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Gradually she relaxed, the tension that coiled in her muscles loosening as they continued their intimate dinner in silence.

What would happen after? He’d said they’d go to bed. He’d hinted that they would have sex. But her mind was overwhelmed with the possibilities. Would he tie her up this first night? Would he exert his dominance immediately, as she’d asked him to, or would he go slower? Ease her into his world?

She couldn’t decide which option held more appeal. She wanted to experience the full measure of his dominance but she didn’t want to be overwhelmed from the very start. She wanted this to work.

Trust.

He’d asked for her trust. Had told her to put her faith in him. That he’d come to know her boundaries, her needs and her desires better than herself. If this was going to work, she had to do just that. Put herself into his care. Fully in his care. And trust that he’d never take things too far.

He held a glass of wine to her mouth, gently tipping it so she could take a small sip. Emotion knotted her throat when the flavor hit her tongue, making it hard to swallow. She held it in her mouth a long moment before she composed herself enough to swallow without choking on it.

It was her favorite. How had he known? It was a wine Carson bought for every birthday and anniversary. And though she’d drank Carson’s favorite every year on the anniversary of his death, she hadn’t tasted her favorite wine since the last time she drank it with Carson.

“Good?” Dash murmured.

“Yes,” she said huskily. “My favorite. But then you knew, didn’t you?”

He smiled. “Of course. There isn’t much I don’t know when it comes to what pleases you. I told you I was prepared to spoil you shamelessly. This is only the beginning.”

A drop of wine slipped from the corner of her mouth and when she would have lifted her hand to wipe it away, he stopped her and then leaned forward.

“Let me,” he murmured.

Instead of wiping it with his fingers, he swept in and lapped at the corner of her mouth with his tongue.

A burst of heat singed her skin. He didn’t just lick it away quickly. He tongued the sensitive area and then nibbled at her lips before swiping one last time with his tongue.

“Delicious,” he said, and she knew he wasn’t talking about the wine.

Intimacy surrounded them, cloaking them and enclosing them in a tight circle of desire and heat. Nothing else existed. The rest of the room faded away. There was just him and her and the delicious meal he’d prepared and served her in such an intimate fashion.

She’d imagined many things when she’d considered the pathway she was taking. But nothing had prepared her for the reality. Would it have been this way with another man? She knew it wouldn’t. No one but Dash could ever provide her with this experience. The depth of this experience.

“Do you have any idea how beautiful you look?” Dash said in a voice edged with desire and arousal. “Do you have any idea how long I’ve dreamed of this? Of you at my feet, eating by my hand, na**d. So damn beautiful that it’s a physical ache inside me.”

She cocked her head to the side, curious as to the effect. She could see the intense satisfaction in his eyes and it made her wonder why. What was it about a woman at his feet that gave him such pleasure?

“Can I ask you something, Dash?”

“Of course.”

He sat back so he could see her fully. She was careful to maintain her position because she wanted him looking at her just as he was right now. With so much approval and . . . contentment.

“What is it about a submissive woman that appeals to you so much? I’ve often wondered about Chessy and Tate. It’s obvious he loves her so much. He practically worships her. He’s so . . . possessive of her. It’s why I can’t wrap my head around the fact that he shares her with other men. But I’m straying from the point,” she added with a light laugh. “I want to know why it appeals to you so much.” She swept her hand down her body, indicating her position. “You like this—me—in a submissive position.”

He touched her hair, stroking his hand down the long tresses, pulling them briefly away from her br**sts so he could see her fully. There was definite male satisfaction in his gaze. That approval removed her hesitance. Gave her confidence where before she’d been so vulnerable.

“How to explain how I feel?” he mused. “I don’t know that there’s a cut-and-dried explanation for why it pleases me. It’s not a power trip. In some cases, yes, it’s about power. But for me, it brings me great pleasure, and yes, satisfaction. It’s a heady sensation for a woman to put her absolute faith and trust in me. That she trusts me to provide for her. That she gives up control because she trusts that I’ll give her what she needs. That I’ll take care of her. That I’ll absolutely protect her with my life.”

