With a sigh, he put the notebook away and headed to his bed with a heavy heart.

Dena walked into Jeff’s kitchen the next morning, frowning. She had a sinking feeling she’d talked in her sleep the night before. No telling what she’d said and no telling if Jeff would tell her. Sometimes he would and sometimes he wouldn’t.

He was sitting at the kitchen table drinking coffee. He made horrid strong stuff, she remembered. “Morning”


She nodded in reply. “Two questions. What’s up with all the boxes, and what did I say in my sleep?” It was downright embarrassing not remembering, but not knowing was worse.

“I’ll tell you about the boxes after you have coffee. And ‘dirty fuck’ and ‘sore ass.’”

She took the cup waiting for her on the counter and poured herself some. “This the same vile stuff as always?”


“Dirty fuck and sore ass. Not too bad. I’ve said worse.”


“And you called me ‘Master.’”

She stiffened in shock. “Fuck.”

“Don’t worry about it. I know how out of it you get when you’re tired.” He pushed back from the table, a determined expression on his face. “I did promise to check out your ass this morning, however.”

Hurrying to the table, she sat down. “No worries. My ass is fine.”

She couldn’t explain why, but she knew she’d be mortified for him to look at her backside.

“I still need to look.”

“No one else I’d play with would.”

“Number one, I’m not anyone else. Number two, they damn well should. And number three, come here and let me see and I won’t make you get over my knee.”

When she wore his collar, he’d always made her come over his knee the morning after a hard spanking. “I told you I wouldn’t be submissive in your house.”

“I’m not asking you to be a submissive. I’m telling you, as the Dom who spanked you, that I need to check your ass.”


“Kinda sounds like the same thing.”

His sigh was heavy and sad. “Does the arguing ever get to you? Because it sure as hell wears me out.”

“I told you this was a bad idea.” He’d called it correctly once before: in the playroom they were fine, but once they stepped outside, they were toxic.

“And my other choice is what? Take my chances some maniac wrote you a note just because he was bored?” He shoved his hand through his hair. “This isn’t forever—just until we get to the bottom of everything. Let’s try not to hurt each other any more than we already have.”

His eyes pleaded with her, and something inside of her softened. Surely she could do this. He was only acting out of his feelings for her. As much as they could claim otherwise, he wouldn’t move anyone else into his house to keep them safe. He was too private and enjoyed his own space too much.

True, he would probably check anyone’s skin the day after giving them a spanking like he’d given her. But then again, that was just the kind of man he was.

She put her coffee mug down and pushed back from the table. Because she didn’t have any other clothes, she still had his T-shirt on and nothing underneath.

It’s no big deal, she told herself. He’s seen you naked plenty of times.

Turning her back to him, she lifted the hem of the shirt and closed her eyes tightly. Last night at the party had been one thing; in his kitchen the next morning was different. But he was right; they should try to get along for the few weeks or however long it ended up being.

“Looks good,” he said. “You can go ahead and sit down to eat.”

“Good? That all you have? I have a great ass. Work out five days a week to keep it that way.”

He took the olive branch for what it was and slapped her butt. “Yes, you have a mighty fine ass. Always did. Have a seat and I’ll fix you a plate.”

Jeff had always been the one to cook when they were together. He’d taught himself as a young child when he’d figured out that if he was going to eat, he’d have to be the one to prepare it. Dena, on the other hand, grew up with a personal chef and never learned how.

“Never understood how you could cook such a delicious breakfast and suck so much at making coffee,” she said as he placed a plate of eggs, sausage, and toast in front of her. “Seriously, it’s like drinking tar.”

“You drink a lot of tar?”

“Only when I have breakfast at your place.” She ate a bite of sausage. “Damn, I can’t remember the last real breakfast I ate.”

“Plenty more if you want it.”

“This is good.”

He refilled his coffee and sat across from her, silently keeping her company while she ate.

She waited until she’d finished most of her breakfast before asking, “Why all the boxes?”

He took a deep breath. “I’m going to Colorado for a while to help my dad prepare for retirement.”

Her fork slipped from her hand and clanged against the plate. “What? Why? You hate Colorado.”

He shrugged. “It’s not forever—just to get him settled.”

But still. It wouldn’t be Wilmington without Jeff. Though they had broken up, there was still something inside her that needed to see him. Wanted to see him. Even when he played with other women, at least she was aware of what he was doing and whom he was with.

Her body shook. Jeff was moving. Across the country.

“It won’t be for a long time,” he repeated, but softer this time. “I’m going to help him wrap up the business.”

“You’re going to sell insurance?”

“That’s what Daniel said. Why is it so hard to believe I’d sell insurance?” He was attempting to put a humorous spin on the situation, but he couldn’t make his tone light enough to match his words.

“Probably because you’d scare the hell out of your customers with that scowl of yours.” She couldn’t believe she was joking about it. Jeff was moving, and she sat calmly at his table.

Because she knew if she didn’t laugh, she’d cry.

“It felt like something I needed to do,” he said.


“Supposed to have been next weekend, but I called and told Dad I’d be delayed.”

The breakfast she’d eaten sat like a rock in her belly. “Because of me.”

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