“You don’t have—”

“I’m walking you to the car.”


“Okay.” Her chin lifts with challenge. “You have my permission to walk me to the car.”

My lips tighten and so does my groin. “As long as I have your permission,” I say sardonically.

She simply gives me a nod and starts walking and, as I’m becoming accustomed to, she seems to expect me to follow. And holy hell, I do. But I want to grab her and pull her to the elevator and upstairs, where I can punish her with pleasure for making me this willing to chase her.

Once we’re outside, and a driver opens the door to the black sedan I’ve hired as her ride home, Crystal turns to me. Her mood has softened. “I’m going to the hospital in the morning, and I have to pick up my car here. You want to ride with me?” Her eyes light with mischief. “I’ll let you drive.”

That’s it. I grab her and pull her to me. “You’ll let me?”

She blinks up at me, and I watch the emotions flicker over her face, from stunned to aroused, and then to rousing challenge. “If you ask nicely,” she assures me, and no matter how coolly she tries to deliver the words, she can’t hide the breathless quality to her voice.

“I wonder if you’d ask nicely?” I’m not talking about driving the car, and I know she knows it.

Her lips curve into a teasing smile and she pushes out of my arms, stepping closer to the car. “I wonder.” She slides into the backseat and the driver shuts the door behind her.

I don’t move, staring at the tinted window, certain she is staring back at me, looking for a reaction I won’t give her. The car pulls away from the curb and, with adrenaline licking at my limbs all over again, I turn away and head into the hotel. Alone. I am alone. It has never mattered before. It’s always been my preference, but tonight . . . tonight I hate it.

Once I’m in my room, the first thing I do is call my father to check on my mother. She’s sleeping and my father sounds like utter shit. He’s exhausted and worried, and for the first time in a long time I don’t know how to make things right. I pace the room, the booze I’d tried to drown this with having absolutely no effect. Chris’s advice sucked. I go to my suitcase and open it. On top is a red leather journal and a small velvet box. I take them both to the bed and set them there.

I stare at the two items and finally manage to open the box to stare at the rose-shaped ring nestled in the black velvet. The one Rebecca had worn when she’d been my submissive. I want to flush it down the toilet, as much as I want to cherish it forever. It is a part of her, but it’s also the symbol of what led to her destruction . . . our bond.

I sit down on the bed, open the journal, and start to read. I know it’s not a good idea, but I can’t seem to help myself. And damn if I don’t hear Rebecca’s voice in my head. He is my Master, the one who commands me, but he is so much more to me. Am I foolish to believe I am more than a sub to him? Am I insane to believe that deep beneath his hard surface he might have real feelings for me? I’ve memorized this passage and heard it as if she were reading it to me a million times over. I’ve read it often since finding one of her journals under the mattress of my bed months ago, when she’d left town with another man. My bed. I cringe. I’d always made her feel everything had been mine, not hers, even when she’d lived with me. It is one of the many things I regret about the past that I can now never mend. She deserved better than me. She deserved the love I couldn’t give her, yet I selfishly called her back to San Francisco, knowing I could never be all she wanted me to be. She would never have been attacked had I not done such a thing. I’d been the end of her. Never again will I pull someone into the BDSM world who’s not already there and reveling in the experience.

My thoughts go to Crystal, and my new resolve forms. I won’t touch her.

It simply can’t happen. I won’t let it.

No matter how much I want her.

And I do.

Five

Between my guilt over Rebecca and my worry over my mother’s surgery, sleep is nearly impossible. Knowing I’m not likely to leave the hospital today, I dress in boots, jeans, and a brown Riptide T-shirt. Remembering the colder East Coast weather, I slip on a brown leather jacket.

Crystal is waiting for me in the lobby when I step off the elevator. Dressed in dark blue jeans, a pale blue silk blouse, boots, and a black leather jacket, with two coffee cups in her hands, it’s clear she doesn’t plan to head to Riptide today, which pleases me. Though I should want her there at Riptide, taking care of business.

She gives my similar attire an open inspection and smiles. “I like you like this,” she says. “Less ‘master,’ more man.” I stiffen at the “master” reference, and my eyes narrow, trying to read her. Does she know more about me than I think she does? And, holy hell, do my parents? She thrusts the cup at me. “White mocha.”

I reach for the coffee, unsure of what she knows. I am on such unsure footing with this woman, I barely know myself. “White mocha?” I inquire, never having had anyone assume this to be my drink. But then, people don’t get the chance to assume with me.

She nods and sips from her drink. “My favorite, and all macho alpha men like you have a secret softer side and a sweet tooth. It’s part of the breed.”

She’s dead-on. I have a major sweet tooth, but I don’t admit it. “Macho alpha men?”

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