“Look at me, Chessy.”
She turned slowly, her face pale, fear in her beautiful eyes. He swallowed back the knot in his throat because this was not the time to hesitate or stand down. He had to pull a full-court press.
“First thing I want to say to you, because it was never addressed last night.”
She sent him a faintly puzzled look but at least he had her full attention now.
“I have never been unfaithful to you, Chessy,” he said in a clear, distinct and earnest voice. “I have never even entertained the thought. I love you. You are the only woman I ever want to be with.”
Chessy’s breath intake was swift and sharp. She stared at him for a long moment, searching his face, as if for the truth in his words.
“Then who was that woman last night?” she choked out. “On our anniversary, who was the woman who was all over you in the bar of the restaurant we were supposed to eat at?”
The bitterness in her voice made him wince. He’d never expected their marriage to come to this. Not only was she questioning his fidelity, but she was also questioning every aspect of their marriage. And all of his shortcomings and failures over the last two years.
“She was a potential client,” he said, looking her straight in the eye. “I don’t know what the hell you thought you saw, but I was not all over that woman. I was having drinks with her and discussing the possibility of her transferring her portfolio to me. She’d be a big coup. Her husband died and left her a lot of money. Most of it in stocks and bonds, and she’s unhappy with the financial advisor her husband used. So yes, I was having drinks with her. I told her I could only meet with her a short time as I had another commitment. I got delayed. Time got away from me. I had no idea so much time had passed, baby. I would never purposely do anything to hurt you. You have to believe that.”
“But you have hurt me,” she whispered. “Over and over again. I can’t even count on two hands the times you’ve left me for a client. When we’re at friends’, with Dash and Joss or Kylie and Jensen. When I’m alone at the house on a weekend because you’re off golfing with clients or taking them to dinner. Without me. You used to include me in your dinners and social affairs but then you quit. Are you ashamed of me? Did I fail you in some way?”
He was shocked by her outburst. God, by the magnitude of hurt she was feeling. All piled up and finally exploding last night—and now. It flayed his heart open and he was bleeding on the inside for all he’d done to this precious woman.
“God no, Chessy! Fail me? Me ashamed of you? You are the most beautiful woman in the world to me. You light up the entire room when you enter. Ashamed? Jesus Christ. I didn’t want to burden you anymore. I could see how it was affecting you being called upon so many times, always going out, or entertaining in and you taking care of all the details. I could see the toll it was taking on you. I never wanted that for you. I wanted you to be financially secure and for you to do whatever the hell you wanted in your free time. Not always having to rush around because of the obligations I had. They weren’t yours to bear.”
“I never minded,” she said in barely above a whisper. “I felt important to you. Like we were a team. I wanted to support you. Be there for you. And then it was the only way I got to spend time with you because you were always gone, always on the phone, never here with me. And then I lost that too. I lost you.”
“You haven’t lost me, damn it! Chessy, I love you. I can’t say that enough. Nor can I say I’m sorry enough. I wish to hell I could say that I saw when everything went all wrong, but it just happened gradually and I took for granted that you’d always be here. My wife. The woman I loved.”
“Don’t you turn this around on me,” she said, fire sparking in the eyes that had been dull and filled with sorrow just minutes ago. “Don’t you dare insinuate that I haven’t been here. I’ve been here every damn day. Waiting for my husband to come home. To be here. To fulfill my needs. You’re supposed to be my Dominant, Tate! And even my friends and their significant others can see you aren’t living up to your promise to me when I gave you my submission.”
Tate’s lips thinned into a tight line. “What the hell do you mean about Dash and Jensen seeing anything?”
Chessy gave him a tired look. “They’re both dominant and they treat Joss and Kylie like queens. I’ve heard from them time and time again that in return for the gift of my submission you’re supposed to put my needs above all others. That you’re to cherish me and my gift absolutely. Respect it. Recognize how precious such a gift is. And they said you’re failing miserably. Now how do you think that makes me feel to have my marriage picked apart and judged by my best friends and their husbands, or rather husband and lover in Kylie’s case.”
Tate let out a low growl. “They have no right to judge anything. What we do is our business and our business alone. Our marriage is not up for public speculation. Ever.”
Chessy’s accusing eyes found his. “It seems that if you were living up to your promise and acting as a true Dominant, not to mention husband and lover, that no one would have fodder to point out your shortcomings.”
The shot hit home and left him devoid of speech for several moments. She was right and it hurt that he had no comeback. No excuse.
“There’s no one else in this relationship except you and me,” he finally said in an even voice. “I readily admit that I’ve royally f**ked up and I intend to rectify that starting now. This is our anniversary weekend and I intend to salvage it.”