“I have a lot of thinking to do,” Joss murmured. “About my future. And whether or not it will involve Dash. He says . . . He says he loves me and he wants another chance. He’s called, texted, e-mailed, come by here every single day. He swears he’s not giving up. But I don’t know if I can give him another chance. Without his trust, what do we have? A one-sided relationship, where I give all and he gives nothing in return, is not what I want. Yes, I wanted a dominant man. I wanted to give up power and control. But in return for that, I want his love and his trust. And you can’t have one without the other.”
“I agree with you there,” Chessy said carefully. “But the question you have to ask yourself is if you can forgive him his mistake. It was an emotional situation all around. You told me what happened that morning, and, sweetie, I am not taking his side, but I can understand why he would have reacted to what he thought you were feeling when you murmured Carson’s name and seemed so heartbroken the morning after you told Dash you loved him.”
Joss glanced at Kylie, gauging her reaction to Chessy’s statement.
Kylie sighed. “I admit I had reservations at the start. About all of it. What you wanted, what you said you needed. But I felt a hell of a lot better about it when you ended up with Dash, someone I knew would treat you well and I didn’t have to worry about a total stranger abusing you. But you’re good together, Joss. I never imagined you with anyone other than Carson. You two just fit. But you and Dash are . . . perfect. When he’s not being a total dickhead, that is.”
Chessy laughed and Joss smiled, some of the horrible darkness lifting away from her soul.
“I just wish I knew what to do,” Joss said, rubbing at her aching temples. “I’ve gone over it in my head until I’m dizzy with it. I’m so scared of handing complete control back to him and him hurting me again. I’m tired of hurting. I just want to be . . . happy.”
“As I once told you, life is about risk,” Chessy said gently. “You just have to decide which risks are worth it. You’re miserable now. So what’s the difference if you go back to Dash and things don’t work out and you end up miserable then? Either way you’re miserable. But if things work out? You have a shot at bliss.”
“She certainly has a point,” Kylie pointed out. “You’re as much a corpse as Dash is, only he’s walking and you aren’t. How long has it been since you were out of this room, Joss? Have you gotten up even once except to go to the bathroom? You can’t continue like this. Neither of you can. Either make a clean break and end it so you both can move on, or take a chance and put it on the line. You’ll never know until you give him a chance.”
Joss grimaced. “You’re right. You’re both right.” Then she sighed. “I can’t go anywhere right now. I just took those damn pain pills.”
“I can drive you,” Chessy offered. “Just tell me where you want to go and I’ll make it happen.”
Joss sucked in a deep breath. Never had she faced such an important decision. It was simple and yet so very complicated. But her friends were right. She was miserable now. She had a shot at happiness. All she had to do was reach out and take it. Risk it all. Prove to Dash that she had let go of the past. That he was the one who couldn’t let go of it.
Resolve settled over her, removing the blanket of despair that had clung so stubbornly for the last several days. She was not a coward and she wasn’t weak. She’d faced utter devastation twice and she’d survived. She’d survive this, whatever this turned out to be.
“Let me get dressed and then take me to Dash’s,” Joss said, finally making her decision.
It scared the holy hell out of her, but she had to try.
“YOU don’t have to do this, darlin’,” Tate said, glancing into his rearview mirror at Joss, who sat in the backseat as he and Chessy drove her to Dash’s.
“Yes, I do,” Joss said quietly. “This has to be resolved, Tate. I have to know if we have a chance. If Dash can trust me. If he loves me.”
“Well, I can’t speak on the trust issue but I know the bastard loves you,” Tate said grimly. “I’ve never seen a man so wasted over a woman. If I wasn’t so pissed at him for hurting you the way he did, I could almost pity the man.”
Joss smiled faintly.
As they neared Dash’s house, Chessy turned in her seat and fixed her stare on Joss. “I’m not going to leave you there with no way home. I don’t want you to have to depend on Dash. I’ll have my phone on me. You call me the minute you’re ready to leave. If I don’t hear from you in an hour, I’m coming back. An hour is long enough to hear him grovel.”
