The pain was back, throbbing in the background, but she lacked the energy to get up to down one of the painkillers the doctor had prescribed. She’d fractured two ribs and her left arm. Her arm had only suffered a hairline fracture, not a complete break. She’d be out of the cast in four weeks.
Her head had struck something—she still wasn’t sure what—and she had several stitches for a laceration on her scalp. She had facial bruising, and the rest of her body was sore from the impact. Her neck was stiff, a mild case of whiplash, but the doctor had cheerfully informed her she was a very lucky woman.
So why didn’t she feel lucky? Why hadn’t Carson been as fortunate as she? Why was fate such a fickle bitch as Dash had once described it? Why was she alive and Carson dead?
It wasn’t as though she’d wanted to die. No matter what Dash may have originally thought. Yes, it was certainly her fault, and she thanked God on a daily basis that her carelessness hadn’t cost a child her life. But she hadn’t intentionally driven into that tree.
She should have let Chessy come and get her like she’d offered. She should have never been behind the wheel of a car in the emotional state she’d been in. Live and learn. At least she had lived to learn that particular lesson.
Chessy’s soft voice came from behind her but Joss couldn’t turn. She still hurt too much so she waited for Chessy to enter.
Her friend’s concerned face appeared a moment later and she saw that Chessy was holding a glass of water and the bottle of painkillers. It shamed her that she was relieved she didn’t have to get up to get them.
“Are you hurting?” Chessy asked in concern.
Joss nodded. “I couldn’t muster the energy to get up and get them. Thank you.”
Chessy frowned and shook out two of the pills, dropping them into Joss’s right hand. After giving her the glass of water to swallow them, she sat down on the ottoman at Joss’s feet.
“I’m worried about you, sweetie. Tate and I both are. Hell, so is Kylie. She’s on her way over, by the way. I thought I’d warn you. She sounds . . . determined. I wouldn’t be surprised if she doesn’t plan to kick your ass.”
Joss smiled. “I love you both. Tate too. You’ve been so good to me. I’m being a complete baby. There’s no reason I can’t go back to my own house, but I appreciate you letting me stay here. I just haven’t wanted to be . . . alone.”
“Oh, honey, I understand.” Sympathy shone brightly in Chessy’s eyes. “And you can stay here as long as you like. Tate’s been so busy with work that he hasn’t been home much in the last weeks. Is it horrible of me that I’ve been happy that since your accident he’s been around more? Oh God, don’t answer that. It is horrible of me to think, much less say.”
Joss laughed. “No, not at all. I know you’ve been missing him. Is that the reason you’ve been so unhappy, Chessy? Is it work that’s been keeping him so preoccupied?”
“I hope it’s only work,” Chessy said in a low voice.
She looked as though she regretted the words the moment she spoke them. She looked away, as if avoiding the inevitable question in Joss’s eyes.
“You think he’s cheating?” Joss whispered. “Talk to me, Chessy. You know you’d never let me get away with not telling you something so important. Hell, you pulled every last detail about what happened between me and Dash from me.”
Chessy’s smile was rueful. “No. Yes. I don’t know. And it’s the not knowing that’s eating me alive.”
“Have you talked to him about it?”
Chessy slowly shook her head. “What if he’s not? Do you know how hurt he’d be if I questioned him? If I displayed a lack of faith in him?”
“Okay, let’s start with why you think he’d be cheating,” Joss said, glad to have something other than her own failed relationship to discuss. And if she could help her friend, then at least one of them would be happy.
“I don’t have any solid evidence that says he is,” Chessy admitted. “It’s just that he’s been so . . . distant. You know we have a Dominant/submissive relationship, but lately I’m lucky if we manage to have vanilla sex, much less delve into the normal course of our relationship.”
“Is it possible that he’s just under a lot of stress at work? Ever since he struck out on his own and quit working for Manning-Brown Financial, he’s been crazy busy. Even I can see that.”
