“You’ll sleep in my bed every night. There are times when I’ll want to bind you in the bed so that you’re helpless and dependent on me for everything. I’ll make love to you while you’re spread out and tied to my bedposts. Where your body will be available to me whenever I choose to take it. And I’ll take you often, Joss. Before we go to bed at night. During the night. And first thing in the morning before you’re fully awake. I’ll slide into your beautiful body and I’ll be the first thing you feel each morning. I’ll be the last thing you know when you go to sleep at night. And you’ll go to bed knowing you are mine and that you belong, heart and soul, to me. You’ll never have cause to doubt it because not a day will go by that I won’t prove that to you.”

“I’ve not heard a single downside to this,” she said ruefully. “Quite frankly it all sounds too good to be true.”

His expression grew more serious. “It won’t all be perfect, Joss. You need to know that going in. You need to prepare yourself for the fact you may not enjoy everything I have planned. The very last thing I want is to frighten or repulse you. Or make you do something you aren’t comfortable with. It’s why it’s so important for us to communicate. I want you to be brutally honest with me even if it’s not something you think I want to hear or know. I want your promise that you’ll tell me what’s going on in your head when we do these things. I’ll want to know how you feel, how what we do makes you feel. I don’t want this to be you sacrificing your pleasure and enjoyment because you’re worried about disappointing me. Believe me when I say that if I’m unable to bring you ultimate pleasure, then I don’t want to be doing this.

“It may sound on paper like it’s all about me. And for some Dominants it is. It isn’t about their submissive’s pleasure or her desires or even her happiness. I’m not that selfish, however. I hope to f**k I never become that self-centered. Pleasing you makes me happy. It’s all I want. It’s what I demand. So yes, while it is somewhat about my pleasure and you pleasing me, know this: making you happy is what will make me happy and content. I need that, Joss. I need you.”

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She wrapped her arms around his neck and held on tight, burying her face in his neck.

“What I think you are is perfect. So perfect that I wonder if you aren’t too good to be true. Not just this situation but you.”

“I think we’re on the same page here,” Dash said with a smile. “We seem to be saying the same things but perhaps in a slightly different way. But we both want the same things. You want to be happy and you want me to be happy in our relationship. And conversely, I want you to be happy, first and foremost, because trust me, honey. You being happy will make me extremely happy.”

She let out the air from her lungs in a long exhale.

“I want this, Dash. I’m ready to dive in and take the plunge. I’ll be honest. I don’t know if I can stand a few days with you walking on eggshells and me never knowing when it all begins. I’m ready now.”

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“Then what I want you to do while I’m getting your suitcases from the car is to undress. Take your time and use the bathroom. Whatever makes you feel more comfortable and at ease. I want you na**d the entire evening. I want to cook you a special meal and feed you by my own hand. And I want to enjoy the sight of your gorgeous body while I’m doing this for you. And then, when we’re done eating and ready to think about bed? Then we’ll go to bed together and see if you’re every bit as sweet and f**king sexy as you are in my dreams. It’s time to make my dreams come true. Mine and yours.”

TWELVE

JOSS surveyed her reflection in the mirror and winced at the stark fear in her eyes. They were wide and it was obvious that she was jittery as hell.

Naked. He wanted her na**d, and God, but that made her utterly self-conscious. He expected her to parade around with no clothing. To eat a meal with him. Naked. No barriers, no shield, no protective measures.

It was the height of vulnerability and yet it was also a signal of her trust and her willingness to do as he’d asked, or rather demanded, no matter how gently the demand had been voiced.

She sucked in a deep breath and then ran a brush through her hair, debating whether to leave it down or clip it up. Deciding that leaving it down offered at least a small measure of protection, she set aside the brush and arranged her hair so it fell over her shoulders in the front and covered at least part of her breasts.

Her ni**les peeked through the strands of her hair though and she wondered if it was in fact a more erotic sight than if she’d pulled her hair up and left her br**sts completely bare.

There was only one way to find out. Leave the refuge of the bathroom, quit hiding like a coward and gauge Dash’s reaction to her nudity.

He’d certainly been blunt about his desire for her. She’d seen the evidence of his arousal in his eyes, in the way he spoke. But then he hadn’t seen her na**d. Hadn’t touched her any more intimately than a few caresses to her face and her arms.

Now he would have unfettered access to any part of her body. Her breasts. Her pussy. She flinched at the crude term, but there were certainly more vulgar terms for the female anatomy than pussy. Words she hated. Cunt. That was the worst and she hoped it was a word Dash would never use.

It was silly to be such a prude about her body or how it was referred to. But she couldn’t control her reaction to the harsher words. They brought to mind unpleasant images. Reduced sex to mindless f**king. No intimacy or tenderness. She wanted those things. Needed them.

No matter that she was turning over her body, her soul, to another man. That she wanted to submit and craved a man’s dominance. She still wanted to be treated respectfully, and it was important to her that she wasn’t just a sexual conquest. A woman to be used and then discarded as though she meant nothing.

She wanted to matter. She wanted to feel again as she’d felt when she was married to Carson. Wanted that connection to another man. Maybe she was a fool for even starting down this path. But she’d never know unless she tried, and Dash was a man she did trust. As determined as she’d been to move forward with her decision, the moment the man from The House had approached her, dread had filled her. She’d been uncertain and afraid even as she sought to go through with it.

She now knew that regardless of whether or not Dash had been there and called a halt to the whole mess, she wouldn’t have gone through with it. She would have chickened out and ran, and she would have never gone back.

In a way she was grateful that Dash had been there and that he’d intervened, even as humiliating as she’d found the entire experience. Because it forced his hand. It made him act on long-held desires. And now she could see if this was truly what she wanted, and she could do it with a man she knew would never hurt her.

