By: Francette Phal

He was gone and Eden was once again left utterly bereft. She stared at the woman in the mirror with silent reproach, realizing how differently things turned out in the four years since she’d been with Dominic.

She’d been painfully naïve in that first year of their marriage, believing with a hopeful heart that love would somehow bloom from their union        . She hadn’t deluded herself into believing that they’d come together for any other reasons than using each other, but she’d been hopeful that they would overcome their dysfunctional beginning and form some sort of companionship. With her mother gone, Dominic had been her family and he’d been Eden’s hope of having children of her own. But he had quickly disabused her of those notions. Dominic Armstrong had married her simply for her body. A warm, supple body he could master and manipulate between imported cotton cloud sheets. And her body always surrendered to his mastery, didn’t it? Denying it seemed futile when the evidence was between her thighs. How was it possible to share an emotionless, loveless marriage with someone, yet be so drawn to them? So pathetically impassioned of them? She didn’t want to feel this way. Eden didn’t want to need him. The hypocrisy made her sick.

* * *

Dominic was a connoisseur of beautiful things. He had a room just below the mansion filled with priceless artifacts he’d collected over the years. Some of those things had been acquired through less than scrupulous means, but all the same, he’d eventually obtained them. Money made the world go round, it was a great incentive to nearly everything, and people were always more accommodating when they saw it. His little wife had certainly been impressed enough to sell herself to him for a measly half-million dollars. He watched her enter his private room, his methodical gaze raking over her with chilling accuracy. He knew every inch of that sinful body, had fucked and defiled every hole. He knew the location of every birthmark, had swept his tongue along every contour. He’d dined on the sweetness between her legs, had devoured her essence like it were ambrosia, and he found that he still could not get enough. The hunger he’d felt, the unmitigated lust that had struck him the very first time he’s laid eyes on her, refused to ebb.

He and his half-brother had the same taste in women, so Dominic hadn’t been surprised that Lucas had found Eden Mercer fascinating. Hell, he’d been completely bowled over the first time he saw her too. She’d been nineteen, nubile, and ripe for the picking, even in dark rinse jeans and the camisole she’d been wearing that night four years ago when she’d piqued Dominic’s interest. He remembered the bar. He remembered the cigarette smoke that had hung over the crowd like a cloud. The reason as to why he’d been among the common folk of late night downtown, attempting to drown his troubles in cheap watered-down liquor had evaporated the instant she’d stepped on stage. Eidetic memory replayed that very first moment, her hair had been shorter then, skimming just above her shoulders.

Skin like honey had glowed beautifully beneath the soft light of the stage, Dominic remembered sitting up a little straighter in his seat in the darkened corner of the bar. There’d been nervous energy haloing her petite frame, Dominic remembered the sweep of her pink tongue across her full mouth and how that one small gesture had made him want to bum-rush the stage and go caveman on her. He remembered the soft strains of the acoustic and then her voice—a breathy, gravelly sound that had instantly conjured images sex and made him rock hard. She’d sounded like the jazz singers of old, a siren at her microphone seducing the crowd with that low, smoky voice. When she’d disappeared, the absence of her presence had been staggering. He’d blinked a few times as if emerging from the best orgasm of his life. He’d felt unbalanced and remembered going home, standing beneath the powerful sprays of his shower and jacking off like some prurient teenager with his first porno flick.

She became Dominic’s obsession, and he’d known instantly that he would own her. She’d been a rarity, an artifact, another possession he needed to add to his innumerable collection. He’d worked diligently after that, twisting the hands of fate by calling in favors from the seamier lot of the city’s underbelly. He’d further compounded her and her mother’s staggering financial debt, he’d wanted them cornered and desperate. Then Dominic had waited patiently for the right moment to pounce. And it had all worked accordingly, although the slight hiccup with Lucas had been unforeseen.

She’d been Lucas’s latest amusement, but unlike his half-brother’s previous vices, this had been strictly off limits. Luckily Gregory and Millicent Armstrong had gotten wind of Lucas’s inane idea of marriage the very same time Dominic had discovered his brother sniffing around his property. And, just as he’d done when they were younger, Dominic had been called upon by the Armstrong patriarch to clean up his brother’s mess once again. The mess had been none other than Eden Mercer. The irony hadn’t been lost on Dominic. He couldn’t have worked it out better himself, but then again, he had.