She swallowed and nodded, not knowing what else to do. How could she explain that some things just weren’t meant to be shared? Even if he thought he knew about her past, there was no way for him to know it all. Because no one did. Not even Carson.

“Everything will be fine,” she said calmly. “You’ll go seal the deal with S&G and I’ll keep things running here at the office. Dash will be back in a week. He and I used to run the office ourselves, so I’m certainly capable of running things alone while you’re away.”

“That’s not the point,” he said patiently. “You deserve this, Kylie. It should be you going. Not me.”

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She paled, shaking her head in instant denial. “I appreciate the opportunity. I appreciate your confidence in me, Jensen. But you did enough. You let me help with the proposal. That’s enough. I wouldn’t feel comfortable presenting to the higher-ups. That’s your specialty. Not mine. No way I want the responsibility of us losing a contract like this because I’m not experienced enough to pull it off.”

His eyes warmed with understanding and gave her that peculiar shiver she experienced every time he looked at her like that.

“We’ll get you there, baby. Maybe not right now, but in time definitely. I plan to have a long talk with Dash when he returns about your position in this company.”

Her eyes widened. A protest was already forming on her lips but Jensen shushed her with a look.

“You aren’t changing my mind on this.”

Her lips curved into a rueful smile. “All I was going to ask for was a raise—a big one—at my next performance review. I’m afraid that would have used up all my assertiveness for at least a year.”

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Jensen chuckled. “You’ll get your raise, and if I have any say, a promotion will come with it. Which means we’ll be in the market for another office manager, because if you’re going to be working more closely with me and Dash, you won’t have time to juggle everything else.”

She frowned at that. She was territorial when it came to the office. It was her domain. She ran it. Organized it. Knew the ins and outs even better than Dash and Jensen. It was she who kept things going smoothly. She liked that she was indispensable. That she had worth.

“You’re better than being an office manager, Kylie. You have a degree. You certainly have the intelligence. All you need is the confidence. Once you gain that, you’ll be an unstoppable force. I guarantee it.”

She flushed again, a warm glow enveloping her. He seemed utterly confident in her abilities, and if he was that confident, shouldn’t she be as well?

“Thank you,” she said softly.

He gave her a smile and she shifted, knowing she’d spent too long in his office when she had other work to be doing.

She turned to go and Jensen’s call stopped her.

“Have a good time with Chessy tonight. I’ll see you tomorrow. Your place. Six thirty.”

It was a reminder of their date. And the way he dropped the casual reminder told her that he likely thought she’d cry off or come up with some excuse.

But she did neither. She turned, making sure her turmoil wasn’t evident in her expression. She answered him as calmly as she could.

“See you at six thirty then.”

NINE

“SO what’s new with you?” Chessy asked as they were seated in their favorite booth at the Lux Café.

For as many times as they ate here and requested the same booth, it ought to have their names engraved on it. The waitstaff was certainly on a first-name basis with all three women and didn’t even ask where they wanted to be seated. They just escorted them to their booth in the corner as soon as they walked through the door.

Kylie took her seat, wondering if Chessy could see her every thought. Because typically Kylie never had anything “new” to share. She always just listened to whatever was going on with Joss and Chessy and responded to whatever they wanted to talk about.

Now that Chessy had forced the focus on her, Kylie was at a loss as to what to do. They were girlfriends, which meant that they were supposed to share intimate details. Secrets. Gossip. Things they wouldn’t share with anyone else. Only Kylie had never really held up her end of the deal.

“Not much,” Kylie said lightly. “Same ole same ole. Work is keeping me busy.”

Chessy studied her, her green eyes gleaming with mischief. “There’s something different about you. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but my first guess would be a man.”

Kylie flushed to the roots of her hair. Good God. Save her from all-knowing and interfering friends. Without Joss, the peacemaker, as a buffer, Chessy would latch onto Kylie’s ass and wouldn’t be able to be pried loose with a crowbar.

“Oh my God, I’m right, aren’t I?” Chessy crowed.

