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Michael took a deep breath and let it out on a sigh.

“It’ll be worth it when we finish with her. Trust me.”

A few weeks later . . .

Michael was in Mexico lying on a private beach, trying not to think about what was going on with Vivian when his cell rang. Anton’s number flashed across the screen.

“Yes? Is she okay?”

“Calm down. She’s fine. I just have to move the timetable up. I’m about to take her to the house.”

His chest tightened and for a brief moment, he considered backing out. But he was too committed. If they stopped now, she’d be like an unfinished piece of art. And it would hurt her. She’d have to be put into therapy for shit he’d initiated. By this point it was more merciful to continue the conditioning.

“Why are you taking her so soon?”

“She’s a loose cannon. I won’t compromise my operation on this, Michael. I’m taking her to the house. Don’t worry, it’ll just be me, Gabe, and Lindsay. We’ll take good care of her for you.”

“I want to talk to her before she gets there.”

“Call in thirty minutes. We’ll be on the road.”

A few days later . . .

Michael was livid. “I’m coming over there right now. I’ll fucking kill that bastard!”

Anton’s voice slid over the phone in that calming fashion that always somehow convinced Michael everything was okay. “Brian has been dealt with. He won’t touch her that way again.”

“He’d better not. It’s one thing for you three. You’re like brothers, and you know I don’t mind sharing her with you. But I hate that fucker. I’ve hated him since college. I don’t know why you employ him.”

“Relax. Everything is fine.”

“Is she okay?”

“She’s fine. Gabe took care of her. She’ll be ready for you in a few weeks.”

Today . . .

Michael sat on the edge of the bed, stroking Vivian’s hair as she slept. Her collar glinted off the light of the lamp. He’d known this would be difficult. Could he have trained her himself? Probably not. He wouldn’t have had the stomach for it. And she never would have believed in it.

The cell phone vibrated in his pocket. He disentangled his limbs from Vivian’s and moved into the hallway.

“Yes?”

“How is she?” It was Gabe.

“It was both easier and rougher than I expected. She seemed to submit to me, but there was a fight first.”

The other man sighed loudly over the phone. “Don’t let up on her. Don’t let her get away with a single thing or you’ll lose everything we did. I don’t know why the fuck you didn’t just come to the house as one of her trainers. It would have been a more controlled circumstance, instead of springing it on her like this.”

Michael gave a non-committal grunt, and Gabe let the issue drop.

“Lindsay wants to know if you’re bringing her back for visits.”

“In about a month. I told her then she’d go to the house weekly.”

“How did she feel about that?”

Michael scrubbed a hand through his hair, “She was trying to be nonchalant. I guess she doesn’t want me to be jealous, but I could tell she’s excited.”

He talked to Gabe for a few more minutes and then disconnected the call. His mind went back to the other man’s accusation about why he’d handled things in the end as he had.

They would never understand. Michael needed one moment with Vivian where she didn’t have anger or assumptions about him, where she was his slave and he was her master without any other layers of bullshit.

When Anton had brought her to him and she’d knelt at his feet and offered herself to him as his property, when she hadn’t known it was him, it was honest. Her fear, her surrender, everything.

The moment the blindfold came off, things got complicated, as he’d known they would. They would eventually get back to that place where she understood herself as his slave and not his wife pretending to be his slave. But either way, he would always have that one moment.

Where it was real.

It made the entire fucked-up thing worth doing all over again.


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