some, she’d been known to be my submissive, a woman who shared my home and my life. To me, she was so much more than either of those things—so much more than anyone, including her, will ever know. Knowing I couldn’t be what she wanted me to be, I had let her go, and I’d believed that for months she was off traveling the world with a rich man she’d met. She’d called me and promised to return, and I’d promised things would be different. But she never showed up, and I’d believed she’d blown me off. Instead, she’d been murdered by another woman I’d brought to our bed at a time I’d desperately been fighting what I felt for Rebecca. A woman who’d killed her out of jealousy. I’m not sure how I can live with that. Right now I’m only doing it for my mother, and barely doing it at all.

More guilt eats at me as my mind goes back to last night, when I’d done what I always do: used sex to fight the hell in my mind, to control the demons clawing at my insides. I tell myself Rebecca, more than anyone, knew that was my way. She understood me and what sex and control are to me. But even if I get right about what I did, I can’t understand my illogical choice to get naked with Crystal Smith. Knowing she is acting manager of Riptide in my mother’s absence and thus too close to my family for the distance I like to keep with my women, I still f**ked her.

No. It was more like spontaneous, out-of-control sex. And I do not do spontaneous, out-of-control sex. I do planned Master and submissive encounters. I do contracts. I do it my way. She is everything I don’t want, yet the minute she’d shown up at my hotel for work, and our eyes had met, the inevitable was in the air.

In all of ten minutes we were naked, and she’d been screaming more, more more. Demanding more, when it is I who demand. I who decide when and how, and what is satisfaction. There was not a submissive bone in Crystal’s body last night—or ever, for that matter—and I’d still wanted her.

I don’t understand it. I need to understand it, and me. But more than anything, I’m bothered by the way she’d darted away, leaving me a note I’ve re-read in my head a million times, with troubling conclusions.

Mr. Compton:

I’m sparing you the awkward morning after. This never happened. Okay, maybe it did. But this really was “just” a f**k.

Ms. Smith

Just a f**k . . . Those three words bother me not because she wrote them, but because the very fact that this was not my normal kind of f**k, makes it not just a f**k. What happened between us means I have a problem. I don’t trust myself to be the Master, to be responsible for anyone else’s pleasure, let alone their safety, anymore.

My cell phone rings in my pocket and I quickly remove it so it doesn’t wake my mother. The caller is the very woman who’s been driving my mind in circles, and I push to my feet, motioning toward the door at my father. He waves at me, flicking me a look with softer gray eyes than mine, quickly returning his attention to the video footage of the college baseball team he says he’s using to plan his next play for the championship. But I know him. Baseball is to him what it once was to me, before my world shattered and emptied a whole lot of hell into my life. It’s what sex has now become for me. It’s control—a place to funnel the crap he doesn’t want to bleed into the rest of his life.

Stepping into the hallway, I pull the door shut. “I trust your travels went well, Ms. Smith,” I say, referencing her trip to Los Angeles to make a big purchase for Riptide.

“Crystal,” she corrects.

“That’s not what the note you left me last night, when you ran off, said.”

“I didn’t run off. I left before we had an awkward moment neither of us needed.”

“So you thought leaving me a note that assured me it was ‘just a f**k’ achieved that goal?”

“Thanks for putting that out there in all its bright and shiny glory. No discretion with you, I see.”

“You told me you don’t like people to filter, so I’m not.”

“Hmmm. It’s more like you’re trying to prompt a reaction from me, but I’ll stick with facts. So here they are. My message was simply that your giving me an orgasm does not mean I require roses and chocolates. We’re business as usual, and you can count on me to do my job and do it well.”

The mention of roses, so symbolic in my relationship with Rebecca, stirs my inner demons to life with a vengeance, and I use this opening to do exactly as she’s indicated. Get back to business, starting with the large check that I’d written her to make an out-of-state, in-person purchase, which had been her reason to stop by my hotel room yesterday. “Then I take it that means you spent my hundred K well.”

“It was a rough trip but yes, I did. The seller was an ass**le who tried to jack the price up on our purchase, but I stayed firm and got the Beatles items for the one hundred thousand he agreed on. After seeing them, I’m even more certain that we’re going to make double that on the auction block.”

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