And what flabbergasted her more was that Dash was everything she’d said she wanted, if she was to believe his impassioned statement. Dominant. He liked submissive women. And he wanted to introduce her to the lifestyle. He wanted to possess—to own—her.
“I don’t know what to say,” she said honestly. “I never imagined. I didn’t realize . . .”
“No, I suppose you didn’t,” Dash murmured. “It’s not something I could just come out and say. But Joss, you’ve made the first move. Now it’s my turn to make all the others. You’ve laid out what you want. What you need. What you desire. And I’m going to be the man who gives you those things.”
She stared back at him, still utterly overwhelmed by the day, the moment, this. How had so much changed so quickly? Then she shook her head in automatic denial even though a part of her, the part that had gone for so long unfulfilled, screamed at her that this was it. This was what she’d been looking for. But Dash?
No, they were just friends. He had been her husband’s best friend. How would it look to others? How would her friends, his family, Kylie take the shift from them being friends to becoming lovers? More than lovers. Much more. She couldn’t even fathom just how much more this kind of relationship he proposed entailed. It wouldn’t be a one-night stand. Two people hooking up in the heat of the moment. What Dash proposed was . . . permanent?
“Stop overanalyzing this, Joss,” Dash said in a patient tone. But his jaw was still tight. His eyes still glittered with unshakable resolve. God, was he serious? How could she even question that when every single part of him screamed of his absolute certainty?
And Dash was not impulsive or remotely flighty. That wasn’t who or what he was. She’d known him long enough to know that his every movement, whether in business or in his personal life, was carefully thought out. But the idea that he’d obviously given them such careful consideration blew her mind.
“But Dash. We can’t.”
She said it emphatically even as she questioned why they couldn’t. But of course they couldn’t, could they? There was more than just him and her to consider. There were their friends. Kylie. His family. It was all making her head ache with the speed at which her world had been irrevocably altered. She hadn’t experienced such a tailspin since the day she’d learned her husband was gone.
“Why not?” he asked simply, calmly. As if he hadn’t just upended her carefully ordered existence.
Well, but that would be a lie. Her world had been upended on the day Carson had died, and it had never been set to rights. Until now? Was this what she needed to get her life back? To reclaim herself? Was Dash what she needed or would any man do? Even as she thought it, she knew it wasn’t so. She wouldn’t feel this way—this uncertain—with another man because it wouldn’t be personal. She wouldn’t have feelings she couldn’t sort out for another man.
“What does this mean, Dash? I don’t understand any of it. You said you’ve waited. What are we talking here? How long have you waited? You act as though you want me—have wanted me. But I had no idea. How could I have? You are—were—my husband’s best friend.”
“Be careful of what you ask, Joss,” Dash warned. “You may not be prepared for the answer.”
She blinked, not knowing what to make of that particular statement. Was she blind? Was she a complete idiot for not seeing this before? She mentally went back over all the times Dash had been with her over the last years. But all she saw was unwavering support. Emotional support. All the times he’d picked up the pieces when she was certain that she’d fallen apart.
But he’d kept her strong. Pushed her when she hadn’t always wanted to be pushed, but he’d never taken her anger or rage personally. It was a wonder he hadn’t walked away from her a long time ago. But if what he suggested was true . . .
Oh dear God. What was she supposed to do? What she wanted was being placed squarely in her lap. But Dash?
She looked up at him again, this time without the blinders. Without the knowledge that he was untouchable, a friend. Her husband’s best friend. Someone she could never even look at with anything more than the bonds of friendship.
And what she saw took her breath away.
This was a living, breathing, gorgeous specimen of alpha male. The promise of dominance and a whole lot more shone in his dark eyes. She shivered as she took in the way he looked at her. Had he always looked at her as he was looking now? Had she been completely oblivious to the strong current of attraction that arced between them as strongly as any electrical surge?
Her gaze wandered over his face, down his body, took in the broad set of his shoulders, his muscled chest, even the thickness of his muscular thighs. Not an inch of spare flesh to be found on his body.
Then heat consumed her cheeks and she looked away, embarrassed to be caught checking him out in such an obvious matter.
But he wasn’t bothered. Indeed, he looked . . . pleased.
“That’s it, Joss. See me,” he breathed out. “Finally. See me. Who I am. What I am. And that I want you with my every breath.”
“How long?” she whispered, remembering his admonishment that perhaps she wouldn’t want the answer to her question. But now she had to know. She had to know how long he’d gone unnoticed by her.
“Forever?” he said with a casual shrug. He tried to play it off lightly, but she could see the shadows that suddenly entered his eyes. The . . . pain. And the longing. Oh dear God. It couldn’t be true. It simply couldn’t.
“Forever?” she croaked out. “You mean before . . . When Carson and I were together?”
He gave a clipped nod and all the wind left Joss in a sudden whoosh, leaving her sagging on the couch. He made a sudden grab for her, steadying her before she could topple sideways.
“I didn’t know,” she murmured faintly.
“Of course not. I didn’t want you to know,” Dash bit out. “I wouldn’t have laid that on you, Joss. What could you have done? You were in love with another man. Married to another man. My best friend. You knowing would have solved nothing and would have put a strain on our relationship. On the three of us.”
She raised her gaze to him, haunted, she was sure, because what she had to ask next . . .
“And Carson?” she whispered. “Did he know?”
Dash hesitated only a moment, as if he were deciding just how blunt to be with her. Then he gave a quick shake of his head, almost as if he were deciding that she should have it all. That maybe he thought she was finally ready to hear what she’d been ignorant of for so long.
“He knew,” Dash said grimly.
“Oh my God,” Joss said shakily. “He knew? And you were friends? Dash, I don’t understand any of this!”
