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Claiming Crystal by Melody Parks – Sample

Chapter One

Claiming Crystal by Melody ParksCrystal sat staring at the food on her plate, fidgeting with her fork.

“What’s the matter, honey?” Kevin asked, putting a large, warm hand over hers.

“I know why you brought me here tonight,” she said without looking at him.

“If that were so, you’d have a huge smile on your face,” he said with a wink.

She looked up at him, fighting the tears in her eyes. Any other woman would have been ecstatic to be sitting here with Kevin Pell and the little black box in his pocket, but not Crystal. It wasn’t that she was afraid to commit, or that she didn’t love Kevin. But as with all the other long-term relationships in her life, there was just something missing.

The sex was good. Kevin always tended to her needs before his own, and he had more than enough money to provide for them. She looked at the tennis bracelet on her wrist, then at the opal ring on her pinky finger. She was sure that tonight, on their two-year anniversary of dating, he was going to ask her to marry him. And she was going to break his heart and say—no.

“I can’t do this anymore, Kev.” Her voice quavered as she met his electrifying, bright blue eyes, noting how his brows pulled together and a quizzical look spread across his face. “I should have told you months ago, but I couldn’t.” She took in a slow breath, wondering if she would ever forget the warm smell of his aftershave, or that little dip in his sandy blond hair. The muscles in his jaw tensed as he cocked his head to the right, pulling his hand from hers.

“What exactly are you saying, Crystal?” he asked, concern evident in his tone.

“You know what I’m saying, Kev. It’s over. I know what you have in your pocket and I love you for it, but I can’t. I’m sorry I let this go on for as long as it has.” God, she sounded like a broken record and she knew from experience the next thing out of his mouth was going to be…

“Why?” he blurted, completely shocked. “Things have been so good between us.” He shook his head in disbelief. “Crystal, I don’t understand. We’re meant for each other. My mom even said so last month when we had dinner, right here at Antello’s. Why? Why now?” Kevin stirred nervously in his chair, loosening his tie like it was suddenly choking him.

She really couldn’t tell him why. Not exactly. She wasn’t sure herself, but one thing was certain, something was missing. Sure, to anyone else they had the perfect relationship. Kevin was everything a woman wanted: successful, magnetic personality, tender heart, a body as sexy as hell, and sinfully seductive sky blue eyes with tiny flecks of green in them. But right now, there was a tempest brewing in those otherwise kind and caring eyes.

“Crystal,” he ground out, irritation clear in his voice. “As far as I knew, things have been going great between us. Now, out of the blue you’re just calling it off?”

“It doesn’t feel right. There’s something missing. It’s not you, so please don’t think that. It’s me. Maybe there’s something wrong with me.”

“Something’s missing? What could be missing? We’re both successful, well educated, like a lot of the same things, we laugh together, and we love each other. Or were all those ‘I love yous’ just lies? Have you been just stringing me along for the past two years?”

“Kevin,” she said, picking up a napkin to dab her watery eyes. “I’m so sorry. I know how hard this is, but I don’t feel connected to you. At least not the way I’d like to. I mean, sure, we do things together all the time and we have a lot of fun together, but when it comes to thinking of us together forever… well, I go cold and inside I know you’re not the man for me.”

“Honey, you have no idea what you’re throwing away.” His hand went to his brow, rubbing his forehead like he often did when a tension headache hit. “There isn’t a woman alive—besides you—who would turn me down. I put you on a fucking pedestal, practically worshipping the ground you walked on and this…” he made an agitated whirling motion with his hands, “this is the thanks I get?”

Crystal put her hands in her lap, her uneaten shrimp Alfredo staring up at her as she lowered her chin in dismay. “I’m sorry. I don’t really know what else to say. It’s better to do this now than a year from now when you realize it too.”

“Realize what? That you’re perfect for me? That you do to me what no other woman on the planet can do? That I love you more than I’ve ever loved anyone? I need you, Crystal. Please, baby. You’re just scared. Take some time to think about things, but please don’t cast me off like an old used shoe. If there’s something you think is missing, then tell me what it is and I’ll fix it, but please don’t call it quits like this.”

