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“What?” Dash asked incredulously. “What the f**k are you getting at?”

The cop looked uncomfortable. “There were no signs of tire marks to indicate she braked. She hit a tree dead-on. Going at least forty-five miles per hour in a residential zone.”

“And you think she tried to kill herself?”

“I’m examining all possible leads. Until I speak to Mrs. Breckenridge myself, there’s no way to determine the cause of the accident. But you could help by letting me know her emotional state when you last saw her. I understand she’s widowed. Could she be depressed over the loss of her husband?”

Dash was at a loss for words. Her emotional state? She was upset. Extremely so. Hell, he’d all but kicked her out of his house. And then she’d wrecked. Good God. Could she have done it purposely? How the hell else would she hit a tree dead-on going that fast and no signs of braking?

“I have no idea,” Dash said numbly. He’d like to be able to defend Joss, but who the hell knew what was going on in her head?

Guilt clutched him like a fist. He should have never left her this morning. He’d been angry, absolutely. But he should have calmed down, and they should have discussed it like two rational adults. Only he hadn’t been rational. Whether or not she’d tried to take her own life, the entire thing was Dash’s fault.

But he couldn’t contain his fury that she would have given up. Have been so weak. That wasn’t the Joss he knew. Or thought he knew.

He turned from the police officer and strode back to the desk, planting his hands down on the surface.

“I want to see Joss Breckenridge. Now.”

“I’m sorry, sir, the doctors are working on her now. If you’ll wait in the waiting area, I’ll call you back the minute you’re allowed to see her.”

“What do you mean ‘working on her’?” Dash demanded. “What’s wrong with her? How badly is she injured? Is she going to live?”

The clerk’s face shone with sympathy. “I know it’s hard waiting and not knowing, but I assure you, our physicians are doing their absolute best, and as I said, the moment I know anything I’ll inform you at once.”

Dash threw up his hands and paced back into the waiting area, but he couldn’t sit. How could he? It was déjà vu all over again. Another day. Three years ago. Same hospital. Same horrible wait only for the worst news. Carson dead. They’d been unable to save him. His injuries had been too extensive.

Only his wreck had been an accident. There’d been nothing he could have done to avoid it. Could Joss say the same? Had she been so upset and distraught that she’d driven her car into a tree hoping for death?

He couldn’t wrap his mind around it. Couldn’t fathom it. But it was what the police suspected. Why else would they want to know if she was suicidal? What if Dash had pushed her to it?

He finally sat and buried his face in his hands. What seemed an eternity later, a nurse poked her head out the door and called for Joss Breckenridge’s family. As he was the only one there at the moment, he hurried forward.

“How is she?” he demanded.

The nurse smiled. “She’ll be fine. She’s pretty banged up, but you can see her. She’s a little woozy from the pain medication we gave her, but we couldn’t medicate her until all the X-rays and CT scan results came back.”

He didn’t give a f**k what condition she was in as long as she was alive.

The nurse led him back to one of the exam rooms and then opened the door, allowing him entrance. He sucked in his breath when he saw Joss lying on the stretcher, pale and bruised. There was dried blood at her hairline and at the corner of her mouth.

She looked so damn fragile that he was afraid to touch her.

He went to her bedside and fury gripped him all over again. She blinked drowsily and then focused her gaze on him. Instant hurt crowded the silky depths and she turned away. It only pissed him off all the more.

“You little fool,” he hissed. “Did you try to kill yourself, Joss? Was life without Carson so unbearable that you tried to join him?”

Her gaze yanked back to him, fury replacing the hurt of just moments ago.

“Get out,” she said through clenched teeth. “I don’t want you here. I don’t want you anywhere near me. Go to hell, Dash. That’s apparently where you’re most comfortable. God knows, I’ve only kept you there and nothing I do changes that.”

“Not until I have a damn answer,” he seethed. “You scared ten years off my life, Joss. What the f**k did you think you were doing?”

