His statement of her being in absolute control intrigued her. It wasn’t something that had ever occurred to her and she was curious as to whether it would make her feel less panicky, or perhaps she could prevent the inevitable meltdown if she had complete control of the situation.

She still wasn’t sure of how it would work exactly, but she planned to work up the courage to broach the subject with Jensen. Soon. Because she wanted to take that next step. She wanted it badly. But she didn’t want a repeat of their last experience. One humiliating meltdown was enough. Another wouldn’t likely endear her to him. At some point his patience would wear thin. And the last thing she wanted was to be a tease. Get him hopeful and worked up only to yank the rug out from under him. Or herself for that matter.

Maybe Chessy and Joss could give her some advice. That would certainly be something new. Her asking them for advice when it came to men and sex. They might never get over the shock of it!

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When she got out of the shower, she had responses from both women. Lux Café. Noon. She smiled at their willingness to drop everything for her. Not that she ever doubted such a thing, but it wasn’t usually her sounding the alarm. They’d likely be rabid with curiosity. She was sure Chessy had been on the phone with Joss the minute Joss was back in town.

No better way to set the record straight than to do it herself.

After puttering around Jensen’s house, exploring more, learning more about his personality, she dressed in jeans and a T-shirt and then sent Jensen a quick text, remembering his request for her to keep in touch with him about her comings and goings.

Having lunch with the girls. I’ll let you know when I get back home.

She faltered a bit as she hit Send, biting her lip in consternation. Perhaps she shouldn’t have referred to his house as “home.” But it was too late now.

Her phone chimed almost immediately with Jensen’s reply.

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Have fun and be careful. Call me if you need me.

Her smile was a little—okay, a lot—ridiculous over his expression of concern. The command for her to call him if she needed him. It gave her a measure of reassurance she’d never experienced, the idea that he’d come the minute she needed him.

She climbed into her car, a bite of sadness hitting her, the same as it always did when she got inside the car her brother had given her for her twenty-first birthday. She missed him. He’d been her rock in so many ways. Life without him had been a huge adjustment. He’d always been there for her. Steady. Unwavering. He was the only other person who not only knew, but shared the horror of her childhood.

When she arrived at the Café, predictably Chessy was already there and Joss was late. They teased her mercilessly about always being late. But neither of her friends ever minded waiting on her.

Joss was just a ray of sunshine and she brought warmth with her everywhere she went. There was no gentler and kinder a person to be found anywhere. Dash was very lucky she had such a forgiving nature, because he’d very nearly lost her over his stupidity.

“How are you?” Chessy asked in concern, her eyes crinkled as she studied Kylie. “You look . . . better.”

Kylie smiled. “I am. Let’s go sit and wait for Joss. Then I’ll tell y’all everything.”

Chessy’s brows rose in surprise. Usually they had to pry any information out of Kylie and she was usually reluctant to offer it. Not this time. Kylie was turning over a new leaf and it was starting now. Perhaps it had started the moment Jensen entered her life.

Five minutes later, Joss breathlessly hurried up to the table, sliding into the booth next to Chessy.

“Sorry, sorry!” Joss said. “I just lost track of time. Honeymoon brain, I’m afraid. I’m too used to doing nothing at all. I’ve become quite lazy over the last two weeks!”

Both women smiled at their friend. She was flushed with happiness, her eyes sparkling like twin diamonds.

“I guess we don’t have to ask how it went,” Kylie drawled.

Joss blushed to the roots of her hair and grinned mischievously. “It went . . . well.”

Chessy rolled her eyes. “Now why do I believe that’s a huge understatement?”

Joss turned her gaze on Kylie, her eyes bright with concern. “How are you, sweetie? Chessy told me what happened. Are you all right?”

Kylie nodded, suffering only a hint of embarrassment over the fact her friends had discussed her.

“I wanted to get y’all’s . . . advice,” Kylie said uncomfortably.

Joss and Chessy exchanged quick surprised looks but they were also obviously delighted with Kylie’s statement.