He’d hit the begging stage now and hopefully he wouldn’t make a scene before they left. “That’s just it, Kevin. I can’t explain what it is, but whatever it is, you can’t find it or fix it.” Holding back unshed tears, she mustered her boldness, looking into his frantically worried eyes. “Let me go, Kev. We can still be friends if you want, but—”

“Friends?” His words came through clenched teeth. “Did you really just go there? I’ve been inside you every which way but Sunday and you’re pulling out the ‘let’s be friends’ card?” With haste he reached into his jacket and pulled out his wallet. “I could understand if the sex was bad or if I had some annoying habit you could never learn to live with. Hell, I’d even understand if you hated my parents or my job. But this lame excuse that something is missing just isn’t going to cut it, sweetheart.” He laid some bills on the table and stood up, straightening his jacket. “Let’s get out of here. We can go back to my place and talk about this while I give you a long relaxing backrub. You love when I do that and all your tension just melts away. When you’re thinking clearly again, you’ll realize all of this ‘it’s over’ talk is just you being scared to commit. Forget about the ring for now, we can wait as long as you like. I won’t pressure you with marriage.”

“I don’t want a backrub,” she said firmly, “or a foot massage, or long hours of making love. My head is clear and my thinking is just fine. I’m doing this for both of us. Just let it end here and now, Kevin, please.” She pulled her napkin from her lap and turned her chair, preparing to get up, when he thrust the ring in her face.

“Look at it,” he demanded, opening the black crushed-velvet case. The diamond was simply gorgeous. A princess cut, at least three carats, set in a twenty-four—karat gold crown, finely polished with enough sparkle to guide a blind man through a thick fog. He’d spared no expense. It must have cost over ten grand and knowing such made her feel even worse. “Oh, and this too.” He pulled out a photograph and set it on the table in front of her. She looked at the picture, a beautiful two-story beachfront home, complete with an extra-large pool and thick palm trees hedging the property. “That would have been our honeymoon and then our vacation home thereafter. It’s brand new. The builders just finished it last week. I had a house built for you, Crystal. Don’t you see what you mean to me?” He squatted down in front of her, taking hold of her hand. When she realized he meant to put the ring on her finger, she pulled away. So much for not pressuring her.

“You’re too good for me, Kevin. I don’t deserve someone like you.” A tear rolled down her cheek as she continued to focus on the picture.

“Shhh,” he soothed, stroking the back of her hands with his thumbs. “It’s okay, angel. Let’s get out of here now and we can put this behind us.” He pulled at her hands, encouraging her to stand, which she did, and his arms wrapped around her before she had a chance to protest.

Weakly returning his embrace, she whispered in his ear. “The ring is beautiful and so is the house, but it’s still over.”

She felt him stiffen, his breath stopping for a moment as he put his hands on her shoulders. “You’ll walk out of this restaurant with me the same way we came in,” he whispered, his hands moving down her arms, gripping her wrists. “As a couple,” he said firmly, pulling back to look her in the eyes. “Do you understand?”

His eyes had lost their sky blue shine, reflecting a fiery hint of anger, and for some reason Crystal felt a twinge of excitement at this. Having never seen his lips pressed so tight in anger, she thought it best to comply and slowly nodded in agreement.

“Good,” he said stiffly, picking up the ring and photo, stuffing them back in his pocket with one hand while refusing to let go of her wrist with the other as if she might bolt at any moment. Slipping his other hand to her waist, he forced a fake smile while leading them from the establishment.

“I’m taking you home and I don’t want to hear one word of protest out of your mouth.” His words were as rigid as their stride and he didn’t bother to look over at her while he spoke. “You’ve got one month. I won’t call or contact you at all. If you don’t contact me within thirty days, it’s over and I’ll make sure you can’t contact me ever again.” He stopped in front of the passenger door of his blue Beemer, keying in the security code, his hand still engulfing her wrist. “Get in,” he ordered, swinging the door open. As he let go of her wrist, he blocked any and all space behind her with his body and the door, trapping her so that her only option was to obey.

