“Show us your back,” Jensen said bluntly. “Or if you aren’t comfortable with me in the room at least show Kylie. I doubt you can see if the skin is broken but it needs to be looked at just in case.”

Chessy had ignored the pain over her shoulder blades because the pain in her heart overshadowed everything else. Slowly she turned, presenting her back to Kylie and Jensen, and allowed Kylie to lift the T-shirt she’d changed into at home so she could see the damage inflicted by the strap.

She heard Kylie’s swift intake of breath and Jensen’s savage curse. She winced at the colorful expletives that exploded from Jensen’s mouth.

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“How bad is it?” Chessy whispered.

“Bad enough,” Jensen said, but then he was never one to sugarcoat things. Chessy had only known him a few months, but she liked his no-nonsense air and the fact that he was always plainspoken.

“The skin’s not broken, thank God,” Kylie said, soothing over Jensen’s more terse response. “But there are raised welts and bruises already forming.”

Kylie lowered Chessy’s shirt back down and Chessy turned to once again face Kylie and Jensen. She was mortified by the fact that they were witnessing the results of Tate’s negligence.

Kylie opened her mouth and then closed it again, visibly uncomfortable with whatever it was she’d started to say. Then she stared directly at Chessy.

“I know you’ve explained some of what you and Tate do, but is this … normal?” she asked in a faltering tone. “I mean is this what he does to you? I’ve never known Joss to wear bruises but then what if I just don’t see them? I guess I don’t understand the dynamics of the lifestyle you and Joss live.”

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Jensen sighed and rested his hand on Kylie’s shoulder, squeezing. “It’s not something that should ever happen, honey. A Dominant is charged with the absolute safety and well-being of his submissive. He’s supposed to safeguard that gift and cherish it and her. What Tate did tonight …” He broke off, shaking his head in confusion. “I still can’t wrap my mind around it. What was he thinking? The idea that he allowed Chessy to be hurt when she was such a short distance away sickens me.”

Chessy teared up all over again and Jensen looked immediately contrite that he’d caused her more upset.

“No, it’s not how our relationship works,” Chessy said in response to Kylie’s original question. “He’s never left bruises on me. He’s always been so careful and mindful when he uses a crop or flogger. I don’t expect you to understand the reasons why, but the line between pain and pleasure, if done correctly, can be exciting and edgy. Pleasurable. And tonight isn’t something new to us. It’s something we’ve enjoyed before. But in the past, Tate’s focus was always solely on me. He always made sure that my pleasure came first and that the man he chose never went too far. Tonight that wasn’t the case. He took a damn phone call while another man had me tied and helpless and unable to protect myself.”

Anger surged in her voice, becoming stronger the more she explained. Her rage surprised her. She’d expected to feel a whole host of things, but the storm of fury temporarily edged out her absolute despair.

“I want to go over there and beat his ass,” Jensen said darkly.

Chessy sent him a watery smile. “Thank you, but don’t bother.”

“I’m so sorry this happened to you, Chessy,” Jensen said, sincerity ringing in his voice. “Tate is a goddamn fool. I can’t believe he doesn’t recognize the treasure he has in you. But I’m glad you left his sorry ass. It’s high time you stuck up for yourself.”

She sighed, knowing that she’d been a doormat for far too long. Even her friends could see that and it shamed her that she’d never recognized it until now.

“I hate to ask this,” Chessy said, embarrassment making her cringe. “But can I stay here tonight? I left in a hurry and haven’t even figured out where I’m going or what I’m going to do for that matter.”

Jensen scowled and Kylie added her own frown.

“That is not something you even have to ask,” Jensen said. “You’ll stay here with us for as long as you need to. We aren’t kicking you out in the morning. You need friends right now.”

Kylie nodded her agreement. “You’re staying indefinitely,” she said in an adamant tone. “I know what it’s like to be by yourself in misery and believe me, it isn’t pretty and it isn’t fun.”

Jensen flinched, knowing she was referring to the time she and Jensen had spent apart, alone and miserable after Jensen had stupidly broken things off with her.

“No, it isn’t fun,” Jensen agreed. “Which is why you’re staying here where you can be among friends. You’ve always been an invaluable source of support for Kylie and I can never repay you for that. You staying is the least I can do so that we can return the favor. And we won’t take no for an answer.”

“Thank you,” Chessy said with deep relief. As much as she hated intruding on Kylie and Jensen’s newly formed relationship, she really did need her friends around her. Now more than ever. Because now the pretense would be dropped. No longer would Kylie and Joss bite their tongues and hold back their opinions. It would now be open season on Tate.

It was part of the Southern Girlfriend code of honor and etiquette, one of the first entries being that a friend will be there to bail you out of jail but a VERY good friend will be sitting in the jail cell WITH you.

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