Taking It All eBook: Page2

Maya Banks (2014)


  Just because she chose to surrender her submission to Tate didn’t make her a brainless twit unable to perform the simplest task unless he was there to direct her. But him always being there, taking care of her, cherishing her, had become her safety net. She knew she’d never fall without him there to catch her. There was comfort in that knowledge. It gave her a sense of security that she’d come to rely on. And lately? She felt like she was operating without that safety net. It was a sad testament of her marriage that she saw more of Kylie and Joss and was more in tune with their relationships than she was with her own!

  She motioned for the waiter after studying the menu. The truth was she wasn’t that hungry and her nerves were on edge because she absolutely planned to address her growing unhappiness with Tate this weekend and she had no idea how that would go over.

  One part of her thought he’d be horrified that he wasn’t providing what she needed. Another part of her feared he’d be angry with her for not “understanding” the sacrifices he was making in order to make them financially secure. It was a coin flip and it saddened her that she was so out of touch with Tate’s thought processes that she had no idea which way he’d go. She liked to think that he would be understanding and make the effort to spend more time with her. But the not knowing was killing her.

  The waiter promptly appeared at her table, and in a low voice barely above cracking, she placed hers and Tate’s orders and asked for a bottle of their favorite wine. A sparkling white they drank every year on their anniversary. They’d discovered it on their honeymoon and had vowed to commemorate each year by toasting to an even better next year.

  So why did she feel the weight of the world on her shoulders and feel so fatalistic? Why did the last two years of toasting to a “better year to come” make her feel like it had been a dismal failure, because the ensuing year wasn’t better. It had only grown progressively worse.

  She’d never be so stupid as to say it couldn’t get any worse, because it could. What if Tate reacted to her addressing her own unhappiness by saying he was equally unhappy and that he wanted out of their marriage? That was the ultimate worst that could happen, so things could most certainly get worse, though at this point she wondered if they were even truly married in their hearts anymore.

  Married people didn’t operate like they did. At least not the marriages she was acquainted with. Or rather the relationships. Were Joss and Dash and Kylie and Jensen the exceptions to the rule? Or were they the norm? Because Chessy’s marriage didn’t even come close to resembling the adoring, tight-knit couples she was friends with. And she’d never really looked beyond them because . . . well . . . she was afraid to. Because she was afraid of what she might discover. So she’d adopted a head-in-the-sand approach and that wasn’t getting her anywhere at all. It was only making her more miserable.

  She refused to look at her watch. Instead she drank in the occupants of the room and played her favorite people-watching game, trying to guess the status of the people enjoying their meals.

  She picked out one argument that appeared to be in full swing. Their voices rose before the woman loudly shushed her significant other and then looked around in embarrassment to make sure they weren’t being observed. Chessy quickly averted her gaze, not wanting to add to the poor woman’s obvious discomfort.

  A smile softened her face when she took in an elderly couple holding hands, their arms resting on the table as they toasted one another with their free hands. Then the older man leaned in to kiss his wife and Chessy’s heart squeezed.

  It wasn’t until the food arrived at the table that Chessy realized so much time had gone by. She hastily glanced at her watch to realize that over thirty minutes had passed. She’d purposely waited a bit before placing the order, hoping beyond hope that Tate would arrive before the food got there.

  The waiter gave her a look of sympathy that nearly sent Chessy right over the edge. She smiled brightly. “My husband will be here in a few minutes. Before the food gets cold for sure.”

  The waiter shrugged as if it didn’t matter to him one way or another. He set her plate in front of her and then arranged Tate’s across the table. As soon as he left, Chessy reached over and pulled the plate to the chair sitting catty corner to her.

  She and Tate always sat next to one another. Never across the table where they couldn’t touch, couldn’t speak intimately without fear of being overheard.

  She sat, feeling conspicuous because the food was in front of her, the smell wafting tantalizingly through her nostrils. Where was Tate?

  She pulled out her phone, checking for texts since she’d silenced it once she entered the restaurant. She could very well have missed the vibration signaling an incoming call or text.

  There was nothing. Taking a deep breath, she dialed his number and waited as it rang. She frowned when he didn’t immediately pick up. Then her gut clenched when it went to voice mail.

  Had something horrible happened? Had he been in an accident? He never let her calls go to voice mail. Not that she called him much during the day. She knew how busy he was and she didn’t want to appear clingy or needy. Even if she was just that. Needing. She needed her husband back.

  Her anxiety level reached epic proportions while she watched the food grow colder as more time passed. She should just eat. Let him eat alone if and when he got there. She refused to believe that he could be hurt somewhere, needing help, and she was here waiting for him.

  When an hour passed, the waiter hovered, obviously waiting for her to vacate. This was a popular restaurant and they were always full on reservations. An hour was more than enough time to eat and even enjoy dessert and yet her husband wasn’t here and two plates of food, wasted, sat in front of her and her stomach was too tied up in knots to even take one bite. She feared if she even tasted the entrée that she’d have to bolt for the bathroom and heave into the toilet.

