“You promise?”

“You have my word.”


“What are you going to do to me?”

“If I were to tell you, it would destroy both the anticipation and the freedom that full trust gives you, and us. Rest your hands on your knees.”

He wants trust. He needs trust to heal. I need to get over my fear of being trapped, to heal. I flatten my palms on my knees.

“Turn them over, wrists up.”

I do as he says and I expect him to attach the cuffs, but instead he leans down and kisses one of my wrists. His tongue flicks the sensitive skin, sending shivers up my arm and tightening the suctions on my nipples. Lingering there, he drives me wild with erotic sensations as he drags his lips up and down my arm, inhaling deeply as he returns to my wrist, his brow furrowing as he glances at me. “Why do you smell like jasmine and rum?”

“Jasmine and rum?” I laugh, a ball of tension in my belly dissolving at the unexpected comment. “I have no idea about the rum. My shampoo and bubble bath are jasmine scented. The perfume roller I keep in my purse is vanilla.”

He brings my wrist to his nose again. “Rum.”

“Vanilla,” I say.

He flattens my hands back on my knees. “Whatever it is, you smell good enough to eat.” I squeeze my thighs together a little tighter at the erotic words that have me thinking about all the places his tongue could soon be; I’m distracted enough that I’m shocked when the first cuff closes around my wrist. The second cuff follows, and my laughter fades while my heart does this crazy fluttering thing that can’t be good for me. I inhale to calm myself, a technique a therapist I saw in my teens taught me.

Mark snaps the clasps into place on the cuffs, his gaze lifting sharply to mine. “Why is your leg trembling?”

“Adrenaline,” I say, pretty certain that’s what has my heart jumping around as well.

He laces the fingers of one hand into my hair. “Are you scared?”

“No. Yes. No. Damn it—I keep sounding indecisive with you, and I’m never indecisive.” I try to be clear. “I’m not scared of you. The lack of control thing is an issue for me.”

His expression tightens. “We don’t have to do this.”

“I want to,” I say quickly, aware that he’s reading my reaction as a lack of trust. I laugh nervously. “Unless you’d rather skip the cuffs and look for the rum? Preferably with your tongue?”

He releases my hair and reaches for the clasp of one cuff to free me. I grab his hand. “No, I was joking. I’m okay.”

“You don’t seem okay.”

“We both have some things to work through.” Seconds tick by, and I am certain he’s waiting for more—but like him, I’m not ready.

“I’ve said this before, but I want to be very clear. You are freedom to me, Crystal. A place I can be the man beneath the Master. Where my pain isn’t my weakness. I want to be that with you, but to do that, you have to be willing to be vulnerable.”

“I really do that for you?”

“Yes. That’s why I say this is honest. We’re honest and real, and those are things I’ve missed in my life. Let me show you how experiencing an intense, erotic scene ensures there’s no room for anything else.”

“You never leave room for anything else. But does ‘intense’ mean pain?”

“It doesn’t have to, but it can.”

“Pain to you is what?” I ask, the cotton in my throat making my voice gravelly.

“It depends on the person and the scene. A spanking can come in many erotic forms. You can add flogging or clamping or both. Caning is the most intense, reserved for people who are on the more extreme end.”

“I don’t even want to know what that is.”

“You don’t have to know. I wouldn’t do anything I didn’t give you a chance to decline. And once our mutual perimeters are set, a Master is supposed to know when, and what, is too much. That doesn’t come without nurturing the bond and taking things slowly.”

“Between Master and submissive,” I say, concerned that that’s where he’s taking this.

“Between two people, Crystal. Even without the BDSM elements, good sex is about caring enough to learn about the other person. And letting go of control isn’t a chore for a natural submissive. You aren’t that. But letting go for a few hours doesn’t make you a submissive. It gives you relief from the pressure of always trying to maintain control.”

“When do you get that relief?”

He cups my face. “When we make love. I only make love with you. That’s the trust I give you.”

My doubts fade. He’s intense. We’re intense together. There is no room for the past. “I’m giving you trust. I wouldn’t let anyone else cuff me. No one.”

He brushes his lips over mine. “And I won’t betray that trust.”

Nineteen

Crystal . . .

Mark’s kiss lingers on my lips, his hands on my face, but it’s his words that really get to me. We make love. I know this doesn’t mean we have a future together, but it tells me that we’re more than these leather cuffs—and that dissolves the prickling sensations and warms me inside.

I know he wants to protect me. I know he doesn’t want to hurt me. I’m okay. I can do this. I can overcome my past and finally leave it behind me.

My bravado fades the instant Mark’s hands slide away from my face, his body no longer touching mine. My gaze drops to the cuffs around my wrists and the prickling begins again, the urge to jerk against them almost too much to resist. I’m cold and on edge; dark shadows cloud my mind and transform into flickering images. I inhale, fighting this damnable weakness. I just want it to go away.

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