“I do miss him,” she said, a small ache in her chest. “But just like Joss did, I have to let him go. I can’t stop living my life just because he lost his.”

“I’m glad to hear you say that, honey. Carson would have wanted you to be happy first and foremost.”

“I know,” she said quietly. “And I’m trying. I’ll get there eventually.”

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Jensen stuck his head in the door, a slight frown on his face as his gaze swept over Dash.

“Am I missing something? What are you doing in Kylie’s office?”

Dash rolled his eyes. “We were talking. You know, having a conversation? Something coworkers frequently do on the job.”

Jensen looked suspiciously at him and Kylie grinned, thrilled with the possessiveness that shone in Jensen’s eyes. It was absurd for him to get touchy over Dash being in her office. The man was very happily married to her best friend. But still, she didn’t mind that Jensen had obviously staked his claim.

“I was telling Kylie that Joss wants you both to come over this Friday night,” Dash said as Jensen ambled farther into her office.

Jensen leaned against Kylie’s desk, slipping his hand over hers. Instant warmth invaded her skin where his fingers rested. She really had come a long way. If Jensen had ever come into her office and breached the professional relationship before as he was doing now, she would have kicked him in the balls.

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God, she was turning into a total girl. Like she couldn’t exist without some man to save her. She inwardly winced at the thought. Just because Jensen was being so supportive didn’t mean she wanted to turn into a helpless nitwit who couldn’t do things for herself or exist without him.

But she didn’t want to exist without him and therein lay the truth. Loving him, leaning on him, didn’t mean she was helpless or hopelessly dependent on him. It just meant she was better with him.

Weren’t all couples better because of their partner or spouse? If one was good, then two united against the world had to be even better. Or at least that’s the way she viewed it, but she was hardly an expert on relationships given the extremes she’d always gone to in order to avoid one.

“Chessy and Tate will be there,” Dash continued. “Joss wants to entertain y’all at the house. Good food, good wine and good friends.”

Jensen smiled in pleasure over Dash’s invitation, but what he did next endeared him to Kylie all the more. He didn’t blindly accept Dash’s invitation. Instead he turned to her, question in his eyes.

“What do you think? You up for something like that?”

She took the initiative and laced her fingers more tightly around his. She loved him for curbing his dominant tendencies around her. For not jumping in, taking charge and making her decisions for her. And that, more than anything, told her how much he genuinely cared for her. To deny an intrinsic part of himself, a part that made him who he was, for her. Wow. She still couldn’t fully comprehend the magnitude of loving someone enough to compromise to that degree.

“I think it sounds like a great evening,” she said, smiling up at him.

Jensen turned back to Dash. “Then we’ll see you there. What time? And does Joss want us to bring anything?”

Dash rose, making it obvious he was returning to his own office and leaving Kylie and Jensen alone.

It should be awkward as hell that one of her bosses was leaving her office so she could be alone with her other boss. Oh well. She guessed any prickliness from her was truly gone. Who knew she could be so easygoing and accepting?

“Just yourselves,” Dash said. “If I know Joss she’ll go completely overboard in the food department. She’s already planning her menu. So I’d come with an appetite if I were you.”

With that he left Kylie’s office and Jensen turned, leaning his behind against the edge of her desk so he faced her.

“Come here,” he said gruffly, pulling her up and out of her seat to stand in between his thighs.

He wrapped his arms around her, hugging her close. Then he pulled away, kissing her long and lingeringly. By the time he drew away, she was breathless, her face flushed and her hormones running amok.

“I’ve missed you,” he murmured.

She laughed at that. “You just saw me half an hour ago when you invited me to go to lunch with you!”

His expression was utterly somber. “It was the longest thirty minutes of my life.”

She rolled her eyes but settled into his arms, leaning against his chest. She emitted a contented sigh, marveling at how light she felt. So much freer. The past wasn’t weighing down on her, an unbearable pressure that she’d lived with for so long.

