“Relax, damn it,” James growled, his fingers digging into her hips. She was certain she’d wear bruises from his grasp. “You’re going to get f**ked and it’s up to you whether this is easy or hard.”

She cried out, shocked that he’d persist and that Tate had nothing to say. And then, as if to punish her for her resistance, James cracked the strap down over her shoulder blades as he thrust more forcefully into her reluctant body.

Tears ran down her cheeks and sobs welled from her throat. “No! Stop! I don’t want this,” she said in a garbled tone.

Her safe word. God, what was it? Her mind was a chaotic mess of fear and pain.

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“Rain,” she croaked out. “Rain!”

SEVENTEEN

TATE had just uttered his last command to James when his cell phone vibrated against his side. Out of habit, he glanced down quickly to pull out the phone enough so he could identify the incoming caller, fully intending to hit ignore.

He swore under his breath before glancing back up to where James had administered the second lash of the flogger. This was an important call but it had to come now of all times? Tabitha Markham had strung him along for weeks over whether she was going to transfer her late husband’s portfolio—her inheritance—to Tate’s firm and he was supposed to have a firm commitment from her any moment. Apparently she’d chosen now to inform him of her decision.

This was going to have to be quick.

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He yanked up the phone, glanced at Chessy, who was facing away from him, and then uttered a crisp hello.

“Tate? Where are you? I can’t hear you.”

Tabitha’s voice was strident in his ear. He wasn’t in the mood to chitchat. He just wanted her decision so he could get back to much more important matters. Like his wife and salvaging their marriage.

He walked a few steps away toward the corner where things were a little quieter and he could also keep an eye on Chessy.

“Can you hear me now?” he asked.

“Yes, much better. I called you because I have some concerns. You’ve been very hard to get in touch with lately and as my financial advisor, I’d require that I be able to get in contact with you at all times.”

Tate’s brow furrowed and he turned away from Chessy and James, wanting to put his fist through the wall.

“I can assure you that I am available at all times for my clients,” he said tersely.

“Well that remains to be seen, does it not? If you aren’t available before I become your client it hardly seems likely that you’ll be available once you win me over.”

Tate’s fingers curled impatiently and he brought one hand up to cover his other ear so he could hear her more clearly.

“Look, either you want me to handle your portfolio or you don’t,” he said bluntly. “I can’t talk right now because I’m out with my wife and this is our personal time. If you’d like to discuss the matter further, I encourage you to contact me during business hours on Monday.”

A cry cracked through the air, freezing the blood in Tate’s veins.

“Rain. Rain!” he heard Chessy scream hoarsely.

He dropped the phone and whirled in the direction of her scream. When he saw tears coursing down her cheeks and James’s hands curled around her hips he broke into a run, but before he could get there, Damon and two of his security men knocked James away. Tate lunged for James.

“What the hell did you do to her, you son of a bitch?” Tate yelled.

He punched the other man in the jaw, sending him reeling, and then he turned, his heart in his throat to see Damon unfastening the last of Chessy’s bonds. Chessy sagged onto the floor, curling herself into a tight ball as tears ran unchecked down her face.

Three sets of accusing eyes pinned him as he knelt down where Chessy lay sobbing.

They all looked at him, condemnation in their eyes. He’d done the unforgivable. He’d broken the unspoken rule that all Dominants lived by. He hadn’t protected his submissive.

“What the hell happened?” Tate demanded.

Damon gave him a look of pure disgust. “Shouldn’t you know? Where the hell were you when she was screaming her safe word? How could you have done this, Tate? This … This is unforgivable. I think it’s safe to say you’re done here.”

Tate tentatively reached for Chessy, his hand over her icy cold skin in an effort to reassure himself that she was all right. Of course she wasn’t all right.

She shrank away, visibly recoiling from his touch.

“Don’t touch me,” she said in a voice hoarse from crying. And screaming.

Damon barked an order to one of the bystanders to bring a blanket. Tate was gutted by the utter devastation in Chessy’s eyes. Worse was the fear that gripped him. He’d f**ked up. Had done the unforgivable as Damon had accused. There wouldn’t be—and shouldn’t be—forgiveness for not ensuring his wife was safe every second of their time at The House.

The blanket was delivered and when Tate tried to wrap it around her, she drew sharply away as she’d done just moments earlier. Damon took the blanket, gently arranging it around Chessy’s huddled body. Then he simply looped his arms underneath her slight form and stood from his squatting position, cradling her against his chest.

“It will be all right, Chessy,” Damon said quietly. “Let me take you into my office where it’s private. I’ll have your clothes brought down so you can dress. Are you hurt? Do you need to go to the hospital?”

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