She really had to put a lid on her overactive imagination. Chessy needed support. Not validation for her suspicions.
With a grimace, Tate rose, glancing down the table at Dash.
“Can you run Chessy home afterward?” he asked. “I don’t know how long this will take.”
Sorrow swamped Chessy’s eyes. How could Tate not see how much he was hurting her? Could he really be that oblivious? Everyone else saw it. Even Jensen studied Tate with a frown, his gaze swinging back and forth between him and Chessy. There was concern in Jensen’s eyes for Chessy and irritation for Tate.
“Of course,” Dash said, though he was frowning too. “Don’t worry. Joss and I will see her home.”
“Thanks, man,” Tate said. Then he leaned down and brushed his lips over Chessy’s forehead. And lightly caressed one cheek with his hand. “Don’t wait up for me, darlin’.”
Then he strode away leaving Chessy staring down at her plate.
The silence after his departure was pronounced and awkward. When Chessy did look up, there was humiliation in her eyes. And defeat.
Jensen and Dash exchanged quick frowns and Joss stared at Chessy with concern.
Knowing the attention needed to be focused on someone other than Chessy, Kylie quickly scrambled for a conversation topic. Which was new to her, because she usually just sat back and observed or commented on what everyone else was talking about.
“How was y’all’s honeymoon?” Kylie directed toward Joss and Dash.
Chessy sent her a look of gratitude and even tried to smile, but the light was thoroughly extinguished in her usually expressive, bubbly demeanor.
“It was wonderful,” Joss said, though her gaze kept cutting back to Chessy. Then she looked directly at Kylie, one brow rising as if to say, “What are we going to do about this?”
Kylie grimaced and lifted one shoulder in a shrug. She had no idea what to do or say to make her friend feel better. How could she? The only person at this point who could make Chessy feel better was Tate.
“The beach was beautiful,” Joss continued. “And the food was delicious. Our room had a balcony that overlooked the ocean and at night we’d lie in bed and listen to the waves. I don’t think I’ve ever slept as well as I did for those two weeks.”
“You slept?” Kylie asked in amusement. “I’m shocked.”
Dash coughed as he put down his drink. Jensen chuckled and Joss looked shocked by Kylie’s remark. Then she blushed madly and joined in Jensen’s laughter.
“Okay, well maybe I slept a little,” Joss murmured.
Dash grinned and reached over to squeeze her hand. “Was the food good? I can’t say I really remember much except you. Was there even a beach? My memory is a little hazy.”
“Shhh!” Joss squeaked out.
“A beach sounds awesome right now,” Kylie said wistfully.
Ever since she’d had her epiphany about living life and maybe enjoying some of the money she had invested, she’d thought more and more about traveling. A vacation. Maybe more than one. Finally she had the courage to see some of the world beyond her sheltered existence. And she had someone to share it with.
“You should go,” Joss said, seizing the opening. “When have you ever taken a vacation?”
“Never,” Dash interjected.
Jensen studied her thoughtfully. “Maybe we could both take a vacation soon.”
Kylie’s cheeks warmed with pleasure. “I’d like that,” she said softly.
Chessy looked even sadder. Tears glistened in her eyes but she looked away, hiding them from the rest of the table. Kylie’s heart ached for her.
“Chessy, why don’t you get Tate to go away on a vacation?” Kylie asked, taking the bull by the horns.
They were in the company of friends. Trusted friends. There was no sense dodging the issue. Everyone knew. Everyone could see Chessy’s pain. Hiding it didn’t change it.
“He’d never go,” Chessy said dully.
“Maybe you should arrange a kidnapping,” Dash said thoughtfully.
Chessy grimaced. “He’d kill me. He’s working so hard to juggle his client load after his partner quit so unexpectedly. He’s determined not to lose anyone. I’m just going to have to ride it out and hope it doesn’t stay like this forever.”
Jensen cleared his throat and looked as though he were weighing whether he wanted to say something or not. Then he looked at Chessy, his eyes warm with concern and understanding.
