“Now I really want to meet your father.”

She smiles. “He’s a good man. An arrogant pain in the ass sometimes, who’s overprotective, but still a good man. I think you’d either get along very well with him, or the two of you would want to throttle each other.”

“I’m not sure if that was a compliment or an insult.”

“Simply stating the facts,” she says, handing me a bottle of syrup.

I set the syrup down. “How old were you when he adopted you?”

“I was fourteen. I’d been in foster homes for five years,” she responds, taking the liberty to pour the syrup for me, which for reasons I can’t explain makes me want to pull her close and rip the robe off her. I refrain only because I want to hear the rest of her story, and we have no condom.

“How did you end up in a foster home at nine?”

“My mother died, and my father wasn’t a fit parent,” she says quickly and without looking at me, attending to the syrup lid with a little too much focus. “But it ended well.” She glances up at me. “I was raised by a powerful, controlling father, who bred my older brothers into clones, who now worry about me as much as he does.”

“So your father never remarried?”

“He did, but not until we were all out of the house.” She motions to the pancakes. “Try them. It’s a recipe I love; they taste like chocolate chip cookies.”

I’m still focused on her. “How do you like your stepmother?”

“She’s very loving to my father, and good to all of us.”


“There really isn’t a but. She’s a good person and passionate about charity work.”

“But you don’t see her as a mother,” I say, starting to see how she’s bonded with my mother, who always wanted a daughter but couldn’t have more kids.

She jabs a piece of pancake with her fork. “She and I are night and day.”

“Translate that to a real answer.”

“She’s very submissive to my father.”

One side of my mouth quirks up. “I’m suddenly seeing the irony of this conversation.”

“You started it, not me.”

“Yes. Maybe I should shut up and eat.” I take a bite of the pancake. “You’re right. Chocolate chip cookies, and good ones, at that. You can run a company and cook. What else is up your sleeve?”

“I can sing.”

“I’m not sure I’d agree with that one,” I tease.

She smirks. “I think you should shut up and eat again.” She pops the lid to her drink and turns somber. “Anything else happen with Dana after I left?”

I inhale at the memory of my mother’s withdrawal during our conversation, then let it out. “No. Like I said, she fell asleep. I went outside into the hallway and paced. My father found me and gave me a pep talk, then proceeded to ask if I was fucking you, and that was it.”

She sets her fork down and gapes. “Your father asked if we were—”

“Fucking. Yes. He’s worried you’ll break my heart.”

She shakes her head. “He did not say that.”

“No. I made that part up.”

“What did you tell him about us?”

“That, as of earlier tonight, I wouldn’t dare to stand close to sharp objects when you were around.”

She presses her hand to her forehead. “Oh God. What did he say?”

“He told me to apologize to you.”

“For what?”

“He didn’t care what I did. He just said to apologize. He claims that’s how he’s stayed married all these years. Then he went back inside the apartment.”

“Does your mother know?”

“No. But after I told her I own a BDSM club tonight, she’d probably say I’m not good enough for you.”

“That’s not true. She loves you, Mark. Her reaction to what you shared tonight was about how helpless she feels—not about you. She’s always better when you’re here.”

“Her reaction didn’t say ‘trust.’ ”

“She’s fighting cancer, and she just heard you own a BDSM club. It was overwhelming.”

I grab her knees and turn her to face me. “I handed over management of the club to someone else.”

“You don’t have to tell me this.”

“No, but I want to. I started it seven years ago, but it was never about sex to me, and my sexual partners were few.”

She tilts her head and studies me. “If the club wasn’t about sex to you, then what did it mean?”

“Being the ultimate Master in control. And I know that sounds arrogant, but it wasn’t about ego.”

“Then what was it about?”

I pull back, letting my hands fall away from her. “I don’t know anymore.”

She gives a slow nod. “I understand. I didn’t mean to push for too much.” She starts to turn and I grab her legs.

“You didn’t ask too much. But things that made sense for a lot of years suddenly don’t anymore. That’s why I came here tonight. I don’t know what this thing is between us, but I’ve done so much denying in the past—and this feels like it’s the only thing honest in my life right now.”

She leans forward, her hands settling on my arms, and I can almost feel her touch calming the storm that’s been raging inside me for weeks without end. “Whatever this is or isn’t, you made sure it’s honest when you came here tonight.”

Tags: Lisa Renee Jones Inside Out Romance
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