“That day in the bathroom,” he said, shaking his head. “I’d never felt so damn useless. You were sitting there in pain, going through hell, and I couldn’t do a thing.”

“You were there. That’s what I needed. Even though I told you I didn’t want you in the bathroom, deep down it comforted me to know you were with me.”

“I’m a man,” he said with a small smile. “I thought I should be able to do more. I like to fix things.”

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She snorted. “Don’t I know? And you get all pissy when you can’t.”

“I take offense at the word ‘pissy.’”

“That doesn’t make it untrue.”

Their gazes caught, and the lighthearted moment turned serious.

“What happened to us, Dena?” He reached across the desk and stroked her cheek. “How did we go from what we were to where we are now?”

Her skin was soft under his fingers. He wanted to pull her close and never let go. To somehow shelter her from the ghosts of their past. No matter what happened between them, whether they were able to start again or not, no one else would ever make him feel the way she did.

“I ask myself that all the time,” she said.

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“Have you ever found an answer?”

“No.”

“Then the question becomes how do we move ahead?”

She took the hand he had on her face and laced her fingers through his. “I don’t know the answer to that one either, but I think we’re making a good start.”

Falling into a routine was as easy as breathing. In the mornings Dena would keep Jeff’s father occupied while he cooked. After breakfast his father would nap and either Jeff would work on getting the insurance business taken care of or he would look over the notes he had on Dena’s stalker.

She joined him in the kitchen while he cooked lunch and dinner, taking a break from her laptop and the remote casework she was doing. He remembered how much she used to enjoy being in the kitchen while he prepared a meal. Before they’d met, he had been used to cooking alone, and it took time to grow accustomed to having her there after she moved in. Eventually, he not only got used to it, but he got to count on it. Their talks during that part of the day became something he looked forward to. And something he’d missed horribly after she left.

The Friday night following her arrival, though, he decided to change their routine. He made alternate arrangements with the nurse on duty and waited in the kitchen. When she came in to chat while he cooked, she raised an eyebrow at the sight of him standing and doing nothing.

“I have a change of plans for us this evening.”

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“Oh?” A playful light glimmered in her eyes. “This doesn’t involve me cooking, does it?”

“No. Will you go to dinner with me?”

“Like a date?”

“Yes, like a date.”

She smiled that smile that never ceased to stop his heart. “I’d love to have a dinner date with you.”

He’d made reservations at a nearby steakhouse that had recently opened. The afternoon nurse had gone on and on about it when he’d asked for a place to take a date. The truth was, he didn’t care where they ate; he simply wanted some alone time with Dena, away from the house. Sure they talked, but part of his attention had to be on his father. He wanted time to focus on her.

“If I’d known we were going out, I’d have worn something else,” she said, frowning at her jeans and sweater.

He bit back his laugh. She would always be the daughter of a senator, would always feel the need to look picture-perfect. Which meant he would be the one who had to talk sense into her.

“Look at me,” he said, lifting her chin. He smiled when their eyes met. “You are beautiful. Don’t worry about your clothes. The restaurant’s casual.”

Even so, she didn’t seem relaxed until they stepped inside the restaurant and she took note of the casual way the other diners were dressed. The building was an old restored warehouse, and echoes of its former life were evident in the brick walls and overhead wooden beams.

They were soon seated at a secluded booth in the back corner. Dena picked up her menu and peered at him over the top of it. “Did you request this booth?”

“No. Why?”

“No reason,” she said, and dropped her eyes to read the menu. “I just remember you did request a certain table in the back corner of a darkened restaurant once. Or twice.”

His cock grew hard as memories of one of the nights in question flooded his mind, and he swore softly.

“Sorry,” she said, still reading the menu. “I probably shouldn’t have brought it up.” The tone of her voice indicated she wasn’t sorry in the least. “But just to make sure, I am allowed to speak to people other than you, right?”

One of their favorite things to do when she wore his collar was to subtly play in public. He often instructed her not to speak to anyone other than him. She usually messed up. For someone with a vivacious personality like hers, it was difficult to curtail the chatter.

Though he suspected she often messed up on purpose.

“Yes,” he said through clenched teeth. “Of course.”

“Mmmm.” She went back to looking over the menu.

He tried to focus on his own menu, but since she’d brought up the past, the only thing he could focus on were memories.

Telling her to go to the bathroom and remove her panties.

Having her masturbate at the table and to come with no one noticing.

Playing with her under the table and having her suck his fingers clean when he finished.

“Remember the restaurant with the long tablecloth?” she asked after they ordered drinks. She sat back in her seat and appeared to be enjoying watching him sweat. “You had your hand under the table, your fingers inside me, when that client of yours came up to the table and wanted to shake your hand.”

That memory hadn’t been one of the more erotic ones. Instead, it had been awkward and embarrassing. The client had been excited to see him and had wanted to introduce him to his dinner companion. Jeff had been coaxing Dena through an orgasm when he walked up.

Not wanting to shake the guy’s hand with Dena’s arousal on his fingers, he’d pled messy hands as a result of dinner and excused himself to the bathroom to wash them.

“Not that one either,” he said. “That one’s just downright embarrassing.”

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