She slid into the passenger seat without an ounce of protest, their eyes connecting just as the door swung shut. The glare he gave her made her breath hitch. She’d never seen that look before, and she wasn’t sure why, but it was exciting her. The car alarm chirped and she realized he’d locked the doors so she couldn’t escape while he rounded the car and got in. Did he really think she might run?

“You didn’t have to lock me in,” she said as he settled into the driver’s seat, keying the ignition.

The car purred to life and he turned to her, capturing her chin in his hand. The firmness of his fingers on her jaw sent a tingle down her spine. The heat blazing in his eyes made her want to lower her gaze but she couldn’t. “What part of ‘not a word’ do you not understand?” Christ, where did that low grumble in his voice come from? The fire in his eyes made her belly clench, thinking that if he kissed her right now, hard… “Not a word on the way home. I’m too pissed to talk right now. Understand?”

She nodded to the extent his firm hand would allow as his stormy blue eyes bore into hers. She’d seen him angry plenty of times, sometimes even at her, but never with such a commanding look in his eyes. If she didn’t know him so well, it would have scared her. On the contrary, it was turning her on.

“Good,” he barked, letting her loose while he turned his attention to driving the car.

He refused so much as a sideways glance at her as they drove. She saw his nostrils flare a few times while they remained stopped at a red light. He was doing everything possible to keep his anger and emotions in check, which included cursing at other drivers for slowing him down. A twisted thought went through her mind while he ignored her.

She wanted him to fuck her while he was pissed, putting all his anger into his hard, determined thrusts, telling her she wasn’t allowed to leave him. If anyone ended this relationship, it was going to be him and on his terms. Christ, she was getting wet just thinking about it. What in the hell was wrong with her? That could almost be considered borderline rape, couldn’t it? Did she have a secret rape fantasy that she wasn’t aware of? No. It wasn’t the implication of rape she sought. It was something else.

He hit the brakes a little too hard as he pulled up in front of her apartment complex, and Crystal lurched forward, the seat belt locking, instantly jolting her back. “Jesus, Kevin. I know you’re pissed, but you don’t need to give me whiplash,” she spurted, fumbling with the belt. When she looked over at him, his face was like stone, angled away from her. He wasn’t even going to tell her goodbye, was he? With her hand on the door latch, she paused, feeling like she suddenly wanted to cry. “Kevin,” she whispered. “I—”

“Out!” he ordered. She jumped, pulling the latch, quick to obey.

She didn’t even get a chance to shut the door before he floored the gas, tires squealing as he peeled away.

Pulling the keys from her clutch, Crystal opened the door to her two-story townhouse, kicked off her heels, tossed down her purse and keys, and went straight upstairs to get into something more befitting her mood—her tattered pink sweats and Pink Panther tank top. She undressed, slipping the silky material of the expensive little black cocktail dress from her curvaceous body. Reaching back, she pulled the clips and pins that held up her long soft auburn locks, giving her head a shake as they fell around her shoulders and halfway down her back.

She couldn’t shake the image of Kevin’s angry eyes from her mind as she unclasped her bra. Despite his abrupt departure, she was still turned on, her nipples hard and achy, and a tingling warmth between her thighs. Closing her eyes, she began softly pinching her nipples as she fantasized about Kevin. How his hands would twist into her thick, golden-red waves, gripping firmly, close to the base of her head as he pulled her head back, forcing her to look him in the eye.

“Is this what’s missing, Crystal?” he’d say, his voice deep, dark, intimidating, yet sexy as hell.

He wouldn’t give her a chance to answer. His lips would cover her mouth like a hungry wolf, like a savage, pressing hard, nipping at her tongue, biting her lower lip and breathing hard as his large hands moved to her supple bare breasts—like hers were doing now. Whimpering softly, she squeezed them harder than she normally would, dragging the tips of her nails over the tight buds.

Rolling a nipple between her fingers, she pulled on it, stretching the skin to the point it hurt somewhat and then pinched it hard, calling out her displeasure. Kevin ran his hand down her trembling belly, wasting no time as he plunged into the front of her lacy thong, possessively cupping the soft curls of her pussy.