Dash sighed and then gently pulled her forward until she was nestled into his chest. He laid her head against his shoulder and kissed the top of her hair as one hand glided downward, separating and stroking the tresses that had now tumbled down from the clip that had secured them earlier.
There was so much more in his embrace than the comfort he’d offered for the last three years. She knew it now, but hadn’t known it then. Her entire body was on high alert. Her pulse raced and thudded in her veins. Her br**sts tingled and her ni**les beaded and tightened against the dress. She hadn’t worn a bra and she knew that Dash could feel the imprint of her ni**les through their clothing.
“Carson understood,” Dash said in a low voice. “And yes, we were friends and we remained friends because he knew I would never betray him and he knew you would never betray him. He knew that I would never act on my attraction. But yes, he knew. And I think it gave him a measure of comfort to know that if anything ever happened to him I’d step in. That I’d be here and that I’d give you everything you could possibly want or need.”
She pushed off his chest to look him in the eye. “But Dash, that had to have been . . .”
She trailed off, seeing the fire in his eyes. As if he’d suppressed his need and want for so long and now it was unleashed, vibrant and blazing in his eyes.
“It was hell,” Dash quietly confirmed. “It was heaven and it was hell. Heaven when I got to spend time with you. When I simply got to look at you or see you smile. It was hell going home at night knowing you were in Carson’s arms and not my own.”
“I didn’t know,” she choked out. “I didn’t know, Dash!”
His expression gentled and he put his hand up to stroke her cheek, rubbing downward in a tender caress.
“I didn’t want you to know, Joss. I was in an impossible position and I never wanted that for you. For Carson. I loved you both and I would have never done anything to destroy your marriage or cause trouble. So I waited. But I’m done waiting and you need to know that.”
Her breath caught again at the sincerity emblazoned on his features.
His hand trailed downward until his fingers brushed ever so lightly across her lips. She was tempted to lick them, wanting to taste him on her mouth.
“But now I feel as though I’ve been handed a gift I never dreamed of receiving. I was prepared to deny everything about myself. For you. I never imagined you’d want what it is I can give you. So I would have suppressed that need to dominate. I would have never demanded anything of you that you weren’t prepared to offer freely. But now that I know what you want? Brace yourself, Joss, because now that I know, I’m not going to hold back any longer. I can give you all that you want and need and so much more. So very much more. You just have to decide whether you trust me to give that to you. And whether you think you can possibly come to care for me as much as I care for you.”
She did lick her lips then. Nervous. Anticipation tingling up her spine. And hope. Slowly unfurling like the petals of a flower at the first brush of spring. Warming in the sunshine after a long winter, waiting to bloom and burst free of constraints.
“I don’t know where to start,” she said honestly. “Tonight . . . It went nothing as I had planned.”
“Thank f**k for that,” Dash muttered. “God, when I think of what could have happened had I not been there. It’s fate, Joss. She’s a fickle bitch and at long last she’s smiled on me.”
“What happens now?” she asked quietly, her gaze never leaving his.
He leaned in, cupping her face with exquisite tenderness and reverence. His lips hovered precariously close to hers, his breath warming her skin. And then he kissed her.
Heat exploded through her veins, rushing until she could hear the roar in her ears. It was like an electric shock, something so unexpected and yet wonderful. Desire, long dormant, rose like a fury, curling through her womb and spreading outward like a wildfire.
Her skin prickled, chill bumps rising and dancing across her skin until she shivered uncontrollably against him.
He deepened the kiss, swiping his tongue warmly over the seam of her lips until she parted them breathlessly and he swept in, colliding with her tongue. He moaned softly against her mouth. She swallowed up the sound, suddenly hungry, so very hungry for more.
Never had she imagined feeling this way again. Of experiencing the intense craving, of having desire grab hold and completely overtake her. She’d been cold, so very cold, for so very long, and now she was warm. Bathed in fire. His heat consumed her. His smell, his taste, the very essence of him. How could she have never known? How could she have never imagined? How could she have never seen him as the desirable, alpha male who was currently kissing her senseless?
When he pulled away, his eyes were hooded and flush with answering desire.
“What happens now, Joss, is that you are mine. At long last, you are mine. And if all you said is true, if what you want and need is my dominance, then be assured. I will possess you. I will own you. And you will never know another man than me.”
DASH watched the myriad of emotions washing through her eyes. She was so expressive. She’d always been so. It was one of the things he’d enjoyed most about her. One only had to look into her eyes to know her mood. Happiness, sadness, excitement.
The last, he found, was extremely satisfying. Never had she looked at him as she did right at this moment. Triumph surged, even as he tempered his reaction. This wasn’t in the bag. Not by a long shot. Her next words confirmed that for him.
“I need time to think . . . About this—us,” she said in a shaky voice. “This was so unexpected, Dash. I don’t want to make a hasty decision that I—we—will later regret.”
Her honesty was another thing he’d always admired about her.
“Of course,” he murmured. “There’s no rush.” Even as his mind screamed that there was every need to rush. He didn’t want her to think about it. Didn’t want her talking herself out of it. But he couldn’t blow this. Not when he was so close to getting what he’d wanted for so very long.
“I don’t know how long . . .”
She trailed off, lifting her hand to her temple as if it ached before letting it flutter back down to her lap. He took her hand, rubbing the pad of his thumb over her silky skin. Such slender, delicate fingers. Like the rest of her. He couldn’t get enough of touching her. He’d certainly touched her in the past, but always in the capacity of a friend. Affectionate. Nothing even resembling intimacy. They both knew his touch was intimate now, and it was a thrill he wouldn’t soon get over.
“Take your time, honey. But I want you to promise me something, okay?”
When she didn’t immediately look up, he lifted his free hand and cupped her chin, his touch as delicate as her skin.