Her dreams had been devoid of nightmares. Every night she went to bed with Jensen, a solid barrier to the outside world and to her past.

And he loved her.

Every day that passed, she became more convinced that they were in this for the long haul. She hated the thought of jinxing them with her newfound optimism and confidence, but for the first time she could look ahead and actually see a different future for herself than what she’d always imagined.

A man who loved her, issues and all. Good friends. A challenging promotion.

Her life was finally coming together.

TWENTY-FOUR

KYLIE and Jensen got out of his car at Dash’s and Joss’s house and Jensen met her halfway around the hood, extending his hand out in an automatic gesture she loved. She slid her hand into his, giving it a gentle squeeze.

She wore a ridiculously goofy grin that was not typical of her at all. Good God, one might even say she was chipper. She shook her head at that thought. Maybe Chessy was rubbing off on her more than she realized.

Or perhaps she was just that damn happy.

“You look beautiful,” Jensen said after he rang the doorbell.

His gaze stroked over her like a painter’s brush, not missing a single inch in his perusal.

“Know what else I look like?” she asked with that same goofy grin.

“What?”

“Happy.”

There was a smugness to her voice that couldn’t be missed. She felt positively cocky, and boy was that a novel feeling. Happy, confident and cocky? The world had to be coming to an end.

Jensen smiled warmly at her and then brushed his lips across hers, just as the door opened.

“Hey you two!” Joss greeted, her face and eyes glowing with the same happiness Kylie was marveling over. “Come in, come in. Now that y’all have arrived we can start dinner!”

Kylie stepped inside and pulled her sister-in-law into a hug. Joss seemed surprised and then delighted at Kylie’s spontaneous show of affection. The old Kylie was reserved and rarely sought out physical contact. The new Kylie was going to work harder at letting her friends know what they meant to her.

“You look gorgeous, Joss. Marriage agrees with you so well,” Kylie said.

Jensen leaned in to kiss Joss’s cheek. “I have to agree with Kylie there. You look positively radiant. There’s nothing more beautiful than a happy woman.”

Joss flushed but seemed delighted with Jensen’s compliment.

“I agree wholeheartedly,” Dash said as he walked to where the three stood.

He wrapped his arm around Joss, pulling her into his side. The love the two shared was so obvious, and before, it would have made Kylie uncomfortable. Seeing her friends so happy and in love had only reinforced the fact that she’d never had that. Had thought she never would.

“A happy woman is a beautiful woman indeed. I’m just fortunate that I make her that way,” Dash added with a smile.

They entered the living room where Chessy and Tate were sitting. Chessy rose and hurried over to hug Kylie.

“You look amazing!” Chessy exclaimed. “And oh my God, look at your shoes! Someone get a camera and quick! This has to be documented. Kylie is wearing heels!”

Laughter broke over the room. Jensen slid his arm around her, rubbing his hand up and down the bare expanse of her arm. She’d worried she’d be overdressed for the occasion. After all, they were merely going to Dash’s and Joss’s house for dinner. But now she was glad she made the effort.

She looked good. With no false modesty, she knew she looked her best. And now that she’d made friends with her heels, she could actually walk without teetering precariously.

“I do love those shoes,” Joss said wistfully. “Where did you get them?”

Dash groaned. “Thanks, Kylie. She’ll break me now.”

Joss elbowed him with a ferocious scowl and Kylie just laughed.

Joss certainly didn’t need Dash’s money. She had all that Carson had left her plus her share of the profits from the business. She, like Kylie, had inherited a portion of Dash’s—and now Jensen’s—consulting firm.

Kylie banked her share, not touching it. She used her paycheck for her bills and the necessities. It was invested and she rarely gave it any thought. But perhaps with her new outlook on life she would consider doing something fun with some of the proceeds. Maybe she and Jensen could take a trip somewhere.

There was suddenly so much she wanted to do and experience. Having a new lease on life made her look at everything so much differently now. She saw the world in color instead of a drab gray.

