Theirs to Cherish (Wicked Lovers Series #8)

Theirs to Cherish (Wicked Lovers Series #8)

by Shayla Black

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The perfect place for a woman on the run to disappear…
Accused of a horrific murder she didn’t commit, former heiress Callie Ward has been a fugitive since she was sixteen—until she found the perfect hideout, Club Dominion. The only problem is she’s fallen for the club’s master, Mitchell Thorpe, who keeps her at arm’s length. Little does she know that his reasons for not getting involved have everything to do with his wounded heart…and his consuming desire for her.

To live out her wildest fantasies…
Enter Sean Kirkpatrick, a Dom who’s recently come to Dominion and taken a pointed interest in Callie. Hoping to make Thorpe jealous, she submits to Sean one shuddering sigh at a time. It isn’t long before she realizes she’s falling for him too. But the tender lover who’s seducing her body and slowly earning her trust isn’t who he claims...

And to fall in love.
When emotions collide and truths are exposed, Sean is willing to risk all to keep Callie from slipping through his fingers. But he’s not the only man looking to stake a claim. Now Callie is torn between Sean and Thorpe, and though she’s unsure whom she can trust, she’ll have to surrender her body and soul to both—if she wants to elude a killer…

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781101625767
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 03/04/2014
Series: Wicked Lovers Series , #8
Sold by: Penguin Group
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 400
Sales rank: 47,518
File size: 664 KB
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

Shayla Black is the USA Today bestselling author of over 30 sizzling contemporary, erotic, paranormal, and historical romances, including Ours to Love, Mine to Hold, Belong to Me, Surrender to Me, Delicious, Decadent, Wicked Ties, Bound and Determined (writing as Shelley Bradley),  and Strip Search (writing as Shelley Bradley). She lives in Texas with her husband, munchkin, and one very spoiled cat. In her "free" time, she enjoys reality TV, reading and listening to an eclectic blend of music.

Read an Excerpt



“I know this is awkward and that your pregnant wife is probably pissed you’re here, so I’ll make this quick. Will you help me disappear?”

Callie Ward stood with her arms crossed against the blustery November wind, just out of the beams of the mini-mart’s lights flooding the parking lot. She stared at Logan Edgington, nervously tapping her toe. The former Navy SEAL had no reason to help her, given how bratty she’d once been to him, but he was the only person she knew who could make her vanish, this time for good.

He crossed his beefy arms over his wide chest and looked at her as if she’d lost her mind. She’d lost everything else, so why not?

“Disappear?” He glanced at his watch. “It’s midnight, Callie, so yeah, Tara wasn’t thrilled when you called. I left my warm house for this ‘life or death’ shit, and you’re telling me now that you just want to get out of town? Didn’t I hear that you’re collared now?”

Automatically, Callie pressed her fingers to the bare hollow of her throat, missing the familiar wire of white gold with its delicate lock. “Yes, but—”

“You know how this works. Talk to your Dom.”

“He’s the one I’m running from.” Her voice trembled.

The moment Callie had realized the extent of her “Sir’s” betrayal, she’d run like hell. She’d gotten too comfortable. Complacent. Almost dangerously happy.

She sniffled, then sucked it back, refusing to cry. She would not think about the fact that she’d fallen in love with Sean Kirkpatrick—if that was even his name.

Logan’s pissed-off-Dom glower gentled as he leaned in, now all protective male. “Did he threaten you? Hurt you?”

Not the way Logan meant. But what the hell could she tell him without giving everything away?

Crap. The cover story she’d planned on the three-hour drive from Dallas to Shreveport wasn’t going to fly. Logan was too smart not to see the holes in her tale. Then again, sheer utter terror had a way of rattling a girl’s train of thought.

She was going to have to trust Logan or he’d walk away. It wasn’t as if he’d ever pursued her, so she couldn’t accuse him of prying the story out of her because he had ulterior motives. He’d only ever had eyes for pretty redheaded Tara. And he didn’t worship the almighty buck. Logan was one of the good guys, a straight shooter all the way. He couldn’t be bought, nor would he ever willingly put her in danger. It made sense to choose the devil she knew over the one she apparently didn’t at all.

If Logan was going to help her, he deserved the truth—but not here.

“Can we sit in your car? It’s freezing.” And she didn’t trust that hers wasn’t bugged.

Logan looked as if he didn’t much like the question, but after a brief hesitation, he shrugged and led her to a big black truck. He unlocked it with his key fob and opened her door. A minute later, he settled himself in the driver’s seat. “If this asshole hurt you, Thorpe won’t stand for it, especially under his roof.”

Mitchell Thorpe. She closed her eyes, picturing his familiar, stern face. So often, she could swear that his penetrating gray eyes saw right through her. He’d given her a job, a home, a circle of friends, a lifestyle she craved. He was the first man she’d truly loved. He’d always have a chunk of her heart.

It killed her to know that she’d never see him again.

“I can’t drag Thorpe into this. It’s too risky. Anyone who knows me would assume I’d go to him first.” She wrung her hands. “I hate to put you in this position, but no one would suspect that I’d ask you for help. Everyone at Dominion knows I’m not your favorite person.”

He frowned. “I like you a lot, Callie. I just think that, as a sub, you’re bratty as hell. You don’t bend much more than an inch and you don’t trust worth a damn.”

Callie drew in a breath and gave him a shaky nod. “I know. I have reasons.”

“Every stubborn sub does. Look, you’re not my problem anymore. I’m just laying it out there.”

“I really can’t afford to trust anyone, but you’re my last hope. I feel terrible for involving you, but more than anyone I know, you can handle it. I have nowhere else to turn. I can’t go back to Dominion. Ever.” She rubbed her hands together and closed her eyes, praying like hell that she wasn’t making the biggest mistake of her life. If she was, she could be dead by sunrise.

“What the hell have you gotten into?”

“My name isn’t Callie Ward. Nothing that you—or anyone else—thinks you know about me is true.”

He sat back in the shadows, looking somewhere between skeptical and tense. “Okay, then who are you?”

“My mother called me Callie when I was little. But I’m sure you know me by my full name.” She swallowed. Please, God, let this be the right choice . . . “I’m Callindra Howe.”

Logan’s eyes nearly popped out. “The Callindra Howe, the missing heiress from Chicago?”

Of course he’d heard of her. Her name had been splashed all over the news for the last nine years. There were almost as many reported sightings of her as there were of Elvis or aliens. Poor little greedy orphan who’d killed her family for a buck, according to the press. Callie wrapped her arms around her middle. If they only knew the truth . . .

She nodded. “That one.”

“Bullshit. You were a pain in my ass sometimes, but you’re not the kind of woman to slaughter her loved ones.”

“Thank you! I was framed. I don’t even know by whom or why.”

Logan’s expression turned flat. “Why should I believe you’re her?”

Good question. The only thing she had of her former life was her mother’s Fabergé egg, but Logan had no clue it had been Cecilia Howe’s pride and joy before ovarian cancer had quickly snuffed out the bright light of her smile. With no way to corroborate the egg’s authenticity at the moment, Callie had left it in her backpack, shoved in the trunk of her car.

“I’ve got nothing but the truth. I’ll tell you what really happened and hope that you’ll believe me so that when I beg you to make me disappear for good, you will.”

“I’m listening.” He tossed his forearm over the steering wheel and stared, looking like an immovable mountain.

