Thank you guys for your wonderful reviews, I appreciate it and your congrats for my pregnancy. It means a lot! My little Peanut is a girl! I wish I could name her Sarada but I really wouldn't want anyone making fun of her as she grows, so her name will be Emma Grace Stockman.

BTW SourxApples, Your lemon is here ;)

This story is rated M

I do NOT own Naruto, Masashi Kishimoto does.

Happy reading!

If I Were Her

Chapter 29.

I blink and discover my hands are resting on the solid wall of Sasuke's chest. His arm is wrapped around my waist, anchoring me to him while he talks on my phone. My anchor. He is that and so much more, I think, as I realize I blacked out and now I'm back in this world. I've never blacked out before, and it's downright unnerving to realize I've lost all sense of time and reality.

"Did you tell her she couldn't leave the country?" Sasuke calmly asks into the phone. There's a short pause. "Then she's done nothing wrong." He listens again. "Hn, well, for the record, I know she's innocent, too, and your 'just doing your job' could have waited until she got over the shock of last night, no matter how much you want to cover your bases. From this point on you talk to her attorney, Shizune Shiranui. She'll be calling you." He ends the call.

I swallow, trying to find my voice, panic expanding in my chest all over again. "Sasuke, he... I-"

"You have nothing to worry about," he assures me, framing my face with his hands. "I've got this, and I've got you."

His eyes brim with warmth and promise, and I hope he knows something I don't. "He all but accused me of killing Hinata."

"Ava and her attorney had to come up with a defense for her, and you were it. The police don't believe her, but to get an indictment they have to due diligence. Our attorney will take care of this. And I'll take care of you."

There was a time when the idea of leaning on Sasuke would have totally scared me. After the way he shut me out over Ian's death, it's still hard not to be a little scared-but it's also never felt as good as it does now, to be in this man's arms.

I look down to where my hand rest on his chest and they're shaking, but I cant seem to feel them shaking. It is as if my body and my mind aren't communicating. "I think... I think I'm not so good right now."

"Like I said. I've got you, Sakura." He punches the elevator button and scoops me up in his arms, and I sink against him, relieved. He has me. I have him. I choose to fully believe that right now. I need to believe that.

I rest my head against his shoulder and close my eyes. As silly as it might seem, I don't want to see what await us inside, in this state of mind. I want to wait and explore later, when the bad isn't tainting the good.

When I force my lashes to open a little while later, Sasuke is setting me down on a bathroom vanity. He kisses me, a quick brush of his mouth. "You okay?"

I cover his hands where they rest on my cheeks. "Only because of you."

"I say that about you every day since I met you, Sakura. You do know that, don't you? When I was gone for Ian's funeral, it was you that got me through. Knowing you were in my life-that's what broke through my darkness."

My breath escapes on his name. "Sasuke," I whisper, wrapping my arms around his neck and burying my face in his shoulder. Wrenching pain rips through me at the memory of finding Sasuke in Naruto's club, screaming for the lash of a whip to beat away the pain of losing Ian. "I love you." I can't keep the quaver from my voice and I don't try. I lean back and lift my gaze to his, opening myself up, letting him judge my words as he'd judged himself that night. "I love you so much, Sasuke."

"I love you too, Sakura. More than I've let you see, but I'm going to fix that." He brushes the hair from my eyes. "Take a hot bath while I make a few phone calls, then we'll get some rest."

"Yes, okay," I say and he stands there a moment, and I can't read him, but I think he wants to say something, or he expects me to say something. There is so much, too much, unsaid between us, but I'm unsure where to begin or even if now is the right time. He turns away, and the moment is lost. He walks to the tub, the epitome of grace and hotness, and bends over to start the water, but it's the act of doing something so tender and caring that truly makes Sasuke the man I love. He's both the man I found tied up and screaming for a harder beating, and the gentle, protective man he is right now, and the contrast sets me on fire and warms my heart.

I curl my fingers around the edge of the counter and glance around the bathroom, which is the size of a small bedroom. It has the same white tile as our San Francisco apartment, but there are gray accents and silver fixtures. It's luxurious, and so is the scent tickling my nose-musky and male, with a hint of spice."

Sasuke holds up a bottle. "My shampoo. It's the only way I can give you the bubble bath you like, until you can stock up on what you want."

"I like smelling like you," I say, remembering a time I'd worn his cologne and said the same thing.

He saunters over to me, all loose-legged sex appeal in his dark jeans and a blue AC-DC T-shirt, and settles his hands on my knees. You're mine, the touch says, and it is a welcome branding. Yes. Yes, I am his. "I like you smelling like me," he replies, his voice a velvety-smooth caress.

It's exactly what he'd said once before, and I react just as I had the first time. I'm out of my head and into the moment with him, my body alive, tingling all over. He's washed away the bad and left me deeply absorbed in him and all that he is. All that we have become together.

He brushes a knuckle down my cheek and I sense the shift in his mood. I can almost feel the dark, wicked side of Sasuke, ready to come out and play. My belly quivers with this knowledge and something raw and female begins to awaken inside of me, burning for satisfaction. I once denied how much I understood this part of Sasuke, and how much I am like him, but those times are past. I am who I am, even if I don't fully understand that person yet. But the idea that I will, and that Sasuke will accept nothing less of me, is downright arousing.

Sasuke steps back out of reach, and I'm cold where I was warm before. His fingers curl into his palms and the muscles in his arms are tight steel bands. My gaze lifts to his and his expression is hard, his jaw harder. But the storm erupting in his eyes speaks volumes.