“Y’all go on in to the dining room,” Joss said, motioning with her hands. “I’m going into the kitchen to start serving it up.”

“I’ll help you, honey,” Dash said, following her.

Kylie sat next to Jensen at Joss’s dinner table that seated twelve. Chessy and Tate sat across from them while Dash sat at the head of the table with a spot for Joss reserved on his right, next to Kylie.

As the food was placed on the table, several oohs and ahhs of appreciation sounded. Joss had outdone herself with tonight’s feast. As Kylie glanced around the table, she realized that this was how it should be at holidays. Friends. No, not friends, family. She’d spent so long focused on the fact that Carson was her only family and now that he was gone she had no one, she’d lost sight of the fact that family was what you made it. This was her family now. Joss, Dash, Chessy and Tate. And Jensen.

Joss had baked Cornish hens with a delicious-smelling marinade. There were at least three casseroles, potatoes, vegetables and of course, a good bottle of wine.

“Oh yummy! Gimme!” Kylie said when Joss uncovered one of the casseroles to reveal Joss’s homemade four-cheese macaroni.

“Watch her, Jensen,” Dash warned. “She gets territorial when it comes to Joss’s mac and cheese. The rest of us have to fight her for whatever we get.”

“I’ll send the leftovers home with you, Kylie,” Joss soothed.

“There won’t be any leftovers after they all get done,” Kylie groused.

“I made an extra one for you,” Joss whispered.

“Hey, I heard that!” Chessy protested. “What about me? Am I chopped liver over here or what?”

“I made dessert for you,” Joss said in a placating tone.

Chessy’s eyes lit up in delight. “Ohhh please tell me you made your caramel pie.”

Joss nodded. “And an extra for you to take home.”

“Only if she agrees to share it with me,” Tate said dryly.

Chessy sent him a mock scowl. “Only if you’re a really good boy.”

“Good grief, Joss. Where did you come up with all the time to fix all this?” Kylie asked. “There’s enough to feed an army here plus you made extras for me and Chessy!”

“This is wonderful, Joss,” Jensen complimented after several bites. “I think I’m in heaven.”

Several other praises were offered and Joss sat down, her face pink from all the compliments.

“This is excellent, honey. Thank you,” Dash said, shooting his wife a smile that even made Kylie shiver.

Now that she’d found love herself, she could view her friends and their relationships in a whole new light. No longer was she envious of them. She now shared in the wonder of being involved in an actual relationship. Being in love and all the newness that it brought.

She slipped her hand into Jensen’s lap, resting her fingertips on his thigh. He reached down, switching his fork from his left hand to his right, and laced his fingers through hers, squeezing.

Contentment settled deep into Kylie’s soul. Love was said to get better with age, and if that was true then Kylie looked forward to the days ahead. Because right now was pretty damn awesome. If it got better? She couldn’t even imagine.

They joked and talked through dinner. It was a noisy, happy occasion. The atmosphere was relaxed, and even Chessy seemed to be genuinely happy, her eyes sparkling with laughter and love.

Then Tate’s cell phone rang and the light diminished from Chessy’s eyes. She glanced away so no one would see, but Kylie had already witnessed the resignation in her friend’s expression.

Kylie tried to tune out Tate’s conversation, hoping it was nothing that would ruin the evening for Chessy. But it quickly became apparent that whatever the situation was, it required Tate’s immediate attention.

She still didn’t really get it. Kylie didn’t understand the nuances of Tate’s job as a financial advisor. One would think his would be a job that was only demanding during normal work hours. When the market and banks were open. Not late into the evening. What on earth could require his immediate attention and drag him away from his wife with such alarming frequency?

Doubt crept into Kylie’s mind as she pondered the situation and the expression on her friend’s face. No wonder Chessy had worried that he was having an affair. It wasn’t out of the realm of possibility. Stage a call from a client demanding his attention and then he slips away for a few hours with another woman.

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