Callie swallowed nervously. “What you know is that nine years ago, my father and sister were shot in our house and that the gun was found in my room, wiped clean.”

“Your boyfriend told everyone that you killed them for the money the night you ran off together.”

Holden had been gorgeous, defiant, wild, and full of grand ideas. In retrospect, planning to run off with him had been stupid, but her sixteen-year-old heart had believed in the concept of soul mates. She’d talked herself into believing that he was hers. If she’d had any idea that he would end up betraying her for money, she would have never accepted that first ride in his car or given him her virginity.

“He was willing to say anything for the big bounty on my head.” She snorted. “I was young and naïve not to realize that.

“We’d been planning to run away together for a few weeks. His family had no money, and he had a crappy home life. When he said that he wanted me to be his new family, my young heart fluttered. Besides, I didn’t want to be Callindra Howe anymore. I felt like a freak. Most girls my age took dance classes and worked a summer job to buy a beat-up car. I had riding lessons. I spoke fluent French. By the time I was ten, I’d visited every continent except Antarctica. I had a trust fund and got a Porsche the day I got my driver’s license.”

“It doesn’t sound that bad,” Logan drawled.

“In retrospect, it wasn’t. At the time, I felt isolated. I worshipped my dad, but he’d been remote since my mother’s death. And my younger sister, Charlotte, had turned rebellious.”

“So when your boyfriend paid attention to you in order to get laid and get closer to your money, you thought he was the answer to your problems?”

“Pretty much.” And her stupidity still stung. “Anyway, the night my father and sister were killed, I was late for our family dinner. The second the meal ended, I told my dad that I had to finish studying for a test. I ran back upstairs to call Holden and give him the green light. At a little after ten, I pretended to go to bed like all was normal. I’d packed the night before and I was ready to leave. I grabbed my backpack and was shoving in a few last-minute items when I heard the first shot downstairs, in my father’s room. I thought I had to be mistaken or my sister had turned the TV up really loud. Who would be in our house shooting? I heard Charlotte head down the hall and for the stairs.” Callie clenched her fists. “She screamed suddenly. I heard another gunshot, this one much closer. She didn’t scream again. I peeked out the door to see if I could help her, but the blood . . .” Callie pressed her lips together. “She was only fourteen.”

Her throat closed up and tears threatened, but Logan squeezed her hand. “Go on.”

“I wanted to run to her, but the killer started charging down my hall. So I grabbed my pack and climbed out my window, down the big tree to the ground. I’d done it a thousand times.

“He shot me just before I made it to the ground. Flesh wound to my hip. It stung like a bitch, and I bled off and on for days, but I kept running for my life. Holden was waiting for me in his car one street over. I got in, sobbing. I called the police and told them everything. They immediately suspected me when I told them I’d fled the scene. They wanted me to come in for ‘questioning’ and swore I was just ‘a person of interest,’ but within an hour, the media had me labeled a suspect. I was too dazed and scared to face interrogation. The whole thing was a blur, and I had no witnesses who could say I hadn’t killed anyone. I didn’t want to face the fact that my family was gone. So I ran.”

“No one suspected Holden? After all, if your father died, you stood to inherit a lot of money.”

She shook her head. “He parked in front of an elderly couple’s house. They spied on the teen ‘vagrant’ slouched in his beat-up Mustang for twenty minutes because he was blasting Usher in their very white upper-crust neighborhood. They were sure they’d be horrifically murdered any second.”

Logan’s mouth flattened in a grim line. “Then?”

“Within an hour, we traded vehicles with a drunk guy in a bar’s parking lot, Holden’s car for his old truck. The guy was wasted enough to say yes. After that, we headed from Illinois to Indiana.”

Callie hadn’t told any of this to a single soul—ever. Hell, she’d barely let herself think about it in years. Just saying the words hurt like peeling off the layers of her skin one at a time until she was a bleeding, oozing mass. The worst part was, she could spill her guts, and Logan might not believe her. He could call the police because it was the right thing to do. They would take her to jail. And who knew what would happen then . . . except that it wouldn’t be good.

“Then a few days later, your boyfriend ratted you out?” he asked.

“Yeah. I was still bleeding, my hip infected. Holden heard about the reward for turning me in and he called.” And damn if she wasn’t still bitter about that. “When I stepped out of the shower for my shampoo and overheard him on the phone, I threw on my clothes, took the truck, and split.”

“Keep going,” Logan demanded.

“From there, I dashed to the next town over and paid cash for a little sedan. I had about thirty grand with me, money I’d taken from my father over a few months so Holden and I could start a new life. My dad never missed it.

“Since it was winter, I bolted south. Spent some time in Kentucky. When people there got suspicious, I adopted another name, colored my hair, and slipped over the border into Tennessee. Mississippi, Louisiana, Arkansas, Oklahoma . . . Any place I could find a rent-by-the week motel and a transient job, that’s where I went, at least until I thought someone might be onto me. Then I’d be gone again.”

“How did you find Thorpe?”

“I waited on some lifestylers while working at a twenty-four-hour diner shortly after I got to Dallas. Some were still in their fet garb at three a.m. when they walked in. I was curious, so I asked questions. They gave me answers. One of the unattached Doms invited me to go to Dominion with him. Out of curiosity, I said yes. He turned out to be a troll, and it didn’t take Thorpe long to throw him out, but I begged to stay. I’d finally found the perfect place to hide. A secretive community where no one expects to know your real name and no one is going to out you. I could dress different, change my hair, wear a lot of makeup, and no one would raise a brow. Not a soul who knew me as a child would ever admit to knowing what a fet club was, much less think to look for me there. Thorpe asked a lot of questions at first. I made up a lot of lies. After a while, as long as I did my job and promised to give him a heads-up if I planned to skip out so he could hire someone else, he left it alone.” She sighed, struggling to hold it all in. “Then came Sean.”

“Your Dom?”

The sting of tears lashed Callie. She blinked to hold them back. “Supposedly, yes. I’ve dodged assassins and bounty hunters before and always managed to get away. This one is a different breed. He’s determined enough to find me again. That’s why I need your help. The man who’s supposed to protect and care for me, who’s pleaded with me to trust him?” She shook her head. “He’s trying to kill me.”

Three days earlier

CALLIE trembled as she lay back on the padded table and Sean Kirkpatrick’s strong fingers wrapped around her cuffed wrist, guiding it back to the bindings above her head.

“I don’t know if I can do this,” she murmured.

He paused, then drew in a breath as if he sought patience. “Breathe, lovely.”

That gentle, deep brogue of his native Scotland brought her peace. His voice both aroused and soothed her, and she tried to let those feelings wash through her.

“Can you do that for me?” he asked.

His fingers uncurled from her wrist, and he grazed the inside of her outstretched arm with his knuckles. As always, his touch was full of quiet strength. He made her ache. She shivered again, this time for an entirely different reason.

“I’ll try.”

Sean shook his head, his deep blue eyes seeming to see everything she tried to hide inside. That penetrating stare scared the hell out of her. What did he see when he looked at her? How much about the real her had he pieced together?

The thought made her panic. No one could know her secret. No one. She’d kept it from everyone, even Thorpe, during her four years at Dominion. She’d finally found a place where she felt safe, comfortable. Of course she’d have to give it up someday, probably soon. She always did. But please, not yet.

Deep breath. Don’t panic. Sean wants your submission, not your secrets.