“Have you tried telling him how you feel, sweetheart? I know if the woman I loved came to me and told me she was unhappy, I’d move heaven and earth to make it right.”
Chessy’s smile was sad and aching. Her eyes watered again but she looked at them all directly, no longer trying to hide her upset.
“Thank you all,” she said, dodging the direct question Jensen had asked. “I’m just being a big baby. I don’t want to be yet another burden on Tate when things are so crazy with work. I just have to be patient and supportive. Our anniversary is coming up and he’s promised me a night out with no work.”
Dash and Jensen didn’t look convinced. Joss was obviously distressed to see Chessy so unhappy. It was just Joss’s nature to want to help others. She was so giving and generous. Her heart was incredibly soft.
Recognizing that Chessy wanted to shift the topic off her and Tate, Kylie stood and picked up her plate.
“Come on, Joss. I’ll help you clear the table. We can have dessert in the living room, right?”
Joss also stood and began collecting plates. “Absolutely. I’ll get Dash to choose a good dessert wine and then I’ll cut everyone a piece of pie.”
As Kylie walked by Chessy, she leaned down and pressed a kiss to her cheek.
“It’s going to be okay, Chessy,” Kylie whispered. “And you know I’m here for you whenever you need me, right?”
Chessy flashed Kylie a look of gratitude. “Thanks, sweetie. I really appreciate it. But I’ll be fine. We’ll be fine,” she amended.
Hoping her friend was right, Kylie continued on into the kitchen to unload her pile of plates. Joss followed behind a few moments later, her brow furrowed in consternation.
“I hate to see her so unhappy,” Joss said fiercely. “Isn’t there anything we can do?”
“Short of hitting Tate upside the head and asking him what the hell his problem is?” Kylie said dryly.
Joss made a sound of disgust. “You know I love Tate to pieces, but right now he’s as thick as a brick. I can’t believe he can’t see the misery in Chessy’s eyes when everyone knows how bubbly and outgoing she always is. But she’s only that way when she’s happy. Chessy can’t hide her feelings to save her life. When she’s unhappy, it shows in every facet of her personality. And Tate can’t see that?”
“He likely doesn’t want to see it,” Kylie said quietly. “Because if he acknowledges that she’s unhappy then he has to deal with the fact that he’s made her that way. I think he knows. Deep down. But he’s in denial. By pretending everything is normal, he doesn’t feel guilty.”
“That just seems so chickenshit,” Joss muttered. “I know he loves her. I know that. But gah! This is so not like him, Kylie! I’ve never seen him this way. So distant. So willing to place Chessy second or even third in his priorities. In the past he’s always been so solidly focused on her. The kind of relationship they have, he has to be.”
“I don’t pretend to know anything about the kind of relationship they share,” Kylie said carefully. “But from what I’ve gleaned from y’all, I’d say he’s falling down on the job as her Dominant. Haven’t y’all always said that it’s the Dominant’s duty to see to his submissive’s every need? To put her first and above all else? Isn’t he supposed to cherish her gift of submission?”
“Yes,” Jensen said from the doorway to the kitchen. “Absolutely. Always. No question.”
Kylie glanced up quickly. She hadn’t noticed him coming in. She’d been too absorbed in her conversation with Joss.
Jensen unloaded dishes from his arms and then picked Kylie’s hand up, bringing it to his lips.
“He’s supposed to do all those things,” Jensen said. “And it would appear, at least right now, that he isn’t.”
“I’m glad Joss and I aren’t the only two who see it,” Kylie murmured.
“Well, you two know her better. And Tate as well. I’m just an unbiased observer. But from what you’ve told me and from what I witnessed tonight I would agree that Chessy is very unhappy.”
Joss sighed, closing her eyes. “I wish I knew what to do.”
Jensen smiled gently at her. “There’s nothing you can do except be there for her. Be her sounding board and her friend. Tate has to work this out between them. No one else can.”
“You need help with the pie, Joss?” Kylie asked.
Joss shook her head. “You go back to Chessy so she’s not by herself. I’ll bring in the plates and give her the biggest and first piece.”
