Disclaimer: I don't own Twilight. It belongs to Stephenie Meyer.

Sorry, sorry, sorry! Kids, exam preparation at work, thesis, marriage counseling, autism workshops. My life is very, very full. I've got a nice long chapter for you, though.

Thank you to all of you for reading and reviewing. You keep me going! Thank you to Mauigirl60, my beautiful beta, who I'll actually be visiting in a month's time in connection with the TwiFic Meetup in Nashville! So excited!

Ready for a time jump? Here goes . . .


"Hon, start finding the toys you want to bring to Aunt Alice's, okay? We have to leave soon."


I smile at my reflection as I finish putting on my makeup. Not too much. Mr. Masen likes me looking natural.

The weeks have flown by. I've spent my days with Seth, exploring the city in new ways. Now that we have money, it opens up new opportunities for us. We've taken bus rides to the good parts of town to visit parks and playgrounds where I don't have to worry about needles in the sandbox. We've gone to Ikea and bought a new couch to replace the old lumpy one, as well as pretty knick-knacks for our apartment, which is looking more and more like a well-kept home. We've had Alice's girls over for a slumber party and it felt fantastic being able to reciprocate, giving her a much-needed night off to do whatever she wanted. We've baked, we've had movie nights and we've hung out at the mall. I have even gone on two job interviews, but my lack of experience doing anything is holding me back. I still look for work, but I'm not as desperate as I used to be. I have a backup, after all: Mr. Masen.

I won't say that we've developed a routine, because I never know what to expect when I go to his house. Some nights I cook; on others, he orders in and I only make a dessert for us to enjoy after dinner. Sometimes he ravishes me the moment I step through the door, and other times he saves it for the end of the night. We've had sex in his bed, on the couch, on the kitchen table, in the hallway, and on the stairs. One night, I spent twenty minutes on my hands and knees, scrubbing his already immaculate floors while he watched. Then, he pushed up my dress and fucked me from behind, warning me that I'd better keep on scrubbing unless I wanted a spanking. Smiling to myself, I slid the brush across the wet floor so it was out of reach, delighting in his reaction as he called me a naughty girl and thrust even harder while bringing his hand down on my ass again and again until I came so hard, I could hardly see straight.

Some nights, he seems to want to take it easy and lets me keep my own clothes on. On those nights, we've watched TV on the couch or listened to music. He likes rock music—older stuff from decades ago—and new comedy shows, which makes us both laugh. Other nights, he goes all out, putting me in vintage dresses, heels, and aprons to watch me as I cook, serve him, and sit on his lap while I eat my share of the food. The wine from Italy that I like has become a permanent staple on the dinner table and there's always plenty of Coke in the fridge for me. Some nights when we say goodbye, he presents me with a gift in addition to the manila envelope: another spa gift card; a perfume he tells me he bought on his latest trip to Paris; a book he knows I've wanted to read. In return, and to show my appreciation, I've done everything I can think of to please him, and it seems I'm succeeding very well judging from the satisfied expression on his face and the fact that he keeps telling me to come back. He's still paying me a thousand dollars a night, which means I've now paid what I owe the apartment manager, even giving him a month's rent in advance. It feels so good being on top of things for once and I know I have Mr. Masen to thank for how well things are going.

I'm putting my shoes on when there's suddenly a knock at the door. I'm not expecting anyone, so I stand up on my tiptoes to peer through the peephole. What I see is enough to make me lose my balance and stumble backward.

"Isabella, I know you're in there."

The voice is slightly muffled, but I'd recognize it anywhere. It's a voice of my childhood: the one that scolded me, lectured me, and reprimanded me at every turn. But it's also the voice of familiarity, safety, and everything I once knew. I don't want to open the door, but I do it anyway. Just a few inches.

"What do you want?" I blurt out.

"Well, that's certainly a nice greeting. Are you going to let me in?"

"No . . . Mother."

Her lips pucker with displeasure as she pulls her coat tighter around herself.

"This hallway is filthy," she says, looking around with disdain. "And cold."

"Yeah, well, it's fall," I reply. "What are you doing here? How'd you know where I was?"
"I've always known where you were, Isabella. Your father has his ways."

"Five years," I whisper. "You've known for five years and you never came by."

She doesn't say anything. She just stands there with her nice warm coat and superior attitude.

"What. Do. You. Want?"

"I want you to come home."

I've heard the expression 'jaw-dropping', but I don't think I've ever really had it happen to me before.

Come home? Is she fucking kidding me?

I recover quickly.

"No. Absolutely not."

"I know what's going on," she says.

My gut twists with anxiety. Does she know how I make my money? That I'm a rich man's . . . whatever it is I am.

