But it’s too late. If I send her away, fire her, alienate her, and tell my mother why, her safety would still be at risk. There is no way to be sure she’s safe except to keep her right here, right now.

A dark edginess I know all too intimately begins to overtake me, a part of the Master that has been long buried hard and fast in the act of sex.


Aware that time is ticking, I stalk toward the bedroom and open the door. It’s empty, the bed still a mess from where we slept. Together. I don’t know how it’s happened, but since the day I met her, she’s become such a part of my life that no matter how I fight it, or her, she’s in my blood—a part of why I exist. Yet so is Rebecca. I don’t understand it, and I do not like things that I don’t understand.

I walk into the bathroom to find Crystal in her pink robe, finishing her makeup. Memories of Rebecca doing the same freeze me in place, as I realize the intimacy this means I have now with Crystal. And I like it. I like it in a way that I never allowed myself to with Rebecca—which rips at me like a chain saw.

Crystal’s eyes meet mine, and I know she’s seen what I feel. My ability to hide my emotions has gone to shit, along with my ability to deny they exist—at least where she’s concerned. I have that sense of connection with her. It’s a vulnerable moment, and I find myself fighting the rawness of the emotions it stirs. My cock thickens, the need for sex and release—my way of coping with what I don’t want to exist—hitting me hard and fast.

“We’re leaving at nine, instead of eight thirty,” I say, walking past her to the shower. After stripping down, I open the door to turn on the water and don’t wait for it to warm. Stepping forward, I let the cold water wash over me and turn my back to Crystal, pressing my hands on the wall.

“Mark.”

Her voice whispers over my nerve endings and my body doesn’t seem to care how cold the water is. I want her. “Not now, Ms. Smith.” I grab her shampoo and soap my hair, the damn flowery scent surrounding me. I rinse it off but it’s too late; the scent is all over me. I wipe water from my face, smooth my hair back, and turn to the damn wall again, smelling roses and jasmine mixed together. Rebecca. Crystal. Confusion.

The door opens, telling me Crystal has ignored my dismissal, but what’s new? I cut her a hard look over my shoulder. “What part of ‘not now’ do you not understand?” I ask, my eyes traveling her naked body, her tight little pink nipples, and I growl low in my throat with the thickening of my cock, turning away to let my head fall forward.

“Oh dear God,” she gasps, “the water is freezing.” In a moment the cold becomes warm, like my blood.

“Go away, Ms.—”

“Crystal,” she corrects as she ducks under my arms to rest on the wall in front of me, her hands settling on my chest and turning my warm blood to hot.

Grinding my teeth, I compel myself not to touch her. “Damn it, woman. Don’t you get it? I fuck when I’m in a bad place. That’s what I do. I fuck, and I need to fuck you right now.”

She wraps her arms around me, my erection pressing against her hip, and it’s torture, absolute torture, not to touch her. “Then fuck me,” she whispers.

“What part of ‘we don’t have a condom’ have you forgotten?”

“I’m on the pill.”

“And you didn’t tell me last night,” I say, part a demand for explanation and part accusation.

“You told me you always use condoms. I knew that made you safe for me, but I wasn’t sure you’d think it made me safe for you.”

“How many partners?”

She blinks. “Partners? Oh. Partners. One without a condom, and I lived with him for over a year. He was clean. I made sure of it, and just to be clear, I’d never go without a condom for a one-night stand. Or even several, like we were. But now you’re—”

“Moving in with you,” I say, wrapping my fingers around her neck, pulling her mouth a breath from mine. “That means you belong to me now.”

“No,” she says. “It means—”

My mouth slants over hers, cutting off her words, my tongue pressing past her lips, delving deeply, possessiveness rising in me so intense that it’s a living, breathing thing. I hate the man she lived with. I deepen the kiss, wild hunger rising inside me, driven by darkness and the self-blame that I’ve lived with for ten years. What am I doing with Crystal? What the fuck am I doing?

I turn her into a corner, my hands on her shoulders, and step back enough to loosen her grip around my waist. “You should get me the hell out of your life, before I destroy you like I did Rebecca. Tell me to leave.”

She laughs without humor. “Like you’d listen?”

“Damn it, tell me to leave, Crystal,” I demand.

“Your staying or leaving doesn’t impact the premise of your demand, which seems to be that I have no control over myself. That’s wrong. I decide who destroys me, not you, Mark Compton.”

“You think Rebecca didn’t say that?”

“Apparently being a Master has confused you, or made you a little too arrogant for your own good. I have a mind of my own.”

“That’s what she said.”

Her hands go to my arms. “And she left you, Mark. That’s not a woman who lost her backbone or her own mind. She wasn’t too weak to survive you and whatever you think you did to her.”

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