Kylie smiled at her friend. “You’re the best, Joss. I don’t think I tell you often enough, but I love you.”
Joss’s lips quivered and for a moment she was silent, as if composing herself. Stark emotion shone in Joss’s eyes. Kylie felt a surge of guilt for not protecting her friendships better. Going forward she would absolutely. Joss and Chessy meant the world to her. It was time Kylie showed that and they knew it too.
“I love you too, Kylie. And I’m so glad you’re happy. Both of you,” she said, including Jensen in her declaration.
“Thanks, Joss. Kylie makes me happy. I’m a very lucky man.”
The sincerity in his simple declaration hit her square in the heart and flooded her with profound happiness. She almost skipped to the living room. She was positively bouncing. Then as soon as her gaze landed on Chessy she felt guilt for being so disgustingly happy when her friend was so obviously miserable.
“Don’t feel guilt for being happy, baby,” Jensen murmured in her ear.
She swung her gaze upward, her mouth gaping. “How the hell do you do that?”
He chuckled. “Do what? Read your mind? It didn’t take ESP to figure out what you were thinking. One minute you looked like you swallowed sunshine and as soon as you saw Chessy, your mouth drooped, you lost the smile and you looked guilty. Don’t be, baby. You deserve to be happy and Chessy would be the first one to say so. She’d never trade your happiness for her own.”
Kylie shook her head in amazement. “You’re incredible, you know that?”
“I’m glad you think so,” he said with a smile.
Still shaking her head, Kylie went over to plop down beside Chessy. She wrapped her arm around her friend’s shoulders and hugged her fiercely.
“Chin up, girlfriend. Isn’t that what you always tell me? You always have such wonderful advice, so I’m going to give you back some of what you’ve always given me so freely. Don’t let this get you down. You’ll kick Tate’s ass and then he’ll grovel for your forgiveness, and you being you will forgive him and y’all will live happily ever after.”
Chessy grinned. Some of the shadows lifted from her eyes and the sparkle was back. Kylie’s heart surged with relief. This was Chessy. Not the shell of herself she’d become lately. Chessy just . . . sparkled. But it was as Joss had said. She only sparkled when she was happy. Damn Tate’s thick skull for not seeing his wife’s unhappiness.
“I swear you fall in love and then you become positively arrogant. I like it! It’s so . . . you.”
“It’s the new me,” Kylie said blithely. “The old me? Not so much. But she’s gone now and I like the new me much better.”
“I love you both,” Chessy said. “There was nothing wrong with the old you except you weren’t happy. Now you are. That’s the only difference.”
“It’s not, but I love you for saying so,” Kylie said.
Joss came sailing in and handed Chessy a plate with a huge piece of caramel pie. Dash appeared with two glasses of wine for Chessy and Kylie, and Chessy clinked her glass to Kylie’s.
“Here’s to kicking ass. Regardless of whose.”
“I’ll drink to that,” Kylie said.
KYLIE’S heart was a little heavier on the way home than when they’d driven to Dash’s and Joss’s for dinner. But even concern for her friend couldn’t dissipate her optimistic outlook on her future.
She slid her hand into Jensen’s and rested them on the center console as he drove back to his—their—home. When had she started considering his home her own? She hadn’t been back to her house more than a handful of times since Jensen had all but moved her into his house. Only to get clothes and other items she needed.
There had been absolutely no mention of her returning to her house. But neither had they directly addressed the issue of her moving in. Jensen had just hauled her into his house and informed her she was staying.
Wow, she really was mellowing with age and experience. Amusement gripped her as she imagined someone telling her a month ago that she and Jensen would be an item and that he’d hauled her out of her office caveman-style and told her she wasn’t going anywhere.
She would have laughed herself silly.
And yet, here she was, in love. Happy. Living with Jensen. Having sex.
She winced over the word sex. True, it was sex but it seemed a crass description of their lovemaking. She’d never fully considered the difference between sex and “making love.” She’d never had any reason to. And she certainly hadn’t imagined herself having sex. With any man, but especially a man like Jensen.