“I like you,” she admitted. “A lot, actually. And I know you don’t think I trust you, but I do. I can’t even explain it to myself. But I feel safe with you. I tell you things I don’t tell other people.”

His smile broadened. “I’m very glad you feel safe with me, baby, because you are. Always. Absolutely. I will do anything and everything in my power to always keep you safe. Not just physically but emotionally as well. And I’m humbled by the fact that you’ve given me your trust. It’s a gift I don’t take lightly. I’ll do my best to ensure you never regret giving me that very precious gift.”

She sighed and leaned back, her gaze still on him. She was absorbed in him. How quickly he’d become her security blanket. How easily she found herself sharing things with him she’d never share with anyone else.

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“I missed you while you were gone,” she admitted. “I was counting the hours and minutes until you got back. I wouldn’t let myself sleep after that first night. I was too afraid because I knew I’d have nightmares and you weren’t there. I didn’t feel safe.”

He picked up the tray and placed it on the floor on his side of the bed. Then he turned back to her and pulled her down into his arms until she was nestled against his side, her head resting on his shoulder.

“I should have never left you,” he said in a low voice. “I’m sorry I let you down, baby. It won’t happen again because from now on you come first. And I missed you too. I wrapped up things early so I could hurry home to you. I’ve never had anyone to come home to. It was a nice feeling. And then when I saw you, my heart nearly stopped. You scared me.”

“I’m sorry,” she whispered. “I know I can be difficult. I don’t want to be. I want to be better, Jensen. I can be with you. I feel it. For the first time, I feel like it will be okay. That I don’t have to continue living like I have for so long. It’s kind of scary and yet exciting all at the same time. I don’t react to change very well as you’ve probably noticed.”

“We’re two peas in a pod, you and I,” Jensen said. “We’re more alike than you think. I understand you better than you think and in time you’ll understand me as well.”

“I want to,” she said honestly.

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She turned her head up so she could see him.

“You said once that you had demons too. Will you tell me about them sometime?”

He picked up her hand and brought her fingertips to his lips. “One day, yes. But not right now. I don’t want anything to ruin right here and right now. You in my arms. Us just being. That’s a conversation for another day and time.”

She let it go because if he shared then she’d have to share as well and she was no more eager to ruin the moment than he was. She nestled back into his arms and let out a sleepy yawn.

He stroked a hand over her hair, further lulling her to sleep.

“Get some rest, baby,” he said. “You have a lot of sleep to catch up on. I’ll wake you for a late lunch and then you can stay up until bedtime tonight. We’ll stay in for dinner. Watch a movie. Whatever you want. But for now rest and know you’re safe.”

“I could fall in love with you so easily, Jensen,” she said in barely above a whisper. “That scares me. I’ve never allowed anyone to be in a position to hurt me. I’m not sure I like it at all.”

He kissed the top of her head. “That’s what establishing trust is all about. When you learn to trust in me fully, then the idea of loving me won’t scare you so badly because then you’ll know that I’d never do anything to hurt you.”

FOURTEEN

KYLIE watched as Jensen dressed for work Monday morning, indecision wracking her. This was a huge step in this trust thing she was working so hard at. The rest of last week and the weekend had been . . . beautiful. The best four days of her life. And she didn’t say that lightly, though God knew it wouldn’t take much to top her life up until now. Not that she was taking anything away from Jensen by acknowledging that, but she had to admit, she’d lived a pretty sterile existence up to now. Going through the motions but not taking risks and not really . . . living.

There had been no freak outs, no meltdowns, nothing even resembling her epic meltdown on their first date. But then Jensen hadn’t pressured her. He hadn’t made any kind of move on her. Their interactions had consisted of a few affectionate kisses, hardly the passionate, breath-stealing kind. Lots of snuggling and hugging.

She liked the hugs the best. It sounded silly, but her life had been devoid of true affection. Sure, her girlfriends were touchyfeely with her but that had never extended to a man. Even Tate and Dash always treated her very gingerly, never crossing the boundaries, ever mindful of her “issues.”

And most notably, since Jensen had brought her here, to his home, and they slept together each night, her nightmares had eased. Just peaceful, dreamless sleep, safe in his arms. That told her more than anything that she belonged with him. Maybe it made him her security blanket, and while the idea of depending on anyone else in the past may have freaked her out, she found with him it didn’t bother her. She’d achieved something far more precious than anything else during the last several days together. She’d achieved what she’d never allowed herself to hope for. Peace.

This morning she’d awakened, fully prepared to accompany Jensen into work, only he’d shut her down cold. And he couldn’t be swayed. Dash would be back in the office today. She knew the two men had talked the previous evening and had set up a meeting to discuss several matters. One of which concerned Kylie. She knew that much.

She wasn’t sure how she felt about being shut out. Not going to work. Not being there when she was being discussed. But Jensen had asked her to trust him in this. To remain at his home and be there when he returned from work. It was important to him and after all he’d put up with from her, it seemed a reasonable request.

She just wished she weren’t so anxious and worried over what the two men would be discussing. But Jensen had promised to fill her in and leave nothing out when he returned from work. He wanted them to venture out tonight. Have dinner out. Go on a real date outside their homes. It was a test, she was sure, one she felt capable of passing without issue. But then who really knew what the hell her brain would do at any given time. She’d learned to trust Jensen perhaps, but she didn’t fully trust herself. Not yet.

Jensen finished cinching his tie and then turned to where she was still lying in bed, wearing the pajamas they’d gone to her house to collect, along with her other clothing. At least two weeks’ worth by her estimate. He’d told her to pack enough to stay awhile. It would appear he had no intention of allowing her out of his sight anytime soon. A fact that strangely didn’t fire panic on all cylinders in her. Maybe she really was getting the hang of this whole trust thing.

