“You started tearing pages out of my rulebook the night I met you.” I round the desk to stand beside her.

“Good point,” she murmurs. “So let’s dig in and eat before it gets cold. I hear cavemen lose their alpha if they go without food for too long.”


I arch a brow, taking one of the bags from her. “Cavemen?”

“What else do you call someone who threatens to throw me over his shoulder, in front of an audience?”

“Would you prefer over my knee?” I ask.

Her eyes flicker with surprise. “Maybe I shouldn’t feed you after all,” she quips, grabbing a bag and marching toward the seating area by the bookshelves.

Laughing, I watch her cute little ass wiggle for every second I can before she claims one of the two red chairs.

Already in pursuit, my cock thickens with the chase she has made more than about sex. There’s something about this woman that calls to some part of me that’s been long suppressed. And I can’t even remember why I’d once thought that awakening was a bad thing—not with her floral scent teasing my nostrils.

“You’re quite good at evasive maneuvers,” I comment, claiming the seat next to hers.

She sets her bag on the small glass table, and I do the same with mine.

“I’m sure I have no idea what you’re talking about,” she replies, swiping a lock of long blond hair behind her ear, exposing her high cheekbones and perfect ivory skin.

She is beauty, wit, and graceful femininity. I don’t know how I ever thought she wasn’t my type.

“Why run, when I mentioned turning you over my knee? The shower spanking didn’t seem to be a problem. Quite the opposite.”

She swallows hard but doesn’t back down, her eyes meeting mine as she angles toward me. “This is not a conversation people have over chicken sandwiches.”

“Am I wrong about the shower?”

“No. No, you aren’t wrong.”

“You liked it.”

“I liked that you opened up to me, no matter what you thought the consequences might be. It’s the kind of honesty and vulnerability that I think is rare for you. And that’s why I was able to go where we went. But this is new territory for me.”

“Everything about you is new territory for me,” I say. “And though there are things we should discuss, not here, not now.”

She covers my hand where it rests on the arm of the chair with hers, and I understand the message. She’s touching me. I’m letting her. “I know that I’m new territory for you, too.”

“But?” I ask, sensing there’s more she hasn’t said.

“But . . .” Her hand falls away, and I feel the loss as quickly as I do the instant tension in her. She faces forward, rubbing the back of her neck.

“I pushed you too hard,” I say.

“No,” she counters quickly, cutting me a look. “No, you didn’t.”

“You just withdrew from me,” I point out, prodding her to say more.

“Here’s the thing,” she says, turning toward me. “If anyone else had done what you did to me, I would have been freaked.”

My brow furrows. “You mean the spanking.”

“Yes. I mean . . . that.”

“A spanking,” I say. “There’s nothing wrong with the word or the act. It’s intimate. It’s trust, and unless the person doing it hurts you, which should never be the case, it’s erotic. It’s supposed to turn you on. Don’t let society make it taboo, so you have to feel guilty for enjoying it.”

“I don’t. I decide what’s okay for me. And that’s just it, Mark: I decide. The fact that I liked the spanking, or because you teasing me about another turns me on, doesn’t mean I’m a submissive in training.”

“The idea of me turning you over my knee aroused you?”

In true Crystal form, her chin lifts, her eyes meet mine, and she boldly, yet evasively, replies, “You arouse me.” She turns away, reaching for the bag in front of her and making it clear she’s done with the topic as she adds, “You have the drinks and I have the grilled chicken sandwiches.” She sets one in front of her. “And since there were no healthy sides, I ordered you two sandwiches.”

Trying not to smile, quite certain it might get me smacked, I start unwrapping one of the sandwiches. “That’s perfect. And speaking of healthy, how’s the gym at your apartment?”

“It’s well equipped, but packed. I like to go late at night when it’s empty, and I can have it all to myself.”

I set the drinks on the table and discard the bag. “I’ve never been big on crowds, either.” While the idea of sharing a life with Crystal is complicated in too many ways to count, it feels right to me, rather than what’s safe. That’s what control has been to me—safety. “And I work so much that late nights are inevitable.”

“Same here.” Unwrapping her sandwich, she says, “I love the convenience of my apartment’s location and the shops inside the building and nearby, but I don’t love that it’s highly populated.”

“You need a larger place, where you can have your own gym.”

“One day,” she says, taking a bite of her sandwich.

I’m certain she could have it now if she asked her father. “Your place is small because you pay for it yourself, correct?”

“That’s right,” she says. “My father insisted on helping me get into a safe, nice place to live right out of college. I insisted I foot the bill, which meant it had to be a place I could afford. We battled to come up with a place we could both live with, and our compromise was the great security and neighborhood to please him, and the small size to suit my budget to please me.”

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