He turned his face in to her hand, kissing her palm. “Ah, Kylie, I trust you absolutely. I trust you more than anyone else. I just don’t want to hurt you or bring back painful memories for you.”

“You won’t,” she said solemnly. “Not tonight. Tonight I’m here to listen. To be strong for you like you’ve been strong for me.”

God, but he loved this woman. The idea of not being with her ripped a hole in his heart. He never wanted to contemplate a life without her. Not now that he had her. She belonged to him, and he’d never willingly let her go.

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She touched his face again, lightly stroking the curve of his jaw.

“I love you. Remember that. Nothing you say will ever change that.”

He closed his eyes, wondering how he’d gotten so damn lucky. Who would have ever thought he’d meet his soul mate in a woman with whom sexual dominance wasn’t possible. But then she’d likely never pondered or entertained even for a moment becoming involved with a dominant man, so perhaps they were even.

“I hope to hell that will always be the case,” he said.

She nodded, sincerity blazing in her eyes.

He sucked in a breath, taking the plunge. He wanted to get it over with. Like ripping a bandage off quickly.

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“Like you I come from an abusive background. My father—”

He choked on the words, hating to give the man who’d been such a monster the reverence of that title.

Sorrow filled her eyes. And understanding. But she remained silent, not interrupting him as he struggled with how to continue.

“Unlike in your case, most of his abuse wasn’t directed at me. I wish to hell it had been. That I could have dealt with. But he took out his rage on my mother and I was helpless to do anything but watch and then pick up the pieces afterward. I hate that feeling. I hate it.”

A tear slid down Kylie’s cheek, her grief as thick as his own. She understood all too well his feelings on the subject. She knew more than anyone else his pain and the wretchedness of his memories.

Her hand trembled against his cheek but she kept it there, a silent signal of her love and support.

“Did it ever stop?” she asked quietly.

Jensen closed his eyes, pain burning like fire in his chest. It was almost too much, going back to that time in his life. He hadn’t opened that door in a very long time and now that it was flung wide, he couldn’t keep it under control.

Images flashed in his mind, tumbling faster and faster until he was dizzy from it.

“No,” he whispered. “God, no. He was a bastard to the bitter end. The day he was diagnosed with terminal cancer I celebrated. Jesus. I was f**king thrilled that the old man was going to endure a painful death. I wished it on him. Time and time again, and all I could think when it happened was that God had answered my prayer. How twisted is that?”

“It’s not,” she defended. “It was justice. It was what he deserved.”

“And my mother. God, she sat with him until the bitter end. I never understood that. But when it was over, she cleaned out their bank accounts, gave me the money and told me to go and be happy. Be happy. As if it were that easy. She expected me to walk away and leave her, move on with my life and forget the hell he put us both through.”

Her brow furrowed. “Did you?”

Jensen shook his head. “I couldn’t just leave her. I resented her for sticking by him through his illness, but I couldn’t just walk away from her. I didn’t understand why she didn’t walk away at her first opportunity. Maybe I’ll never understand it.”

“What happened?” she asked softly.

She’d picked up on the fact that there was more.

He lay back, staring at the ceiling, feeling anger and . . . betrayal, a sense of betrayal. One he’d never fully recognized until now. He felt betrayed by his mother, only now he couldn’t help but wonder if she’d done the best thing she could have.

“She left,” he said, trying to keep the bitterness from his words. “Since I wouldn’t just leave her and go on my way, she did.”

Kylie’s mouth dropped open in shock. Anger flickered in her eyes before she stifled it and blinked it away.

“She left? Just like that?”

Jensen nodded. “I never saw her or heard from her again. There was a time I searched for her. After college, when I landed a job and started making money. I wanted to see how she was doing. I wanted to give her back what she’d given to me, because she was left with nothing. I always wondered how she managed. But she disappeared. I have no idea if she’s alive or dead. In my darkest moments, I wonder if she didn’t go away so she could die. If she perhaps didn’t do the job herself. Maybe she was trying to spare me more pain. Who knows? I know that’s a horrible thing to imagine, but I can’t come up with another explanation.”

“Oh, Jensen,” she said, her voice aching with emotion. “I’m so sorry. How awful for you not to know. I can’t imagine what that’s like. To need closure and have no possible way for you to achieve it.”

“I just want to know that she’s okay,” he said in a low voice. “That maybe she’s even happy. At times I think I’ve made peace with it all, and at others, I recognize that I’ll never fully be at peace over the entire thing.”

“That’s understandable.”

“And sometimes I wonder if she blamed me,” he said baldly. “For not protecting her. For allowing him to hurt her. If she hated me for it. For my weakness.”

Kylie rose over him, her eyes stricken. “Jensen, no! You were just a child. You were the one who was supposed to be protected. By your father and your mother. It wasn’t your job to protect her. You aren’t to blame for what he did.”

“I wish I could believe that,” he said wearily. “I just wish I could tell her I was sorry. She was a good woman. But she’d been beaten down too many times. Her spirit was just broken. She was utterly defeated and in the end I just don’t think she had anything left. Maybe she didn’t want me to see her that way. Maybe that’s why she tried to get me to leave and when I didn’t, she did. I guess I’ll never know.”

She wrapped her arms around him and hugged him to her. He could feel dampness on her cheek. Her tears for him shining on her skin.

The very last thing he wanted was to cause her pain. To make her remember. He wrapped his arms around her, thrusting his fingers into her hair, just holding her close.

“Two wounded souls finding the light,” she whispered against his neck. “We need each other, Jensen. We understand all too well.”

“I do need you,” he said, the words a benediction. “So much, baby. I can’t even explain it to myself, how you mean so much to me in such a short time. I never believed in destiny before but you’re clearly mine. Made for me.”

