My lips part at the surprising command. “You want me to—”

“Yes,” he says, his tone firm. “I do.”

“And so I will,” I say. “And you know why?” I move across the elevator and slip my hands under his jacket to rest on the hard wall of his chest. “Because it’s not a lack of trust that I have in you, and that you think you see in me, Chris. It’s your lack of trust in you that scares me.” I start to pull away, but his fingers twine in my hair and he kisses me, deeply, possessively, so damn thoroughly that I’m reeling when it’s over.

“Go undress,” he orders, saying nothing in reply to my confession, and making none of his own.

I want to push him for something in reply, anything really, but the elevator isn’t the place. I zip out of the doorway and all but run through the foyer and down the stairs. I begin undressing, the moonlight and stars filtering through the floor-to-ceiling windows, casting the room and me in a soft glow. Stealing a sideways look, hoping to catch a glimpse of Chris, I do not see him, but music begins to play and I recognize the song as “Madness” by Muse. Aware that Chris makes every choice with a purpose, I listen to the words.

I, I can’t get these memories out of my mind.

And some kind of madness has started to evolve.

Mmmm. And I, I tried so hard to let you go.

Swallowing hard, I know he’s connecting the meaning of this song to the war he wages daily against his inner demons, and to his fight to protect me from the person he believes they make him.

More of the words repeat into my mind. And Now I need to know is this real love, or is it just madness keeping us afloat. He’s telling me he’s afraid I won’t love him if I fully know him. It’s always there between us. He’s fighting it now for me, and for us, and it matters. It matters so very much.

I finish undressing, and then claim a spot in the center of the brown leather couch. Before me is a sea of stars dotting the black canvas of the sky, and I am reminded of the first night I’d come here, when I’d been enamored with the brilliant artist, unwilling to see him as more. We’ve come so far since then, and yet I feel as if we still have barriers to hurdle. And I want them hurdled.

There’s a tingling to my skin a moment before Chris, wearing only his low-slung jeans, appears to my right, and I feel that familiar punch of awareness. It burns and spreads, like warm honey in my blood, between my thighs. He affects me in ways I didn’t know another human being could affect another, and in this moment, in this instant where I feel beyond my body, nestled deep in my soul, I know he was right in that bathroom tonight. It terrifies me to think of how deeply him leaving again would cut me. But I also know I’ve made the decision to take that risk.

He walks to the coffee table and pulls it back several feet, giving us space for what I’m certain will be wicked torture. I see it in his eyes as he steps closer and does a sweeping, seductive inspection of my naked body; my gaze lands on the rectangular box he’s holding. He goes down on one knee in front of me and he sets the box on my legs. And while I know our games, and I know not to touch it as surely as I know not to touch him, I still have to curl my fingers around the leather seam of the couch to stop myself.

“Open the box,” he orders, and his eyes hold the dominance I’d seen in that bathroom mirror before he’d spanked me. But there’s a hint of something more, something that reminds me of the vulnerability I’d seen in him last night. He’s opened himself for me to see this, and it’s this willingness to give himself to me that spreads hope over my fears.

I reach for the box and my hand trembles with the rush of adrenaline and anticipation pumping through my body. He seems to understand, taking the lid from me and setting it aside. And then I just sit there, staring down at the pink, fluffy paddle inside.

“It seemed much less intimidating on the website,” I comment.

His fingers slide under my chin, lifting my gaze to his, and I feel that tiny little touch in every part of me. I want him. I want him badly. “You can always say ‘no.’”

“No. I mean yes. I mean—”

He leans in and kisses me, and there’s a soft brush of his lips over mine, a sensual lick of his tongue before his mouth is gone and I am captured in the gentle command of his stare. “Pick it up and hold it. Get used to how it feels.”

I inhale and breathe out as I flatten my hand on the paddle, letting the fur tickle my palm. He reaches down and closes my hand around it, moving the box to set the paddle back on top of my legs. “It’s a different feeling than my hand.”


“Different. Not harder. Lean back and hold your weight on your hands.”

Obeying him has become automatic and I do as he’s ordered, the position thrusting my breasts into the air. Chris’s gaze rakes over me, a hot sensual stroke I feel everywhere and yet nowhere. He does not touch me. It’s the fur paddle that contacts my skin, brushing over my legs, my arms, my belly, and finally, my sensitive nipples. He takes his time, missing nothing, returning to this place or that place. Warmth tingles through me, the tension in my muscles easing. More of that slick honey slides through me to settle heavily between my thighs.

But just when I forget that this is the prelude to what is defined as “punishment,” Chris lets the paddle fall away from me and he claims the cushion beside me. “Sit up on your knees and face my lap.”

I see where this is headed with a hard smack of realization. He wants me across his lap in the most vulnerable of ways. “Chris, I—”

Tags: Lisa Renee Jones Inside Out Romance
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