“You’ll need to do better than try. You’ve been ‘trying’ for over six months,” he reminded her gently. “Do you think I’d truly hurt you?”

No. Sean didn’t seem to have a violent bone in his body. He wasn’t a sadist. He never gripped her harshly. He never even raised his voice. She’d jokingly thought of him as the sub whisperer because he pushed her boundaries with a gentleness she found both irresistible and insidious. Certainly, he’d dragged far more out of her than any other man had. Tirelessly, he’d worked to earn her trust. Callie felt terrible that she could never give it, not when doing so could be fatal.

Guilt battered her. She should stop wasting his time.

“I know you wouldn’t,” she assured, blinking up at him, willing him to understand.

“Of course not.” He pressed his chest over hers, leaning closer to delve into her eyes.

Callie couldn’t resist lowering her lids, shutting out the rest of the world. Even knowing she shouldn’t, she sank into the soft reassurance of his kiss. Each brush of his lips over hers soothed and aroused. Every time he touched her, her heart raced. Her skin grew tight. Her nipples hardened. Her pussy moistened and swelled. Her heart ached. Sean Kirkpatrick would be so easy to love.

As his fingers filtered into her hair, cradling her scalp, she exhaled and melted into his kiss—just for a sweet moment. It was the only one she could afford.

A fierce yearning filled her. She longed for him to peel off his clothes, kiss her with that determination she often saw stamped into his eyes, and take her with the single-minded fervor she knew he was capable of. But in the months since he’d collared her, he’d done nothing more than stroke her body, tease her, and grant her orgasms when he thought she’d earned them. She hadn’t let him fully restrain her. And he hadn’t yet taken her to bed.

Not knowing the feel of him deep inside her, of waiting and wanting until her body throbbed relentlessly, was making her buckets full of crazy.

After another skillful brush of his lips, Sean ended the kiss and lifted his head, breathing hard. She clung, not ready to let him go. How had he gotten under her skin so quickly? His tenderness filled her veins like a drug. The way he had addicted Callie terrified her.

“I want you. Sean, please . . .” She damn near wept.

With a broad hand, he swept the stray hair from her face. Regret softened his blue eyes before he ever said a word. “If you’re not ready to trust me as your Dom, do you think you’re ready for me as a lover? I want you completely open to me before we take that step. All you have to do is trust me, lovely.”

Callie slammed her eyes shut. This was so fucking pointless. She wanted to trust Sean, yearned to give him everything—devotion, honesty, faith. Her past ensured that she’d never give any of those to anyone. But he had feelings for her. About that, she had no doubt. They’d grown just as hers had, unexpectedly, over time, a fledgling limb morphing into a sturdy vine that eventually created a bud just waiting to blossom . . . or die.

She knew which. They could never have more than this faltering Dom/sub relationship, destined to perish in a premature winter.

She should never have accepted his collar, not when she should be trying to keep her distance from everyone. The responsible choice now would be to call her safe word, walk out, quit him. Release them both from this hell. Never look back.

For the first time in nearly a decade, Callie worried that she might not have the strength to say good-bye.

What was wrong with her tonight? She was too emotional. She needed to pull up her big-girl panties and snap on her bratty attitude, pretend that nothing mattered. It was how she’d coped for years. But she couldn’t seem to manage that with Sean.

“You’re up in your head, instead of here with me,” he gently rebuked her.

Another dose of guilt blistered her. “Sorry, Sir.”

Sean sighed heavily, stood straight, then held out his hand to her. “Come with me.”

Callie winced. If he intended to stop the scene, that could only mean he wanted to talk. These sessions where he tried to dig through her psyche became more painful than the sexless nights she spent in unfulfilled longing under his sensual torture.

Swallowing down her frustration, she dredged up her courage, then put her hand in his.

Holding her in a steady grip, Sean led her to the far side of Dominion’s dungeon, to a bench in a shadowed corner. As soon as she could see the rest of the room, Callie felt eyes on her, searing her skin. With a nonchalant glance, she looked at the others sceneing around them, but they seemed lost in their own world of pleasure, pain, groans, sweat, and need. A lingering sweep of the room revealed another sight that had the power to drop her to her knees. Thorpe in the shadows. Staring. At her with Sean. His expression wasn’t one of disapproval exactly . . . but he wasn’t pleased.

Sean sat, then pulled her onto his lap, supporting her back with a strong grip around her waist. He cupped her chin in his palm and sent her a pointed glance. “Eyes on me, lovely.”

She complied, trying not to think about the fact that it was getting harder and harder to meet his stare and not give herself to him for real.

Originally, she’d allowed Sean into her life because he irritated Thorpe, who sometimes looked at her as if she were the brightest star in the sky, then always chose another woman to master. She’d wanted to make him jealous. Hell, she’d wanted to see if he even gave a shit. Sean had walked into the club with his quiet sophistication and dry humor, taken one look at her, and never glanced at anyone else. It had done her ego a world of good—until Thorpe had removed his protection and allowed Sean to collar her. Without so much as blinking, he’d let her go.

So why the hell was Thorpe watching her now?

“You’re away with the fairies, Callie. Get out of your head,” Sean growled. “Focus on me. Or we’ll end tonight now.”

That would be better, smarter. And everything inside her rebelled at the thought of Sean leaving. She clung, in fact. After all, she never knew if she’d have a tomorrow with anyone.

“I’m sorry. I don’t mean to be preoccupied.”

His face softened a bit. “What’s troubling you?”

A million things she could never confess. She plucked at the first excuse off the top of her head. “You don’t want me.”

He grabbed her face in his hands. “You have no idea how untrue that is, lovely. I fantasize about laying you out under me and sinking so deep inside you that you’ll not ever forget the feel of me. Never doubt that I want you.”

His words made Callie flush hot all over. “Don’t you think sex would bring us closer?”

A wry smile crossed his wide mouth, and she couldn’t resist brushing her fingers through the waves of his dark hair. He was so blindingly handsome. He’d been her perfect revenge against Thorpe’s indifference. She just hadn’t planned on him stealing his way into her heart. And now she had no idea what to do.

“It’s a tempting notion, isn’t it? But I know me too well. Once we start that, I won’t stop. And we’ve far too much trust to grow between us to be distracted. I also know you. Sex is easy, isn’t it? True intimacy is hard. I don’t think you’ve ever had it, and you’re a bit too good at dodging it. I’m looking for more than a fuck, Callie. I want the real thing, and I won’t rush because my cock is aching.”

She had to find the only sensitive man in a BDSM dungeon. She would have been better off with someone who just wanted her to kneel, call him Sir, and liked to dish out a good paddling now and then. Perversely, that had never attracted her. Sean’s big heart did, and she feared that she would break both his and hers before the end.

Maybe this time will be different. Maybe the past will stay there. Four years is the longest you’ve stayed in one place. Maybe it’s time to stop running and finally live.

Callie drew in a shaking breath. “I’ll try again. Really try. Tell me what you want, Sir.”

“That’s a girl.” Sean eased her to her feet and led her back to the padded table.

A glance up proved Thorpe had gone. Probably for the best. He was far too controlled and sexual for her. If she ever truly put herself in his hands, he’d pry her soul wide open in no time at all. She couldn’t take that risk.

“Lie flat for me, lovely.”