"I know Michael is gone and you're alone now," she continues.

"I'm not alone," I hiss. "I have my son. Or did you forget about him?"

"Of course not."

"How'd you even find out about Mike?"

"Cynthia Brandon," she says, wrinkling her nose.

"You're lying. You wouldn't be caught dead talking to Alice's mom!"

"She talked to me. Yelled at me. In the middle of the supermarket, no less! She says her daughter is always watching your child until all hours of the night. Is this true, Isabella?"

"I have to work," I grit out. "Now, if you'll excuse me, Mother. I have to go."

"I'm not leaving," she says, with an edge to her voice. "This has gone on long enough. It's time for you to come home! I won't have my daughter out at all hours of the night, doing God knows—"

"Shut up!" I whisper-yell.

I feel a tug on my shirt.

"Mommy, is it time to go to Aunt Alice's? Why are you shouting? Who's that lady?"

"That's . . . no one, baby. Can you start putting your shoes and jacket on, please?" I say, blocking my mother's view of Seth.

"I can watch him for you," she says.

I gape at her.

"I'm not leaving him with you!"

"Why on earth not?"

"You're a stranger! He doesn't know you."

Also, you wanted me to get rid of him. You abandoned me when I needed you the most. I fucking hate you!

I don't say that. I don't say any of the things I want. I can't do that here. Seth is right behind me and we're running late. Biting my tongue, I simply say "goodbye" and shut the door in her face before helping Seth get ready.

She's still out there when we leave. Her eyes are glued to Seth as I tug on his hand and hurry down the hall toward the stairs.

"Isabella!" she calls. "Your father . . . he . . . he's very ill."

I don't stop and I don't reply. Moving on autopilot, I hold my son's hand and navigate us through the streets until we reach Alice's, only half-listening to his happy, untroubled chatter.

Inside their apartment, Seth leaves my side, excited to show off his new toys.

"Bella, are you okay?" Alice asks, as we watch the three kids easily falling into play. "You look . . . I don't know, off."

"Tell me the truth, please," I whisper, turning to her. "You'd tell me if you didn't want to babysit Seth for me anymore, right?"
"What are you talking about? You know I love having him here. He's a total buffer. The girls never fight with him around."

"My mom came by today."

"Are you serious?"

I nod my head.

"What'd she want?"
I chuckle.

"For me to come home. I guess your mom verbally attacked her at the store or something, saying that Seth is always here at night because Mike left us."

"Oh, my God!" Alice groans. "I told her not to say anything."

"You've talked about me?"
"Well, yeah. But not like you might think, Bella. Honestly. My mom was over again last weekend, right?"

I nod my head. Mr. Masen was away somewhere so I didn't see Alice or Cynthia that time.

"I was saying how it's so nice having her around, not only to help, but also that she knows my girls so well. And I guess I might've said a few not-so-nice things about your parents and how they're scum for just cutting you off completely, forcing you to work all hours to make ends meet."

She draws a breath.

"Well, my mom agreed, of course, and said she'd like to give your mom a piece of her mind. I told her not to, but I guess she did it anyway. I'm sorry."

"It's okay. I know your mom means well."

"So, what happened?" Alice asks. "You said no, right?"

"Of course. She actually offered to watch Seth for me tonight. She must have lost her mind, thinking I'd leave him with a virtual stranger!"

"Bitch be cray-cray," Alice agrees, nodding.

I crack a smile.

"Totes," I say, making her grin.

"Jeez, what a mess," I whisper, running my fingers through my hair. "I don't think I've seen the last of her. If she ever finds out what I do for a living . . . I'm scared."

"It's okay," Alice says, putting her arm around me.

"It's not, though. I mean, it's illegal, what I do. If anyone ever finds out, I could lose Seth," I tell her, biting the inside of my cheek to force my eyes not to well up.

"No one will find out. I won't tell and you know Mr. Masen won't, either."

Drawing a deep breath through my nose, I do my best to become all Zen, or whatever the hell it's called.

"I have to get over there," I say. "How do I look?"

"Pretty," Alice says with a sad smile.

I say goodbye to Seth, giving him a big hug before heading out to find a cab to take me to Medina.

Three hours later, I'm still holding it together. I play the part to perfection, wearing a beautiful dress, heels, and even a string of pearls as I clean up after the—if I do say so myself—delicious meal I cooked and served. I've sent him demure smiles and batted my eyelashes at him, asked to sit on his lap and called him 'Sir' in a slightly breathy voice. Everything he loves. I don't think of my mother showing up. I don't think of my father's illness, whatever it might be. I focus solely on the man next to me, of pleasing him.

