She’s right, which drives home how wrong everything in my life is tonight. “I don’t have a fucking clue right now.” And it’s as terrifying as her visibly blanching and looking as stunned as I feel by the admission that I didn’t mean to make.

Two beats, maybe three pass, and I hear them in the speeding up of my heart before she reaches down and closes her hand over my hand and the glass. Touching me in a way that I let no one touch me; no one but her. What is it about this woman? It has to be the timing—the things I’m involved with and her intimate knowledge that no one else has of those matters.

She downs the drink and sets the glass on the table, and somehow I know that she’s made the choice to level the playing field. Ironic, since everything I do as a Master is to always have an upper hand. But not her. She’s volunteered to be vulnerable, when she’s refused to be submissive.

She turns back to me, her fingers curling on my cheek, evoking primal need, and I don’t try to hide it from her. I don’t try to hide anything from her, when I usually pride myself on being unreadable. Not now. Now I am on the edge of some high cliff and I’m about to dive into piranha-infested waters. And for reasons I can’t begin to understand, she’s all that stands between it and me.

“Guilt,” she whispers. “You feel guilty over everything. Not being there for your mother. Not saving Rebecca. I don’t know what else. And guilt is normal—but if you let it, it’ll destroy you.”

The words expose more than my internal battles. They expose the hint of heartache in the depths of her blue eyes, the touch of regret in her voice.

“What do you know of guilt?”

Her expression goes blank, a method of control to shield herself from what she doesn’t want seen. She tries to pull her hand back but I grab it, holding it to me. “What do you know of guilt?” I demand again softly.

“Enough to know it when I see it in someone else.” Her voice holds the slightest tremble. “And it’s bleeding from every pore of you.”

I turn away from her, my hand sliding through my hair, an open sign of frustration that isn’t who I am. I reach for the booze and my gaze lands on the television, where the screen flashes yet again with a view of police vehicles in front of a Muir Beach sign. How many fucking times are they going to show that scene? I refill the glass, wishing I could go to the beach myself and get answers, even though my attorney forbids it.

Crystal scoots to the edge of the sofa beside me, bringing our knees together, and we both freeze.

My hand closes over her knee and I hold it there, telling myself not to go further. She doesn’t deserve to be in the firestorm inside my head right now. Yet my hand is telling her not to move away. She’s in the middle of this hell, close to my family. Close to me in some way that I can’t get my head around. In a way I’d been on the verge of allowing Rebecca to get.

That thought delivers a punch of guilt and I let go of her leg, my head swimming in booze and piranhas, the emotions I’ve denied scraping away at my heart and soul, one right after the other.

I swallow the booze and refill the glass. Crystal takes it from me and drinks a small portion before handing it back to me, her fingers brushing mine. I grind my teeth, fighting my need to rip her clothes away and bury myself inside of her. Sex is how I deal with things, but sex has to be my way—and right now, nothing I do is my way.

“She was my submissive,” I say, needing her to understand just how deep the waters are that she’s treading.

“I pieced that together after I was at the club.”

The club, where we’d ended up naked and I’d wanted her to the point of being wild with need, out of control. It defies reason how she manages to be here every time the axis tips for me. How and why that happens is as gray as everything else in my mind, the weight of the booze weaving through my thoughts, clouding my judgment.

This wasn’t smart. Drinking and bringing her here. It’s as if I invited her to see me in the most screwed up of ways. My jaw clenches, muscles tense. My mind might be numb, but my body is one big live nerve ending. I’m coming out of my skin. I’m going insane. I did this. I created the monster that is Ava and now I want to torment Crystal by using her to deal with the guilt.

I need to move. I need something before I lose my mind, and I try to push to my feet. Crystal’s hand closes over my arm, stilling me.

Concern is etched in her eyes, and I hunger for her in this moment in a way I have never hungered for anyone before. My hand tangles in her hair and I drag her mouth to mine. “I am bad for you,” I say. “I’m—”

“Wrong for me. Using me. I know—and I don’t care. But use me to deal with the guilt—not to create more.”

“Why would you willingly do this?” I need to know that she’s in the right place, that I’m not going to hurt her, too.

Her hand settles on my chest, over my heart that I know is thundering. “Because,” she says, her voice even, confident, “sometimes what someone is going through speaks to you on a level you can’t ignore. And because of that, people who’re completely wrong for each other are completely right in a certain moment in time. Like us right now.”

I’m kissing her before she finishes her last words, my mouth slanting over hers, my tongue licking against hers in a hot stroke, followed by another. Turning her onto the couch, I lay her down, resting on top of her, and I’m no longer thinking about all the reasons this is wrong or the way it’s nothing like what I normally want or need. But I do need. I need this woman here, now, and with the kind of abandon I rarely allow myself. No amount of booze will stop how deep the burn runs. How intense the rush of desire.

Tags: Lisa Renee Jones Inside Out Romance