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She sent him another sad look that flayed his heart open. There was so much resignation in her gaze. As if she had no hope for their future. He’d have to have hope enough for them both.

He brought her hand to his mouth and tenderly pressed kisses to her open palm. “My darling Joss. How I love you. I love you so much it’s killing me. Being without you is killing me. I can’t survive without your love. I don’t want to live without it. Please give me—us—another chance. I’m on my knees before you, honey, and I’ll stay on them the rest of my life if that’s what it takes. Just stay and give me a chance to make it up to you.”

He took in another deep breath, plunging recklessly ahead before she could respond. So she listened to everything he had to say.

“You’re right. I was deeply insecure. You caught me unaware that night in The House. I hadn’t planned to make my move so soon and maybe it was me who wasn’t ready yet. I was forced to act or risk losing you, and that wasn’t an option for me. I was . . . afraid. So afraid of losing you. Of not being what you needed. Of not being able to compete with Carson’s memory. I overreacted. I admit that. It was the worst mistake of my life and I almost lost you because of my stupidity and irrational jealousy. It won’t happen again, Joss. You are my life. I trust you. You say I don’t, but I do. It wasn’t you I didn’t trust. It was me. I didn’t trust that I would ever be enough for you. Didn’t trust that I could make you happy. That you’d be as happy as you were with Carson, and that ate at me, chipping away at my confidence until all that was left was an angry shell of the man I needed to be for you. You did everything right and I did everything wrong.”

Her gaze softened and her eyes glittered brightly with unshed tears. She lifted her hand from his grasp and gently stroked his cheek. He was shocked by the moisture on her fingers when she pulled away.

“I love you,” he said hoarsely. “The morning of your car accident was the worst day of my life. I was so scared I’d lost you and, worse, that I had caused it. I lashed out at you, accused you of terrible things, because I was so f**king scared that I had done this to you. I knew I had done it and yet I made that terrible accusation. I implied that you were weak, Joss, and God, you’re anything but. You’re the strongest woman I know. I hope you can be strong enough for both of us, because it’s me who is weak. Not you. Never you.”

“It’s all right, darling,” she whispered. “It’s all right. It will be okay. I love you.”

Her love echoed in each of the words, a soothing balm to the ache in his soul. Tears ran freely down his cheeks and then she leaned forward, wrapping her arm around him, holding him against her breasts.

“No, don’t, Joss,” he protested. “You’re hurt. I don’t want to cause you further pain.”

And still, she hung on, refusing to let him pry her gently away from his body.

“The only way you’ll cause me more pain is if you refuse me,” she said tenderly.

He lifted his head and rested his forehead against hers, their breaths mingling, as did their tears.

“Never that, honey. I’ll never refuse you anything. I’ll give you the world on a silver platter. Whatever you want, you’ll have.”

“All I want is you,” she said simply. “You. Your love. Your trust. And your dominance.”

“You’ll have all of me,” he vowed. “But, Joss, do you trust me with your submission? Your heart? After all I’ve done to hurt you? You must know I’d never force you into a lifestyle you don’t want. I’ll make any sacrifice to have you. There is nothing more important to me than you. Just you. In my arms, in my bed, in my heart. Every day. No matter how I have you. It’s enough. It’ll always be enough.”

She smiled, her breath hitching over a low sob. She closed her eyes as more tears squeezed from the corners.

“I want you as you are, Dash. Warts and all. I suppose it won’t always be easy, but if you’ll give me your love and your trust, I’ll never ask for more. I swear it.”

“You have them. Always, Joss. I’ll never give you reason to doubt my trust in you again.”

She emitted a sigh, one that sounded painful, and he immediately picked up on it.

“Are you hurting?” he demanded. “Damn it, Joss. You should be in bed resting. Not sitting here holding me in a position you can’t be comfortable in.”

She smiled, radiant and beautiful, lighting up his entire heart. “There’s no place I’d rather be than here with you. Pain be damned. For the first time in a week, I don’t hurt. Not the way I did. The rest is just physical pain, and it will pass. But a broken heart can only be mended with love. And you’ve given me that. I’ll be all right, Dash. I can take anything as long as I have you.”

He cupped her beautiful face in his hands, framing it as he leaned in to kiss her reverently on the lips.

“I love you.”

“I love you too,” she whispered back. “But I need to call Chessy and let her know she doesn’t have to pick me up. She didn’t want me to be stranded here without a way to leave, so she said if she hadn’t heard from me in an hour, she was coming over to get me.”

He straightened and reached for his phone and then handed it to her after punching in Chessy’s number.

“Let her know that I’ll be over to get your things as well as your pain medication,” Dash directed. “As soon as you’re off the phone with her, I’m putting you to bed. Our bed. And then I’m going to take care of you until you’re completely recovered.”

She smiled and then spoke a few words to Chessy, assuring her that everything was okay and that Dash would be over to collect her belongings. When she hung up, Dash stood up and then eased onto the couch next to her, careful not to jar her.

He wrapped his arms around her, hugging her against his side, his face buried in her sweet-smelling hair.

“I missed you, honey. If there was ever a doubt that I needed you, there’s not one now. I haven’t been worth killing the last week. It’s been the longest week of my life and one I never want to experience again.”

“For me too,” she murmured. “Let’s put it behind us, Dash. We have so much to look forward to. The past only hurts us. It’s time to let go and move on.”

“I couldn’t have said it any better myself,” he said, tipping her chin up so he could claim her mouth. “But one thing I’ll never let go of, Joss, is you. I love you.”

She smiled, warming him from the inside out. “I love you too.”

And then he gently pushed her upward and once more slid to his knees in front of her. She looked puzzled when he took her hand and then reached into his pocket. He pulled out the ring he’d bought a mere day after she’d moved in with him. A ring that had waited for just the right time to be presented. Dash could think of no better moment than now.

