"How are you?" Justin asks after he's removed the ball gag from her mouth and untied her restraints.
"Sore," she whispers, "In the good way."
"Elle," he says, lifting her into his arms, "I need to know what will happen to us if you lose your job." His next appointment with Mercedes is scheduled for the next day, and the thought of her holding Eleanor's job over his head has been weighing on him.
"What does my job have to do with us?" Eleanor asks.
"Your mother already tried to take you from me," Justin answers, "And you said you won't take my money..."
"It's just a job," Eleanor answers, "If I lose it, I'll find another. But you? I don't think I'd ever find anyone like you again if I spent my whole life searching."
"I promise you, Justin, nothing will ever take you from me. I won't let it."
"Well," Mercedes says ominously when Justin meets her for their appointment, "I think it's time for us to have another talk."
"We have nothing to discuss," Justin answers firmly.
"Oh, I think we do," Mercedes answers with a wicked smile, "Your girlfriend's job, for instance."
"You're bluffing," Justin says, "I know her, she's worth ten times what you're paying. You won't fire her."
"I always get what I want, Justin," Mercedes says, "And I want you. You'll do as I ask, or your Eleanor is out on the street. Simple."
Anger rises like a wave in him, his muscles clench, preparing to strike. But he holds himself in check, forces his arms to stay down at his side. He's fought against himself for years to gain this level of self mastery, and this one woman is testing him to his limits. "We're done here," he says, looking her hard in the eye, "I'm dropping you. For your own safety. Because if you threaten her again, I will hurt you."
Justin walks out while he still has control of himself. If she says one more word, he's in serious danger of losing it.
"This isn't over," Mercedes says as he gets to the door. Justin wills himself to open it and leave without turning back or responding.
Eleanor comes home from work to find Justin waiting for her in her apartment.
"What's wrong, Justin?" she asks, "You're shaking."
"I almost lost control, Elle," Justin says, his voice a soft growl, "I haven't been that close to hitting someone like that in years."
"What happened?" she asks, kneeling in front of him.
Mercedes isn't his client anymore, he thinks, and Eleanor has to know the truth. "Your boss," he answers, struggling to keep his voice level, to stop the trembling that overcame him the moment he entered Eleanor's room, "She's been one of my clients for years. Before I met you. And she's always wanted more, you understand? And once she she found out about us..."
"She tried to use my job as leverage to get you to do what she wants?" Eleanor finishes for him.
Justin nods, "I'm sorry, Elle. I walked out on her today. I almost hit her; I was barely able to stop myself. She's going to fire you for that."
Eleanor climbs up onto his lap; his arms stop shaking as he wraps them around her. She's felt this man's strength many times over, and has made it part of herself. And now he needs it back. "It's all right, tiger," she soothes him, running her fingers across his powerful chest, "She pushed you to the edge, but you didn't fall. I'm proud of you."
"What are you going to do?"
"She threatened you," Eleanor says, "The bitch pays for that."