He's carrying the world on his shoulders, including me. Despite every effort possible to save him, he lost Ian to cancer. He and I had then almost lost each other. And now Hinata is gone, after he tried to warn her to stay away from the club.

My stomach clenches with the possibility that he's blaming himself for her death; thinking he should have done more. I know he blames himself for his father's death, and maybe his mother's, too.

He needs me. Screw the police and Ava, and every piece of hell trying to shake me. I start to get off the sink and he takes another step backward.

"I'm going to walk through the house and make sure it's in order," he says and turns away, disappearing out of the bathroom and leaving the door open.

I stare after him, darn near twitching to follow him, but I fight the urge. And why am I even fighting it? I wouldn't have fought it before.

My teeth worry my bottom lip. I know why. A piece of the darkness I've been fighting during our travel is all that's unspoken and undone between us. We'd only begun to find to find ourselves when losing Ian, such a young, sweet child, to cancer has stirred the demons of Sasuke's past and nearly destroyed us. But I came here to fight for Sasuke, and for us.

My decision is made. I slide off the counter and go to the tub to turn off the water, then rush through the giant bedroom, catching flashes of brown leather and a balcony. I exit into a long hallway with shiny black wood floors that fork in several directions, but there's no sign of Sasuke.

My gaze latches on to the two flights of modern steel-and-wood stairs, one going up and one going down. Down seems the logical place for a kitchen and living area, and I head in that direction.

The steps twist and turn, and even open to another set of stairs that lead up. I continue down. When I'm nearly at the bottom I hear Sasuke's voice, a low, rough, displeased tone as he talks to someone. I anxiously follow where it leads. I all but vault the rest of the way down the stairs and into a breathtaking living room shaped like a circle, with modern leather furniture and sleek tables that match the stairs and floors.

I don't see Sasuke or hear him now, and my gaze goes to the stairs that go up to what appears to be the kitchen. As I start in that direction cool air washes over me, drawing me to the slight opening I'd missed in the balcony door. He must have stepped outside while I was on my way down the stairs.

I am at the door in a few seconds, and peek out to find Sasuke's back to me. "All I'm saying is to fucking make this go away for Sakura. She doesn't deserve this crap. If they need money and resources to find Hinata and give her a proper burial, make it happen."

Air lodges in my throat and I know we are already in full swing, facing his demons. I have no intention of letting them get an upper hand. All the weakness and fear I've let control me these past few hours evaporates.

Sasuke is putting on airs, pretending to be fine when he is not. He needs me. He needed me when Ian died, and he's not shutting me out again.

Opening the door, I don't think twice about interrupting his call. The new day is cool, not cold, but my chest is burning. Sasuke turns at the sound of my steps, a dim overhead light illuminating the surprise on his face, the Eiffel Tower his backdrop. No, that's wrong. His pain is his eternal backdrop.

"I need to go, Shizune," Sasuke says. "Call me when you have news." He ends the connection and slides his phone into his jean pocket. "I though you were taking a bath?"

I close the distance between us and wrap my arms around him, holding him tightly. His arms close around me and his hand slides down my hair. "What is this, Sakura? What's wrong? The attorney said-"

"I don't care right now," I say, tilting my face up to look at him. "I don't care about the detective or Ava or anything but you. Please tell me you aren't blaming yourself for Hinata's death. Ava did this. Not you. Not Naruto."

Surprise flickers in his face before the shutters come down and I can no longer read his reaction, but the way his muscles tense beneath my hands tell me I've hit a nerve. "I know Ava did this."

I shake my head, sensing the guilt in him he won't admit. "You don't know-you think you should have done more to get Hinata out of the club. But you did everything you could, Sasuke. You did more than most would have done."

He stares down at me, his gaze hooded. We're adrift in a sea of silence and his reaction is impossible to read, and I'm not sure what to do next. Sasuke is a light switch away from dark and light, pain and pleasure, and I'm far from knowing how to navigate the bumpy waters of his dark side.

But I want to master it. I want to be what he needs, not some damn whip tearing him apart. I'm not yet, though. Should I push him to deal with what he's feeling, refuse to let him bottle it inside, where it can later explode? Or let it go for now?

He takes my face in his hands and searches my eyes. I have the impression he's looking for an answer to a question he hasn't asked, and I've never in my life wanted to be the answer to a question, the way I do when Sasuke is seeking one.

"What I don't know," he finally confesses, "is how I'll ever sleep again, after watching you almost die last night."

No one but my mother has ever loved me so much enough to worry this much, but with Sasuke that worry is complicated. I'm smart enough to see the writing on the wall, and I don't like what it reveals. While I was thinking about what comes next in Paris on the flight, Sasuke was rethinking it with Hinata's strategy as his guide.

"We aren't them," I tell him. "We aren't Hinata and Naruto. And I'm not going anywhere, so you might as well let me come inside." I'm not talking about our house and we both know it.

I barely get the words out before his mouth comes down on mine, his tongue stroking against mine, awakening my sense, the taste of him pouring through me. Hungry for him, I want his passion, I want his pain. I want it all.

I tug at his shirt, running my hands under the material, absorbing the feel of his naked, hard body beneath my palms. Finally. I've waited hours that felt like a lifetime to be this close to him, and I moan, part relief, part pleasure. Sasuke tears his mouth from mine, tunneling fingers in my hair to hold me away from him, a struggle etched on his handsome face. "You passed out, Sakura. I don't want to hurt you."

"I didn't come to Paris with Mr. Nice, Sasuke, so don't bring him out to play now. And I won't rest until we do this." I try to lean in to kiss him again.