“You’re soaked,” she heard him rasp, his teeth nipping the bottom of her earlobe while his fingers delved into her wetness. “Why are you so wet?” he growled, forcing two fingers deep into her aching cunt.

“I… I don’t—” she panted before he cut her off, nipping the tender flesh of her neck close to her collarbone, procuring a sudden gasp from her.

“Yes, you do.” His words were dark, his eyes smoldering with lust. “On the bed, now.” He guided her a few steps back, one hand on her shoulder, the other still between her thighs, his fingers nestled deep even as she sat on the edge of the bed before lying back. “These are coming off.” There was a sexy growl in his tone as her thong slid over the slender curve of her hips and down her legs.

Whisking away the wet panties, he helped position her feet on the edge of the bed so her knees were bent and then spread her open, gazing down at her glistening pussy. “You’re going to fuck yourself for me.” His words came as an order.

Reaching under her pillow, she soon felt the soft velvet bag that housed her favorite dildo in her hand.

“You’re going to fuck yourself hard, Crystal.”

The thick glass phallus felt heavy in her hand as she touched the cold tip to one of her nipples.

“Did I tell you to touch your nipples with it?” His words were harsh, more of a bark, requiring no real answer. Taking firm hold of her wrist, he leaned over her, a flash of anger in his eyes. “Do as you were told.” The rumble in those words echoed in her ears as he pushed her wrist down between her thighs, making her gasp as the cool glass head touched her clit. She wanted to rub her swollen bud with the toy, but Kevin had other plans as he guided the thick head to her silky wet entrance. “Get busy.” He gave her a wicked smile, giving the dildo a nudge, the smooth, firm head stretching her open.

The intense gleam in his eyes drove her crazy as she worked the heavy toy deeper and deeper, groaning as she yielded to its girth.

“Now take it out and suck it.” His voice dripped with an authoritative edge unlike anything she’d ever heard from him. He stood back, watching as she pulled it out, spreading her thighs for a better view. Never before had she desired to suck her own juices, and yet for some reason her fantasy vision of Kevin was telling her to, and damned if she didn’t obey like an obedient little slut.

She wasn’t sure what to think of the taste as she licked and sucked. It wasn’t bad, but she wasn’t sure she’d call it good either. It didn’t matter though, because Kevin told her to do it, and the reaction it was having on him made it worth it. He still had one hand on her knee, but the other now supported the bulk of his engorged cock as he stroked it firmly from root to tip, giving the head a firm squeeze, pre-come oozing from the tiny hole.

“Put it back in your cunt,” he ordered, his voice husky with desire.

Both hands eagerly raced to her throbbing mound; holding her lips apart with one hand, she buried the phallus as deep as she could, voicing her pleasure as she clenched the unyielding glass.

In that instant her fantasy switched gears and it was no longer her glass dildo slowly pumping in and out of her. It was Kevin, with his hands on her knees, holding her open as he fed her his cock, slicking himself up with her juices. Her eyes locked on the movement of his thick rod as it disappeared inside, filling her, amending the achy need in her pussy momentarily before he pulled back just short of withdrawal.

“This pussy is going to get used hard tonight, girl.” He enforced his words with a brief demonstration, thrusting hard and deep, holding himself there while he ground against her, driving her clit into a screaming fit.

Pushing her legs back, he began to fuck her, his pace increasing gradually until he was pounding her furiously, digging his fingers into her thighs, pushing her legs back to the sides of her head. She could feel his balls slapping her ass, low grunts rumbling from his chest.

“Play with your clit,” he commanded.

She obeyed instantly, her index finger rubbing frantically, moaning as her pleasure began to peak.

“That’s it, Crystal, come for me. Hard!”

Those words echoed through her, holding her trembling body in its rapture. A warm flood of thin liquid sprayed against her hand as she continued to pump the glass shaft rapidly while pinching her clit. Words were leaving her mouth, but damned if she knew what they were. Her back arched off the bed, her pussy convulsing in a spasmodic fit of ecstasy until she went limp, reduced to little more than twitching and quivering while she tried to wet her lips and regain her breath.

