Her Last Goodbye Page 19

He released her hair and dropped the protein bar in her lap. His hand lingered. His finger stroked her bruised, swollen cheek. “Everything will be all right. You’ll see that I know best. I’m going to bring your cot back in. If you continue to behave, I’ll bring you more food.”

Straightening, he turned and walked toward the door. He returned in a moment, dragging the cot back into the container and leaving Chelsea wondering what else tomorrow would bring and what she would need to do to survive.

Chapter Thirteen

He closed the door, peeled off his mask, and welcomed the cool night air. He could hardly believe how fast she was learning. Pleasure rushed through him like an excited child. Everything was working exactly as he’d planned.

Turning around, he secured the heavy-duty padlock and set the alarm on the door. He couldn’t be too careful with his prize. He was a winner, and he intended to keep his spoils. She truly was the ideal woman. He would never let her go.

Chelsea had made so much progress in such a short time. She’d exceeded his best expectations.

Responding to a direct greeting was automatic, yet Chelsea’s brain had shut down her normal reaction. He’d seen it happen before his eyes. Her mouth had opened as a reflex, but her brain had intervened and closed it. A protection mechanism no doubt. Defiance equaled pain. Obedience led to physical comfort.

Pavlov could suck it.

Teaching a few caged dogs to drool didn’t even compare to his accomplishment. He’d changed more than two decades of learned behavior in just a few days. His appropriate, well-timed, and severe punishment had been enough to rewire her instinct.

Amazing.

She was truly special. This experiment was everything he’d hoped for and more.

Maybe he could speed up his plan. He wanted things from her that she wasn’t yet ready to give. He knew men who enjoyed a woman who put up a good fight. For those men, the act of domination was erotic. But he was more refined. He wanted her to kneel before him, to offer herself to him with no reservations. She wouldn’t be attractive to him unless she submitted fully. Defiance and disagreement were ugly in a woman.

Surrender.

He reached for the zipper on his jeans. Surrender was hot. He couldn’t wait for the day Chelsea willingly yielded to him.

But how long would it take to achieve?

The anticipation was hard to suppress.

Literally.

He lifted his hand. If submission was the most noble and beautiful trait for his woman to achieve, then as her mentor, he should exercise self-control and patience. Discipline should be meted out with love not anger. So far, he’d done his job. The pain he’d given her was all temporary. He couldn’t hurt her.

He’d put too much work into her to lose her.

He walked toward his shed. He had big plans for tomorrow, a pivotal lesson for Chelsea and a true test of her progress.

Stick. Carrot.

Pain. Relief.

Especially pain.

He’d take Chelsea to rock bottom. Tomorrow, her soul would be stripped bare. After that, there would be nowhere to go but up. And when he was the one who rebuilt her physically and psychologically, she would be grateful.

She would adore him.

Inside the shed, he set his mask aside. How much longer would he need it? She wasn’t leaving him. He wasn’t worried about her knowing his identity. But the mask was intimidating. It dehumanized him and terrorized her. Fear generated obedience.

He’d been studying the psychology of torture for months. His arsenal of training techniques was psychological as well as physical, and he wasn’t afraid to use every single one. Fear and humiliation were powerful training aids.

Which was why nakedness was one of the consequences of bad behavior. Clothing represented respect, and respect must be earned.

He began gathering his tools. Anticipation hummed through his veins. He had to be patient. The time between sessions was just as important as the actual sessions. Chelsea needed adequate time to reflect, to recover, for her brain to let go of old associations and form new ones.

He selected his blowtorch and put it in his tool bag. But tomorrow was going to be special.

Tomorrow he’d test the extent of her progress and teach her the most important lesson of all.

She belonged to him. Her body. Her soul.

All of it.

Chapter Fourteen

The Jeep pulled into her driveway. Morgan reached for the door handle.

“Morgan,” Lance said. The deep tone of his voice pulled at her. “I’d better get my good-night kiss now. Your watchdog, Sophie, will be on duty.”

She turned to face him. He leaned across the console, cradled her jaw with one big hand, and kissed her softly. Her eyes drifted closed as his lips lingered. His mouth was warm, with a hint of demand under the gentle press of his lips. She was sorry when he released her.

She caught his hand as it slipped from her face and gave it a tug. His eyes darkened, and he kissed her again. Not as gently. When his lips left hers, she was breathless and hot.

He lifted his head, and his hand slipped from hers.

“Someday, we’ll manage to spend a few hours alone.” His voice was rough. “Not that I’m complaining. If there’s one thing I understand, it’s taking care of family.”

She exhaled hard. Her girl parts were tired of being set aside for her family’s greater good. She’d spent two years with no interest in sex. Now that her hormones had finally reawakened, fate had thrown one roadblock after another in their path.

“It’ll happen,” she said. But the longer they waited, the more excitement and desire stirred in her belly. And nerves. Those were there too.

She’d slept with one man in the last ten years. One.

And the last time she’d gotten naked for the first time with a man, she’d been a lot younger. One did not have three children without those events leaving a few marks. Anticipation encouraged her insecurities.

“Hey, what’s wrong?” Lance asked.

“Nothing. Nothing at all. I was just hoping that someday would be sooner rather than later,” she said wryly, studying the brightly lit house through the windshield.

It was natural to be a little nervous at the thought of sleeping with a new man. She had never taken sex lightly. To her, physical and emotional intimacy went hand in hand. She’d never had a one-night stand. Had never wanted one. She’d slept with two men in her entire life, and she’d been married to one of them.

But she’d promised herself that she was going to lead a full life.

And a full life meant taking risks and leaving herself vulnerable.

Lance caught her chin in his hand and turned it toward him. “Are you sure?”

His touch and the connection between them zinged, strong and true as an arrow, slicing through her doubt. She wanted this man. Her emotions were too tender for any admissions of love, but her desire for him went beyond sex. She wanted him in her bed and in her heart.

She above all people should know that love was worth the risk. No matter how great the pain of losing her husband, she wouldn’t have given up one second of her time with him to avoid the grief, as soul crushing as it had been.

Meeting his gaze head-on, she kissed him again. The firm press of her lips against his grounded her. He grounded her. “I’m positive. Let’s go inside.”

Morgan barely made it through the front door before she was swamped with three small bodies and a barking dog. The girls were in their pajamas. Their damp hair smelled of detangling spray.

She heard Lance close the door behind them as she crouched to envelop the three little girls in a giant hug. “I missed you.”

Having her children in her arms made her think of Chelsea Clark. Would she ever get to hold her babies again?

Morgan released the kids and gave Snoozer, her French bulldog, a scratch behind his ears before standing.

The second she straightened, three-year-old Sophie leaped into her arms. Morgan shifted the skinny child to one hip. Sophie carried her newest favorite toy, a plush Bullseye from Disney’s Toy Story, by one leg.

“We baked cupcakes with Gianna.” Six-year-old Ava grabbed Lance by the hand and tugged him toward the kitchen. “And Aunt Stella is here.”

Lance let himself be dragged.

Morgan set Sophie down. “Mia, how was your day?”

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