Legally Bound, Book 1
Ebook ISBN: B013HUVA80
Print ISBN: 9781619232297
[ BDSM Romance, MF ]
Jack Archer once balanced his professional life with the private world of dominance, surrender and trust he shared with his wife. Since cancer stole her a year ago, finding love again is the furthest thing from his mind…until he meets a young woman with shadows in her eyes darker than his own.
Jack Archer counted the seconds between his wife’s shallow breaths. The rented hospital cot cradled her wasted form, but to Jack, it felt more like a casket than a bed. He ground a fist against his palm, a reminder to stay strong. Being Eve’s rock had been his job since her diagnosis—the only way he’d survived as the happy life they shared melted into chaos. That strength had begun to falter during the vigil he’d kept by her side the last few days. Her organs had shut down, every cell riddled with cancer, the purple shadows under her eyes as dark as the wintry Massachusetts sky at dusk.
Another breath. Jack counted again. The silence before her next inhale lasted too long.
“Joshua,” the hospice nurse said.
Jack’s son looked up from the sofa. Tears stained his cheeks, angry splotches left behind from where his hands had been holding up his head.
“It’s time to say good-bye now.”
Although he was already a man, Josh’s face crumpled like a child’s.
He stood and advanced toward his mother. Sitting on the ottoman a few feet away, Jack felt the same agony he saw in his son’s face, the same force of will that was keeping his own muscles rigid. Josh crouched down as Eve’s eyes opened and twin pairs of bright blue eyes found one another. Josh was a duplicate of his mother, inheriting her eye color instead of Jack’s blue-gray. Matching golden hair framed their faces, although Eve’s had dulled to flaxen wisps before falling out altogether.
“You apply to that PhD program now,” she said, her words coming out with a wheeze. “Or I swear I’ll haunt you until you do.”
Jack let out a pained laugh. Even in the face of death, Eve found a way to joke. She beckoned Josh closer and tenderly kissed his forehead.
“I love you, Mom.” Josh’s voice broke. The sound was a knife to Jack’s heart.
Another difficult breath was followed by a pause. Jack caught the nurse’s gaze. Her sad but rapid nod signaled it was time to do the impossible. She wrapped an arm around Josh and led him out of the room.
Jack worked to control his breathing as he started toward the cot, but had to stop and brace a hand against the wall. There was no way to prepare for this moment. He’d have pleaded with Eve to stay with him, but he refused to fill her final moments with sadness. It wasn’t a request she could grant him now, anyway.
She tried to lift her head as he neared.
“Don’t—” he whispered sharply, then winced. Regretting his tone, he bent down to kneel beside her. It wasn’t a position he was accustomed to, but he didn’t care about the role reversal now.
He gathered one of Eve’s cold hands in his and ran his thumb over the finger that used to bear his ring. It slipped off the month before, when the last cruel waves of the disease took hold. She’d asked Jack to link it onto the silver chain she wore around her neck, the meaning of which only they knew. It represented the secret intimacy in their marriage, the cherished bond they’d always kept private.
Eve lifted her free hand and began tracing her fingers along the chain. “Do something
Her voice was thin and reedy. She sounded so far away already.
“What is it, love?”
That made her grin—the use of her pet name, only spoken during their play. Jack smiled, the moment a brief respite from the bleak reality in front of him.
She tapped her finger against the chain. “Don’t bury me in this.”
“What?” he sputtered. “Why?”
“Because,” she said slowly. “It will keep you bound to me for the rest of your life. I don’t
want that for you.”
Jack was stunned into silence. Tears threatened to brim over. He had to clench his jaw to force them back. Refusing to let her see him fall apart, he bowed his head, his forehead meeting the bony knuckles of her hand. She tried to soothe him, a quiet shhh coming out on a ragged exhale, and then Jack was crying. He hated himself for breaking down, for being so terrified of losing her that he was gripping her fingers tightly enough to break them, while she was setting him free.
He dragged his head up. “I can’t, love. I can’t.”
“You have to.” She paused as she tried to swallow. “Promise me something?”
She looked at him with the same eyes that had seen through him since he was a teenager.
“Promise me that someday, you’ll fall in love again.”
The last shreds of Jack’s composure unraveled.
He shook his head, his heart caving in, everything inside him locking down. He couldn’t promise her that. It would be impossible to love anyone again, to care for another woman the way he’d cared about her for the last twenty-five years. But then Jack saw the hope shining from Eve’s tired eyes, suddenly filled with more life than he’d seen in weeks. It was as if she’d summoned all the strength she had left for this one last request, and he couldn’t let her go without saying something to ease her pain.
“Okay. I’ll try.”
She smiled, and her eyes drifted closed. Her muscles went slack, relief seeming to settle
“Love you,” she whispered.
“I love you too,” Jack rasped, but she was already gone.