Continental Life
agreement but said nothing. “I moved here a year ago and never expected to love San Fran so much. How about you,” she continued.
    Bella sighed. One of her biggest pet peeves was forced conversation. Xander had taught her that if you didn’t h ave anything worth speaking about, then to just sit quietly and offer a polite smile, but seeing the uneasy look in Julianna’ eyes made her feel empathic toward her. At least she was making an effort.
    “I moved here ten years ago for college. Actually…” she glanced out the window and at the top of Xander’s building that was just within view. “I moved here to get away from my parents and to be on my own. I wanted personal freedom,” she laughed ironically.
    “Why’s that funny?” Julianna quirked her eyebrows.
    Bella shrugged her shoulders and pushe d the hair away from her eyes. “It’s just funny considering the kind of man I ended up being with – demanding, insatiable and one who has an affinity for making and enforcing rules.”
    “I feel your pain,” the muscles around the corners of her eyes tightened with her smile , making the blemish even more noticeable as it jutted across her cheekbone. “But it’s not really painful, is it?”
    Trying to avoid gaping at the flaw yet again, Bella shook her head and averted her eyes to the menu lying on the table. “No. This lifestyle is more pleasure than pain.”
    Julianna cringed and when Bella looked up, she saw the woman scanning the tabletop nervously.
    “Did I say something to offend you?” she asked, confused by the small woman’s sudden withdrawal.
    “ No, it wasn’t offensive, it’s just that…” she sighed and peered up. “I’ve been through some difficult things and for me, this lifestyle has proven to be more pain than pleasure. But I know that will change. I can feel it. My new life is just over the horizon…” she looked out the window again. “Right over there past that picturesque, San Francisco cloudless sky,” she drifted off with tears in her eyes.
    “I’m so sorry. I never m eant to stare at your scar or force you into an admission…”
    Julianna put her hand up. “Don’t apologize. It’s part of who I am. I can honestly say I wouldn’t change a thing. Well…” she smiled weakly. “…maybe a few things. It’s taken me a long time to get to this point, but the BDSM community has surrounded me with nothing but love. And now the DDTC… it’s just such an overwhelming experience to be told that we’re each precious and cherished, and to accept nothing less than the best. If only I had been taught that two years ago… but everything happens for a reason, I suppose. This mark on my face tells others that there is hope after devastation and someday, I will tell you and the others how it happened. Just not today, okay?”
    Bella nodded and reached her hand out and laid it on Julianna’s. “In your own time, Julianna.”
    “Call me Ju,” she grinned earnestly for the first time, her face lighting up brightly with the flash of her slightly crooked, sparkling white teeth.
    “That smile…” Bella became awestruck. “ Wow . If I wasn’t a straight woman, I’d be smitten.”
    Ju’s smile widened further yet. The most gorgeous blush stained her cheeks and a feminine giggle fluttered past her lips. She wore her modesty well and it ranked up there with one of the most beautiful things Bella had ever seen.
    *
    When all was said and done, Bella was glad to have spent time with her fellow classmates. As always, Clarissa and Christopher took over most of the conversation, but this time she was thankful. The discussion became awkward when they began speaking about the instructors and whom they each had a crush on. Bella did her best to remain guarded, but they prodded her endlessly until she confessed to only one hard crush – Lord Pettifor.
    “I’ve seen how you look at him,” Christopher joked. “Those little panties of yours get all wet when you’re around him, don’t

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