"Isabella, is something wrong?" he suddenly asks.

I don't stop loading the dishwasher.

"No, everything's fine, Sir."

"Are you certain?"


I feel him watching me and I force myself to smile as I start the program and stand up to face him.

"All done," I say cheerfully.

"You're very domestic," he observes. "I like that."

"You don't say," I remark dryly.

He flashes me a grin and pulls me close, trapping me against the counter as he towers above me.

"Not so timid around me anymore, are you?"

I hold his gaze.

"No, Sir."

"That's good," he says, running a large hand down one side of my body, outlining my curves.

"Is it?"

He cocks his head to the side, giving me an inquisitive look.

"I mean, you like me acting submissively," I explain.

He takes a small step forward, pressing me against the counter while both his hands roam freely across my body.

"Spread your legs," he whispers in my ear, nipping lightly at the lobe.

I moan as he massages my breast and slides one hand up my inner thigh to caress me with the certainty of an experienced lover.

"You like this, Isabella?"

"Yes," I breathe, reaching up to hold onto his broad shoulders.

"The things I want to do to you," he murmurs softly, dipping his fingers inside me. "To use your sweet body for my pleasure. Would you like that?"

I nod my head, closing my eyes as I rest my forehead against his chest, my fingers clawing at the fabric of his shirt while he moves his fingers faster and faster.

"Should I let you come?" he asks, sweeping his thumb across my clit. "Or should I deny you? Have you been a good girl?"

His words make me whimper, they feel so good to me, causing me to spasm around his fingers.

"P-please," I beg, lifting my left leg up, opening myself to him. "Fuck me, Sir."

Next thing I know, Mr. Masen tosses me onto the kitchen island and stuff goes flying everywhere. I don't care at all. He reaches behind me to yank down the zipper of my dress and I quickly push it down around my waist while he opens his pants with hurried movements. He doesn't speak. He lifts my lower half, pulls the dress off me and holds my legs open, thrusting his cock inside me with a low groan. He doesn't pause. Immediately, he pulls back and then pushes inside again. Again and again. He takes me with a sense of savagery I've only read about in trashy romance novels, in which the ruggedly handsome pirate ravishes the barmaid because he simply can't contain his manly desires. This is like that, only real. Only better. I writhe on the hard surface, lifting my hands up above my head, surrendering to him, letting him do whatever he wants. It feels incredible.

"Fuck," Mr. Masen pants. "There you are. Look at you. Look at you."

His right hand lets go of my hip and glides up my body with a firm touch, pausing to grab a jiggling breast and pinch the already stiff nipple. I shiver as he leans over me, his hand moving upward to grasp my throat in a sign of complete domination as he takes my body without apology. I open my mouth to speak, though I have no idea what I'm going to say, but he silences me with his eyes.

"You love this," he says, emphasizing his point with a sharp thrust.

Involuntarily, I arch my back reveling in the feeling his thick cock in my pussy, his hand on my throat, his eyes on my face.

"Y-y-yes!" I croak as he continues to pound into me, coming with an unprecedented intensity that makes me lose my breath and screw my eyes shut.

Once I'm able to breathe again, I draw deep gulps of air, willing my heart to slow down its furious pace. Mr. Masen is slumped on top of me, heaving for air, as well. I bring my limp arms down in a half-hearted attempt to stroke his hair, even though I feel completely worn out. After a little while, he raises himself up on his elbows and looks at me.

"Did you enjoy that, Isabella?"

I nod my head, giving him a tired smile.

"And you still think you're only acting submissively?"

"What?" I whisper.

"I don't know what's going on with you tonight, why you were putting on a show earlier. But you and I both know that's not what I want. I don't want you acting. I want the real you. And the real you craves being dominated. You love getting spanked and you come so fucking hard when I hold you down. I can't wait to see how you'll react when I tie you up. Be that girl all the time. Please me, but do it because you want to, the way you usually are around me. Serve me, sweet girl. Worship me. Do it because you want it as much as I do."

He leans down, kissing me gently, before removing himself. I listen as he fixes his clothes and moved around, feeling as though I've had a bucket of ice water thrown in my face. Why would he say something like that? I sit up on the edge of the island, looking down to avoid seeing Mr. Masen as I gingerly lift myself down, unsure of what to do now. Should I get dressed again? Start cleaning up the mess we made? I wrap my arms around myself, feeling both uncomfortable and chilled.

"Come here, Isabella."

Mr. Masen's voice is soft and soothing, as though he's speaking to a skittish animal, which isn't that far off, I suppose. His outstretched hand beckons me and part of me wants to run to him and fling myself into his arms.