As soon as the gorgeous Scot helped her onto the cushioned surface, she stretched out. He quickly secured her cuffed ankles. That didn’t fill her with too much panic. Then he grasped her wrist and began to clip in one of the cuffs. Almost immediately, her trembling began again. Callie gritted her teeth and fought to give in to Sean. She wanted to. God knew she did.

It wasn’t that she didn’t trust him. But what if someone recognized her? What if the police busted up the joint? What if she needed to flee and couldn’t?

“Close your eyes. Take a deep breath.”

She ought to be wondering what she was going to do if she failed again and he left for the night. Or for good. She didn’t want to be without him, and that kind of desperation was so dangerous . . .

Callie forced herself to comply. Instantly, her other senses jumped in. A woman in the far corner was having a very noisy orgasm. A male sub in the vicinity of the row of St. Andrew’s crosses grunted with every lash of the whip from his top. Somewhere nearby, she heard one of the dungeon monitors speak in low tones. Her own labored breathing gradually canceled it all out. Her thundering heartbeat did the rest until she focused solely on Sean.

“Good. What’s your safe word?” he crooned, leaning closer.

“Summer.” Callie swallowed. She missed that horse. The little brown filly had been her most constant companion after her mother’s death. No doubt, the mare was dead now. She’d never had the chance to say good-bye to her four-legged friend.

She let loose a ragged breath.

“Excellent,” he praised as he bound her cuffed wrist to the table.

Her entire body tensed. She dragged in a harsh breath. Her heartbeat ramped up even more. Her palms began to sweat. Excitement and fear mingled into a heady cocktail, drugging her veins.

“You’re making progress. I’m proud of you.” Sean cupped her cheek. “Relax. Trust me. Put yourself in my hands.”

How wonderful that sounded. How tempting . . . She nestled into his touch, forcing back a swell of devotion that was nothing more than a waste.

Callie wasn’t one of those women who didn’t know why her soul cried out to submit. It didn’t take Freud to understand that a girl who’d spent nearly a decade being entirely responsible for her own welfare in a life-or-death struggle sought to turn all of that over to a Dominant partner for his broad shoulders to bear. Of course, she also wanted her family alive and whole as well. She always wanted what she couldn’t have.

Gawd, she needed to turn out the lights on this pity party and give Sean all she could now. Tomorrow, she’d apologize for being much less than he needed, then sever the ties between them—before she could no longer find the will. Of course she’d lie and wish him well in his quest to find another submissive who could be his true love. Watching that would be too painful, so she’d soon have to leave. Sadly, Thorpe wouldn’t miss her much, either. No one would. Exactly as she’d planned it.

The realization wrenched her heart.

Callie had been desperately ignoring the writing on the wall for months. She’d allowed herself to become emotionally compromised and far too relaxed. Sean kept prying deeper into her psyche. If she wasn’t careful, it wouldn’t be long before he put two and two together. The questions he asked already made her nervous.

Maybe the time to depart Dominion had already come. No, she knew it had. She needed to leave everything behind. Pack up and move on. The sooner the better.

“Callie . . .” His tone was a warning.

She heaved in a cleansing breath and shoved every thought from her mind, centering herself on his presence and her need to submit to him just this once before she ditched him for good.

“I’m fine, Sir.” Before she lost her nerve, she raised her other arm above her head, an offering of her trust in him.

“Finally.” His fingers curled around her, warm and protective, his thumb stroking over the vulnerable inside of her arm before he fastened down her last cuff. “Thank you, lovely. You look beautiful bound for me. Your trust is heady.”

And scarier than hell. “I know it’s not much.”

“Shh. From you, it’s a great deal. I know that was hard for you.”

“Can I open my eyes for just a minute?”

Sean paused. “Do you need to see me?”

Frantically, Callie nodded, fighting the insidious panic seeping from her veins.

“Open them, then. We’ll go slowly.”

Her lashes fluttered open, and she focused on him in the bright dungeon. Square face, sharp jaw, dark goatee, strong nose, muscled body. A furrow seemed permanently notched between his heavy brows. A little scar sat under the corner of his right eye, and she would have sworn it came from the nick of a bullet if he seemed like that kind of guy. Everything about him looked so masculine and aggressive. Yet he treated her so tenderly. If she had special-ordered the perfect man, he would be Sean. No doubt he’d wondered a hundred times over what he’d done to earn her distrust. The thought made her sad.

If she ever wanted to know what submission felt like, what Sean felt like, before she moved onto her next identity, she was going to have to give in this once. Simple as that.

“Thank you,” she murmured.

“I’m going to blindfold you now.”

A scary prospect . . . but one she felt ready to handle now. Besides, her hearing had saved her the night her family had been murdered, as well as from Holden’s betrayal.

“Yes, Sir.”

Sean caressed her neck, his fingertips gliding down her collarbones to the swells of her breasts, thumbing her puckered nipple covered by nearly transparent white cotton. “You’re pleasing me greatly.”

He pleased her, too. Everything inside her yearned to show him that. She smiled and lifted her head so he could fit a silky black scrap that looked like a sleep mask over her eyes. Its weight felt light and nonthreatening. Then he clasped her hand. Callie squeezed back.

“Have you ever been both restrained and blindfolded?”

“Not entirely, and only for demonstration purposes.”

She’d actually scened with very few people. Logan Edgington had usually wanted to give her a red ass to correct her bratty behavior. His friend Xander had enjoyed arousing her body, but he’d never awakened even a corner of her heart. She’d spent a little time with some of the other resident Doms at Dominion with similar results. Eric had a fascination with ball gags that made her shudder. Zeb seemed a tad too excited by feet for her comprehension. His nibbling at her toes had icked her out. Jason had not only been a stickler for protocol, but a big fan of Shibari. It had taken Callie less than four minutes to scream her safe word. Then there was Thorpe . . . He was in a class all by himself. And way beyond her reach.

“Demonstration?” Sean sounded shocked.

Callie nodded. “Yeah. But I haven’t done one in about two years.”

Not since that December Thorpe had asked her to bottom for a demo . . . then afterward, behind closed doors, the kindling heat between them had exploded into a tangle of arms and lips, sighs and discarded clothes. She’d been wet and ready and so desperate for him, naked on his bed. Then he’d abruptly walked away without an explanation, behaving as if nothing had ever happened. To this day, she didn’t know why he’d left her. And he’d never asked her to assist him in a presentation again.

That hurt didn’t matter anymore. Old crap. Only Sean was important now.

“Were you able to bear the restraint then because you knew someone would free you if need be? If that’s the case, lovely, the dungeon monitors would have my balls in an instant if they thought I was hurting you.”

“I know.” They were intensely protective of all the women in the club, but especially fellow staff.

“Well, then?” Sean’s swift reply asked how she had managed to be tied down for Dom/sub education purposes when she could barely tolerate it with someone she yearned to put all her trust in. Her only answer was that Thorpe had been the one doing the tying. She trusted him more than she trusted anyone. He knew her quirks and had accommodated them.

But she hated Sean believing that she lacked faith in him. Callie latched on to the first explanation to hit her brain. “Logically, I know you’re right. Sadly, logic doesn’t always penetrate fear. It’s a bit like a phobia.”

He didn’t answer right away, just brushed his thumb back and forth over her nipple until it tingled and she wished he’d just tear off her clothes and fuck her already. She’d wanted him for so many long months.

“Have you always been this way?”

“Since I got into BDSM.” She’d lied to Sean often, but always tried to stay as close to the truth as possible.

