Kylie shook her head. “I can’t, Chessy. I don’t expect you to understand. Hell, I barely understand it myself. But the idea of allowing a complete stranger inside my head scares me to death. I think it would only make things worse, not better.”

“You can talk to me, you know,” Chessy said quietly. “You know I’d never betray your confidence. I wouldn’t even tell Joss if you didn’t want me to. And I certainly wouldn’t share anything you told me with Tate.”


“I love you,” Kylie said sincerely. “I don’t know what I’d do without you and Joss. I don’t know why y’all put up with me. I know I’m bitchy and prickly. It baffles me why either of you want to be my friend. I’ve said some horrible things. Just look at how I ripped into Joss when she and Dash got together. It still embarrasses me when I think about it. Joss didn’t deserve my vitriol. I acted like such a hateful shrew.”

Chessy smiled, her eyes softening with love. Unconditional, unwavering love. Something Kylie had never experienced except with Carson. It still unbalanced her. At times it even made her uncomfortable, which was pretty messed up when she thought about it. But the simple truth was she didn’t know how to handle such devotion and loyalty because she’d never had it.

“You’re a wonderful person, Kylie. And a very loyal, loving friend. Joss and I are lucky to have you. And hell, no one is perfect. We’ve all been bitchy with each other at some point. That’s how friendship works. You hurt the people you love the most but then you apologize and you forgive and you move on, even better friends than before. Joss certainly doesn’t hold any animosity for the things you said. She knew you were upset and out of sorts. Heck, I didn’t even see that one coming. Her and Dash? Or that Dash had a thing for her for so long? I mean, like I told you both in the beginning, there was a time I suspected, but then so much time went by and Dash never acted so I thought I’d imagined the way he looked at her. I think it took us all by surprise. Even Tate.”

“You’d tell me if things got bad between you and Tate, wouldn’t you, Chessy?” Kylie asked. “You know I’d do anything at all to help you.”

Sadness entered Chessy’s eyes again and Kylie cursed the fact she’d ruined the mood. Again. Her and her big mouth. She was going to have to seriously work on the bitchy, prickly part of her personality. Her friends didn’t deserve that from her. They deserved better. They deserved the person Kylie hoped to become.

“Thanks for the offer, hon, but I’m not going anywhere and Tate sure as hell isn’t either. I’ll tie him to the bed if it becomes necessary, never mind it’s usually him tying me to the bed.”

Chessy’s eyes sparkled with humor and Kylie breathed a sigh of relief that the mood had lightened.

Kylie grinned mischievously. “Okay, here’s one for you then. You can never accuse me of holding out on you after I tell you this. And if you ever tell anyone, I’ll kill you!”

“What?” Chessy demanded. “This has to be good if you’re getting all serious on me.”

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Kylie laughed. “You’ll laugh. I couldn’t laugh at the time. I was pretty freaked-out. But now? I have to admit, it’s pretty damn funny, especially in light of the kind of guy Jensen is.”

“Don’t make me drag it out of you!” Chessy growled. “Spill!”

“Okay, so Jensen wanted me to work with him on this latest contract. Completely shocked me. I mean I’m their office manager. I don’t get involved in the actual dealings with their clients. Only, he wanted my input. And he took my suggestions seriously. Then insisted I go with him to the meeting. But we met at Capitol Grill the night before to go over the final proposal.”

“And?” Chessy said, leaning forward eagerly.

Kylie grimaced. “I freaked. I mean completely freaked out. I saw someone who reminded me of my father. I’m so embarrassed over it now, but to me it was real. It was like looking at him. He was just a few tables away and I lost it. Complete meltdown and panic attack.”

“Oh honey, I’m so sorry,” Chessy said, her face drawn in sympathy.

“So Jensen gets all worried and goes into alpha protective mode.”

“Okay, stop a moment and let me savor that image,” Chessy said, shivering in exaggerated delight. “Because that is just too good not to imagine.”

Kylie laughed. “At the time I didn’t even really notice, but yeah, he’s pretty impressive in alpha protective mode. Not the kind of guy I’d usually even give a second glance but I have to admit, he made me feel . . . safe.”

