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“He was likely at one or more functions that you and Carson attended. But I don’t think you were ever formally introduced. He knows who you are, what you look like, but I doubt you’d know him. He’s not a loud person or someone who gains attention. He’s quieter, stands back and observes. That’s what makes him a solid option for the business. He has a good eye for people. Uncanny instincts.”

“When will you tell Kylie?” she asked.

He grimaced again. “Soon. I spoke with him today to finalize things. And then I asked him for a few days before we went public and proceeded with bringing him on board. I wanted to tell Kylie—and you—the news myself. I didn’t want to just spring it on her at work.”

“You don’t think she’s going to take it well,” Joss murmured.

Dash shook his head. “Certainly not as well as you took it.”

Joss sighed. “Kylie is very loyal. She’s also, as I’ve said, very black-and-white. No middle ground. She and Carson were very close. Carson was all she had for so long. He was all she had when they both lived in hell with their father’s abuse. And yes, I agree. I don’t think she’ll take it well at first. After she’s had time to think about it and time for it to sink in, she’ll come around.”

“I hope you’re right,” Dash said. “Because it’s a done deal. No backing out now. And it’s what’s best for the company. In time she’ll realize that.”

This time Joss reached out to squeeze his hand. “Yes, she will. She’s very intelligent and Carson said she was a dream as an office manager. He used to say that she kept you both organized and well-oiled.”

Dash laughed. “Yes, she certainly does that. I hope you’re right. I’d hate to lose her over this. It was important to Carson that you both be provided for. He wouldn’t want Kylie working somewhere else.”

“Just don’t let her make any rash, impulsive decisions,” she said. “If she does something hasty like quit, don’t accept her resignation. Give her time to consider. I’m sure she’ll come around.”

Dash nodded. “Don’t worry. I have no desire to train a new office manager.”

“You know if you need help, all you ever have to do is ask. I don’t know much about your business but I’m a quick study.”

He kissed her again, letting his lips linger against her temple, inhaling the sweetness of her scent.

“I know, honey, but I like the idea of you not working. I like the idea of having all your time. I’m a selfish bastard. I don’t want to share you with anyone and certainly not a job.”

She smiled and then sighed, her expression becoming troubled as he brought the topic back to their relationship.

“You really think it’s a good idea for me to move in? You don’t think it’s too sudden? I’d hate to sabotage us before we ever get off the ground.”

“Let me worry about that,” he said gently. “I want you here, Joss. In my space. My life. My bed. There are certain aspects I won’t rush you into and I’ll be infinitely patient. But others? Like you moving in with me and you being with me all the time? Yeah, I’m going to press because it’s what I want and I always go after what I want. I don’t lose, Joss. And I’m damn sure not going to lose you.”

ELEVEN

JOSS finished packing her bag and then surveyed the three stuffed suitcases with a rueful smile. It looked as though she were moving out, and she supposed, in fact, she was. Dash wanted her with him. All the time. She still wasn’t sure exactly how she felt about that.

She’d enjoyed every moment of her marriage to Carson. She’d liked not being alone, and in the months following his death, she hadn’t wanted to be alone even for a moment. God, when she looked back at who and what she was, she wanted to cringe.

A trip to the grocery store was enough to put her in tears. Dash had come, had taken her to the grocery store so she could at least keep her kitchen stocked. She didn’t eat out. Hadn’t eaten out in a year after his funeral.

Only after a year had she begun to venture out, at Chessy and Kylie’s urging, for regular lunches with them. But dinner? She hadn’t been out to dinner since Carson died. It had been too painful. She hadn’t wanted to socialize. To get caught up in meaningless chitchat when all she could remember was the way she and Carson laughed and loved.

Carson loved eating out. Loved good food and fine dining. He’d taken her to some of the best restaurants in the country—and Europe. It was through him that she developed the taste for good wine. She didn’t know the difference between a red and a white much less the nuances of the different labels and brands.

