I tangle my fingers in her now damp hair. “You don’t know everything. You were right when you said I’m an asshole. I am.” I turn her to the wall and lean in close. “You want me to stay?”

“Yes.”


“Are you sure?

“Yes. I want you to stay.”

“Then you need to know who and what I am. I’m going to spank you and it’s not going to be gentle. And in the future I will flog you, clamp you, and torment you in ways that you have never dreamed of. Still want me to stay?”

“Mark—”

“Do you want me to stay?” I ask, rubbing her backside to get the blood flow where I want it.

“Yes. I do.”

I keep rubbing, warning her with my touch, preparing her. “Do you understand that means I’m going to spank you now?”

“I—”

“Do you—”

“Yes. Yes, I understand.”

I don’t hesitate. I squeeze her backside, caressing for several seconds, and she stiffens. “Relax or it will hurt more.” She doesn’t, and I command, “I said, relax your muscles.”

She makes several heavy, gasping sounds, but her body eases. Not giving either of us time to think, I spank her. One firm smack is followed by another, and another. Seven total, enough to leave a burn but no pain in its aftermath. The instant I’m done, I turn her and force her to face me.

She won’t look at me, and I don’t make her. I don’t want to see what’s in her eyes. I just want to take away the sting and give her the full experience, the full erotic pleasure this can be—not just the shock and pain. My fingers tangle into her hair, lifting her mouth to mine, and I kiss her, and damn it, she doesn’t taste like anger as I expect. She tastes like forgiveness and understanding that I don’t deserve. It’s me who becomes angry now, me who knows who I am, when she still doesn’t seem to understand. Guilt, so much fucking guilt, claws at my insides, at my mind.

I wrap my arms around Crystal’s waist and lift her. Her legs close around my hips and I bury my cock inside her, the only place that gives me any peace. She leans into me, her arms clinging to my neck, her sweetly scented hair teasing my nostrils, the now-hot water blistering my back.

And I want it to. I want the punishment, understanding Chris Merit and his craving for the whip now in a way I never have before.

Tightening my grip around her waist, I pull her down on my cock, thrusting upward. She moans, and I don’t even recognize the sound that comes out of my throat in response. I force us into a rapid pump, counting with each of the motions. One, two, three, four. I grind and thrust until finally, finally, I find that place where everything fades into erotic sensations, and I expect Crystal to be this nameless body . . . but she isn’t. Somehow, some way, in the dark place of pleasure I don’t deserve, I am aware that it’s her. I pull her closer, cupping her backside, holding her tighter.

She leans back to look at me, as if she senses the desperation that I don’t want her to see, but can’t hide. I see no contempt or blame in her eyes. I see the same understanding I tasted in her kiss, and the rush of pleasure borders on pain. My balls tighten, the edge of orgasm coming with unexpected force. Another thrust, another pump, another sound I don’t recognize from myself follows.

My lashes lower and my head sinks to her shoulder, hers to mine. Spots sprinkle the darkness behind my closed eyes, the intensity of being inside this woman almost too much to bear. She is my escape, not the sex, and it’s a terrifying reality. I need her. I want her. I can’t seem to let go of her.

“Oh God,” she pants, her lips brushing my earlobe in a rocketing sensation I feel in my cock. “Mark, I—”

She spasms around me and I pull her down hard on my erection, thrusting hard and deep. My release comes in an intense rush, and suddenly we’re both leaning against the wall, and I barely remember when I pulled out of her, or when her legs left my waist to settle on the floor. Or why we’ve huddled into the corner.

When reality comes back to me we stand there, staring at each other, the awareness of what has passed between us far more forceful than the water pounding on my back.

Her hand comes gently to my cheek. “You didn’t make Ava kill Rebecca. Stop blaming yourself.”

“I just spanked you, and you’re comforting me?”

“Did you spank me because it’s erotic, or because you wanted to scare me away?”

“I don’t know,” I say, and it’s as honest as I’ve ever been. She’s as honest as I’ve ever been in every possible way, and I find myself needing to know this is real. That something in my life is real. “What I do know is that I invited Ava and Ryan into my and Rebecca’s bed, even though I knew that she hated my sharing her. And hated them in particular.”

Shock rolls over her face. “Why would you do that?”

“Our contract said I could make that choice.”

“That’s not an answer. Why would you do that?”

“Because she was breaking down my walls. I needed to raise them back into place—yet I hated sharing her. So I selfishly made sure the only people who fucked her besides me, never had a chance to take her from me. It was my asshole way of being possessive while I held her at a distance. But Ava wanted me, and I’m sure Ryan wanted Rebecca. I created the jealousy in both of them that led to Rebecca’s murder.”

“You really think Ryan was a part of it.”

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