"You're wrong," I say. "About me."

"Am I?"

Yes. No. Maybe.

"Come here," he says again, even softer this time. "You know it's the truth, deep down."

I don't know that. What I do know is that he just fucked me to prove a point. So what has he proven? That he'll be able do more weird stuff with me now, since he's convinced I crave domination? What does it say about me, about the kind of woman I am? That I can't take care of myself? That I need a man to take charge of me, like my father has always done, turning my mother into a puppet? That I'm weak? Helpless? Is that how Mr. Masen sees me?

"No." I shake my head minutely.


"No," I say again, bending down to grab the dress and cover myself with.


"I'd like to call it an early night. Please, Sir?"

I need time to think. Intellectually, I know all of his claims are accurate: that I react positively to him being dominant; that it turns me on. Emotionally, however, I'm more confused than ever. I'm scared about what this means for me. Will I never be able to have normal sex again and enjoy it? Or will I keep going down this dark path, ending up hog-tied while being whipped or something? That thought terrifies me.

"Very well," Mr. Masen says, although he doesn't look happy.

"Thank you, Sir."

I run upstairs as quickly as my legs can carry me, changing back into my own clothes. I have to get out of here. Too much has happened today and I feel my control slipping.

"The cab should be here shortly," he tells me as he hands me the manila envelope by the door.

I nod my head, not sure what else to say. The silence is deafening and for once I wish I'd familiarized myself with the bus schedule so I could just leave now, instead of having to stand here and wait. Mr. Masen sighs softly, scrubbing his face with his hands.

"Look, Isabella," he starts. "I think I owe you an apology."

I don't know how to respond, so he continues.

"It's taken me a long time to figure out what sort of person I am, and what kinds of things I like. I shouldn't have said the things I said, knowing how young and inexperienced you are. But, the truth is, I'm frustrated."

"Frustrated?" I whisper. "With me?"

"No." He shakes his head. "You're everything I want. In fact, I'd like to make you an offer."

He draws a deep breath.

"I'm tired of always sending you home at the end of the night, not knowing where you go or if you're going to be okay. It's not enough, what we have now. I want more. I want all of it."

I feel as though my head is spinning.

"Isabella, I want you to move in here with me, and make our arrangement permanent. The money I'll pay will ensure you won't ever want for anything. You'll have your own room, of course, and I won't ask too much of you, I promise. But after getting to know you, I'm convinced we want the same things, both in regard to sex and getting along in general. I think, no, I know having you here will make me a happy man, because I'm—"

A car horn honking right outside interrupts him and the sound makes me snap out of the state I'm in, forcing me to really look at the man in front of me, who's offering me a very good deal: a chance to be a part of his world, his affluent lifestyle, and never worry about money again. His expression is open, hopeful even, as he gazes down at me.

I feel as though I've been punched in the gut. It's guilt. I'm a horrible, despicable person, and I realize that I've made a liar out of myself. Every single time I've told Mr. Masen that I'm his alone, I've lied. Every time I've promised to worship him and put his needs first, it's been deception. I've done such a good job of it, that I've now convinced him that I'm perfect for him, that I'm able to give him what he needs, which is someone whose sole mission in life is to please and take care of him.

But the truth is that I can't give him that, and I can't move in here with him to be his live-in fantasy. I live in the real world. Outside this lovely house, outside this rich neighborhood, far away from this beautiful man is a small boy who needs me more. And I will always put him first. Always. How could I even consider telling Mr. Masen about Seth and possibly bringing him into an arrangement like that? There's no way. And if my mother were to ever find out that I'm basically a prostitute, there's no doubt in my mind she'd do everything in her power to take my son away from my corrupting influence. She'd find me here eventually and put two and two together. I know she would. She'd try to steal my son, to use him as a fresh start now that her only child turned out to be such a miserable failure. I feel as though I can't breathe! She's not getting her hands on my son!

"Say something," Mr. Masen murmurs.

"I'm sorry," I gasp, trying to catch my breath. "I'm so sorry."


"I can't, Mr. Masen! I've lied to you. I'm not who you think I am at all. And this . . ."

I wave my hand around, hyperventilating.

"I-I can't do this. I'm so, so sorry!"

Watching his open expression change to one of disbelief and disappointment is heart-breaking. He welcomed me into his home to me and offered me a place in it, in his life, and I've just thrown it back in his face. Fighting back tears, I scramble to open the door and exit the house on unsteady legs.

"Wait, Isabella," he says. "You'll come back next week, won't you?"

I walk backward down the stairs, slowly, facing him.

"No," I whisper. "I never should've . . . I'm not what you think I am."

