Dash shot him an inscrutable look. He made a V with his fingertips and rested his chin against them in a thoughtful manner.
“And what does Kylie think about all of this? You?” Dash amended.
“Are we talking personally or professionally here?” Jensen asked coolly.
“Personally. We’re all very protective of Kylie. I don’t want to see her get hurt. You are precisely the kind of man she doesn’t need.”
“I disagree. She’s mine,” Jensen repeated. “That’s all you need to know. She’s currently staying with me after working herself into the ground last week while I was gone. She collapsed in the office and I took her home so I could take care of her. God knows someone needed to. But if you think I in any way forced her, you’re wrong. She’s there willingly. I have every intention of keeping her out of work the remainder of this week as well. She’s exhausted and she needs the break. And when she comes back, I want it to be in the capacity of more than our office manager. So that gives you a week to be looking for a new one.”
“You’re a demanding bastard,” Dash mused.
“It’s the right decision for our company,” Jensen said. “She landed us the S&G contract. I have no doubt she’ll be an asset if we turn her loose. I have every confidence in her abilities. She just has to find the same confidence in herself.”
“I’ll go along with you on this,” Dash conceded. “If Kylie proves her mettle then we can certainly make her a partner. But you need to figure out if you can handle that if things don’t work out for you . . . personally.”
Jensen returned Dash’s look unblinkingly. “They will work out. However, I’d leave before ever making Kylie feel uncomfortable in her work environment. I will never do anything that hurts her. Period.”
Dash let out a long breath. “I hope to hell you know what you’re getting into, man. Kylie . . . she’s going to be a tough nut to crack. With reason. And she’s not going to react well to your . . . dominance.”
“For her I’m willing to make special concessions,” Jensen said.
It was all he would say on the matter. He owed Dash at least some reassurance because Kylie was important to him and Joss. But this was all he’d give him. What was between him and Kylie was private. Not to be shared. He was as possessive of their relationship as he was of her.
“Then I wish you the best,” Dash said sincerely. “Kylie deserves to be happy. I never thought I’d say this but she may well have met her match in you. She needs someone as stubborn as she is. Someone who won’t buckle or run at the first sign of adversity. She deserves someone who will stick it out and see her for the treasure she is.”
“In that we agree,” Jensen said. “Now, what about a new office manager? I vote we start taking applications immediately.”
KYLIE was waiting anxiously when Jensen pulled into the drive. She’d been anticipating his homecoming ever since she’d returned from her lunch with the girls. She’d been delighted when he’d called and said he’d be home earlier than usual.
She wasn’t sure if that was a good thing or a bad thing or if it was in any way indicative of how his talk with Dash had gone.
She met him at the door and all but threw herself into his arms. He seemed delighted by her spontaneous show of affection and caught her up against him. She took the initiative and kissed him. And not one of those gentle pecks he’d been giving her. She devoured his mouth hungrily, licking over his lips and then delving inside when they parted.
“Wow,” he said breathlessly when she finally pulled away. “Now that’s what I call a welcome home.”
“I missed you,” she said without any discomfort. She could admit things to him that she’d never admit to anyone else. She didn’t feel as vulnerable and as bare with him.
She felt . . . safe.
It was a statement she’d made to herself and to him over and over but it bore repeating because it was such a mind-boggling thing. She, who never felt safe with anyone, felt absolutely secure with Jensen.
“I missed you too, baby.”
He kissed her this time, long and leisurely. It sent warm shivers cascading over her body. Now that she’d decided that she wanted to try to have a physical relationship with him, it was all that occupied her mind. She was bursting with hope and anticipation because this would be huge for her. Just as huge as it evidently was that he was offering to relinquish absolute control to her.
“I got used to having you around the last four days,” she whispered.
He let out a groan. “God, baby, if you have any intention of us going out, you have to stop now because I’m one second away from hauling you into the bedroom and tying my own self to the bed.”
She laughed, the sound joyous and free. How far had she come that they could actually joke about her hang-ups and she could laugh at herself? If she had any uncertainty about whether she loved this man, it was gone in an instant.
“I’m ready to go if you are,” she said with a grin. “You said casual, but I didn’t want to go too casual.”
He pulled her away as if noticing for the first time what she had on. She loved that he hadn’t paid any attention to the outer trappings. He’d only been focused on her. The woman. What was on the inside, no matter how twisted up she was there.
“If this is your definition of casual then I’m dying to know what you consider not casual,” he said, male appreciation evident in his tone.
She’d donned a short cocktail dress, one that clipped just above her knees and bared the expanse of her legs. It was simple and could certainly qualify as casual. It was black and sleeveless with a modest neckline that only hinted at the curves of her breasts.
The pièce de résistance, however, were the heels. She was normally a flip-flop kind of girl and wouldn’t be caught dead in a pair of heels. But she was feeling brave and a little sassy and so, on her way home from lunch, she’d stopped and bought a pair of spiked, blingy heels that she had to admit looked damn good on her. She just hoped like hell she didn’t make an ass of herself by face-planting when she tried to walk in them.
“I wanted to look good for you,” she said hesitantly.
He gathered her close again, careful to keep her from teetering on her heels. “Baby, you look good to me no matter what you’re wearing, but let me assure you. You look gorgeous. I’m a lucky bastard to be seen with you. Let me change into something besides my work clothes and then I’ll take you out. Think you can slow dance with those killer shoes?”
She smiled, taking in his appreciative stare, it stroking her feminine ego. She hadn’t ever considered she had one until now.
“If you hold me close enough I won’t fall.”
He leaned in close, his breath whispering over her face. “I’ll never let you fall, baby.”
