Mark doesn’t give me time to revel in the sensations, lifting me and setting me on the floor, then turning me to face the mirror. A few strokes of his fingers between my thighs follow, quickly replaced by the hard drive of his cock stretching me, pleasing me. The thick pulse of his shaft presses to the deepest parts of my sex, creating a fierce physical need. Everything about him makes me need. And need more.

My head drops forward and his fingers instantly twine into my hair, pulling my head up. “Look at me,” he tells me, thrusting harder, deeper, as if punishing me, the movement an erotic tug on my scalp. I can hear my own panting, the raspy, urgent whimpers I make. And that mirror is a window to his need, his passion and demand. Seeing this, knowing I’ve created it, sends me over the edge. Without warning, no chance to delay and savor our shared pleasure, my sex spasms and my eyes close. But this time, Mark doesn’t seem to notice. As I am lost in my release his hands leave my hair, bracing against my hips for a fierce, final thrust.

I’m in the aftermath of the desire-filled escape that he so easily creates, my knees weak. I’m about to collapse when Mark catches me, steadying me. Once I’m steady he pulls out of me, leaving me gasping with the suddenness of the action. The sticky, wet proof of our intimacy is instant, and I grab the towel on the sink.

Mark’s eyes meet mine in the mirror. “Still feel delicate?”

“Not at all.”

“Are you sure? Because—”

“I’m sure.” I turn in his arms and wrap mine around his neck. “I need to know you can handle my past, and not do what you did tonight.”

“I can handle anything you need me to handle.”

My past simmers on my tongue, but I contain it, still uncertain of its release after the reserve he showed tonight.

He is a Master. It’s still a part of him, no matter how he’s softened.

Twenty-two

Crystal . . .

Sunday morning begins with Mark receiving a million phone calls. I hop into the shower to get ready for my spa day with Dana. By the time he heads to the bathroom, I’ve showered and dressed in dark navy jeans, a “Pink” brand T-shirt, and pink Keds.

I’m in the kitchen, coffee cup in hand and wondering about Jimenez, when Mark walks in and proves he does faded jeans and a navy blue Ralph Lauren shirt as sexily as he does suits. “I’m coming with you to my parents’ house,” he announces.

I crinkle my nose. “You want to be at our spa day? You realize it’s hair color and nails and other girly stuff, right?”

“Wouldn’t miss it,” he confirms, walking to the cabinet for a cup.

I watch as he fills it. “You were on the phone a long time.”

“I wanted to get everything out of the way before we’re with my mother. To summarize: Jimenez is already on the FBI’s wanted list, but they’ve now issued a bulletin that he’s potentially been spotted with Ava, who is also on the list.”

I inhale and let it out. “But no news on where they’re at.”

He gives a grim shake of his head. “No news.”

I nod, and hyperfocus on refilling my cup to keep my mind from going crazy, thinking about how Jimenez scares me. “What about that detective who tried to ambush you at NYU? Has he backed off, now that Jimenez is in the picture?”

“My attorney is in Long Island dealing with him, but no. He thinks I created the story to get attention off me.”

I set my cup down, indignant for him. “He can’t be serious.”

“I wish he wasn’t.”

“So now what?”

“Royce wants to talk to your father’s security people.”

I feel the blood drain from my face. “Why?”

“He’s just trying to make sure everyone is on the same page and safe. Can you call your father and arrange it?”

I grab my phone from the counter. “Yes.” The knot in my stomach seems to be growing by the second. This hired professional killer, who has me, and the people I love, on his radar, terrifies me.

* * *

Hours after arriving at his parents’ place, I’ve managed to set everything aside and laugh with Dana and Mark. Dana’s hair is colored, mine is cut, and both of us have manicures. By the time the stylist has left, Dana is smiling but worn-out. With plenty of time left before our evening dinner with my family, Mark and I settle on either side of Dana on the bed to watch television. When she flips the channel to the movie Message in a Bottle, Mark grumbles, but he endures. It’s charming, sweet, and sexy, and I wonder how he managed to keep this part of him alive, when he’d wrapped himself in hard control for so many years.

It’s a good day that’s made even better when Asher, the tattooed employee of Walker Security I’d met a couple of days before, drops by to let us know he’s located the press leak in the building. Turns out it’s the mailman, who has been “dealt with.” We cling to the small piece of good news as if it’s a big breakthrough.

Later in the afternoon, Mark and I stop by a specialty retail shop he favors, and he purchases a large selection of clothes, having brought a limited quantity in his suitcases. Aside from how intimate the shopping experience feels, it delivers a sense of security I don’t realize I need until I experience it. He’s filling the closet here with me, intending to stay in New York.

Too soon, it’s time to head to my apartment—our apartment—and change out of our jeans to something nicer for the family dinner. Mark dresses in black slacks and tailored white dress shirt, going sans jacket, while I choose a casual red dress to match his tie. The red had been Dana’s suggestion to bring us luck, which I fear we’re going to need tonight.

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