He held her quietly for a few minutes. It never crossed his mind to keep the note from her. He required honesty from her, and it was only fair he gave her the same. She was silent as he told her, but when he finished, she turned in his arms to face him.

“She told me a few weeks ago that she’s been getting a lot of prank calls: someone calling and not saying anything or just breathing heavy. I didn’t know about the note.”

“You knew about the phone calls?”

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“Yes, and she made me promise I wouldn’t tell. She didn’t want it getting back to Jeff.” She sighed. “I wish I had told you.”

“Me too.” But he understood the importance of keeping a friend’s confidence. “Jeff’s having her stay at his place and has postponed his move.”

She was silent for several minutes, thinking. “I probably could have done the demo after all.”

“You’ll have plenty of opportunities in the future. Though Dena’s ass probably wishes you’d done the demo tonight.”

“What? Why?”

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“She showed up late to the demo tonight. Because of the phone call, but no one knew that at the time. She got mouthy to Jeff. Told him to fuck off.”

“She didn’t.”

“She did.”

“Damn.”

“Let’s just say the consequences were swift and unforgettable.”

She giggled. “Ouch.”

“They worked it out. They were all but making out when I left them.”

“I hope we did the right thing.”

He rolled her onto her back. “Too late to worry about that now. We’ll just have to see how it plays out.”

“Speaking of playing out, I’ve been lying up here all night thinking up all the naughty things we could be doing while you were at the guesthouse being dungeon monitor.”

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He captured both her hands in one of his, pulling them above her head. She stretched under him, her back arching in anticipation.

“Me too,” he said. “Why don’t I show you a few of them?”

Dena would have squirmed in her seat in Daniel’s kitchen if doing so hadn’t hurt her backside so much. She’d admitted the day before that she’d walk to work uphill both ways if she could live with Jeff again, so what was her problem? It didn’t take a lot of thinking to know:

He was doing it only to protect her.

It wouldn’t really mean anything.

She wouldn’t be wearing his collar.

But she felt better knowing he had reservations as well about the new arrangement. Somehow knowing the great, unflappable Jeff was scared made her feel less so. Both of them would be going into this situation knowing they were walking into a minefield.

“We need rules,” she said. “Expectations. Lines.”

Rules, expectations, and lines would create boundaries not only for their lives, but she hoped for her heart as well. Part of her knew it was wishful thinking. When had a heart ever listened to rules? But as unrealistic as it was, she felt she had to say it.

“There’s too much history between us,” she continued. They’d lived together for more than three years. “Too many memories in that house.”

His jaw tightened, and she knew he was struggling to stay in control of his emotions. “You think I don’t know that? Hell, I live there, Dena. I live there.”

She’d never given much thought before to how Jeff had been able to stay in the house they’d shared. He was a man, and she realized she’d assumed the memories didn’t bother him. Seeing him now, dragging a hand through his tousled hair, grief etched into the lines on his face, she knew she’d been wrong. She reached for the empty juice glass and spun it slowly in her hands.

“I’m sorry,” she whispered. “Of course you know. It’s just hard for me to picture myself going back.”

She’d imagined returning to him, but it’d never been under circumstances like this.

“I get that, but I won’t apologize for doing what’s necessary to keep you safe.”

“I still think you’re overdoing it, but I know you well enough to know you aren’t going to change your mind.”

He gave her the smallest of smiles. “And I know you well enough to know you had to speak yours. I always appreciated that.”

“Appreciation.” She nodded. “That certainly explains the sore ass.”

He raised an eyebrow. “Before we travel down that road, I think we should go back to what you said earlier about boundaries and expectations.”

“Should we write this down?”

“I don’t think that’s necessary.”

“First things first,” she said. “I’m going to make a wild guess and assume telling you to fuck off is a definite no-no.”

He shook his head. “Damn it, Dena.”

“I know. I know. You’re not ready to joke about it yet. It just helps me.”

He’d been right months ago when he’d told her they were their best inside the playroom. Outside, they just butted heads.

So why did she still want him?

Because part of her loved submitting to him when they were playing together and then giving him hell outside when they weren’t. But she had to admit, they’d gotten to the point when they started doing more than butt heads. It’d almost seemed as though they had tried to hurt each other. When it became unhealthy and the hurts could no longer be ignored, he’d taken his collar back.

Which had been the biggest hurt of all.

“Why don’t we discuss boundaries when we get back to my cabin?” he suggested.

“Because I’d like to have everything ironed out before walking into your place.”

“It’s late and we still have to go by your apartment so you can pull your stuff together.”

“Then we can stay in Daniel’s guesthouse tonight and get my stuff tomorrow.” He could push all he wanted. She wasn’t going to agree to go to his place until they both knew and accepted what would happen when she got there. Besides, who knew how long she’d be with him. It’d take her longer than ten minutes to pack.

He crossed his arms in his typical stance. He probably thought he looked commanding and unmovable. All she could think about was how hot he looked in the short-sleeved T-shirt with his biceps stretching the sleeves.

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