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“What if I have to get up to go to the bathroom?” she blurted.

He smiled. “Then you wake me so I can free you. But under no circumstances, unless it involves your safety, are you to touch the restraints I put in place.”

Knowing this was the first true test of her submission, she nodded silently. His eyes flared with approval and he leaned in to kiss her again.

“Get some sleep, honey. I’ll make us breakfast in the morning when you wake.”

She settled against his chest, the way their wrists were tied forcing her to face him. Unsure of what she was supposed to do with her hand or even if she could move it, she let him take her hand with his and he laid them both between them.

He’d told her to sleep, but even as sated and content as she was, sleep eluded her. She had a sleepy, lethargic heaviness to her limbs, the kind that she hadn’t felt since her husband made love to her.

She’d sworn not to bring Carson into her relationship with Dash. It wasn’t fair and it certainly wasn’t fair to compare the two men. Not fair to Dash or Carson.

Besides, one wasn’t better than the other. They were just . . . different. She found the differences fascinating. Dash was only the second man she’d ever made love with, and yet she’d gotten lucky with both experiences. Two virile, heart-stoppingly gorgeous men. She’d been loved by one, and the other? She wasn’t sure if Dash was in love with her. He was certainly infatuated. And he wanted her. He’d been very blunt about that.

Did she want him to love her?

That was the million-dollar question. Her knee-jerk response was no. She didn’t want him to love her because she didn’t want to love him. It sounded awful, but all she wanted was relief from the overwhelming loneliness she’d endured ever since Carson’s death. And who was to say that she wasn’t simply a conquest for Dash? Forbidden fruit?

It wasn’t out of the realm of possibility that he’d seen her as a challenge. No, he hadn’t acted on his attraction. He’d been honorable. He hadn’t even pressed her right after Carson’s death. He’d waited. But in that time, his fixation could have grown into something that was nothing more than a need to win.

Dash wasn’t someone used to not getting his way. He was ruthless in business. Carson had remarked on it many times. He’d admitted that if it weren’t for Dash, their business wouldn’t be what it was now. Carson fully recognized that he didn’t have the heart to be cutthroat. But Dash?

She shivered, realizing that it had been there all along. His dominance. His personality. She just hadn’t seen it until now. She’d never really studied him. She’d first seen him as someone who didn’t approve of her and later as a friend. But never a dominant, to-die-for alpha male. And never would she have dreamed that she’d be lying in his arms, tied to him after making love.

His free arm was crooked above his head and he lazily ran his fingers through the strands of her hair as he stared down into her eyes. He hadn’t turned off the lamp and she could see every part of his expression.

She licked her lips, her thoughts wandering to their earlier conversation about Jensen Tucker. She knew she didn’t have the right to ask for what she wanted. Dash owed her nothing when it came to the business he’d owned with Carson.

Yes, Carson had left her a percentage of the business, but she had no say in the running. She was given a portion of the profits, but it had been clear that she was to have no authority. Some women may have been insulted by that dictate, but Joss had no desire—or the knowledge necessary—to assist in the running of her husband’s business.

It was in good hands. Dash was the best. She had absolute confidence in his ability to keep them all solvent.

“Can I ask you for something?” she asked quietly.

His brows drew together as if he picked up on her uncertainty.

“You can ask me anything, honey.”

“I’d like to meet Jensen. I’m not saying I’m objecting to him taking Carson’s place or becoming your new partner. But I’d like to meet him. I’ll understand if you say no. I don’t even have a solid reason for wanting to meet him before he takes over.”

“Of course you can meet him,” Dash said gently. “And you don’t have to justify your reasons to me. I’ll invite him over for drinks, or if you prefer a more public place, we can arrange to have drinks out.”

“Whatever you prefer is fine.” And then the realization struck that he was giving her the option of not making it public by offering her the chance to meet Jensen outside of Dash’s home. Because if they met here, it would be obvious that she and Dash were involved.

Did she care? She didn’t even know Jensen. But apparently she would come to know him and see him on a semi-regular basis now that he was partnering with Dash.

It would become public knowledge soon enough. No reason to hide her relationship with Dash. She had nothing to be ashamed of and she’d die before ever making Dash feel as though she were ashamed of him.

“We can invite him here,” she said, thinking he’d be pleased with the use of “we” instead of saying he could invite Jensen.

And in fact, he did looked pleased with her insinuation, that she’d called his home her own.

“Then I’ll call him in the morning and ask him over for drinks tomorrow evening. Will it bother you, Joss? Because I can’t pretend that I’m just setting up a tête-à-tête between two acquaintances. I can’t pretend that you aren’t mine and that you mean nothing more to me than being my best friend’s widow. If that bothers you, I need to know now because I have no intention of hiding you—us—from anyone.”

“I’m okay with it,” she said quietly. “The important people already know. I don’t care about anyone else. I won’t live my life according to what others think and say.”

He kissed her. “That means a lot to me, honey. Though, I’d understand if you needed time to adjust. I know we agreed to jump into things. It’s what you wanted and hell, it’s certainly what I want. I don’t want to wait any longer. But I’d absolutely understand if you want to keep our relationship quiet for a time. At least until you’re more settled and sure of yourself.”

She sucked in her breath. Did he think she wasn’t sure? Had she given him reason to doubt her sincerity? Or was he simply afraid that it was too good to be true?

It was hard for her to believe that she was the source of someone’s hopes and dreams. Carson had been happy with her. He’d never let a day pass that he hadn’t let her know just what she meant to him. She’d considered herself the luckiest woman alive.

Carson was . . . larger than life. Handsome. Wealthy. Extremely loving and generous. Always affectionate. He wasn’t a man who worried about what others thought. If they were together in public, he touched her frequently. Just little shows of affection. He held her hand, put an arm around her or he kissed her, giving others no doubt of his feelings for her.