Her wine cabinet here was still fully stocked, not a single bottle opened, except for Carson’s favorite. A wine she made sure she kept on hand. On the anniversary of his death, she’d open that bottle and drink with him. With his memory. She savored every sip, wishing with her every breath that he were there to share it with her.

She sighed. No more of that. She was turning a new page in her life. Maybe it was a mistake. Maybe she was making the worst decision—an emotional decision. But she was an emotionally driven person. She wore her feelings on her sleeve, and as Carson and Dash had both commented on, one only had to look into her eyes to know exactly her mood.

She didn’t have the artifice or the energy to project what she didn’t feel. She didn’t even know how to mask her emotions. It wasn’t something she was adept at. As a result, Carson had always known when she was unhappy or worried. And he’d moved heaven and earth to rectify whatever had gone wrong.

Dash would be like that. She knew. He was warm and kind. Gentle and understanding. He’d be patient with her and he wouldn’t fault her for any mistakes she made. But she didn’t want to make mistakes. She wanted to meet him as an equal, not some weak woman who needed him to fix her.

Only she could fix herself. Her shattered heart. That was on her and no one could do it for her. Perhaps this was just the first step in reclaiming her independence, which sounded stupid when she wanted a dominant man. When she didn’t want to make decisions or be forced to make difficult choices.

She didn’t want to think. She just wanted to . . . be. That was all. Happy. Whole again, or at least as whole as she could ever be when she was missing half of herself.

Maybe Dash could do that for her. Maybe he would give her that missing piece of her soul. And maybe she’d made a huge mistake. How would she know unless she tried?

Taking a deep breath, she lugged her suitcases into the living room and checked her watch. Dash had said he’d give her two hours before he returned to get her. It was agreed she’d take her car to his house and park it in case she needed to go somewhere when he wasn’t available. But he’d made it abundantly clear that for the most part, she would be with him. He would take care of her, of her every need, and he didn’t plan for them to spend much time apart.

She wasn’t sure how she felt about that either, but the lonely part of her heart swelled in relief that she wouldn’t be alone any longer. The rest? She’d take it as it came. One day at a time. It did her no good to focus on the future when she needed to live for today. The present. Because as she’d well learned, the future was not guaranteed. It was what you made it.

She had fifteen minutes before Dash would arrive. Plenty of time to call Chessy and Kylie and let them know of her decision. But she’d have to endure the conversation twice and that wasn’t what she wanted. She’d have to endure questions, disbelief, surprise and doubt.

It would be far easier just to e-mail them both and explain her plans.

Satisfied with that decision, she walked over to where her laptop lay on the coffee table and sat on the couch, opening it up to her e-mail program.

After pondering the best way to tell her friends what was going on she finally decided to just take the plunge. State it matter- of-factly. Not get into details. Just a basic explanation and how to reach her if they needed her. She fully expected her cell phone to start ringing the moment they got the e-mail so she typed a request that they not do so.

She informed them that she needed a few days with Dash to get her bearings. She promised to update them and that they’d get together for lunch at the end of the week. Although she didn’t look forward to that lunch because it would end up an inquisition.

She’d just hit Send on the e-mail when her doorbell rang. Her pulse accelerated and she rose, smoothing her palms down her worn jeans.

This was it. Dash was here to pick her up.

She glanced around her house, her and Carson’s house, sadness tugging at her heart. Maybe she should have moved right after he died. It likely wasn’t healthy to maintain the house as it had been when he was alive. Pictures of them and him still dotted the living room and other rooms of the house.

Joss and Carson happy. Smiling. In love.

She had finally cleaned out his closet and put away his clothing. But all his knickknacks? Trophies, plaques, pictures? They were still where they’d been hung or positioned on the shelves. No wonder Dash didn’t want to move in here. It was hard to compete with a dead man, and with all the reminders of him displayed around the house, how could Dash hope for Joss to focus on him?

