James moved close against my back, wrapping his arms around my shoulders. I could tell by her eyes on those arms that Jolene did not appreciate the sight. “Perhaps I’ll tell him what you’ve been up to. Just how tolerant do you think your husband will be if he knows that you’ve been up to your old tricks?”
She stiffened, looking just a touch alarmed, before schooling her face into a serene expression. “He won’t believe you. And even if he did, you’d never do that. You know how much it would hurt him.”
“It’s becoming very clear to me that the truth couldn’t possibly hurt Scott as much as you have, Jolene. I don’t have an ounce of patience left where you’re concerned. Keep that in mind.”
A movement caught the corner of my eye and I glanced behind Jolene, to where a figure was eating up the ground as a large man strode purposefully towards our group.
He was tall and lanky but still moved with the fit stride of an athlete. His coloring was similar to James’s, with light brown hair and very tan skin, though his had most likely come from the sun. As he got closer, I saw that his turbulent eyes were dark brown. At a glance he might have resembled James, but on closer inspection, his good looks were more rugged—less refined.
“I told you to stay away from my wife,” the man growled as soon as he was within earshot. I realized with a little jolt of surprise that the man looked very familiar. I couldn’t place where, but I had definitely seen his face somewhere. “Yet somehow, every time I turn my back for five minutes, here you are. You need to let her go, James.”
James stiffened against me, but his tone was surprisingly bland when he spoke. “You need to think about what you’re saying, my friend. She hasn’t been honest with you, and if it was up to me, I’d never set eyes on her again. Your wife has been stalking me and my girlfriend, and I have had enough of it. I’m in a serious, committed relationship, and I want nothing to do with her. I didn’t touch Jolene when I found out she was your wife three years ago, and I most certainly wouldn’t now. If I could go back in time and save you some pain, Scott, I would have never touched her at all, and I certainly never would have introduced her to you. She’s not who you think she is. She’s not worthy of the pedestal you’ve put her on.”
Scott did not take his words the way that I knew James had intended him. I could tell by the sincerity in his voice that James had only been speaking the brutal truth.
Scott sneered. It made his face ugly. “Watch your mouth. You’re talking about my wife.” His raw gaze turned to me. “So he’s in a serious committed relationship with you, huh? You should know that he doesn’t know the meaning of those words. He’ll toss you aside like all the rest. If you’re lucky, he’ll pass you off to a rich friend when he’s done with you.”
I was turning into James’s chest even as he moved. I buried my face in his neck, gripping my arms around his ribs, holding on tight.
“Don’t,” I murmured into his neck. It stopped his movements. Scott had been trying to goad him, and I knew it had worked, but I needed James to control his temper—to control his fists. James wrapped stiff arms around me, as though unable to ignore my affectionate gesture, even in a rage.
“If you ever speak to her like that again, you will regret it,” James said, his voice filled with an awful rage.
Scott snorted, and even from that noise I could tell that his temper was every bit as close to the surface as James’s. “You’re worried what I’ll say to her? You fucked my wife, James, God only knows how many times, and you’re worried that I’ll what…hurt your latest fuck’s feelings?”
James turned me gently, ushering me to the elevators directly behind us. He stroked his hand over my hair, and I could feel that it was trembling. “My love,” he said, his voice hoarse, but still managing to be tender. “I need you to go upstairs. Please, wait for me. I’ll be joining you momentarily.” He pressed the button as he spoke, still clutching me close.
I wanted to say something, wanted to plead with him not to do anything rash, not to get himself into trouble, or worse, hurt, but I couldn’t seem to make myself speak.
The elevator stopped, the doors opening, and I stepped inside without a word. Blake and Johnny filed in behind me, and I was relieved that at least two of the bodyguards remained with James.
The elevator doors closed and we began to go up. I had no idea what floor we were going to, or even how many floors there were. I glanced at the panel to see, but my eyes just glossed over and I lost my train of thought.
The elevator finally stopped and I followed Blake out. My mind distractedly noticed that my surroundings were rich and opulent, my heels clicking smartly on dark marble floors, but my mind was still stuck on what could be going on downstairs—what I’d been too much of a coward to stay and watch, or even stay and prevent.
A young, polished brunette greeted us from behind a massive desk. “Ms. Karlsson, Ms. Blake, Johnny,” she murmured as we passed her. I wondered how she could have known me by sight. No doubt it was obvious by my armed escorts…
All of this was just a distracted, distant thought, as well, as Blake led me into a huge office that had windows lining more walls than not.
Blake did a thorough search of the office, checking every inch of the space and inside of the two doors that attached. Johnny stayed close to my side as she did so. I thought they were a little overzealous, but what did I know?
Blake finished her search, giving me a severe nod when she finished. “All clear, Ms. Karlsson. We’ll be right outside if you need anything.”
