He waits for me. He insisted I take the train instead of driving, even though driving would have taken less than an hour. It was to be a journey separating myself from all that I was in the moments before I checked my baggage and stepped onto the train.
I’m a wreck. I chew a fingernail nervously, knowing as the train stops that this is it. There’s no turning back now. I close my eyes. Thinking? Praying? Remembering? I wonder what in the hell I was thinking to board this train.
He stands at baggage waiting for me and as I cross to him I don’t give a second thought to the fact that God, security and dozens of passengers are watching as I fall to my knees in front of him, tears streaming over my cheeks, my forehead bowed against his thighs. His hand wraps in my hair, pulling me to my feet, his lips gracing my forehead, whispering the words I’ve dreamed for two decades, “You have pleased me greatly this night, Cassiopeia.”
In the car his hand caresses my knee as he drives me to his home, the home we’d once shared. My gut clenches as I remember the fully equipped dungeon hidden away in his basement. As if reading my mind his hand slides higher, cupping my tingling pussy, sending shivers and more up my spine. “Glad to be going home, love?”
“Home is in Glenview,” I answer softly.
“No.” His firm tone implies anger, though the look he gives me is soft, regret-filled. “Home was never there—with him—you belong to me. You always have and always will. Do you forget you wear my mark?”
My thoughts fly to a night twenty years ago when he branded my right ass cheek with his mark—a filigree heart. Heat flares there as it always does when I consider it. Once, I belonged to François Rene de Hart.
“No, I’ve never forgotten.” I whisper, afraid of my own voice, adding even more softly, “Master.”
His smile tells me he is pleased with my answer and he pats my knee before reaching up to untie the belt cinching closed my camel trench coat. Parting the cloth, he reveals scant velvet and indecent swells of flesh. Damn those twenty pounds and then some…more likely thirty by the figure revealed in the mirror before I’d fled my bedroom.
Self-conscious, I scan the dark horizon beyond the car window, pulling my lip between my teeth in an effort to hold back my tears.
“Look at me, Cassiopeia.”
Hesitantly, I meet his eyes.
“First, welcome home.”
My mouth makes an “O” as I realize we are going through the imposing iron gates.
“Second, you are no longer the young girl I lost. You have grown into an incredibly beautiful woman. And third—”
His pause brings my gaze back around to his as he parks in the garage, the door automatically lowering behind us. Gentle fingers trace my jawline and pull me forward into him for a painfully gentle, excruciatingly long, well-practiced kiss. When he finally releases my lips, I barely manage to croak, “Third?”
“You will now be punished for running away.”
His answer is as short and abrupt as his exit from the car. Before I realize what he said, he is beside my door, opening it and helping me out, placing a firm hand on my elbow in case I harbor plans for escape.
Oh, hell. My mind races, my palms and armpits suddenly leaking buckets. Nervous chatter fills the air—me rambling. Arguments. “I don’t deserve this. I came running when you summoned me, didn’t I?” and “This was your fault. You knew my biological clock was ticking,” and the true moment of desperation, “Everyone has to grow up sooner or later. It was time for me to grow up and give up silly games.”
The last stopped him cold. We’d made it all the way to the final basement stair. He demands coldly, “Silly games?”
I stumble back a step.
His face, hidden in shadow, seems suddenly even more sinister with age than I’d remembered. It is the look he had once used to instill instant fear, but I am a mature woman now, intent on standing firm. It is all a game and to pretend otherwise is insanity. Twenty years has made me too old for games. I should have stayed in my safe, quiet neighborhood. But then, here I am, toe-to-toe and eye–to-eye with the man who’s filled the starring role in every fantasy I’ve invented over those same years. Frankie. My Frankie. My Master. The one man in my life who’d never harmed me—not mentally, physically or emotionally.
So why am I suddenly shaking in my four-inch heels? It was never a game. It was our life together. My mind flies back to the first time he led me down this same staircase.
“I’m afraid,” I whisper—same words, same trembling voice as then. “I don’t want any pain.”
Master’s face softens and I know he is remembering also.
“I promise I won’t do anything you don’t want me to do—anything you don’t need me to do.”
It is an echo, almost word for word, of the promise he’d made the night he introduced me to His World. His very real world. To him it was never a game at all. Suddenly, a lump fills my throat and tears are again streaming down my face. I fall to my knees for a second time in less than an hour, this time clutching his hand, pulling it to my lips. I kiss his fingers over and over again, sobbing, blubbering apologies, smearing tears and snot and spit over his knuckles until I can barely breathe.
Kneeling beside me, he pulls me into his arms. “God, I’ve missed you, Cassiopeia.”