I turned to go, but didn’t move quickly enough when his hand made hard contact with my ass. I felt the sting through my jeans and fought a smile. I pushed through the door and hurried upstairs.


I fidgeted in my chair. My ass still stung a little from the solid spanking Blake had doled out the night before. That was after I’d spent a great deal of time on my knees. God, did the man love to see me on my knees.

But there had been more at play last night than Blake’s kinks. Frustration rolled off his tongue with every sharp demand, every fierce drive that took us over the edge again and again. My willing submission had come with a price. I was fighting back for the control I’d once promised him.

And I would keep fighting for the right to call the shots until Alex took over the business. Holding onto that level of control, now that everything was changing so dramatically, was worth it. Sore knees and all.

Plus, I’d left my own marks and had my own fun. Blake never tormented me to any degree without matching it with a heavy dose of sexual satisfaction. The slight discomfort of my ass was a casual reminder of yet another sleep-deprived night in Blake’s arms, at his mercy. I crossed my legs, hoping to dull the pulsing ache there.

I pushed sordid thoughts from my mind and read a message from Geoff reminding me about our meeting this week. I was looking forward to chatting with him and learning the details of what he had planned, but now I considered putting it off. I had no idea what my own future looked like. How could I make him any promises of being able to help him?

Finances weren’t the issue. If I didn’t invest my own money, Blake would invest “ours.” But with a sale of the business, I could pay Blake back the loan he’d made toward Clozpin and possibly fund Geoff’s business too. Quiet satisfaction took root when I imagined making a tiny seed grow again on my own, without the overwhelming wealth and security of Blake’s bank account and business prowess. I could do it, and I couldn’t deny the part of me that craved this new opportunity. In the boardroom, Blake had encouraged me to grab what I wanted and go for it. If it made financial sense, that was what I was going to do, but I had to break that news to Sid first.

I sent him a message, and a minute later he was sitting across from my desk. His tall frame overwhelmed the chair as he leaned back with tired eyes and a tall energy drink in his hand.

“What’s up?”

I drew in a deep breath. “I wanted to talk to you about a new direction for the business that I’m considering.”

His eyebrows went up, a new alertness brightening his eyes.

“Alex Hutchinson wants to acquire Clozpin.”

He paused. “What would happen to the team?”

“Alex assures me that everyone’s jobs would be safe. He’d add language to any sales agreement to that effect. Obviously you and Alli would be cashing out along with me, but we could all keep running Clozpin as long as we wanted to be involved. He said he really wants me to stay and keep doing what I’m doing here.”

A slight frown wrinkled his forehead. I found myself mimicking his expression, waiting to hear his reaction. I’d never been one to make blanket decisions for the team. Alli and Sid always brought something valuable, and Alli’s words last night still lingered in my mind. They echoed my own fears. The big, scary what-ifs that I had to consider if everything went wrong. “Interesting,” he finally said.

“Interesting, good?”

“Maybe. The financial security on a personal level would be good. I’ve been able to stash some money away since Blake still won’t cash the rent checks for the apartment, but I have my own ideas that I wouldn’t mind working on.”

My heart fell a little. “You don’t think you’d stay?”

He shrugged. “Shouldn’t shock you that I’m not that much into fashion. I’ll stay as long as you want me to though. I’d never abandon the project. We’ve put way too much into it. Whether we sell or not, I want to see it successful.”

“Are you worried about selling it too soon? Alli thinks we might be leaving money on the table.”

He twisted up his lips again. “I guess that all depends on what he’s offering and what we want to walk away with. Ultimately, it’s your call, Erica. We put you at the head of the project, and so far you’ve done a good job steering us in the right direction. If you think this is what we should do, I’m behind it.”

I released a relieved sigh. “Thanks, Sid. For everything. I can’t imagine coming this far without you and Alli. No matter what happens, I want you to know that.”

His cheeks darkened and his gaze dropped to the floor. “Thanks. I feel the same way. We’ve made a good team.” The way he said the words sounded oddly like a goodbye.

With each passing moment I felt more and more committed to the prospect of selling, even as I waited for Alex’s offer.

Alli popped in, interrupting us. “Hey, um, Alex is on the phone.”


Sid rose. “I’ll leave you to it. Keep me posted.”

“Of course. Thanks, Sid.”

He and Alli left me alone. My stomach flipped. Had he reviewed the financials so quickly?

I picked up the office line. “Alex, hi.”

“Hi, how are you?”

“I’m doing well. You?”

“Good.” He sighed, and for a moment, I wasn’t sure I believed him. “I looked at the financials last night.”

I clicked my pen anxiously. “Okay. Did you have any questions?”

“No, not really. I assume the fact that Blake reached out to me means you are open to offers though, correct?”

My heart stilled. I hoped my shock wasn’t obvious to him.

“Y-Yes. I mean, if it makes sense financially.” I winced at my stammering.

“Of course. In that case, I’m sending you over our initial offer this morning. There’s one issue.”

“What’s that?”

“I don’t typically like to rush things, but time is of the essence on this. I’ll need an answer from you tomorrow.”

My mind spun. Shit. “Okay, is there a particular reason why?” I hesitated to ask, but I wanted to know what was spurring this sense of urgency.

“Nature of the beast, I suppose,” he said quickly. “I think you’ll be happy with the offer though. We don’t have a lot of time for negotiating specifics, so I’ll be sending it over with a draft of the agreement. If everything looks good on your end, we can move forward pretty quickly on this.”

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