“I’ve seen the way he looks at you. He’ll be back.”

Nathaniel walked back into the kitchen. “I talked with the police and then a company about setting up private security for the house. I had to leave a voice mail for Jeff, but I did have a call from Daniel.”

“Daniel?” Dena asked. “About me?”

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“He can’t do the mentor session tomorrow and was wondering if you’d mind if Cole ran it sometime next week. He thought it might work better if Cole and Ron came here. You can use my playroom.”

“That sounds good. I wasn’t jumping up and down to head back to Wilmington anyway.” Not anymore, not since the phone call.

He slipped an arm around Abby’s waist. “You’re welcome to stay here for as long as you want.” His cell phone rang and he pulled it out of his pocket, nodding to Dena when he read the display. “Hello, Jeff.”

Dena held her breath and hoped Nathaniel would stay in the kitchen. She’d told Nathaniel she didn’t want to speak to Jeff, but just knowing he was on the phone made him seem so close, and she didn’t want to give that up.

“I was calling to let you know Dena received another phone call. Yes, just now, less than thirty minutes ago.” There was a pause as Nathaniel listened, head nodding. “I notified the local police and called a private security company.” He glanced her way. “She’s shaken up, but holding it together. This time, though, she thought she recognized the voice.”

Dena shivered just thinking about the mechanical laughter on the other end of her phone. The sound would echo in her sleep, and she was so glad she wasn’t alone in her apartment.

“That’s what I was thinking,” Nathaniel said to Jeff. “Probably work related.” More silence followed. “We know you want to be here, and we all understand why you’re not. How’s your father?”

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It was probably eating him alive that he couldn’t be here, and she wondered, just for a minute, if they shouldn’t have told him. He had enough stress dealing with his father and his business. But just as quickly she realized she could never keep the truth from him.

“I’ll let you know if anything changes,” Nathaniel said, and then, looking at Dena, he added, “I will. I’ll protect her as one of my own.”

“What are you doing here, Dena?”

Cole had approached so quietly, she hadn’t heard him. She turned from the window in the Wests’ kitchen. The mentor session had ended twenty minutes earlier, and Cole had sent Ron back to Wilmington as soon as it was over. “Cole, hey. I didn’t hear you come in.”

He tilted his head toward the kitchen table and waited for her to sit down before taking his own seat.

On the surface, Cole was easy-going, but those in the community knew he was also a Dominant. And not just any Dominant, Dena thought, watching him sit down. He was called the Badass Brit by many submissives. Just never to his face. Dena didn’t know from personal experience; this was a case where his reputation preceded him.

“I came to get some water,” she answered, not understanding why he asked.

“I don’t mean here in the kitchen. I meant, why are you here in New York and not in Colorado?”

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She sucked in a breath at hearing the words, and memories of Jeff flooded her mind. No one had—

“I know everyone else tiptoes around the subject,” Cole continued, undeterred by her obvious anguish or perhaps spurred on by it. “Or at least those who know of your history with Jeff. The both of you did a relatively good job at keeping your emotions hidden from everyone.”

They had, she would agree. Too good of a job.

“But frankly,” he said, “I’ve never been very good at tiptoeing around things, and I’ve never seen the point in pretending something is other than what it is. So, the question is: why are you here and not there?”

He was certainly bold; she’d give him that much. No one else had the nerve to ask her about Jeff. Still …

She raised an eyebrow at him. “And why do you think I want to discuss it with you?”

“I have no doubt that you don’t want to discuss it with anyone, but …” His expression grew slightly softer. Just slightly. If she hadn’t been watching him so closely, she’d have missed it. “The truth is, I do know something about running away from your past.”

Kate. His ex. Dena knew they’d been together forever, and now they weren’t.

“Sounds to me like you’re the last person I should talk to,” she said. “Why are you here and not there?”

His lips tightened. “It’s complicated.”

She snorted. “Hell, Cole, we’re all complicated. You think Jeff and I are simple?”

“I know there’s some history between you two.”

Against her will, she started to feel angry. “You know the problem with most Dominants? You guys think you know the answer to everything. You think you can fix anything. Well, guess what. You can’t fix this.”

“I never thought—”

“Yes, you did. You thought you could come up to me and give me a little talking-to and I’d go running to Colorado and fall gladly into Jeff’s arms like nothing happened.”

“I just wanted to give you something to think about.”

“There you go again. You think I haven’t thought about it? I don’t think about anything other than Jeff.”

He opened his mouth to say something, but then closed it. After several seconds he said, “Very well. I’ll tell you about me. Kate and I were together eight years, and she was more than my submissive; she was my slave.”

He stopped for a moment, obviously knowing Dena needed time to process the information. She must have had a shocked look on her face, because the corner of his mouth lifted.

“Are you okay? Shall I continue?”

“Please,” she squeaked out, still trying to wrap her head around the fact that Cole and Kate had lived such a lifestyle. She’d met Kate once and never picked up on the fact the couple was Master and slave. Normally, she had a sixth sense about such things.

“There’s a certain type of intensity involved in a twenty-four/seven relationship. I’m not sure anyone who hasn’t lived it can fully understand. I was her Master in every way. She worked outside of the house and she went out with friends, but we both knew she belonged to me.” He looked at his hands, flexed his fists, and looked back up to her. “Do you know why Kate and I broke up?”

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