He tightens his fingers in my hair and sends an erotic thrill up and down my spine. Oh yes, Good-bye, Mr. Nice Guy. Hello, Sasuke.

"Gentle isn't how I'll deal with the kind of things going on in my head right now," he warns. "Tch, why do you think I walked away in the bathroom?"

"I don't want gentle." I don't like what I see on his face, a battle between the burn to take me what he thinks I'm ready to handle, and I won't let him decide for me. "I understand what it means to need more than that. I need more, Sasuke."

In a blink he's maneuvered me against a giant white pillar separating the iron gates, his hands framing my waist. "I used to think you didn't understand. But you do. Too well. And I blame myself for that, Sakura. I didn't want this for you."

His guilt over Hinata could easily bleed into our relationship, like his fears over who he is and who he will make me become. "I told you. I'm not Hinata, so stop going there, Sasuke. I read those journals. She changed who she was to be with Naruto."

"You didn't turn me into who I am now. All you did was help me to stop hiding from who I am, and I'm glad. Don't make me feel like I have to start again."

Seconds tick by as he studies me, before he asks, "Who are you, Sakura?"

I lift my chin. "If you don't know that by now, I suggest you find out before it's too late to turn back, Sasuke."

I blink and Sasuke has turned me to face the banister, and I catch my weight on my hands to steady myself. His hand flattens between my shoulder blades and he steps close, framing my hips with his, his erection nestled against my backside.

"Do you remember what I promised you back in that Los Angeles hotel?"

"Yes: that you'd stop protecting me from you. But you haven't," I accuse, certain now that it's the right time, the right mood, to push him.

"I held back today to let you get over all you've been through. Don't let that mislead you. You wouldn't be here if I planned to protect you from me." His hand splays possessively on my stomach. "What else did I tell you?"

My lashes lower, heat slicing through me at the memory of lying in that Los Angeles hotel bed, his body intimately wrapped around mine. "That you'd own me if I stayed with you."

"Every part of you," he agrees huskily. "That means I know you completely. All of you, Sakura. It's time you understand what that means."

"Show me," I challenge, wanting him to own me, when no other man will ever come close to having this much of me. When I never thought I'd want this much from a man. But this is Sasuke, and that's the only answer I ever needed.

"Show you what?" he demands.

"How it feels to be owned by you," I dare to reply, and heat pools low in my belly at the many erotic things this might invite. "Because I haven't felt it yet. And I want to."

His teeth scrape my right earlobe, his breath teasing the delicate skin there. "You will, Sakura. You will." He steps away from me, leaving me cold and wanting. "Turn around."

I swallow hard, aroused by the possibilities his promise has stirred, relieved that we're taking our journey together, past the wall the loss of Hinata almost erected. I tentatively turn and meet his stare, and instead of hot coals and burning desire, I find tenderness.

He lifts his chin at the doorway. "Walk inside, baby."

My heart squeezes at the soft endearment he uses often, and the message I read behind it. Whatever journey he's about to take me on, we'll still be just us when it's over.

He's not out of control. He's not even on the edge anymore. He's about to take me to the edge. And I want to go with him.

It's warmer in the house than outside, but still a cool contrast to the heat burning inside me as I walk into the living room. Anticipation tingles along my nerve endings but my steps are slow, tentative. I do not know where Sasuke wants me to go or what he expects me to do, but I'm ready for anything.

"Stop," Sasuke commands when I'm standing beside the couch. I do and he adds, "Face me."

I turn to find him standing on the other side of a six-foot-long, cream-colored, high-piled throw rug. He crosses his arms in front of his chest, the brightly colored dragon tattoo stretching with the flex of his muscle. "It represents power and wealth, two things as a very young man I knew I wanted," he'd told me when I'd asked about the design. I burn to know what made him need those things. What he wants now.


My gaze snaps from Sasuke's arm to his handsome, unreadable face, searching there for what he is thinking and finding nothing but wicked demand. I'm not surprised by his command; Sasuke has a thing about getting me naked while he remains fully clothed. Its about power and submission. His power. My submission. I haven't always given it to him willingly. Or maybe I have; maybe I simply haven't admitted it to him, or even myself.

I toe off my shoes, like I'm playing strip poker and I'm discarding the least intimate article of clothing first. I might be willing to be submissive, but that doesn't mean Sasuke as a dominant isn't a bit intimidating. And sexy. So damn sexy.

Next I reach for my jacket, and even now, as much as I want this, as much as I trust him, I feel vulnerable and exposed as I toss it aside. I want to understand why. But I'm also aroused by undressing for him. It seems that being vulnerable and exposed with Sasuke turns me on. On another occasion, undressing for him might be a seductive game to draw out, but this isn't one of those times. I'm ready to have it over with and to know what comes next.

I don't look at Sasuke as I quickly remove away my T-shirt and then slip out of my velvet sweats. I'm left with a red bra and red panties, and I hesitate only a moment before I just go for it. I unhook my bra and toss it aside. My panties go next, kicked away with a brush of my bare foot. And now things are as Sasuke intended. I am naked and he is not.

His gaze does a slow, hot slide down my body, and I'm shaken by how intensely erotic it can be just having this man look at me. I've experienced it before, yet it's no less explosive when it happens. I'm aroused beyond belief, naked when he is not, and while this has bothered me in the past, it doesn't now. It's part of his control, I'm done trying to analyze why being at his command is almost a physical need. It simply is. And I like it.

"On your knees in the middle of the rug," he orders.

