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Letting Go, Page 2

Maya Banks

  “Let’s sit and then we’ll talk. I’m starving,” Joss said with a grin.

  The other two women looked delighted over Joss’s mood. It shamed Joss that she’d been a burden not only to Dash over the last three years but to her closest friends as well. But no more. Today . . . Well, today was the first day in reestablishing her life. Of getting back on track and filling the void left by the death of her husband.

  They were seated in a spacious booth—Joss hated the long rows of tables that were practically on top of one another. Even if her conversation was casual, she hated to be overheard by others. And today of all days, she wanted to be afforded complete privacy.

  “You look . . . different,” Chessy mused, as they opened their menus.

  Joss left hers closed because she knew what she wanted. The others made fun of her because with all the wonderful selections on the huge menu, she usually got the same exact thing and today was no different. Shaking Beef. Her absolute favorite thing the Lux Café served.

  “I am different,” Joss said in a low tone.

  Kylie’s eyes widened. “What’s happened?”

  “It’s not what has happened. It’s what’s going to happen,” Joss said firmly.

  “Uh-oh. Do we even want to hear this?” Chessy asked.

  Silence fell over the table when the waiter appeared to take their orders. Only after he’d departed did Kylie prompt Joss to explain what she’d meant.

  Joss sighed and then glanced up at Chessy. “I wanted to ask you . . . I mean I know this is a personal question, but you’ve talked about it before and if it’s too personal, feel free to tell me to mind my own business, but I’d really like to ask you some questions about you and Tate.”

  A dark shadow crossed over Chessy’s face and sadness entered her eyes for a brief moment before she shook it away. But the look hadn’t gone unnoticed by either Joss or Kylie, who exchanged quick puzzled looks.

  “You know you can ask me anything,” Chessy said lightly, though the lightness of her tone seemed forced to Joss.

  Deciding to try to figure out later what was behind that, Joss plunged ahead.

  “You’ve said that you and Tate have a dominant, submissive relationship. That he calls the shots in and out of bed. I just wanted to know . . . I mean this sounds stupid because of course you’re happy. Anyone who sees the two of you can see how in love you are, but I wanted to know more about how it works.”

  Kylie paled and Joss hated bringing up the subject in front of her, but she didn’t want to hide something this important from her sister-in-law. Not just a sister-in-law but her best friend. Kylie and Chessy were her two best friends in the world. She couldn’t not share this with them because it was huge. A monumental leap forward from the life she’d led the last three years.

  “Joss? Why are you asking?” Chessy asked in a puzzled voice. One laced with concern.

  Joss took another deep breath and closed her eyes. She reached for Kylie’s hand because she knew this would be hard for her sister-in-law.

  “You both know I loved Carson with all my heart. He gave me everything. But I’ve always had this . . . need. Craving. Desire. I don’t know what to call it. But I’ve always craved . . . dominance. And everything that goes with it. And it’s the one thing I knew Carson couldn’t, wouldn’t give me. I loved him too much to ever demand it of him. We spoke of it once. Early in our relationship. Before I knew about his childhood. He was always so afraid he’d turn out like his father. The idea of doing anything that might hurt me or that may be construed as abuse appalled him. And I think in the beginning he feared losing me because he couldn’t provide me with that kind of relationship.”

  Kylie’s gaze had dropped, but Joss could see the tears gathering at the corners of her eyes. Joss tightened her hold on Kylie’s hand, lending her strength that she hadn’t had until now.

  “And you want it now?” Chessy asked, her brow furrowed.

  Slowly Joss nodded.

  Kylie’s head came up, a protest already forming on her lips, but Joss silenced her with another squeeze to her hand.

  “I don’t want a relationship. I mean not a permanent one. I found perfection once. I know I’ll never find that kind of love again. But I need something to fill the void. A void that’s always existed, but while I was with Carson it wasn’t so aching. I wasn’t lonely. He provided me what I needed, even if a tiny part of me always wanted and needed more. I know that sounds terrible. I loved Carson with all my heart and soul, and I would have never done anything to hurt him. But he’s gone. I’ve had to come to grips with the fact that no matter how hard I wish it, he’s not coming back.”

