The stark way she said the last made Tate suck in his breath like someone had punched him directly in the stomach.

“Do you have any idea how much it guts me to have to listen to you say that? About me? Your husband, your Dominant, your lover? All I can look back and see is that I never made it possible for you to come to me with your unhappiness. How could you have told me if I wasn’t willing to hear it?”


He rose up to his elbow, planting it in the pillow so they were now nose-to-nose.

“I will never walk away from you, Chess. Not going to happen. I don’t know why the hell you haven’t walked away from me. No other woman would love me, continue loving me, in the face of such emotional neglect. I’ve spent the entire afternoon while you’ve been sleeping all curled up next to me thanking God that you still love me and actually forgive me for nearly destroying the most precious thing in my life. You, baby. You. And I almost did destroy you, and me along with you. Because I cannot imagine my life without you. I don’t want to imagine my life without you. If I have anything to say about it at all, you and I are going to grow old and gray together and loving every single minute of it. There is no Tate without Chessy and I hope to hell there’s never a Chessy without Tate.”

She smiled at the poetic rendering of their relationship. So simple and yet so elegant and beautiful. No Chessy without Tate and no Tate without Chessy. It certainly fit her way of thinking when it came to the man she married and loved with all her heart.

“I love you,” she said, thinking—no, knowing—he needed to hear it again. As emotionally fragile as she had been over the last long months, she now realized he was every bit as emotionally fragile right now. Now when he understood all he had to lose.

He touched his forehead to hers and just rested it there, their breaths mingling, eyes closed as they savored the intimacy of such a simple gesture.

“I love my girl too,” he breathed. “And now I’m going to get my girl in the shower and give her a washing she’s not going to forget any time soon, and I mean every part from head to toe and especially the parts in between are going to get very special treatment.”


ONE playful shower and one Tate-induced orgasm when he paid a little extra attention to the area between her legs later, Chessy sat at her vanity while Tate carefully ran a comb through her towel-dried curls.

Her entire body was quivering in the aftermath of the powerful orgasm. She’d had to sit because there was no way her legs would have supported her straight out of the shower. The result was a small puddle of water on the floor where it had drained off her body and from her hair, but it was the last thing on her mind.

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She smiled up at Tate in the reflection of the mirror and then closed her eyes, savoring one of her favorite things that Tate had done so often over the years. Tend to her hair. She was a total tactile person, loved being touched and loved having her hair brushed or simply played with.

She couldn’t count the times in earlier years when she and Tate would simply lie on the couch, her head in his lap as he idly ran his fingers through her strands as they watched a movie. It would always count as one of her best memories.

Her eyelids fluttered open and her smile disappeared for a brief moment. Before she could recover, Tate was already frowning back at her in the mirror, a questioning look in his eyes.

“What’s wrong, baby? Did I hurt you? Am I not being gentle enough with your hair?”

She laughed. “As if. You’re a master at combing a woman’s hair. If you ever get tired of financial advising, you can always start up a salon. You’d have women coming in droves just for those hands of yours. Which, by the way, are totally mine. I’ll chop them off before allowing another woman access!”

He looked befuddled for the briefest of seconds and then threw back his head and laughed. But then he sobered and focused his stare back on her.

“What were you frowning about then?”

She fidgeted uneasily on her vanity bench, not wanting to bring up a bad subject. But Tate wasn’t going to allow her to dodge his question. Quietly he rotated her, picking up her legs and swiveling her body until she faced him. Then he got down on one knee and cupped his hand to her face.

“Tell me.”

She sighed. “I know I shouldn’t ask. I mean, that’s not the way our relationship works, and I don’t want you to get the idea that I want our relationship to change. That I don’t want your dominance and for you to make the decisions. But …”

“Ask, baby,” he prompted gently. “I think we both know we’re at a fragile point in our relationship where the rules are temporarily changing. They have to. Because I need to know what your needs and wants are. I’d want to know that regardless of whether it’s now or two years ago. I’ve always wanted you to communicate your needs to me. How else can I fulfill them?

“Yes, it’s my job as your Dominant to often know your wants and needs before you do even, and it’s my job to provide those for you. But I’ve been a complete dumbass and as a result—and it’s painful for me to admit, but I’m man enough to own up to my failures—I am out of touch with your desires. I hate even saying that. But you’re going to have to help me until we’re back on track. That open line of communication we were just discussing in bed a while ago? That has to be in place going forward.”

She nodded her understanding, breathing out her relief. They would be okay. She could feel it. Tate was going to extraordinary lengths for a man so used to being in control of every aspect of his life. But he was right. They were in anything but control right now and it would take them both to right the ship and get back to smooth waters.

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