Having mastered his anger, Zachary stood at the living room window, looking out at the gray skies.
The door to the bathroom flew open. Face flushed, hair loose around her shoulders, Jessica stomped out.
She was glaring. At him. “You.”
He lifted an eyebrow.
Blood streaked her hand. Ah, right. The gunshot wound.
He tilted his head. “I was, yes. That’s part of what I’d like to discuss.”
The color drained from her face, making her green eyes stand out. “Are you all right? Are you still bleeding? Did someone hurt you?”
Just like that, her temper had vanished, and all her concern was for him. Was it any wonder he loved her?
If he started bleeding again, they’d both be unhappy. “Easy, kitten.” He set his hands over hers, quieting her.
Her gaze dropped to his side. “Tell me. Please.”
Putting more fear into those eyes was the last thing he wanted to do. He hesitated.
“I seem to have picked up a stalker. He took a shot at me at the funeral.”
“A stalker?” Her voice sharpened. “And he shot you?”
“It’s just a graze.”
“Show me.” Her growled “show me” didn’t sound meek in the least.
Zachary pulled off the bloody jacket and his shirt. The white gauze deVries had taped over his right ribs was still in place.
Jessica stared at the blood streaking his skin. “Your graze bled a lot.” Her voice shook.
As her gaze lifted, her eyes narrowed. She pointed to his right upper arm. The rip through his deltoid was still scabbed. “Was that from a bullet, too?”
Her color deepened as her quite obvious fury began to escalate.
He glanced at the loveseat. “Let me sponge off first, then I’ll tell you everything.”
After a second, she nodded.
When he came out of the bathroom, she handed him one of his black shirts.
“Thank you, kitten.” After putting it on, he wrapped his arms around her.
Rather than burrowing closer, she was stiff in his arms. Angry and hurt. Remorse ripped through him. He’d messed this up badly from the start. “I’m sorry.”
“Sorry for getting a stalker? For getting shot?”
She pulled back. “Uh-huh. About that.” Her voice rose. “Why didn’t you tell me?”
Not giving him a chance to answer, she jerked away from him and paced across the room. Kicked the desk chair. Turned back around. “Well? Well?”
“I was going to, but…”
“But. Right. There’s always a but. You’re just like my clients.” She kicked the chair again, this time hard enough to send it barreling into the wall. “I planned to keep the receipts, but I got drunk. I would’ve made that estimated tax payment, but I got a divorce that month. Or laid. Or something. I would’ve told my wife that someone wanted to kill me, but it just kind of slipped my mind.”
Was it appalling that he found her outraged ranting adorable?
When the chair hit the wall hard enough to leave a dent, he rose and gripped her shoulders firmly. “Enough, pet.”
After eyeing him wrathfully, she let him pull her down beside him on the loveseat.
He took her hands, holding them trapped in his. “I started to explain everything that first day, but that was the night you told me you were pregnant.” As the wonder of her announcement swept through him, he shook his head. “I couldn’t ruin that moment.”
“Oh.” Gaze dropping, she stared at the rug.
Finally, she looked up. “I guess I can see how you might have waited. But only until the next day.”
“Quite honestly, I’d thought the police would catch him quickly.”
“That’s why you told me there was an armed man in the neighborhood.”
“It is.” He sighed. “I didn’t want you to worry about me.”
“You had someone shooting at you.” Her voice was stilted. Disbelieving. “And you didn’t want me to worry? Are you crazy? Or simply too dumb for words? I can’t believe—”
He tightened his grip on her hands to keep her from rising.
“We are partners. Or so I thought. You didn’t see fit to tell me you were in trouble? Or that Sophia could be in danger, too?” She jumped to her feet. Paced. Kicked the chair again—this time in his direction.
He blocked it with a foot and waited out the new deluge until she sputtered to a stop.
Until she sat down beside him again. “Why, Z? Explain it so I can understand and not kill you and stuff your body under the bed and leave it rotting there for a maid to find.” She glanced at the bedroom door. “That would be mean to do to a maid.”
Not him, though, hmm?
Yet the fact she didn’t hide her anger pleased him. Now, somehow, he had to fix the damage he’d done.
“I thought I had good reasons, but, I can see they weren’t good enough.”
“Because you still have nightmares from your kidnapping. Even the incident at Anne’s house brought them back. In addition, we have a child at a demanding age, and you still work. You’re pregnant. The last thing you needed was more stress.”
“I’m not fragile,” she stated through gritted teeth. “If you’d told me, at least I’d have been worrying about the right things.”
She sucked in a breath and held up a hand to keep him from speaking. “More than that, we’re partners, not just Dom/sub. You don’t keep secrets from your partner, Z…even if you do want to protect her from all the things that go bump in the night.”