As she opened the door, she muttered a silent vow that she was going to go hard at this. That she’d give Dash one hundred percent of herself. No holding back. No reservations. And she darn sure wasn’t going to be doing a mental comparison between Dash and Carson when it came to sex. It wasn’t fair to either man and it wasn’t fair to her.

Dash stood there, sunglasses covering his eyes, but when she looked up at him, he shoved them up over his head so he could look back at her. There was something in his gaze that made her quiver on the inside. Intense. Brooding almost. And there was marked triumph reflected there.

“You ready?” he asked in a low tone.

She smiled, determined not to show any hesitancy. She was fully committed. On board. She wouldn’t waffle now and she’d give Dash no reason to question her commitment.

“I have several suitcases,” she said hesitantly. “I wasn’t sure what to bring so I brought a little of everything. One of the suitcases has all my girly stuff. I was certain you wouldn’t have all that.”

He smiled back. “Not to worry, and honey, now that you’re mine, it’s my duty and honor to provide for you. So if there’s something you need later, I’ll make certain you get it.”

Her brow wrinkled. “But I don’t want you to buy me things, Dash. I can afford it.”

His eyes narrowed and glinted fire. She had the sudden impression she’d taken a wrong turn and she’d been determined to get off on the right foot with him.

“You are mine,” he said in a firm tone. “And I provide for what is mine. You’ve gifted me with your trust and your submission. My duty as the one who takes care of you is to provide for your every need and desire. So get used to it, Joss. I have every intention of spoiling you shamelessly. I won’t be pleased if you question every gift I bestow on you.”

“Oh,” she breathed. She hadn’t looked at it like that, but she still had a lot to learn about this kind of relationship.

So far it seemed she got far more out of the bargain than he did. Pampered? Spoiled? Cherished? What did he get in return? He’d said that she was enough. That her trust and her submission were enough. But surely there had to be more in it for him.

“Now, if we’ve got that out of the way, point me to your luggage and I’ll get it out to the car for you.”

She started to tell him that she could get it or at least help, but as if anticipating just such a statement, he silenced her with a quick, stern look. Her hand fluttering upward, she motioned toward the living room where her suitcases were.

It took him two trips to get all of her things in the trunk of his car, but he ushered her into the passenger seat and then slid in on the driver’s side. To her surprise, before he even started the engine, he leaned over and kissed her. Hard. Hungry. None of the tender reserve he’d shown before.

He devoured her mouth until her lips tingled and swelled. When he pulled away, his lids were heavy with desire and his eyes blazed fire.

“Hope to hell you know what you’re getting into,” he murmured as he cranked the ignition. “You said you didn’t want to wait, so it begins now, Joss. Right now. As soon as we step into my house, you belong to me. You’re mine to do with as I please.”

The words slid over her, warm and arousing. Her pulse beat hard at her pulse points, and her mouth went dry. Not even licking her lips alleviated the sudden dryness.

“I’m ready,” she said quietly. “I know what I’m getting into, or at least I have a good idea. And I want it, Dash. I want . . . you.”

There was savagery in his expression. She shivered uncontrollably. Arousal. But mostly anticipation. She was on the brink of something new and possibly wonderful. Maybe it wasn’t. But she’d never know unless she took that leap.

When they arrived at Dash’s house, Joss opened the door and started to get out, but Dash reached over the center console and took her hand, pulling her back.

Without a word, he got out and walked around to her door. He reached in for her hand and she slipped her palm over his until their fingers were twined.

She was moving into Dash Corbin’s house. She was going to have sex with Dash Corbin. God, Dash was going to own her. She started to shake as soon as she got her legs underneath her. Reaction was quickly setting in.

It had all seemed so surreal and now it was here. She was about to embark on a sexual journey and she was scared to death. What could Dash possibly want with her? He was experienced in this lifestyle. He had certain expectations. Expectations she couldn’t hope to meet.

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