  Tears stung her eyes. Worry warred with anger. The only excuse for being over an hour late when he had said twenty minutes at the most was that he had been in an accident or something equally horrible.

  She dug into her clutch, counting out the cash she had, praying she had enough. She didn’t have time nor did she want to wait on the waiter to collect her credit card and have to spend precious minutes swiping and then signing the bill.

  To her relief she had the cash and even enough for a tip, though the waiter had done little but deliver their food. Uneaten food. She tossed the cash down on the table and strode rapidly to the door, tears pooling in her eyes at Tate’s betrayal.

  Then she felt guilty because he could have been in an accident. He could be in a hospital somewhere, but why wouldn’t she have received a call?

  She nearly tripped when the elegant carpet turned into slick marble that led past the upscale bar and to the exit. She was almost to the door when something caught her attention out of the corner of her eye.

  She stopped in absolute shock, her mouth open as she stared—at Tate. In the bar with a woman, having a drink and smiling broadly at her. And the woman was stunning. Tall, thin, elegant. Obviously of money, and she was touching Chessy’s husband, her hand lightly resting on his arm in a distinctly intimate fashion.

  God, he was with a woman in the same restaurant that he was supposed to be having his anniversary dinner with his wife. How dare he flaunt this woman in this restaurant, their restaurant.

  Tears flooded her eyes. She was about to turn to flee when Tate looked up, his expression one of shock. Not guilt. It was remorse. She could see him curse, his lips moving as he picked up his wrist to check his watch.

  Then he started toward her and she finally made her legs move, momentarily paralyzed by grief and humiliation. She all but ran for the exit, not caring that she’d taken a taxi to the restaurant because she’d planned to ride home with Tate. She had a set of his keys. He could walk for all she cared.

  Fury enveloped her even as tears poured down her face, clouding her vision. She hit the parking lot at a dead run, bolting
past the attendant. She could see his Escalade in the roped-off area of the valet parking.

  “Chessy!”

  She flinched when Tate roared her name. But she kept running, thanking God she’d worn a strappy pair of sandals instead of high heels or she’d make an ass of herself and face- plant right in the parking lot.

  “Chessy! Godamnit, stop! You can’t drive in your condition. Please, just stop and listen to me, please!”

  Chessy made it to his vehicle, hitting the automatic door unlock on the key chain. She made it to the door and flung it open, only to have Tate grab the door and reach for her arm.

  She whirled, tears streaming down her face. Tate always hated to see her cry. In the past it would have slayed him to ever see her cry. But tonight he looked desperate, and sincere regret lined his face. But at this point, it was too late for regret. He’d pushed her to her limit and there was no going back. She was done.

  “Get away from me,” she choked out.

  She’d never given orders to Tate. Ever. That was his role. She was the submissive. He was the Dominant. But now she felt the stirrings of a power exchange. She was taking charge and to hell with what he wanted.

  She tried to slide into the driver’s seat but Tate pulled her out, cradling her carefully in his arms, as if he expected her to fight. But she had enough pride that she wasn’t going to cause more of a scene in a public parking lot than she already had. She went stiff as a board, refusing to meet his gaze as he walked around to the passenger side and deposited her into the seat, pulling the seat belt over her and securing it with quick, brusque movements. Then he looked her directly in the eyes, his gaze hard and unyielding. A look she would have died for, one she’d craved for such a long time. Why did he have to finally haul out his dominance when he’d royally fucked up and she no longer cared?

  “Don’t you dare move,” he growled.

  Usually such a tone would have Chessy quivering in anticipation. It was a tone he used when he was commanding her. Owning her. Using her body as his own. His possession. To do with as he liked. But now? She was just pissed enough to tell him to shove it up his ass.

  She stared woodenly through the windshield as Tate carefully disengaged the keys from her hand and then closed her door. In a matter of seconds he was in the driver’s seat starting the engine, almost as if he were afraid she’d leap from the car. And she’d given it serious consideration, but then she’d have to figure out a way home, which meant having the restaurant call her a cab, or she could call Joss or Kylie. Either would come at a moment’s notice.

  But then she would be faced with the humiliating fact that her best friends would know her anniversary had been a complete disaster. Hell, for that matter they may have suspected it would be a cluster fuck from the very start. It wasn’t as if they hadn’t expressed enough concern over Chessy’s faltering relationship with her husband.

  Tate pulled out of the parking lot.

  “Please don’t cry, Chessy,” he said softly. “I’m so damn sorry. Time got away from me.”

  “Who was she?” Chessy asked coldly, ignoring his words and his apology. Words meant nothing at this point. Actions spoke far more clearly than words, and his actions had been reprehensible in her mind.

  Tate gave her a startled look. “She’s a potential client. A very important potential client, one I’d like to get on board as quickly as possible. She wanted to meet face-to-face, and I arranged to meet her at the bar of the restaurant so that when we finished I could have dinner with you.”

  “Yes, well, dinner was delivered and perfectly cold and you were an hour late,” Chessy said in an icy tone.

  “What’s going on with my girl?” Tate asked softly. “You’ve been different lately.”

