I stare down at the key that was left for me at the hotel’s front desk, reading the note.
My house is swarming with press. I’m in the room next to yours. We need to review the gallery’s business tonight. I’ll be in meetings all day tomorrow.
It’s not signed, but I know it’s from Mark. I wonder if he isn’t sure how to sign it. Mark. Mr. Compton. Master. Just the thought that he might have expectations of me as a submissive has me balling the note up and clenching it in my damp palm. But no—he doesn’t.
He’s caught in a nightmare, eaten alive with guilt over Rebecca and terrified for his mother. He’s not thinking about anything else at the moment, and I’ve just caught him in a few weak moments where I’ve been an escape. And that’s okay. He’s hot. Ridiculously sexy. And so damn arrogant he could win an award. The kind of man you sleep with and move on.
Only I can’t move on. His family has become my second family.
I can’t go into his room. I can’t end up naked with him again. It’s starting to affect me, beyond the fiery passion. He’s starting to get under my skin, and that’s dangerous. I am no submissive, and he’s all about power and control—truly a Master in all he does, in all he commands. Underneath that hardness, though, I’ve briefly seen a tender, sensitive man who has a sense of humor and a deep love for his family, his mother in particular.
So I can’t ignore his note. That would be turning my back on someone who needs me, in order to protect myself, and that’s not who I am. And this isn’t about me, anyway. It’s about the police on the beach searching for poor Rebecca tonight, and it’s about a broken man who doesn’t even know he’s broken. And it’s about his ailing mother, who I love dearly, and who desperately wants him by her side. Despite how much she wants Mark to be a part of the auction house, Riptide, she’ll never forgive herself if Allure gallery falls apart because he’s distracted by her illness. He says he wants me to shut it down and tie up all the loose ends.
But I need to do more. I need to save it. And not just for her—for him. For the man I’ve caught glimpses of, who has captured a part of me. The one who has let me see the wounds he’s denying, making him unable to heal. He’s alone inside his own personal hell, telling himself he can fight it alone. But he can’t. I know this with certainty.
Right or wrong, decision made, I leave my room and turn toward his. I’m going to fight with Mark, even though I’ll likely end up hurt and alone. But life is too short for regrets. Another fact that I know too well.
I reach up—and knock.
Sitting on my suite’s couch, I loosen my tie and refill my scotch glass before turning on the television. After flipping through several stations, I stop and turn up the volume at the sight of a newscaster standing on a beach with police cars—and pray like hell that he can tell me something that the expensive attorneys and investigators I’m paying haven’t been able to manage.
Authorities are staying quiet about what’s being searched for on Muir Beach, but we know it’s the stretch surrounding the family home of a male employee who works at Cup O’ Café, the coffee shop owned by Ava Perez. For those of you just tuning in, Ms. Perez confessed to killing Rebecca Mason, an employee of the gallery next door to the coffee shop, only to later retract that confession. Police are not saying what they are looking for and what outcome they hope for tonight, but a press conference is planned for Monday morning.
I mute the sound of the same story I’ve heard at least ten times. Downing the scotch, I set my glass down and refill it. Hell, why not? I’m spinning out of control; I might as well do it the fuck right. On the coffee table, my gaze catches the only one of Rebecca’s journals that I’ve managed to keep for myself.
I fight the urge to pick it up and start reading again; I know damn well that every word will be like salt in my open wounds. It’s that passage about her anger over her mother hiding her father’s identity from her that really slices deep. She’d tried to talk to me about it. I hadn’t let her. I’d shut her down to halt the emotions that she’d stirred in me that I didn’t want to feel.
But I’m feeling them now. I’m living every last, bitter one.
Lifting the glass to my lips, I stop at the knock on the door. Crystal is here—and it’s like a punch to the chest. She does things to me. The kinds of things Rebecca tried to do, and couldn’t. And not because I didn’t care about Rebecca, but because I was too removed from everything human inside of me. She woke me up, but it had been too late—and I wish like hell that I was the one dead now, not her.
Shoving the journal into the accordion file on the coffee table, I sink back against the couch, my glass settling on my pant leg, listening as her high heels click on the hardwood floor of the foyer, and then go silent. She’s hesitating and I don’t blame her. She’d be smart to turn and run, but wrong as it is I find myself holding my breath, praying that she won’t leave. She quiets the storm inside of me and I’ll be damned if I understand it. She is as far as it gets from the submissive who I demand in my lovers—and perhaps that’s her appeal. A Master is supposed to protect his submissive and I simply don’t trust myself right now. I don’t know where that leaves me when control, my control, is what I’ve counted on keeping me and everyone around me safe.