ABOUT THE BOOK
A new stand-alone forbidden romance in the Cards of Love Collection from New York Times bestselling author Cassia Leo.
tem·per·ance (ˈtemp(ə)rəns/submit) - noun
abstinence, moderation, or self-restraint.
Leah has been counseling high-profile addicts for almost a decade, so she’s accustomed to the need for discretion. But her latest client, who goes by the name Mr. C, demands total anonymity. She’s never seen his face, but his deep, rich voice occupies her naughtiest dreams and fantasies.
Mr. C’s sex addiction is threatening to take over his life. The only thing keeping it from consuming him is his twice-weekly video chat session with Dr. Grayson. Though his webcam is pointed at a nondescript area of his study, her webcam is always pointed at those succulent lips and her long, lithe legs, which he can’t stop fantasizing about. He must have her.
Will Leah and Mr. C submit to their forbidden passion? Or will they practice temperance when a dinner party they both attend presents them with the ultimate temptation?
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My laptop is open on my desk and facing away from my office chair, toward the charcoal-gray sofa, where I usually sit while counseling addicts. As is our routine, I sit in my usual spot while I wait for an incoming Skype call from Mr. C. I should reiterate that this is my routine with Mr. C. It is certainly not my routine with any of my other patients.
As a psychiatrist specializing in addiction counseling, especially in a city where addictive substances and behaviors are so readily available, I’ve learned to accommodate my patients’ needs for discretion. I do see many patients in person at my downtown Seattle office, but many of my patients are wealthy, high-functioning addicts with a lot to lose if their addiction were to become known.
Most of my patients these days are housewives of wealthy tech moguls, women who’ve sought refuge from the lonely nights and overbooked schedules in the bottom of a glass bottle, excessive online shopping, or opiates. I also counsel many young entrepreneurs who have trouble adjusting to the gloomy Seattle weather or the constant pressure to out-innovate their competitors. These young men and women often become addicted to their mobile phones or laptops, though many still opt for the more conventional addictions of Ritalin or methamphetamines. These obsessive-compulsive behaviors and addictions usually arise from their pursuit of the next great idea.
Needless to say, confidentiality is not just my legal duty, it’s a principle I take very seriously. Which is why I fought hard for the right to accept anonymous clients, when the other therapists in our practice thought this would open me — and them — up to lawsuits for treating someone without collecting verifiable data.
But HIPAA — the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 — is meant to protect privacy as well as healthcare records, privacy being the main tenet. In my opinion, I believe too much personal information is kept on the average citizen. My willingness to counsel a patient without collecting identifying information, while unconventional, was born from a desire to treat everyone, rather than just the patients who were comfortable being identified.
My colleagues assumed if a patient or their loved one were to bring a lawsuit against us for malpractice, establishing a connection between the patient and the anonymous person I counseled would be a legal nightmare. I had to get my personal lawyer involved to assure my colleagues I would take full legal responsibility for any fallout from my anonymous patient policy. And after a few months of dramatic negotiations, I am now the only psychiatrist in downtown Seattle who will counsel a patient without knowing their identity.
More than a year since we’ve implemented the policy, my colleagues still think I’m crazy. But it’s a small price to pay to catch the addicts who fall through the cracks, who fear being exposed.
No one should ever be afraid to ask for help. That’s what it says on my website and my business card, and it may as well be tattooed on my forehead. It’s my motto.
So, why is Mr. C different from all my other patients? Because I’ve never actually laid eyes on Mr. C.
The Skype window on my laptop transforms to display an incoming call. My Skype account is set up to auto-answer. As soon as the call comes in, I receive an onscreen notification, and I have a few seconds to reject the call before it’s automatically connected. As I sit on the gray tweed sofa with my legs crossed and my laptop’s webcam pointed at me, the call is answered and a scene materializes on the screen.
Mr. C’s study is bright and modern with white library shelving displaying books, which have been categorized by color. The decor looks as if it was chosen by an early nineteenth-century explorer. The midnight-blue tufted velvet sofa contrasts with the white bookshelves. Behind the sofa, a console table is topped with lush greenery, and a large brass birdcage stands in the corner. Empty birdcages used as decor always seem a bit Freudian to me, but I don’t mention this.
“Good morning, Leah,” Mr. C calls to me in a voice as rich as Italian espresso and as cool as December.
“Good morning,” I begin. “You phoned in a bit late today, so this conversation may be cut short. I can try to be as accommodating as possible, but I can’t make any promises that I’ll be able to push back my appointments.”