“Do you know what caused your fear, lovely? Was it something in your past?”

Callie bit back a snort. Pretty much everything. “It wasn’t any one event.”

And that wasn’t a total lie, just a realization that restraint severely inhibited her ability to flee if her murder rap caught up to her.

“Are you sure? Tell me about your childhood. Maybe something there will help me better understand.”

This again? He must have asked twenty times since snapping a collar around her neck to tell him about her formative years. She managed to simply say that she was from the Midwest and was an orphan. Again, not lies . . . just not the complete truth.

She clenched her hands into fists. “The longer we talk, the more nervous I get. Please . . .”

“We will finish this conversation, lovely.”

No, they wouldn’t.

“Yes, Sir.”

Sean sighed. “You’re doing well, so I’ll reward you now.”

He leaned over her, caressed her shoulders in his big hands, then his nimble fingers made short work of the waist-cinching corset she’d chosen earlier. He began unlacing it just beneath her breasts, slowly parting the panels down her torso before he detached it from her body. The garment provided enough support under her breasts to render a bra unnecessary. When he tore off the thin white tank she’d worn beneath, his groan, coupled with his hands cupping her breasts reverently, told her that he approved.

“Always so damn beautiful, Callie.”

No way to miss the worship in his voice. No man had ever made her feel so wanted.

He plucked at her nipples, pinching gently, turning the peaked nubs, controlling the flow of blood. The second he released them, sensation slammed into her. Hypersensitive and hard, the nubs tingled and bunched harder. She whimpered.

Then he bent to her, breathing harshly in her ear before he kissed his way down her neck, nipping at her fair skin until a shiver wracked her. She felt deliciously vulnerable, helpless to stop whatever he did to her body. He might deliver pleasure. He might heap on pain. And she could only accept what he chose.

So far, submitting was every bit as thrilling as she’d imagined. Yeah, plenty of folks might think she was warped, but as much as she had feared it, the surrender of her will to Sean made her feel oddly treasured. And it aroused her, especially when he pressed soft kisses around the exposed flesh of her breasts. Beside her nipples, below them, hovering just above, he toyed and teased with his mouth. He made her gasp and hold her breath in anticipation of his every hot exhalation over her skin and every sweet nibble with his teeth.

With a little pleading mewl, she lifted her hips to him, waiting for him to realize that under her tiny black skirt, she wore the barest scrap of lace over her drenched pussy.

Sean braced the heel of his palm just above her mound and pushed down gently. “I promised you a reward, lovely. Not necessarily an orgasm. Do I have to punish you to make you understand?”

He’d spanked her a few times, but she hadn’t considered it much of a punishment. Instead, the release of fire under her skin went right to her clit and made her throb with unrelenting desire. Always sharp, Sean had quickly come to understand that ignoring her or acting with utter disinterest was far more effective in changing her behavior. The more she cared, the more disappointing him crushed her.

“No, Sir.” She just wanted to feel him in every way he’d allow.

“I’d rather not. I have a special plan for you, but I’ll need you to be a wee bit patient.” He chuckled. “Though I know you’ll find that a torture all its own, I’ll make it worth your while.”

Callie grimaced. Her impatience around Dominion was well-known. A childhood of indulgence hadn’t prepared her for the special hell of delayed gratification. Sean specialized in spacing out her rewards until she sometimes felt like screaming. Then again, the breath-stealing orgasms were always worth the wait.

She just wished he’d let her return the favor. No matter how hard his cock looked or how much desire-induced sweat drenched his skin, he never availed himself of her body. Just like he never asked to see her outside Dominion’s walls. Not for the first time, she wondered if he had a wife or girlfriend tucked away elsewhere. She was too afraid to ask.

With a snarl, Sean removed his hands. “What the hell is in your head that’s so engrossing you keep drifting away from me? I want your full attention, Callie.”

Continuing her policy of honesty when possible, she gave him most of the truth. “I wish I could touch you.”

“You mean you’d like your hands free, to escape being bound?”

“No. As hard as I found it to allow, I’m enjoying your restraints. I just want the chance to give you the pleasure you give me.”

He sucked in a sharp breath. “Be good and perhaps I’ll let you.”

The way his voice shook, Callie hoped that meant he wanted her at least half as much as she wanted him. “Please . . .”

“Behave, lovely. You’re not in charge here.”

She pressed her lips together, did her best to lie silently and let him have his way. She expected him to use those slightly rough palms of his to abrade and arouse her until she pleaded. Then he’d do his best to ask questions designed to get in her head. She usually had to work to keep her wits about her and give him nothing more than a scrap of information so he would finally grant her screaming pleasure.

That wasn’t on his agenda today.

Instead, Sean released her ankle restraints and detached her wrists from the table. Arms encircled her, then he helped her to her feet. She didn’t often find herself topless in the club, so the feeling was hugely foreign . . . but not unwelcome. The cool air brushed her skin, beading her nipples more. It was an intriguing contrast to the pure heat rolling off Sean as he led her to dangling chains in the ceiling.

Poised behind her, he worked the snap hook attached to her bindings through the chains, securing her arms above her head.

“Spread your legs and keep them there.” His words brooked no refusal, despite his calm tones. He never had to yell to make his point.

Biting her lip, Callie complied, but she didn’t understand his intent. She knew she shouldn’t, but she brushed her face against her extended arm to work the rim of the blindfold down, then she peeked at him over her shoulder.

Sean snapped her mask back in place. “Stop, you minx. Eyes front. You’ll see me when I want you to, not before. Right now, focus on staying out of your head. Feel your body instead. Your skin, your breath, your pleasure. If your thoughts start intruding, try to block them.” He pressed his chest to her back and cradled her breasts. “I want to give this gift to you, lovely, but you have to do your part.”

If this was her one night of submission to experience all Sean Kirkpatrick had to offer, then she would do her very best.

“Yes, Sir.”

“Good. Would you like ear buds with music to help you concentrate?”

And take away her ability to hear? “No.”

“All right. Take a deep breath and let it out. Clear your mind. Feel your muscles let loose.”

Like preparing to do yoga.

She did everything exactly as he’d commanded. It put her in a relaxed state. Well, as relaxed as she could be.

“Good. Do you know what this is?”

Wide strands of something soft skimmed her from neck to ass. Air filled her lungs as she raised up, trying to extend the caress.

“A flogger.”

“Deerskin, yes. Has anyone ever used one on you?”

“No, Sir.”

“Wielded properly, it’s not an implement of pain. Are you afraid?”

Of the flogger, no. But his intent was another story. If he’d gone out of his way to point out that the instrument didn’t have to hurt, she didn’t think he intended to test her pain threshold. And Sean had promised her a reward. Callie had a suspicion she knew where this was headed.

It scared the hell out of her as much as it made her yearn.

But she would give in tonight, see if she could separate her body from her mind in that floating paradise others called subspace. Just this once . . .

“I want whatever you’d like to give me.”

She sensed more than felt his approval. “Fine, then. Don’t count.”

The words had barely cleared his lips before the tails of the flogger struck the fleshiest part of her ass in a slow thud. Sean repeated the motion—full across her butt, in the low curve of her spine, up her back and down again. Never hard, never even making her sting. Rhythmic, sweet, lulling, the flogging was like a slow dance cradling her in its arms until she began to block out everything but the way he made her feel. Her heart beat in time with the tresses kissing her skin.

