I took his hand and held it in my own. I traced the lines in his palm. I was overwhelmed and grateful that he felt that way. That no matter what, our future meant more to him than a woman who’d done nothing but try to tear us apart. I would have loved him and understood either way, but I felt his fervency and loyalty in the deepest places of my heart.


“Thank you,” I murmured.

“I mean it,” he said softly, tipping my chin to meet his warm gaze. His tightened expression had relaxed. Love replaced the concern and unease that had swept in over our moment.

“I know, and I’m grateful. I want you to know that if you change your mind—”

“I won’t.”

I simply nodded, sensing something final in the way he said it.

“You’re a better person than I am, Erica. I’m not sure if I could ever let you go to the side of another man who ever had your heart.”

I laced our fingers together. “You’re the only man who’s ever had my heart, Blake.”

“Thank God for that.” He kissed me. “Come on. Let’s go inside.”

CHAPTER FIFTEEN

BLAKE

Erica had skipped work for the appointment on Monday, and the day had ended in bed. Just her and me, between the sheets.

I couldn’t keep my hands off her, which was par for the course. But Erica was changing. She was fiery and more sensitive at once. Responsive in new ways. Tender in others. Physically, I felt like I was discovering her all over again. There was something magical and terrifying about all of it, but I wouldn’t want to be on that roller coaster of emotion with anyone else.

I woke up in the morning entranced by the woman lying beside me. Her light hair was a tangle on the pillow. Her lips parted as she slept soundly.

I’d been with plenty of other women, but all the shameless nights I’d spent at The Perle couldn’t measure up to one night with Erica. No one had ever ruled my heart like this. No one.

My thoughts floated to Sophia, the only one I’d confused the word love with. I lay back on the bed, trying to ignore the visions my imagination was conjuring of her in the hospital. She was hurt. To what extent, I wasn’t sure. I wanted to know and I didn’t. I’d cut her out of my life completely, but my conscience nagged me. This morning, my conscience spoke in a voice that was too reminiscent of Sophia’s, insisting that she needed me.

Sophia had often walked a dangerous line when it came to the lifestyle. I’d struggled over that line many times. With Sophia. With others. But I’d never battled so hard with it until Erica. Realizing early in our relationship that she’d had a violent sexual past, I made the decision to walk away from anything that could bring her back to those memories. I wasn’t sure how successful I would be at the time, but Erica hadn’t given me the chance to try. She’d never questioned my basest desires when it came to sex. Even this weekend, her second failed attempt at dominance, was proof of her openness. The fighter in her seemed intent to try those limits and push past boundaries, some of which I wanted her to heed more carefully, for her own sake. Not to mention mine.

But every time, somehow, we found pleasure. We found each other.

Nothing so profound had materialized with my ex. My dominant appetites had tailored to Sophia’s submissive tendencies easily, but I soon realized that her needs went far beyond simple submission. She’d beg for pain—the kind that left marks for days, the kind that threatened to scar.

If my desires had grown dark, they’d been inspired by something far darker in her. Despite all her begging to have me back, Sophia didn’t want a Master. She wanted a monster, and I couldn’t be that for her.

I’d come unhinged only once. I’d flown to New York City on a red-eye from the West Coast, exhausted and ready to see her. What I found instead was her and Heath passed out in bed, semi-clothed. I didn’t bother to ask whether or not they’d fucked. Half a dozen other people I’d never met were in similar states of post-bender undress all over the condo. I’d sent Heath and his cohorts packing.

When I came for her, seeing twelve shades of rage, she’d never flinched. Satisfaction simmered in her eyes, as if she’d orchestrated the whole damn thing to stir my jealousy and bring out a side of me that I’d always regret. Nothing about the punishment she took at the end of my belt had brought me solace, though. The way she always did, she’d begged for more when she’d already taken more than I could stomach. She wanted me to fuck her after, to take what was mine. But she wasn’t mine anymore. Something in me always knew that whatever I’d had with her had been tainted. And whatever she and I had was already fucked from the start.

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