“Will you marry me, Joss? Grow old with me and love me? Have the children we both want so badly?”

Her intake of breath was swift, the sound sharp in the ensuring silence.

“Would you want them right away?” she whispered, her tone so hopeful that it nearly undid him.

He slid the ring onto her bare finger, a finger that had been bare since she’d moved in with him. He’d noticed the day she’d taken Carson’s ring off her finger. It was a significant moment and one that should have told him that she was ready to move on. But he’d been stupid and insecure.

“I’ll give you all the babies you want just as soon as you want them,” he said tenderly. “In fact, I propose that the minute you recover sufficiently, we get in lots and lots of practice.”

Her smile would have brought him to his knees if he wasn’t already on them.

“Then perhaps we should think about getting married soon,” she said teasingly. “I’d hate to be an out-of-wedlock mother.”

“As soon as you’re able to travel, we’ll fly out to Vegas and get married immediately,” he declared. “I don’t want you to have any time to change your mind, so the sooner the better. And if you hold out on me, I’ll just be sure to knock you up so you have to marry me.”

She laughed and the sound filled the last remaining hole in his heart. He was a lucky son of a bitch. The woman he loved—had loved forever—was giving him another chance to prove his love to her. He’d never give her another reason to doubt him, and he’d love her and the children they had until the day he died.

EPILOGUE

DASH stood at Carson’s grave site. The first time he’d come alone since the day he’d been buried. All his other trips had always been with Joss. But he hadn’t wanted her to come. For one, she’d promised herself that she wouldn’t come back, that this wasn’t the way she wanted to remember her husband.

And this would be the last time he came here himself. But he needed closure. Joss wasn’t the only one who’d needed to let go. So now he stood at his best friend’s grave, prepared to confess everything and assure Carson that Joss was loved and would always be taken care of.

“I f**ked up, man,” Dash said bluntly. “You already know that. You’re likely up there wanting to kick my ass for all the pain I’ve put Joss through. The pain I’ve caused her. I deserve it. I’ve certainly kicked my own ass over it all.”

He drew in a steadying breath, caught unaware by the emotion that overwhelmed him, tightening his chest as long-held grief came rushing out.

“I made you a promise and it was a promise I didn’t keep. I’m sorry for that. You gave me an extraordinary gift and I’ll always be grateful for that gift. For understanding and never judging me.”

He paused another long moment, getting his emotions under control.

“She’s happy now. We’re happy. I made things right. We’re married now. I know you know that. But I just had to come and tell you. To reaffirm the promise I gave you before you died. I love her, man. With all my heart. Thank God, she didn’t give up on me, that she gave me another chance.

“I won’t let her down again. I won’t let you down. I’ll love her and protect her always. With my life. There is nothing I wouldn’t do to make her happy, just like you always did whatever was necessary to make her happy.

“I hope you’re at peace now, Carson. Joss and I both loved you. Will always love you. But she has a huge heart and an endless capacity to love. She loves me now, but she’ll always love you too, and I’m okay with that because I realize there’s room in her heart for both of us. Loving you doesn’t take away from her love for me, and I can accept that now. I didn’t before.”

He drifted off, watching a cloud blow by, beaming sunshine down on the grave. He was instantly filled with a warmth so beautiful that it could only be Carson’s presence. Loving and forgiving, just as he’d been in life.

“I came to say good-bye, just like Joss said her good-byes all those weeks ago. I won’t be back. It’s a choice Joss and I have both made because this isn’t the way we want to remember you. We have too many other good memories and those are the ones we want to cherish.

“Thanks, man. You’ll never know how grateful I am for you trusting her to me. We’re happy. She makes me so damn happy that I can’t even look at her at times without going to my knees. I know you’re familiar with that feeling. It’s how you reacted around her too. She’s a very special woman and we’re both lucky bastards to have won her love. Her warmth and generous spirit.

“We’re planning to have children. Right away if I have any say in it. It’s what she’s always wanted and I understand why you couldn’t give them to her, even though Joss and I both know you would have loved them, protected them and never ever hurt them.

“We’ve decided to name our first son for you. It’s fitting since you brought us together. Your memory will live on through him, and Joss and I will keep your memory alive between us. No pushing it away. You were important to us both, an essential part of our past. But now we’re looking ahead and we’re both ready to let go and move forward with our lives.”

Dash briefly ran his hand over the headstone and then straightened to his full height.

“Thank you for loving Joss. And me,” Dash whispered. “You don’t ever have to worry anymore. She’s in good hands, and I’ll die before ever hurting her again. You have my word. Good-bye, my friend. May you rest with the angels until we all meet again.”

His heart lighter, a great weight lifted from his shoulders, he turned and hurried back to the car, where his wife waited for him. As he neared his car, she opened the door and stepped out, her smile beautiful and breathtaking. So warm that even the sun couldn’t compete with her radiance.

Her eyes softened and she extended her hand to him as he approached. She said nothing, simply squeezed, offering her silent support. Never once did she look back at Carson’s grave as he ushered her back inside the car before walking around to the driver’s side.

When he slid in, he didn’t immediately start the ignition. Instead he turned sideways so he could see his wife. His beautiful, loving, generous wife.

“I love you,” he said, his throat still knotted with emotion.

She leaned over the seat and palmed his cheek as she kissed him.

“I love you too, darling. Now let’s go home and start practicing making those babies you promised me.”

He grinned, suddenly feeling he could take on the world. Get her pregnant? Hell yeah. She’d been off birth control an entire month, and the timing in her cycle was right. If he had his way, they’d spend the next two days in bed, and he’d do everything in his power to start the family they both so desperately wanted.

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