I go from aroused and confident to a spike of nerves and a racing heart. On my knees? This is like nothing he's ever asked, or rather commanded, of me.

I was completely at his mercy, naked and on my knees, in the center of a soft wool rug.

The similarity between Hinata's journal entry and this moment is striking, but it's the difference between the two that twists me in knots. Hinata was writing about Naruto displaying her in front of the club, about how that had upset her. I'm here alone with Sasuke, who I'm certain would never do such a thing. She wants what I have.

"Sakura," Sasuke prods softly, that tenderness back in his voice.

My gaze lifts from where it's fallen to the rug, and the concern in his face echoes what I've just thought. Sasuke would never hurt me.

"I'm good," I say, answering his silent question. "We're good." I step forward, letting the soft fibers twine in my toes and lead me to the center of the rug.

Sasuke's expression turns hot and dominant again, and my nipples tighten with his scorching gaze. Slowly, I lower myself, kneeling before him, his submissive in a way I have never been before this moment.

I'm certain whatever comes next will be some sort of dominant Master-type thing, like in Hinata's journals.

But Sasuke steps forward and kneels in front of me, his palm settling on my cheek, fingers caressing, and I blink at the affection in his eyes.

I cover one of his hands with mine. "I thought you had no gentleness in you today."

He smirks. "I guess you're corrupting me."

I smile at the reference to what I'd once said to him. "I like corrupting you."

"Hn," Slowly, his fingers slide from my face, his palm caressing my bare shoulder. "Don't move."

Sasuke pushes to his feet and crosses to the curtain, where he removes a satin-like sash. My pulse leaps with he memory of the painting he'd done of me: naked, in the center of the floor, and tied up. My mouth goes dry. I know what he's going to do with that sash.

The instant he turns back to me, I see the hunger in his eyes. Gentle Sasuke is gone. A darker, more predatory Sasuke is present, stalking the woman in his sights. And my breath hitches, just thinking about being that woman.

He squats in front of me and his gaze rakes over my breast. The imaginary touch is like velvet rasping over my skin. My nipples tighten with the invisible friction and I ache for the wild rush of his touch.

"Lace your fingers together in front of you."

He expects my hesitation; I see it in his face. I give him none, doing as commanded. His expression is unreadable; he simple wraps the long sash around my wrist and hands several times, then ties it off, leaving a long piece of the silk dangling to the ground.

He twines the dangling sash around his hand. "You're at my mercy, you know?"

"Is that suppose to frighten me?"

"Hn, it's not. And if it did, I'd untie you now."

"Isn't it you who told me the painting of me bound like this wasn't about bondage? It was about trust."

His eyes widen slightly, and then narrow. "I also said it was the kind of trust I don't have the right to ask for."

"You don't have to ask," I whisper. "You already have it."

"I know that, Sakura. Now the question becomes, what will I do with it, and will you hate me when I'm done?"

"No." Despite the binding, my fingers find his hands. "I won't. I can't hate you."

"We both need to know if that's true."

"It is," I insist.

I want him to argue against or confirm my declaration but he gives me neither of those things. He simply leans in and kisses my forehead, a tender act that defies the way my hands are tied and what is surely to soon happen between us. And then he moves beside me and his fingers splay across my back. "Lean forward and put your hands in front of you on the rug."

I see the hard glint of challenge in his stare, and read the silent message he intends for me to see. If I can't handle this, I'll never be able to handle the dark secrets locked in his mind and in his past that he intends to reveal. And deep inside, Sasuke believes I'll hate him before this is over, whatever "this" is.

And so it begins. Test number one, of what's sure to be many.

My chin lifts in rejection of him assuming my failure. Then I walk my fingers down the rug and stretch as far as I can. Sasuke's hand goes with me, a gentle weight that doesn't press. It's simply there, full of potential pleasure. For several seconds neither of us move, and the sexual tension in the room crackles around us.

The rug tickles my nipples and the cool air caresses my bare backside. I am exposed. Swallowing hard, I wonder how Hinata did anything remotely like this in front of an audience. Did she trust Naruto the way I trust Sasuke? Or just love him the way I love Sasuke?

Sasuke caresses my back, and the erotic pleasure pulls me away from the grim place my thoughts have drifted. Sweet friction brushes down my spine with his touch, then over my waist, until his finger finds my tailbone and continues downward. In anticipation of where he will go next, my breathing is suddenly shallow, almost a pant. And when Sasuke begins the highly intimate, slow glide down the crevice between my cheeks, my sex clenches painfully.

"Did you like it when I spanked you, Sakura?" he asks, his palm caressing my cheeks the way he had the night he'd actually spanked me.

My skin tingles beneath his touch and I can hear my breathing, short little pants I can't seem to control. "I... I don't know."

His hand stills, his fingers widen and tense. "Did you like it when I spanked you?" His voice is low, taut, filled with command.

Somehow my hair is draped over my face and my arms tunneled around me are not protection enough from his soul-searching moment. I squeeze my eyes shut, aware that I've exposed more than my body to Sasuke. I've exposed a part of me that I burn to understand, yet I can't seem to fully embrace. But I want to. No, I need to. I need to do this.

"Yes," I finally whisper. "Yes. I did." I hold my breath and wait for the reply that doesn't come. One second. Two. No words follow. I start to get up.

Sasuke's hand presses between my shoulder blades and holds me there, and the warmth of his breath teases my neck and ear. "Stay as you are."