“You’re wearing white.”
“Yes, it’s a beautiful day in Seattle, which I’m sure you are well aware of.”
There’s a brief silence, as if he is pondering my comments on the weather, trying to figure out if I’m feeling around for clues to his identity.
“Can I ask you a question?”
“Of course, but as you know, anything related to my patients, my practice, or my personal life may be off-limits.”
He sighs and the sound rattles in my tinny laptop speakers. “Well, that makes pretty much everything interesting off limits. Wouldn’t you agree, Leah?”
“Oh, I don’t know. I think there are plenty of interesting topics outside the realm of those which are off-limits. For instance, do you have any plans for the holiday weekend?”
I want to smack myself in the forehead. Why am I asking what his plans are for the weekend? Now, I want to smack myself twice. I’m his therapist, I’m supposed to care what his plans are for the weekend. Especially, when he’s a sex addict and this weekend is Halloween. It’s the perfect opportunity to find women who are up for a naughty one-night stand.
He chuckles and I hope it’s not because my inner struggles are plainly obvious. “I had actually planned to attend a costume party. What are your plans?”
“Let’s keep the conversation about you,” I replied, uncrossing and crossing my legs again, a nervous habit I seem to have acquired recently. “Do you know what you will be dressing up as for this costume party?”
“I do,” he replies, stopping there as if to prompt me to continue the conversation.
“Do you want to tell me what you’ll be dressing up as?”
I have to change the subject, lest we get caught in one of these verbal tennis matches. “During our last session, you mentioned that your mother’s birthday would be coming up. I believe that was yesterday. Would you like to discuss that?”
Once again, my question is greeted with a long, heavy silence. But I wait him out, as is our routine.
“No, I would not like to discuss that.”
I want to ask about his marriage more than I want to ask about his mother. It is my belief that Mr. C is likely a widower. Losing a spouse, or anyone close to you, is a common catalyst for sex addiction.
“Would you like to discuss anything else related to your family or loved ones?”
He takes a long pause, which is followed by a soft rustling sound, as if he is adjusting his position on a leather chair. “I don’t have children.” He takes another long pause before he continues. “I can stay out as late as I want. Take off on spontaneous trips whenever I want. No woman has ever said no to me.”
I swallow hard and take a quiet deep breath. “Do you feel your life lacks challenge? Do you often feel as if things come too easy for you?”
Another long pause is followed by a deep puff of laughter. “Yesterday, my lawyer asked me to meet him at his office for a brief rundown on some of the more important points of the lease agreement for the restaurant on Mercer Island. When I arrived, my attorney was on a phone call. But I’m not the kind of man that people keep waiting. He immediately begged off the caller on the other end of the line, and after he hung up the phone I asked him who was he was speaking to. He smiled sheepishly and said, ‘That was the governor.’”
I smile as I make a note on my legal pad. “Is that type of reverence — that type of power intoxicating to you?”
“Is it intoxicating to you?”
His words feel like warm caramel wrapping themselves around me, sticking to me, making it difficult to speak.
“Mr. C, I know I don’t have to remind you that the purpose of therapy is for you to make discoveries and progress in your addiction. I know you like to turn my questions back on me, it’s a common conversational tactic, which is welcome in a social setting. But I will ask you again to please refrain from repeating my questions back at me. Is that okay?”
This silence lasts longer than usual, as he’s probably trying to make me question my request. “Of course, Dr. Grayson. Speaking of progress, I believe I had a bit of a setback last night.”
My heart races as I anticipate what is to come. “What kind of setback? Please be more specific.”
My mouth pools with saliva as I anticipate the words that will come out of Mr. C’s mouth soon. I probably shouldn’t have asked him to be more specific. I run the risk of seeming as if I’m encouraging the behavior he is about to describe to me. And I be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy this part of our sessions. As much as I hate to admit it, even to myself, I often have to touch myself after a session with Mr. C, to relieve the built-up sexual tension.
“I hadn’t had sex with anyone all day yesterday,” he begins, and the rustling sound of him adjusting his position makes me wonder if he’s possibly getting ready to touch himself. “I thought I would make it through the day by mentally reciting some of your advice. But thinking about your words somehow had the opposite effect, and I found myself sitting in my car trying to determine whether therapy has actually helped me make progress or whether I should fuck my pastry chef, who was walking by my car at that very moment. It doesn’t feel like progress if I’m losing something that makes me feel complete. In the case of overcoming my addiction, victory feels like losing.”
