I spasm, oh how I spasm, deeply, almost painfully, and he lets out a guttural groan that’s so fierce and hot, it makes me moan. He drives into me one last time and I feel his release as I shatter into my own.

As I slowly come back to reality, Mark rolls to his side, pulling my back to his front. His powerful leg twines between mine, and my cuffed arms come to my chest. He strokes my hair. “Are you okay?”


“Yes,” I say, my lashes fluttering, limbs heavy. “Just so very tired.”

“An adrenaline spike will do that.”

“Yes,” I whisper, unable to open my eyes. I think the bed shifts, but I’m too relaxed to check. So . . . relaxed. I feel Mark pull out of me, then open my eyes to watch him stride into the bathroom in all his naked, masculine perfection. I bet he really looked good in baseball pants.

He returns, his eyes meeting mine, and I suddenly realize that I’m cuffed, and he spanked me. I also told him that I belong to him. That’s the part that really gets me, and makes me look away. The mattress sinks in with his weight and he presses the towel between my legs and embarrassingly, but sort of sweetly, cleans me up.

He stares down at me. “How are you?”

“You already asked me that.”

“Actually, I asked if you were okay. How are you?”

In love, I think, but instead I say, “Good.”

“Just . . . good?”

“Yes.” I lift my arms and show him the cuffs.

He reaches down and frees one of my arms, his eyes darkening. “Leave the other on, in case we get the urge to play again.”

“Again?”

He grabs a pillow and spoons me again, wrapping his arm around me and twining my legs with one of his once more. “That’s right,” he says near my ear. “I can’t seem to get enough of you.”

I smile, pleased with this answer. “I guess it’s mutual.”

“It had better be. And just for the record, you taste like honey, but you smell like jasmine and rum.”

“Vanilla,” I whisper.

“Sweetheart,” he says. “There is nothing vanilla about you, or us.”

I’m smiling all over again, letting my lashes lower, and feeling the weight of the cuff on my wrist. He’s right. We are not vanilla. And I do believe I like it.

Mark . . .

I absently caress Crystal’s naked hip, inhaling her sweet scent and listening to her steady breathing. She’s exhausted, and while adrenaline has something to do with it, I also suspect the insane hours she’s been working to run Riptide and support my mother are the real culprit. And me. This woman is a part of our lives in every possible way, and I don’t deserve her. I want to, though. God, how I want to.

“I belong to you.” She said it like she meant it. And I’m going to make sure she does.

She twitches sharply, murmuring something in her sleep I can’t make out. Another twitch, and her voice lifts. “No. No. Stop! Let her go. Let her go! No!” She jerks to a sitting position, her breathing coming in heavy gasps.

My hand goes to her arm. “Easy, sweetheart,” I say, in eerie remembrance of doing the same with Rebecca after her many nightmares. “You had a bad dream.”

She looks at me uncomprehendingly, her mind still in the nightmare. “Dream?” she repeats, lifting her hand to her face, the cuff dangling off her wrist. She jerks it in front of her and stares.

“Crystal—”

“Get it off! Get it off!” She turns to me, grabbing my arm, not even realizing she can just pull it off herself. “Get it off now!”

“Easy, sweetheart.” I grab her arm.

“Hurry! Now! I’m going to . . . I need— Hurry!”

I unlatch the cuff and she scrambles off the bed and runs into the bathroom, trying to slam the door behind her. I follow her and find her trembling on the floor by the toilet, her knees to her chest, her head on her knees. This strong woman who’s gotten me through so much is trembling.

Snagging her pink silk robe from a hook, I kneel in front of her and wrap it around her shoulders.

“Hey,” I say, using her greeting.

She doesn’t move. “I can’t talk right now.”

“Then we’ll just sit.” I join her on the floor, leaning against the wall beside her, my hip and leg pressed to hers.

She lifts her head, angling her body next to mine. “Why are you on the floor?” she demands, looking appalled despite the tears streaking her cheeks.

I caress them off her face, wondering what kind of monster torments her this badly. “Because you’re on the floor.”

She swipes at her cheeks. “I so hate you saw me like this. And stop being crazy, Mark. Get up.”

“The only thing crazy would be getting up without you.” I soften my voice. “Do you want to talk about it?”

She presses her hand to her face, then curls it at her mouth. “No. Not now. Not yet.”

The inference that someday she will is enough. “I just need to know one thing.”

Her gaze meets mine, the torment still there. “What?”

“Did I set this off? Did the bondage?”

“I have these nightmares.” Her robe starts to fall and I reach for it, catching it for her.

“Put your arms in, sweetheart.”

She stares at me, and I can see her trying to read me—which is ironic, because for once, I’m an open book. After a moment she shoves her arms inside the robe and I tie it at her waist.

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