He came to the bed and sat down on the edge, taking her hand and pulling her into his embrace. He kissed the top of her head and then framed her face as he’d done so many times before. She’d come to identify this as an affectionate gesture, one he seemed to favor, especially when he was being serious or tender.

“I know I’m asking a lot,” he said seriously. “And I know this requires a lot of trust on your part. But trust me to handle things with Dash today. There’s a lot I have to fill him in on, and the fact is, you still need to rest. You worked yourself into the ground last week and you still have dark circles under your eyes, though you’re certainly starting to look a hell of a lot better than when I found you in your office.”

“Gee, thanks,” she said dryly. “I’m now a step above death warmed over. I feel so much better now.”

“Cheeky wench,” he said with no heat. “There’s a lot I need to catch Dash up on and I’d rather to do it when we’re alone. That’s no reflection on you. I’ve promised to protect you and that’s exactly what I’m doing. Trust me in this, baby. Okay? I’ll fill you in tonight and I won’t leave a word out. I promise. Today I want you to spend resting, being lazy, doing absolutely nothing. Maybe catch up with Chessy and Joss since I’m sure Chessy has filled her ears full of everything that happened while she was away on her honeymoon. I’m sure they’ll both be coming at you, so prepare yourself for that. I know I haven’t known your girls for a long time, but I know they can be ferocious when it comes to you, just as you’re fiercely protective of them. So I imagine while I’m tied up with Dash, they’re going to double-team you and interrogate you about me.”

He said the last with an arrogant grin as if he had every confidence that everything she would say about him would be good. And hell, it would. He was right about that much. She just wasn’t sure how much she wanted to share, even with her closest girlfriends. Some things were meant to be kept private. To savor and hold secret just for a little while.

“Will it make Dash angry, the decisions you made while he was gone?” she asked nervously. “I don’t want you to jeopardize your business relationship with him. Especially over me.”

He put a finger to her lips to shush her. Then he followed his fingers with his lips, lightly kissing her. “You let me handle Dash. He’s a reasonable guy or I wouldn’t be in business with him. I’m going to lay it all out to him and he’ll agree with my assessment of your capabilities. I have no doubt about that. You’ll get that raise, baby. I can guarantee it. And a promotion will be likely as well. And it won’t be because I’m giving you anything. Our relationship has nothing to do with your abilities. You’ve earned what you’ve got coming. Never doubt that. Business is business. What’s between you and me is strictly personal and doesn’t interfere with work. I don’t make emotional decisions when it comes to business.”

Feeling oddly comforted by that statement, she nodded her agreement.

“If you do go out, text me and let me know, okay? This isn’t me being overbearing or monitoring your comings and goings. I’d just like to know if you’re okay, and if you need me for anything at all, I will not be pleased if you don’t call me immediately. Got it?”

She smiled, absurdly pleased over his concern. “Got it.”

He kissed her again and then stood, a regretful expression on his face. “I hate to leave you. The last several days have been nice. Unfortunately it’s back to the real world. But I’ll be home at my usual time today. If I’m running late for any reason I’ll call so you know when to expect me. Dress casual for dinner. We’ll go someplace comfortable.”

“That sounds nice,” she said softly. “I’ll look forward to it.”

He cupped her cheek, giving her one last caress, and then he was gone, leaving her bereft of his presence.

The house was too quiet, silent in fact. She’d grown accustomed to his presence. They’d spent every minute of the last four days together. They’d slept together in his bed, her in her pajamas and him in boxers and a T-shirt. He’d been super careful not to in any way make it seem like he was pressuring her for anything at all. It only endeared him to her all the more.

She’d told him she could see herself falling in love with him, but she was afraid she was already more than halfway there. Or maybe she already was. She struggled with the idea of separating genuine love with dependence. Or perhaps one was simply a by-product of the other. Who the hell knew? She’d never been in love before. Had no idea what it felt like.

But if it meant being utterly content and happy in his presence and preferring his company to anyone else’s, then yeah, she was definitely in love. Her fucked-up mind was the only obstacle she still had to overcome. It was simply too used to stepping in and overriding all her decisions. It had been in self-preservation mode for so many years that it knew no other way to be.

Maybe she should reach out to Chessy and Joss and not wait until they tracked her down. It would be a positive step in the right direction. To actually share a part of herself she usually reserved, even around her best friends.

This could be part of the “new her.” Being more open. Open up and share as much as Chessy and Joss had shared with her.

Liking the idea, but more than a little nervous about actually going through with it, she got out of bed and went for her phone. Maybe a text to both of them. Set up lunch? It was a sad testament to just how inexperienced she was with taking the initiative that it took her five minutes to compose the text and another five to work up the nerve to actually send it.

Not wanting to sit there glued to her phone, she opted to shower, just in case they did take her up on her offer of getting together for lunch. At least she’d be ready to go. And well, if they were otherwise occupied, she’d get out and maybe do some grocery shopping. She and Jensen were eating out tonight, but he’d made it clear he had no intention of her going back to her house anytime soon.

She hadn’t really put a timeline on her staying with him. The last four days had been too comfortable and she was reluctant to pull back and potentially destroy the progress they’d made. The progress she had made.

She could cook dinner for them tomorrow night. If he didn’t allow her to go into work the next day she could have it ready for him when he got home. And if she did go to work, she could always cook for him when they both got home.

How easily she’d given over so much control to Jensen, she mused as she got into the shower. More surprising was the fact she wasn’t freaking out or melting down. Maybe she was making progress.

Their relationship, however tenuous, had strengthened over the past days. No, they hadn’t even come close to true intimacy. Well, that wasn’t exactly true. Just because they hadn’t had sex didn’t mean there wasn’t decided intimacy in their relationship. Perhaps more so than if they had made love.

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