“Story of my life,” Dash murmured. “I was too late the first time. Fate gave me another chance and I don’t intend to f**k it up.”
Sympathy shone in Jensen’s eyes. “So you had a thing for her when she was married. And to your best friend. That had to suck.”
“You could say that.”
A thoughtful look crossed Jensen’s face. “I’m fairly new to the area as you know. When we first met, it was through business trips to Houston. But now that I’m here, I haven’t really had time to scope it out. Any clubs here? You know anything about the places in this area?”
“Yeah. There’s one good one. Very exclusive. It’s called The House. Owned and managed by Damon Roche. Wealthy son of a bitch and he caters to an upscale clientele. He’s backed off in recent months. He’s married and has a daughter who occupies most of his time, but he still keeps a hand in the operations. I can give you his contact information and put in a word for you. He does an extensive background check on prospective members, but it’s a very well-run, safe place. I think you’d like it. There’s something for every sexual proclivity there and no shortage of submissive women looking for what a man like yourself provides.”
“Thanks. I’ll take you up on that.”
“Just do me a favor. Since we’ll be working together, and not that I expect you to apprise me of your comings and goings, but I intend to take Joss there a few times and I wouldn’t want her to be uncomfortable, so I’d appreciate a heads-up if you plan to be there. I’d rather avoid the nights when we’d run into people she knows.”
“No problem,” Jensen said.
“There is another couple who has a membership there. You’ll likely meet them at some point because they are friends of mine and Joss. Chessy and Tate Morgan. They’re married and they go, though more infrequently than they used to. I plan to get with Tate to ensure we don’t run into them on the nights I take Joss.”
“It would appear you’re acquainted with many people who share our choice of lifestyle,” Jensen said dryly.
“They aren’t as uncommon as one might believe,” Dash countered. “It’s just not something most couples advertise. I never dreamed that Joss would be open to this kind of relationship. Hell, I’ve waited three long years to make my move and I was damn near too late. She showed up at The House one night when I was there and I hadn’t been in a damn long time. It was fortunate I was there or she would have ended up with some other guy who wouldn’t treat her as well as I will.”
“Lucky indeed,” Jensen murmured. “If I had been there, she certainly wouldn’t have gone home alone. I’ll have to check this place out. You’ve intrigued me now.”
Dash scowled at Jensen’s statement until he saw the twinkle in the other man’s eyes. Jensen was yanking his chain, the bastard, and Dash had risen to the bait.
“One other thing you need to know, or rather prepare yourself for,” Dash said quickly, wanting this part of the conversation over before Joss returned from the kitchen.
Jensen arched an eyebrow.
“You know I told you I wanted to tell Joss and Kylie myself before we announced our partnership. Joss took it very well, but then I expected nothing less from her. Kylie, however, won’t take it as well.”
“You haven’t told her yet?”
Dash shook his head. “I plan to tell her Monday when she comes to work. The thing is, you should know dominant men scare the f**k out of her. I don’t know how much you know of her situation. Hers and Carson’s. They grew up in hell. Their father was an abusive son of a bitch who ran his household with an iron fist. His brand of dominance was bullshit. No true Dominant would ever abuse his wife or children. But she doesn’t know the difference. She fears strong men, and hell, you scared Joss to death when you first walked in. I could see it in her eyes though she covered it well and recovered quickly. But you should know that Kylie is going to be extremely wary around you.”
“I’m not going to be a bastard to her,” Jensen said, a defensive note to his voice.
“I know that,” Dash said. “I just thought you should know where she’s coming from. Don’t take it personally. It has nothing to do with you and everything to do with her experience with men in general. She doesn’t trust anyone. Carson shielded and protected her well into her adult life. I’m not sure he did her any favors even though I understand where he was coming from. I’m just letting you know that things may not be easy at first between the two of you. And I’d appreciate it if you were patient and understanding with her.”
Jensen nodded, his expression growing dark. “How bad was it?”
“The worst,” Dash said quietly. “His wife tucked tail and ran, leaving the kids at his mercy, and he abused them horribly. Kylie got the worst of it maybe because she reminded him of his wife. Who the hell knows? Carson wasn’t always able to protect her, though God knows he tried. Her father raped her and beat her. Repeatedly.”
“Son of a bitch,” Jensen swore. “No wonder she’s so wary around men. Can’t say I blame her. I’ll be careful with her. I don’t want her to fear me. It sickens me that any woman would have reason to fear men as she does.”
“In that we agree,” Dash said. “Carson couldn’t give Joss what she needed. Dominance. And she loved him too much to ask it of him. But he knew. And now that she’s taken that step and wants what I can give her, I’ll do whatever it takes to make her happy again.”
“I wish you luck,” Jensen said sincerely. “She’s a good woman. You’re a lucky son of a bitch.”
“I know,” Dash said quietly.
They both fell silent when Joss reentered the room carrying the silver tray with the hors d’oeuvres she’d prepared earlier.
She was a dream in the kitchen. When she and Carson had entertained in their home she’d always prepared all the food despite Carson telling her he’d have it catered. She’d always laughed and told him there was no need and that she enjoyed cooking. Dash looked forward to her cooking for him even if he planned to spoil her by cooking for her. It was a duty they could share. He liked the idea of being in the kitchen with her. His kitchen. He wanted her to settle in and make herself at home. Put her stamp on his sterile environment. He couldn’t wait for her to light up his entire home and make it her own.
“Thank you, Joss. This is delicious,” Jensen said appreciatively after downing two of the confections.
“I got caught up in conversation and didn’t fix our drinks,” Dash said ruefully. “I’ll remedy that at once. Hand me your wineglass, honey. I’ll pour yours first.”