“What I was doing was avoiding a child,” she said in a frigid tone. “She ran into the street, and I knew I’d hit her if I didn’t swerve. I never saw the tree. Didn’t care about the tree. All I cared about was missing her. I could have never lived with myself if I’d chosen my life over hers. I was upset and wasn’t paying attention. I should have seen her earlier. I didn’t. But I’ll be damned if she was going to pay for my mistake with her life.”

All the breath left him in a rush. He sagged precariously and gripped the bed rail for support.

“I’m sorry,” he whispered.

“I don’t want to hear your apology,” she said stiffly. “I want you out. I don’t want to see you again, Dash. You said all you needed to say this morning. And you know what? It was all bullshit. But you wouldn’t even give me a chance to explain.”

“Explain what, honey?”

“Don’t call me that,” she spat. “Don’t call me anything at all. I’ve been feeling so guilty because I’ve all but forgotten Carson. A man who meant everything to me. A man I loved with all my heart and who loved me every bit as much. I was married to him, Dash, and you resent that. You’ve always resented that. You accuse me of continually putting him between us, but I never have. You did. You. Not me. You, damn it. You couldn’t let go because of your own insecurities.

“Two weeks ago I had a dream. One that upset me greatly. Because in that dream, I had a choice. I could have Carson back or I could stay with you. And I couldn’t choose. God, I felt so guilty because I’d always said I’d do anything at all for just one more day with Carson. If I could have him back, I’d never ask for anything more. But I didn’t choose him. I hesitated. And he disappeared.”

Dash felt like throwing up. He gripped the bed rail even tighter as he listened to the words that would damn him forever. He’d jumped to conclusions. Horrible conclusions. And Joss had paid a heavy price. Hell, he’d paid the heaviest price of all because he’d lost her when he’d finally had her. And he’d thrown it all away in a moment’s time when he could have simply asked her what she’d been thinking, dreaming.

“And then last night, I had the same dream. Carson spoke to me. He said we could be together. But I chose this time,” she choked out. “And I didn’t choose him. I chose you.”

Dash closed his eyes, tears burning the lids. What could he possibly say to any of that? How could he ever make up for the terrible things he’d said to her? The things he’d accused her of.

“I gave you everything, Dash,” she said painfully. “My love. My submission. My trust. What did you give me? You may have given me sex, but you didn’t give me love or trust. Because you can’t love someone you don’t trust. Not truly. And you haven’t trusted me from the start. You’ve continually put Carson between us. Do you know that I wouldn’t even bring him up in conversation? Before we were together I never thought twice about it. He was my husband and your best friend. It’s only natural that you were the one person I could speak with about him. But you took even that away because I knew you didn’t like it. So you tell me, Dash. What the hell did you sacrifice for me? Because the way I see it, I’m the one who made all the compromises and sacrifices.”

She shuddered, flinching in pain that the movement caused.

“We won’t even get into the horrid accusation you just launched at me. You obviously don’t think much of me at all or you would have never thought, even for a moment, that I’d purposely crash my car. Especially when that’s how Carson died. Even if I were that bent on self-destruction, I’d never cause my loved ones the kind of pain I went through when I lost Carson.”

Each word was a tiny dart that directly hit his heart. She was right. Every word the absolute truth. It shamed him to realize just how wrong he’d been. From the very start. She was right. He hadn’t trusted her. He’d been so insecure, so worried that he could never have her that when she’d given herself to him he hadn’t trusted in that gift because he’d been too afraid of losing it. Of losing her. He’d been so damn wrapped up in his fears that he hadn’t recognized the beautiful gift he’d been given until it was too late. God, it couldn’t be too late. He wouldn’t allow it to be. Whatever he had to do to make it right, he’d do.

He opened his mouth to apologize. To get down on his knees if necessary. Anything to gain her forgiveness and another chance at her love. But the door burst open and Chessy and Tate hurried in.

Tate took one look at Joss’s face and turned his black scowl on Dash.