“It’s more than that,” Chessy muttered. “The guy he partnered with, the one he left Manning-Brown to form a partnership with, decided to retire. This was only a few months after he and Tate started working together.”
Joss’s mouth fell open. “Why didn’t I know about this? When did this happen?”
Chessy squeezed Joss’s uninjured hand. “You were busy with your own stuff. You and Dash. Besides it wasn’t anything worth burdening you over. Nothing has changed really. Tate had always done the bulk of the work anyway, but Mark had brought a lot of affluent clients over to the partnership when they both broke off from their respective firms. So Tate’s been scrambling to keep them all happy because he doesn’t want to lose any of them. So far, only one has left, and he wants to keep it that way. Which means him being at their beck and call all hours of the day, seven days a week.”
Joss’s nose wrinkled. “I wouldn’t have thought a financial planner would be so . . . busy. I mean I know he does a lot, but what could there possibly be for him to do during nonbusiness hours? It’s not as though banks or the stock market are open after hours during the week or on weekends.”
“You’d be surprised,” Chessy said. “They call him at all times of the day, sometimes with legitimate concerns, sometimes with the absurd. But it’s Tate’s job to pacify them and reassure them or arrange their finances. He has to walk a very fine line because as I said, he doesn’t want to lose the clients he’s worked so hard to gain.”
“Is he going to take on another partner to lighten his load?”
Chessy shrugged. “That I don’t know. He doesn’t discuss it much with me. He doesn’t want to worry me. I used to love that about him. How he always sheltered me from anything he thought would hurt or worry me. Now? I’d take any form of communication because I feel this gap opening and widening between us and I hate it. I hate it, Joss,” she said, anguish filling her voice.
“I know I’m probably being silly and I’m overreacting, but I hate this uncertainty. I hate feeling like I don’t matter any longer. And I know that’s not true. I know he loves me. But he doesn’t show me like he used to. I’ve known from the day we met that I was his priority, and it makes me sound self-centered but I love being first and foremost in his mind. I loved that he always made me feel . . . special.”
“And you don’t feel special now,” Joss murmured.
Chessy slowly shook her head. “I’m not unhappy but I’m not happy either. And it’s eating me up on the inside. I keep wondering if this is as good as it gets and if I should be grateful he’s still with me. I don’t like how selfish I feel for wanting more.”
Joss leaned forward, ignoring the discomfort in her ribs. “You aren’t selfish,” she said fiercely. “Sweetie, you are the most unselfish, loving, giving person I know. Why don’t you talk to him about it? Lay it out just like you laid it out to me. I can’t imagine that he wouldn’t listen. That it wouldn’t horrify him to know you feel this way. He loves you so much. I can see it in the way he looks at you.”
“I wish I saw the same as you saw,” Chessy said wistfully. “I just want to go back to the way it was when we first met, and maybe that’s not possible. Maybe when you’re with someone as long as we’ve been together, when the newness wears off, you settle into tolerance.”
Joss shook her head adamantly. “I don’t believe that for a minute. I know Carson and I were only married for three years, but we were as in love at the three-year mark as we were the first year, and you and Tate have only been married a little less than five years.”
“Maybe you’re right,” Chessy said with a sigh. “Maybe I should just talk to him. But I freeze every time I think I’m going to ask. The words just stay locked in my throat because I know it will hurt him if I ask him if there’s someone else. And the thing is, if nothing is wrong except that he’s occupied with work, my doubt will cause a rift in our relationship that I’m not sure will ever mend.”
Joss grimaced, knowing Chessy could very well be right. Tate would be horrified if he knew Chessy thought he was having an affair. He might not forgive her doubting him even for a moment. Tate was rigid that way. He was an extremely honorable man and he was utterly protective of Chessy. If someone else was hurting her, Tate would do whatever was necessary to make it end. But what if he was the one hurting her? What then?
