Authors: Julia Sykes
All this talk of Doms and BDSM and allowing myself to be vulnerable to my emotions was messing with my head. My lust for Reed and the dark sensuality he exuded was poison to my psyche. The secret desires he stirred within me would ruin me if I acted on them. I had seen what had been done to Lydia Chase. That was what happened if a woman gave up sexual power to a man. That was what came of enjoying pain with sex.
“Does my little pet like pain?”
I shuddered. I couldn’t quite shake the feel of cruel hands upon me. The faint light tricking through my blinds let me know dawn was coming. It was far too early to get up – usually I slept in as late as possible – but no way was I going to be able to fall back asleep. I was too frightened of what horrific scenes would play out behind my closed eyelids.
My knees wobbled when I pushed myself to my feet, but I managed a drunken walk to my bathroom. I cranked up the shower until it was scalding hot and then stepped under the spray. The sound of the pounding water smothered my sobs, and the warm droplets rolling down my cheeks masked my tears. I was glad of that. I couldn’t allow myself to acknowledge that I was a blubbering mess.
I am not weak. I am not weak.
I repeated the mantra in my head and sucked in deep breaths. They burned as I forced them down my constricted throat, but my sobs quieted.
By the time my fingertips became wrinkled, I had stopped my shameful tears. Martel was dead. He couldn’t hurt me. I wasn’t afraid of a dream.
The lie was comforting, the practice familiar. If I just told myself I wasn’t scared, the fear would go away. Frank had taught me that. He had also taught me that throwing myself into work helped me take my mind off my own emotions. Entering that cool, composed place
allowed me to delve into the lives of heinous criminals and it allowed me to detach from my own problems as well.
I opened my laptop and plugged in the flash drive that Josh Dover had given us. Gizmo jumped up onto the couch and settled in beside me, pressing against my thigh with furry, comforting warmth. I had been researching the patrons of Dusk for nearly two hours when my buzzer shattered my almost trance-like concentration. Usually, I would have cussed up a storm at someone stopping by my apartment at this hour. I wasn’t one to throw around colorful swear words casually, but waking me up early was a sure way to bring out my inner grouch.
This time, my grumpiness was for other reasons. Losing myself in work had been a relief, and now my morning visitor was shredding that, pulling me back to reality.
The buzzer sounded again.
“Wait just a fucking second, asshole.” My cursing was in full swing, despite the fact that I had been awake for hours. I really wasn’t fit for human interaction before eight AM.
“Who is it?” I almost snapped into my receiver.
“Good morning to you, too, sunshine. It’s Reed. Let me in.”
“You could ask, you know,” I informed him testily.
A little exasperated noise huffed out of my chest, but I buzzed him up. My toe tapped a staccato beat on the floor while I waited for him to arrive. I practically wrenched the door open with my irritation when I heard the first knock.
“Please, for the love of god, tell me you have coffee.” His voice was a low rumble, made rougher than usual by weariness. His captivating eyes were bloodshot, and his formerly crisp white collared shirt was rumpled.
“What happened to you?”
The ghost of a smile played around his lips. “Aren’t you just a peach in the morning?” With that, he stepped forward, forcing me to back up and admit him. I didn’t even process the fact that he had entered without my invitation. I just moved aside as I studied him quizzically.
“Did you pull an all-nighter?”
“Yep.” He strode into my small, narrow kitchen as though he owned the place. His eyes scanned the countertop, and he frowned. “You really don’t have a coffee pot. How do you live like this?” The look he shot me was one of admonition. “You would be more pleasant in the mornings with a little caffeine, you know.”
I ignored the jibe. “You should have called me to let me know you were working last night. I would have come into the office with you and helped out.”
“I wasn’t at the office.”
My brows drew together. He didn’t strike me as the type to stay out at bars all night when he was working a case.
Unless he was with a woman…
“Where were you, then?” My question was a touch more incisive than I would have liked.
“Outside your place.” He shrugged, as though that information was of little consequence.
I blinked, taken aback. “You slept in your car? Why?”
His expression told me I was being a bit slow. “I didn’t sleep. I was keeping an eye out for your stalker. Now that we know who to look for, I wanted to make sure Parnell was nowhere near your apartment.”
A long moment of silence passed as that sank in. I knew Reed wanted to protect me, but I hadn’t thought he would go so far as to keep watch over me. I suddenly felt guilty for being so snappish when he first arrived.
“Sorry I don’t have any coffee,” I said softly, at a loss as to what else to say.
He smiled. “I’m sorry, too. You look like you could use some.” He took inventory of me. I was sure my eyes were as red as his, and I probably had ugly dark circles under them.
“I couldn’t sleep,” I admitted.
It suddenly struck me that I was wearing my ratty old sweatpants and a thin camisole. And I wasn’t wearing a bra. Of course, as soon as I realized that, my nipples hardened. Reed’s eyes flicked to my chest, and his nostrils flared before he lifted his gaze back to my face.
I bit my lip and looked away, my cheeks flaming.
“I, um… I think I have eggs in the fridge. Can I make you breakfast?”
“I’d rather have a shower and change, if you don’t mind.” Reed hefted a small tote bag that I hadn’t noticed hanging at his side.
He hadn’t even gone home to get dressed?
“You didn’t have to do that,” I told him. “You didn’t have to watch my place. I can look out for myself.”
“I know I didn’t have to, and I know you can. That doesn’t change the fact that I did. Now, can I take a shower here or are we going to my hotel?”
He nodded. “I’m not leaving you alone until we catch this guy.”
I stared at him for a moment, dumbfounded. He stared back, waiting.
