About the book
Shattered by the loss of his wife, Callum Reed is a man surrounded by rules designed to protect him. He rebuilds his life with careful discipline, but can’t deny what he feels when he meets the lovely Gabrielle Sullivan. She’s everything he wants in a woman, but he views all relationships as contractual. Despite her misgivings, Gaby signs his contract and becomes his perfect partner. Until the night she breaks his cardinal rule.
After three years of perfect obedience, Gaby declares she wants love and she isn’t settling for less. Love isn’t in their contract, so Cal lets her go. But Gaby has a secret reason for leaving. When Cal discovers the truth, nothing will stop him from following her.
On a secluded island paradise, Callum will do anything to prove he’s the perfect husband for his defiant love.
“Do you love me?”
The question stopped Callum Reed in his tracks. He’d been ready to lean down and fuse his mouth to hers, to complete the final portion of the act. He liked this part more than he cared to admit, this moment when the world seemed to still and everything narrowed to him and her.
But that one question chilled his warm bed and made everything they’d done before feel meaningless.
He stared down at the woman who’d recently screamed her climax in his arms and everything inside him tensed. She’d never asked the question before, never mentioned the “L” word unless she was talking about Italian food or her favorite rom com.
He was not ready for this.
“Go to sleep, Gabrielle,” he ordered in his deepest voice. He was in control and this was not happening now.
He pulled her into his arms. Something was going on with her this evening. Perhaps it was the book she was reading. Romantic drivel. Maybe it was because her birthday was coming up and she was feeling sentimental. It didn’t matter because this wasn’t something he was going into with her. Not now. Not ever.
In the morning, things would be back to normal. He’d go to work and Gaby would do…whatever it was she did all day. The crisis would pass and they would go back to normal.
She was an obedient girl. It was the very reason he’d chosen her as his submissive. She nestled down in his arms, finding her place there. She fit against him like a puzzle piece finding its home, but her breathing didn’t calm. There was a tightness to her body that should have been eased by the sex of mere moments before. Cal tried soothing her. He smoothed her hair down and kissed her ear, enjoying how soft she felt against him.
She sat up suddenly. The gray-green eyes that stared down at him were so serious, he wished he’d turned the light off. “I’m not letting you put this off. I deserve an answer. Do you love me, Cal?”
He threw an arm over his eyes and sighed. Something had her riled up and it was obvious he wasn’t going to have any peace until he fixed it. “What do you want?”
“I want the truth. I’ve lived with you for three years now.” Gaby’s voice was unsteady, lilting up and down, an unmistakable clue to her emotional state.
Please don’t cry. She’d been crying a lot lately. He would come home and find the evidence, but when he asked her, she would simply give him a smile that didn’t reach her eyes and tell him she was all right.
He didn’t like it when she cried.
“Are you ever going to ask me to marry you?”
Of course, he also didn’t like it when she attempted to change the boundaries of their relationship.
He sat up and started to look for his pants. Of all the things she could say, this was the one most likely to get him moving. “No. I was very clear about that. I have no intentions of ever marrying again.”
“Because you loved your wife and you won’t ever love another woman?”
A hard knot sat in his chest. He wasn’t sure if that knot was about his wife, Cassie, or the fact that he was about to have a prolonged fight with Gabrielle. Gabrielle was a sweet girl and he enjoyed her, but he would never allow himself to love anyone again. He’d had his chance with a woman and she died. The thought of marrying Gabrielle, of being that close…he couldn’t go through that again. He’d known he couldn’t and that was why he’d structured his relationship with Gabrielle the way he had.
He wanted her, but he knew his limits. He needed his distance. “I was up-front and honest with you, Gabrielle. I never told you this was going past where it is now. You have a collar. It’s the only piece of jewelry I ever intend to buy you.”
There was a moment of silence and then she seemed to find more courage. “Do you ever want to have children with me?”
The knot in his chest threatened to burst and rip him apart.
He slapped at the nightstand, unable to stem the tide of emotion the question brought out in him. “I don’t want children. I made that plain. We signed a contract. We spent hours discussing what we wanted out of this relationship and it wasn’t only me doing the talking. I provide everything for you. I provide you with a home, a car, your clothes…”
“And I act as your wife,” she returned with some fire of her own. She sat up in bed, getting to her knees. Normally it was a position that signaled her submission, but there was nothing submissive about her now. Her chin was up and she hid not an inch of her body from him, meeting him stare for stare. Her gorgeous breasts were flushed a pretty pink and he forced his eyes away from them. “Don’t pretend like I lie around all day. I keep the house and host your parties. I make dinner every night. I keep your books.”
He got out of bed and started to pace. He should have seen this coming. He should have known it was only a matter of time before she made her play, but then he’d fucking fooled himself into thinking she was different from other women. He’d stupidly congratulated himself on finding the one woman in the world who didn’t need a ring on her finger and access to every dime of his wealth to be happy. She’d seemed to need him, to need who he was as a Dom.
