Julie gave her a hug. “You okay?”

She nodded.

Daniel had a look of disgust on his face. She thought it was directed at Ron until he spoke. “Shit, Dena, I’m so sorry.”

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“You? Whatever for?”

He ran a hand through his hair. “I feel responsible. If it weren’t for me, this would have never happened.”

“Don’t blame yourself,” she said, trying to reassure him. “I don’t blame you.”

“First Sasha and now you.” He shook his head and glanced at Jeff, and she realized he was disgusted with himself. “We have to redo the entire mentor program. We’re doing something wrong.”

“This isn’t the time, but yes, I agree,” Jeff said.

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“Did you call the police?” Nathaniel asked, and Ron turned green.

“No,” Dena said. “I don’t want them involved. The group can deal with it.”

“I think that’s a really bad decision,” Nathaniel said.

“It’s mine to make.” She looked at where Jeff still towered over Ron. It didn’t appear either was paying her any attention.

“Piece of shit, threatening women,” Jeff said. “Dominants protect and treasure submissives; they don’t try to scare the hell out of them.” He cocked his head at Ron. “Were you at the party Dena and I were supposed to demo at?”

The fear deepened in Ron’s eyes. “Y-yes.”

“So you know what happened?”

“Vaguely.”

“Did you know she was late because of your call? Did you hear me punish her?” Jeff put a hand on either side of the chair and got in Ron’s face. “Were you glad?”

Ron didn’t say anything.

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“Dena, go get my toy bag out of the truck.”

Dena felt rooted to the floor. What is he thinking?

“Uh, Jeff?” Daniel asked.

“I figure he deserves at least what I gave Dena.”

“I agree with you in theory,” Nathaniel said. “But perhaps now isn’t the best time?”

“You’re probably right,” Jeff said, and at that moment, Dena knew he’d had no intention of taking a strap to the younger man. “I want you to remember one thing, Ron. I owe you thirty lashes. I will pay up.”

Or maybe he just didn’t intend to do it that particular night.

Ron left two hours later.

“I don’t think he’ll be causing any more problems,” Jeff said, closing the door behind him.

“After the talk we gave him?” Nathaniel asked. “Not if he’s smart.”

The three men had taken Ron into her guest room. “To talk,” Daniel had said. She wasn’t sure what the men told him, but he’d scurried out of her apartment as soon as they were finished.

“I only wish Cole had been here instead of in meetings in New York,” Daniel said, and there was still a trace of guilt when he spoke. “He can be one scary bastard when he wants to be.”

Dena hated that Daniel felt guilty. It wasn’t anything he’d done or hadn’t done. No one had suspected Ron had been the one harassing her. The whole thing made her want to cry or throw something. Probably, she’d feel better if she did both.

“Sometime later this week or next, we need to sit down and decide what we’re going to about the mentor program,” Jeff said. “But right now I think Dena needs some rest.”

The men spoke quietly near the door, while Julie and Abby hugged her and promised to call the next day. She was so thankful to have such supportive friends.

When everyone left, Jeff turned to her. “Are you okay?”

She took one look at him and burst into tears, sobs shaking her body.

“Dena.” Jeff crossed the room, swept her into his arms, and carried her to the couch, where he put her in his lap and let her cry until there weren’t any tears left. All the while he rubbed her back, whispering things she couldn’t hear, but just the sound of his voice and the feel of his arms around her made her feel better.

“Stay with me tonight?” she asked, looking up at him with wet eyes.

He wiped her cheek with his thumb. “I’m not about to leave you alone.”

“I’m just … I can’t … I played with him.” She felt betrayed, and worse—she felt dirty. She buried her head in Jeff’s chest. “I just want to crawl into bed and pretend nothing happened.”

“He better stay far away from you. If I ever see him again …”

His threat hung in the air.

“Would you really take your leather strap to him?”

“That’s the least I’ll do.” He stroked her hair. “Are you hungry? Thirsty?”

She shook her head, not wanting to move from Jeff’s arms, but a yawn escaped before she could stop it.

“Bed it is,” he said.

He carried her to the bedroom even though she protested that she could walk just fine. He said he simply wanted to hold her and she’d just have to deal with it.

After putting her in the middle of the bed, he told her to stay put and then rummaged through her drawers, looking for pajamas, she supposed. Suddenly, everything caught up with her and she felt exhausted. She watched him for a few minutes until her eyelids grew heavy.

“Sleep naked,” she heard herself say. “Do it.”

Jeff mumbled something, but she couldn’t hear, so she started taking her clothes off. Within seconds, his hands were on hers. She couldn’t tell if he was trying to stop her or if he was helping. Eventually, she just stayed still. It was Jeff; she was safe.

The last thing she remembered before sleep overtook her was the security of his arms around her and his heart beating strongly in her ear.

Chapter Sixteen

Present day

She woke gradually the next morning, taking time to grow aware of her surroundings before she opened her eyes. She was warm, wrapped in her soft sheets and downy comforter. Bentley hadn’t crawled into bed yet, so it couldn’t be that late. The room was still mostly dark, she noted, opening one eye. She shifted slightly and bumped into hard muscle. Hard male muscle.

Jeff pressed a kiss to the nape of her neck. “Good morning.”

She remembered falling asleep wrapped in Jeff’s arms, but he had never been one to hang out in bed once he woke up. “Good morning,” she said, twisting her body to face him and realizing at that moment that she was naked.

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