Understanding seeps into her eyes and her chin lifts. “I’m staying.”
“Then I own you while you’re here. Say it.”
“Say it, Ms. Smith.”
“You own me when I’m here—and only when I’m here.”
There is no sense of reward from her words; she doesn’t belong here. “I’ll take that answer.” I start to release her, to have her walk by my side untouched, as I would any other guest, but an unwelcome possessiveness overcomes me, followed by an intense need to protect her.
She doesn’t belong here. Rebecca didn’t belong here. The truth of those words cuts deeply and I lace my fingers with Crystal’s, aware of the intimacy of the act and how out of character it is for me. Everyone else will know this as well, but this isn’t about me the Master. It’s about Crystal, whom I fully intend to protect—even if that means scaring her out of my family’s life.
We start up the steps and I can’t help but notice her jacket covers a conservative black dress that she’s paired with basic black pumps. It appears that she’s dressed for work and left there quickly to get to me. The burning question is why? What happened to bring her here?
Approaching the guard, I softly remind her, “Eyes down.”
“Yes, Master,” she growls, and I wonder if this is an ironic joke or her way of telling me she knows more than she’s let on. Either way, she does as I say.
Inside the foyer, her head lifts, and I allow her a moment to take in the elegant decor and the expensive artwork; the conservative façade is part of the experience of taking part in the arousing and shocking erotic deeds that happen here. I need her to understand this place, to bolt now if she is going to, before the police can shock or sway her opinions and actions.
Her gaze tilts upward and she studies the spectacular glass chandelier over our heads, and I study the creamy expanse of her naked throat, where my mouth has been, where it could be again, and I remember just how luxurious her naked body had been. Then I motion her toward the dramatic winding stairwell that is very Gone with the Wind by intention.
We climb the steps, our destination my private chambers. While it’s not the place I prefer to take her, not with the memories I have, it’s where she will understand who I am. We stop at the final door, where I key in a code again, and motion for her to enter. She swallows hard, her eyes meeting mine, trepidation in their depths, before she steps forward.
I follow her inside and lock the door, giving her a moment to take in the massive four-poster bed in center of the room, the sheer curtains leading to several “play” rooms. She walks toward the bed and turns to the monitor that takes up most of the wall to the left, with a half dozen smaller screens above and below it.
She turns to me. “This isn’t a gallery.”
“No,” I say, closing the distance between us. “It’s not a gallery. It’s a very exclusive club.”
“A sex club.”
“And you’re a member?”
“I’m the owner. The head Master.” And now is the time to show her what is on the huge monitors lining the wall, to show her the public floggings, group sex, bondage. But I don’t move. “Have you ever been in a BDSM club?”
“No. I haven’t.”
The answer defines where we will go, which is nowhere. “And I assume the detective hoped that would be the way I’d want to keep it, therefore I’d do what he wanted me to do.”
“Which is what?”
“To convince Ava to produce a body.”
“Why wouldn’t you do that anyway, if you can?”
“My attorneys seem to think it’s suicide, since Ava’s trying to frame me for the murder.”
Her brow furrows. “Didn’t she confess and try to kill Sara?”
“Yes. But she says she did it all for me, and my role as Master here doesn’t help me dispute that.”
“I don’t really know how this works, but was Ava . . . is she—?”
“My submissive? No. But she wanted to be, and what we’re thinking is that she’ll say she was trying to earn that place by my side.”
“By killing the woman you loved? That’s insane.”
The woman I loved? There’s an instant denial on my lips but I can’t seem to speak it, nor can I escape the truth. I did love Rebecca. Maybe not in the way she wanted me to, but she changed me, she touched me—and in the only way I know how, I did love her. I just didn’t see it until it was too late. Until now, this moment.
A burning sensation starts in my chest, moving to my throat, and I’m suddenly, illogically, angry. At Crystal. At myself. At Rebecca for dying, and I hate that I’m that selfish, but damn it, why did she die? She was too young. Too beautiful. Too full of life.
“Why are you here, Crystal?” I demand, my voice sharp, my emotions in upheaval.
She sways and sits on the edge of the bed, like she can’t bear to say what she has to say. “I came to trade places with you so you could be with your parents.” Her voice trembles and so do her hands where they rest on her legs. “I can cover the gallery. I’m a fast learner and can teach myself.”
Her words are as illogical as her borrowing her father’s plane to be here. “You live in New York. You work in New York.”
“This is the right thing to do.”