Kicking off my shoes, I rush to the bathroom and undress, anxious to explain everything, so he doesn’t believe tonight was about a lack of trust on my part. I consider showing up in Chris’s studio naked, exposed in every way, to make a statement. But his mood is a swiftly changing vehicle, and I have to drive the appropriate speed. I decide to err on the side of caution, slipping on a long, pink silk robe.

With bare feet and anxious steps I rush through the apartment, and down the long hallway. The studio doorway is cracked open but the lights are out, and there’s silence where Chris usually favors music. I don’t know what this means, but I rethink playing this cautiously. That’s what got me into trouble in the first place. It’s all or nothing with Chris. It always has been. I need to make that statement, to declare to him that I am not holding back.


I drop the robe and step inside the studio. Chris stands in the center, his feet bare, his shirt off, his inked skin and defined chest deliciously male.

He is shrouded in shadows, his features dusted with starlight, his blond hair a wild, spiky, finger-tousled mess, and I can almost see him running his fingers through it in frustration. Because of me. I’ve twisted him into knots, when I was trying to protect him. I wait for him to act or speak but he does nothing, and I slowly become aware of what sits next to him: the painting of me naked, sitting on this floor, my hands and feet bound. It is a sign that he’d expected me to follow him and, no doubt, a warning and a promise of what he has planned.

His gaze rakes over my body, taking a leisurely stroll over every part of me, before lifting to my face. “I see you came dressed for the occasion. Come here.”

I don’t hesitate. I never do when Chris’s dominant side is in control. My feet travel the floor quickly; I want him to know that I’m eager. And I am. The sooner I’m touching him and he’s touching me, the sooner I can breathe again.

“Stop,” he orders when I reach the center of the room.

I halt and he closes the distance between us, all long-legged grace and confident man. My man, whom I don’t want to lose. He halts in front of me and I can smell the earthy, wonderful scent of him that has come to mean dominance, power, and home.

His green eyes meet mine in challenge. “Showing up naked is an invitation to get fucked, Sara.”

“Yes,” I say softly. “Please.”

“Do you remember what I said the painting means to me?”

“You said it’s about trust.”

“That’s right. I also told you that if I fuck you tonight, I’ll make you tell me why you just tried to run from me.”

“I know.”

“I changed my mind, though. You want to be fucked, I’ll fuck you. But I don’t want what you don’t give me freely.”

“Everything, Chris. I give you all that I am, and I give it freely.”

“And yet there’s fear in your eyes, and you ran rather than telling me why. Do you know how crazy that’s making me, or what I’m imagining the cause might be?”

“I didn’t mean to make you worry.” I hug myself so I won’t reach for him. I desperately want to touch him, but I sense the edge in him, the way he needs control right now. I understand it. I’ve lived it, and he gives me the freedom to let it go. And that’s what I have to do now. Just let go and tell him.

“Before Ricco showed up, I had a panic attack in the restaurant. I don’t know why it happened. I hid in the bathroom and pulled myself together. I haven’t been myself since Ava attacked me. I think you know that.”

“And you couldn’t just tell me this? You ran, Sara.”

“No, I didn’t. That’s what you’re not getting—or I’m not getting across. I was trying to make sure you don’t run.”

“Baby, I’m not running. I never have.”

“But you just tried to get me to, over and over. It’s the same thing, Chris. You’re finally letting me into those darker places you go. I finally feel like I could win over the whip, but I see the moments when you fear my seeing the part of you it controls. I don’t want you to shut me out because you think I’m like Amber.”

He drags me to him. “You are not Amber. You will never be like her.”

My fingers wrap his wrist. “I know you want to protect me, and I love you for that more than you know.”

“Yet too easily, you found a reason to shut me out tonight. Trust isn’t a fair-weather friend. It’s about a willingness to be vulnerable and exposed.”

“And I am willing to do that. That’s why I’m here now.”

He searches my face, and I don’t know what he looks for, what he needs, or what he finds. He releases me abruptly. “Hold out your hands and lace your fingers together.”

Heat rushes through me with the certainty that I’m about to fully understand the painting he’s created of me. This is him sending me a message. He’s not holding back. My confession, as incomplete as it is, has changed nothing. I offer him my arms, aware as I haven’t been in the past few minutes of my naked body, my breasts pressed together.

Chris reaches into his back pocket and produces a roll of art tape, using it to wrap my wrists. Task complete, he bends my elbows and presses my wrists to my chest, his fingers covering the bindings. He has become dark Chris, the dominant Master who never shows emotion; the Chris who arouses me in ways I would never believe a man could.

“Sit down,” he orders, and the way he manages such force with what is no more than a whisper stirs heat low in my body.

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