Cardinal’s Rule

By: Tymber Dalton


Chapter One


Redbird.

Tilly Cardinal didn’t bother trying to conceal her smile as she pushed her grocery cart down the aisle and checked items off her list. Tonight was special. Not quite their anniversary, but Cristo had been gone four weeks on business. Celebrating his return would be fun.

Damn she’d missed him. It felt weird rattling around their apartment alone. They’d started looking at houses before he left town for this job. She couldn’t wait to show him the ones she’d toured in his absence. He’d even hinted again a few weeks ago about getting married, if she wanted to.

For the first time in her life, she realized the idea of getting married didn’t fill her with terror.

She’d never trusted anyone in her life the way she trusted Cristo.

After buying all his favorite things, she loaded the groceries in the car and headed home. She had four hours to prepare before his return. During the drive she let her mind drift. She never thought she’d be able to love until she met Cristo, much less trust. Not after what she’d been through.

Friend, soul mate, lover, partner.

Master.

At a red light, her hand automatically went to the fluorite pendant on her necklace, the one he’d given her when she first pledged herself to him.

Her day collar.

Their silent signal between them that she belonged only to him, heart, soul, and body.

Thank god they lived on the apartment complex’s first floor and not the second. It only took her ten minutes to schlep the groceries inside. As she put everything away she fought an uneasy feeling in All Rights Reserved. Unauthorized duplication or distribution, for free or for sale, is prohibited.

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Cardinal’s Rule – Tymber Dalton Page 7

her gut. Turning, she studied the apartment. Everything looked okay.

Didn’t it?

The TV, stereo, DVDs, her laptop—everything where they belonged. No robbery.

So why did it feel like someone had been there?

Suppressing a shiver, she rubbed her hands along her arms to smooth her goosebumps. She

hated being alone, but Cris’ job as a computer programmer for a government contractor sometimes required him to travel for long periods of time. Unfortunately on this trip he wasn’t able to stay in touch with her due to security requirements. That bummed her out, but it didn’t worry her because it wasn’t uncommon. His paycheck made it worth the occasional radio silence.

She walked into the bedroom. Now that she knew the menu for their meal, what to wear became

the crucial question. Should she be his good little baby girl welcoming Daddy home? Naughty slut ready for a long, hard fucking? Or full-on slave girl outfit?

What would he be in the mood for? He hadn’t left her specific instructions this time. Hadn’t called, texted, or emailed his wishes. Again, not worrisome, but usually he gave her at least some hint in the days before his return.

Looking around, she felt that unease again. Something wrong, something out of place.

Then she spotted the large manila envelope on the dresser. With her name written on it.

In Cris’ handwriting.

It had not been there before she left for work that morning, she’d swear it.

When she picked it up she felt the weight, stuffed so full it bulged against the sealed flap. She sat on the bed and carefully opened it.

She first found the letter on top, in his writing.

My dearest little Redbird…

Her hands trembled. She couldn’t read anymore. In her lap, the rest of the envelope’s contents spilled out. The keys and title to his Lexus, signed over to her. He’d hired a car to drive him up to Tampa to the airport and had left the Lexus parked outside in his usual spot next to her little Civic. A safety deposit box key. Notarized paperwork giving her permission to take over various things in his name, like the utilities and bank accounts.

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The apartment lease, signed over to her, along with a receipt dated that morning showing the rent had been paid for another year.

Everything dated that morning.

She tried to read again.

My dearest little Redbird,

This is the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do, and I don’t want to do it…

Tilly broke down sobbing as she read the letter. Had to read it several times before she fully comprehended the finality of it.

When she called her best friend Loren, all she could do was sob inconsolably over the phone.

Loren and her husband Ross used their spare key to let themselves in when they arrived in a panic twenty minutes later. They found Tilly still sobbing and curled in a fetal position on the bed.

Loren held her friend and looked at her husband. His face darkened, his jaw tightening as he stepped away from the bed and read the letter he’d found where Tilly dropped it on the floor.

My dearest little Redbird,

This is the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do, and I don’t want to do it. I have responsibilities that pre-date my life with you. I wish I could turn my back on them, but I can’t. There are things about myself I have never confided to you, never thought you would ever need to know. It’s not criminal, and you’re at no risk. Not that this will in any way make up for what you will go through, I’m giving you everything. All I’ve taken are my clothes. My last paycheck will be directly deposited into our joint account, as always, including the back vacation pay they owe me. As you can see, I’ve paid the apartment lease for another year. Sell one of the cars and bank the money. Have Ross help you with that so you get the best deal possible. With what’s in the bank now, and with your job, you’ll be able to get by until you finish school next semester and start working full-time. It should also give you a little bit of a cushion.

Please know I love you heart and soul, and I always will. Always and forever. I know you will probably hate me, and I accept that and take full responsibility. I wish I didn’t have to do this. Please live your life with honor and truth to yourself. Saying that, I must release you. May you find the peace All Rights Reserved. Unauthorized duplication or distribution, for free or for sale, is prohibited.

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and joy and happiness that I am not able to give you, even though I wish I could.

C.



* * * *

Five hours later, Ross carried Tilly into Sarasota Community Hospital’s ER while Loren held

her purse and insurance cards. Tilly had gone practically catatonic and wouldn’t respond to them. They knew enough of her background and what she’d been through in the past to worry about her state of mind, not to mention her safety.

She spent two days medicated before she would talk to a psychiatrist on staff. He ruled she

could safely be released as long as she was closely supervised for the next few days while the emotional shock wore off. Loren never left her side.

Tilly spent the next several days in bed in Ross and Loren’s house, not speaking, only eating, drinking, and getting up to use the bathroom when Loren made her. Her beautiful long, dark reddish hair hung in limp strands.

Then Sunday morning, they awoke to find Tilly already in the kitchen, making coffee and

preparing to fix them breakfast. Loren and Ross exchanged a nervous glance before walking up to the counter.

“Honey, are you okay?” Loren asked.

Tilly nodded and smiled. “I’m fine.” She’d showered and pulled her damp hair back into a low ponytail.

Ross wasn’t convinced. “Do you want to talk about it, sweetheart?”

“Talk about what?” Tilly briskly mixed pancake batter with a hand whisk. “I’m fine. I need to see if I still have a job. If I don’t, I need to get a new one. I’ve got a lot of things to do. I need to get with my teachers and get caught up on my classes, too.” She checked the electric skillet, found it hot enough, and poured out batter. “Oh, can I get a ride back to my place after breakfast?”

Loren walked around the counter. “Sweetie, I’m not sure it’s a good idea for you to go home

alone yet.”

Tilly faltered, then regained her smile. She pointed to Loren’s leather collar. “I meant to tell you, I think that one’s pretty. I like it.”

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