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“Don’t say that. You’re not.”

“Like I told you. I understand Mark for a reason. Life taught us both that control is survival. When I don’t have it, it’s an issue for me. The difference between him and me, though, is that I know I have that issue. He does too, but doesn’t accept it. Or he didn’t. I’m not sure how he’s handling losing Rebecca.”

Her fingers flex into my bare arms. “I’m not sure how any of us are.”

“Together. We’ll handle it together.”

She nods. “I know. Let’s not talk about what’s waiting for us back in the States. Right now, I wish we could just stay here and never leave.”

“We’ll be back in a few weeks,” I promise, and for no identifiable reason, that burning sensation in my chest starts again. Determined not to let this be the start of my annual meltdown, which I knew Sara would either witness or prevent this weekend, I motion to a huge door. “I want to show you something.”

Pulling it open, I walk into the dark, twenty-foot-square empty room and hit the switch, turning on the dozen or so teardrop lights hanging from a high ceiling. Stepping back out, I motion Sara inside and, with curiosity brimming from beneath her long dark lashes, she enters. Leaving the door open, I follow her in. I’m greeted with one of Sara’s gorgeous, charming smiles while she holds her hands out to her sides to indicate the cushioned walls, covered with red silk.

“My mother used it like a giant bulletin board to pin all the ad campaigns for her cosmetics company in here.”

“So why don’t you have your drawings from your sketchpads pinned up?”

My hands go to her waist and I walk her back against one of the walls, trapping her legs with mine. “Hmmm,” I murmur. “I think I’ll use it for all the sketches I do of you.”

“I’ve only seen two sketches and two paintings. Today’s and—”

“The bondage painting,” I supply.


She sounds breathless. I like her breathless.

I untie her robe, brushing my fingers over her slender rib cage, traveling to the curves of her br**sts. “The one about trust.”

“I trust you, Chris.”

Trust. It’s something I value. It’s something I intend to deserve with this woman every day of the rest of our lives. I caress the robe off her shoulders, feeling the goose bumps that rise in its wake, liking how I’m never on edge alone with Sara. As I toss the garment aside, my gaze lowers sliding hotly over her full, high br**sts, then lifts. “Do you trust me, Sara?”

“I did say I’d marry you.”

The idea of Sara being my wife stirs a mix of heat and possessiveness that I never thought I would feel for anyone. “Yes. And being your husband gives me certain . . . privileges.”


My c**k thickens with the raspy quality of her voice. “I told you once that if you stayed with me, I’d own your body. Every last inch of it. Marriage seals that deal.”

“You already own my body, Chris. Sometimes too well.”

“Not yet. But I will, baby. You can count on it.” I back away from her and go to the far wall, grabbing the red leather stool resting against the wall and bringing it to the center of the room.

Her teeth scrape her bottom lip and I can think of all kinds of places I want those lips, and mine, as well. “What’s that?”

“A surprise,” I promise, unbuttoning my jeans and shoving them down my legs. Her gaze rakes over my body, all signs of shyness gone, her eyes lingering where my shaft juts forward, and I am instantly thicker, harder, ready for her the way I know she is for me. But it’s still not time.

I squat in front of the stool and remove two long, flat, rectangular boxes. “I brought us some toys.”

She swallows hard. “Toys?”

I open the larger of the boxes and pull out a pink, fluffy paddle we’ve joked about on numerous occasions.

She laughs nervously. “You didn’t.”

“I told you I ordered it.” I pat the stool. “The perfect companion toy.”

“So you want to . . . ”

“Bend you over it and spank you,” I supply. “Yes. Do you want me to?”

“I . . . I don’t know. I mean, yes, I do but . . . ”

“You’re not ready.”

Her eyes go wide. “No. I mean yes. I am.”

“No,” I say firmly, sensing she isn’t in the right place today. And respecting that is part of keeping her trust. “You’re not. You will be, but not now.”

“But if you—”

“I have other plans.” I open the second box and flip it around to display the butterfly nipple clamps inside.

“I should have known that was next,” she observes. While there’s still a nervous quality to her voice, the tension in her body eases, telling me we’re in her comfort zone even before she asks, “Will they hurt?”

“An erotic ache,” I explain, removing two pink sashes from inside a box. Then I walk to stand in front of Sara. “Put your hands over your head.”

She does as I say without hesitation, and the fact that she trusts me that much in the midst of the unknown gives me a high I believe she shares with me. I need this control. She needs a safe place to give it away. It works for us, and I will always be safe for her in a way the whip never was for me—a way I never wanted it to be. I will never hurt her as I wanted it to hurt me.