“And you were made for me,” she said, rising above him again.

Her hair streamed over her shoulders, falling over his face, silken strands caressing his skin. Then she lowered her lips to his, breathing him in as she kissed him.

Warm and so very sweet. Soft and soothing. She sipped at him, tasting and then drinking deeply from him.

She hesitated for a brief moment, sorrow entering her gaze.

“Let me get the rope.”

Her words were more of an apology than a statement or declaration. She was apologizing for needing the goddamn rope. Didn’t she know that he’d tie himself to the bed for the rest of his life if that was the only way he could have her?

“In the drawer,” he said, latching onto her gaze, telling her without words not to apologize. Not for this. Never for this.

She slid off the bed and returned a moment later with the rope and then very gently secured his wrists to the headboard. She wouldn’t meet his gaze and it gutted him that she would feel shame for the way they made love.

“Kylie, baby, look at me, please.”

She finished securing the last knot and then sat back on her heels, her gaze slowly drifting upward until it locked with his.

“I’m okay with this. I need you to be okay with it too. And we don’t have to do this right now. It’s been a heavy night. I’m just as happy to hold you.”

She shook her head, her eyes going soft with love. Then she leaned down and kissed him, tugging at his bottom lip with a playful nip.

“I want to make love to you right now,” she whispered against his mouth. “I need to show you my love. Not just say it. You’ve been so strong for me. It’s my turn to be strong for you. To let you lean on me for once. Let me do this. For you. For us.”

He groaned, his dick threatening to tear a hole in his underwear. He was desperate for her. He needed her. Wanted her touch. Her sweetness and her light. Tonight more than ever.

She brushed her mouth over his chin and down his neck, sliding over his chest and further, over his taut abdomen. He flinched, his muscles tightening as her tongue swept a path across his flesh.

She made love to him as sweetly with her mouth as he’d ever been made love to. He was on fire for her, his need a desperate, tangible thing.

She hooked her fingers in the band of his underwear and gently tugged downward. His dick surged upward, bursting free of constraint. Already, moisture beaded and seeped from the tip. He had no control around her, given freely or not.

She licked a path upward on the underside of his erection and then back down again, swirling and lavishing sweetness over his balls. He pulled against his restraints, reaching for her even as he knew the impossibility of such an action. One day. One day he’d touch her as she was touching him. He’d caress and stroke the fire inside her to fever pitch.

She circled the head with her tongue and then sucked him deep into her mouth. His eyes rolled back into his head as pleasure exploded in his groin. Then she slid up, letting the tip fall free from her lips.

Her eyes glowing with resolve, she pulled her pajama top up and over her head, baring her br**sts to his avid gaze. He sucked in his breath, afraid to hope when she went for her bottoms.

It took her a moment to get free of the bottoms and then her panties followed suit, baring her completely.

He soaked in every inch of her skin, her curves and swells, a feast of feminine flesh that had him salivating with the need to taste and touch her.

“Baby, you don’t have to do this.”

There was fire and determination in her eyes. “Yes, I do. I want to. I need to.”

“Take your time then,” he gently urged. “We have all night.”

“You’ll have to help me,” she said hesitantly. “Tell me what to do.”

His heart softened. She was trying so very hard and he never loved her more than at this moment.

“Straddle me,” he said huskily. “Put my dick right in the V of your thighs. Let it rest against your belly. We’ll take it nice and slow.”

And then another thought occurred to him, one that had him swearing. They needed a goddamn condom. He was nearly blinded with the need to have her skin to skin, no barrier between them, but he’d never force an unwanted pregnancy on her. Not when they had so much else to resolve in their relationship.

“Kylie, baby, are you protected? I have condoms in the drawer with the rope.”

Slowly she nodded. “I’m okay,” she whispered. “I don’t want to use one. Unless you want to, I mean. Is it okay?”

Relief surged through his veins, leaving him weak and dizzy with it. “Yes, baby. I’m okay. It’s been a while for me.”

She grinned crookedly. “It’s been never for me.”

Though he knew she wasn’t physically a virgin, in all other ways she was in fact that very thing. The only thing she lacked was the fragile barrier but in every other aspect she was completely innocent.

How he wished things were different. That he could tenderly make love to her for her first experience. He wanted to show her how beautiful it could be with someone who loved her as much as he did. His only regret over her having control was that he couldn’t give back to her all that she was giving to him.

“Touch yourself,” he said, keeping his voice pitched low and soothing. “I want to make sure you’re ready for me, baby. I don’t want to hurt you.”

She hesitated a moment, self-consciousness flickering across her face before she finally lowered one hand and slid it between her legs.

The backs of her knuckles brushed over his groin, her touch feather-light. She emitted a soft sigh as she began stroking herself. He ached to be the one touching her so intimately. His skin was on fire. It felt as though a thousand ants were racing just underneath the surface. He was restless and edgy, the thought of being inside her nearly catapulting him over the edge.

He sucked in his breath, determined to get a lock on his control. This had to be perfect for her. He’d withhold his release until she found hers. He was determined.

“Let me see,” he murmured.

Her eyelids fluttered open and her eyes were drowsy and passion-laced. Almost a drugged, intoxicated look he was relieved to see. She was into it as much as he was.

She lifted her hand, her fingers glistening with moisture. It called to him, beckoning him to taste. This time he didn’t have to ask. She took the initiative and extended her hand to him, sliding her finger over his lips.

He licked the tip, catching it and then sucking it into his mouth. He nibbled gently at it before letting it go.

“Are you ready for me, baby?”

“Yes,” she breathed. “Tell me what to do, Jensen. I want this to be perfect for us.”

“It can’t be anything else but perfect with you. Lift your h*ps up and guide me. Take me inside you but take it nice and easy. Go slowly until you get used to having me inside you.”

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