Chapter 17

I pushed to my feet in a rush.

"Don't," he warned in a dark purr. "You're not running yet. We're not done."

"You don't know what you're talking about." Being under someone else's thumb - losing my right to say no! - was never going to happen again. "You know what I went through. I need control as much as you do."

"Sit down, Eva."

I stayed on my feet, just to prove my point.

His smile widened and my insides melted. "Do you have any idea how crazy I am about you?" he murmured.

"You're crazy all right, if you think I'm going to put up with being ordered around, especially sexually."

"Come on, Eva. You know I don't want to beat you, punish you, hurt you, demean you, or order you around like a pet. Those aren't needs either of us has." Straightening, Gideon leaned forward and placed his elbows on the desktop. "You're the most important thing in my life. I treasure you. I want to protect you and make you feel safe. That's why we're talking about this."

God. How could he be so wonderful and so insane at the same time? "I don't need to be dominated!"

"What you need is someone to trust - No. Close your mouth, Eva. You'll wait until I'm finished."

My protest spluttered into silence.

"You've asked me to reacquaint your body with acts previously used to hurt and terrorize you. I can't tell you what your trust means to me or what it would do to me if I broke that trust. I can't risk it, Eva. We have to do this right."

I crossed my arms. "I guess I'm dumber than bricks. I thought our sex life was rockin'."

Setting his glass down, Gideon kept going as if I hadn't spoken. "You asked me to meet a need of yours today and I agreed. Now we need to - "

"If I'm not what you want, just spit it out!" I set the picture frame and my glass down before I did something with them I'd regret. "Don't try and pretty it up with - "

He was around the desk and on me before I could stumble back more than a couple steps. His mouth sealed over mine, his arms caged me. As he'd done earlier, he carried me to a wall and restrained me against it, his hands banding my wrists and lifting them high above my head.

Trapped, I could nothing as he bent his knees and stroked my cleft with the rigid length of his erection. Once, twice. Silk rasped against my swollen clit. The bite of his teeth on my covered nipple sent a shiver through me, while the clean scent of his warm skin intoxicated me. With a gasp, I sagged into his embrace.

"See how easily you submit when I take over?" His lips followed the arch of my brow. "And it feels good doesn't it? It feels right."

"That's not fair." I stared up at him. How could he expect me to respond any differently? As disturbed and confounded as I was, I was helplessly drawn to him.

"Of course it is. It's also true."

My gaze roamed over that glorious mane of inky hair and the chiseled lines of his incomparable face. The longing I felt was so acute it was painful. The hidden damage inside him only made me love him more. There were times when I felt like I'd found the other half of myself in him.

"I can't help it that you turn me on," I muttered, "My body is physiologically supposed to soften and relax, so you can shove that big cock inside me."

"Eva. Let's be honest. You want me to have total control. It's important to you that you can trust me to take care of you. There's nothing wrong with that. The reverse is true for me - I need you to trust me enough to give up that control."

I couldn't think when he was pressed up against me, my body achingly aware of every hard inch of him. "I am not submissive."

"You are with me. If you look back, you'll see you've been yielding to me all along."

"You're good in bed! And have more experience. Of course I let you do what you want to me." I bit my lower lip to stop it from quivering. "I'm sorry I haven't been as exciting for you."

"Bullshit, Eva. You know how much I enjoy making love to you. If I could get away with it, I'd do nothing else. We're not talking about games that get me off."

"Then we're talking about what gets me off? Is that what this is?"

"Yes. I thought so." He frowned. "You're upset. I didn't mean - Damn it. I thought discussing this would help us."

"Gideon." My eyes stung, then flooded with tears. He looked as wounded and confused as I felt. "You're breaking my heart."

Releasing my wrists, he stepped back and swept me up in his arms, carrying me out of his office and down the hallway to a closed door. "Turn the knob," he said quietly.

We entered a candlelit room that still smelled faintly of new paint. For a few seconds I was disoriented, unable to comprehend how we'd stepped out of Gideon's apartment and into my bedroom.

"I don't understand." A serious understatement, but my brain was still trying to get past the feeling of being teleported from one residence to another. "You...moved me in with you?"

"Not quite." He set me down, but kept an arm around me. "I recreated your room based on the photo I took of you sleeping."

"Why?"

What the hell? Who did something like that? Was this all to keep me from witnessing his nightmares?

The thought shattered my heart further. I felt like Gideon and I were drifting further away from each other by the moment.

His hands sifted through my damp hair, which only increased my agitation. I felt like batting his touch away and putting at least the length of the room between us. Maybe two rooms.