But there were different kinds of hurt. Not just physical ones. It was the emotional pain she feared the worst. Of somehow messing up a friendship she valued, a friendship she’d desperately clung to after Carson had died.

If she lost Dash too, what would she do?

She shook her head, refusing to go there. She’d procrastinated long enough. If she didn’t get moving, Dash would know she was standing in there wavering. He deserved better than a woman who was having second and third thoughts. She’d agreed to this. She’d been firm in her commitment. She wasn’t backing out now. Or ever.

Gathering her courage, she opened the bathroom door and stepped into the bedroom. Her suitcases were empty and stacked against the far wall. Her eyes widened when she realized he’d unpacked all her belongings and put them away already.

She walked to the closet, curious, and when she opened the door, she saw all her things she’d packed hanging on hangers. She took up the right side while Dash had moved his things to occupy the left.

Her shoes were neatly lined up on the floor beneath the hanging clothes.

She glanced at the dresser and knew without looking that he’d put away her panties and bras and pajamas. Her cheeks flushed hot when she imagined him sorting through her intimate wear and putting them away.

He’d said he would be in the kitchen, but the thought of walking in there, na**d, sent terror through her veins. It made her achingly vulnerable. Powerless. But wasn’t that the point? She was ceding all power to him. She’d made a point of saying she didn’t want to make choices, that she wanted them made for her. It still discomfited her, that it made her appear weak and spineless. But what was it Dash had said? That it took a strong woman to submit to a man?

She held on to the assurance. Tucked it away so she could remind herself of those words every time she felt she was weak.

“Okay, this is it, Joss,” she murmured to herself as she stood at the door of the bedroom. “No going back now. Once you walk out of here your decision is made.”

She stood a moment, battling herself, trying to summon the courage necessary to take that final step. Her hand curled around the knob and she yanked the door open, striding through the doorway before she could talk herself out of this insanity.

She walked to the head of the stairs and looked down, seeking any sign that Dash was close or that he’d see her descend the stairs. But no, he’d said he’d be in the kitchen and that he’d give her all the time she needed to prepare.

How the hell could she ever be prepared to walk na**d into the kitchen where a man waited who had been very blunt about his intentions?

“Stop being such a coward,” she admonished herself fiercely as she forced her way down those steps.

At the bottom, she didn’t hesitate. Take the plunge. She headed for the kitchen, determined to get that first moment of awkwardness away. The sooner she got it over with, the sooner her nerves would settle and maybe the fear would melt away.

Dash had his back turned to her, tending to something on the stove when she entered the kitchen. She did so quietly and yet he still knew the instant she came in. He turned, his eyes flaring with appreciation as he took in her appearance.

They burned brightly, smoldering as his gaze raked up and down her body. But it was the approval that put her at ease.

“You look just as beautiful as I imagined,” he said hoarsely. “Even more so than I dreamed. You’ve occupied plenty of my fantasies, honey, but the reality has nothing on those dreams.”

She smiled, bolstered by his praise. Maybe this wouldn’t be so bad after all. Her shoulders slumped as she relaxed and some of the awful tension that had her in knots loosened and she could breathe normally again.

He set a pot off the stove and then hurried toward her. To her surprise, he slid his hand around her neck and pulled her to him, his lips finding hers in a heated rush.

“You have no idea how long I’ve dreamed of this moment,” he murmured against her lips. “You. Naked. In my home. Here in my kitchen while I prepare a meal I intend to feed you by my hand. It’s more than I ever dared hope for, Joss. I hope to hell you know that.”

“I do now,” she said with a smile as he drew away, his eyes glittering with desire.

“Go into the living room and get comfortable,” he directed. “I’ll bring in a tray momentarily.”

His gaze lingered a moment longer before he reluctantly turned away and went back to the stove.

As he’d directed, she went into the living room and sank into the sumptuous leather. She wasn’t cold, but the urge to pull one of the throws around her was strong. But that wasn’t what he wanted. It wasn’t what he’d commanded of her, and she wouldn’t start their relationship off on a bad foot by disobeying his very first directive.

A few minutes later Dash entered the living room carrying a tray with one plate. Evidently he’d been serious about feeding her, because there was no extra serving. He stopped at the coffee table and slid it onto the glass top before settling onto the couch next to her.

To her surprise he reached for one of the pillows and placed it on the floor next to his feet. Puzzled by his action, she sent him an inquisitive look.

In response he simply held out his hand to hers, his gaze steady and . . . challenging? Was this a test? And if it was, what was she supposed to do?

When he continued holding out his hand, but not reaching to take hers, she slid hers into his and his fingers curled around hers.

“I want you to kneel on the pillow so that I can feed you,” he said in a low, husky voice.

She held back the questions that burned her lips. Instead she simply nodded and rose, with his assistance. She sank onto the pillow as gracefully as she was able, and remembering his instructions for when she knelt, she spread her thighs and rested her hands, palms up on the tops of her legs.

“Very good,” he murmured. “You’re a natural at this, Joss. Make sure you’re comfortable and we’ll begin our meal.”

It was a little mortifying to be sitting, thighs splayed where he could easily see her most intimate parts. And yet her cl*ttingled, swelling with her arousal. Her ni**les hardened and her breathing shallowed, little puffs of air escaping her parted lips.

He forked a bite of the pasta and sautéed shrimp, gently blew on it before pressing it lightly to his lips to test the temperature. Then he held the fork to her mouth, prompting her to open.

As he held the fork for her to eat, his other hand delved into her hair, stroking and twisting the strands around his fingers. He kept up his gentle assault on her senses and he fed her more, each time bringing it to his lips first.

There was something decidedly intimate about him feeding her. How he ensured that it wouldn’t burn her by testing it first. The idea that the food had been to his mouth first and then to hers was as jolting as if he’d kissed her.

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