“How are things with you and Daniel?” Abby asked Julie, apparently picking up on Dena’s inability to think about anything other than Jeff. “Not that I really need to ask. You both look blissfully in love.”

As always, a smile lit up Julie’s expression at the mention of her Dom. “He’s asked me to move in with him.”

That tidbit of information from Julie was enough to capture Dena’s attention. “Are you?”

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“I don’t know. Probably. I’m at his house eighty percent of the time anyway.”

“Do I hear a ‘but’ in there somewhere?” Abby asked.

Julie’s gaze drifted to where the men were talking. “It’s just a big step, you know? Selling my house. And I’ve never lived with anyone before.” Her hand drifted to her throat. Traced her collar. “But then I think how much I’d like being with him all the time … I know you don’t like talking about your past, but with Jeff? Did you?”

Dena suppressed her sigh. So much for changing the subject. “I didn’t live with him at first, but I eventually moved in with him. I’d already moved out before he took his collar back, though.”

Julie’s eyes danced with numerous questions. Friend that she was, she didn’t voice them.

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“That’s all I’m saying about it, other than no, I never once regretted moving in together.” She did regret moving out. Maybe if she had stayed, they’d still be together.

Julie nodded. “The commute to the shop would be longer.”

“That’s something to take into consideration.”

“But I don’t think it’ll really matter all that much. Not when compared to all the positives.”

Dena didn’t tell her that she’d walk to work, uphill both ways, if it meant she could wear Jeff’s collar again and live in his cabin once more.

You just need to get over him, she told herself. It’s never going to be the way it was.

Dena forced her gaze away from Jeff. “You’ll make the right decision. For you and Daniel both.”

“Sorry, girls,” Abby said, interrupting. “Master just signaled that he’s ready to leave. I’ll see you both tomorrow.”

Dena and Julie said their good-byes and then watched as Abby joined Nathaniel. The tall, dark Dominant watched his wife with a look of masculine appreciation laced with red-blooded lust.

“I really like her,” Julie said. Across the room, Nathaniel whispered something in Abby’s ear and then ran his hand down her back. “But Nathaniel seems so intense. He’s harder to read.”

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“Jeff’s intense. Intense can be good.”

Julie didn’t look convinced.

“You’ll see what I mean at their demo tomorrow night,” Dena said.

“We’re also doing a demo at the party tomorrow.” There was a combination of excitement and nerves in Julie’s voice.

“I remember. How do you feel about it?” It would be her first time playing in public. Dena made a mental note to call her before the party so she could walk her through any last-minute jitters.

“I’m looking forward to it, but at the same time, I’m not quite ready for it to be tomorrow yet.”

Dena laughed. “I understand completely.”

“More than anything, I’m excited about showing Master—”

“Showing me what?” the man in question asked, coming up behind Julie and wrapping his arms around her.

Daniel was almost the polar opposite of Jeff. Not just physically, although Jeff had dark hair and eyes compared to Daniel’s dirty-blond hair and blue eyes. The men’s personalities differed, too. Yet even with Daniel’s easy-going and friendly ways, Dena had always been drawn to the more introverted Jeff.

“We’re talking about tomorrow night,” Dena said, looking over Daniel’s shoulder to see if she could find Jeff. He didn’t appear to be in the room anymore.

“He just left,” Daniel said.

“Oh, I wasn’t …” she started, but then stopped at Daniel’s expression and rolled her eyes. “All right, I was looking for him.”

He gave a self-satisfied nod before dipping his head and whispering into Julie’s ear. Julie whispered back, lifting an arm to wrap around his neck.

“Okay, you two,” Dena said. “That’s it. I have to leave. You guys are so sweet my teeth hurt.”

And she was hoping, more than just a tiny bit, that she would run into Jeff in the parking lot. She walked quickly, but not so fast that it would be obvious she was rushing, down the hallway and out the community center’s main door to the parking lot. Just in time to watch the taillights of Jeff’s truck pulling out.

“You wouldn’t have done or said anything anyway,” she said out loud in the darkness. What was left to say?

She replayed the evening in her head as she drove to her apartment. In her mind she tried to see if Julie had been right about Jeff watching her most of the evening. She’d felt the heavy weight of his stare numerous times, but she’d acted as if she didn’t.

A foolish game, she realized. They weren’t in grade school. The next time he stared at her, she’d call him on it and insist on knowing what his problem was. She smiled at her decision. She’d done it in the past. He really should know better.

He’d be at the party the following night, but acting as dungeon monitor. Since it’d be his responsibility to ensure order and safety, he really wouldn’t be free to pay her any attention. It would be the same as always, each of them pretending there was nothing between them. No past, no present, and sure as hell no future.

The thought made her feel empty inside.

She parked her car and made her way to her apartment, the empty feeling growing with each step. She was in her thirties, unmarried, lived alone, and didn’t even date seriously. Sure, she loved her job, but she knew that wasn’t enough to keep her satisfied in the long term. And though reminiscing about the past served no purpose, she imagined briefly what life could have been like if she’d made different choices.

“Waste of time,” she muttered to herself. “Does no good living backward.”

She unlocked her door and bent down to pick up the delivery menu some food joint had shoved under her door. Maybe it’d be something new. She was always on the lookout for new take-out places.

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