I heard the door click shut behind me. I dropped my purse somewhere on the floor as I made my way to the windows. I noted absently that the office decor didn’t have the James touch. The mood of the office was all old-fashioned New York, with an antique desk and ancient hardwood flooring. The chair behind the desk was antique brown leather, as well as the couch. Even the rugs had an old money feel. It was so uncharacteristic for James that I stood pondering it for a long time, letting the strange decor distract me.
When that grew tiresome, I moved to the window, looking sightlessly at the spectacular view of Manhattan.
I had no idea how long I stood there like a statue before I heard the door open and then close behind me. The click of a lock being engaged was unnaturally loud in the quiet as death silence of the room.
“Turn around and look at me,” James said after a long moment, his voice low and rough.
It was insane, it was unreasonable, it was self-destructive…and masochistic, but I grew wet at the sound of that violence-roughened voice.
I turned around.
I studied him for a long time, my legs trembling as I took him in. I leaned back against the window for support.
His suit jacket was missing, his tie askew. The sleeves of his white dress shirt were rolled up. Rather messily, too, at least for him. I saw one lone drop of blood on his collar. I studied his face, then his arms. His knuckles looked a little swollen, his fists clenched, but his face was untouched.
“He was a grown man who had insulted the most important person in my life. The most precious thing in my world. Twice. Wipe that fucking scared look off your face. I would never punch you, never attack you without restraint. But I will punish you.” As he spoke, he began to unbutton his shirt, pulling it free of his beige slacks. His erection was outlined heavily against that pale fabric.
I licked numb lips. “For what?”
“For that look. For that lack of trust. For leaving me for days, whatever the fucking reason. And you were late.”
He strode to me, shirtless and impossibly beautiful, his stark muscles working along his perfect golden skin with every step. I watched my name, etched in crimson on his chest, as he moved closer to me.
His heavy hand fell to my nape. He pushed me slowly to the desk with just that contact. He pressed me, firmly but gradually, until the front of my torso was flush against the top of his desk, my hipbones digging into the edge. His hands moved up under my dress with no hesitation, gripping my lacy thong and pulling it down my legs with one smooth motion. He touched one ankle. “Lift,” he ordered curtly.
I lifted my foot. He repeated the process on the other leg.
His fingers moved against my back, unclasping my bra through the silk of my dress, as only someone experienced with that process could be. He worked it off me swiftly, leaving my dress intact.
He flipped the silky skirt of my dress up over my hips, leaving my ass and sex bare for his perusal. He stood silently at my back for a long time. I squirmed.
“Close your eyes,” he ordered.
I heard him stride away. A door to my left opened, then closed. I could hear my own breath panting out of me. I was in a state.
I heard him approach me again long minutes later. He wasn’t trying to be quiet.
“Grip the edge of the desk,” he ordered.
“Anything to say?” he asked me coldly.
I didn’t know where to begin, didn’t know what he wanted, but I had to try. “I’m sorry, Mr. Cavendish.”
“What are you sorry for?”
“For all of it. For leaving you for days, whatever the reason. For being late. Please…”
He struck, harsh bristles striking against my backside. I wriggled. It smarted, but didn’t precisely hurt. It was like being whipped with very thick hair. That was perhaps why he didn’t hold back, striking again and again without pause. I shifted against the desk, moaning.
He pressed a hard hand to the small of my back, holding me immobile while he worked me over. He spread the whips over my butt and thighs liberally. This went on for endless moments while I writhed.
Abruptly, he stopped. I could hear his harsh breath.
“Do you like the horse-hair flogger?” he asked.
I made a little humming noise in my throat. “I do, Mr. Cavendish.”
“That was what would be considered a warm-up, Bianca. Do you know what that means?”
I shook my head. “No, Mr. Cavendish.”
He moved into me, pressing his heavy, trouser-clad erection flush into my sex and leaning down heavily against my back. He breathed his next words into my ear. “Open your eyes.”
I did, getting only a sideways view of the desk that I was sprawled against, since James was on my back. He laid a heavy black and blue object there. I couldn’t understand what I was seeing at first.
It looked almost like a bouquet of flowers, yet not…
Heavy, dyed leather was shaped beautifully into blue roses on the ends of thick black leather tails.
I licked my lips, suddenly more nervous and scared. There were a dozen of the ominous looking buds.
James brought the stiff leather handle of the torture device up to my cheek, and I watched those heavy flowers drag across the desk as the flogger moved. He traced my cheek.
“The horse-hair flogger was a warm-up,” he repeated, “and what that means is that I have plans for you, Bianca, and the pain hasn’t even begun.”
I took unsteady breaths, then stiffened as I heard the unmistakable sound of a zipper.