“I’ll erase them.”

“You’ll fail.”


“I won’t fail.”

“That’s arrogant.”

“It’s confidence.”

We stare at each other, and it’s like looking into a mirror. I see how he controls what he can to compensate for what he can’t. And how that means he needs to control me, so I won’t control him. We’re two people who seem to everyone else to have blessed lives, but both of us live in glass houses, captive to the same stone. And that stone is a trauma in our pasts.

I don’t want to be captive to that stone anymore. I don’t want to win the battle over my limits. Life can be gone in a moment, lost to fear and regrets.

I push away from him. “In the hallway outside your parents’ apartment, you said that I decide what we do or don’t do.”

“Yes. Convincing you doesn’t mean forcing you. You can always say no.”

“You’ll just change my mind,” I say, and it’s not a question.

“Yes,” he agrees.

Those words, coupled with his honesty tonight, allow me to give him a pebble of my trust. I’m not ready to let go of my stone. And I’m not sure I will, if he doesn’t let go of his. But he’s let me see a side of him that I don’t believe anyone else has. I haven’t abused that trust, and it’s time to find out if I’ll get the same in return.

I inhale and let it out, reaching to my sash and untying it, and the cool air sweeps beneath the silk to caress my hot skin. Mark’s eyes are burning embers, sparking in the room. He steps forward and my heart begins to race.

As he holds my stare, his index finger parts the silk farther, finding my skin before dragging a line up and down between my breasts. Goose bumps rise, tightening my nipples into aching balls of need. And just that easily I am weak in the knees, wet with desire. I want his hands on my breasts, his lips on my nipples, but I get neither.

His palms slip beneath the robe, caressing it away from my body. It slinks downward, teasing my skin as it drops into a sultry puddle at my bare feet, leaving me naked while he’s fully dressed. Leaving me exposed for his viewing and for his taking, vulnerable in ways I wouldn’t allow myself to be with another man. And I am both terrified and aroused, waiting for him when I swore I’d never wait for any man.

But I wait, and this pleases him. I see it in the possessive burn in the depths of his eyes, but there’s more there, too—there is relief, as if he’d been hanging off a ledge and I just lowered him a rope. And maybe I have, or I am, but somehow he’s reached inside me and found that piece of me that I deny but can never escape, a part waiting to implode. He, too, is saving me.

Finally he reaches for me, dragging me against him, his hands cupping my backside as he lifts me. Instinctively, my arms wrap around his neck, my legs around his waist, and his palms flatten on my back, holding me as if he’s afraid I’ll escape. We stay like that for long moments, and the sea of turbulence between us fades into calm, then sizzles into a fire. In this space, in time, no matter how delicate the seams, I am woven into his life and he into mine.

He starts walking toward my bedroom and I bury my face in his neck, inhaling that spicy, sexy scent of him. Then he sets me on the edge of the mattress, my fluffy white down comforter hugging my naked body as he kneels in front of me. He slides my legs apart, his hands gliding up and down my naked thighs, my sex tightening, the wet heat slicking my flesh.

“I don’t want this to be wild and out of control tonight. I want you to wake up knowing that we made this choice together—not circumstances. Tonight is about trust, something I tore down when I used the contract to push you away.” He pulls the red tie from his neck and holds it between us.

I straighten, my spine stiff with a jolt that tells me my past is here, in vivid living color. This is too fast, too much. “I don’t want to be tied up.”

His fingers caress my cheek. “Relax,” he says gently. “I’m not going to tie you up. I want to blindfold you. That’s all.”

I wet my suddenly parched lips. “Blindfold,” I repeat.

“Yes. That way, you can stop anything I do with more than words. You have the control. I have the pleasure of ensuring your pleasure.

“This is where you say yes or no,” he says, and then firms his voice, a command in the depths as he adds, “Say yes.”

“What are you going to do to me?”

His sexy, sometimes brutally wicked lips, curve. “If I told you, I’d ruin the surprise. Say yes, Crystal.” The command is firmer this time.

That intense arousal and fear have returned, drenched in adrenaline. This is how it feels facing fears that I haven’t allowed myself to acknowledge. And I want to face them. I shut my eyes. “Yes.”

“Look at me when you say it, so I know you mean it.”

I’m comforted that a simple “yes” isn’t enough to satisfy his need for my agreement. My eyes meet his and I repeat, “Yes.”

He searches my face for a moment, and then wraps the tie around my eyes, covering them. Then his lips find my ear. “Stay and don’t move. Just listen. It’s a remarkable way to awaken your senses. And don’t speak unless I tell you to speak. Understand?”

“Yes.”

“Yes, what?”

“Yes, I understand.”

I wait for him to speak again, but he doesn’t. It’s almost as if he waits to see if I truly do understand. My fingers curl into the blanket and I can feel his hot stare on my body as intimately as I would his mouth. There is something intriguing about knowing and not seeing. Something arousing about craving and not being satisfied. There is movement; sounds of what I think is the rustle of clothing. Of this wickedly hot man undressing, and I squeeze my thighs shut against the growing ache I feel. Silence falls then, and time ticks by eternally and I open my mouth and shut it. It’s a test, I think, but the question it raises is confusing. By passing it, am I proving I’m in control of me or that he’s in control of me?

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