“It’s about Jensen,” she blurted before she lost her courage and clammed up.

Joss’s eyebrows shot up, but she couldn’t have been that surprised if Chessy had told her about Kylie’s epic meltdown and the fact that Jensen called her to come over. Or perhaps Chessy had glossed over the facts, waiting for Kylie to confide in Joss in her own time. She sent her a friend a look of gratitude and Chessy smiled warmly back as if to say, “Hey, I got your back.”

“We’ve sort of become . . . involved,” Kylie said lamely. “In a good way, I mean.”

“That’s wonderful, Kylie!” Joss exclaimed. “You have to catch me up on all the details. Are you happy? Do you like him?”

Kylie sighed. “It’s complicated. Really complicated. But I figured you two were in a position to give me some guidance here considering the lifestyle you both live.”

“Then you know Jensen is a Dominant,” Joss murmured.

Kylie nodded. “But here’s where it gets complicated. He swears that for me he’ll give up complete control. That he’ll deny that part of himself. For me. That when and if I’m ready to make love, I’ll have complete control because he doesn’t want me to ever be afraid of him.”

“Whoa,” Chessy breathed. “That’s pretty heavy. I mean wow. That’s huge, Kylie. Huge!”

Joss nodded her fervent agreement. “You have to understand just how big that is, Kylie. Men like him don’t just give up control. To anyone. I’d say that speaks volumes about the way he feels about you.”

Kylie was delighted to hear it. To have it confirmed. She’d suspected, yes, but she didn’t truly understand the enormity of his vow. These two women would. They were both committed to dominant men. Men they were submissive to.

“I freaked out pretty bad on our first official date,” Kylie said, though this was not news to Chessy. “All we were doing was kissing on the couch, but I just kind of shut down and then freaked completely out. Jensen was worried. I wanted him to leave and he finally did only because he worried he would do more damage by staying. But he called Chessy to come over because he refused to leave me alone.”

“He sounds like the real deal,” Joss said softly. “He sounds like he cares a lot about you, sweetie.”

“I hope so,” Kylie murmured. “I care about him. I may even love him. I’m not sure yet. It’s all very confusing. He had to leave on a business trip right after our date and I didn’t sleep at all while he was gone. I don’t feel safe when he’s not there. And I hate that dependency. He came back a day early and I collapsed in the office. He brought me back to his house and has insisted on me staying ever since. I haven’t been to work since last Wednesday.”

“So it looks like he’s only willing to suppress his alpha tendencies in a few areas,” Chessy observed, her eyes gleaming in amusement.

“I never thought I’d hear myself say this, but I kind of like them. He’s arrogant and bossy but he’s so gentle with me. He makes me ache. He makes me want things I’ve never wanted before,” she said honestly.

Joss reached for her hand and squeezed. “Then go for it. Give him a chance. And if what he said is true and he’s willing to give up control, then, honey, that is huge. It’s not something a man like him would ever do lightly and I highly doubt he’s ever made that offer to a woman before. Which makes you very special to him.”

“I was hoping you’d say that,” Kylie said ruefully. “I have zero experience with the whole dominant/submissive thing. And he’s admittedly a Dominant. All his relationships have been with submissive women. But he told me he doesn’t want my physical surrender, that he’d never bring the physical components of dominance and submission into our relationship. He wants my emotional surrender, and that I think is perhaps even scarier than the physical aspects of that kind of relationship.”

“It can certainly make you more vulnerable,” Chessy agreed. “But you have to look at the payoff and decide if it’s worth it. If he’s worth it. Because evidently he’s already considered his options and has decided that you’re worth the sacrifice he’ll make.”

“I understand Jensen’s sacrifice more than most,” Joss said quietly. “I denied that part of myself for Carson because I knew he could never give me dominance. I loved him and I have no regrets, but there was always a part of me that was unfulfilled because submission was something I needed—craved.”