Then he's gone, and a wave of unexpected, irrational panic overcomes me. It's all I can do not to sit up, and I take a deep breath and try to analyze what I'm feeling. I've just made a revealing confession that wasn't easy for me to say out loud, and the last thing I expected, or needed, afterward was to be left lying here, naked and bound.

This isn't what I expect from Sasuke. This is the behavior of the Master in Hinata's journals. Of Naruto. I feel insecure, uncertain. And damn it, I hate the deep insecurity that never seems to stop haunting me, making me question what I know of the man I love, who is nothing like Naruto. He isn't. I know this.

I force another deep breath and repeat that reassurance in my mind, and then suddenly Sasuke is with me, touching me, and I feel his naked body aligned with mine. The tension inside me fades, warmth spreading over me where I've been chilled. He turns me to my side to face him, his erection thick between my legs, his hand branding my rib cage. His eyes meet mine, and the insanely impossible mix of wicked dominance and sweet tenderness melts away any remaining insecurity.

He strokes the hair from my face. "You do know that there's nothing wrong with liking it when I spank you, don't you?"

Heat floods my cheeks and I look down, taken off guard by the return to our prior, explicitly erotic, conversation. His fingers slip under my chin and force my gaze back to his. "It's just you and me, Sakura, I'm not like anyone else who's ever been in your life. There's nothing to be embarrassed or ashamed of with me, ever. You can embrace who you really are, and we can be whoever we want to be together."

My gut clenches at the reference to way my father and Sai tried to create me and control me; Sasuke has hit the sore spot. It is a testament to how much he's become part of me that he sees this in me, when I hadn't allowed myself to see it until this moment.

I burn to free my hands and touch him, yet at the same time I want them bound. I want to know where we will go next. "I know," I whisper. "I know, Sasuke, and it matters more to me than you can imagine that you aren't just saying that. You mean it. It's just going to take me some time to fully get them out of my head."

"We're going to strip away all the insecurities they put in your head, Sakura," he promises, and he slides his cock back and forth between my legs, sending darts of pleasure down my thighs and back up again. "You and me and a whole lot of pleasure."

I gasp as he presses inside me, stretching me, and I try to reach for him but can't, because of my bound hands.

He thinks my past is haunting me, so I can't handle more than straight-vanilla sex. He thinks that my shyness means weakness, and I want to tell him he's wrong. But with the feel of him inside me, the heat spreading through me, I can only manage, "What are you doing?"

"Hn, what does it feel like I'm doing?" he asks, nuzzling my neck. "I'm making love to you."

He squeezes my backside, and I moan at the erotic roughness in his touch as he pulls me hard against him, sinking his cock deeper inside me. Filling me completely. And this man does fill me completely, in all ways. I want to do the same for him. "But I thought you were going-"

"To make love to you," he finishes for me, and his cock is stroking back and forth, pumping in and out of me, driving me wild.

"That's not what I meant," I argue weakly, nearly overtaken by pleasure. It's a struggle to simply keep my eyes open, but I fight the sensations overwhelming me to plead my case for my readiness for more. He thrusts hard into me, and I'm all but over the edge. Desperation rises in me and with no hands, I have no weapon but to blurt out my protest. "Sasuke, damn it. Stop. Listen to me."

His eyes meet mine, and this time I find hot coals and burning desire. He thrusts again, a wicked smirk on his lips. "I'm listening. Can't you tell?"

I pant through the pleasure, determined to convince him I'm ready for that "more" we both crave. "Because I was slow to admit that I liked it when you spanked me, doesn't mean I can't handle it when you do. Please. Spank me now. I like it."

His fingers curl around my neck, dragging my lips a breath from his. "I'm going to do that and a whole lot more to you, Sakura. Just not now. Not tonight." His mouth closes over on mine, soft and sensual, but no less wickedly dominant.

I mean to resist, to finish arguing my point, but this kiss is laced with deep longing and passion, a kiss unlike any we've shared since I stepped on that plane hours before. He called me his addiction. He is my addiction, my passion. He is my addiction, my passion. He's my reason to breathe, and when he begins to move inside me again, I am lost to the sway of our bodies, to the thrust of his cock. Lost to how much this man completes me.

He rolls me to my back and reaches for the sash around my wrists. Reality slams into me and my eyes snap wide open. "No," I say, folding my arms close to my chest. "I don't want you to free me. You didn't... we didn't... We're done slow. I'm done with slow."

He grabs the sash along with my hands, rough in that sexy way he can be rough, and I silently rejoice at a glimpse of this side of him. "What we did is called avoidance," he declares and his mouth lowers, lingering near mine, his breath a warm, wet promise on my lips. "And this, right now, is me savoring every second of making love to you. In case you didn't know, you're the reason I know what that means."

My breath freezes in my throat, the impossibly of how far we've come in such a short time overwhelming me. "I am?"

"You have to know that."

I'm instantly awash in emotions, and yes, still so intensely, wonderfully, overwhelmed by this man. "I do," I whisper. "I know because I feel the same way about you." I try to reach for him but can't. "I need to touch you."

He reaches down to untie my hands, and I swear I see him tremble as he tosses the sash aside. With desire? With love? He's as affected by me as I am him, and it's this connection I never expected, and I never want to lose. Our eyes lock and hold, the air thickens around us, and words are not needed. We understand each other. We need each other. Sasuke is inside me, hard and thick, but this is much more than sex. He's right. It's making love.

His mouth slants over mine and his tongue presses past my teeth, stroking me at the same moment he curves his hand beneath me and lifts my hips. And with his actions, it's as if a branch snaps and we tumble into a wildfire of passion. The Sasuke I know doesn't lose control-but he has, we have, and I'm climbing out of my skin, trying to get under his. His mouth is on my mouth, my neck, my nipple, sucking and licking, and his cock is driving into me, slow and then fast, fast and then slow.