Kevin, why couldn’t that have been for real? Moving slowly, she sat up, putting the toy next to her on the bed, looking at the massive wet spot on her bedspread. She’d heard of girls squirting before, but until today she’d never been one of them. It thrilled her and worried her at the same time. It had been truly an amazing experience, and the orgasm that followed was unlike any she’d ever had. What worried her was the fantasy that took her there. What normal woman would want to be manhandled and fucked into submission during the heat of an argument?

Your head’s not on straight, she told herself. You’re a social worker, for fuck’s sake. You help battered and abused women. What would they think if they knew she got off on wanting to be used and controlled… roughly? Professionally, it was her job to teach these women how to strive for their independence, how to break free from their abusive or domineering spouse or partner and reclaim their lives. In a way, she craved what she taught them to avoid. Not that she wanted to be slapped around or abused, but she realized now that dominance was what was missing in her sex life. A strong sexy, dominant man was what she needed. She needed to know what it felt like when a man took full control, giving her little option but to obey, submit, to let go of herself completely.

Sighing, she stood. Grabbing her clothes and her toy, she headed for the shower, wondering what Kevin was doing. Probably pinning her picture to his dartboard and cussing her out for ruining his one and only proposal. Well, not really, he hadn’t actually gotten to ask her, right?

Chapter Two

Picking up her messages from Gail, the receptionist at the front office, she made her way to her own office, barely getting through the door while thumbing through them when her phone rang.

“Crystal Harman,” she answered, searching for her coffee mug among the strewn files and stacks of paperwork on her desk.

“What in the hell happened over the weekend?” Thank God it was only Ivy. “I saw you walk past. You’re looking a little rough around the edges this morning. So I’m thinking you either had one hell of a good weekend or something’s terribly wrong. Meet me in the breakroom for coffee,” she said and hung up.

She could always count on Ivy, one of her dearest friends and fellow coworkers, to notice when she was out of sorts. Picking up her yellow smiley-face mug, she made her way down the long corridor to the breakroom to find Ivy, her long honey-blond hair all neat and tidy in a bun at the back of her head, dressed in her usual black pencil skirt and a blazer while she poured herself some coffee. “Hey,” she said, approaching the coffeepot.

“Hey, girl. What’s got you looking like a tattered two-dollar bill?” The inquisitive smile on Ivy’s pink satin lips told Crystal she hoped it was something juicy.

“Do I really look that bad?” Crystal asked, holding her mug out while Ivy filled it.

Ivy raised a brow and put the coffeepot back on the warmer. “Like I said, you look like you either had some fantastic whirlwind sex this weekend or you got hit by a bus on your way in.”

“I broke up with Kevin,” she said, grabbing a seat at one of the four tables in the breakroom farthest from the open door.

“What?” Ivy asked, astonished, nearly spilling her coffee. “Are you out of your mind? That man is everything a woman wants. Sexy, compassionate, generous, loyal… and completely crazy over you. And you’ve been with him for over two years. What in the hell happened?”

“He was going to ask me to marry him Friday night at Antello’s,” she said, watching her friend pour cream into her coffee.

“Oh, my God, and you turned him down?” Ivy’s amber eyes widened with disbelief. “You need a psych evaluation, girl.”

“No, I don’t,” Crystal objected passively. “I know he’s a great catch and all, but he’s just not ‘the one,’” she said, making finger quotations.

“Jesus Christ, Crystal. I don’t think you’d know ‘the one,’” Ivy mimicked her finger quotes, “if he sprang up and bit you on the ass.”

“It’s too hard to explain.” She looked down at her coffee, unable to keep eye contact with her friend. “And even if I could, you’d think I’m crazy and insist that I see a shrink.”

Ivy’s eyes narrowed as she gave her friend a speculative look. “You know we prefer the term counselor or therapist.”

“Sorry,” she said, blowing on her coffee before taking a sip.

“We’ve been friends a long time. I’ve watched you do this every time a man starts to get serious. Some of them I understood. They were self-indulgent assholes, but Kevin Pell? Crystal, he’s a sweetheart and he runs his own company. He’s also loaded.”

