“I came for you, Nori. I want you back.”

The words still echoed in my head even though the asshole who’d said them wasn’t at the door anymore. Tanner. The good-looking douchebag who’d been Nori’s boyfriend for years before breaking up with her a couple of weeks ago.

The fact that he was also the guy who introduced her into the whole BDSM world, and had taught her how to be a Submissive, didn’t make this any easier. Before Nori Prinz came into my life, I only had the vaguest idea of what any of that meant, but now that I knew, I couldn’t help picturing how the conversation between the two of them was going right now.

I swore even more vilely than I normally did and ran my hand through my dark blond hair. During my near-decade in the army, I’d kept it cut short, but since I hadn’t worried about regulations for more than three months, it was getting long. I really didn’t like it, but it was better than the alternative. At least this way, some of the scars on my face were covered.

Not that I ever intended to go anywhere around people who might possibly see them. Hell, I was barely comfortable with the people I knew seeing them.

That was one of the reasons Nori suggested that she teach me how to be a Dom. She’d never come out and actually said it like that, of course, but when our first session had been all about me learning what I wanted, including where and how I wanted to be touched, I understood that she was doing more than simply offering me a way to regain control.

Then, like an idiot, I kissed her. I still thought about that kiss way more than I should have, especially since I wasn’t supposed to be thinking about it at all. We’d agreed to pretend that it never happened after I lied my ass off about why I’d done it.

Things had been a little awkward at first, but I really thought we’d been getting back to a good place. We’d been having breakfast, talking about what Nori planned do when I no longer needed a nurse. She hadn’t come out and said she wanted to stay in Philadelphia, but she hadn’t specifically said she was going back to San Antonio either, which I’d taken as a positive sign. So positive, in fact, that I’d been about to do the stupidest thing I could’ve done.

I’d almost told Nori that I was falling for her.

Father O’Toole had told me to do it, but I hadn’t really considered following his advice until just a few minutes ago. Talking to Nori this morning had made me realize with even more clarity than before that I didn’t want to lose her. After having lost everything that had once made my life bearable, she was all I felt like I had to live for. Finding control again, being able to feel like a man, none of it mattered without her.

And all of that had been on the tip of my tongue – well, not all of it, but enough for her to get the general idea – but then that fucking doorbell had rung.

Now, Nori was down the hall with her ex who apparently didn’t want to be her ex anymore.

Technically, this was my house, and if I wanted to be a complete asshole, I could’ve told Tanner he wasn’t allowed inside, but even I wasn’t that much of a bastard. Or, at least, I didn’t want to be anymore. I’d spent the last three months being angry and depressed. Nori had woken me up again, and I wanted to do things right, if only for her sake.

Not that I thought I had any chance with her. I’d been an idiot to think it at all. And it was Father O’Toole’s fault. He’d flipped things around until I thought telling her how I felt was a good thing. He’d acted like me being realistic about how I looked and who I was, was actually insulting Nori.

Part of me actually felt relieved that Tanner interrupted, and I hated myself for it. I couldn’t deny it though. It was easier, thinking that I lost her to Tanner before I had a chance to tell her that I cared about her. Her rejection and her pity were two things I didn’t think I could handle.

And no matter what Father O’Toole said, I knew she didn’t feel about me the same as I did about her.

That wasn’t me thinking she was shallow. It was me knowing that she deserved so much better.

I turned and walked back down the hall to the kitchen. I wasn’t really hungry anymore, but I knew Kipp was coming later today for an extra session. We were working on shorter sessions more often as I would soon be switching to doing a lot of the work myself.

The way I felt at the moment, I was looking forward to it. The pain of pushing my body, the stretching of the scar tissue when I moved. It always hurt like hell, no matter how much I’d improved. A part of me enjoyed the pain. Not because I was a masochist – though I couldn’t say the thought of nails and teeth during sex didn’t turn me on – but I still hadn’t lost the dark part of me that felt like I deserved to be punished for all I’d done, the person I used to be. I knew that Kipp wasn’t punishing me, but that didn’t matter. I was punishing myself, just using him to do it.

I picked up Nori’s dishes and put them in the dishwasher. She’d cleaned up enough after me that it only seemed fair I do the same for her. Besides, she was probably preoccupied at the moment.

I pushed aside the thoughts that wanted to come. The ones that told me Nori and Tanner were enjoying the hospitality of the sitting room more than common sense said they would. I knew Nori would never be so disrespectful as to actually have sex right there in my house. Hell, I doubted she’d even do it on the third floor even though it was technically hers for as long as she was employed here.

But that didn’t stop my imagination from running wild.

From the moment she told me she was a Sub, I hadn’t been able to get certain images out of my head. Those came back now, but they weren’t just of Nori, or even of the two of us. It was him. In every single one.

Nori on her knees, teal eyes peering up through thick lashes. At him. Hands clasped behind her back in the pose she told me Submissives used with their Doms. She waited for him to tell her what to do.

I swallowed hard and closed my eyes, trying to will away my thoughts.

Nori bent over the couch, her pants around her knees. That firm ass bared to his eyes. His hand running over her pale skin, then coming down with a crack. She gasped, but it wasn’t a pained sound, but rather one of pleasure.

“Fuck,” I muttered.

It didn’t matter that Nori and Tanner weren’t having sex in the sitting room. Once he had his say, I was sure Nori would be on her way back to Texas. From what I’d been able to put together, Tanner wasn’t just good-looking. He had money too. Probably enough that he could whisk Nori away on a private jet, take care of her while she decided what she wanted to do.

Hell, just because he wanted her back didn’t mean that they had to go to San Antonio. He could take her wherever she wanted. Paris. Italy. Greece. He could rent out the best hotel in any city, take his time showing her just how much he wanted her back. Considering Nori hadn’t acted like the break-up had been bad, I doubted there’d be any animosity they’d need to overcome.

I felt the familiar depression starting to creep up on me. The whispers that told me I was going to lose her.

“She was never mine to lose.” I forced myself to say the words out loud because I knew I had to hear them, and no one else would say them.

They were painful, but not as painful as the realization that it was the truth. She’d never been mine. She worked with me. For me, technically. She was my nurse, physical therapist. Caretaker, to use the father’s word. At the most, she was a friend. I’d never asked her to be anything else. And she’d never offered. I knew she’d seen the whole Dom / Sub thing as a sort of therapy. Just another way to help me.

She was free to date – or fuck – whoever she wanted.

And if that meant she wanted a totally hot dark-haired rich boy, so be it.

I scowled at the contents of my refrigerator. I wasn’t even close to hungry. In fact, I had a feeling I’d throw up if I tried to eat anything else right now. I shut the door and headed for the stairs.

Hopefully, Tanner would be gone before Kipp got here. And if I was really lucky, Nori be gone with him. Packed her things and left without a word. I knew she was more polite and professional than that, but I could hope. I might have accepted that Nori was essentially gone already, but that didn’t mean I wanted to pretend to be civil with the man who was taking her.

Or pretend not to still want her so badly that it hurt.

I wasn’t strong enough to do that.




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