Kylie fell silent, pondering her friends’ words and reactions. If they were to be believed, what he’d offered her was huge. And maybe she’d already recognized the magnitude of what he was offering her, but she’d needed validation from two women who’d know.

“I want to try,” she said honestly. “For the first time, I really want to try. I want what other women have. A normal life. Someone who loves and cares for me. Someone who won’t run from my past like I have and someone who will protect me. And he fits the bill on all counts.”

“Then what are you waiting for?” Chessy said challengingly. “And no, I’m not saying you should rush into a physical relationship with him. But it sounds like the two of you are well on your way to something solid. I’m happy for you, Kylie. I like Jensen a lot. Yes, he’s alpha, but it’s obvious he’s very caring and sensitive to your needs. You can’t ask for more than that.”

Joss nodded her agreement.

“I’m scared to death,” Kylie admitted. “More scared than I’ve ever been. But it’s a different kind of fear. It’s not him I’m afraid of. Or having an actual relationship. I’m afraid of screwing this up. Just like I’ve screwed up everything else in my life.”

Both Joss and Chessy frowned fiercely at her. “You are not a screwup,” Joss chastised her. “Honey, you have legitimate reasons to fear intimacy. And Jensen knows that. Give him a chance, but more importantly, give yourself a chance. Trust yourself and your instincts. You’ll never know unless you give it a shot.”

Kylie nodded slowly. “I knew all this. I suppose I just needed to hear it from y’all. Thanks. I really needed y’all today.”

“Like you haven’t been there for us,” Chessy snorted. “Between the three of us, we’ve managed more emotional crises than a psych ward.”

Joss and Kylie laughed, the mood relaxing as the three enjoyed their lunch. Kylie sat back, luxuriating in the feel of something new and delicious. The hope of something permanent and real.

All she had to do was reach out and take it. Jensen had put her solidly in the driver’s seat. It was up to her to make the next move.

FIFTEEN

JENSEN strode into Dash’s office with a sense of purpose. Though the two men had conversed the evening before, Jensen hadn’t shown his hand. Not yet. He’d only said he needed to discuss important business matters with his partner the following morning.

This would perhaps be the first real test of their partnership. Jensen was prepared to dig in his heels solidly when it came to Kylie and it had nothing to do with his personal feelings for her. He’d told her it was business and he hadn’t lied. Kylie was smart, a go-getter, and she deserved to be a major component of the consulting business. Her talents were wasted in the capacity of an office manager only. Not that she didn’t do a damn fine job, but she was destined for bigger and better things. If they didn’t act to secure her, someone else eventually would. One day Kylie would reach the same conclusion that Jensen already had. That she was worth far more than an office manager. And in no way did he plan to lose Kylie. Professionally or personally.

“Morning,” Dash greeted when Jensen came through his door.

“How was the honeymoon?” Jensen asked, obligated to inquire about the obvious before they moved on to business.

“It was great. Wish we were still there,” Dash said wistfully. “How were things here? Any problems?”

Jensen shook his head. “None at all. We secured the S&G contract. Thanks in large part to Kylie.”

Dash’s eyebrows rose as Jensen took a seat in front of Dash’s desk.

“She’s good,” Jensen said bluntly. “I gave her the lead on this project. Gave her all the info I had and told her to come up with a plan. We met the night before to discuss and I agreed with every single one of her recommendations.”

Dash sat in silence, absorbing his partner’s words.

“Is there something I’m missing here?” Dash asked. “Because I feel like I’m missing a huge piece of a puzzle. When I left, Kylie could hardly stand to be in the same room as you. And while I’m gone you two partner and she takes the lead on a very important contract to this firm? And you let her?”

“Kylie is mine,” Jensen said. “I don’t care who knows it. But our relationship has nothing to do with her career prospects. I’m perfectly capable of separating business and pleasure, and Kylie has a bright mind. She rose to the challenge beautifully and I intend to see that rewarded. I think we should consider giving her more responsibility and hiring a different office manager to take over Kylie’s duties. Eventually she could make a partner. I’m certain of it.”

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