“Oh, please. For some of us, it’s about more than the size of a man’s wallet.” She let out a sigh, rolling her eyes. “And I know he’s a sweetheart, that’s part of the problem.”

“Oh, really?” Ivy asked, the corner of her lip quirking into a semi-smirk, her tone suggestive. “Tell me more.”

“No. I told you, I can’t explain it and this certainly isn’t the time or place to try. I need to get back to my office. I have a dozen messages to return and four court cases to review before lunch.” She slid her chair back and started to stand.

“Crystal.” The tone in her friend’s voice dropped an octave, reflecting concern. “You do this every time you disengage from a relationship. You throw yourself headlong into your work and shut out everyone else around you for months. It’s not healthy. You need to come to terms with whatever it is that’s preventing you from making a commitment.”

“Oh, for fuck’s sake. You sound just like Kevin.” She pushed her chair in, flashing Ivy an irritated look. “I don’t have commitment issues,” she snipped, turning to walk away. “I just know what I want from a guy and so far, none of them have it.”

“If you know what you want, then you can explain it.” Ivy called after her, making her pause. “I’m not going to watch you drag yourself through the mud this time. You’re thirty-five years old and I’ve watched you repeat this same cycle since high school. And you’ll just keep repeating it over and over until your hair is gray and your teeth start falling out unless you face the problem. I’ll understand if you don’t want to confide in me about it, but you need to talk with someone.”

“Thanks for the analysis… counselor,” she spouted sarcastically, sneering at Ivy over her shoulder. “But what I need is to get my ass to work so I don’t have to take case files home with me this evening.” She resumed a determined stride toward the door, trying not to spill her coffee.

“We’re doing dinner at Dave’s Hot-n-Tasty BBQ tonight. I won’t take no for an answer.” Ivy’s dulcet tones carried down the hall after her. She didn’t bother to reply. If she didn’t acknowledge her, she could leave early and pretend she hadn’t heard her.

Back in her office, she set her phone to voicemail only and started returning calls while sorting through her stack of files, prioritizing them into two groups, those with children and those without. Cases that involved minors always took top priority.

Somewhere around 3:00 p.m. her stomach growled, reminding her she had worked right through lunch. She looked at the number of blinking messages on her answering machine, putting a hand to her brow and rubbing her aching temples. Half of them were probably from Ivy, telling her to meet her in the parking lot after work. She had one more file to read and make recommendations on, but if she wanted to leave early, she’d have to bring this one home with her and submit her report from her laptop.

Playing her messages, she gathered her purse and jacket. She laughed when three in a row were all from Ivy.

“Don’t ignore me, woman.”

“Pick up, I know you’re in there!”

“You can run, but you can’t hide. I know where you work.”

She shook her head, a smile forming on her lips at the silly but playful tone of voice her friend was using. “Don’t even think about leaving early, missy. I know where you live.” She paused, looking at the machine as she stuffed the paperwork she needed into her briefcase; a short-lived twinge of guilt washed over her, but then she giggled. Ivy Durst knew her too well. But not well enough to see her dark secrets.

No way was she going to confess to anyone her desires for a man who could take control, no matter her reluctance or resistance, and for once, put her in her place.

Peeking up and down the corridor, she slipped out of her office, closing the door behind her and booked it for the side door the smokers used on their breaks. A rich smile spanned her lips as she strode briskly across the parking lot, but then instantly withered into an unfavorable frown. Damnit, Ivy, you do know me too well. Ivy was sitting on the hood of her car, reading a book.

“I knew you’d try to duck out on me,” Ivy said, closing her book while sliding off the car. “Don’t even start with the excuses either, I know them all by heart.”

Crystal shook her head as she unlocked the car door on her red Chevy Cavalier. “Ivy, really?” she asked, rolling her eyes as her friend found her way to the passenger side door, obviously inviting herself along to wherever Crystal was about to go. “For your information, I’m going over to Arroyo Grande. I have to find a new gym. I don’t want to chance running into Kevin. I was told Fitness 19 is really affordable and has a lot to offer.” Tossing her things in the back seat, she got in the car, watching Ivy do the same. “You’re really going to tag along with me to the gym?” she asked somewhat sarcastically before starting the car.