  Emotion knotted her throat and she blinked as hot moisture clouded her eyes. She wiped hastily at her cheeks, not wanting to make a scene in public. Kylie’s head lowered again, a tear sliding down her pale cheek.

  “I’m lonely,” Joss whispered. “And I need something, someone to fill that void that Carson left behind. It’s time for me to let go and try to move on. I’ve found a place . . .”

  “What kind of place?” Chessy asked bluntly.

  “It’s called The House.”

  Chessy’s expression eased. “Yes, I know it. Tate and I have a membership there. Tate is friends with the owner, Damon Roche. Damon is married and has a child now, so he isn’t quite as active as he was before, but he still runs it.”

  “He’s who I talked to,” Joss admitted. “He vetted my membership. He was very kind to me. He wanted to make sure I knew what I was getting into.”

  “And do you?” Kylie blurted, lifting her head again. “Joss, this is serious. What if you get hurt? What if you hook up with the wrong man? You know what kind of monsters exist out there. God knows, my father was one of them. How can you even think about going blindly into a situation like this?”

  “I’m not going blindly,” Joss said gently. “It’s something I’ve given a lot of thought to. I’ve researched endlessly, which was what brought me to The House. I’ve toured the premises. I’ve been there during its busiest times. I know what to expect. And Damon has assured me that, especially for my first visit, I will be very carefully monitored.”

  They were interrupted when the waiter brought their entrées, but food was the last thing on the women’s minds now. Their plates sat in front of them untouched as their conversation continued.

  “I just wanted to know what it was like for you and Tate,” Joss said softly.

  Again, pain glittered in Chessy’s green eyes. She pushed her dark hair behind her ear in an effort to disguise her hesitation, but Joss didn’t miss it and she wondered what the hell was going on with her friend. She seemed . . . unhappy. And maybe it had been there for a while now, but Joss had been so self-absorbed that she hadn’t paid attention to the people around her.

  “Is there something you aren’t telling us, Chessy?” Joss demanded.

  Chessy looked at once guilty and then surprised. “No, of course not. And to answer your question, when it’s right, it’s the most wonderful thing in the world. I never regretted giving Tate my complete submission. He always took such wonderful care of me. Cherished me. Protected me with his every breath. I was always his priority. And he was so demanding.”

  Joss frowned because every example had been said in the past tense.

  “Is that not the case now?” Joss asked.

  Chessy smiled brightly. Too brightly. “Of course it is. I was just saying. And well, perhaps it’s not as perfect as it used to be, but that’s to be expected. Tate has been so busy making his business a success, and when the newness wears off any relationship, it’s easy to fall into a routine. Don’t worry. We’re not divorcing or anything,” she said with a laugh.

  But the forced gaiety bothered Joss. She shoved aside her sense of foreboding to focus on the matter at hand.

  “Again, if this is too personal a matter to discuss,” Joss said. But Chessy waved her off and motioned for her to continue. “What kinds of things do you and Tate do? I mean are you
into bondage? Pain? Floggings? Or is it a simple matter of you obeying his commands and him calling the shots?”

  Kylie looked as though she’d be ill, and she fiddled with her food as if she were trying to block out the conversation. Her face had grown pale, and Joss began to have second thoughts about bringing this up in front of her. But she hadn’t wanted Kylie not to know. She owed her sister-in-law that much. To let her know she was going to at least try to move on and perhaps become involved, even if temporarily, with another man. It certainly wasn’t something she wanted Kylie to find out by chance. She wanted Kylie to hear it from her.

  “I think it’s a matter of what you want,” Chessy said quietly. “Yes, we practice all of those things and much more. I am his to do with as he wishes. He knows how far he can go. We’ve been together long enough that he well knows my boundaries. Perhaps better than I know myself. But it’s important in the beginning that you’re very honest with your partner and that you set boundaries. He needs to know exactly what you are and aren’t comfortable with. And you’ll need a safe word until your relationship evolves enough that he knows just how far he can push.”

  “I feel like a kid in a toy store,” Joss said ruefully. “I want to try everything. At least once. I don’t know my boundaries. I won’t know until they’re crossed.”