"If you feel the need to run," he said softly, "you can come in here and shut the door. I promise not to bother you until you're ready. This way, you have your safe place and I know that you haven't left me."

A million questions and speculations roared through my mind, but the one thing that stuck out was, "Are we still going to share a bed when we're sleeping?"

"Every night." Gideon's lips touched my forehead. "How could you think otherwise? Talk to me, Eva. What's going through that beautiful head of yours?"

"What's going through my head?" I snapped. "What the fuck is going on in yours? What happened to you in the four days we were broken up?"

His jaw tightened. "We never broke up, Eva."

The phone rang in the other room. I cursed under my breath. I wanted us to talk and I wanted him to go away, both at the same time.

He squeezed my shoulders, and then let me go. "That's our dinner."

I didn't follow him when he left, feeling too unsettled to eat. Instead, I crawled onto the bed that was exactly like my own and curled around a pillow, closing my eyes. I didn't hear Gideon come back, but I felt him as he drew to a stop at the edge of the bed.

"Please don't make me eat alone," he said to my rigid back.

"Why don't you just order me to eat with you?"

He sighed, and then slid onto the bed to spoon behind me. His warmth was welcome, chasing away the chill that had brought goose bumps to my skin. He didn't say anything for a long while, just gave me the comfort of having him close. Or maybe he was taking comfort in me.

"Eva." His fingers caressed the length of my silk-clad arm. "I can't stand you being unhappy. Talk to me."

"I don't know what to say. I thought we were finally coming to a point where things would smooth out between us." I hugged the pillow tighter.

"Don't tense up, Eva. It hurts when you pull away from me."

I felt like he was pushing me away.

Rolling, I shoved him to his back; then I mounted him, my robe parting as I straddled his hips. I ran the palms of my hands over his powerful chest and raked the tanned flesh with my nails. My hips undulated over him, stroking my bare cleft over his cock. Through the thin silk of his pants, I could feel every ridge and thick vein. From the way his eyes darkened and his sculpted mouth parted on quickened breaths, I knew he could feel the outline and damp heat of me as well.

"Is this so awful for you?" I asked, rocking my hips. "Are you lying there thinking you're not giving me what I want because I'm in charge?"

Gideon set his hands on my thighs. Even that innocuous touch seemed dominating.

The edginess and sharpened focus I'd detected not long ago abruptly made sense to me - he wasn't restraining his force of will anymore.

The tremendous power coiled inside him was now directed at me like a blast of heat.

"I've told you before," he said huskily. "I'll take you however I can get you."

"Whatever. Don't think I don't know you're topping from the bottom."

His mouth curved with unapologetic amusement.

Sliding down, I teased the flat disk of his nipple with the tip of my tongue. I blanketed him as he'd done to me in the past, stretching my body over his hips and legs, my hands shoving beneath his gorgeous ass to squeeze the firm flesh and hold him tight against me. His cock was a thick column against my belly, renewing my fierce appetite for him.

"Are you going to punish me with pleasure?" he asked quietly. "Because you can. You can bring me to my knees, Eva."

My forehead dropped to his chest and the air left my lungs in an audible rush. "I wish."

"Please don't be so worried. We'll get through this along with everything else."

"You're so positive you're right." My gaze narrowed. "You're trying to prove a point."

"And you might prove yours." Gideon licked his lower lip and my sex clenched in silent demand.

There was a brilliant depth of emotion in his eyes. Whatever else was going on in our relationship, there was no doubt we were seriously twisted up over each other.

And I was about to demonstrate that in the flesh.

Gideon's neck arched as my mouth moved over his torso. "Oh, Eva."

"Your world's about to be rocked, Mr. Cross."

It was. I made sure of it.

Feeling goofy with feminine triumph, I sat at Gideon's dining table and remembered him as he'd been just a short time ago - damp with sweat and panting, cursing as I took my time savoring his luscious body.

He swallowed a bite of his steak, which had been kept hot courtesy of a warming drawer, and said calmly, "You're insatiable."

"Well, duh. You're gorgeous, sexy, and very well-hung."

"I'm glad you approve. I'm also extremely wealthy."

I waved one hand carelessly, encompassing the whole of what had to be a fifty-million-dollar apartment. "Who cares about that?"

"Well, I do, actually." His mouth curved.

I stabbed my fork into a German fried potato, thinking that Peter Luger food was almost as good as sex. Almost. "I'm interested in your money only if it means you can afford to stop working in favor of lounging around naked as my sex slave."

