Everyone’s been begging me for the next stage of Kel and Mal’s story… evil author giggle Just be careful what you wish for. Seriously, though, it took me a while to write it because they gave it to me in dribs and drabs, and I needed to do research on parts of it to truly do it justice. It was an emotionally difficult story for me to write, too. Follow Me releases on March 26, And now you can pre-order it on Siren-BookStrand:
Askel’s frantic to help Mallory find a stable recovery from her anorexia, but every time he gets his hopes up another relapse threatens her survival. He’s willing to do anything to save his wife, including setting aside their Master/slave dynamic, if that’s what it takes.
Mal knows she’s in the fight of her life, but she’s hit yet another plateau and her recovery has stalled. Something has to give before her body gives out. She’s willing to take matters into her own hands and try a new path, even if it’s one Kel and her doctors disagree with.
Kel isn’t happy about Mal’s decisions, but it’s not like there’s anything he can do about it now. And when she issues an ultimatum about their relationship, he’s even less happy. Can he learn to let go, trust Mal, and put his faith in their friends? Or is he standing by and following his wife down a path of self-destruction?
Related Books: Mallory and Askel have a complex story that starts in His Canvas and then winds through several other books: A Kinkmas Carol, Happy Spank Patrick’s Day, This Moody Bastard, Walk Between the Raindrops, Friends in Common, Almost Gothic, Happy Spank-O-Ween, It’ll Be Fun, and then they are featured again in Follow Me.
That Monday morning, Mal was not looking forward to today’s joint therapy session with Kel for a lot of reasons.
The main one being she knew how upset Kel would be at the end of it.
She hadn’t told her therapist she was doing this. It’d be blindsiding both her and Kel, but Mal had tried everything else.
She knew the odds if she couldn’t get her shit together.
Maybe it’d be better this way.
He can always find someone else if I’m not strong enough.
She spent the morning gathering her things, packing everything in her room, because she wanted to be ready to check out as soon as possible after the appointment. Either Kel would be taking her home or she’d be calling a cab or…something. Or Niall, Doyle, or Doug would come get her, but she wanted to be out of here.
The idea had hit her at the Halloween party three weeks ago while she watched their friends playing. The next afternoon, after Kel returned her to the facility in Tampa and she was alone in her room once more, she’d called Doyle. Him, because he’d worked with her early on, not long after her miscarriage and it became clear she was having deeper problems. He’d also been the one to tell her and Kel she needed more help than he was able to give her once it was apparent she was hitting a downward spiral.
Doyle wasn’t able to talk to her right then, because he’d been about to catch a plane with his husband, but he gave her Niall’s number. Niall was willing to hear her out and consider her request. And after a couple of days of thinking about it and talking it over with Doyle and Doug, Niall had agreed they’d take her on as a client—all three of them working together. They all worked out of the same clinic in Sarasota.
Something had to change, and it could only happen within her. She knew a plateau when she felt one—having been through several already.
This time was different.
This would be her last plateau, one way or another.
She’d spent most of the past three weeks since the party planning and in daily phone sessions with Niall, Doyle, and, even briefly, with Doug, who she hadn’t met in person yet but already liked a lot from her conversations with him. Doug had even jokingly dubbed the three of them her “therapy fairy godfathers.”
She also hadn’t told her main therapist, or her medical team, about her plans. The men weren’t thrilled with that option, but they didn’t disagree with her logic, that her current medical team would try to talk her out of it and probably even try to use Kel to pressure her into staying.
Mal made sure she was waiting for Kel downstairs when he arrived, because she didn’t want him up in her room and seeing she was packed. He’d immediately know something was up, and she didn’t want him to have time to formulate a plan to talk her into changing her mind.
Which was something he had the ability to do, even though she knew it came from a place of complete love and worry.
Even the way he hugged her, as if afraid to touch her, broke her heart.
I did this to us.
The way he pressed a tender kiss to her forehead and paused, inhaling, as if desperately glad to have her in his arms but terrified to break her.
It all shattered her heart. She couldn’t live like this anymore and knew the path to her recovery wasn’t here. She’d done all she could here, with the tools these people provided for her.
It was time to try something outside the box.
Once they were in Dr. Susan Abrahms’ office, Mal sat through the therapist’s summary to Kel of how the week had gone, Mal’s stats. Mal could barely stand to see the disappointment flash across his face when he learned she hadn’t gained any weight in the past week, only maintained her current weight, just for him to school his features almost immediately.
Afraid to show Mal his true emotions.