  “Then it’s even more important that you pick the right guy. One who understands that you’re new to the scene. That you want to experiment but that you reserve the right to pull the plug at any moment. And for God’s sake, Joss, don’t agree to go home with a guy until you know him very well. Stay at the club. Do all your experimenting there in a public facility where there’s plenty of security.”

  Joss nodded. She’d already considered that, and no way was she bringing a guy home. To the place she and Carson had lived and loved. It would be the height of disrespect to practice what would have appalled her husband under his own roof. And neither would she agree to go off with some stranger where God only knew what could happen once he had her alone and at his mercy.

  It wasn’t that she hadn’t considered all the risks. She had! She’d visited The House more than once. She’d questioned Damon Roche endlessly, and the man had exhibited a huge amount of patience and understanding. But now she was having second thoughts listening to Chessy’s warnings.

  But no. She’d thought this through. It was all she’d thought about over the last months. And while moving forward with her new life on the three-year anniversary of her husband’s death may seem tacky, for her it was symbolic. She wasn’t backing out now.

  She’d positively shivered when Chessy had stated that she was her husband’s. That she belonged to him and he could do as he wished. Joss wanted that. She craved it with a dark need she didn’t even fully understand. It wasn’t that she hadn’t belonged heart and soul to Carson. She had. She’d held no part of herself back from him.

  But this need for dominance went deeper than just belonging. She wanted to be . . . owned. Cherished. Utterly adored. All the things her husband had given her but . . . more. She wanted to cross that gray line. Wanted to shatter her boundaries. She wanted to discover what they were and just how far she was willing and wanted to go. How would she know if she never tried?

  “You’re going to do it, aren’t you?” Kylie asked quietly. “I can see it in your eyes, Joss. I know that look. You’re actually going to do this.”

  Joss nodded, feeling a sense of relief at affirming it.

  Chessy reached across the table to catch Joss’s other hand and squeezed it until Joss was holding on to both her friends’ hands.

  “Then I wish you luck,” Chessy said.

  “Hey, don’t you have to go?” Joss asked, suddenly remembering that Chessy had mentioned several days earlier that she and Tate were spending the afternoon together. “Isn’t Tate expecting you? I don’t want to keep you. I just wanted to ask you those questions.”

  Again that barely discernible flicker in Chessy’s eyes before she dropped her gaze and her hold on Joss’s hand.

  “No,” Chessy said lightly. “He had to cancel. An important matter came up at work.”

  Joss grimaced. “Sorry. I know you were looking forward to it. Unfortunately, I do have to run. I need time to prepare for tonight. Though I’ve made up my mind about it, I’m still nervous enough to need time to get ready and talk myself into going through with it.”

  Chessy smiled. “I’ll expect a report first thing tomorrow, and if I don’t get it, I’m coming over. And if you aren’t home, I’m calling the police!”

  Joss smiled. “Of course I will.”

  She rose after placing several bills on the table to cover lunch. Kylie stood too.

  “I’ll walk you out,” Kylie said.

  Chessy shot Joss a raised brow look and then glanced pointedly at Kylie. Joss sighed. She knew what was coming. With a wave to Chessy, Joss walked out of the restaurant, Kylie at her side.

  When they got to the cars, Kylie put a hand out to Joss’s arm.

  “Joss, have you really thought this through?” she asked in a pleading tone. “I’m really worried about you. This isn’t like you at all. What would Carson think? Joss, he’d die if he knew!”

  “Kylie, Carson is dead,” Joss said gently. “We can’t bring him back. God, if I could, I’d do it in a heartbeat. I’d forget everything about my wants or needs if I could have him back. But he’s gone.”

  Tears clogged her throat. Tears she’d refused to allow herself to shed today. She’d been determined that this year would be different. That she wouldn’t spend the anniversary of her husband’s death listless and grieving.

  Kylie’s eyes were grief stricken. Tears welled up and slid soundlessly down her cheeks. “I miss him so much, Joss. He was my only family. I still can’t believe he’s gone.”

