Authors: Tamsen Parker
Tags: #Fiction, #Romance
Four months ago, Slade Lewis got to fulfill his wildest, long-repressed BDSM fantasies during a one-night stand. Since then, getting more has been the only thing on his mind.
When Slade manages to earn the keys to Reyes Walter’s kinky kingdom, he finds himself face-to-face with none other than Pressly Allwyn, the pearl-bedecked love of his life whom he pushed into divorce six years ago.
Now she’s back, and the fetish he was afraid would drive them apart instead draws them together. They indulge in their common kink together, but past hurts and old insecurities complicate any relationship outside their erotic exploits. Caught between the worlds of hot-button politics and even hotter bedroom games, Pressly and Slade will have to decide how far they’re willing to go for a second chance at happily ever after.
For Christa, thank you for making this book better on its own terms, couldn’t have done it without you.
Six Years Earlier
es, Madame Secretary.
Thank you so much. I’m looking forward to working with you. Have a good evening.”
I hang up the phone and collapse into my desk chair after having paced my way through an hour-long conversation with the freshly named Secretary of HUD. And, not coincidentally, the woman who’s going to be my new boss.
Just like that, I’m on my way.
No. Not “just like that.” That makes it sound easy. Doesn’t account for the four years I busted my ass as an undergrad at West Virginia University, forsaking everything but my studies and any law-related extracurriculars I could cram into my week. Doesn’t reflect the three years I locked myself in the law library at GW. Or the five I slaved away in the community organizing department of the mayor’s office before I decided I couldn’t eat ramen and live with roommates forever so I could make a dent in my student loans. Or the eight I’ve spent on K Street, clawing my way up the ranks of Bennett, Alexander & Associates. Or the hundreds of cocktail parties, political fundraisers, and ass-kissing opportunities that made me miserable.
But I’m in. I’d been slightly dismayed when Myra Vazquez was named Secretary of HUD—that’s really what I’ve been gunning for my entire career—but not shocked. I have to admit, grudgingly, that she’s a good choice. And now I have the next best thing: Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for the Office of Public and Indian Housing. Hopefully a waypoint on my journey to the cabinet.
I should feel victorious, and I do. I’ve worked hard for this, sacrificed, and it’s paid off. Goddamn is my name going to look good next to that green and blue seal on my business cards, and I’m going to feel like a big man strutting down those hallways, having myriad staffers at my disposal. It’s going to be awesome. So awesome I can taste the power in my mouth.
I can’t wait to tell Pressly. Except…
My pretty wife is waiting downstairs, no doubt sitting on the couch with her feet tucked up next to her, her blonde hair twisted into a messy bun, maybe working on the fundraising gala she’s putting together for next month, watching TV, or on the phone with her parents.
Thoughts of Ma and Pa Allwyn make the dread that had been budding in my stomach burst into full bloom. Pressly will be happy for me, I have no doubt, as will Ma Allwyn. Pa’s always thought Pressly was wasted on me, and he’s probably right. Regardless, since the moment I met her at a Capitol Hill cocktail party a well-meaning buddy of mine dragged me to, there’s been nothing in this world that gives me a thrill as much as Pressly’s approval. It’s one of the few things that makes me feel like a success: a sweet smile that shows her perfectly white teeth, her bright blue eyes shining with pride, laudatory words shaped by her Deep-South aristocratic drawl.
And I’ve wrecked it all. On purpose.
I lever out of my desk chair, tuck my cell back in my pocket, and drag my feet across the Persian rug Press got me for my birthday last year. So fucking thoughtful, my wife. The words are sour in my mind as I make my way down the stairs.
There she is, cross-legged on the couch, her laptop perched on her knees while she leafs through a thick binder that has fabric and stationery samples spilling out the edges. When she hears me walk into the room, she looks up, a guarded expression on her face that I’ve put there over the past couple of years.
Her professionally shaped brows go up in a silent question.
“That was Secretary Vazquez.”
I don’t have to explain who that is. Pressly knows the power players in DC as well as I do. Better. Because that’s how she was raised—to be a political wife, an asset to whichever Republican candidate lucky enough to get Pa Allwyn’s blessing. God knows he hadn’t given it to me, but I married his little girl anyway. A year after I met her, and I’ve never looked at another woman. Except to scream them down to humiliated tears.
