His entire expression softened, his eyes glowing with tenderness.
“Honey, nothing about your desires and needs is wrong. Nothing. Do you understand that? I need to know what pleases you, what turns you on, your deepest, darkest fantasies. If I don’t know what they are, how can I give you what you need?”
She didn’t respond.
He brushed the back of his knuckle down her cheekbone, stroking and then sliding back up to stroke downward again. His touch was infinitely soothing. It also aroused her. Almost violently. Never had she craved something so much as his touch right now. His hands on her body. Mouth on her skin.
“In time you’ll hide nothing from me,” he continued. “There is nothing you can’t share with me. Nor will there ever be. You can be yourself with me, Joss. I’ll protect and cherish your heart and soul. You don’t need defenses around me. They wouldn’t do you a damn bit of good anyway because I intend to strip you of them. Bare. Until there’s nothing between us but your delectable skin.”
“Your expectations seem simple enough,” she murmured. “You want my trust and my obedience.”
He smiled. “In theory, yes, quite simple. But obedience entails quite a lot. You’ll never know from one day to the next what it is I’ll demand of you. The not knowing is a powerful enough aphrodisiac. Anticipation makes it much sweeter.”
“And punishments, Dash? We spoke of what turns me on, but what about you? Do you enjoy meting out punishment on your submissive?”
“If you ask if I’m a sadist and enjoy inflicting pain for the sake of inflicting pain, no. I won’t set you up to fail just so I can punish you, honey. That’s not the way I work. Because I find much more satisfaction in your obedience. That’s what will make me happy. Not you failing a task so that punishment ensues. However, yes, there are some certain aspects of punishment that I enjoy, though I’d argue they aren’t true punishments because both me and my submissive enjoy them. I prefer to think of them as sexual pleasure. That’s what it’s all about. My pleasure. And yours.”
“You like the control,” she mused. “Not necessarily inflicting pain, but inflicting your will on the woman.”
“Now you’re gaining a greater understanding.”
She smiled. “I’ll get there, Dash. Just please be patient with me. I want to learn, to explore. But I’m a little wary and uncertain. I’m so afraid of making a mistake. Of disappointing you and myself.”
His expression became utterly serious. He framed her face in his palms, forcing her to look directly into his eyes.
“You will never disappoint me, Joss. I need you to know that. We’ll find our way together.”
She drew in a deep breath and then smiled. “I believe you. Now that we’ve gotten all of the talk out of the way, when do we start? And how do we start?”
“I want you to move in with me,” Dash said bluntly.
Joss’s eyes widened in surprise and her lips parted, a rush of air escaping the perfectly formed bow.
“But Dash . . .”
“No buts,” he said firmly. “This won’t be a part-time relationship, Joss. Nor will it be a secret.”
Her brow furrowed with consternation and she shook her head. “But I don’t want anyone to know! Not that I’m ashamed of you. That isn’t it. But this is private. I don’t want our relationship, what our relationship is, to be public knowledge!”
He leaned forward and pressed his lips to her forehead. “It won’t be public, honey. Not certain aspects of our relationship. I’m not going to flaunt it. But I’ll want you here with me, twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. I don’t think it would be a good idea for me to move in with you.”
He let his words, their meaning settle over Joss and he saw the instant she realized his purpose.
“Of course,” she said in a low voice. “I wasn’t thinking. Of course you wouldn’t want to be in the house I shared with Carson. It wouldn’t be fair to you.”
“Or to you,” Dash said gently. “This is a fresh start for you, Joss. It needs to be. And in order to do that, you have to break free from the past so you can move ahead with your future.”
“It’s just so sudden,” she murmured. “So much has happened and it’s happened so quickly. I’ve barely had time to process it all.”
“The only thing me giving you more time would accomplish would be giving you more of a chance to back out. I’m not going to allow that. I’ve waited too long. I won’t let you go now. Not when I’m so close to having everything I ever wanted. Maybe that’s selfish of me. But I can live with it if you can.”
She smiled ruefully, her eyes lightening as she glanced up at him. “I can live with that. What else then? I just move here with you?”
“That’s a start,” he said. “Once you’re here, we’ll move further into the physical—and emotional—aspects of our relationship. You’ll find I’m a very demanding man, Joss. I hope to hell you’re prepared for that. I won’t be easy. I won’t have mercy.”
Her pulse leapt, jumping at the pulse point of her neck. “I don’t want you to,” she said huskily.
“Good. Now why don’t we go over to your house so you can pack a few things. You don’t have to get everything today. Just what you need for the next few days. We can always go back for more later.”
Left unsaid was his concern that once she was here, once they embarked on their sexual odyssey, she would run and run hard. Go back to her home and shut him out forever. He hoped to hell she was as strong as she put off and that she truly did want all she’d said.
He had no doubt he could give her everything she could possibly want or need and so much more. The question was whether she knew exactly what it was she truly wanted.
“I’ll need to let Chessy and Kylie know,” she said. “They’ll worry. They know about you. I mean they know about us. But still, it’ll shock them that we’re moving so quickly. I’ll endure a lecture from Kylie.”
“And not Chessy?” he asked in amusement.
Joss smiled and shook her head. “No, Chessy was supportive of my decision to go after what I wanted. She was concerned, don’t get me wrong. But she understood it and encouraged me to go through with it. Kylie? Well, she thought I’d lost my damn mind, and she’s scared to death of what I’m getting into.”
“Then it should make her feel better to know you aren’t hooking up with some random stranger who doesn’t give a f**k about you.”
“It upset her that you had feelings for me while I was married to Carson,” Joss said quietly. “I think she felt like you betrayed Carson.”