"I could afford to financially, yes. But you'd get bored and dump me, then where would I be?" His look was warmly amused. "Think you proved your point, do you?"

I chewed, and then said, "Should I prove it again?"

"The fact that you're still horny enough to want to proves my point."

"Hmm." I drank my wine. "Are you projecting?"

He shot me a look and casually chewed another bite of the tenderest steak I'd ever had.

Restless and worried, I took a deep breath and asked, "Would you tell me if our sex life didn't satisfy you?"

"Don't be ridiculous, Eva."

What else could have prompted him to bring this up after our four-day breakup? "I'm sure it doesn't help that I'm not the type you usually go for. And we haven't used any of those toys you had in the hotel - "

"Stop talking."

"Excuse me?"

Gideon set his utensils down. "I'm not going to listen to you shred your self-esteem."

"What? You're the only one who gets to do all the talking?"

"You can pick a fight with me, Eva, but it's still not going to get you fucked."

"Who said - " I shut up when he glared. He was right. I still wanted him. I wanted him on top of me, explosively lustful, completely in control of both my pleasure and his.

Pushing away from the table, he said curtly, "Wait here."


When he returned a moment later, he set a black leather ring box beside my plate and resumed his seat. The sight of it hit me like a physical blow. Fear struck me first, icy cold. Followed swiftly by a longing that was white-hot.

My hands shook in my lap. I clasped my fingers together and realized my whole body was shaking. Lost, I lifted my gaze to Gideon's face.

The feel of his fingertips brushing down my cheek soothed much of the vibrating anxiety inside me, leaving behind the terrible yearning.

"It's not that ring," he murmured gently. "Not yet. You're not ready."

Something inside me wilted. Then relief flooded me. It was too soon. Neither of us was ready. But if I'd ever wondered how deeply I had fallen in love with Gideon, now I knew.

I nodded.

"Open it," he said.

With cautious fingers, I pulled the box closer and thumbed open the lid. "Oh."

Nestled inside the black leather and velvet was a ring like no other. Gold rope-like bands were intertwined and decorated with Xs covered in diamonds.

"Bonds," I murmured, "secured by crosses." Gideon Cross.

"Not quite. I see the ropes as representative of the many threads of you, not bondage. But yes, the Xs are me holding on to you. By my fingernails, it feels like." He finished his glass of wine and refilled both our glasses.

I sat unmoving, stunned, trying to take it all in. Everything he'd done in the time we'd been apart - the photos, the ring, Dr. Petersen, the replicated bedroom, and whoever had been following me around - told me I'd never been far from his mind, if I'd even left it at all.

"You gave me my keys back," I whispered, still remembering the pain.

His hand reached out and covered mine. "There are a lot of reasons why I did that. You left me wearing nothing but a robe, Eva, and without your keys. I can't stand thinking about what could've happened if Cary hadn't been home to let you in right away."

Lifting his hand to my mouth, I kissed the back; then released him and closed the lid of the ring box. "It's beautiful, Gideon. Thank you. It means a lot to me."

"But you won't wear it." It wasn't a question.

"After the conversation we've had tonight, it feels like a collar."

After a moment, he nodded. "You're not altogether wrong."

My brain hurt and my heart ached. Four nights of restless sleeping didn't help. I couldn't understand why he felt I was so necessary, even though I felt that way about him. There were thousands of women in New York alone who could replace me in his life, but there was only one Gideon Cross.

"I feel like I'm disappointing you, Gideon. After everything we've talked about tonight...I feel like this is the beginning of the end."

Pushing his chair back, he angled toward me and touched my cheek. "It's not."

"When do we see Dr. Petersen?"

"I'll go alone on Tuesdays. After you talk to him and agree to couples counseling, we can go together on Thursdays."

"Two hours of your week, every week. Not including the travel back and forth. That's a big commitment." I reached up and brushed the hair back from his cheek. "Thank you."

Gideon caught my hand and kissed the palm. "It's no sacrifice, Eva."

He went into his office to work a bit before bed and I carried the ring box into the master bathroom with me. I studied it further while I brushed my teeth and hair.

There was a soft hum of need beneath my skin, a persistent level of arousal that shouldn't have been possible considering the number of orgasms I'd already had over the course of the day. It was an emotionally driven need to connect to Gideon, to reassure myself that we were okay.

Clutching the ring box in my hand, I went to my side of Gideon's bed and set it on the nightstand. I wanted it where I'd see it first thing in the morning, after a good night's sleep.

