“You didn’t intend to tell me at all,” he said dryly.
She grimaced and then slowly shook her head. “No. How could I? You were Carson’s best friend. I thought your loyalties would be with him. I imagined if you knew, you wouldn’t approve. And I couldn’t bear your disapproval, Dash. I couldn’t lose you. Not over something so . . .”
She trailed off, obviously unsure of the word to describe her wants and needs. He leaned forward, catching her gaze and holding it.
“First of all, I hope we’ve gotten past your fear of my disapproval. Secondly, your desires aren’t meaningless, Joss. They’re who you are. They make you who you are, and you can’t change that. Not for me. Not for anyone. You shouldn’t have to. I understand why you suppressed that part of yourself while you were married to Carson. I get that. But honey, he’s gone. You said it best. He’s not coming back, and there’s no reason for you to continue denying your wants and needs, who you are and what you are. Even if I weren’t who I am, I would never expect you to be anything but who and what you want to be. But as we share the same needs and desires, it’s my hope that we can forge ahead and discover a new world . . . together.”
She swallowed visibly and then leaned back, running a hand through her silky hair. “So what happens next, Dash? I was being honest when I said I’m without a map. Now that I’ve gotten to this point, admitted to myself and to you what I want and need, what do we do?”
He smiled and then because he could no longer stand the distance between them, he got up and slid onto the couch next to her. It was a compulsion to touch her now that he could. After so long of keeping neutrality between them, the door was finally open. They were embarking down a path there was no returning from.
Regardless of whether things worked out long term for them, there was never any going back to the easygoing friendship they’d maintained for so many years. Part of Dash embraced it wholeheartedly while another part of him feared irreparable damage between them. Of opening a rift that could never be mended.
It was a risk he was willing to take, even if it required the utmost caution. By nature he was cautious. All the risk he incurred was in his business life. His personal life had always been carefully ordered, strictly maintained. His dominance exerted itself, and he always kept his emotions and actions in check. Except when it came to Joss. She brought out another side to him, one never seen or experienced by others.
She made him want to throw caution to the wind and revel in the storm.
Never had he imagined that the part of him he feared she couldn’t accept was the one thing she wanted the most. He’d always assumed that he’d have to suppress his natural tendencies if he wanted any chance with her. Never would he have dreamed that she’d not only accept it—and him—but that she would overtly seek it out.
He didn’t know whether it made him the luckiest bastard alive, or perhaps the most stupid. Only time—and Joss—would tell.
If only he had a window into the future. Just a glimpse down the road to see if this thing between them flourished and thrived. Then he’d know if he was making the right choice for them both.
But no, there was no looking into the future. Nothing but here and now and his instincts and heart’s desire to guide him. He just prayed for the wisdom to differentiate between what he craved most and what she actually wanted and needed.
Desire and frustration could color a man’s perception for sure. They were two emotions he was well acquainted with since meeting Joss the first time. Wanting, needing her with his every breath. Knowing she would never be his. That she belonged to another man. His best friend.
Fate, the fickle bitch, was finally smiling on him. He just hoped to hell she didn’t get the last laugh.
He pulled Joss into his arms and reclined against the back of the couch, bearing her so she cuddled against his chest, molded into his side, her hair teasing his chin. And her scent. God, she smelled so damn good. He was torturing himself needlessly. She was here in his living room, in his arms, asking him what was next. All he had to do was take the leap. Close his eyes and jump.
“As I said, I don’t want to overwhelm you, honey,” he murmured, trying to collect his scattered thoughts. “So it’s important that we take things nice and slow. The last thing I want is to scare or hurt you. But I’m tired of waiting, Joss. I’ve wanted you so damn long and now that you’re here and the gloves are off, I’m ready to move forward.”
She slid her open hand over his chest, stopping right over his heart. He picked up her fingers and kissed the tips of each, enjoying the way she shivered in reaction.
So responsive. So expressive. God, what she’d be like in bed. His bed.
His dick roared to life and swelled against the confines of his jeans. What had been a comfortable position was now torture as his body screamed for release.
“You won’t hurt or frighten me,” she said quietly. “You don’t have to worry, Dash. I know you. I trust you.”
His breath caught because he sensed there was more to her statement than just those simple words. A request?
“What are you saying, honey? Be honest with me. What are you trying to tell me?”
She pushed upward, levering herself so she stared down into his eyes. Her dark hair, such a startling contrast to her sapphire-colored eyes, tumbled downward, spilling onto his chest until he ached to bury his fingers in it and kiss her until neither of them could breathe.
She licked her lips and then nibbled delicately at her bottom lip, a sign of her nervousness. But her eyes were earnest as she stared down at him.
“I know you want to take things slow. I know you don’t want to rush or make a mistake. But I don’t want to wait. I want to feel, Dash. I want to live again. I want to feel like a woman again. I’ve been so alone and . . . cold,” she whispered. “So very cold for so very long. I want to remember how passion feels. How it feels when a man makes love to me, when he touches me. And I don’t want you to ask. Does that sound stupid? I want you to take . . . control. I just want you to do whatever it is you want to do. I want you to make the decisions for both of us.”
He stopped breathing. His heart was pounding so hard that he was surprised it wasn’t making an audible sound. His blood pumped through his veins with such force that he felt lightheaded.
She was handing him everything he’d ever dreamed of on a silver platter. Her trust. Her submission. Her. Just her.
He cupped her cheek, caressing the baby-soft skin with his thumb. “Be very sure of what you’re asking, Joss. Very sure. Because I want it. I want it all. And I’ll take it. You have to be damn sure you’re prepared for the reality, though.”
She shivered, chill bumps racing across her arms and shoulders.
“I’m sure,” she whispered.