Chessy smiled. “I know that feeling well. Tate does the same for me. I just feel . . . safe. Like nothing can ever hurt me. That he’d go to the wall for me and never allow anything to happen to me. So? Go on. What happened next?”

“He took me home and I was all prepared to thank him, say good night, retreat to my bedroom and die of embarrassment. Only he insisted on staying. And not only staying, but he was going to sleep in my bed.”

Chessy’s eyes went wide. “Holy shit. Did y’all have sex?”

Kylie shook her head. “No, here’s where it gets funny. At the time? Not so much. But now, yeah, I can laugh about it.”

“I’m all ears.”

“He was so gentle and understanding. The way he looks at me. I can’t explain it. It just makes me warm inside, you know?”

“Yeah, I know.”

“He told me to handcuff him to the bed so I’d feel safe with him. So I’d know he couldn’t hurt me.”

Chessy nearly choked on the tea she’d just taken a sip of. She put the glass down, her mouth gaping open. “And did you?”

Kylie nodded.

“Holy shit,” Chessy breathed. “Now that is a guy I can never imagine giving up control. Especially to a woman. I mean he seems like the ultimate dominant guy. Like Tate and Dash, you know?”

Kylie nodded. “Yeah, I do know. I was shocked. But I was also so freaked-out that I didn’t really know what to do. Part of me wanted him gone so I could huddle in my bed and put the covers over my head and die of shame by myself. The other part of me really didn’t want him to leave but at the same time him being in my bed freaked me out.”

Chessy’s eyes softened with understanding. “I think that’s pretty amazing that he offered that. I mean, he put himself in a vulnerable situation for you. So you’d feel safe. That’s pretty awesome.”

“Yeah,” Kylie said softly. “So he goes to bed, fully dressed, and I’m in my granny pajamas. I handcuffed one of his hands because it looked really uncomfortable and I was humiliated that the only way I could let a man sleep in my bed was with him handcuffed and helpless.”

“Don’t ever feel shame for your need to feel safe, honey.”

Kylie huffed out a breath. “So we both go to sleep, only I had a nightmare about my father. Seeing someone who resembled him so closely in the restaurant just brought it all back, and then Jensen was calling my name. Telling me to wake up, that I was safe with him. And I don’t know. I just kind of freaked. I dove into his arms, only one of his hands was still handcuffed to the bed and all I could think about was wanting both of his arms around me. So I tore off the handcuffs and he held me. Just held me and told me to go back to sleep, that nothing could hurt me, that he’d never allow it. So we slept that way the rest of the night and I’ve never had a better night’s sleep once I was in his arms.”

Chessy smiled. “That’s wonderful, Kylie. He sounds delicious. And so tender and caring. I mean, what more can you ask for? The guy is drop-dead gorgeous, extremely alpha and protective. And he made huge concessions for you so you’d feel safe. He put you and your needs before his. Not many guys are willing to do that.”

“I know,” Kylie said softly. “And the thing is, Chessy, I do feel safe with him. I can’t explain it. He’s the kind of guy who should terrify me. He’s the kind of man I’d usually steer clear of by a mile. And yet the way he looks at me, the way he is around me. I just melt into a puddle. It’s ridiculous.”

“Not ridiculous,” Chessy refuted. “Sounds to me like you’ve got yourself a solid winner. So you’re going on a date tomorrow night?”

“Well, he wanted to do it tonight but I told him I had dinner plans with you so he changed it to Saturday. And then he’s going out of town for the first three days of next week. I guess that’ll give me plenty of time to think about our date and figure out what the hell I’m doing and if I’m in way over my head,” she said ruefully.

“You should have called me!” Chessy exclaimed. “We could have rescheduled.”

Kylie shook her head adamantly. “No. Friends come first and I’ve been worried about you, Chessy. I know you’ve been lonely and I know what that feels like. I don’t want you to feel like that ever. You come first.”