Callie didn’t have to work very hard to block out thoughts. Sean perfectly understood her body, exactly when, where, and how hard to work the falls over her.

Her head started to swim away from her body, and she let it go for a moment. She sank toward the abyss just beyond her, calling out to her. The sensation was like having a couple of glasses of wine, but heavier and more compelling. More alluring.

Darkness swam around her thoughts. Minutes might have passed. Or hours. She didn’t really feel her body anymore. The earth held her by the soles of her feet and her cuffed wrists, or she would have floated away to beautiful nothingness.

Vaguely, she felt Sean’s hand glide up and down her hot, sensitive skin, an acute rise of burn and sensation. Her head rolled forward. She felt every instant of her slow, deep breathing, almost like a waking nap—except the intoxicating euphoria. How wonderful . . .

“You look stunning, Callie.”

A drunk little smile curled her lips.

“This is what I wanted to give you, lovely, some respite from your head.” His lips slipped up the back of her neck. He wrapped his broad hand around her and under her chin until he tipped her head back. Then he kissed his way down her jaw. “I would give you more.”

Please . . . She didn’t have the strength to open her mouth and beg.

“But I need something from you. Come back to me just a bit,” he coaxed.

Callie frowned. It was the last thing she wanted to do, but the sweet splendor of silence in her head was too tempting. Complying took so much effort.

“Let me into your heart, Callie. Into your head. I’ve asked you for nothing since we began our journey together.”

And he’d given her so much.

“You draw me like no other. I want to know everything about you. I don’t want business to take me away from you before I’ve had a chance to learn you inside and out. Before I’ve had a chance to truly bind you to me.”

She sighed. He plucked at every one of her heartstrings, and she let him. Such exquisite words. How could she not give him a little?

“We’ll start small,” he assured. “Did you have a pet as a child?”

Pet? The first recollection to hit her brain spewed from her lips. “I found a kitten.”

“How old were you?”

“Not quite six. I couldn’t keep her. Mom was sick. I woke up one morning and she was gone. I cried. Mom died anyway.”

“I’m so sorry, lovely. Of what?”

Callie shied away from remembering. “God takes the fragile ones back into his fold. Dad always said that. It still made me sad.”

“Of course.” He petted her. “Do you have any sisters? Brothers?”

Chilled air suddenly smacked her toasty skin, jostling her brain. Awareness rushed back into her head. Why did he want to know?

“Both.” Of course, Dad never knew that she’d heard about his teenage romance that resulted in a son no one ever talked about. She hadn’t thought about that in years, but she’d spied on his son once. Apparently, being an illegitimate Howe sucked because he’d been a bitter man.

“You’re sure?”

Callie tensed. Why would he think otherwise? His tone and the enormity of his question hit her. It might seem trifling to most, but if he suspected at all who she was and she didn’t tread carefully, she might give him enough to confirm her identity.

Would he sell her down the river for the two-million-dollar bounty?

“I’m cold.”

Sean took a step back. The flogger fell over her back, her ass, alternating, thudding, seeking to calm her again. At first, it stung against her hot skin. Then she had to resist the divine slide back into her silent cocoon.

“Relax,” he crooned.

Callie didn’t dare. She bit her lip to stay present, but she pretended. At least the flogger warmed her enough to stop her shivering.

“Did you take any special trips as a child?”

“No.” She’d wanted to go to Disney World. Dad preferred Europe and museums where she had to be quiet. A whole summer in the French countryside when she’d been fifteen had seemed nearly coma inducing.

“Did you go to public school?”

Never. Her mother would have rolled over in her grave. “Mom was too religious to allow that. Guess it didn’t stick very well.”

Her answer was true . . . in a sense. Her mother had worshipped at the altar of Prada and been a firm believer in the church of Versace. She would never have allowed her or Charlotte to rub elbows with the middle-class kids who lived in the tract houses a few miles away. That had sucked, too. They looked like they had more fun.

“Callie, you’re in your head again.” And Sean didn’t sound pleased.

“Sorry. The cold rattled me and I just . . .” Got scared with all the questions.

That made her even more dejected. Most likely, the man just wanted to know her. But just in case she was wrong, she had to lie. The truth was too risky.

Great basis for a relationship, Callie. Yeah, he’d really love you if he knew your past.

She’d be long gone before he could.

He sighed. “You get cold easily. I often forget because you make me sweat.”

A moment later, he shuffled around to the front of her body. She drank his nearness in with a moan, smelling the musk wafting from him. Her mouth watered, her pussy wept. She wanted him so badly, had truly sought to please him . . .

“I genuinely tried. I loved the floaty feeling you gave me. I never thought I’d find subspace.” Callie wished she could touch him. “It hurts me to disappoint you.”

Sean peeled the mask away, and she blinked until she adjusted to the glaring lights. His shirt was damp, his cheeks flushed. A submissive dip of her head as he unsnapped her wrists from the chains proved his cock lusciously hard.

“You came a long way tonight, lovely. It’s my own impatience that makes me want you so completely right this instant. But your effort pleased me.”

“I’m sorry I couldn’t give you more.” She blinked up at him uncertainly as he unfastened one of the cuffs and blood rushed back into her arms.

Disappointment in herself chiseled away at her composure. Even when she’d given herself permission to let go and fully surrender to Sean, she’d been unable to.

“I wanted to.” Useless tears welled in her eyes.

With a soothing sound, he drew her against his body, and she relished his warmth. When he pulled her into his embrace, she felt the protective wall around her heart softening, crumbling. Just once, why couldn’t she give this wonderful man who’d showered her with tenderness and pleasure a little fucking bit of herself? She was so closed off that even she could barely reach the real her buried inside. Certainly, she didn’t know how to share, even with a man as kind as Sean.

“I know you did.” He cradled her head in his hand. “Don’t cry, lovely. Let’s get comfortable and talk.”

He didn’t give her a chance to argue, just pulled her along beside him, back to the bench in the corner. He removed the last cuff still dangling from her wrist and those around her ankles. Her shoulders were slightly sore. The skin on her backside still leapt with tingling life.

Sean reached for a blanket in a nearby stash, wrapped it around her, then pulled her into his lap. “Don’t beat yourself up. Yes, I wanted more. But tomorrow will come.”

Not for them, it wouldn’t.

“I could share myself more readily if you shared with me,” she ventured. At least it sounded like a good excuse.

Settling back on the bench with a raised brow, he drew her against his chest. “Is that so?”

“What we have feels so . . . one-sided. I don’t know anything about you.”

He drew in a sharp breath. “I was raised by my grandparents in Scotland. My father served in the military in far-flung parts of the world. My mother preferred London to parenting. I attended local schools, finished university, learned how to hold my own in a fight and drink a few pints without getting too pissed. I work in project management.”

Callie gathered up her courage. “Are you married? Taken?”

Sean let loose a hearty laugh. “Has that been worrying you all this time? No, lovely. I was engaged about a decade ago, but I was already married to my job by then. We ended things amicably. I’ve been alone since. And my life was empty as hell without you.”

That shouldn’t get to her. He shouldn’t. But damn, he did. She might as well be honest about this, too. “I didn’t know how much my life was missing until you walked into it. I need more of you.”

If they had nothing beyond tonight, she wanted him in every way he would give himself now.