JOSS’S heart was racing, her pulse thundering in her veins as she took in Dash’s dead serious expression. There was something incredibly sexy about the way he looked at her right now. So intense. So determined. But it was the edge in his expression, the tightness of his jaw and features, that gave her a giddy thrill.
Like she’d just unleashed the lion. A very hungry lion. And she was about to be devoured whole.
She shivered uncontrollably at the image of him biting her, sinking those perfectly straight white teeth into her tender flesh. Of him marking her, possessing her, branding her.
All the things she’d fantasized about with a dominant male. Only she’d never imagined Dash in the role of the man dominating her, and now? It was all she could think of. Dream of. Fantasize about.
He’d made her see him for the virile, mouthwateringly gorgeous, alpha male he was. He’d forced her to see beyond the veil of friendship and she liked what she saw. Anticipated what she saw and now knew to be true.
Now that she’d thrown down the gauntlet, would he react to the challenge? Would he take her at her word or would he be cautious and take it slow?
It was the last thing she wanted. She didn’t want caution or reserve. She wanted it all. Everything he had to give her and more. She could see the hunger in his eyes, could see the lust and desire as if it were written in ink on his forehead. He made her feel alive for the first time in three long years. He made her feel feminine and desirable. Beautiful. He made her feel beautiful.
And she’d been honest. She didn’t want to think. Didn’t want to have to make decisions. Maybe that made her a coward, but she wanted to relinquish absolute control. She wanted to . . . surrender.
Her name came out a harsh whisper, rushing out in a forceful exhalation of his breath. His eyes burned, a quick and sudden fire that turned her insides to water.
“Know what you’re saying, honey. Understand what you’re asking. Because I’ll only ask this once. If you agree, if this is what you want, then there’s no going back. You’ll be mine and only mine.”
She nodded, her throat too tight to give voice to her assent.
“The words, honey. Give me the words so there’s no misunderstanding.”
“Yes,” she croaked. “God, Dash, what do I have to do? Beat you over the head with it? Don’t make me beg. I want this. I want you.”
Regret shimmered in his rich brown eyes, and he put a finger to her mouth. She wanted to lick it, to see if he tasted as good as he looked, as she imagined.
“You’ll never have to beg. Not for me you won’t. I’ll give you whatever you want. Unconditionally and without reserve. And I’ll never question you again. But there are a few things we need to get out of the way—important things—before we get swept away in everything else.”
“All right,” she quietly agreed.
His voice had dropped, the tone serious, his gaze brooding and yet . . . hopeful. Almost as if he was afraid she would change her mind and cut and run. Maybe she couldn’t blame him. If it was true that he’d waited all this time, had wanted her all this time, he likely felt like the rug could be pulled out from underneath him at any moment. Or perhaps he thought this was all a dream, one he’d wake from and it would all be gone.
It was a feeling she was well acquainted with. Ever since she’d seen him in The House, her world had been irrevocably altered. It would never be the same no matter what happened between them.
She feared that. Her biggest fear was that this wouldn’t work out, that it would end badly and she would have lost not only Carson, but also a man she considered her friend. Perhaps not her best friend. Her friendship with Chessy and Kylie was steadfast, but it was a different kind of friendship than the one she had—or rather used to have—with Dash.
When she’d decided to let him go on the same day she relinquished her hold on Carson’s memory, she hadn’t been happy. Far from it. She’d felt as though she were losing someone important to her all over again. Only now she stood to gain far more.
Or she could lose it all.
Maybe she was crazy for even entertaining this. She and Dash may well be better off shutting the door that had been opened. But could they ever return to a normal friendship now?
No. Not after all of this. Not after he’d laid it all on the line. Even if she ended the relationship before it ever began, there was no going back to the way it was. Ever.
Her only option was to pursue this. Lay it out just as he’d laid it out so bluntly. And hope like hell that she didn’t lose more than she gained.
“You’ve explained what it is you want and need,” Dash said, his voice now controlled as he stared intently at her. “But we haven’t discussed my needs. My expectations. Nor have we discussed your boundaries and what happens if I ever cross them.”
Her brow furrowed. They were fast venturing into unknown territory. Of course she had no idea of Dash’s expectations. How could she when she’d never dreamed he was the kind of man she craved? A dominant, alpha male unafraid to take what he wanted. Not ask. Take.
She didn’t want a man who asked permission. She didn’t want a man who treated her like a fragile piece of glass. Carson cherished her. No doubt about it. And she loved him for it. Loved him for always treating her so precious. But now? She wanted a man not afraid to cross the line. Because she had no idea what the boundaries were that Dash spoke of. Hers. And she wouldn’t until he crossed them.
She wanted to see just how far she could be pushed. She was seized by a decadent thrill at the thought of exploring the darker edges of desire. Sex. Power. Dominance. She wanted it all. Wanted to revel in a strong man’s authority and control. Oh how she craved it with every fiber of her being.
“We’ll start with yours,” Dash said, closely examining her as if he could read her thoughts.
Maybe he could. He and Carson had both mercilessly teased her about being an open book. They’d told her she’d never make it as a business partner, not that she had any desire to join their company. She didn’t know how Kylie stood working for the two intensely driven men! They’d both told her on more than one occasion that one only had to look at her to have a direct window to her soul.
It could be construed as criticism, but both men had made their statements with great affection. As though it was a compliment instead of a fault.
“But I don’t know my boundaries,” she said in frustration. “How could I? Dash, you know this is new for me. That my only experience comes from my fantasies.”
“I know, honey, but we have to establish what you would do if I do cross a boundary of yours. I understand you won’t know until it happens. What I want is to implement safeguards for that eventuality. Because I will push you, Joss. I know you think I’m being gentle with you and maybe I am. For now. But once you’re under my control, I’ll push your limits.”
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