“You like to be needed then.”

He paused a moment, weighing her words. “I suppose that’s one way to put it. But it goes much deeper. My instinct is to provide. To protect. To absolutely cherish, spoil and pamper my woman. In this case, you. But it’s a drive strictly personal to you. With other women, yes, I’ve enjoyed all those things. It brings me pleasure to be able to give those things to another woman. But with you it’s very different. I don’t just want your trust and submission. I need them. I need to do these things for you, Joss. Never think even for a moment that another woman is interchangeable with you. That it would be this way with another woman. Because that simply isn’t true.”

“I hate that you’ve suffered so long,” she said painfully. “I never knew, Dash. I don’t know what I would have done if I had known. You mean a lot to me. Even when Carson was alive, you meant a lot. It would have hurt me to know you were hurting. I couldn’t have stood it.”

He smiled tenderly at her, his eyes glowing with warmth and affection.

“It’s why I was determined that you not know, honey. You have such a huge, soft heart. You would have been in an untenable position. You loved Carson and were absolutely faithful. He knew it and I knew it. It’s why he never worried that I had feelings for you. One, he knew that I would never act on them. You both meant too much to me for me to ever drive a wedge between us. But he also had absolute faith in you. He knew you would never be unfaithful to him. That you’d never even entertain the idea. I knew that as well. It wouldn’t have been fair for me to have revealed what I felt for you. It would have only hurt you and that’s the last thing I ever wanted. Carson made you happy. You were happy and you damn sure made him happy. What else could I ask for? It seemed selfish to insert myself because the end result would have only been pain for us all. You. Me. Carson. I loved you both. And you would have never strayed, so what was the point? I wouldn’t have wanted you at Carson’s expense. It would have devastated him and I would have lost a friend. You would have lost friends, your life, everything. All for me. That wasn’t what I wanted for you. It was never what I wanted for you. I only want you to be happy. And so I waited. I waited for you to be ready. But there was never a question of me stepping in. Once Carson died, I knew without a doubt that I would be the only man in your life.”

“That’s a heavy answer for such a simple question,” she said in amusement. “Certainly gives me a lot to think about.”

He cupped her chin and rubbed tenderly over her skin, his thumb feathering over her lip.

“I don’t want to weigh you down or burden you unnecessarily. I don’t want you to think at all. I only want you to feel. I want you to feel what I feel. I want you to burn with the same need that I burn with—that I ache with. And then I’ll ease it, Joss. I don’t want you hurting. Ever. I’ll give you everything you could possibly ever need.”

“I need . . . you,” she whispered, finally giving voice to her most pressing need.

The evening—entire day—had been an exercise in frustration. She was restless and edgy, wondering, constantly battling with herself over whether she was making the right decision.

How could she know until he made love to her?

He hauled her up and into his lap before she could even blink. His hand pressed possessively against her thigh as he anchored her to his body. Her legs were draped over his lap toward the end of the couch and she was nestled into his body just as though she’d been made for him. They fit perfectly. His hard, muscled body was the perfect complement to her much softer one.

His hand moved up her body to cup one breast. For a moment he simply held it, feeling the weight of it in his palm. Then he brushed his thumb over the straining peak and she sucked in her breath.

It was a bolt of electricity, shocking in its intensity. If she had any doubts about their chemistry and whether they were compatible in bed, those doubts fled in an instant.

She ached for him. Her body was aware, painfully so. Every nerve ending was on alert. She was wet already and he hadn’t even ventured close to her most intimate flesh.

“Do you want me, Joss? Right now? Are you ready for me?”

“Yes,” she whispered. “Tell me what to do, Dash. I don’t want to mess up. I want our first time to be . . . perfect.”

