“Hiding? Alone?” I asked, feeling a deep wave of grief attacking every part of my being.
“It’s not ideal, but at least you will get to leave here with your life. Oz will make sure your housing and financial needs are met. More details will come once you officially earn the final credits. I told Oz to expect your release tomorrow.”
“But what if I don’t want that?” I said as I tilted my head so I could look up at him.
“To go into hiding?” His eyes darkened. “Would you rather go to jail? You don’t exactly have a lot of options here, Esme. I hope you aren’t stupid enough to think you can fuck with Oz and—”
“What if I don’t want to leave here?” I swallowed hard. “To leave you.”
Knox recoiled back as if I had just slapped his face. “What are you talking about? Of course you want to leave here.”
I shook my head. “No. I don’t.”
Knox shot to his feet, and his look of concern was quickly replaced by one of fury. “Have you lost your mind? You are about to be free. No more penance. No more punishments.”
“But also”—I sniffed as the tears finally fell from my eyes—“no more you. And I don’t want that.”
“You don’t know what you are talking about,” he snapped. He shook his head. “Of course you want to leave here. What person in their right mind would want to stay?”
“Me. I want to stay. To stay here with you.”
“Is that so wrong?” I moved myself into the kneeling position I knew Knox liked me to assume. “I don’t want to leave you. You said I was a shattered sparrow. You saw that in me the minute you laid your eyes on me, and you were right. I was shattered. Completely broken. But with you, I feel like all the parts are put back together. I feel safe with you and comforted in your hands, no matter how firm they are. You called me a pain slut, and maybe you are correct in that as well. I do like it. I love it.”
“Fine. Then explore your new submissive tendencies outside this manor. You don’t have to be here to explore that sexual side of yourself.” He said the words between clenched teeth. “I can’t understand why you would want to stay here.”
“Why do you?” I asked. “You said you were earning credits yourself. How many do you need? Maybe I can stay and help earn the credits for you so we can leave together.” Hope replaced the sadness in my heart. My idea seemed like a good one and one that maybe Knox would consider.
“My credits were earned a long time ago.” Knox walked over to the window and looked out, leaving me staring at his broad shoulders and strong posture that only made me crave to be in his arms once again. “I’m here by choice. It’s what I do. Who I am.”
“A sadist?” I was being far more daring and bold than I would have ever done before, but I couldn’t earn my five credits and never see this man again. I had to fight. I had to do something. I could see Knox slipping between my fingers if I didn’t do everything I could to stay.
“A monster,” he answered.
“You wanted to stay. So why is it so hard to believe that I want to stay as well? Oz wants me to stay in hiding. Why can’t I stay hidden here with you? With you to watch over me.”
“You don’t know me,” he said, still staring out the window.
“But I want to,” I countered. “There is so much I don’t know about you, but I do know that there is some sort of connection between us. There is something deep inside of us that deserves exploring. Yes, you awoke sexual desires I never knew before, but I know there is more than that. Tell me that I am wrong. Am I nothing more than just a woman who is paying her penance to you? Have I misread you completely?”
“I don’t know you,” he said as he turned to face me. “Not beyond these walls.”
“You know more about me than anyone ever has before. The real me. You have stripped me naked from the inside out. You said I was yours. I am! I truly am.”
“Esme, you have five more credits left.”
“No!” I screamed. “I won’t earn them. I won’t. I will fight you every step of the way. You can do whatever you want, but I won’t earn them.” I stood up and charged toward him. I was completely out of control, but the thought of being forced to leave was far worse than the thought of staying and whatever discipline he would issue for my outburst.
Knox met my charge and took hold of my shoulders to stop me. He then grabbed my neck and squeezed. “Do you have a death wish?” he asked.