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The Master Undone
Another scotch and soda, Mr. Compton?â€
On any other day Iâ€™d stop at one drinkâ€”but not today. I hand the flight attendant my empty glass. â€œLeave out the soda this time.â€
â€œYou got it,â€ the woman says, smiling brightly. â€œScotch straight up, on its way.â€
Her overly cheery tone hits a raw nerve, reminding me of just how fake much of the past two years of my life has been. But then, I let it become that way. I chose to ignore things I shouldnâ€™t have, and someone I cared deeply for paid the price.
As if that isnâ€™t enough, Iâ€™m rushing to see my mother through her unexpected cancer diagnosis and emergency surgery. Thereâ€™s nothing fake about that. Itâ€™s as goddamn real as it gets.
Loosening my tie, I sink down into the deep first-class seat, attempting to get comfortable despite feeling shredded. Iâ€™m hoping a little more alcohol will give me some much-needed sleep between San Francisco and New York, and maybe slow down the demolition process going on in my mind.
Yeah. That would be good. Anything to stop my mind from running wild. Iâ€™m supposed to be able to control my thoughts. Iâ€™m a Master. A title that defines who I am and how I stay grounded. My thumb is always on the pulse of everything that happens around meâ€”or so I thought. For the first time since college, Iâ€™m not sure if thatâ€™s true. Iâ€™m not sure it was ever true, and I donâ€™t know where that leaves me. I donâ€™t know who that makes me.
â€œScotch straight up.â€
Inhaling a heavy breath, I turn back to the attendant and accept the drink. â€œThank you.â€ My gaze touches her badge and I add, â€œMs. Phillips.â€
â€œCall me Emily,â€ she encourages, and her tone is far warmer as she asks, â€œIs there anything else I can get you?â€ Thereâ€™s no mistaking her flirty, lingering emphasis and I study her, taking in her attractive features in a completely removed fashion. She is pretty, a brunette, which I favor, and well-endowed in all the right places, but she is not what I need. And I do need. Sex is my drug, not booze, but itâ€™s no escape right now. Not when I donâ€™t have control. Never without control.
I down my scotch and hand my glass to Ms. Phillips.
She arches a delicate brow. â€œAnother?â€
â€œNot this time. I know my limits.â€ And I value my minimal control too damn much to give any more of it away to a bottle of scotch.
Ms. Phillipsâ€™s lips curve seductively. â€œI bet you do,â€ she purrs. â€œIâ€™ll be around if you need me.â€ She walks away.
Turning back to the window, I assure myself that I do know my limits. What got me in trouble was forgetting my rules, getting too close to my sub when I knew she wanted more than I had to offer. Silently, I curse. I canâ€™t bring myself to think of the woman Iâ€™ve lost as just thatâ€”just a subâ€”but I struggle with the emotions her name stirs inside me. And I have to stop struggling. I have to get control of myself.
Rebecca. There it is. Her name. And with it, her eternal absence that I can never mend. The news of what became of her is still too raw, only forty-eight hours old. Iâ€™m struggling to deal with how my mistake led her into the path of another jealous woman with a horrific outcome. This is twice in my life Iâ€™ve let someone get close to me, only to see that person hurt. Iâ€™ll never let that happen again.
Once my flight lands in New York, Iâ€™m anxious to get to the hospital. I quickly make my way to the baggage claim and locate my carousel. With some fast footwork Iâ€™m at the front of the crowd and Iâ€™ve just snatched my single piece of luggage, besides the one hung over my shoulder, when I hear, â€œMr. Compton?â€
I turn to find a pretty blonde standing before me, her long, silky hair draping the shoulders of her pale pink, primly cut suit jacket. I arch a brow at her. â€œAnd you would be?â€
â€œYou are the Mark Compton, correct?â€
â€œIâ€™m Mark Compton,â€ I confirm, wondering where this is headed.
â€œI thought so. I recognize you from your picture at Riptide.â€ Her perfect pale cheeks flush. â€œOh. Sorry. I should introduce myself.â€ She offers me her hand. â€œCrystal Smith, the new head of sales for Riptide, and thrilled to be working at one of the most prestigious auction houses in the world.â€
I donâ€™t reach for her hand. But my need to avoid touching her isnâ€™t control, itâ€™s weaknessâ€”and I hate weakness. I close my hand over hers. â€œNice to meet you, Ms. Smith.â€ My palm warms, and I donâ€™t want to be warmed by this woman, or by any woman I havenâ€™t chosen as a submissive.
Her lashes lower, and I know sheâ€™s hiding her reaction to the touch. Despite myself, I am intrigued. Even more so when, almost instantly, she smoothly recovers and her lashes lift, her eyes directly meeting mine. Any sign of whatever sheâ€™d felt is gone.
Impressed by her rapid recovery and quick control, Iâ€™m surprised by how reluctantly I release her hand. Iâ€™m rarely reluctant about anything. â€œSince when is it the duty of the sales manager to pick someone up at the airport?â€
Her brows dip and she gives a delicate snort. â€œItâ€™s not like youâ€™re just anyone. Youâ€™re your motherâ€™s son.â€
I inwardly cringe at the sore spot sheâ€™s hit. I love my mother, but thereâ€™s a reason why I opened my gallery across the country. â€œShe ordered you to pick me up.â€
Her lips curve. â€œYour motherâ€™s as feisty as ever from her hospital bed.â€
â€œIâ€™m not surprised,â€ I manage tightly. Just thinking of my mother in a hospital bed creates a dull throb in my gut. â€œSheâ€™s impossible to say no to, even for me.â€
â€œI thought for sure her pride and joy would be the one person who could.â€
Fighting a wave of something dark Iâ€™d rather not name, I struggle to maintain my normal steely composure. â€œMy mother is the only person I canâ€™t say no to.â€
She gives me an odd, quizzical look. â€œThe only person?â€
â€œYes, Ms. Smith. The only person.â€
She frowns. â€œIâ€™m sorry,â€ she says, and then waves me toward the door. â€œMy carâ€™s parked in a fifteen-minute spot. Weâ€™d better run before I get towed.â€ She turns and starts walking, expecting me to follow.
I stare after her. Sheâ€™s sorry? What the hell does that even mean, and why do I have this intense need to race after her and ask, when I never run after anyone?