“What the hell is going on here?” Tate demanded.

Chessy rushed to Joss’s bedside and Tate pushed in front of Dash, effectively barring him from Joss’s sight. Chessy grabbed Joss’s hand, the one that wasn’t bandaged. Dash only now noticed the cast on her left arm and his insides froze. He hadn’t even asked her condition. How seriously she was injured. He was just so goddamn relieved that she was alive that nothing else had mattered.

Tate bent over, pulling her into a gentle hug. Joss buried her face in Tate’s neck and gripped Chessy’s hand for dear life.

“Please,” Joss choked out, her voice aching with tears. “Just make him go. I don’t want to see him now. Just make him leave. Please. I can’t bear it any longer.”

The fact she was begging, something Dash had sworn she’d never have to do, flayed him open until he was bleeding on the inside.

Tate carefully let her go and then rounded on Dash, fury glinting in his eyes.

“Get the f**k away from her. You’re only hurting her more. I swear to God, Dash. I don’t know what the f**k your problem is or why you insist on kicking her when she’s down, but that shit is going to stop now.”

“I’m not leaving her,” Dash said emphatically. “If she doesn’t want me in her room, fine. But I’m not leaving this hospital until I know exactly what’s wrong with her and how long it’ll take for her to recover.”

“She’ll recover a hell of a lot quicker without you upsetting her,” Chessy said in a furious voice. “Get out or I swear I’ll make Tate throw you out.”

“Him and what goddamn army?” Dash said frigidly.

“I’ll call security if I have to,” Tate said in a low voice. “You aren’t helping, Dash. Look at her. Take a good look at what you’ve done. She’s in tears and she’s hurting. Stop being such a selfish bastard and for once do the right thing and leave.”

Joss’s face was turned away as though she didn’t want Dash to see her tears. But how could he miss them? Trailing down her cheeks in silent, silver trails. His gut clenched and grief overwhelmed him. Not even Carson’s death had devastated him as much as Joss lying there, hurt, grieving. Because of him.

He’d sworn never to be a source of pain or anguish to her. And yet he’d done just that. He was the reason she was lying in a hospital bed, bloody, with broken bones and bruises. And he didn’t know if he’d ever get over that.

“I’ll go,” he said, barely able to keep his own tears at bay. “But I’m not giving up, Joss. You may have thought I did, but I didn’t. I was an ass. I was a complete bastard to you, but I swear if you’ll give me the chance, I’ll make it up to you. I’ll make it right between us, honey.”

She didn’t move, didn’t acknowledge his heartfelt declaration. She kept her eyes tightly shut as Chessy hugged and soothed her.

“I’ll call Kylie,” Dash murmured. “She’ll want to be here. She loves you. I love you, Joss.”

At that, Joss turned, fire in her eyes. “Never say that again,” she said hoarsely. “It’s not like you to lie, Dash. You’ve always been honest. Painfully so. So don’t change now.”

Dash pushed past a protesting Tate and leaned in so he could look Joss in the eye.

“I have never lied to you, darling. And I don’t intend to start now. I said and did some horrible things. I hurt you and I’ll never forgive myself for that. But I love you. I’ve loved you for f**king ever. That will never change. I’ll go because it’s what you want. And I’ll give you time to recover. But goddamn it, Joss, I’m not giving up on us. And I won’t let you either.”

“You never gave us a chance,” she said in an achingly sad, forlorn voice.

It cut him to the quick and left him without a response. He stepped back from her bed and slowly, painfully turned to walk out the door.

She was wrong. She was right and she was wrong. He may not have given them a chance before, but he wasn’t giving up. He’d move heaven and earth and go to hell and back if that’s what it took to make her his forever.

THIRTY-ONE

JOSS stared sightlessly from the window of the guest bedroom where she was staying—and recovering—at Chessy’s house. Kylie was by every day after work, worried about her. Both her friends were concerned, as was Tate. Not about her injuries. They were minor and would mend with time. Her heart was another matter.

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