“I’ll talk,” Chessy finally said.

But her tone was fatalistic. Like she’d already decided the outcome after they discussed their relationship and why she was so unhappy. Had she lost that much faith in him? The idea devastated him.


“But it has to be in neutral territory,” she added. “We have no business having sex with this wall between us. I don’t want our physical attraction to hinder our discussion.” Her gaze swept downward, sorrow creasing her face and tugging her lips into a sad frown. “That’s assuming you even still want me,” she said in a tone tinged with grief. “It’s been so long since you’ve instigated any sort of sex that the reasonable conclusion is you no longer desire me or find me attractive.”

Tate damn near swallowed his tongue as protests immediately formed on his lips. Goddamn it but there was so much wrong with her statements that he didn’t even know where to begin.

They never used the word sex when it came to their lovemaking. Never. Sex was for people not emotionally involved to the degree Chessy and Tate were. At least that was his thinking on the matter.

And not want her? He was flabbergasted. What could he have possibly done to plant such a ridiculous notion in her head? She was the most beautiful woman in the world to him. Other women? Simply didn’t exist. How could he want for more when he had a gorgeous, loving, generous, tenderhearted submissive wife he came home to every day?

Okay, so maybe they hadn’t made love in a while. A long while. He winced inwardly again as he pondered and tried to remember the last time they had truly made love.

There had been hasty sessions. No buildup. No extended foreplay. Totally selfish on his part because he’d had sex with her and then he was off to work or to a meeting with a client.

Yes, he’d just used the word sex to describe their lovemaking. Because, well, what he’d done lately amounted to just that. Selfish sex. Not seeing properly to her needs. Not exerting his dominance. Something she didn’t just want but needed. Yet another dismal example to mark on his growing list of failures.

“We’ll talk wherever you want,” he said around the knot in his throat. He was ceding power to her. A complete reversal of roles. He didn’t like it one bit, and by the look on Chessy’s face, neither did she.

But what was he supposed to do in this situation? It would make him a flaming ass**le if he whipped out his dominance and forced her submission and then used his dominance to manipulate her.

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The hell with that. He wanted her to have complete and utter control in this situation. He didn’t want her to feel threatened by anything. He was laying himself open and putting himself at her feet if that’s what it took to pull out everything she needed to say. It was apparent their relationship was in real trouble, and that Chessy had been unhappy for quite some time.

That gutted him.

“Let’s go in then,” he said in a neutral tone even though his heart was flayed open and fear—an alien sensation—gripped his entire body. He’d hit the panic button the moment his gaze had met Chessy’s at the restaurant and he’d seen the utter devastation in her eyes. He’d known then that he’d pushed her too far. And what woman could blame her? On a night when his attention should have been focused solely on her and celebrating another year of marriage, he’d bailed to court a prospective client.

And he now realized just how that situation had to have looked to her. Him smiling and wining a beautiful woman just yards away from where his wife waited for him to show for their anniversary dinner. Food cold, her giving up, all because time had slipped away from him and the urgency of sealing the deal with a client had taken over his priorities. Yeah, he’d f**ked up and now he had to work fast to pick up the pieces. Because it wasn’t just tonight, though he realized it was likely the last straw for her. Her unhappiness extended for a lengthy period of time and he’d been blind to it all. Or perhaps a small part of him had known and he hadn’t wanted to admit it because to do so would be admitting he’d failed her.

She didn’t wait for him to come around and open her door. She simply pushed it open and quickly got out and started for the house, then hastily unlocked the door without looking back. But she wasn’t fast enough that he didn’t see the tears streaking down her cheeks.


He hurried after her, worried she’d give up on talking to him and shut him out completely. A part of him was terrified that she would go in and pack her stuff. Or his. She had to know he’d never let her move out. This was her house, her security. If anyone ever had to leave, it would be him, and God, he didn’t even want to think about that happening.

Whatever was wrong between him and Chessy he would fix or die trying. She was his world. How could she not know that?

Because you haven’t proved that to her lately, dumbass.

He shook off the self-chiding and walked into the sprawling living room with twenty-foot ceilings, and to his relief he saw Chessy standing at the liquor cabinet, her stance rigid as she poured a glass of … what the hell was she pouring? Chessy wasn’t much of a drinker. She had wine with the girls and at get-togethers. It was something she and Kylie shared. Neither ever drank much. Kylie came from an abusive background with an alcoholic, misogynist father, but Chessy came from a much different background. Neglected. Not physically abused, but her childhood had shaped her, had given her insecurity about her place in the world. And he’d vowed never to make her feel like her parents had. Now he had to face the very real prospect that he’d broken that vow.