“I know he was somehow involved.”

“He’s really what’s motivating your anger and need for vengeance, isn’t he?”


“I considered him a friend. He tried to bury me with the police. He did bury Rebecca, and I’m going to force him to confess.”

“How?”

“Don’t worry. Killing him doesn’t interest me. Even torturing him wouldn’t last. I have other plans. Like I said—tell me to leave and I will.” I push off the wall and exit the shower.

“Mark,” Crystal says, but I don’t want to hear her logic and reason.

Grabbing a towel, I dry my hair and wrap it around my waist.

“Mark,” she calls again.

I walk into the living area and roll the cart with my bags into the bedroom. There I grab a garment bag and set it on the mattress, and remove a suit, shirt, and tie.

I half expect Crystal to appear and tell me to leave, but she doesn’t. Maybe she doesn’t know what to say to me. But I need to know what she has to say, what she thinks. I need her forgiveness.

Like I need what I can never have. Rebecca’s forgiveness.

Twelve

Crystal . . .

I turn off the shower, replaying the first bite of his palm on my backside. He spanked me. I can’t get my mind around the reality of it—or Mark’s confessions. Far more emotionally frazzled than I let on, I wait, expecting flashbacks from the past . . . but they don’t come. They just . . . don’t. This experience hasn’t triggered memories, yet his harshness in his parents’ library did. It says something to me about what I felt from him then and now, and that explains how I was aroused, not afraid.

But what he did to Rebecca . . . I’d never tolerate such things, but his reasons, though flawed and even unforgivable in many ways, were honest. And I’m not sure he’s been honest with himself in a long time. I’m pretty sure I haven’t been with myself, either—and maybe that’s part of our bond. He admitted things to me that he hates about himself, and he’s claimed he needs us to be the one honest thing in his life. And I think that translates to his need to have someone in his life who trusts him, when he doesn’t trust himself.

And there it is. The reason I said “yes” to the spanking.

On some level, I’d known it was about trust.

Shaking myself, I step out of the shower. In a rush of activity, I dry off, attend to my hair and makeup again, and finally pull on tights and a red dress with a belted waist and a fitted skirt. With a deep breath, I prepare for whatever I might feel when my eyes meet Mark’s, and I enter the bedroom. He is nowhere in sight.

Exiting into the living area, I find him standing at the floor-to-ceiling window just outside of my dining area, which connects to my living room. He’s on the phone. “From what I understand,” he says, “the first thing the police did when Corey woke up from his beating was ask about me.” He pauses. “My thoughts exactly. I need my attorney here, not in San Francisco. I’ll pay whatever it takes to get the plane here tonight.”

Easing out of the room, I allow him privacy and return to the bedroom. Noting the open garment bag, I walk to it and stare down at the contents, contemplating all I’ve experienced this past hour. No matter what, I have feelings for this man, and I know in my heart that he needs to have a safe place to heal and to let go of his anger. I remove several suits from the bag and carry them to the closet, shove my clothes to one side, and hang up Mark’s things.

After finishing the task I come face-to-face with Mark, and I’m jolted by the dominant force of his presence. His blond hair is still damp, lying in ringlets around his classically handsome face, and his amazing body is perfection in a dark blue suit paired with a red tie.

He glances at the empty garment bag and the closet, then back to me. “What are you doing?”

“Making sure you know I’m not ordering you to leave.”

“Then you’re not as smart as I thought you were.”

“On the contrary,” I say, unfazed. “I’m not as shallow-minded as you apparently think I am. I can see beyond my own hand.”

He arches a brow. “And my hand?”

Unbidden heat simmers in my stomach, and I don’t understand this reaction—or many of my reactions to Mark Compton. Shoving it aside, I softly add, “I can see beneath your skin.”

His eyes darken as he steps closer, our knees brushing. “Who was he?”

“Who?”

“The man you went on the pill for.”

“Does it matter?”

“Yes.”

I believe his need to know is just about being a control freak, and I don’t hold back. It’s not some golden secret, especially around Riptide. “Nathan Monroe.”

He arches a brow. “As in the new ‘it’ artist?”

“Yes, though I dated him while he was still a starving artist. When he found success, it went to his head. He became a conceited jerk. The only plus in his corner afterward, at least per my father, was that he could finally pay his own bills.”

“He hit big six months ago. So you broke up when?”

“Five months ago, and your mother cheered me on as I dumped him. She’d helped me get him some notice.”

He stares at me, his expression unreadable. “I’ve always said my mother is the biggest bitch on the hill, and the kindest flower in the garden.”

“I get the feeling her son has the same characteristics.”

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