Any woman would have wanted someone like Carson, and he’d wanted her. Just her. She wasn’t in his league. Didn’t come from his world, though he’d argue that his current circumstances weren’t ones he was born into. His upbringing hadn’t been good. He’d fought for every dollar he earned, the lifestyle he’d claimed. For himself and for Kylie.

His devotion to his family, to both Joss and Kylie, forever endeared Carson to Joss. He was one of a kind. How could she hope to ever find that kind of love and devotion again?

Except here was Dash. All of the things Carson was and yet . . . more. He was too perfect for her. The manifestation of every single fantasy she’d ever entertained. She hadn’t considered that there was a man in existence who could possibly meet her criteria, and yet he did.

“What will your family think?” she asked.

One of the things she and Carson had in common was that neither had family. Except Kylie. And Joss had come to think of her as her own sister. Not just a sister but her best friend. But her father had divorced her mother when Joss was young, and her mother passed away after an extended illness when Joss was still in college. Her mother was why Joss had pursued a degree in nursing.

The nurses in charge of her mother’s care had been wonderful. Compassionate, warm. They’d gone the extra mile to make Joss’s mother as comfortable as possible in her final days, and Joss had vowed she would make the same difference in someone’s life.

Yet she’d quit her job after marrying Carson. At the time she hadn’t minded. She’d been in the throes of a new relationship and utterly confident in their marriage. And the truth was, she’d craved the kind of relationship where she was cared for. Protected. Cherished. Carson had provided all the things she desired. Except dominance.

Perhaps she should consider going back to nursing. She’d kept up her training for that eventuality, but she still hadn’t taken steps to go back to work.

“My family will be very happy for me,” Dash said. “My brothers thought me a fool for waiting as long as I did. They’ve known how I felt about you for a long time. My mother worried for me. She thought I was a fool to have a thing for a married woman. And not just any married woman, but a woman married to my best friend and business partner. Talk about a recipe for disaster,” he said wryly.

“I hope they like me,” Joss whispered.

The idea of meeting his family now made her nervous. Yes, she’d met them in the capacity of Carson’s wife, and they had embraced them both. But she’d never known that they knew Dash had feelings for her, and now she’d be meeting them as Dash’s . . . lover? Someone they knew was important to him. That changed everything. She just hoped she measured up and they accepted her new role in Dash’s life.

Dash smoothed the hair from her brow and pressed a kiss to her forehead. “They’ll love you. And they’ll be thrilled that we’re finally together.”

He made it sound so . . . final. A done deal. Inevitable. Though they hadn’t talked about anything more serious than a sexual relationship and the fact that she would submit to him, but his actions, the way he spoke, hinted at something far more permanent.

She wasn’t certain how she felt about that. What if she was setting herself up for more hurt?

Chessy had asked her if she’d rather have one perfect year with Dash and then lose him or if she’d prefer not to even give them a chance. At the time she’d considered that any time she had with him would be worth it no matter the end result. Much like her time with Carson. She wouldn’t go back and change a single thing, even knowing she’d only have him for three years. Three of the best years of her life.

But now? She wondered if she’d been wrong to think that any time with him was preferable to none at all. It had taken her three years to put herself back together after losing Carson. Could she survive losing someone she loved a second time? And for that matter, how did she feel about Dash?

She wasn’t in love with him. Not yet. It was too soon. Her feelings confused her. She wasn’t sure what to make of the entire situation. It had happened too quickly. So much had changed in such a short period of time and she couldn’t afford to let her emotions rule her actions. Not only did she not want to get hurt, but she didn’t want to hurt Dash either.

“I know I said I wanted to meet Jensen soon, but if it’s all the same to you, I’d prefer to wait on your family awhile.”

He smiled tenderly, pressing tiny kisses to her face, eyes and nose.

“We have all the time in the world, Joss. No rush. I like the idea of having you to myself for a while before I have to share you with others.”

She yawned and snuggled closer to him, as close as she could manage with their wrists bound together. On impulse, she kissed the side of his neck, inhaling his masculine scent and savoring it.

So many nights she’d spent alone, aching, so very empty. And now she was in bed with Dash, and he was wrapped possessively around her, his leg thrown over hers. She could feel his erection, his quick intake of breath when her teeth grazed his neck. She barely had time to wonder if he planned to deny himself when suddenly she was turned, the hand that was tied to his yanked high over her head.

With none of his earlier patience or tenderness, he roughly spread her legs with his free hand and was inside her, hard and deep, before she could even take a breath.

Pleasure burst over her like an exploding firework. She was too stunned to cry out, to give voice to the overwhelming sensation of him being so hard and thick inside her.

“This time is for me,” he growled as he pumped into her. “You make me crazy, Joss. I swore I wouldn’t take you again tonight. That I’d take things slow. But your mouth on my neck broke every ounce of my restraint.”

She smiled but her vision was hazy. All she could do was feel the power of his movements. His ownership of her body. Her bound hand was pressed firmly into the pillows. He held her down, making movement impossible. And she didn’t care. She loved the vulnerability of her position. She loved knowing she was powerless as he slaked his lust. It excited her, bringing her closer to the edge.

No foreplay. No workup. And yet she was already precariously close to coming. All he had to do was touch her, exert his dominance, and she was his to command.

“So damn sweet,” he muttered, his face strained as he pounded into her, mindlessly, like a rutting beast in the throes of mating. “I’ve dreamed of this, Joss. Of you. And me. Together. Finally together. I’ll never let you go, honey. I hope to hell you’re prepared for that. If you ever try to walk away from me, I’ll fight like hell to keep you right where you belong.”

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