Dash scowled. “I never betrayed him. He knew. He damn well knew and we were still friends. He trusted me. He knew I’d never act on that attraction. He was my friend.”
“I know that,” Joss said gently. “Kylie is just very black-and-white. She has a narrow view of the world. It surprised her and she doesn’t deal with surprise very well.”
Dash grimaced, knowing that Jensen replacing Carson would come as another big surprise to Kylie. An unwelcome one at that.
“Why are you frowning?” Joss asked. “Are you angry that Kylie was upset?”
Dash shook his head. “No. I was just thinking about what else I wanted to discuss with you. And with Kylie.”
She looked worried and he hastened to soothe her, not wanting anything to disrupt the mood between them. Not when things were so . . . good.
“You may or may not know that before Carson died, we had talked about taking on another partner. I wasn’t sure how much Carson shared with you regarding business. I know he was determined that you never have to work or worry about money coming in.”
Joss’s expression immediately became worried. “Is it money, Dash? Is the business not doing as well? I can go back to work, you know. Even though I quit a year after Carson and I married—at his insistence—I’ve kept up my certifications and I’ve taken the necessary classes so I could keep my nursing license. I can go back to work. I don’t want to be a financial burden on you. Do what you must to keep the business going. It’s what Carson would have wanted.”
He put his finger to her lips, loving her more than ever. She was so selfless and generous. Most women would be horrified at the mere thought of their financial security diminishing. But not her. She was prepared to go back to work. In fact, he remembered it had taken Carson an entire year to talk her into quitting. No, they hadn’t needed her salary, not by a long shot, but Joss hadn’t wanted to quit. She hadn’t wanted to be dependent on Carson. He admired her for that.
“There’s nothing wrong with the business, honey, and the truth is, what Carson would have wanted is not for you to go back to work. You have to know that. Carson only wanted you safe and happy and provided for. And he ensured that by leaving you a percentage of the business. You don’t have to worry. I plan for the business to expand and become more profitable than even before. It’s a fact that things faltered a bit after Carson died. My head and heart weren’t in it and it suffered the first year. But I pulled it together. What I wanted to tell you and Kylie both is that I’m taking on a partner. Carson and I had planned to expand before he died. Those plans got put on hold as I focused on making sure the business remained solvent. But now is the perfect time to take on someone else. I can’t do it all myself. I don’t have the desire to. There are other things that I’d rather focus on now. You. And I can’t do that if I’m tied to the desk and traveling all the time.”
Joss blinked in surprise. “You’re replacing Carson?”
He winced because while he knew Kylie would draw that same conclusion, he’d hoped that Joss wouldn’t see it that way.
As if reading his mind, Joss leaned forward, her expression earnest, her eyes soft with understanding. “I don’t mean it that way, Dash. I’m not upset that you’re ‘replacing’ Carson. I suppose I just didn’t realize how demanding the business was. Oh, I know how much time Carson put into it. But what I didn’t know at the time was that you stepped up and shouldered far more responsibility so that Carson would be free to spend more time with me. Thank you for that, Dash. I know you made a lot of sacrifices, but I’ll forever be grateful that you gave that to him. To us. That I got to spend as much time with him as I did before he died. I’ll always treasure those memories. The trips. The days at home just spending time together.”
Moisture rimmed her eyes, but she didn’t allow herself to cry. It looked as though she exerted great restraint not to break down even though her lips trembled with that effort.
“And if by taking on another partner, it enables you to step back and have a life that doesn’t revolve around the business, then you have my full support. You’ve given so much to me and to Carson. It’s only fair that you have a turn at reaping the rewards of your success.”
Damn but this woman just made him happy. He was so damn proud of her. Now if only Kylie would take the news as graciously as Joss had. But then he’d expected no less from Joss. He hadn’t entertained even for a moment that she would be resentful or that she’d object. He’d definitely considered that it might be upsetting for her. That was only normal. She was a woman who’d loved her husband, a love most men would kill for, and if they could have that kind of love and devotion from a woman like Joss, they’d never want for more in their life.
He wanted it now. Craved it. Was obsessed with it and her. He’d do whatever it took to make her happy again. He’d prove to her that lightning could strike twice in the same lifetime. She’d mentioned on more than one occasion, in passing, that she didn’t expect to ever find love again. Not like she had with Carson. Hell, she’d resigned herself to that fact, accepting it.
Fuck that. If she only gave him the chance, he’d prove to her that she could be that happy again. That not only would another man give her the world, but that he’d love her and cherish her. He’d wrap her in cotton and protect her from everything that could ever hurt her.
“Have you decided on his replacement?” she asked quietly.
He covered her hand with his and squeezed. “Honey, I’m not replacing him. No one could ever replace Carson. He built this business. He made it what it is today. I helped, yes, but this was his vision. His brainchild. He was a brilliant, business-minded man.”
She smiled. “Have you decided on the new partner yet then? Or have you only just recently made the decision?”
“Yes and no,” he said. “I met Jensen some years ago when Carson was still alive. Carson and I had actually discussed bringing him in as a third partner when we decided to expand. And we’d planned to in the next year. But that was before he died so unexpectedly.”
“Is that his name? Jensen? Have I met him?”
She frowned, her brow wrinkling in concentration. She was evidently trying to place the name. He almost laughed. As if she’d ever notice another man with Carson in the same room. It had been one of the things he most envied about Carson. Joss’s absolute devotion and fidelity when it came to her husband.
When he was with her, she had eyes for no one else. Her focus was on him, her love for him evident in the warmth of her gaze. More than one man had looked at Carson with envy in his eyes. And the hell of it was she was oblivious to her allure. She had no idea that in a room full of business associates every male’s eyes were on her. Lusting after her. Eaten alive with jealousy over Carson’s good fortune.