“I hear you, and I understand,” I begin. “But you must keep in mind the first rule of overcoming addiction: be mindful of the way you think. Don’t think in terms of what you will lose when you overcome your addiction. Think of what you’ll gain. In your case, you’ll gain a greater sense of control over your business and relationships. And your family life?”
He pauses again, probably deciding whether he should take the bait to talk about his family. “But I have control over my business and relationships. My problem is there’s nothing I can’t have with a snap of my fingers. If I want something, I make it mine. The only thing I can’t have — according to my therapist and society — is too much of something. Too much of something…good.” He pauses for a moment, but I remain quiet so he can continue. “I’m not married, so I can fuck anyone I want. But I can’t fuck them anywhere, anytime, and any way I want. I can buy anything I want, except that which is not for sale. My problem is I want it all: money, power, sex. I want it everywhere. I want it all the time. Even now.”
I clear my throat as I uncross and recross my ankles. “There you go, that’s progress. I didn’t know you were unmarried.”
“Does that surprise you, Leah?”
The way he speaks my name, with a soft growl on the first syllable, makes my pulse race.
“Well, no, but it is good information for me to have. It helps me…to assess the risks you’re taking in order to feed your addiction. So tell me, Mr. C,” I continue in a more formal tone. “What risk were you taking last night, your encounter with the pastry chef?”
He chuckles heartily and the sound sends a chill coursing down my spine. “You know me well, Leah. And the pastry chef is married…to my executive chef.”
My body stiffens at the ease with which he describes his wanton behavior. “That sounds like a potentially dangerous situation. How did you feel going into it? Was there a moment where you felt you could choose to stop?”
“Maybe… Maybe I had a twinge of guilt telling me to stop when she looked into my eyes and I saw the guilt oozing from her. Maybe I thought I should stop when I slid my tongue inside her mouth and tasted orange liqueur, an ingredient I recognized from a recipe her husband created. Maybe when she slid her hand inside my pants and stroked my throbbing cock. Or when she dropped to her knees, greedily pulling down my boxer briefs so she could taste me. Maybe when I yanked the hair tie out of her hair and discarded it, clutching a fistful of her dark hair as I pushed my way farther inside, seeking the back of her throat with the tip of my cock like a fisherman digging for clams. Or maybe when I came inside her throat and a long thread of cum stretched from her swollen, red lips as I pulled my softening dick out of her mouth. Maybe when I pulled down her panties and hoisted her back onto the trunk, and stared at that pink, glistening clit, maybe I thought: it wouldn’t be very gentlemanly of me to stop now. Or maybe when I slid my tongue inside her pussy and inhaled her musk, I thought: I shouldn’t give her a taste of something she’ll never have with her husband. Or it’s possible that when I sucked on her clit, and her body convulsed, I thought: maybe I shouldn’t make her scream too loudly.”
I try to disregard the throbbing ache between my legs, but my dry mouth cannot be ignored, Reaching for the glass of water on the table next to me, I take a sip before I respond. “Mr. C, I am sure you’re aware that we have only been discussing your addiction and our goals for your recovery for seven weeks, so I must reiterate that symptoms of an addiction often seem to get worse before they get better. This happens because the addict is made aware of the symptoms, whereas they were not previously conscious of them.
“You have made progress in various aspects of your addiction. Seeking help is one of the largest hurdles, which you have overcome. Most addicts live in a state of denial, and you no longer are in denial about your addiction, so that is tremendous progress. I know you still seem to be seeking sex on a daily basis, but I believe when you came to me seven weeks ago you told me you were having sex with three or four different partners per day. So, there is also progress on that front.
“Even if it seems you are choosing riskier partners, the frequency of these encounters has greatly improved, and I am heartened by the efforts you have made on your own behalf. I wonder… I wonder if coming out of the shadows and revealing your face, though your identity can remain anonymous, may serve as a second step to owning your behavior, and possibly de-escalating it even further by making you more accountable.”
Another long, heavy pause falls between us. “I’m afraid I’m not ready for that, Dr. Grayson. But I will consider it. I’ll give it some thought.”
I glance at my wristwatch. “That’s really all I can ask for. And I’m afraid we are out of time, but I hope you will give that some serious consideration. I wish you a very safe holiday weekend. Good-bye, Mr. C.”
“I look forward to seeing you again soon, Leah.”