"I don't understand," he says, following me outside as I reach the waiting cab.

I look up at him again, tears flowing freely now. He seems so lost and it's all my fault. I instilled false hope in him with all my worship, promises, and adoration. I made him believe I could make him happy, and in another life, maybe I could have. But in this life . . . it's impossible.

"Everything I've . . . made you do," he asks, his voice low and gritty, his eyes so sad. "Did you hate it? Was it all an act?"

I don't want to be a liar anymore. I don't want to hurt him any more than I already have. I don't want him to believe he's forced me to do anything I didn't want, when the truth is, I've loved every moment of our time together.

"No," I sob, as my voice cracks. "N-no, Mr. Masen."

I jump into the cab.

"Please, just go!" I cry to the puzzled driver.

"Isabella, please wait!"

I watch how Mr. Masen reaches for the door handle just as the taxi starts to move and how his usual composed exterior crumbles as he chases us halfway down the driveway before stopping and putting his hands on his knees, lowering his head.

"I'm sorry, I'm sorry!" I cry, burying my face in my hands.

"Are you okay?" the driver asks. "Should I call the cops or take you to the ER?"

I shake my head, feeling absolutely hysterical. I'm not okay at all. None of this is okay. After a few minutes, I've calmed down enough to give the driver my address. I can't have Seth seeing me like this right now. Digging out my new pre-owned cell phone, I send Alice a text, telling her I'm not feeling well, but that I'll pick Seth up in the morning and not to worry.

I watch the dark waters as we drive across the bridge, knowing I probably won't ever be making this trip again. Because I won't ever see Mr. Masen again. The thought brings around a fresh batch of tears and I cry silently until the driver pulls out in front of my building.

Feeling numb, I climb the stairs, wanting nothing but a hot shower and to lie in my own bed. I have to figure out where I go from here, but right now, my head feels fuzzy. Abruptly, I stop dead in my tracks. The door to my apartment is opened slightly and I know I locked it behind me when Seth and I left.

Oh, God, no.

With a shaking hand, I push it open, listening carefully for sounds. There's nothing. I step into my hallway, already seeing the devastation in the living room: the coffee table has been knocked over and there are books scattered everywhere. The DVD rack is empty.

"Oh, no."

Seth's movies.

There's sudden movement in my peripheral vision and I gasp when a man comes barging out of my bedroom, a duffle bag over his shoulder. He's wearing a ski mask. My heart slams against my rib cage as we stare at each other.

"Please don't hurt me," I whimper. "I have a child."

"You got money?"

"Y-yes, yes!" I cry, pulling out the envelope and throwing it in his general direction. "It's a thousand dollars."

He picks it up slowly, glances into it before stuffing it into his bag, only taking his eyes off me for a moment. Without warning, he jumps forward and slams into me, knocking me down.

Please! No!

He doesn't stop, but runs out the door and then down the hall. Stunned, I sit up before jumping to my feet and slamming the door shut. The lock's broken so I can only put the chain on it. Feeling a bit safer, I quickly make it through the apartment with one goal on my mind: the money I've stashed.

Please be there, oh please be there still!

The moment I turn on the lights in the bathroom, I start to cry. On the floor is the now-empty Tupperware container I'd taped to the back of the toilet, and it had all the money I'd saved. Now, there's nothing left.

What I am going to do?

I'm right back to where I started. Nothing has changed for me, after all. I promised Seth we'd be okay. I promised him and I've failed him once again. I walk back into the living room and sink down on the floor, looking around at the ruins of my life. Knick-knacks are scattered everywhere along with books from my overturned shelf. The beautiful new couch has been shredded.

The guys must've had a knife with him!

At that moment, I'm so incredibly happy I didn't go by Alice's to take Seth home. My son is safe, but for how long? I can't take him back here. We've been lucky up until tonight, but this is such a bad neighborhood and break-ins, muggings and robberies happen all the time. This will probably happen again and then what? What if it's someone violent or on drugs who breaks in the next time? Someone who isn't content with stealing money and DVDs, who will see a young woman and her child as easy victims?

I look down at my hands. They're shaking.

"Please," I sob into the quiet of the night. "I can't do this anymore. I need help. I need help."

Wrapping my arms around my body, I rock back and forth as hot tears stream down my face and my nose becomes runny.

When it starts getting light outside the window, I've made a plan. I clean myself up and pack a bag, knowing I won't spend another night here ever again. First, I'll go to Alice's to pick up Seth and then . . . Forks. It's not what I want, but it's what I have to do.

I'm crossing another line.

Remember how I said there'd be plot development? Yeah.

Please don't flounce. It's not over yet!

Take care of each other until next time.