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 room. The slap of flesh on flesh. The smack of a whip or a flogger. The sighs, moans and cries of ecstasy. Some of pain. Some of pleasure. The air was thick with the scent of sex.
He crossed the room, taking in the occupants, wanting to ensure that Tate and Chessy weren’t present tonight. Not that he was a prude by any stretch, but seeing his other best friends having sex wasn’t high on his list of priorities. Though he shouldn’t have worried because he hadn’t seen them at The House in months. The few times in the past he had seen them, he’d cut short his own visit, because he would never do anything to make Chessy uncomfortable.
She was a very special woman, and Tate was a lucky son of a bitch to have such perfection. Submissive. Beautiful. Gifting Tate with her absolute trust. There was not a more precious gift than a woman who gave her submission to a man.
It was what he wanted for himself, what he’d always sought out in any relationship he’d formed. But for Joss, he’d deny that part of himself if it was the only way he had a chance at having her. Knowing Carson’s background, Dash knew with certainty that Carson and Joss had never delved into that lifestyle.
But then he’d never gone beyond casual sex after Joss. Once she’d come into Carson’s life, a whirlwind, there hadn’t been another woman for Dash. He sated his needs, made certain his partner’s were met as well and then he moved on, never willing to commit, even though he’d known that Joss was unattainable. Only now that wasn’t true. She was free. But could she ever love another man as she’d loved Carson?
That was the question of the day. And could Dash be content with only a part of her heart?
He nodded before he could stop himself. Hell yes, he’d take any part of her he could get. The question was, when did he make his move?
Posted by arrangement with Berkley Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) LLC, A Penguin Random House Company. Copyright © Maya Banks, 2014
Maya Banks is the #1 New York Times and #1 USA Today and bestselling author of the Surrender Trilogy. Her other chart toppers have included erotic romance, romantic suspense, contemporary romance, and Scottish historical romance. She lives in the South with her husband, three children and a variety of pets. Visit her online at www.mayabanks.com, www.facebook.com/AuthorMayaBanks, and twitter.com/maya_banks.