“You’re not the bitch you call yourself,” Chessy said firmly. “You have the biggest heart of anyone I know, honey. If I ever hear you disparage yourself again I’ll kick your ass. And I love you for it, but in the future? If you have an opportunity to go out with a delicious specimen of an alpha male like Jensen? We will reschedule. You and I can get together anytime. I think it’s wonderful that you’re venturing into the dating world. It’s time, Kylie. You’re ready. You need to do this for yourself. Prove to yourself that not all men are assholes.”

Kylie’s heart filled with love for her friend. She missed Joss and couldn’t wait for her to return, even though it was selfish since Joss was on her honeymoon and should enjoy every minute of it. But Kylie loved Chessy and Joss. They were solid. Her anchor after Carson died. The only two people who’d kept her sane and had given her a reason to keep living.

They didn’t know that. Maybe they’d never know how much Kylie depended on them. But she couldn’t fathom her life without them.

“I’m going to try,” Kylie said truthfully. “I’m tired of being a coward. Of hiding from the world. Maybe Jensen is the one. Maybe he’s not. But at the very least he’s my opportunity to work on my courage.”

“That’s my girl,” Chessy said. “And you know I’m going to want to hear all the juicy details Sunday. If you don’t call me, I’m so coming over. But in the afternoon. You know, in case Jensen sleeps over again.”

She winked as she said the last and Kylie rolled her eyes.

“Don’t get ahead of yourself,” Kylie said dryly. “Remember the fact that I had to handcuff him to the bed in order for him to be able to sleep in the same space. I’m such a head case that I wouldn’t count on me ha**g s*x with anyone for a long time.”

Chessy’s eyes sparkled. “At the risk of sounding disloyal, my money’s on Jensen. I bet you two do the deed much sooner than you think.”

“Gee, thanks,” Kylie muttered.

But at the same time, hope unfurled in her heart like a flower budding in the spring. Could she be intimate with Jensen? Was it possible that he was the man who could get past her barriers? The fact that she wasn’t melting down over the mere thought said a whole lot. The fact that she was actually anticipating the act itself said far more.


KYLIE wiped her hands down her jeans, removing the dampness from her palms. She stared at her reflection in the mirror, critically surveying her appearance. This was stupid. Utterly ridiculous for her to be so worked up over a date.

Women dated. People dated. And now, apparently, she dated. It was an absolutely ordinary occurrence in the world. Except that her world and the rest of the world were two entirely different things. In her world, she didn’t date. Didn’t pursue relationships or encourage men’s attention.

Only now it would seem she did indeed date and she was in fact trying to gain the attention of Jensen.

She couldn’t figure out if it annoyed her or pleased her, this tilting of her universe. On one hand she was actually looking forward to the evening with Jensen. Craved his company and how safe and comforted she felt around him. Was she simply using him because he was a security blanket of sorts? And would she chicken out the minute things became more intimate?

Because she sincerely doubted Jensen was just signing up to be a source of comfort. He was a man. An attractive, mouthwateringly gorgeous man. Of course he’d expect sex at some point. He’d pretty much said as much. The question was how patient he’d be.

She wasn’t opposed, in theory, to the idea of ha**g s*x with him. The idea appealed. But what appealed more to her was her being capable of having a physical relationship with him. Of being able to overcome the panic that such an idea instilled within her.

So, in fact, it did mean that she was using him. For all the wrong reasons.

She closed her eyes, willing herself to stop being so analytical. Did it matter why she wanted to be around him? Did it matter the reasons why if they ended up having sex? To most men reasons would be very far down their list. They wanted sex. Most red-blooded men did. It was the women who got all touchy-feely and analytical over the reasons behind sex.

Jensen wanted her. He’d made that clear enough. But what exactly did he want? How much? Would he be satisfied with physical release? Hot sex? Or did he want more? Something she couldn’t give him?

Her head was spinning and she was making herself crazy over a simple date. She’d changed clothes four times, each time deeming herself too obvious. Too blatant, like she was seeking his approval. But what normal woman wouldn’t want to look good for her date? Especially a man like Jensen who oozed sensuality just by breathing.

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