Z was listening with that complete focus that said he’d put everything aside to concentrate on her. Her words. Her body language. As if nothing else mattered in the world except her. And a tiny bit of her anger faded.
Her anger diminished further when she saw honest regret in his gray eyes. He really was sorry.
“I can’t help wanting to protect you from anything and everything that might hurt you.” His deep voice softened. “You gave me a daughter. Watching you two together… Sometimes I’m not sure I can hold all that love. I love you very, very much, Jessica.”
“That’s not playing fair,” she muttered as her heart melted.
When tears spilled from her eyes, he cupped her face and used his thumbs to wipe the wetness from her cheeks.
“You should have told me. About being shot.” Her anger rose again. “I’m going to be mad at you for a while.”
“Fair enough,” he said equably. “As long as I get the same privilege.”
“If you get to stay angry at me after I admit I was wrong and apologize, I get to do the same with you when you make a mistake.”
Oh…damn. She scowled. Because she loved how Master Z’s anger didn’t linger after she’d apologized.
Or after she’d been punished.
“You should be punished,” she grumbled.
He studied her face, and amusement lit his eyes. “All right, I won’t make you beat on your Dom.” He pulled her into his arms again, against his broad chest, and like a flood, contentment filled her, messing with her anger. “What can I do to make this right for you?”
Wasn’t that just like him? She’d met Doms who never admitted they were wrong, somehow thinking that being in charge meant they never made mistakes. But Z never failed to take responsibility for what he did, never failed to apologize and try to make things right.
God, she loved him so much.
And he was waiting with that unlimited patience of his for her to come up with an answer.
“All right.” He smiled slightly. “Now, about you coming here—”
Inside her purse, her phone rang.
Was something wrong with Sophia? Jessica hurried across the room to her cell and checked the display. “Mom? Is Sophia all right?”
Her mother came on the line. “Are you in Alaska? Zachary called, and I was worried. Are you with him now? Was he surprised?”
“I’m fine. Yes, I’m with him, and uh, I’d say he was surprised.” Jessica bit her lip as she glanced over at him.
Z gave a deep laugh.
“She tells your Aunt Eunice what to do, and my sister simply does it.” Mom’s voice was loud enough that Z could hear.
His grin flashed.
Shirt still unbuttoned, he prowled around the room.
Really, should any man be allowed to look that hot? The solid wall of his chest tapered to a hard-packed abdomen. His black hair was mussed. The angular line of his jaw was shadowed by a day’s growth of beard.
With a quizzical frown, he looked in the bag from the salon, which was filled with high-end hair and body products. He opened one bottle and sniffed. When an eyebrow went up and he smiled, she gave a happy, silent sigh.
“And don’t forget to watch out for bears,” her mother warned. “They have grizzlies there, you know.”
It was a two-legged predator with a gun she worried about.
Leaning on the desk, Z folded his arms across his chest. The shirt gaped open enough she could see the gauze pad on his side. There was an awful lot of blood staining the white.
She rose. “I need to change that dressing.”
“I’ll do it. It’s nothing you need to see.”
“Three parts?” His lips twitched as if he suppressed a smile. “Isn’t that excessive?”
“No. You lied—okay, not exactly lied, but evaded the truth—multiple times over multiple days. Right?”
“Indeed.” His head tilted. “Go on.”
“That’s an odd punishment.”
“But it’s the part you’ll probably find the hardest to fulfill.” It would go against every protective instinct in his Dominant soul.
His brows drew together, and he nodded. “All right.” His gaze met hers. “I have missed sharing everything with you, to be honest.”
She paced across the room and drew his shirt apart. “Second part. Actually, though, this is part of the first and not shielding me from emotional stress.”
“I’m going to change your dressing and do the wound care from now on.”
She saw his objections rise and how he bit them back. He nodded.
“So stubborn.” Rummaging in his pants pockets, he pulled out packets of sterile gauze dressings and tape. “Here you go.”
“Thank you.” As she pulled off the dressing, she saw he hadn’t lied to her. The wound was a clean groove, although the sight of the bloody gash in his smooth tanned skin made her want to cry.
She couldn’t. Not if she wanted to convince him how strong she was. The wound had stopped bleeding. It was going to be all right. Concentrating fiercely, she washed the gouge and used a new gauze pad and tape to cover it again. “Done.”
“Thank you,” he said gravely before kissing her lightly. “I’ll let you know when it needs to be changed again.”
She let out the breath she’d been holding and let him guide her back into the living room.
Right. Three. “Third. After that crazy man is arrested, I want a vacation. Just you and me for a couple of days.” Because she missed being able to cuddle and talk without listening for a baby monitor. Missed making love without worrying about being interrupted.
If he still wanted to make love to her after she got all angry and demanding.
When she looked away, his fingers closed on her chin and forced her to meet his intent gaze. “Jessica.”
“Can I hope you’re not so mad that you don’t want to make love?”