  Joss enfolded her in a hug, holding her tightly as Kylie’s shoulders shook. “You’re wrong. You have family. You have me. I’m not going anywhere. This doesn’t change things between us. I swear it. But Kylie, I have to pick up and move on with my life. This is killing me. My grief has been slowly killing me, and Carson would hate that. He’d never want me to spend the rest of my life mourning him. He’d be the first person to want me to be happy even if it wasn’t with him.”

  Kylie pulled away, wiping hastily at her tears. “I know that. I do. And I want you to be happy, Joss. But does it have to be this way? You don’t understand what it’s like to be at the mercy of a monster. You can’t possibly want to put yourself in a position where you’re helpless under a man’s power. He could hurt you. Abuse you. Believe me, you don’t want that. You could never understand how degrading and powerless that feeling is and I do. And I don’t want that for you. Carson would never want that for you.”

  Joss gently wiped away the rest of Kylie’s tears. “Not all men are like that, Kylie. I know your concerns. I’m not negating what you and Carson went through. I’d never allow that for myself. And look at Chessy and Tate. You know what kind of relationship they have. Do you honestly believe Tate would ever harm a hair on her head? He loves her. He adores her. He absolutely respects the gift of her submission. And that’s what I want.”

  “But he is hurting her,” Kylie said fiercely. “You had to have seen what I saw today. What we’ve seen for the last while. She’s not happy, Joss, and I’m worried about her. What if he’s abusing her?”

  Joss blinked, utterly shocked by Kylie’s assertion. Yes, she’d noticed that Chessy wasn’t her usual cheerful, sunny self. She’d sensed that something was off about her best friend, but never had she entertained, even for a moment, that Tate was hurting her physically.

  “I don’t know exactly what’s going on with Chessy and Tate,” Joss said carefully. “But I do know that there is no way he’s abusing her. Chessy would never stand for it. She’s too strong and independent, despite the fact that she gave Tate her submission. Not to mention she’d tell us if he was hurting her. We’re too close of friends. We’d know, Kylie. We’d know.�

  “No one ever knew the hell that Carson and I endured,” Kylie said painfully. “We hid it from the world. Our father appeared to others as a doting parent incapable of ever doing us harm. But behind closed doors he was a monster.”

  “Please don’t worry about me,” Joss said. “And don’t worry about Chessy. I’ll talk to her if it makes you feel better. I know Tate. We all know Tate. We’ve all been friends for years. There is no way he is abusing Chessy. And sweetie, I know you’re not happy with my choice. I don’t expect you to accept it, but I’d like for you to respect it at least.”

  “I love you,” Kylie said brokenly. “And I’d never forgive myself if I didn’t at least try to steer you away from the path you seem so determined to take. But if this is really what you want, if it’s what you need and it will make you happy, then I’ll try to respect your choices. I just don’t want to lose you too.”

  Joss hugged her again. “You’re not going to lose me. You’re my sister and my best friend. Carson was not my only tie to you and now that he’s gone it doesn’t mean that our tie is severed. You’re my family, Kylie. I love you.”

  Kylie pulled away, a watery smile quivering on her lips. “I’ll expect a report tomorrow just like Chessy. I won’t sleep tonight for worrying about you. I just hope you know what it is you’re getting into.”

  “So do I,” Joss murmured. “So do I.”


  DASH Corbin parked his car outside The House and sat for a moment, wondering again why he was here tonight. Normally on the anniversary of Carson’s death, Dash would spend the day—and evening—with Joss. Not that he didn’t spend plenty of other days with her, but for the first two anniversaries of Carson’s passing, he’d spent the entire day with Joss. Holding her. Comforting her. Supporting her.

  And it was his own personal hell.

  It sucked to be in love with his best friend’s wife. He’d lived with guilt for the entirety of Carson’s marriage to Joss. Carson had known. He’d guessed, though Dash had done his best never to allow his feelings to show. But his best friend was perceptive. He knew him better than anyone else ever had. They weren’t just business partners. They were as close as brothers, though Dash hadn’t existed in the hell that Carson and Kylie had endured growing up.