She leaned forward, her eyes alight with mischief and curiosity.

“Spill,” Chessy demanded. “And don’t leave a word out.”

Kylie sighed but at the same time, warmth invaded her veins. This was what having girlfriends was about. She’d never really felt she’d taken advantage of her close friendship with Joss and Chessy because she’d never had anything to share. But now?

The question was whether she wanted to confide in Chessy when she herself had no clue what the hell was going on between her and Jensen.

“I don’t know,” Kylie said honestly.

Concern entered her friend’s eyes. “What’s going on, hon?”

“It’s Jensen,” Kylie blurted.

Chessy’s eyes widened. “Jensen Tucker? As in works-with-Dash Jensen?”

Kylie nodded. “One and the same.”

“Oh my,” Chessy murmured. “Talk about biting off more than you can chew! That guy intimidates me.”

“Join the crowd,” Kylie said ruefully. “I have no idea what the hell he wants from me. But he’s different with me. I mean different than he is with everyone else.”

Chessy grinned. “Well a woman—the right woman—can do that to a man. But explain this different. What do you mean?”

Kylie sighed again, knowing Chessy wouldn’t rest until she dragged every detail out of her.

“We’re going on a date. Tomorrow night. He was specific in saying this was a date. No business talk. Nothing to do with the office. A real date. Oh my God, just saying that makes me freak out.”

“Do you want to go out with him or did he pressure you into something you don’t want?”

Chessy frowned fiercely, clearly going into protective mode. Kylie smiled.

“I agreed. I may need my head examined, but yes, I do want to go out, although we’re not exactly going anywhere. He’s cooking dinner for me at my place. And then we’re going to watch movies. Not exactly an exciting date, huh.”

“It sounds perfect to me,” Chessy said wistfully. “I’m tired of eating out all the time. It seems like Tate is always entertaining a client and he likes for me to be with him when possible. A nice evening at home, alone, him cooking dinner for me and afterward spending the evening on the couch? Heaven.”

Kylie frowned and leaned forward. She’d been worried about her friend for months. She and Joss both had been worried about Chessy and her marriage to Tate. Chessy was perpetually cheerful. She could warm even the hardest heart. Good as gold. Naturally sunny and generous. But lately? The light had been extinguished in her eyes. She seemed . . . unhappy. And that bothered Kylie a lot.

Kylie had even worried that Tate was somehow abusing her, though Joss had been adamant that it wasn’t even a possibility. But then Joss hadn’t seen the darker side of men like Kylie had. She knew that behind a perfectly polished exterior sometimes lay a monster.

“Is everything okay between you and Tate?” Kylie asked bluntly, finally putting to question what she and Joss had both privately wondered over the last few months.

Chessy looked startled, but it was the hesitation that sold Kylie on the idea that she wasn’t far off the mark. Chessy didn’t immediately deny it, nor did she act horrified over the idea. In fact, she didn’t say anything at all. Just sat there with those sad eyes.

“Everything is fine,” Chessy finally said lightly, though her lips weren’t smiling. “I guess I’m just feeling lonely. I see so little of Tate and— I guess that isn’t true. I do see him, but never in private. We’re always entertaining clients or in a public setting. What we haven’t had is time together, if you know what I mean.”

“But are you happy?” Kylie persisted.

Chessy glanced down, not meeting Kylie’s gaze. “No,” she said softly. “Not now anyway. It’s silly. I’m being selfish. Tate takes very good care of me. He’s busting his ass because he wants to provide for me. For us. For me to never want for anything. But all I want is him, Kylie. Not money. Not things. I just want him and for things to be the way they were before.”

“That’s not selfish,” Kylie said. “Have you talked to him? Have you told him how you feel?”

Chessy shook her head. “I can’t. It would destroy him if he thought he was making me unhappy by doing the one thing he thinks will make me happy. I just have to ride it out. Things will get better. Marriage isn’t easy. If it was, there wouldn’t be so many divorces, and the last thing I want is to plant a seed of doubt in Tate’s mind. I don’t want out. I just want him. I love him so much.”