“Ah.” His lips curved in a dangerous smile. “It’s a rare moment that I don’t want to make love to you. However, I’d be delighted to give you some reassurance.”
A shiver ran through her. When Z turned into Master Z, he had the power to rock her world.
Under his steady, authoritative gaze, she removed her clothing until she stood naked in the center of the room.
“Very nice.” With a faint smile, he strolled around her. Inspecting her as a Master would. His hand trailed over her wide hips…and she could feel his appreciation of the beautiful curviness. When he cupped one breast, she could see his pleasure in the heavy lushness. How he enjoyed teasing her nipples to pebbled peaks.
With a ruthless hand, he tilted her head up and took her mouth, his lips firm, kissing her deeply until the floor beneath her shook.
“Sit there.” He pointed to the quilt.
She settled cross-legged in the center.
After stripping, he sat behind her, so close his hard erection pressed against her buttocks. For a moment, far too short a time, he reached around her and played with her breasts, cupping and teasing them.
She felt the haze of arousal settle around her.
He chuckled. “Sorry, kitten, that was just for my own enjoyment. Before I started.”
“You’re all tensed up.” After squirting lotion into his palms, he began to massage her shoulders. Her neck. Her arms. His hands were strong and warm.
His fingers hit a knot, dug in painfully, and then all the muscles around it relaxed and warmth flooded that area. “Oooh.”
Z’s low chuckle filled her ears.
As the air filled with the scent of citrusy vanilla, he murmured, “Mmm. I like this fragrance on you.”
When his hands moved away from her back, the temperature in the room rose. His warm, slightly callused palms slid silkily over her breasts to tease her nipples back to hard points.
Low in her body, a molten pool began to form.
Her breasts were tight and achingly swollen when his stroking moved down to her stomach.
Looking up, she caught her breath. His gray eyes were the color of steel, filled with a devastating confidence…and heat.
Desire simmered in her bloodstream. Slowly, she traced the divide in his biceps and triceps, avoiding the healing wound on his deltoid. Her fingertips moved down the contoured line between his pectorals, each ridge of his abdominal muscles.
Smiling slightly, he rose to his feet and gave her a look. Proceed.
Still on her knees, she leaned forward to kiss the hollow at the angle of his hip and groin. And then she closed her mouth over him.
Her whine was an audible protest.
The sound of his deep masculine laugh filled her with need.
He was thick and hot as he moved in and out. As her tongue traced the veins, the rougher dent on the underside.
Her head controlled; her hands behind her back; submission and desire. Her body seemed to be melting into the floor.
“There, now, that’s enough, kitten.”
Pulling himself out of her warm mouth, Zachary settled in front of her on one knee. Because he needed to touch her.
Looking at her, he smiled. Her lips were swollen, her cheeks flushed with arousal. Her breathing was faster.
After taking more lotion, he ran his hands over her, simply enjoying all those lush curves. He paused. Her skin was incredibly soft. More slowly, he stroked his palms over her back, her ass, her legs. Silky smooth. Someone had utilized the salon’s services. “Mmm. Very nice, kitten.”
She smiled at him, delighted he was pleased.
After a quick kiss, Zachary cupped her breasts to savor the succulent weight. Her pale pink nipples tightened into hard buds.
When she’d been breastfeeding Sophia, her breasts were heavier, the areolas darker and larger. After weaning, her size had slowly changed back. Now, the nipples were lighter and smaller again. Her breasts had grown a bit softer with a slight sag, which she’d complained about adorably.
Soon they’d grow again for the new babe.
He couldn’t imagine any size or shape where he wouldn’t want to have his hands on her.
“Stand up and spread your legs,” he said softly.
He watched the color rise from her upper chest into her face as he curved his hands around her hips and used his thumbs to open her labia, exposing the clit. A tremor ran through her as he leaned forward, licked the pink nub—and held her in place.
Ah, she knew better. He nipped an outer fold in reprimand, receiving a more pleasing, “Master!” before enjoying himself a little longer.
Rising, he turned her toward the door. “On the bed, on your back. Legs open, hands over your head.”
Her eyes were wide.
Yes, it had been a while since they played in the way they both enjoyed.
Since a delay would only increase her anxious anticipation, he went into the bathroom and took the time to shave off the day’s worth of beard-growth. Although he often enjoyed being territorial and marking her with beard burn, they still had to make an appearance at the memorial tonight.
He’d settle for leaving his handprints on her ass instead.
A glance at the gauze dressing on his side showed it was still dry. The wound was a dull ache—nothing that would slow him down. Good enough.
When he walked into the bedroom, the lights had been dimmed, and a beautifully naked blonde lay stretched out on his bed. Fingers laced together, her arms formed a circle above her head. Her lips and cheeks held the glowing flush of excitement. Her nipples were tightly pebbled, the tips a darker pink.