Scrambling off his lap and between his feet on the concrete floor, Callie braced her hands on his knees and glanced at his cock. Then she blinked up at him, pouring her desperation into this one entreaty. “Please . . .”

SEAN stared down at Callie, his breath trapped in his chest, his cock about to explode. Her blue eyes, framed in thick black lashes and silently pleading, pierced his chest. Hell, they dug into his heart. He had to hold his fucking head together. But he wanted her more than he thought possible. More than he had words to express.

Of all the damn women to fall for . . .

Normally, he’d remind her that he was the Dom, and she shouldn’t wheedle for the terms she wanted. He knew a pretty piece of manipulation when he heard one. But Callie wasn’t herself tonight. Her breakthrough actually worried him. On the one hand, he’d finally peeled away layers of armor to reveal the soft woman beneath her bratty attitude. On the other hand, everything about her—especially that haunted look in her eyes—reeked of desperation. Of good-bye.

His gut twisted. Had something spooked her? Or someone, like him? There were a lot of reasons that letting her go wasn’t an option. If he had to rearrange his priorities, so be it. But no matter what, he must keep Callie beside him.

“Lovely . . .” He didn’t know what to say. His throat felt tight. His breath thickened as her fingers dug into his thighs.

She didn’t reply, just silently beseeched him with those sad eyes. How much unhappiness had she known to be so walled off from everyone? Right now, Sean could only imagine, but he wanted to know. And he wanted to heal her.

If he put her off now, she’d only bolt sooner. As it was, he suspected that she planned to be gone when he came back for her tomorrow. But if he gave in to her tonight . . . That was the wild card.

He’d ask her if she planned to flee, but she would only deny it. He knew Callie so well in some ways, yet she remained the most intriguing mystery in others.

Sean swallowed his doubts down. Fuck it. If he had this one chance to keep her, he was going to take it and deal with the metric shit ton of consequences later.

“Never mind.” She began to scramble to her feet, the unmistakable hurt on her delicate face wrenching.

He braced a hand on her shoulder and pushed down gently. “Stay. I haven’t said no.”

Her gaze skittered away. “But you didn’t say yes. I haven’t earned it.”

“That’s not true. You gave me a great deal of effort tonight. You fought through fears and surrendered a part of yourself to me. I appreciate how hard that was for you.”

Holding his breath, he reached for the snap of his trousers. He was crossing a dangerous line, but he silenced the concerns screaming inside him and focused on Callie. On growing his bond with her and giving her what she needed. Right now, he suspected she ached to feel wanted.

His zipper went down in a nearly silent hiss. Her gaze fell between his legs as he reached in to shove cotton out of his way and take his cock in hand. Fucking hell, he couldn’t remember the last time he’d been this hard or desired a woman so much. Something about Callie had tugged at him from day one. Sean wished he could say it was the sheer challenge of conquering her. He’d always enjoyed using his wits or brawn to overcome obstacles. Who didn’t like winning?

But Callie had become far more than a conquest.

Slowly stroking his erection, blood rushed south to engorge him even more as her wide gaze fell on him, imploring. He tingled just from her longing stare.

“Do you want to touch me, lovely?”

She tore her gaze away and zeroed in on his face, then she nodded.

God, this could make everything go sideways—fast. Any time he resisted Callie, it was something of a miracle. He should have known his willpower wouldn’t last.

Slowly, he eased his hand away. Within moments, she wrapped her own around his length, and he sucked in a hissing breath at the contact. Her skin was so warm, her touch soft yet deft. It was a tease. Seeing her silken fingers on him, her stare taking him in . . . Fuck, it was beyond heady. Nearly seven months without a woman, and he was so ready to blow. But he had a deep suspicion that if any other perched between his feet, he wouldn’t be half so moved.

With her elbow braced on his thigh, Callie glided her fingers up and down his cock, that gaze of hers boiling his balls. But it was the yearning wonder on her face that truly seared him.

On her knees now, she leaned in. She didn’t ask first, just opened her mouth to him and swallowed the head of his cock past her lips. Sean choked back a groan.

He’d found heaven. Callie didn’t just enclose him in her mouth or lick him. She worshipped the flesh she drew onto her tongue. She cradled it, laved and loved it, savored it, drawing it in deeper and deeper.

Sean gripped the edge of the bench, his body tensing with the pleasure. Electricity buzzed through his bloodstream. He clenched his thighs. And there was no stopping his hand as it curled into her hair, caressing her reverently as she showered him with attention, rapidly undoing his restraint.

Holy hell.

Callie took his encouragement to heart and sank his cock even deeper into her mouth until he bumped the back of her throat. She swallowed on him. He groaned out a sound of shock and fisted her inky tresses in his hands, the nearly black strands gliding softly over his fingers, as he lifted his hips and fucked her mouth in agonizing strokes.

She wasn’t exactly an expert. But Callie definitely presented a dichotomy. A girl who’d lived in a BDSM club for four years had managed to retain a sweet sort of innocence. He wanted that for his own.

Damn it, he was so far gone for her. And it would be so easy to thrust into her willing mouth and let her overwhelm him with mind-bending pleasure.

Sean tugged on her hair and growled at her. “Look at me.”

As she sucked up his length again, she cast her gaze at him through her lashes. With the few brain cells focused on something other than her luscious mouth, he could still see finality in her eyes. This was her last act with him if he didn’t change course. She needed to be wanted, and he ached for her—not only in a carnal sense. He had to bind Callie to him.

God, this was going to send trouble clawing up his ass. But she was worth it.

Swallowing a curse, he shoved his hands under her arms and tugged her onto his lap once more.

“Sir?” she whispered, both anxious and breathless.

“You say my name when I fuck you, lovely. You scream it.”

As he positioned her legs on either side of his hips, she gripped his shoulders. “But you said we weren’t ready, that you weren’t going to rush what we had simply because your cock was aching.”

The clever minx had an inexhaustible memory.

“Are you teasing me now, Callie? Or questioning me?”

“No, Sir.” She gyrated her pussy against him, and only the soft lace of whatever she wore under her skirt separated them. Her body undulated until her breasts flattened on his chest and her lips skimmed his neck. She plucked at his shirt, doing her best to remove it. Sean lost patience and ripped it away.

Almost instantly, her hot stare and curious fingers spread across his chest, tugging at his self-control. He fought to rein it back in.

Fuck, she was taking a hundred liberties without his permission, but he couldn’t bring himself to care now. The lover in her was something Callie hadn’t given to anyone in the four years she’d been at Dominion . . . except maybe Thorpe. There was some story between those two, but no one knew what. He’d asked. If the aloof bastard had fucked her, it hadn’t been recently. Whatever the case, he’d handle the situation accordingly.

And hell, it was getting hard for him to think with her all over his throbbing shaft. Everything inside him shouted to claim her in every way a man could. Then pray to fuck it would be enough to make her stay.

“I’ll do whatever it takes to make us stronger,” he vowed. “You’ve thought all this time that I didn’t want you or had someone else hidden away. I mean to show you that you’re wrong.”

“Please.” She pulled back enough to look into his eyes. “At least this once.”

Sean shook his head. “The first time of many, lovely. I swear that to you.”

He flipped up her skirt and ripped away the black lace separating him from her pussy. After a satisfying tear, he tossed it to the concrete floor. Finally, Sean dug into his pocket, grateful for old habits, and yanked out a condom. With shaking hands, he shredded the foil square open and rolled it down his inflamed length, feeling her hot stare eat him up.

