“Just hold me,” she whispered. “Please. I need you.”

“I won’t let you go,” he vowed. “I’ll hold you as long as you want, Kylie. As long as you need. I’m not going anywhere.”



JENSEN lay awake, Kylie snuggled tightly against his body, content and as relaxed as he’d ever been. He knew the enormity of what had happened tonight and he couldn’t contain the thrill coursing through his veins. Kylie was his. He didn’t fool himself into thinking this was a cure-all and that they didn’t have plenty of obstacles still to overcome. But for the first time, he was at peace, and hope was alive in his heart and mind.

He stroked a hand down the length of Kylie’s body, simply enjoying the feel of her in his arms. Naked, beautiful, warm and sated.

“Thank you,” she whispered. “For what you gave me tonight. I know it couldn’t have been easy for you, for a man like you, I mean. But I’ll never forget this, Jensen. I can’t even put into words what this meant to me.”

His chest tightened and he struggled to find the words around the knot in his throat.

“It was the easiest thing I’ve ever done,” he said. And it was the absolute truth. Giving up control to this woman had been a no-brainer. She was worth every sacrifice. “Giving control to you was worth every bit, Kylie. I don’t want you to ever worry that I’ll regret it or grow to resent you for it. I’m willing to give you control for as long as you need. Forever, if that’s what it takes for us to be together. If the end result is having you in my arms just like now, then I’ll do whatever it takes to achieve that.”

“I love you,” she whispered, shocking him to the core with her declaration. “I know it’s too soon. I’ve battled with myself over whether what I was feeling was love. I’ve made myself crazy worrying, but I don’t want to worry anymore. I just want to feel, and my life has been a study in not feeling anything at all. Not risking being hurt by allowing myself to feel. But what I feel when I’m with you is love. I’m certain of it. It can’t be anything else. Nothing else could feel this wonderful. I’ve never loved anyone else. Not like this, I mean. Just Carson and Chessy and Joss, of course, but what I feel for you in no way compares to how I feel about them. It scares me but at the same time it just feels . . . right.”

He gathered her more tightly in his arms, closing his eyes at the sudden swell of emotion that punched a hole in his chest. The courage it must have taken for her to say those words, especially after taking such a huge leap by trusting him to be intimate with her, was mind-boggling.

He was awed by the precious gift lying in his arms. Overcome by the fact that this brave, courageous woman loved him. He didn’t feel worthy of her love or her trust, but God, he wanted both. He wanted her with every breath in his body. He needed her like he needed air to breathe. She was the air he breathed. She’d so quickly become his reason to be. And he knew he’d never feel complete again without her. That he loved her unreservedly. That what he felt for her in no way came close to what he’d felt for anyone else in his life.

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He stroked her hair, trying to compose himself. He didn’t want to mess this up. It was too important. She’d placed her trust, her faith and her well-being solidly in his hands and he wouldn’t fail her.

“I love you too, baby. So much. If you believe nothing else, believe that. I think I’ve loved you from the very first moment I laid eyes on you.”

She turned her face up from where it was buried in his chest and met his gaze, tears shimmering in those beautiful eyes.

“What are we going to do, Jensen? I know tonight was a huge step, but I know we have so many other issues to face. I don’t want to ever cause problems between us. I want your love. I need it. I never thought I’d want or need this connection to a man and it caught me by surprise. I was blindsided by you. You snuck up on me when I wasn’t looking and suddenly you were there—here,” she amended, placing her hand over her heart. “I don’t want to mess this up.”

He kissed her furrowed brow, trying to ease the strain that was so evident. Her words and expression were so earnest. So heartbreakingly vulnerable. He never wanted her to feel fear when she was with him, but some things were out of his control. He, who was used to absolute control in all aspects of his life, had to accept that when it came to this woman he was in no way in control of anything at all.

“It won’t be easy,” he said truthfully. “But nothing good or worthwhile is ever easy. We’ll work at it together. United, we can conquer anything. I want you to have faith in that. And the other thing you need to know is that I’m not going anywhere. No matter how hard it gets, no matter how difficult things may be, I’m here to stay and I’m never giving up on you or us.”

Tears glittered more brightly, clinging to her eyelashes, and finally slid soundlessly down her cheeks. He thumbed one away with a gentle touch, his heart aching at the fear and uncertainty in both her eyes and words.

“I won’t give up either,” she quietly vowed. “Don’t let me run, Jensen. Don’t let me hide from you—us. It’s what I do best. When things get sticky, I retreat, I run, and I stick my head in the sand where I know it’s safe. Don’t give up on me. I’ll try never to hurt you. I need you to believe that I want this. I want you and I want there to be an us.”

He smiled, contentment ever growing in his soul. “If you run, I’ll just come after you and drag you back to me. I won’t let you get away, baby. Not unless that’s truly what you want. I want you to be mine, but more than that, I want you to be happy and for you to feel safe. Always.”

She closed her eyes, visibly collecting herself, and when she reopened them they burned with earnestness. “I love you.”

The simple statement with such a wealth of emotion behind it was staggering. He felt humbled by the love and trust burning in her eyes. Never had he felt more unworthy than right here and now but he wasn’t going to turn down such a precious gift. Ever.

He squeezed her tight, savoring her softness against his much harder body. “I love you too, Kylie. We’ll make it, okay? We’ll get there. Just give us time.”

Her gaze lowered but not before he saw the flicker of pain in her eyes.

“I feel like such a failure,” she admitted. “I know I can trust you and yet I couldn’t even be intimate with you without tying you up. It sounds so ridiculous. Here I’m saying I love you and I trust you and we didn’t even achieve penetration. How does that not make me a huge hypocrite to say one thing and do something altogether different?”