“You really are beautiful.”
Her eyes lit. In spite of how often he told her, she always looked surprised.
As he walked to the bed, her gaze dropped to his rigid erection. Amusement tilted his lips. She wasn’t the only one who was impatient for what was to come.
Stretching out on his left side, he propped himself up on his elbow while angling his forearm so he could set a hand over her laced fingers and pin her in place.
Her eyes widened as she tested his grip and realized she was trapped.
Was there any Dom in the world who didn’t enjoy the first quivering response of a submissive?
Z’s kiss was slow and thorough, and Jessica realized his hand was cupping her breast.
When he pinched her nipple, rolling the peak between his fingers, she wanted—needed—to move, but his other hand kept her arms trapped over her head.
Submission. Her body was on an elevator, sinking downward, all the way to subterranean levels.
Still holding her hands down, he kissed her neck, her collarbone, and bent to suck on each nipple in turn. His free hand stroked over her lower belly and between her legs, sensitizing her clit, her entrance.
She was slick with arousal…and squirming with need.
When he lifted his head, her wet nipples puckered in the cool air of the room. His eyes were thoughtful as he regarded her silently.
“I almost forgot. You deliberately came here, ignoring my orders that you stay home with Sophia.”
“You’re going to discipline me because I made a decision based on the incomplete information you gave me rather than all the facts? Seriously?” Her head might explode.
“Little one, if I’d told you everything, would you have obeyed me then?”
And Master Z wouldn’t let her disobedience go unpunished.
“I’m screwed, aren’t I?” she said glumly.
“You will be, pet. You’ll also be spanked.”
“I think it’s just wrong to beat on the mother of your child.”
When he didn’t yank her across his knees, she had a moment of hope. Was she actually going to win an argument? A D/s argument?
Picking up the oversized pillow at the head of the bed, he set it on her pelvis, and rolled her on top of it. Her face lay against the mattress. Folding her arms across her low back, he secured them with one hand.
The pillow had raised her butt in the air. Oh, God, she so hadn’t won.
“Who better to beat on than the mother of my child?” He rubbed her bottom and began.
After five light swats, a warm sting bloomed over her buttocks.
“Spread your legs, little one.”
His voice grew softer. “Now.”
With a protesting moan, she opened her legs.
His fingers slid over her wet pussy, drawing the moisture to her clit. Skillfully, he rubbed. Firmly. Softly. Circling. Stroking almost to her anus and back.
Tormenting her until she was panting with the engulfing need.
He spanked her again, harder, each blow a noisy slap against burning, stinging skin. Only she was so aroused the blows felt like hot caresses that zinged right to her clit and amped up her excitement as if he was playing with a rheostat.
“Zeeeee. Please.” Her hips twisted. Lifted.
“All right, pet.” Pushing her legs apart, he settled between them. His thighs were hot against hers as he pressed his cock against her.
He entered her with a teasing inch…and with a merciless thrust, impaled her on his cock.
She gasped at the exquisitely painful, breathtaking feeling of being filled so full. Of being taken. As she strained to accommodate him, her interior walls pulsed a protest around the intrusion.
“Whose fault is that? Sir.”
“Bad submissive.” Chuckling, he swatted her bottom in a stinging reprimand.
She yelped…and burst into giggles.
“You’ve been associating with Gabi too often,” he murmured before gripping her hips and yanking her back onto his cock forcefully enough to make her gasp.
There he stayed, deep inside her, as he pulled her upright onto her knees and leaned her back against him. He held her in place with a hand on her groin and one on her throat. As his warm hand curved around her neck, the slight pressure increased her sense of vulnerability, holding her immobile. His thick cock pulsed inside her as his fingers danced across her pussy.
She lifted her arms to touch him, to entice him, to make him start thrusting. Something…
Deep inside her, pressure coiled. Grew.
Oh God. Poised on an excruciating edge, she shook with the need to come.
He kept her there. With torturous slowness, he moved inside her even as he stroked her clit.
“Please,” she whispered.
“Yes, that’s very nice.” Slowly, he pulled out almost all the way.
And stopped. Stopped everything. With a steely grip on her throat, on her pelvis, he held her caged as she whimpered and shook with desperate need.
Somehow, everything inside her gathered even tighter.
“Oh, God.” A quaking sensation rippled deep inside her, increasing more and more, until it burst outward in rippling waves of exquisite pleasure.
“Mmm.” His voice was a pleased rumble in her ear as he bent her forward until her cheek pressed against the mattress. Her butt stayed up in the air.
Another climax rolled over her. Mind-shattering pleasure engulfed her, consumed her.
He was deep inside her when his body went taut with the hot spill of his own release.
Still inside her, he rolled them both onto their sides. Cheek against her hair, he whispered, “I love you, Jessica.”
And being loved.