“If I thought you believed I did, I wouldn’t be here.” I take the bag from her and set it on the bed, returning to caress her coat over her shoulders. She slips it down her arms, and I catch it before it falls, tossing it on top of mine.

We stand face-to-face, staring at each other. Her trying to read me, me trying to stop thinking about her trying to read me, and just get to the craft of fucking. “I’ve been thinking about getting you naked all day long.” I tug her front zipper down to her waist, granting me a delicious slice of skin.


“I generally think you have on too many clothes,” she replies, her voice a soft rasp of desire.

My gaze lifts to hers at the uncensored comment. Always honest. She is who she is. And that, to me, is even sexier than the sexy-as-hell red lace bra now exposed, the material barely covering her nipples.

“You’re going to get plenty of me naked tonight, I promise you.” My gaze lowers to the swell of her breasts and I trace the line of lace, letting the material and my fingers tease her nipple covers.

Her breathing deepens in response, a subtle sign of hyperarousal that tells me I affect her as deeply and intensely as she does me. Honest. The word rolls through my mind again, followed by another. Trust. Suddenly, I know that’s what I need tonight. That is what is driving me. I need to know that, after everything I’ve told her about how I behaved with Rebecca, she knows I won’t hurt her, and I won’t let anyone else hurt her. And I need to know she can still see the man I want to be, not just the one I let myself become.

Gently, I settle my hand on the side of her neck. “Trust me,” I murmur softly. “Give yourself to me, Crystal, and I won’t make you regret it.”

She tilts her head and studies me a long moment, and I find myself holding my breath, waiting for her decision. I’ve used seduction to gain control many times, and played erotic games that ensured it. And though the chemistry between us is strong enough for me to do that now, it isn’t what I want. Her freely offering it is the only option for either of us.

Understanding and acceptance fill her face. “I trust you, Mark Compton. And I want you to trust you again.”

I inhale sharply at the depth of her ability to see inside my battle, which has become our battle, as well. “When I tell you to do something, you do it. There’s a price for hesitation.”

“What kind of price?”

“Nothing I won’t announce in advance, and even that, you can decline. It’s always your choice. But don’t take the power of saying ‘no’ or ‘stop’ lightly. I don’t. If you speak those words, I will stop. So make sure that’s what you really want. Understand?”

“Yes,” she says firmly. “I understand.”

Desire rips through me and I move backward, leaning on the wall to the bathroom.

“Undress,” I say softly.

Her hands slip beneath the shoulders of her dress and she pulls the sleeves down her arms. She shimmies the dress down her hips, leaving herself in tights and her bra. Without hesitation, she reaches for her bra.

“The tights first,” I tell her, saving the bra, and the nipple suction cups beneath it, for the moment when I have total control.

She does as I command, sitting on the edge of the bed to roll them away, taking her panties with them. I watch the silky expanse of pale skin appear, the triangle of blond hair in the V of her body, heat stirring in my own, cock thickening, but I don’t move. I wait. Watch. Anticipate the way she’ll taste, smell, and feel.

Task complete, she starts to stand, but I stop her. “Stay right there.” She sits back on the bed, unhooking her bra. Arching her shoulders, she drags the lacy material forward, freeing her breasts, and gasping as the nipple covers tug with the release of the pressure the bra created.

I push off the wall and walk to her, going down on one knee in front of her. I reach for the bag and set it on her knees. “Open it.”

She inhales, and on her exhale she reaches for the string tying the velvet closed. She tugs and the bag opens, revealing a pair of three-inch-wide red leather cuffs with silver clips. She stares down at them, unmoving, unspeaking. Several moments pass and she doesn’t look up.

“Crystal,” I say, but she doesn’t respond. I’m not sure she’s even breathing.

Crystal . . .

The room closes in on me, the past a wicked gloved hand wrapped around my throat, making breathing and thinking nearly impossible.

“Crystal,” Mark says again and I tell myself to look at him, telling myself I’m strong enough not to show my panic.

“Ms. Smith.”

My gaze snaps up at the sharp command in his voice. “Crystal,” I correct.

“Who owns you, Crystal?” he surprises me by asking.

I blink. “What?”

“Who owns you?”

“I do.”

“Not tonight. Tonight, I own you.”

Unbelievably, with the outrageous declaration that should have me fighting mad, that gloved hand slides away from my throat. I trust Mark, even if he doesn’t. And if he owns me, the past doesn’t. I almost sag with relief. “For the night,” I concede. “You own me for only this night.”

He agrees, tossing aside the velvet bag and picking up the cuffs. “Set your hands on your knees.”

I glance at them and back at him. “I think I’m more of a silk tie kind of girl.”

“Silk ties require knots, and if you want to get free I can’t do it quickly.” He shows me the silver clips on the side of the cuff, using his finger to flip one back and forth like a light switch. “You say you want to be free, and you’re free.”

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