Time fades and Sasuke is merciless, punishing me with hard pumps of his cock, and sweet, wicked licks of his tongue. I am lost and found in this once place, in this one man, and I desperately try to hold back, to make this last, but I can't do it. I dig my fingers into his back and I clench around his shaft, dragging him deeper, but never deep enough. This man can never be deep enough.

Release is sweet bliss, jerking my hips and stealing my breath. Every nerve ending in my body is alive and tingling with pleasure. Sasuke buries his face in my neck, his body quaking, and I feel the warm, wet heat of his release filling me. A new wave of pleasure washes over me, and it's far beyond physical. I'm overwhelming by how right I feel with this man.

"Hn, I love making love to you," he murmurs, and when he lifts his head to stare down at me, I love the wildness of his hair and the sated heaviness of his deep coal stare.

My lips curve. "Yeah?"

"Yeah," he agrees, and gives me a quick peck on the mouth. "Don't go away." He pulls out of me and stands up, and I gasp from the hollow ache of his sudden absence. He gives a wicked smirk at my reaction, obviously pleased with himself.

I raise up on my elbow to watch him, and yikes, the stickiness between my thighs assures that I'll stay right where I am or make a mess. Oh, the joys of reality after hot sex. My gaze fixes on Sasuke's naked, sexy backside as he walks to a doorway on my left. Okay, so maybe reality is so darn good. Who cares about sticky? Sasuke disappears inside a room and comes back with a towel in his hand, the full-frontal view reinforcing my feeling lucky.

He grabs a pillow from the couch and the settles back on the rug, offering me the towel. I've barely had time to clean up when he pulls my back to his front, and we share the pillow. Sprawled on the floor together, naked, limbs twined together, I've never been happier. Sasuke is dark and damaged, and I think I'm far more damaged than I've ever acknowledged. But together... together I think we can find our way to the light.

"I'm never going to look at this rug the same way again," Sasuke says, nuzzling my hair.

"That makes two of us," I agree with a laugh, but my smiles fades when my gaze catches on the sash Sasuke used to tie me up. We're so close to finding true peace with each other, I don't want anything, especially my silent worries, to ruin it.

"Please promise me that my hesitation over spanking didn't make you doubt I can handle what you want to share with me." I force myself to dig deeper and face what is really bothering me. "And it's not because of Sai. I'm not fragile, Sasuke. I won't break because of some deep emotional wound, if that's what you're worried about."

He rolls me to my back and his hand settles possessively on my stomach. "I'm not about to sit back and let that man be what's in your head. I'll give you other things to fill the space. Good things-pleasurable things." He pauses. "But Sai aside, there was no way I was spanking you after you've been through the past few days. Not when there's a risk the experience might hit an emotional nerve. Sometimes a BDSM-type experience helps you escape. Sometimes it takes you deeper into the pain, and forces you to face it and deal with it. You're too new to this for that to be predictable. You don't know what you like, nor how you react to it, and neither do I."

I have a sudden memory of Sasuke tied up in the club, screaming for the woman behind him to hit him harder, and I know why he became the master of helping others escape. He can't give someone else control without the risk of then opening a wound and starting an emotional bleed. Not unless he goes to painful extremes. Beatings.

"We did exactly what I intended tonight," Sasuke continues. "We worked on trust, and you have me enough to lie down in the middle of this rug and completely submit to me. Trust is everything, Sakura."

He curls around me and I shut my eyes, absorbing the sensation of being wrapped in his strong arms, and I hope that he can find the same trust in me, and us, as I have.

I blink into the beam of sunlight from the balcony and inhale the warm, musky scent of Sasuke, who is still wrapped around me. But rather than feeling warm and wonderful, there's a vague sense of unease inside me. Something feels off. Maybe it's the new place or the time zone change, and I wonder how lone we've been asleep.

"Sasuke! Oh, Sasuke, baby, where are you?"

The female voice echoes from the stairwell, approaching quickly, and the sound is like a bucket of ice water. I go cold, aware that this is my source of unease and what woke me.

"Oh holy fucking hell," the female says, and I can tell she's at the top of the stairs now, no doubt gaping at us where we lie on the rug. "Wow. Sasuke. A little early in this trip for female friends, isn't it?"

I flinch at her obvious meaning and try to sit up, but Sasuke's leg and arm shackle me. "Whatever you're thinking, it's wrong. Please, Sakura. Don't assume anything."

I don't have to assume-not when there's a woman who clearly knows him intimately enough to have access to his home standing a few feet from us. I can't lie naked on the floor like this one more second. "Let me up, Sasuke," I hiss.

"Not until you promise me not to jump to conclusions."

He shifts slightly. I try to push against him but he holds on to me. I growl low in my throat. "We are naked in front of her, Sasuke. You are naked in front of her."

He hesitates but lets me go. I twist around to my hands and knees to get up, and freeze. Standing at the top of the stairs is a striking, Barbie-doll-looking red head wearing a skintight black shorts and a white tank top, with long, silky mismatched hair, a body to kill for, and tattoos on both bare arms. Her red "fuck me" heels are outrageously high, which on me would ensure a certain stumble, and a wave of nausea overcomes me. Why am I here? She is everything I'm not and can never be.

"What the fuck are you doing here, Karin?" Sasuke demands, then drops his shirt by my hands. "Here, baby."