Once Susan finished that part of the appointment, Mal took her opportunity before she could chicken out.
“I think I need some time alone,” she quietly said.
Kel and Susan exchanged a confused glance. “Right now?” Susan asked.
Mal shook her head, unable to look at Kel and instead focusing on her hands in her lap. “I mean completely.”
“What are you saying?” Susan asked.
Terror filled her, but when she thought about it…she’d never lived on her own.
Maybe this would be the world’s worst experiment, but she’d never had to stand on her own two feet. Not really. Her parents had died but she’d been denied a normal grieving process by her uncle’s disfunction. Then she’d moved in with Kel, sure, as a roommate, at first, but leaning on him anyway.
Niall had also not been thrilled with this option when she’d told him her decision yesterday, but once again, he couldn’t fault her logic that she needed to experience being alone and independent, even if only for a short time. Niall also acknowledged the likelihood that if Kel was living with her he would spend every spare waking moment demanding she return to the facility, or watching her like a hawk and not living his life.
“I think Kel should stay at the apartment for a little while,” she said. “At night. Not…permanently.”
It felt like all sound, all oxygen had been sucked from the room, like she could hear Kel’s heart breaking, his soul shattering, and it nearly destroyed her resolve.
Neither Susan nor Kel spoke for a long moment, and Mal didn’t dare look. She was close to tears already.
I’m so fucking tired of crying.
But she hadn’t been able to heal no matter what they tried.
That meant she was keeping Kel trapped in perpetual purgatory, too, and that wasn’t fair to him.
None of this was fair to him.
“Mal?” he finally asked, nearly a whisper. “What’s going on?”
She closed her eyes and willed the tears back. “I need to do something…different,” she said.
One of the things she loved about Susan was her ability to keep her mouth shut when necessary. She didn’t interrupt and let this play out.
Kel’s jagged inhale punctured Mal’s soul but she kept her eyes closed so she didn’t see the wounded agony no doubt filling his sweet brown eyes. “Are-are you asking me…for a divorce?”
She slowly shook her head. “No. I love you. But this isn’t fair to you.”
“I decide what’s fair to me, Mal.”
“And you’ll always decide that to the exclusion of what’s best for you.” She finally forced her eyes open and made herself look at him.
The tears—tears he’d been so careful about hiding from her all this time—now rolling down his cheeks gutted her, but she’d started this.
“I’m checking myself out and going home. Today. You’re taking me home. I’ve set up appointments with Doyle and Niall,” she added. “I’ve already talked to them. They’ve agreed to work with me, and that they will communicate with Susan to get up-to-speed on my file.”
Now Susan tried to interrupt. “Mal, this is the first I’m hearing about this. You and I haven’t even discussed this. I’m not sure that’s a wise decision right now.”
“Either I’m going to beat this,” Mal said, “or I’m not. I know the risks. But my life’s been on hold, and so has Kel’s.” She couldn’t bear seeing the weight of his pain and dropped her gaze to her hands again, where her fingers worked on shredding a tissue in her lap. “This is it. This is my last chance to fix this.”
“No,” Susan said. “There isn’t a timeline on any of—”
“I have put a timeline on it,” Mal said. “Now I’m inconveniencing my friends. Friends have stepped in to pay my freaking hospital bills. I love them to death for it, and I know they can afford it, but no. I’m…done. If I don’t do this, and I die, at least Kel can move on.”
Out of the corner of her eye she watched his jaw drop open. “Mal, I love you. You are my wife. I’m not going to abandon you, or let you give up—”
“You don’t have a choice, Kel,” she said, hating that her tears were flowing once more. “Please respect my wishes. You can live at the apartment for now. I’m not divorcing you. If I make it this time, then you come home. Because if I can’t make this work…” She shrugged. “Then the house and everything is yours anyway.”
“You can’t be serious, sweetie. Can we please discuss this?”
The niobium bracelet Mal wore on her right wrist, her slave collar, no longer fit like it did when he’d first fastened it around her wrist. Now, it was so loose she could easily slip her hand out of it, like a bangle bracelet.
Choking back her sobs, she slipped it off and handed it to him, unable to look him in the eyes. “I think I was wrong to chew you out a few weeks ago when you brought up maybe dropping our M/s dynamic for a while. Maybe we do need a temporary break from this. So I need you to hold on to that for me, for now,” she said. “When I’m ready, if I don’t end up dead first, I’ll ask for it back. If you’ll still even want me.”
He wouldn’t take it from her, so she ended up laying it in his lap, where he stared at it.