With a sigh, I draped my beautiful new robe over the footboard and crawled into bed. After tossing and turning for a long while, I finally crashed.

I woke sometime in the middle of the night to a racing pulse and quick, shallow breathing. Disoriented, I lay still for a moment, gathering my bearings and remembering where I was. I tensed when it sank in, my ears straining to hear if Gideon was having another nightmare. When I discovered him lying quietly beside me, his breathing deep and even, I relaxed with a sigh.

What time had he finally come to bed? After the days we'd spent apart, it worried me that he might have felt a need to be alone.

Then it hit me. I was aroused. Painfully so.

My breasts were full and heavy, my nipples furled and tight. My core was aching and my cleft wet. As I lay there in the moonlit darkness, I realized that my own body had woken me with its demands. Had I dreamed something erotic? Or was it enough that Gideon was lying beside me?

Pushing up onto my elbows, I looked at him. The sheet and comforter clung to his waist, leaving his sculpted chest and biceps bared. His right arm was tossed over his head, framing the fall of dark hair around his lavishly handsome face. His left arm lay between us on the blankets, the hand fisted and bringing to relief the network of thick veins that coursed up his forearms. Even in repose he looked fierce and powerful.

I became more aware of the tension inside me, the sense that I was drawn to him by the silent exertion of his formidable will. It wasn't possible that he could demand my surrender while he was sleeping, yet it felt that way, felt like that invisible rope between us was pulling me to him.

The throbbing between my legs grew unbearable and I pressed one hand against the violent pulsing, hoping to dull the ache. The pressure worsened it instead.

I couldn't stay still. Throwing the covers off, I slid my legs off the side of the mattress and thought about trying a glass of warm milk with the brandy Gideon had given me earlier. Abruptly, I paused, riveted by the moonlight gleaming off the leather of the ring box on the nightstand. I thought of the jewelry inside it and my desire surged. At that moment, the thought of being collared by Gideon filled me with heated yearning.

You're just horny, I scolded myself.

One of the girls in group had talked about how her "master" could use her body any time and in any way he wanted, for his pleasure alone. There was nothing about that I'd found sexy...until I put Gideon in the picture. I loved getting him off. I loved making him come. Just because.

My fingers brushed over the lid of the tiny box. Exhaling a shaky breath, I picked it up and opened it. A moment later I was sliding the cool band onto the ring finger of my right hand.

"Do you like it, Eva?"

A shiver moved through me at the sound of Gideon's voice, deeper and rougher than I'd ever heard it. He'd been awake, watching me.

How long had he been conscious? Was he as attuned to me while sleeping as I seemed to be to him?

"I love it." I love you.

Setting the box aside, I turned my head to find him sitting up. His eyes glittered in a way that made me impossibly more aroused, but also sent a bite of fear through me. It was an unguarded look, like the one that had literally knocked me on my ass when we met - scorching and possessive, filled with dark threats of ecstasy. His gorgeous face was harsh in the shadows, his jaw taut as he lifted my right hand to his mouth and kissed the ring he'd given me.

I moved to kneel on the bed and draped my arms around his neck. "Take me. Carte blanche."

He cupped my butt and squeezed. "How does it feel to say that?"

"Almost as good as the orgasms you're going to give me."

"Ah, a challenge." The tip of his tongue teased the seam of my lips, tempting me with the promise of a kiss he deliberately withheld.

"Gideon!"

"Lay back, angel, and grip your pillow with both hands." His mouth curved in a wicked smile. "Don't let go for any reason. Understand?"

Swallowing hard, I did as I was told, so turned on I thought I might come from just the relentless spasming of my needy sex.

He kicked the covers down to the footboard. "Spread your legs and pull up your knees."

My breath caught audibly as my nipples hardened further, causing a deep ache in my breasts. God, Gideon was hot as hell like this. I was panting with excitement, my mind spinning with the possibilities. The flesh between my legs trembled with want.

"Oh, Eva," he crooned, running his index finger through my slick cleft. "Look how greedy you are for me. It's a full-time job keeping this sweet little cunt satisfied."

That single rigid finger pushed into me, parting the swollen tissues. I tightened around him, so close to coming I could taste it. He withdrew and lifted his hand to his mouth, licking my flavor from his skin. My hips arched without volition, my body straining toward his.

"Your fault I'm so hot for you," I gasped. "You slacked on the job for days."

"Then I better make up for lost time." Sliding down into a prone position, he settled his shoulders beneath my thighs and rimmed the quivering entrance to my body with the tip of his tongue. Around and around. Ignoring my clit and refraining from fucking me even when I begged.

