Jeff had uncollared her years ago, and he knew he no longer had the right or authority to dictate what she did and did not do with other Doms. He told everyone it didn’t bother him. The truth was, though, it did.

But that was what he wanted, wasn’t it? Wasn’t that why he’d worked so hard to keep distance between them?

“No,” he said in answer to Daniel’s question. “That’s not it. Her work here doesn’t bother me.”

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Jeff really didn’t want to talk about it. Months later and he still couldn’t forget that night. Having Dena kneel before him again, for her to offer herself for their mutual pleasure. To have her back in his house and arms. He wasn’t sure he could shake it off.

Dena finally looked his way, saw him watching, and dropped her eyes. It hadn’t done her any good, either; odds were she was still dealing with her own memories of the night.

Daniel, of course, noticed Dena’s slight response when she caught Jeff’s gaze. “How many times have you played since you two broke up?” Daniel asked.

“Once. That time Julie watched.”

“I see.”

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“Moving really doesn’t have anything to do with Dena.” He wondered if the lie sounded as wooden to Daniel as it did to him.

“Of course it doesn’t.”

Daniel didn’t say anything further, but instead kept his gaze on Jeff as if expecting him to confess everything. Had Jeff not used the same tactic himself numerous times before, it might have worked.

“It doesn’t,” Jeff stated again. “We split up years ago. We weren’t right for each other. She’s high society and I’m a high school dropout, a loser.”

“Bullshit,” Daniel said. “You’re a successful man with your own business. And you’re my friend.”

“And mine,” Nathaniel echoed. “In fact, if you tried to tell me we couldn’t be friends because of something you did when you were sixteen, I’d kick your ass.”

“It’s different. Besides, I’m moving to Colorado—at least for a while,” Jeff said. “I need to go help Dad with his business. He needs to retire, and he’s been asking me to help get everything in order.”

Daniel’s laughter drew the attention of several group members. “Insurance? You?”

Jeff’s father ran an insurance company he’d taken over from his own father. That Jeff wanted nothing to do with it had always been the bane of his dad’s existence. Jeff had opened his own business, a security service, eight years ago. It was a two-man operation, small, but profitable enough. They offered personal protection and also security services for other businesses.

“It won’t be forever, just a few months. Tom said he could handle the business here.” His partner had actually been less than thrilled, but he’d realized he didn’t have a choice.

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“Hell, you’re serious,” Nathaniel said.

Jeff just nodded once.

“Have you told Dena?” Daniel finally asked.

He resisted the urge to look at her. “No.”

“I heard her father’s on the short list for vice president.”

Dena’s father was a senator with career aspirations that reached to the White House. That, paired with Jeff’s past, had been part of what made him decide to break things off with Dena three years ago. He forced himself not to think of the other reasons.

“From what I know of Senator Jenkins, he’ll get it.” Jeff wasn’t surprised at the bitterness in his voice.

The two men looked at him sharply but seemed to sense his unwillingness to discuss the man in question. Jeff had come to terms with the senator a long time ago, but that didn’t mean he liked him or wanted to talk about him.

“You’re still on to be dungeon monitor tomorrow night?” Daniel asked, changing the subject.

“Yes. I’ll be there.” His last play party with the group. He wondered if Dena would be attending with anyone. Would his last sight of her be watching as she offered her submission to another? Maybe it would be better that way. If he knew she had someone to look after her, perhaps then he could somehow find the strength to leave her once and for all.

Julie laughed at something Abby West said. Dena hadn’t been listening to the lively brunette submissive whose husband, and Dominant, had just finished leading a group discussion. Dena’s attention had been on the tiny piece of paper on the floor, because if she looked at it just so, she could see Jeff out of the corner of her eye. He was talking to Daniel and, from all appearances, trying very hard not to look her way.

“So, Dena,” Abby said, making her abandon the paper on the floor. “What do you do?”

“I’m a criminal prosecutor for the State of Delaware.”

Most of the time when she told people what she did for a living, they looked surprised. Abby simply nodded as if that’s what she expected her to say.

“That sounds like a challenge,” she replied.

“It is, but I love it and can’t imagine doing anything else.”

Dena couldn’t help but notice that the entire time they talked, Abby was totally engaged in their conversation yet still fully aware of her Master on the other side of the room. Ready to move at either his command or perceived need.

Dena had once served Jeff in a similar manner, and watching Abby was an almost painful reminder of what she had lost.

“They’re looking over here again,” Julie said, leaning close to Dena. “Daniel not so much, but Jeff can’t keep his eyes off you.”

“Stop,” Dena said, glancing at Abby, but once more the other woman appeared completely unsurprised.

“I’m serious. He hasn’t stopped looking this way since the meeting ended.”

“Probably because you keep looking at him.” Dena couldn’t help but smile at Julie’s liveliness. Her friend, the newly collared submissive of one of the group’s most senior Dominants, had certainly flourished following her collaring ceremony. If she was honest, most of the time Dena was happy for her, but sometimes it hurt her heart. It was all too easy to remember the heady feeling of belonging to the one you loved.

“Jeff doesn’t even know I’m standing here. He’s too wrapped up in you.”

“Let’s change the subject,” she said, not wanting to talk about things better left in the past. But a movement behind her caught her attention—was Jeff leaving?—and she couldn’t think of anything to change the subject to.

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