I suck in a breath, fighting the icy knot in my chest. She thinks I’m going to destroy everything she’s worked for. But deep down, I knew she’d think that. I knew she never truly trusted me. It’s a big part of why I left New York.
Pushing to my feet, I leave and go to the library, and walk straight to the double doors at the back of the room. Opening the door, I step onto the balcony, the bitter cold gusting around me. I do exactly what I did last night and walk to the rail, pressing my hands to the cold steel. She believes I’ll let her down. This city, this world I’m in now, is all about a past where failure nearly destroyed me before. Instead, it destroyed someone else. It’s happening again, and this time, the someone else is my mother.
“Mark. It’s freezing. Come inside.”
At the sound of Crystal’s voice, I squeeze my eyes shut. She’s too close to all of this—to me. I’d send her away if it wouldn’t destroy my mother. “Go home,” I say, needing to think.
“No. You can’t stay out here and—”
I turn to her sharply, noting the way she hugs herself, shivering against the cold, and I harshly snap, “I said, go home, Ms. Smith.”
She stiffens, sucking in a breath. She blinks once, then twice, before the same expression I’d seen in the library crosses her face, followed by a moment of panic. As if she knows I’ve seen it and she doesn’t want me to. Then she wordlessly departs. I squeeze my eyes shut again and tell myself it doesn’t matter. Better she be angry or hurt now, than dead or burned alive in the hell I’m living.
I hear the front door open and shut, and the sound cuts through me like a blade. She’s trying to ease my pain, and I’m creating it in her. “Damn it,” I whisper, and follow her.
In the hallway outside I find Crystal’s back to me, her phone to her ear as she says, “Yes. Right now please, Jacob.” She turns to face me as I pull the front door shut, anger and more hurt burning in her gaze. I’m burning as well—with lust, desire, a need for this woman that’s like no need I’ve ever known. My plan to drive a wedge between us hasn’t worked. Control isn’t staying the path. It’s adjusting and moving forward.
“Go away,” she hisses.
“I can’t do that,” I say, advancing on her as she drops her phone inside her purse. She tries to move away but I grab her wrist. “Call him back. You aren’t leaving like this.”
“Sending me away upset or angry is your specialty. You should be reveling in your success,” she says bitterly.
I back her against the wall, framing her hips with mine, my hands flattening on either side of her. “I don’t want you to leave.”
She grabs my arms. “I’m getting tired of you trapping me like this. It’s a bad habit that has to end. And I can’t do this yo-yo thing with you anymore, either.” Her hands flatten on my chest, intensifying the hunger that she takes to places I never allowed myself to go before.
“Neither of us can,” I say. “We want each other. That was my point in your office last night. You said sex was your release, too. We’re letting desire get twisted with emotions driven by my mother’s and Rebecca’s situations.”
“Translation: I sign the contract and I become your submissive. You control me.”
“A contract isn’t an insult.” Needing to get past what had been intended to drive her away, I continue: “It’s a level of commitment most people don’t even give to their marriages. And you’re confused about what submissive means in the BDSM world. You have the power.” I turn us so that my back is against the wall, fitting her soft curves against my body, molding her pelvis to my thick erection. “You decide what we do or don’t do. And even then, you can change your mind with one word: stop. Like now. I’m going to let you go though I don’t want you to leave. I’m asking you to stay and talk this out, but it’s your choice.” I lift my hands, no longer holding her to me.
A conflicted look flashes over her face but she doesn’t move, her fingers flexing on my upper arms where her hands have settled. “I’m not signing a contract.”
“I never wanted you to sign the contract. The point was—”
She shoves out of my arms. “To push me away? How could I forget? Of course you don’t want a commitment. And I don’t want one, either.” She runs her fingers through her hair and looks at her trembling hands. “So why am I shaking from adrenaline and emotion, and so confused that I barely know my name? Why, Mark—or Mr. Compton, or just ‘Mr. Asshole, Sir’? Why am I feeling like this? Because I feed off your emotions and pain, and you play with mine.” The elevator dings and it’s only a matter of seconds before Jacob appears. “My life was in order before you. Now it’s a mess. Thank you, Mark Compton.”
Footsteps sound, and I hold up a hand. “Give us ten minutes, Jacob,” I order without looking at him.
“No,” she calls. “I’m coming now.” Her jaw clenches and she levels me in a stare. “Goodnight, Mr. Compton. And remember: There are cameras everywhere, and a snitch on the staff. Don’t follow me.” She turns and leaves.
I start after her and then stop, running a hand through my hair. “Fuck!” She’s right. I can’t risk a scene that ends up in the news and on my mother’s doorstep. Once again, I have no control.