"Gideon, please."

"Shh. I have to get you ready first."

"I'm ready. I was ready before you woke up."

"Then you should've woken me earlier. I'll always take care of you, Eva. I live for it."

Whimpering in distress, I rocked my hips into that teasing tongue. Only when I was soaked with my own arousal, creaming desperately for the feel of any part of him I could get inside me, did he crawl over me and settle between my spread thighs, placing his forearms flat on the bed.

He held my gaze. His cock, feverishly hot and hard as stone, lay against the lips of my sex. I wanted it inside me more than I wanted to breathe. "Now," I gasped. "Now."

With a practiced shift of his hips, he rammed deep into me, shoving me up the bed.

"Ah, God," I gasped, convulsing ecstatically around the thick column of flesh that possessed me. This was what I'd needed since we'd talked in his home office, what I'd craved as I rode up and down his steely erection before dinner, what I'd needed even as I climaxed around his thick length.

"Don't come," he murmured in my ear, cupping my breasts in his hands and rolling my nipples between his thumb and forefingers.

"What?" I was pretty sure if he'd just take a deep breath I'd go off.

"And don't let go of the pillow."

Gideon began to move in a slow, lazy rhythm. "You're going to want to," he murmured, nuzzling the sensitive spot beneath my ear. "You love to grab my hair and rake your nails down my back. And when you're close to coming, you like to squeeze my ass and yank me deeper. Makes me so damn hard when you go wild like that, when you show me how much you love how I feel inside you."

"No fair," I moaned, knowing he was deliberately provoking me. The cadence of his raspy voice was perfectly timed with the relentless surging of his hips. "You're torturing me."

"Good things come to those who wait." His tongue traced the shell of my ear, and then dipped inside at the same moment he tugged on my nipples.

I bucked into his next thrust and nearly came. Gideon knew my body so well, knew all its secrets and erogenous zones. He was expertly stroking his cock inside me, rubbing over and over the tender bundle of nerves that quivered in delight.

Rolling his hips, he screwed into me, exploiting other spots. I made a plaintive sound, on fire for him, desperately infatuated. My fingers cramped with the grip I had on my pillow, my head thrashing against the driving need to orgasm. He could get me there just by rubbing inside me, the only man who'd ever been skilled enough to give me an intense vaginal orgasm.

"Don't come," he repeated, his voice hoarse. "Make it last."

"I c-can't. It feels too good. God, Gideon..." Tears leaked out of the corners of my eyes. "I...I'm lost in you."

I cried softly, afraid to say the other L-word too soon and risk upsetting the delicate balance between us.

"Oh, Eva." He rubbed his cheek against my damp face. "I must've wished for you so hard and so often you had no choice but to come true."

"Please," I begged softly. "Slow down."

Gideon lifted his head to look at me, choosing that moment to pinch my nipples with just enough force to inflict a hint of pain. The tender muscles inside me clenched down so hard that his next thrust caused him to groan.

"Please," I pled again, trembling with the effort to stave off my building climax. "I'm going to come if you don't slow down."

His gaze was hot on my face, his hips still lunging in a measured tempo that was slowly stealing my sanity. "Don't you want to come, Eva?" he purred in that voice that could lure me into hell with a dreamy smile. "Isn't that what you've been working toward all night?"

My neck arched as his lips drifted across my throat. "Only when you say I can," I gasped. "Only...when you say."

"Angel." One hand moved to my face, brushing back the strands of hair that clung to the perspiration on my skin. He kissed me deeply, reverently, licking deep into my mouth.

Yes...

"Come for me," he coaxed, quickening his pace. "Come, Eva."

On command, the orgasm struck me like a blow, shocking my system with an overload of sensation. Wave after wave of pulsing heat rolled through me, contracting my sex and tightening my core. I cried out, first with an inarticulate sound of agonized pleasure, then with his name. Chanting it over and over as he drove his beautiful cock into me, prolonging my climax, before pushing me into another one.

"Touch me," he rasped, as I fell apart beneath him. "Hold me."

Freed from his command to hold the pillow, I bound him to my sweat-slick body with arms and legs. He pounded deep and hard, driving strenuously toward his climax.

He came with a growl, his head thrown back as he spurted into me for long minutes. I held him until our bodies cooled and our breathing evened.

When Gideon finally rolled off me, he didn't go far. He wrapped himself around my back and whispered, "Sleep now."

I don't remember if I stayed awake long enough to reply.

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