When he had himself sheathed, he wrapped his arms around her and tugged her closer, poising her over his cock. He slid his fingers along her hip, feeling the nick along her left side. What would it take to persuade her to tell him about that? Maybe after tonight . . .

“How long has it been for you, lovely?”

Callie looked away and gave him a particular frown he’d come to know well. It flitted across her face when he asked a painful question she wanted to avoid. “A long time.”

“I won’t go any further until you give me a precise answer.”

She squirmed in his grip, trying to lower herself onto him. Fuck if he didn’t want to let her. His body urged him to slide through her wet folds and lose his mind as her cunt gripped him. But in his current mood—one that demanded he pound her into next week—he might hurt her.

And if she admitted that she’d ever warmed Thorpe’s bed, he’d do whatever it took to eliminate the man as competition. It was obvious unspoken feelings lay between Callie and her boss.

For now, Sean waited, holding her waist tightly, preventing her from sinking onto him.

“Sean . . .” She wriggled impatiently.

“I’m not fucking you yet. What do you call me?” he ground out, sweating.

Damn it to hell, resisting the minx was teeth-grittingly tough, and he had no doubt she would tax every bit of his restraint before it was over.

Callie pleaded with him with wide blue eyes. “Sir.”

Her little entreaty made him even harder.

“How long since you’ve had a lover, Callie? I won’t ask again. I’ll just stop.”

She squeezed her eyes shut as if hating to look at an ugly reality. “No one you know here at Dominion.”

He worked to hold in his elation. “No one? Not in the last four years?”

“I tried once, but . . . it felt wrong. I stopped it. I think he was relieved.” That fact embarrassed her, but the torment on her face also said something about her loneliness. She looked so fragile in his arms. “He’s married now.”

All Sean could feel was a thrill that she would soon be his. The relief that Thorpe had never fucked her was undeniable. He had no doubt the bastard wanted to.

“I just needed to know how gentle to be, lovely. Thank you for your honesty. I know that wasn’t easy for you.”

“You must think I’m broken or something.”

Sean didn’t think; he knew. But not in the way she meant.

“You’re beautiful. I’ve no doubt you’re much wanted among the Doms here. I feel fortunate that you chose me.”

Finally, she opened her eyes, and he saw tears shimmering there. That yearning on her face made her soul look so naked. Something he was saying or doing was reaching her, and a cautious joy rolled through him.

Callie threw herself onto him, arms around him, her face pressed into his neck. She inhaled him, clinging. God, how sweet she could be. Under all that sassy attitude, she hid a fragile heart. And he was finally seeing the real her. The woman inside was every bit as stunning and soft as he’d imagined.

When she would have pulled back with an apology, Sean stopped her with a kiss—and slowly began pressing her down onto his cock.

She gasped into his mouth. Her body tensed. Her pussy closed around him, so small and tight. How the fuck was he going to survive the incendiary grip of her for long?

Beneath her, he flexed his hips, desperate to bury himself as deep as he could and accustom her to the feel of him filling her completely. After only a handful of seconds, he knew she was going to become his drug of choice. After this addicting sweetness, there was no way he could do without her again.

No doubt, he would eventually get his ass handed to him for this . . .

Callie gave a little shriek and tried to lift off his cock. Sean held her in place. “Easy. Breathe.”

She wriggled, and he thought he might lose his damn mind with the way her flesh rubbed and clutched the head of his cock. Then she exhaled and slowly let the tension slip from her body.

“That’s good,” he praised. “Lean on me and let me take care of you.”

She met his stare, her gaze tangled with his. Something about the way she silently surrendered turned him on. The man in him responded to her wordless begging for him to take everything she had. Her offering surprised the hell out of him, but he didn’t dwell on that. Filling her with both his cock and affection was far more important now.

Sean lifted her up a fraction, then lowered her an inch at a time, experimenting with her clenching walls, searching her face for any discomfort. This time, he submerged deeper, his head swimming with sensations until he swore he might drown in her. Callie was everything he’d imagined and so far beyond it boggled his mind.

With his fingers biting into her hips, Sean desperately fought to hold on to his control as he lowered her even more, stopping when she inhaled sharply and her body tensed again.

“It’s all right. Almost there.”

She writhed on him. “I’m so frustrated. I want you so badly.”

“And I want you. But I refuse to hurt you, lovely, when a little patience will do. It’s been a long time. I didn’t expect this to go easy.”

“I wanted it to.”

Sean couldn’t hold in a smile at her impatience, that part of her that seemed to think or believe the world should go her way. “I did, too. Next time, it will. Now, I want you to look right into my eyes.”

Callie blinked, focusing on him through the shadows. He blocked out everything and everyone except her. The sounds of whips and moans, the scents of sweat and sex, the slight chill in the air—all gone. Only she filled his senses.

Without another word, he lifted her to the tip of his cock again, then pressed down, down, down . . . This time, she helped him, folding her knees under her and tilting her hips to take all of him. He met her halfway, thrusting up into her fist-like grasp. She felt so good, his eyes nearly crossed.

He wasn’t fucking Callie. He was making love to her. He was claiming her.

This changed everything.

A shudder worked up his spine, spreading through his body. With a groan, he threw his head back and let pleasure fill his veins. Jesus, this woman was potent.

Callie went wild, frantically lifting and thrusting above him. She ran her fingers through his hair, holding on as if he were her anchor to this world. Her soft pants and moans in his ear were driving him out of his fucking mind. So soft everywhere, and her scent . . . something clean and musky at once. The citrus of her shampoo blended with the feminine tang from her pussy for an olfactory high that sent his senses into a drunken daze. He could wax poetic about her for days, but he really just wanted to brand her as his own. Forgetting Callie would be impossible. Sean was damned determined to make sure she couldn’t wipe him from her memory bank, either.

Grabbing her hips tighter, he took control. “Slow down.”

She reared back to look at him. Her face was flushed. Perspiration dotted her forehead and her upper lip. Her dark hair rained over her shoulders, curling down her slender arms and emphasizing the milky-soft skin he loved stroking.

The more she surrendered to the raw passion between them, the more she tore away at his armor. The deeper he needed to be inside her.

“I ache.” She sounded like a wounded girl who needed him to fix her problem.

In many ways, she was.

“Let it build, lovely. We’ve waited so long already. No need to rush it now.”

Callie opened her mouth to protest. No doubt, he would have to remind her about the meaning of submission again, even if he did find her willful insistence adorable at times.

But he couldn’t remind her of anything if he didn’t first persuade her to stay.

Sean stilled her hips and sent her a stern glance of warning. Then he brought her down on his cock again, like a knife through melting butter. Slowly. So damn slowly a shudder wracked him again. Her keening cry zipped to his balls and straight up his stiff length. Damn it, she was going to dismantle his self-control if he didn’t get a grip.

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

Praise for the novels of Shayla Black:

”Sizzling, romantic, and edgy, a Shayla Black story never disappoints!”—Sylvia Day, New York Times bestselling author of Bared To You

“Scorching, wrenching, suspenseful, Shayla Black’s books are a must-read.”—#1 New York Times bestselling author Lora Leigh

“Shayla Black creates emotional, searingly sexy stories that always leave me wanting more.”—New York Times bestselling author Maya Banks

“Much sexy fun is had by all.”—New York Times bestselling author Angela Knight

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