The evidence of tears—more tears than just from the restaurant, which meant she’d been crying on the way home—ravaged her delicate features. It was like being sucker punched and having no idea how to respond to the attack.

He was absolutely useless when Chessy cried. He hated to see her unhappy and he’d move heaven and earth to fix whatever was making her unhappy.

But hell, apparently it was him who was making her unhappy. What the hell did he do about that? He was utterly baffled by Chessy’s outburst. For one horrible moment he’d thought she was telling him she wanted a divorce.

He hadn’t been able to breathe for the terror gripping him. The thought of being without Chessy? It didn’t bear thinking about.

“Come inside so we can talk, baby,” he said in a low voice that was almost pleading. Hell, it was pleading. He was damn near begging.

She stared ahead, her gaze fixed on the windshield, never wavering. It was like looking at an ice sculpture.

“Chessy,” he prompted. “Please come inside with me. There’s a lot I don’t understand right now. I need my girl to talk to me so I can fix this.”

Slowly she turned, her eyes swamped with so much hurt that an invisible hand clutched Tate by the throat and squeezed until he could barely breathe. Where had things gone wrong? How could he not have seen this coming?

Yes, he’d noticed that she’d been different in the past year, but she’d never given him any hint that she was unhappy or that he wasn’t satisfying her. She always had a bright smile, warm with love for him. She was always understanding when he was called away for business when they were together. Her difference had been a moment’s puzzlement quickly swept aside by her sunny smile and sweet disposition.

Had it all been a lie? Or was he just completely blind to his wife’s dissatisfaction?

“Do you want to fix it?” she asked in a challenging tone. “Seriously, Tate. Do you even care? Do you want to fix what’s wrong or do you just want things to continue on like normal? You leaving get-togethers with our friends. You receiving phone calls at all hours of the evening—after work, mind you. We can’t even make love for that damn phone going off, and you’re so tied to it that one would think if you actually let it go for an hour that the world would end.”

Tate sucked in his breath at the bitterness in her voice. The hurt crowding into her face and bleeding over into her impassioned statement. Or rather her question. Did he want to fix it? Of course he did. But first he had to know what the hell he was supposed to fix.

He reached across the seat to take her hand, half afraid—okay a lot afraid—that she’d recoil, that she would refuse to let him touch her. She went rigid but didn’t yank her hand away. He gently pried her fingers apart with his thumb and then laced their hands before lifting hers to his mouth as he leaned over.

“Listen to me, baby. I love you. You mean the world to me. Always have. Do I want to fix things? Damn right, I do. But first I have to know what I’m up against. And that means that we have to go inside and you have to talk to me. Will you do that, please?”

His words felt all wrong. His entire demeanor since the night had ended in shambles had not been him. Nor was it indicative of his relationship with Chessy. She was his. In every way that counted. She’d gifted him with her absolute submission, and as her Dominant—and the man who loved her with all his heart—his responsibility was to cherish her, protect her gift, ensure her happiness.

He felt like a complete failure. He hadn’t been dominant tonight. Chessy had been in control, dishing out commands to him when he was usually the one giving her instructions. It was the way their relationship worked. Always had.

And yet tonight? Hell, thinking back, it went way beyond just tonight. When was the last time he’d truly exerted his dominance? He used to control every aspect of Chessy’s life. It may seem extreme to someone on the outside looking in, but it was what worked for them. He wanted her submission and she wanted his dominance. She’d never shied away from his control. Never protested. Never gave any sign she was anything but happy with their agreement.

But when had he last demonstrated that dominance?

It was a sad testament that he couldn’t even remember. Couldn’t point to a time or moment over the last year when he’d acted as her Dominant.

The pieces were coming together in his mind, and he didn’t like what he was seeing. He hated the idea that he’d failed Chessy. Miserably. She was unhappy, and his girl was always happy. She lit up a room like a million rays of sunshine. She had such a tender, loving heart and she spread that love to everyone she encountered.

People were always at ease with Chessy. It was why he’d made certain to bring her to dinners with prospective and current clients because she made others relax, be more open. She was like a magnet, drawing people to her effervescent personality. Later he’d worried that keeping up with his pace was too much for her, and he never wanted her to feel the pressures of his job. That was his to bear. Never hers. So he’d told her he wanted her to back off. Spend time with her friends instead of always planning a social gathering.

And now the light had gone out in her beautiful eyes. All because of him and his dismal failure to provide for her needs.

He tightened his grip on Chessy’s hand, waiting for her response. She was taking way too long to respond, her brow wrinkled as if she was waging some kind of internal war. God, whatever it was, let him come out the victor and let her acquiesce to his plea to talk this out.