Her heart clutched at the quiet vow and she knew he wouldn’t break it. Literally and figuratively speaking, he’d never let her fall. Not when he was around. She was stronger with him, because of him. She felt ready to take on the world because of this man’s confidence in her.
She ached to tell him everything that was in her heart, but she knew they still had a long way to go. And it wouldn’t be easy. They still had many obstacles to overcome, but for the first time she was optimistic about her chances of regaining control over her life. And she owed it partly to him. Hell, she owed it all to him.
If he hadn’t pushed her, if he hadn’t been so determined, she’d still be existing day to day, hiding from the world with her head in the sand.
Now she was going on a date. Another date, only this time she hoped for a better result. She wasn’t foolish enough to think she’d get there tonight. But she wanted to try. That was something, wasn’t it? She wasn’t afraid to try. Her only fear was failure. But she wasn’t going to use that fear as an excuse not to go through with it. She’d face her fears head-on and not allow them to rule her life any longer.
It took Jensen only a few minutes to change. He chose jeans and a simple polo that fit snugly over his strong shoulders and broad chest. It hugged him in all the right places, accentuating his lean, muscled physique.
And his smell. She wasn’t even sure if he used cologne or perhaps aftershave. It wasn’t overpowering but wholeheartedly masculine and rugged. She loved his scent.
They drove to a small jazz bar in the downtown area. A band played nightly and the lighting was low and romantic, only the mellow sounds of the music mixed with hushed tones of the patrons evident.
It screamed intimate and quiet. Cozy and perfect. An ideal prelude to what she hoped would be more. She was nervous and yet edgy with impatience and anticipation to see where the evening would take them. She planned to talk with Jensen, to query him further on the control issue and whether he was truly willing to go through with it. It was a testament to her will that she didn’t question whether she was willing to go through with it.
Her heart wanted it. Her body wanted it. She just had to pray that her mind went along for the ride.
They ordered drinks and shared lingering glances over the rims of their glasses. After they placed their food order, Jensen rose and extended his hand down to Kylie.
“Time to see how well you dance in those heels and how well I’m able to hold you up,” he said teasingly.
She went readily into his arms, absorbing the intense masculine warmth and strength his body offered. He wrapped himself around her so that she barely had room to move. Not that she minded a bit.
They stood, swaying slightly in rhythm to the music, her head tucked securely underneath Jensen’s chin. She closed her eyes and leaned further into him, allowing him to hold her.
Her breath caught when she felt the firm imprint of his erection against her belly. Even underneath the denim of his jeans, his c**k was rigid and straining outward, bulging and pulsing strongly.
He let his hand drift up and down her back, stroking, caressing, his fingers whispering over her skin like a dream. She made a low contented sound in the back of her throat, a hum of pleasure that vibrated against his chest.
“You’re killing me, baby.”
The whispered words just against her ear sent shivers of need through her body.
She lifted her head and leaned up so she could return his whisper. He bent his head lower to dip his ear to her lips.
“You’re killing me too.”
His smile was instantaneous. Predatory. It should have scared the bejebus out of her, but it didn’t. It was a smile that told her she was in trouble. The good kind.
He palmed her nape, his fingers curling around the slender column. Every feminine instinct was on high alert. Her body was taut with desire, her br**sts heavy and aching.
Then, holding her in place, he leaned down and pressed his lips to hers. He was infinitely tender, so exquisitely gentle that tears burned her eyelids. Nothing was more perfect than right here, right now. In his arms, the soft strains of jazz surrounding them.
Intimacy was a heavy cloak over them, enveloping them in its lulling embrace. She swayed in his arms, completely caught up in the moment. She wanted time to stand still. For the mood to never be broken.
He seemed as reluctant as she when he pulled away and glanced toward their table with a grimace.
“Dinner is here, baby.”
“What dinner?” she asked huskily.
He smiled and kissed the corner of her mouth. “Come. Let me feed my baby.”
She was gripped by a ridiculous, giddy thrill over the endearment. His baby. As if she belonged to him and she was his to take care of.
She was acting like a stupid teenager barely in control of her hormones.
He led her back to the table where their entrées awaited them. But Jensen slid her plate toward him while he edged his chair closer to hers. He cut into her steak before forking a bite to her lips.
At first she was embarrassed by the fact that she was a grown woman being fed by a man. She glanced hastily around, but no one was paying them the slightest attention. They were too wrapped up in their own environments and conversations.
“Relax, Kylie. Let me feed you. I enjoy it very much.”
Put that way, she felt shrewish to allow her brief discomfort to interfere in their ever-growing intimacy.
She forced herself to heed his dictate and relax, allowing him to continue the intimate act of feeding her each bite.
“There, that’s not so bad,” he coaxed, his tone raspy.
She shook her head and then glanced down at his own untouched food. “Do I get to feed you?” she teased.
He looked startled and then pleased. “If you like.”
She scooted forward and picked up the fork and knife to cut into his steak. Then she began feeding him bites, his gaze stroking her face the entire time.
What was at first an awkward experience for her was transformed into something decidedly intimate. The sensual haze between them was thick, tangible. Building like a thunderstorm, waiting only to be unleashed.
She wanted it. She wanted him. It was new for her, this desperate need for a man. She’d never wanted to overcome her past as badly as she wanted to now. She’d used it as a protective barrier, not wanting those barriers to ever be breached. But now she wanted to break them down herself. She didn’t want him to do it for her. She wanted to own it. Wanted them to come down at her instigation.
“Are you ready to go home?” she whispered.
She realized it could be unclear whose home she meant. But she’d been staying with Jensen and she realized she had no desire to go back to her own house. It was where she’d freaked out before. Maybe in Jensen’s home, a place she already felt safe and secure, she would finally be able to overcome her demons.