His heart turned over at the consternation in her voice. He nudged her chin up with his fingers, forcing her to meet his gaze.

“Baby, this is a huge leap forward for us—you. There is no hurry and I don’t want you beating yourself up over this. I’m happy and you’re happy. Nothing else matters. In time you’ll trust me enough to let me make love to you. You’ll trust yourself. Until then, you’ll tie me to the bed each time until you feel confident enough to take the ultimate plunge.”

Her lips turned down into a grimace. “I wish I were as confident as you.”

“I have enough confidence for both of us,” he said gently. “We will get there, Kylie. Rome wasn’t built in a day. This will and should take time. It’s not something we can take too lightly. You have to absolutely feel safe with me, because if we jump the gun, we can do far more damage by trying to rush things. I’m perfectly content to leave things as they are until you’re ready to take that final step. You don’t have to apologize nor do you have to justify your fears. Not to me. Never to me. I love you and love is about doing whatever it takes to safeguard the one you love.”

She leaned up, pressing her soft mouth to his. “I love you so much,” she whispered against his lips. “I don’t deserve you or your patience but I thank God for both. I never imagined feeling this way about anyone. It’s scary and beautiful all at the same time.”

He kissed her back, slow and sweet, his tongue tasting her, lapping tenderly at her lips and tongue. Then he leaned back, simply savoring the connection between them. This moment when they both laid themselves bare. He didn’t want this moment to end. Didn’t want the outside world intruding on something so new and beautiful. Fragile and vulnerable.

“Not to change the subject but we didn’t talk about my conversation with Dash and I promised you full disclosure. And I can’t think of a better time to talk to you than when you’re in my arms all soft and sweet.”

She smiled. “What does it say about me that Dash and my job were the absolute furthest things from my mind?”

“I think what it says about you is that you were too focused on me and, while that may make me an egotistical bastard, I like that you aren’t thinking of anything else when you’re with me.”

She kissed him again before settling back so she could see him. Her hair spilled over the pillow like satin. She was nestled on her side, her legs entwined with his. He was already sporting another hard-on, but he didn’t try to hide it. He wanted her to know how much he wanted and desired her. How beautiful he found her.

“So what did Dash have to say? And what exactly did you tell him?”

He stroked his hand down her body, unable to keep from touching her as they conversed. There was something decidedly intimate about talking about even mundane topics in bed, wrapped around one another, a barrier to the outside world.

“I told him to start looking for another office manager because your talents were wasted in that area. I told him I wanted you to have the rest of the week off. You need rest, but admittedly that’s me being selfish because I like having you all to myself and I’m not ready to let you go just yet or share you with anyone else.”

She looked pleased with his statement and not at all angry that he was basically making decisions for her when it came to her job. He had to tread a very fine line because even though he’d given her control when it came to their lovemaking, it was only natural that his dominance asserted itself in other areas.

“I also told him that you’d landed the S&G contract for us and that we needed to allow you to work more closely with us, and that in the future you’d make an excellent partner in the business.”

Her brow furrowed even as delight shone in her eyes.

“And how did he take that?” she asked hesitantly.

“He took it well. He agreed to start looking for another office manager now. I told him that you needed to be able to focus more fully on other aspects of the business and wouldn’t have time to juggle everything else we throw at you. You’ll need someone yourself to help out, so in essence the new office manager will work for the three of us. Not just me and Dash.”

“Your confidence in me means the world to me, Jensen,” she said sincerely. “In time I hope to be able to see myself as you see me. I’m working on it, but as you said, Rome wasn’t built in a day.”

He chuckled at having his words thrown back at him. “Very true, baby.”

She hedged a bit, obviously struggling with what she asked next.

“And does he know . . . about us?”

Jensen nodded. “I told him the truth. I told him you were mine.”

She blinked as if weighing such a blunt declaration. Then a soft smile spread over her beautiful face, her eyes shining.

“I like that,” she said quietly. “I like the way it sounds when you say it. I’ve never truly belonged to anyone. If anyone had told me that I’d be happy with another man being so . . . possessive, I would have flatly denied it. I would have never believed that I’d like it or allow it.”

“You are mine,” he said just as quietly. “Never doubt that. And I protect what’s mine. I’m going to warn you now. I gave you control in the area of our lovemaking and I was happy to do so. But my . . . dominance, for lack of a better word, will assert itself in other ways. Some of which you may not like or that may frighten or overwhelm you. I don’t say that to scare you. I’m just being honest because I don’t want it to catch you off guard or freak you out.”

She bit her bottom lip and studied him a long moment in silence.

“I know how huge it was, you giving up control to me. I know it goes against everything that makes you who and what you are. I don’t want you to ever think I don’t know the magnitude of that. I do. Nor do I want you to ever think I don’t cherish what you’re giving me. And as you said, we’ll get there. I have no doubt that we’ll be able to work out any kinks in our relationship as long as you understand that there will most certainly be times we butt heads. I can be stubborn and I’m used to doing things my own way. You know that. But I want this to work and I find I don’t quite mind the idea of your dominance. At least in theory.”

He cupped her cheek in his palm and stroked his fingers over her jaw, pushing away silky strands of her hair. She leaned farther into him so their noses were only inches apart. Her eyes were earnest, burning with sincerity.

“I don’t want you to ever change who and what you are for me. I never understood what Joss was talking about when she said she loved Carson too much to ever demand of him something he couldn’t give her. But I understand now. Because I don’t want you to change who you are for me. I love you just the way you are.”

His heart melted into a puddle right there on the bed. He kissed her again, deep, until they were both breathless and their pulses racing.

“The same goes for you, Kylie. I don’t want you to ever change who or what you are for me because I love you just the way you are.”

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