“I’m afraid you’re stuck with me until you agree to face the fact you have a problem. I care about you, Crystal.” She put a hand on her shoulder and Crystal could see in her eyes that she wasn’t going to give up until she got what she wanted, or heard what she needed to hear. “I want to see you happy. Genuinely happy. No more going through the motions, telling yourself this is how it’s supposed to be.”

Crystal put the car in reverse, pressing her lips into an irritated, flat thin line. “Ivy, you know I love you. And I care about you just as much as you care about me. But if you were in my shoes right now, I wouldn’t be pressing you to talk about something you didn’t need or want to share with anyone.”

“Well,” Ivy said, a playful smirk on her face. “I guess that makes me a better friend. And as such,” her smirk vanished, her features somber, “I know you need to talk about it, because if you don’t, you’ll never get what you want.”

Her friend had a point, but although she knew it was true, Ivy was the last person on earth she wanted to know about her sexual obsessions. “If you had a clue about my problem, as you call it, you wouldn’t be doing this.”

“I have a pretty good hunch I know what it is.”

Crystal burst out laughing so hard she nearly ran a red light. “Not in a million years.”

“Really?” Ivy’s brow went up as it always did whenever she felt challenged. “Let’s make a little bet then.” Her lips curled mischievously. “I get one guess. If I’m right, you agree to talk about it with me. If I’m wrong, you can take me home and I won’t pressure you about it again for at least a month.”

“No deal. If you’re wrong, you won’t pressure me about it ever again.” She could see Ivy’s gears turning as she contemplated the proposal.

“Deal,” she said resolutely. “And you can’t lie either. I’ll know if you do.”

“Fine,” Crystal said, hanging a left.

“I thought you were going to Arroyo?” Ivy asked, confused.

“It’s quicker to turn here. I mean, after you guess I’ll be taking you home anyway, right?”

“Yes, I do believe you’re right.” Her words rang out with an undertone that worried her. The wicked grin on Ivy’s lips and the impish look in her eyes sent a chill down the back of Crystal’s neck.

No. There’s no way she’ll guess correctly. Yet, the sudden onslaught of quivers in her belly made her more than a bit nervous. “So guess already!” she spat, wanting to get this over with.

Ivy’s features softened as she drew in a slow, deep breath, exhaling before she spoke. “You bail out of every potentially long-term relationship because the man you’re with isn’t dominant enough for you and doesn’t know how to take control. There’s no real sparks in the bedroom because for whatever reason, he’s not giving you what you need and desire.”

Crystal felt her stomach hit the floor. Her foot smashed down on the brake as she swerved to the side of the road, stopping in front of a blue house. A cold sweat broke out on her face, her hands trembling on the steering wheel. How in the fuck could she have guessed something like that? For as long as they’d been friends, they’d never discussed each other’s sex lives or even compared boyfriends. Fuck. If Ivy knew, how many other people knew? Her nerves were pressing her straight for a panic attack and she needed to get out of the car. She wanted to run, to leave Ivy right there and just run away. She pulled the door latch, but it was locked. Oh, shit, put the car in park, dummy! She was starting to hyperventilate by the time she got out of the car.

“Crystal,” Ivy said, following her out. “Calm down.” She hurried over to her. “It’s going to be okay. The feelings you have are normal.” She put a hand on her shoulder, guiding her to the passenger door. “Take some really slow, deep breaths. Count up as you inhale and down as you exhale. Focus on counting.”

Crystal did as she was told, feeling more grounded and less flighty with each slow, even breath. After she had regained her composure, her friend opened the car door and helped her in, even buckling her up like she was a child. “I’ll drive back to my place. You don’t have to say anything until we get there.”

Crystal just nodded, her nerves skyrocketing again. There was no way she’d be able to say anything to Ivy Durst ever again. When they got to her place, she’d just have to tell her. No way in hell was she going to talk to anyone about her sexual fantasies.

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