“She’s asked me to be the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for the Office of Public and Indian Housing.” It’s a long, stupid title, but one I’m honored to have. I’ve thought about it so much since Vazquez got her appointment that it rolls off my tongue with ease.
Pressly meets my announcement with a flash of a smile before she tames it into an edgy nod. “That’s wonderful. Congratulations.”
If this had happened in the early days of our marriage, she’d be launching herself off the couch and throwing her full weight at me. Wrapping her legs around my waist and kissing me until I couldn’t breathe. Making me giddy with her infectious enthusiasm for my accomplishment, my unquestionable success. I can picture it in my mind and ache for the loss of something that’s never going to happen.
“Thank you.” My acceptance is as stiff as my posture, and I look away from her and her heartfelt, if restrained, felicitations. Add that sinking, sickening feeling to my frothy elation over my professional victory and I’m surprised I haven’t puked all over the floor.
That’s when it happens. The thing I’ve been waiting for, the words I’ve been expecting for a long time.
“Slade, I’m sorry to do this today, but there’s something I wanted to talk to you about. I want…” A ripple in her throat as she swallows and a pursing of her slightly too-wide mouth. “I want a divorce.”
I’ve heard it a million times in my head, have played this moment over and over in fits of self-loathing. Planned for it, prepared for it, desperately desired it. And yet now that it’s here, my heart still drops to the floor and shatters into a million ugly pieces. I don’t fake surprise because I won’t insult her that way. I’ve been driving her toward this, practically shoving her into it.
Hate me. Be hurt by my feigned indifference and crave the intimacy I’ve been withholding from you. Feel betrayed because I’m not the man you thought. Just don’t…don’t be disgusted by me. And I hope you’re getting out of this marriage before I do any lasting damage. That’s all I’ve ever wanted—to keep you safe.
“Of course. If it’s okay with you, I’ll set up a meeting with Sheldon Nazario.”
She blinks at me, and her lips part, surprise and grief marring her pretty features when I mention Sheldon, a superstar of family law and a good friend of her family. Of her father, in particular. They’re friends from Pa Allwyn’s days as Mississippi’s head of the Republican National Committee. Had she expected me to fight? Hoped I would? If I were a weaker man, I would. I’d get down on my knees and put my head in her lap, beg her forgiveness and confess:
I’m a monster, Pressly. But I love you. I’ve been driving you away so I wouldn’t ruin you. I’m a selfish fuck, but you’re the best thing that’s ever happened to me. Please don’t go. I’ll make it up to you, I swear. I’ll be better for you. I’ll change for you.
But I’m stronger than that. I’ve tried to change, put my considerable drive into it, but the thoughts, the voices, the desires—they won’t stop. And I can’t anymore. I love her too much to keep her here, trapped in a marriage to a man who’s barely human. Who has nothing to offer a woman like her. I wish I could tell her, explain it. But what would she do, my unfailingly optimistic wife?
Laugh and ruffle my hair. Probably kiss me and shake her head.
“Don’t be silly, Slade. You’re a good man. I love you.”
She wouldn’t understand, and it would be years until I could work up the nerve again. This is my shot. So I stand there, even as her chin trembles and her eyes brim with tears. Her fingers weave together in her lap, and her knuckles turn white as she wrenches them. From how it makes my stomach feel, she might as well be mangling my insides.
“Yeah,” she finally chokes out, unshed tears making her voice hitch. “Shelly’s very good.”
I nod. Nazario’s the best, and I’ll make sure he knows to let Pressly walk away from this with whatever she wants. She can have everything—the house, the money, all of it. Because what will it matter when she’s gone? A man doesn’t need any possessions to be a misanthropic, ruthless, cold-blooded workaholic.
Even though I’ve accomplished my goal, done what I meant to do, I feel like a failure. Have to swallow down my own anguish and heartbreak and stave off the regret and the apologies. Instead, I say, “He’s the best,” and turn on my heel to head back to my office on the second floor, pretending not to hear Pressly’s sobbing behind me.