Kylie reached across the table and squeezed her friend’s hand. “I know you do. And I know he loves you. It’ll work out, Chessy. You have to believe that. Have you given any more thought to whether he’s cheating? I know that was a concern, however brief, and you didn’t want to ask him because of what it would do to your relationship if he thought you ever doubted him.”

Though Joss had been the first person Chessy had confided in, Chessy had later brought up the issue with both Joss and Kylie, but only after Chessy had made Kylie swear she wouldn’t confront Tate over it. Kylie was more of a take-the-bull-by-the-horns kind of girl, not as sweet and understanding as Joss. And well, maybe Kylie would have confronted Tate if Chessy hadn’t exacted the promise from her. She hated the idea of her friend hurting in any way. And she knew, whatever the reasons why, that Chessy wasn’t happy and she hated that she couldn’t fix this for her friend.

Kylie had never admitted to Chessy that she’d been concerned that Tate abused her. She’d only shared that fear with Joss. She was glad now she hadn’t because it might have caused an unmendable rift in their relationship. And Kylie was trained to believe the worst of people. She’d very likely overreacted. She didn’t really believe Tate was capable of abusing Chessy, but then such was the case of many abusive men.

Chessy shook her head. “I was being silly and emotional. I don’t really believe he’d ever cheat. I can’t allow myself to even think that way or the seed of doubt will be planted and it will just drive me crazy. Besides, when would he have time to see another woman? I know he loves me. I really do. It’s just hard right now. I wanted to start trying to have a baby. It’s what we both want, or did want. Now I’m not so sure. Tate hasn’t talked about it lately. The one time I mentioned it, he said he’d rather wait until his business was more secure. So I haven’t brought it back up again. And maybe I’m just looking for something to fill the void so I’m not so lonely all the time. Which is a pretty lame reason for having a child.”

Kylie grimaced in sympathy. But she agreed that Chessy should wait. Kylie wasn’t altogether certain things were that good even though Chessy made the best of it. Bringing a child into an uncertain situation would only make it worse. If Tate was gone so much, how would Chessy cope with being a new mother without her husband as a support system?

But she kept those thoughts to herself because she didn’t want to upset Chessy any more than she already was. Her heart ached for her friend. Loneliness was an emotion Kylie was intimately acquainted with.

She made a mental note to spend more time with Chessy, especially while Joss was gone on her honeymoon.

“But let’s get back to you and Jensen,” Chessy said, the teasing light back in her eyes. “How on earth did the two of you hook up? Is it one of those office romance things we read about in novels?”

Kylie snorted. “At first I thought he was an overbearing ass whose sole ambition was to make my life miserable. He told me I looked like hell. What a great prelude to asking me out on a date, right?”

Chessy seemed to choose her words carefully. “He wasn’t wrong, exactly, hon. You do look . . . tired. Have you been having nightmares again?”

Kylie shrugged indifferently. “When don’t I have nightmares? It’s not something you can just get over, you know.”

She hated when they spoke of things personal to her. She was much more comfortable talking about Chessy or Joss and what was going on with them. She rarely ever volunteered personal information because she didn’t want her friends to worry. They knew of her childhood. Joss knew because of Carson and Chessy had learned after they’d become friends. But them knowing didn’t mean it was a subject open to speculation.

“Yes, I know and I’m sorry,” Chessy said. “I wish there was something we could do to help you. Have you considered talking to a therapist? Getting medication?”

“Now you sound like Jensen,” Kylie muttered.

“Honey, it doesn’t make you weak to ask for help,” Chessy said softly.

Chessy well knew Kylie’s hatred of appearing weak. It was the one thing Kylie had confided in her best friends. She hated feeling powerless, like she wasn’t solidly in control of her life and her surroundings. Hell, maybe she did need a shrink, but the very idea of sharing deep dark secrets she’d never confided in anyone with a complete stranger freaked her out.

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