Joss laughed. “You seem so certain he’s going to grovel.”
“Oh, he’ll grovel,” Tate muttered. “A man as desperate as he is will do anything to get back in your good graces. And that’s the way it should be. When a man f**ks up as badly as he has, he needs to humble himself.”
Chessy glanced sideways at her husband, a look Joss didn’t miss. There was pain in her eyes and it hurt Joss to see her friend hurting. She shook away thoughts of Chessy and Tate. They’d work things out. Tate seemed oblivious to there even being a problem. Once Chessy got the courage to confront him and work it out, all would be well. Joss was confident of that. She didn’t believe for a minute that Tate was having an affair. Why would he when he had Chessy?
Chessy was beautiful, smart. She had a smile that would light up an entire city block. And she was utterly submissive, entrusting her entire well-being to her husband’s hands. He’d be a fool to ever risk that for a piece of ass on the side.
“Okay, we’re here,” Chessy said. “Are you sure this is what you want, Joss? It’s not too late to change your mind. We can take you back right now. Just say the word.”
Joss sucked in a deep breath. “No. I’m ready. One way or another, I need this to be over. Either we’ll have a new beginning or I’ll have closure, but either way, it ends tonight.”
• • •
DASH paced the floor of his living room, agitation gripping him by the balls. Four days. Four goddamn days Joss had been out of the hospital and he hadn’t so much as laid eyes on her. He’d gone to the hospital on the day she was going to be released, only to find she’d already been discharged into Tate and Chessy’s care. He’d been fully prepared to sweep in, take over and not back down. He had every intention of taking her back to their home, where he’d take absolute care of her until she was fully recovered. But Chessy and Tate had taken her to their house, an impenetrable f**king fortress for all the luck Dash had had getting in.
His calls, texts and e-mails had gotten no response from Joss. Silence lay as heavy as concrete between them and with each passing day, with each failed attempt to reach her, he’d felt her slipping further and further away.
What the hell was he supposed to do? How could he lay his heart at her feet if he couldn’t get to her in order to do it? He reached for his phone, wanting to call her again, but he knew she wouldn’t answer. Just as she hadn’t answered the dozen other times he’d called her today.
Despair was his constant companion and he cursed his wayward tongue. If only he hadn’t let his anger—and paralyzing fear—control his thoughts and words that fateful morning. He was to blame. Not Joss. Him. He’d done this to her. To them. And to any chance he had of having forever with her.
He bowed his head, regret burning a hole in his gut.
He was so absorbed in his grief that he didn’t hear the car in the drive. Never knew anyone was there until a soft knock sounded at his door.
His head jerked in the direction of the sound, in no mood to deal with whoever had encroached on his private hell. When a knock sounded again, firmer and louder than before, he swore and strode angrily to answer, fully intending to bite off the head of the unfortunate idiot disturbing his self-recrimination.
But when he yanked open the door, his heart stopped because it was Joss standing there, looking pale and fragile, the bruises from her accident still vivid against her skin. Her broken arm was in a sling, hugged protectively against her chest. And there was resolve in her eyes that gutted him.
Her lips were pressed into a thin line and he wanted to yell no! His heart told him that she was here to tell him to go to hell. To stop calling, texting, e-mailing and coming by Chessy and Tate’s house every day. It was no more than he deserved, but he couldn’t bear to hear those words from her lips.
But she was here! Not locked behind the walls of Tate’s house with Tate and Chessy acting as her personal guard dogs. She was in front of him, and here was his chance to humble himself before her and beg her forgiveness.
“Can I come in?” she asked softly when he continued to stand there, stunned, his mind an utter mess of all the things he wanted to say but couldn’t summon.
She looked suddenly vulnerable and doubt crept into those beautiful eyes. Fear. That he’d reject her? That he wouldn’t allow her to come inside her home?