I can't seem to move. Karin. An American name, and pretty. And Sasuke is walking around naked in front of her. I lean back on my heels to snatch the shirt and pull it on. When I try to stand I stumble, and Sasuke catches me, his hand closing on my arm. All I see is his naked foot and naked calf.

"Let go," I hiss again, and I manage to look directly at Karin, who glances from Sasuke to me with a gloating amusement in her eyes. I'm hurt. I'm embarrassed. I feel completely sideswiped and betrayed. There's so much more to this woman than Sasuke has told me.

"Sakura." Sasuke has stepped close to me, his hip pressed to mine. His naked damn hip.

"Let go." I barely recognize the deep timbre of my own voice. "Now."

His hand slips away and I launch myself forward. Since forward is directly toward Karin, I regret my path, but I'll be damned if I'm backing down. I lift my chin and walk straight for her, and she smirks with her pretty red lips and steps aside.

Of course she does. I'm leaving her with Sasuke. Who is naked. That fact keeps replaying in my head like a stuck record. She has a key. He doesn't care if she walks in when he's naked. She's already seen him naked long before now.

This doesn't compute with what I know of myself and Sasuke, but I won't be able to think straight until I'm alone. I'm not a confrontational person. I'm a "leave and never look back" person, and the possibility that I might have to leave forever twists me in knots.

I nearly run up the stairs and storm into Sasuke's bedroom. At this moment I can't call it mine, for fear that it, like him, will be stripped away from me. A gnawing worry that he never was mine in the first place begins to form, and I can't seem to move forward.

Stopping in the entryway, I fall against the wall and just stand there, breathing hard, the sound of my heart drumming in my ears. I expect some sort of outburst. I expect to cry, but I don't. Based on my earlier blackout, I'm fairly certain that not only am I on emotional overload, but that my mind and body are protecting me from complete collapse. It is almost as if I'm standing outside myself looking in, and seeing nothing but gaping, empty hole. All I feel is a fear of what will soon be inside it.


I whirl around to face Sasuke. My gaze sweeps him from head to toe, as I'm sure Karin's did plenty of times. He's in jeans that aren't buttoned, bare feet and no shirt, and his half-dressed state is enough to make me combust. "I didn't come here to play with you and your tattoo-artist girlfriend, Sasuke."

"She's nothing more than a friend, Sakura. A friend with piss-poor timing."

My fingers curl, my nails digging into my palms. "With benefits and a key? Is this how you define the trust you and I just talked about? Having another woman on the side, when you said there was no one? Or maybe I didn't ask if you had friends with benefits-so you didn't tell me about her."

I suck in hard-earned air and exhale painfully. "Damn you, Sasuke. I opened myself up to you. I gave you everything that I am, when I swore I'd never do that with anyone. I let you spank me." Pain nearly doubles me over, but somehow I hold myself upright. "I'm going home." I turn away, seeking escape.

Sasuke shackles my arm. I whirl on him again and tug against his grip, not about to let him pull me close and cloud my judgment. Judgment that's apparently impaired where he's concerned, or I would have seen this coming. "I want to go home, Sasuke."

"Home is with me, Sakura."

"Seems that Karin think so, too."

He motions to the bed with his head. "Let's sit down and I'll explain."

His lack of denial carves an extra piece of my heart out. I shake my head, vehemently rejecting that idea. "No. I'll want to believe whatever you tell me, when that's obviously a bad idea."

My gaze rakes his shoulder, and the brightly colored tattoo she created, and anger burns in my belly. "Do you have any idea how much I hate that you were naked while you were down there with her? Which is crazy, since I know you've probably been naked with her more than with me."

His eyes flash, and it's all the warning I get. "That's it," he snaps. "You're going to listen to what I have to say." A second later I'm wrapped in his embrace and his long, muscular frame melds to mine, doing exactly what I feared. Distracting me. Working me over. Making me forget.

Big and strong, he easily maneuvers me to the bed, forces me to sit down, and bends over, his hands at my sides, effectively trapping me. His eyes meet mine and it doesn't seem to matter how hurt and betrayed I feel. I can't escape the familiar punch of awareness he creates in me.

"You are the only woman in my life," Sasuke declares, and the rough emoition in his voice creates hope in me. "You know that, Sakura. Tch, I know you know that. You're reacting to the events of the past twenty-four hours, and even the past few weeks of hell we've gone through together."



Partially-but I don't give him the hope he's given me. Selfish as it might be, I need it too much myself.

"Tch, yes," he concedes, "I used to fuck Karin, but it's been years since I even thought about touching her. And a lot longer than that, since it mattered when I did."

"So at some point she was special to you."

"You took that out of context. We met in college and she pulled me into the BDSM lifestyle."

I'm shaken by his matter-of-fact announcement. She looks close to my twenty-five than Sasuke's twenty-eight. I've never even thought about him going to college, let alone having it be when he'd discovered BDSM. He started painting before that, and I just assumed he'd gone straight from high school to art. I wonder what else I've assumed that I shouldn't have.

"Sakura." Sasuke strokes my cheek and I feel the touch all over. Clearly my body is without the boundaries of my mind. "Anything I had beyond friendship with Karin was a long time ago."

"But it's part of what defined who you are now, and she's still a part of your life."

"Hn. Where we've been is what brings us to the place you and I are now."

He's right. He's completely right. So why is this still such an issue to me? I bury my face in my hands. "I'm confused."

Sasuke pries my hands away from my face. "You are my present-and, I hope, my future."

"Then why does she have a key and feel free to just barge in?"

