“Another scotch and soda, Mr. Compton?”
On any other day I’d stop at one drink,”but not today. I hand the flight attendant my empty glass. “Leave out the soda this time.”
“You got it,â” the woman says, smiling brightly. “Scotch straight up, on its way.”
Her overly cheery tone hits a raw nerve, reminding me of just how fake much of the past two years of my life has been. But then, I let it become that way. I chose to ignore things I shouldn’t have, and someone I cared deeply for paid the price.
As if that isn’t enough, I’m rushing to see my mother through her unexpected cancer diagnosis and emergency surgery. There’s nothing fake about that. It’s as goddamn real as it gets.
Loosening my tie, I sink down into the deep first-class seat, attempting to get comfortable despite feeling shredded. I’m hoping a little more alcohol will give me some much-needed sleep between San Francisco and New York, and maybe slow down the demolition process going on in my mind.
Yeah. That would be good. Anything to stop my mind from running wild. I’m supposed to be able to control my thoughts. I’m a Master. A title that defines who I am and how I stay grounded. My thumb is always on the pulse of everything that happens around me””or so I thought. For the first time since college, I’m not sure if that’s true. I’m not sure it was ever true, and I don’t know where that leaves me. I don’t know who that makes me.
“Scotch straight up.”
Inhaling a heavy breath, I turn back to the attendant and accept the drink. “Thank you.” My gaze touches her badge and I add, “Ms. Phillips.”
“Call me Emily,” she encourages, and her tone is far warmer as she asks, “Is there anything else I can get you?” There’s no mistaking her flirty, lingering emphasis and I study her, taking in her attractive features in a completely removed fashion. She is pretty, a brunette, which I favor, and well-endowed in all the right places, but she is not what I need. And I do need. Sex is my drug, not booze, but it’s no escape right now. Not when I don’t have control. Never without control.
I down my scotch and hand my glass to Ms. Phillips.
She arches a delicate brow. “Another?”
“Not this time. I know my limits.” And I value my minimal control too damn much to give any more of it away to a bottle of scotch.
Ms. Phillips’s lips curve seductively. “I bet you do,” she purrs. “I’ll be around if you need me.” She walks away.
Turning back to the window, I assure myself that I do know my limits. What got me in trouble was forgetting my rules, getting too close to my sub when I knew she wanted more than I had to offer. Silently, I curse. I can’t bring myself to think of the woman I’ve lost as just that””just a sub””but I struggle with the emotions her name stirs inside me. And I have to stop struggling. I have to get control of myself.
Rebecca. There it is. Her name. And with it, her eternal absence that I can never mend. The news of what became of her is still too raw, only forty-eight hours old. I’m struggling to deal with how my mistake led her into the path of another jealous woman with a horrific outcome. This is twice in my life I’ve let someone get close to me, only to see that person hurt. I’ll never let that happen again.
Once my flight lands in New York, I’m anxious to get to the hospital. I quickly make my way to the baggage claim and locate my carousel. With some fast footwork I’m at the front of the crowd and I’ve just snatched my single piece of luggage, besides the one hung over my shoulder, when I hear, “Mr. Compton?”
I turn to find a pretty blonde standing before me, her long, silky hair draping the shoulders of her pale pink, primly cut suit jacket. I arch a brow at her. “And you would be?”
“You are the Mark Compton, correct?”
“I’m Mark Compton,” I confirm, wondering where this is headed.
“I thought so. I recognize you from your picture at Riptide.” Her perfect pale cheeks flush. “Oh. Sorry. I should introduce myself.” She offers me her hand. “Crystal Smith, the new head of sales for Riptide, and thrilled to be working at one of the most prestigious auction houses in the world.”
I don’t reach for her hand. But my need to avoid touching her isn’t control, it’s weakness””and I hate weakness. I close my hand over hers. “Nice to meet you, Ms. Smith.” My palm warms, and I don’t want to be warmed by this woman, or by any woman I haven’t chosen as a submissive.
Her lashes lower, and I know she’s hiding her reaction to the touch. Despite myself, I am intrigued. Even more so when, almost instantly, she smoothly recovers and her lashes lift, her eyes directly meeting mine. Any sign of whatever she’d felt is gone.
Impressed by her rapid recovery and quick control, I’m surprised by how reluctantly I release her hand. I’m rarely reluctant about anything. “Since when is it the duty of the sales manager to pick someone up at the airport?”
Her brows dip and she gives a delicate snort. “It’s not like you’re just anyone. You’re your mother’s son.”
I inwardly cringe at the sore spot she’s hit. I love my mother, but there’s a reason why I opened my gallery across the country. “She ordered you to pick me up.”
Her lips curve. “Your mother’s as feisty as ever from her hospital bed.”
“I’m not surprised,” I manage tightly. Just thinking of my mother in a hospital bed creates a dull throb in my gut. “She’s impossible to say no to, even for me.”
“I thought for sure her pride and joy would be the one person who could.”
Fighting a wave of something dark I’d rather not name, I struggle to maintain my normal steely composure. “My mother is the only person I can’t say no to.”
She gives me an odd, quizzical look. “The only person?”
“Yes, Ms. Smith. The only person.”
She frowns. “I’m sorry,” she says, and then waves me toward the door. “My car’s parked in a fifteen-minute spot. We’d better run before I get towed.” She turns and starts walking, expecting me to follow.
I stare after her. She’s sorry? What the hell does that even mean, and why do I have this intense need to race after her and ask, when I never run after anyone?