He threw open the door and very nearly swept her into his arms. Only the memory of how fragile she was, how injured she still was and how much pain she still had to be in stopped him. And yet she was here. When she should be in bed. Resting. Getting better.
“Joss,” he croaked out. “God yes, honey. Please. Come in. Let me help you. You shouldn’t be up. You should be in bed. Are you hurting?”
Her lips twisted into a wry smile as she walked into his house. He slammed the door quickly behind her, afraid she’d change her mind, or that she was a manifestation of all his dreams and that she’d disappear as soon as he awakened.
“I took pain medicine half an hour ago,” she said quietly. “It’s why Tate drove me. I didn’t want to risk another accident, and I’m not supposed to drive for a few weeks anyway.”
Guilt slammed into him all over again. He touched her uninjured arm, savoring that brief moment of contact. He wanted to do so much more. He wanted to hold her, comfort her, just be with her, close enough to smell, to touch.
“Come into the living room,” he said quietly. “The couch should be comfortable. I can get the ottoman or you can sit and lean back against the side so you can put your feet up. Are your ribs okay? Is the pain medicine working?”
He was a babbling idiot, but the flood of questions simply wouldn’t stop. He’d never felt so unsure of himself in his life and he hated that she was so quiet.
He took her hand, rejoicing when she didn’t yank it away. He led her to the couch and eased her down, hovering, looking for any sign she was in pain.
She let out a sigh, briefly closing her eyes as she leaned back against the sofa.
“Damn it, you are hurting,” he swore. “Did you bring your pain medicine with you? Should you take another dose?”
“Some hurts can’t be eased with medicine,” she said softly. “I needed to talk to you, Dash. I need this to be . . . resolved. I can’t go on like this. It’s killing me.”
He sank to his knees, gutted by the sadness in her eyes. Gathering her free hand in his, remaining in a position of vulnerability, he stared intently at her.
“Please don’t tell me we’re over, honey. Anything but that. Curse at me. Yell at me. Call me names. You have every right. But please, I’m begging you. Don’t give up on me—us. I love you, Joss. I love you so damn much I can’t sleep at night. I can’t eat. I can’t function. I can’t work. There’s a gaping hole in my heart only you can fill.”
The corner of her mouth quirked up in a half smile. “Kylie says you’re useless at work. She doesn’t even know why you go in because nothing gets done.”
“She’s right,” he said hoarsely. “I need you, Joss. You’re my other half. I’m only whole when I’m with you.”
“I love you too, Dash.”
Relief made him weak. He was so wobbly he could barely maintain his position on his knees. And he’d stay on his knees, begging her forgiveness for as long as it took. He was the Dominant and she was the submissive but right now she held all the power and he held none. Because without her, his strength meant nothing. Without her precious gift of submission, his dominance didn’t mean a damn thing. His life had no meaning.
But something in her gaze stopped him from saying anything in response.
“But that isn’t enough,” she added softly. “You say you love me, but you don’t trust me. And without trust, love isn’t enough. Without trust, we have nothing but lust and sex between us.”
He bowed his head, his eyes and nose burning. The knot in his throat was so huge he could barely breathe around it. He glanced up again to see answering sadness in her eyes. Eyes that screamed defeat. She was giving up. On him. On them.
“You are the one who keeps putting Carson between us,” she said gently. “Not me. I moved on, Dash. I let him go. I did that when I went to his grave so many weeks ago. I knew it bothered you for me to talk about him once we entered a relationship even though you appeared to be fine with it before. I even understood why you wouldn’t want to be reminded of a man I once loved when I was in your bed. But your own insecurities are what kept him between us. I was honest with you. The entire time I was nothing but honest. And I gave you everything you asked—demanded—of me, and yet you didn’t offer me those things in return. Not your respect. Not your trust. You say you loved me, but I don’t believe love can exist without trust and respect.”
“Please. Don’t say another word,” Dash begged. “Let me apologize. Let me beg your forgiveness, Joss.”