She’d been exquisitely patient. Three years she’d waited to spring her trap.
“So now you want a ring in exchange for domestic servitude.” He shoved down all the feelings she’d brought out when she’d mentioned children, allowing the heartache to morph into something he could handle. Bitterness. Anger. Yes, he was well acquainted with those. “Well, sweetheart, next time don’t sell yourself so cheaply. There’s an old saying here in Texas about paying for milk…”
“Don’t.” Her shoulders fell and all the fire she’d shown seemed to disappear, her voice going quiet. “Don’t compare me to a cow. I just wanted to know, okay?”
The moment lengthened, the silence so full of emotion he couldn’t stand it. They didn’t need to do this. She didn’t need that dull look in her eyes when everything was quite good between them. She’d made her play. He’d explained it wouldn’t work, but he found he couldn’t shut her down entirely. He dropped to one knee in front of her, letting his hands drift to her legs. The contact comforted him as it had every day for the last three years.
She was still here. He could keep her. “Let’s start this over again. Baby, just because I don’t want to get married again doesn’t mean I don’t care about you.”
A little spark animated her face. “You do?”
“Of course.” He had to deal with her gently. Perhaps he hadn’t praised her enough, told her how content he was with her.
There was a way out of this mess that question had made. He simply had to find the right thing to say to get her back to normal.
Because he was quite surprised at how desperately he wanted normal.
He would have told anyone who asked that if his sub gave him trouble, he would simply dismiss her. Gaby had been with him for a long time. That was all.
He was used to her. He hated the thought of training someone else.
Who the fuck was he kidding? He couldn’t imagine his life without her. He sat back on his heels, stunned and a bit frightened at the thought. Gabrielle was in every part of his life. It would be brutal to pull her out of it. He shook his head.
“I haven’t spent three years with you on a lark. We work well together. The sex is good. I don’t see why we can’t continue for the foreseeable future.”
“But you don’t love me,” she said quietly. This time, he could tell it wasn’t a question. “You’re not ever going to fall in love with me. If three years of living with me hasn’t done it, it’s not going to happen.”
Cal put his hands on her shoulders. He forced her to look into his eyes. Why the hell was she pushing him? What did she think she was going to get out of this? “I never promised to be anything more than your Master.”
The tears in her eyes almost did him in, but he forced himself to hold her apart. She would use any weakness against him.
She brushed a hand over her cheeks, whisking the tears away. The pain in her eyes—that stayed right where it was. “You were honest, Callum. I was fooling myself. Could you leave me alone for a moment? I’d like to get dressed.”
“Gabrielle, it’s one in the morning.” He stared at the gold choker around her throat that marked her as his submissive. He didn’t use the word slave, though it practically described her. She never argued with him, never fought. She did exactly what he told her to do and he was counting on that fact now. “You’re going to bed. In the morning, we’ll get back to normal.”
For the first time in their three years together, she shook her head, indicating her negative response.
He watched with shock as her hands went behind her neck. She unclasped the necklace she’d worn without fail for years. Eyes downcast, she offered it back to him.
“I’m sure you’ll need it for the next one.” She forced the necklace into his hand, her eyes lingering on it briefly before she looked up at him. Her politeness held a brittle edge. “My suitcase is already packed. If you’ll give me a moment to get dressed, I’ll leave.”
He felt his face harden, jaw tightening as he realized what was really happening. She was going all out with this one. She thought she could pull a power play on him? He wouldn’t be manipulated, and perhaps it was time to show her who held all the cards in this game she’d started. “Explain to me how you intend to leave? My name is on that car of yours. All of your credit cards are in my name as well. And your bank account.”
She flushed, a sure sign that he’d hurt her. Well, she’d hurt him, too. Her eyes narrowed on him. She was absolutely gorgeous when she was angry. Her green eyes were darker, and her sable hair flowed across her shoulders. Everything about Gabrielle was soft and feminine. Even in her rage, she brought out his protective instincts. He fought to ignore them.
“I believe it was in our contract, Callum. If I stayed for at least two years, I’d get to keep the car, and you owe me fifty thousand dollars. Maybe I earned it on my back, but I earned it.”
“Oh, but you weren’t merely on your back, were you, sweetheart?” Cal could hear the ugly edge to his voice but did nothing to temper it. “You were on your front, your knees, tied up, tied down, however I liked it.”
“Yes, it was however you liked it. I did everything you asked me to do.”
He hated the fact that she wouldn’t fight with him. It made him crazy. It made him cruel. “I remember distinctly you arguing with me about that contract. You told me to pull the monetary clauses out because you didn’t need them.”
“I was wrong.”
He shook his head, unwilling to continue the game a second longer. He had her in check. “You can try to enforce that contract, darlin’. I can keep you tied up in court for a really long time. You’ll be an old woman before you see a dime of that money.”
