“I know. I’m sorry.” Strangely, it was a genuine apology.

Why did it matter? I couldn’t answer that question, except to say that it did. There was no point in denying his effect on me, no point in denying that I wanted his approval, his trust. What was it about him that created this reaction in me?

He was standing far enough behind me that we weren’t touching, but close enough that I felt heat coming from him. I should have felt self-conscious about my attire—or lack thereof—but I wasn’t. Not with him. And again, why wasn’t I? I wasn’t a prude, nor was I shy. I could rock a bikini without feeling self-conscious, but I wasn’t a show-off, either. I didn’t flash more skin than I felt comfortable with. The T-shirt I was wearing just barely cleared the bottom of my ass, leaving almost my entire lower half on display for him. And this didn’t bother me in the slightest. I felt…at ease despite being half-naked around a man I’d known for less time than it had taken me to fly here from Detroit.

“I told you not to fail that test.”

“Yes, you did.”

“And yet you still peeked.”

“I’m a curious girl, what can I say?”

“You’re a bad girl.” His voice was low, dark, thick with promise.

“Yeah?” I heard the teasing rasp in my voice, and wondered who it was. Not me, surely. “What are you gonna do about it?” I swallowed hard, waiting for his response.

I felt his fingers pinch the cotton of my shirt, lifting it. He let it rest on the swell of my ass. The underwear I wore was somewhere between lingerie and basic briefs. It was the kind of lacy panty that was molded to my ass, cutting in tight between my ass cheeks. Light pink in color, comfy, sexy. Now I felt revealed, exposed. I wasn’t breathing; I didn’t dare. I’d been bad. Disobedient.

Even thinking in those terms made me squirm with discomfort. I wasn’t a child who worried about disobeying. But yet the feeling persisted, fear mixed with excitement.


Something warm and rough cupped my ass. I swayed, nearly dropping my beer. I tried to breathe. I was getting dizzy from having held my breath for so long. His hand caressed first one side, and then the other. He sucked in a short, sharp breath.

“Bloody hell, Kyrie. So damned perfect.” His words weren’t really meant for me, it seemed, stumbling out of his mouth in a barely audible mumble.

I was about to demur, to remind him I wasn’t perfect, when he spoke again. Louder, to me, this time.

“No more peeking, yes?”

Once again, I opened my mouth to speak when I was cut off. This time, by a quick yet stinging smack to my right ass cheek. It wasn’t hard; it didn’t hurt. It just…surprised me. I gasped at the unexpected contact, and then the gasp morphed into something else when his palm smoothed and gentled my stinging flesh.

“No more peeking, yes?” His tone was prompting, demanding an answer. I was too surprised and mixed-up to form words. I nodded, hoping that would do. Apparently not. The light, sharp slap came to the left side of my butt this time, once again followed immediately by a soothing circle of his warm hand. “No…more…peeking. Yes?”

“Yes…yes.” The answer flew from my lips, breathless, and then I sucked in a long breath, finally able to breathe.

“That wasn’t so bad, now, was it?” His hand rested on the bell of my hip, casual, possessive.

Familiar. As if it belonged there.

“I thought…I thought you said you weren’t into that?”

“Did I hurt you?”

“No,” I admitted.

“It was a reminder. I expect answers when I ask questions. I would never, ever cause you pain. A bit of a sting, that’s all.” His breath stole over my neck, and his voice rumbled in my ear. God, I wanted so badly to turn around. “And you liked it, didn’t you?”

I knew I had to answer. “Yes.” My answer was barely a breath — it didn’t count as speech. It was a susurrus of mortification.

“If you truly don’t like something, if it causes you prolonged discomfort or pain, tell me. I should, under all circumstances, be able to read your responses to what I do, but if for some reason I miss something, just tell me. But please—for both our sakes—examine yourself before you ask me to stop. Find out if you really truly want me to stop. Or if you’re merely afraid of liking something new.”

I took a long pull off my beer and then, in an instinctual gesture that surprised me as much as him, I think, I leaned my head back until it met his chest. I kept my eyes closed, per our agreement.

“This is all so…much,” I heard myself admit. “So different. So strange. So scary. I don’t know what’s happening to me. You—you do something to me. Just by—I don’t even know—without trying. Like you know all my switches and buttons. But you couldn’t. You couldn’t possibly know what makes me tick this well. No amount of stalking, watching me from a distance, could tell you what turns me on.”

“Yes, you’re right.” His voice, coming from so close, from his chest, from above my head…was loud, pure energy and vibration. “I told you, Kyrie. I can read you like a book. You’re scared, but you want this. You hate the fact that I affect you so much, but you like it in equal measure. The fear makes it that much more exciting.”

Glass touched wood, and then he took my bottle and set it down as well on the table behind us. His hands slid down my arms. His body towered behind me. His breath blew on my neck.

“Eyes closed, Kyrie.”

“They are,” I told him.

“Good.” A brief pause. “Do you trust me?”

“I’m trying. I’m getting there.”

“For all that I’m in control here, this still moves at your speed. I will push your boundaries, push you beyond what you think you’re comfortable with, but not so fast that your fears take over.” Fingers, tangling in mine, big and hard and hot, twining with my own, small and trembling and cool. “Tell me what you want. Right now. One thing that you want to feel.”

There was no hesitation. “Another kiss.”

“Good girl.”

I hated that phrase, the way it was said, praising my response. “I’m not a f**king dog, so don’t ‘good girl’ me.”

He chuckled. “Touchy, touchy.”

“I’m not touchy. I just resent being spoken to as if I’m a poodle that finally managed to sit on command.”