“Maybe you should just give it a while. Be patient and understanding. Love him. Show him your love and support and perhaps when things die down a bit at work and he’s more confident that he has everything under control, things will get better,” Joss quietly advised.
Chessy squeezed her hand again. “Thank you. I came up here to check on you and to cheer you up. Not to dump all my woes on you.”
Joss smiled. “I love you and I’d kick your ass if you ever didn’t come to me with whatever is bothering you. You and Kylie are my best friends. That won’t ever change.”
“Speaking of Kylie, there she is,” Chessy said brightly, looking beyond Joss to the doorway. Then she cast Joss a quick pleading look not to bring up the subject in front of Kylie.
Kylie was more of a direct, confrontational person, and if she even thought Tate was cheating on Chessy, she’d go straight to the source and kick his ass.
Joss squeezed Chessy’s hand back, a silent promise to keep their conversation secret.
“Hey, Joss,” Kylie said, coming over to hug her, though she was careful not to hug too tight. “How are you feeling today?”
“Better now that my personal nurse brought me the pain medication I was too lazy to get up and get for myself,” Joss said dryly.
Kylie smiled and plopped down on the ottoman beside Chessy. Her gaze swept over Joss as if judging for herself how her sister-in-law fared.
“How’s work?” Joss asked brightly, and then fearing it would be an invitation for Kylie to talk about Dash, she quickly amended her statement. “How are things with Jensen? Are you two getting along okay now?”
Kylie made a face. “He’s an overbearing, rigid ass.”
Chessy laughed. “Sweetie, you just described half the male population, Tate and Dash included.”
Joss flinched but refused to show any outward emotion over the mention of Dash’s name.
“Dash is a walking corpse,” Kylie said bluntly. “The man hasn’t slept since your accident. I don’t even know why he bothers coming in and going through the motions. Jensen’s had to pick up all the slack, as have I, because he’s worthless.”
Joss closed her eyes, pain swamping through her that even the strongest medication couldn’t ease. He’d called her a dozen times a day and each time she’d let it go to voice mail. It made her a coward, but she wasn’t prepared to deal with him now. Maybe ever.
He texted her, e-mailed her and he came to Chessy’s at least once a day, asking to see her. Each time either Tate or Chessy had told him that she was in her room sleeping. A lie. One he’d easily see through but she didn’t want to see him. Maybe ever.
He was absolutely relentless but then she knew that about him. But he’d gotten what he’d said he most wanted. She’d given him everything. She hadn’t asked him to change who and what he was because he was what she wanted. She’d wanted his dominance, his control, but more than that, she wanted his love and his trust.
Maybe she hadn’t wanted that in the beginning. She hadn’t believed she could ever find a love to match what she’d had with Carson. But Dash had fulfilled her in a way she’d never been fulfilled with Carson, and that hurt to admit. It hurt even more that she’d lost that.
She’d found perfection twice in a lifetime, and both times she’d lost it all. How was she supposed to recover from that again?
“I don’t know what to do,” she whispered, pain evident in her voice. “He doesn’t trust me. How can he say he loves me when he doesn’t trust me? Do you know what he accused me of?”
Both women shook their heads. Joss hadn’t told them what Dash had said to her in the hospital. The pain from that accusation had yet to fade in the four days she’d been at Chessy’s house. Hiding.
“He accused me of trying to kill myself. He asked if I’d purposely driven my car into that tree hoping to die.”
Chessy and Kylie both sucked in their breaths but thankfully neither held question in their eyes. They didn’t believe it. Thank God. She couldn’t bear it if her dearest friends also harbored doubts as to her mental stability.
“He thought that life without Carson was so unbearable that I chose to join him in death.”
“Oh, sweetie,” Chessy said, her voice aching with sympathy and pain. “I’m sure he didn’t mean it. You scared him. And after your argument he likely felt horribly guilty. He felt responsible for your accident because he upset you so badly.”
“He lashed out at you because the alternative was accepting the blame for what happened,” Kylie said quietly.