  No, Dash’s family was the complete antithesis of Carson’s. If you could call the piece-of-shit bastard who’d fathered Carson family. Dash’s parents were still as solidly in love now as they were forty years ago when they’d married. Dash was one of five siblings, the middle child. Two older brothers. Two younger sisters who were spoiled and protected by their older brothers.

  Carson had been befuddled by Dash’s close-knit family from the moment he’d first met them. He hadn’t known how to react to a normal, well-adjusted family setting. But Dash’s family had embraced Carson—and Joss, when Carson had married her. And even Kylie, though she was more reserved and more wary of his large family than Carson was.

  Dash sighed again and got out, walking to the entrance of The House. He wasn’t even interested in any action tonight, but he was restless and on edge. Joss had occupied his thoughts the entire day. Ever since he’d taken her to the cemetery and had seen the difference in her.

  He didn’t know what to make of the abrupt change. She’d walked out of her house in jeans and a T-shirt, looking so young and beautiful that it still made his chest ache to remember the image of her.

  And then she’d asked to be left alone at the grave and she’d stayed there, her lips moving as she’d spoken to Carson for a long while. When she’d returned, there was a marked difference in her demeanor. And then that spiel about not needing him. Apologizing to him, for fuck’s sake. Apologizing for being a goddamn burden. For taking up too much of his life and time. Hell, she didn’t even realize she was his life. Or at least he hoped she would be.

  He checked in with the man working the door and wandered through the lower levels. The social rooms. The places where people met up, drank good wine, mingled before moving upstairs to the common room or one of the private suites.

  There were plenty of beautiful women and no shortage of interested looks thrown his way. It had been a while since he’d come here to work off some steam. Usually after he’d spent time with Joss, pretending the woman he was with was her. It made him a bastard, but he made certain the woman he was with was taken care of. She had no way of knowing that she was a poor substitute for the one woman he couldn’t have.

  Was she finally moving on? She’d talked the talk during the car ride home. She’d been blunt, painfully so, and it had cost her. He’d seen the naked emotion in her eyes when she’d said that Carson was gone and he wasn’t coming back and she had to move on and accept that. But did she mean it?

  He was afraid to hope. And he was afraid of making the wrong move. He couldn’t afford to fuck it all up by pushing her too soon. She viewed him as a friend. She viewed herself as a burden to him. Someone he’d babysat through her grief. Never even realizing that he lived for the moments when he was with her.

  Carson had known that his best friend was in love with his wife. He’d known and accepted it. Dash had been afraid that it would ruin not only their friendship, but their business partnership as well. But Carson had understood. He trusted Dash never to act on that attraction. And he’d also exacted a promise from Dash that were anything ever to happen to Carson, Dash would be there for Joss.

  Hell of a note when his best friend entrusted his wife to his care if something happened to him.

  Worse was the fact that Carson had exacted that promise mere weeks before he’d been killed in an accident. Almost as if he knew. Had he sensed that something would happen and that Joss would be left a young widow?

  At the time, Dash had brushed off the very serious pledge that Carson had confronted him with.

  If anything ever happens to me, man, I want you to promise me. Promise me that you’ll be there for Joss. I know you love her. If there ever comes a day that I can’t be there for her, I want you to promise me that you’ll take care of her and love her like I do.

  The words echoed through his mind. Prophetic? Or just coincidence?

  At the time, the promise had just been a painful reminder of all that Carson had and all that Dash didn’t. Joss was . . . She was beautiful. Not just physically. She could light up a room by simply walking in. She had a gentle smile that could charm even the hardest heart. And she’d never so much as looked in the direction of another man after she’d met Carson. God knows, there’d been no shortage of men only too willing to seduce another man’s wife. But Joss acted as though she had no clue of her effect on men. And that made her all the more desirable to Dash.

  After making a quick round of the social rooms, he picked up a glass of wine—Damon Roche served only the best—and headed up the stairs to the common room.

  There was the usual eclectic mix of sexcapades occurring in the large, open room. Though there were no actual partitions, the room was sectioned off simply by the participants taking their own spaces for their activities.

  A mixture of sounds and smells greeted him as he walked farther into the