“Just give me a sec.” I found myself darting into my room. I threw my covers back in a semblance of having made my bed, and I hastily tugged on my work clothes. It was a relief to know that my peaked nipples were concealed by my bra and blouse when I returned to the small living room.
“Okay.” I jerked my thumb at my bedroom door, letting him know he could pass. “You can take a shower. Towels are in the linen closet to the right of the sink.” An image of him under the hot spray flashed across my mind. Reed Miller was going to be naked. In my shower. With only one thin wall separating us.
He smirked as he took in my pink cheeks. “Thanks.”
He brushed past me before I could make my brain function properly again. His scent wafted over me, further impeding my ability to think. Half a minute passed before I realized I was standing frozen in the middle of my living room.
Reed probably thought the same. His smirk told me as much. I had caught glimpses of desire from him, like when his gaze had riveted on my chest only minutes earlier, but he didn’t seem as strongly affected by me as I was by him.
And why would he be? I was nothing special. I wasn’t some bombshell or enticing temptress. Hell, I had only had sex with one guy other than George, and that had been one drunken night in college. I had been a twenty-one year old virgin, and I decided I needed to do something about it. The sex had been so lackluster that I hadn’t really gotten what all the fuss was about. I only had sex with George four years later because it seemed like the right thing to do. We were adults in a committed relationship. Wasn’t that what people did?
But George hadn’t ignited passion within me, either. What we shared didn’t come close to the steamy scenes in the books I secretly stored on my Kindle. Alpha males; bondage; spankings.
I hadn’t dared to pick up my
ereader since I came across Lydia Chase’s case.
My closely-guarded fantasies were bleeding into my reality when it came to Reed Miller. I spent plenty of time around alpha males, but he was the only out-and-proud Dominant I knew. That knowledge did funny things to my insides.
If I was being honest, it was more than just the knowledge that did it for me. Reed was gorgeous, and a flirt at that. What woman could resist fantasizing about him?
I recalled the Reed in my dream, the way he had incited my lust as he bound me, teasing me. An echo of that heat flared between my legs, even as my mind tangled around the way he had changed into Martel and hurt me.
No matter what Reed said, no matter how good he was, BDSM was wrong. It would bring me nothing but grief.
“Does my little pet like pain?”
“You okay?” I jolted at Reed’s voice.
I was still standing where he had left me, frozen in my brooding.
” I was about to tell him I was fine, but the lie died in my throat when I turned to him. His black eyes and taut lips forbade my dishonesty. I sighed. “I’m just a little off this morning. I didn’t sleep well last night.”
His expression softened.
My voice was small, but I told the truth.
“Want to talk about it?”
“No.” I was grateful he had given me the option. No way was I going to admit to my kinky dream about him. And I didn’t want to tell him how he had turned into Martel. I got the feeling he wouldn’t appreciate that. I recalled how angry he had become when he accused me of thinking he was like Martel, that he enjoyed abusing women. No, I definitely wasn’t willing to tell him about my messed-up dream.
“Okay,” he capitulated easily. “Let’s get some coffee, then. I don’t know how much longer I can make it without going into withdrawals.”
It struck me all over again that he had gone without sleep to watch over me. He looked more refreshed after his shower, but I knew he must be exhausted. I continued to study him anyway, helpless to stop myself. His black hair was slick with water and mussed where he had run the towel over it to dry it. He looked slightly messy. He wasn’t wearing his suit jacket, and his black tie was loosened. It was so different from the smoothly cultured look he usually portrayed. This was a wilder, more intimate side of Reed, the real man behind the carefully controlled FBI agent. And yet, he still radiated that same sense of power. If anything, it was more potent, as though the trappings of everyday life kept it leashed.
I was suddenly aware of how close he was. I could feel the heat of his body pulsing towards mine, almost as though it was reaching out for me. I didn’t understand why he seemed to be drawn to me, why he was so concerned with protecting me. The man hardly knew me.
“Why?” I breathed, truly baffled as to why he would go to such lengths to keep me safe. “Why are you looking out for me like this?” A cruel conclusion was my first answer. My gaze narrowed. “Do you think I need a babysitter?”
He stepped right into my personal space, and his heat enveloped me. “No. I think you need a Dom.” His voice was deep, the statement an absolute. His hand curled around the back of my neck, tenderly caressing at first,
then gripping me firmly when I didn’t protest. I couldn’t even begin to formulate an objection. My skin sparked where he touched me, and when his fingers tightened around my nape, something softened deep within me.
My instinct to fight was utterly absent. My body became strangely light, pliant, and my will bent to his. It was automatic, a natural response to his dominance. The pressure of his fingers against the side of my throat increased, and my head dropped back. Light reflected off his polished ebony eyes as they flashed with satisfaction. My lips parted in invitation, and his descended on mine.
His kiss was deliberate; there was nothing hurried about the way his mouth moved over mine, but his lips firmly demanded that mine shape to his. I sighed into him, and his hand slid up into my hair, slowly curling into a fist, increasing the pull on the copper strands until tingles raced across my scalp in response to the delicious little pain of it. His arm wrapped around me, and his hand found the small of my back, pressing my hips into his.
Even as lust flared, it was the intimidating size of his thick erection that brought me back to my senses. Images from my dream flashed across my mind, and I remembered how desire at his hard cock against me had morphed to terror.
I stiffened beneath him, and my hands came up to press against his chest. The feel of his hard muscles tightening beneath my fingers almost made me melt all over again, but Reed was already pulling away.
My breath came in little pants as I stared up at him, and his eyes clouded over with his own confusion. He took a careful step back.