"I have her keep an eye on the place when I'm gone," he explains. "The security company told her I arrived and, since I came home without warning, she was afraid something was wrong. She's only a friend, Sakura." His hands move to my legs. "Nothing more."

He's staring at me, willing me to see the truth in his eyes, and I do. I trust Sasuke. Even when I was downstairs in the midst of that hell, deep down, I trusted him. I reacted to the situation. And to Karin. "She still wants you, Sasuke. I felt it in the air."

"Tch, I know."

His directness stuns me, when it shouldn't. It drives home why I trust him, but the answer is hard to swallow. "And you don't see that as being a problem?"

He snorts. "All I am to her is a potential fuck who happens to be a friend. She has no family. I'm it. I'm more a big brother to her than anything else."

My brows dip at that odd description. "Let me get this straight. You're a big brother and a potential fuck?"

"Hn, well, she's fucked-up, and I know how to deal with all the cobwebs in her head." He pulls me to my feet. "Let's go make sure she knows you are the annoying lady of the house." He starts leading me toward the door.

My eyes go wide and I tug on his hand. "Wait. No, Sasuke. It isn't necessary, and we have no clothes on."

He turns to stare down at me, his raven hair a rumpled, alluring mess. "It's not only necessary, it's mandatory. I want you both to be clear that this is your home, and you are the woman in my life."

I suck in a breath, touched deeply. "I know I am," I reply softly. "And you know I am. We're all that matters."

He encloses me in his arms. "You'll know even better, after we go down there and I introduce you to Karin."

I'd rather meet Karin later, when I'm on more footing. "But I'm in your shirt and you're only wearing pants."

His lips curve. "If that doesn't make a statement, then I don't know what does." He motions to the door. "Let's get rid of her, then shower and go to bed."

The determined look in his eyes says it all. We're going to do this. "I'm not going like this," I warn.

He smiles and pokes my forehead. "It'll be a lot less painful than being naked on all fours in the middle of a rug while you stare at her."

I cringe and press my head to his chest before giving him a sheepish look. "I really did that, didn't I?"

"Hn, yeah." He grins. "You looked good doing it."

I might have blushed at that comment, but the memory of why I'd frozen in that position hits me hard. I'd been stunned by the contrast of my light hair and Karin's wild red hair, my untouched skin, her tattoos. "We're different."

He runs his hands down my hair and captures my gaze with his. "That's a good thing, Sakura." In his usual elusive style, he says nothing more. He simply laces his fingers with mine and pulls me toward the door.

Anxiety ripples through me as he all but drags me down the stairs toward the living room, but he pauses at the bottom of the stairs and we stare at the rug. My mind goes to the moment that I kneeled down in the center, naked and vulnerable, and completely willing because it was with Sasuke. Heat rushes up my neck and my cheeks flush.

Sasuke cuts me a sideways look, his eyes twinkling with the mischief I've come to expect from him. "Like I said. I'll never look at that rug the same way again."

His mood is contagious and I smile back. "It's a very comfortable rug."

His lips curve into a sensual smile. "It is with you on it."

I flush, and the gleam in his eyes says he notices. He leans in and brushes his lips over mine, his voice low and thick. "We have many rooms to explore together," he promises, and then motions me to our right.

The lightness in the air vanishes and my stomach knots, but I manage an agreeable nod. Reluctantly, and only because he is so adamant this is important, I let Sasuke lead me to the stairwell heading to the kitchen. Trying to remain composed on no sleep and a heck of a lot of emotional overload, I focus on everything but the potential Karin disaster before me, like how much I love the way the kitchen sits above the living area like a loft. I can't wait to explore the entire house.

I've taken only one step up when a whiff of the familiar scent of Sasuke's favorite French coffee hits me. Tension settles hard in my belly. Obviously Karin feels right at home here. I force down the negative feelings, reminding myself that this is not the day to make assessments. It's a day to go to bed and rest.

Sasuke and I reach the top of the stairs and my attention is riveted on Karin, sitting at a gorgeous stone island, her silky red hair draped over her slender shoulders. She's the centerpiece of a gray and black modern kitchen, with stainless-steel appliances and a long line of gray-wash cabinets above the counters that have a splattered-pain look. She looks gorgeous, her pale skin pure perfection, and I'm excruciatingly aware of my day-old smudged makeup, and the heaviness of my pink hair that says I need a shower.

"I picked up freshly ground Malongo," she says of the coffee brand Sasuke loves enough to bring to the states with him, and lifts a white mug with steam rising from the top. "I'll pour you a cup." She's looking at Sasuke and talking to Sasuke. This is not starting out well.

"We'll get our own," Sasuke says, pulling me around the island toward the coffeemaker and stopping by the counter. "I want to show Sakura her new kitchen."

"Her kitchen?" she queries.

Sasuke turns toward her and pulls me under his arm, beside him. Her legs are crossed, her toes painted bright red to match her shoes. "That's right," he confirms. "Sakura lives with me now. What's mine is hers."

Karin's ruby eyes immediately goes to my finger in search of a ring, and a sharp pang of discomfort pinches my chest. I shove my hand behind my back, out of sight, but I feel sideswiped again at the idea of marriage. We've never even talked about it, and that hits me hard.

Sasuke snags my hand and pulls it between us. "I should be so lucky," he replies, as if Karin has spoken her silent question, his voice low and emotional.

Has Sasuke just said he want to marry me? In front of Karin?

I swear this chapter was soooooo troublesome to write -_-

Damn you Karin for making Sakura feel bad!

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Until next week! ;)