He smiled, kissing her nose and then her closed eyes and then her mouth, pulling gently at her bottom lip with his teeth.

“I guarantee that it will be perfect for me. You in my bed? There’s no way to mess that up. But I’ll do everything in my power to make it perfect for you, honey.”

She framed his face in her hands, forcing his gaze to hers. “Don’t hold back with me, Dash. Don’t treat me like I’m breakable. I want . . . everything. I don’t want you to hesitate or fear overwhelming me. I want to be overwhelmed. I want you.”

He emitted a low growl, one that sent a cascade of chill bumps over her skin. Her ni**les puckered into rock-hard points, aching for his touch. His mouth.

Then he simply stood, carrying her with him. She gasped at his strength, how effortlessly he picked her up.

His gaze was fierce, his eyes burning with fire as he stared down at her.

“Your safe word, honey. What is it?”

She blinked, her mind going blank at his demand.

“Think of one and hurry,” he urged. “And use it if I go too far. But be sure, Joss. Don’t use it unless you are absolutely at your breaking point. Trust me to take you there. I won’t be easy, but the minute you say your safe word, it ends.”

She frantically searched her mind, frustrated by how frighteningly blank it was. Damn it! How hard could a safe word be to think of? No? Stop? Those wouldn’t do. They were words she might cry out in the heat of the moment and not mean them. It had to be unmistakable. Something that would stop him in his tracks, though she couldn’t imagine ever wanting him to stop.

“Ghost,” she finally croaked out.

If it surprised him, he didn’t show it. No emotion flickered in his eyes. Would he object to her using a mention of her husband when they were in bed making love together?

“Ghost it is,” he said in a strained voice. “You say that word and I stop no matter how far into it we are. Trust me, Joss. I’ll stop no matter how hard it may be. I’ll protect you. I swear it.”

She reached up to caress the hard line of his jaw. “I trust you, Dash.”

He kissed her hard, breathless, every bit of his pent-up desire unleashed in that single moment. It was like a violent thunderstorm, one that excited her. There was no fear. No hesitation. She wanted this. Wanted it so much she ached, she hurt.

“I hurt, Dash,” she whispered, voicing the fleeting thought in her mind. “Make it stop. Make love to me. Make it all stop.”

His gaze grew tender once more, his breaths ragged and filled with the same edgy pain she herself was experiencing. He was as desperate for this as she was.

“I’ll make you feel good, honey. I’ll make it good for both of us.”

THIRTEEN

DASH carried Joss up the stairs, impatience simmering in his veins. He kept telling himself to take things slow. No matter what Joss said—demanded—no matter how much she said she wanted him not to hold back, he tempered his urges, not wanting to f**k this up. Not when he finally held all he desired in his arms.

He gently deposited her onto the bed and stood back, staring down at her gorgeous body. Her eyes were drugged and heavy with desire. Yearning. Her hair was splayed out over his pillow and her body. God, she was beautiful. She’d said she hurt, that she ached, but God, so did he.

His dick was about to come out of his pants. He wouldn’t be surprised if his erection tore right through his jeans.

He had to be patient because if he wasn’t careful, the minute he touched her, the moment he finally got inside her, he’d come violently and it would all be over within thirty seconds.

He wanted this to be f**king perfect. He wanted to tease and torment Joss until she was desperate for release. Though she’d said she wanted him not to hold back, she wanted his dominance, wanted him to exert his control and authority over her from the start, he knew he couldn’t do it. Not yet.

This first time had to be perfect. He wanted to lavish his love on her. He wanted to make love to her. There would be plenty of time for sweaty, mindless f**king, but no, even when he allowed himself to lose his tightly leashed control, it wouldn’t be f**king. It would never be something so crude with Joss.

When they made love, no matter the circumstances, whether she was bound and helpless or if he flogged her pretty ass until it was rosy with his marks, it would be something beautiful. Just as beautiful as she was.

“I don’t even know where to start,” he breathed.

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