  She gave him her best “duh” look and then pinned him with a piercing stare. “Wow. Observant of you, Tate. I’ve been different for an entire year and you just now notice? At a time you missed our anniversary dinner because you were schmoozing some rich floozy in the bar of the restaurant we were supposed to have dinner in. Think about that for a moment, Tate, and imagine if the roles were reversed and you were sitting there over cold entrees and then you saw me in the bar of the same restaurant with another man.”

  His gaze grew hard and he nearly growled. “I’ll never let another man touch you unless I command it.”

  Chessy wanted to weep at what they’d lost. That he’d bring up a kink they both enjoyed and hadn’t participated in for two years. Two long years. And in the last year, he’d given up any semblance of dominance. It was like an alien had invaded his body and her Tate was gone.

  “I’m not happy,” she said, finally getting to the heart of the matter. “I haven’t been happy for a long time.”

  Tate looked shocked. Genuinely and utterly shocked. “What are you saying?” he asked hoarsely. “Are you telling me you want out of our marriage?”

  He looked so horrified that for a brief moment she had hope, but then she remembered all the missed dates, him leaving early at gatherings of their friends because someone had called. And he’d missed his anniversary dinner because he was wining and courting a potential client.

  Potential client her ass. That woman was on the prowl and Chessy damn well knew it. She was a woman and she clearly recognized the signals the woman was giving off. And Tate had done nothing to ward her off. Hadn’t avoid her touch. Tate would lose his shit if another man took such liberties with her unless Tate commanded him to do so. To pleasure her while he watched. Always in control. She couldn’t even remember the last time they’d been to The House.

  The House was a place where people could indulge in any hedonistic fantasy. No judgment. No condemnation. Damon Roche, a very wealthy businessman, owned The House and he was very discerning when it came to membership. Hell, for all Chessy knew their membership had expired or they’d been taken off the guest list since they hadn’t been in two years.

  She took in a deep breath. Damn it, this was not how she’d envisioned having this talk with Tate. She’d wanted to have a wonderful anniversary dinner followed by a night of lovemaking. At this point she wouldn’t have even cared if it involved dominance. She just wanted that intimate connection to her husband back.

  And then, after a wonderful weekend, with no cell phones, business shit or anything else, she’d wanted to very carefully broach the subject of her growing unhappiness.

  Damn him for forcing her hand after the debacle that was their anniversary.

  “I don’t want out of our marriage, Tate. I want our marriage to change,” she said firmly, proud that she was able to lay it out without faltering or breaking down into tears.

  Tate gave her another look filled with utter confusion and then swore when he nearly veered into the other lane. He yanked the wheel, righting them and avoiding a collision—barely.

  “Just drive,” she said wearily. “This isn’t something we should be discussing in a damn car. We’ll talk about it when we get home.”

  She wanted to weep over the fact that she was giving all the commands. She was issuing the orders. This wasn’t the way their relationship was supposed to work and yet he was forcing her to take control. She could positively feel the power shift in their relationship and it wasn’t something that gave her any satisfaction.

  THREE

  TATE pulled into the driveway of their house that was in an exclusive gated community in a suburb of Houston. He glanced sideways at Chessy, something he’d been doing all the way home despite her short directive to just drive and they’d talk later.

  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 abo
ut 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.

  “I’ll talk,” Chessy finally said.

  But her tone was fatalistic. Like she’d already decided the outcome after they discussed their relationship and why she was so unhappy. Had she lost that much faith in him? The idea devastated him.

  “But it has to be in neutral territory,” she added. “We have no business having sex with this wall between us. I don’t want our physical attraction to hinder our discussion.” Her gaze swept downward, sorrow creasing her face and tugging her lips into a sad frown. “That’s assuming you even still want me,” she said in a tone tinged with grief. “It’s been so long since you’ve instigated any sort of sex that the reasonable conclusion is you no longer desire me or find me attractive.”

  Tate damn near swallowed his tongue as protests immediately formed on his lips. Goddamn it but there was so much wrong with her statements that he didn’t even know where to begin.

  They never used the word sex when it came to their lovemaking. Never. Sex was for people not emotionally involved to the degree Chessy and Tate were. At least that was his thinking on the matter.

  And not want her? He was flabbergasted. What could he have possibly done to plant such a ridiculous notion in her head? She was the most beautiful woman in the world to him. Other women? Simply didn’t exist. How could he want for more when he had a gorgeous, loving, generous, tenderhearted submissive wife he came home to every day?

  Okay, so maybe they hadn’t made love in a while. A long while. He winced inwardly again as he pondered and tried to remember the last time they had truly made love.

  There had been hasty sessions. No buildup. No extended foreplay. Totally selfish on his part because he’d had sex with her and then he was off to work or to a meeting with a client.

  Yes, he’d just used the word sex to describe their lovemaking. Because, well, what he’d done lately amounted to just that. Selfish sex. Not seeing properly to her needs. Not exerting his dominance. Something she didn’t just want but needed. Yet another dismal example to mark on his growing list of failures.