“Oh, I’ll get them,” she said hastily. “You two continue your conversation. I can make most drinks. Carson bought me a book one year and it became my mission to be able to make any drink requested when we entertained. Try me. What can I get for you?”
Jensen smiled and sent Dash another look before mouthing, “Lucky bastard.” Dash grinned and acknowledged Jensen’s silent compliment with a smug nod.
“Surprise me,” Dash said. “Fix me whatever you decide. I’ll like whatever you make. Promise.”
“Same here,” Jensen said. “Only thing I don’t care for is rum. Anything else goes.”
Joss’s smile was breathtaking. Her eyes warmed with delight and sudden shyness. Dash could see her worry even as her mind was buzzing with what to fix. She didn’t want to disappoint him. Didn’t she realize that it wasn’t possible to disappoint him? She could fix him rubbing alcohol, and as long as she smiled at him that way, he’d drink it down and never taste it.
“Sit, please, and make yourselves comfortable,” Joss said, gesturing toward the chairs. “I’ll be back in a moment with your drinks. Dash? Is your minibar stocked or do you store most of your liquor in the kitchen?”
“Everything you need should be there,” he replied. “And if it isn’t, let me know and I’ll get whatever you need.”
She sent him another dazzling smile and hurried toward the bar to the far left of the living room. He watched her, unable to tear his gaze away from her. Satisfaction gripped him by the throat, spreading clear to his soul.
“Man, you’ve got it bad,” Jensen murmured. “Can’t say I blame you though. She’s a jewel.”
“Yeah, she is that,” Dash said in a low voice as the two men took their seats. “She wanted to meet you. She asked for tonight’s meeting. I wonder what she thinks of you and if she’s as smitten as you are.”
Jensen grinned. “Can’t say I’d complain if she was.”
“I’ll slice your balls off,” Dash bit out.
Jensen laughed and Joss looked up from where she was mixing the drinks, a puzzled look on her face.
Dash smiled back at her and waved her off. “Just guy talk, honey. Don’t let us interrupt you.”
“So this thing with Kylie,” Jensen began, turning the subject to a more serious matter. “How much of a problem do you anticipate my presence will be?”
“I can’t answer that,” Dash said honestly. “I don’t think she’d take any new partner well at first. In her mind, you’ll be replacing her brother. She’s used to working for me and Carson, but more so for Carson. He brought her into the company when she graduated college. A protective measure on his part because he wanted her where he could take care of her. As I said, he likely didn’t do her any favors, but I also understand why he wanted to protect her. She’s . . . fragile. She still carries the emotional scars of her childhood abuse. Carson was determined to shield her from any hurt in her adult life.
“After he died, she took it hard and it was a while before she could work comfortably with me, even though I’d been there from the start. But she worked in a closer capacity with Carson. I was more of a secondary boss. When I took over, she reported directly to me and acted as my personal assistant. I had one before Carson died, but I dismissed her so Kylie would still have a position.
“I thought she could act as assistant to us both. She is certainly capable of handling the workload and she knows every single thing that comes through the business. She’s good. But you may opt to hire your own assistant depending on how she reacts to your presence.”
“In other words, she’s been babied and coddled by you both,” Jensen said.
Dash nodded. “You could say that.”
“Please be understanding with her, Jensen,” Joss said quietly.
Both men looked up to see Joss standing there, drinks in hand. Her expression was troubled, clear worry reflected in her eyes.
She handed them their drinks and then took a seat next to Dash on the couch. She reached for his hand and he wondered if she even realized that she was reaching out to him for support.
“I have no intention of being a jerk to her,” Jensen said gently.
“I didn’t mean to insinuate you would,” Joss said, her cheeks flushing with embarrassment. “It’s just that Kylie is . . . fragile.”
Her words echoed Dash’s own description of just moments ago.
“She sees things very black-and-white and she’s cautious. She’s had reason to be,” Joss continued. “And you’ll frighten her. I don’t say that to insult you,” she hastily added. “But you’re a very intimidating man. I worry about her—for her. When she feels threatened, she lashes out, and I worry that will anger you or perhaps make you want to replace her. She needs this job, Jensen. Not for the money. Carson provided very generously for her and for me. But she needs the stability. The routine. She’s very good at what she does. I know most people would look at her and think that she got the job because she was Carson’s sister, and that’s true to an extent. But she’s very intelligent and capable. She graduated with a business degree with honors. She’s an asset, as I’m sure Dash can attest.”
“Joss, you don’t have to defend her to me. Dash has told me of her past, and it’s understandable that she’d be wary. I give you my guarantee that I’ll do everything in my power to put her at ease. If she does the job and proves herself to be as indispensable as you say she is, then she’ll have nothing to worry about.”
“Thank you,” Joss said earnestly. “She’s more than a sister-in-law to me. After Carson d-died, she had no one. Just me and Chessy and of course Dash and Tate.”
Dash squeezed her hand, proud of the way she’d managed to speak of Carson’s death, only stumbling slightly over the word “died.” She was making progress, and it gave him hope that he could come to mean more to her and that Carson wouldn’t be a wedge between them even in death.
“You’re a very loyal friend to her,” Jensen said. “I hope she knows just how lucky she is to have you.”
Joss’s cheeks colored adorably and she was obviously uncomfortable with Jensen’s compliment. Dash wanted to pull her into his arms and hug her. Hell, he wanted Jensen to get the hell out so he could take her to bed and make love to her all damn night.
Already his mind was alive with all the possibilities. Free rein. There were dozens of ways he planned to have Joss at his mercy. He could barely contain himself and couldn’t wait to show her all the ways he’d exert his dominance.
“When do you plan to tell Kylie?” Joss asked, directing her question at Dash though she included both men in her question.