Her beautiful face lost every bit of its color. The blood drained from her complexion so quickly Cal worried she might pass out.
“You won’t give me the money? I thought you would honor the contract. I didn’t think you would turn me out with nothing.”
He nearly growled his frustration. “I’m not turning you out. You’re threatening to leave because your plans to manipulate me didn’t work. I’m not giving you a dime. You can forget that plan, get back into bed, and in the morning, we’ll pretend this never happened. I’m willing to be magnanimous.”
He watched as she seemed to be seeking a way out. There wasn’t one. He was right. She wouldn’t try to enforce the contract they had signed at the beginning of the relationship. It was a BDSM contract with all sorts of boundaries. She would never take it to another lawyer. He was the best lawyer in Fort Worth. He knew exactly how to get out of his contract with Gabrielle.
She took a long breath. “I’ll find another way. I can get a job or something.”
Cal thought she said it more to herself than to him.
She glanced up at him. “If you don’t mind stepping out, I need to get dressed. I’ll call Heather. She can come and get me. Feel free to look through the suitcase. I’m only taking the things I came here with. You can donate the clothes and stuff to charity or find another plump girl to take my place.”
“Gabrielle!” He used his Dom voice on her, the one that told her she had some punishment coming.
“You can’t spank me anymore. I took off my collar.” She sighed and got up, pulling the sheet with her. She wound it around her body, covering it from him. She walked to the bathroom, obviously tired of waiting for him to give her the privacy she requested. “I can think whatever I want, do whatever I like. I’m not your responsibility anymore.”
That statement hit him squarely in the gut. She’d been his responsibility for years. How could she just take off the collar he’d placed on her? She’d given it back like it meant nothing. Like they’d meant nothing.
A memory of the night he’d placed that collar around her neck played through his head like a movie he couldn’t look away from.
They’d been private about it. Some of their friends had ceremonies at the various clubs they attended, but it seemed too close to marriage for Cal to feel comfortable. Instead he’d taken her to Austin, wined and dined her, and gently put the collar on when they got back to their suite.
She’d been naked and flushed, her hair all around her like some lush fertility goddess, and when she’d looked up at him, his collar around her neck, he’d felt something he’d never felt before in his life.
Right. He’d felt right.
He’d made love to her for hours that night.
He still felt right with her. How was she walking away? Had it all been an illusion?
He grabbed her arm and hauled her around to face him. “Why the hell did you stay with me for three years, Gabrielle? Because you thought I would marry you?”
She touched his face with her free hand, her fingers slipping slowly over his cheeks and down his jaw. It was a gentle caress, long and steady, as though she were trying to memorize the feeling. “No. I think I always knew you wouldn’t love me. I was fooling myself. But that wasn’t why I stayed. I stayed with you because I love you, Cal.”
He wanted…fuck he didn’t know what he wanted anymore. She had him chasing his own tail at this point. “But you don’t love me anymore?”
She shook her head. “I love you. I’ll always love you. It just isn’t enough. I want to be loved, too. I want someone to love me the way you loved Cassie. Don’t I deserve that?”
He dropped her arm, unable to look at her a moment longer. The door behind him closed, and he sank to the bed, head in his hands.
He couldn’t, wouldn’t love Gabrielle. He would never allow another woman inside his heart like that. It hurt too much. He could still see Cassie’s body lying on a cold slab in the morgue. She’d been thirty-two years old. He couldn’t love another woman.
His heart hurt, the ache making him touch his chest to make sure he hadn’t started bleeding. The pain…fuck, he’d promised himself he wouldn’t feel this kind of pain again.
Gabrielle was right. She did deserve better.
Like a robot, he forced himself to stand, forced opened the drawer of his desk and took out his checkbook. His hand shook slightly as he wrote out the check, adding another ten grand to the total. He found the title to the BMW and signed it over to her. He would call Heather and have everything he’d bought Gabrielle shipped to her new address.
He wouldn’t take another sub. He couldn’t imagine wanting anyone else.
Gabrielle looked older when she emerged from the bathroom. She wore faded jeans and a black shirt. He hated when she wore black. She thought it was slimming, but she didn’t need to be slimmed. She had an hourglass figure. He loved her curves. Her breasts were large and real. They matched her luscious hips and that ass he couldn’t get enough of. She was perfect. Her head was high as she reached for the bag she’d hidden away in the closet.
“Good-bye, Callum,” she said quietly. “I hope you find someone you can love someday.”
He pressed the paperwork in her hand. Her eyes flared briefly, but she thanked him, as though she were accepting a small courtesy, not taking the outcome of years of their relationship. He forced himself to be as cold as ice. If he didn’t, he’d be on his knees begging her not to leave.
She walked into the night.
And he was alone again.
Copyright 2018 Lexi Blake