The urge to dominate was powerful. It beat like his pulse, strong with anticipation, even as he knew Kylie was not a woman to dominate. She wasn’t a woman who’d submit. Ever. Not physically. But dominance was so much more than the physical trappings that often accompanied such a relationship. Emotional surrender was much more powerful, and perhaps that was what he craved when he looked into those shadowed eyes of hers.

She needed a man who’d cherish her, protect her from any and all hurts, provide shelter for her. A place of refuge from the rest of the world. She needed a man she could turn to and trust unerringly in his ability to shield her from any threat. Even those that weren’t physical, but emotional, because those were hurts far worse than physical ones.


She was infinitely fragile. So very vulnerable. He watched her. He watched her a damn lot, and when she didn’t realize others were observing her, she lost the icy façade and he got a glimpse of the frightened young girl behind the ballsy exterior.

She was complex, a puzzle, one he had every intention of figuring out. But how?

His normal method of operation certainly wouldn’t work with her. There was no approaching her, taking control, laying down the law according to him and telling her the way it would be. He’d attempted to do precisely that just moments ago and it had been like hitting a brick wall.

She’d remove his balls with a rusty knife if he pushed her that way again and, well, he wouldn’t be able to blame her.

She had no reason to trust him whatsoever, but damn if he didn’t want to get behind those carefully erected barriers she threw up. It was only with the people closest to her that she let her guard down and he got a taste of the real Kylie.

Soft. Sweet. Fiercely loyal and protective of her loved ones.

He wanted to teach her that not all men were bastards. He wanted to show her that dominance did not equal pain or humiliation. That dominance was so much more. Emotional surrender was the most powerful of all, but it also made people so much more vulnerable. And that would absolutely frighten her as much as the more physical aspects of dominance and submission.

This was a woman he’d have to tread very lightly with. His old approach would have to be thrown out the window and he’d have to come up with something new. She was, as he’d said, a challenge. One that he had every intention of overcoming. The how hadn’t occurred to him. Yet. But he wasn’t a quitter. He’d been absolutely serious when he’d told her that he went after what he wanted and he didn’t fail. Ever.

There was a first time for everything, or so the saying went. But he’d be damned if his first failure would be Kylie Breckenridge.

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“KYLIE, can you come into my office?” Jensen said over the intercom.

He knew the summons would annoy her, but she’d been clear about wanting him to stay out of her office—her space—and so he’d make her come to him. Not an unreasonable request from a boss to his personal assistant.

“Right away, sir,” she said in a crisp tone that made him smile.

She was so determined to keep their relationship, if you could even say they had a relationship, strictly impersonal and confined to boss and employee.

He knew she hated that Dash was out of the office for an extended period of time because Dash usually acted as a buffer between Jensen and Kylie. Most of the requests came from Dash, even ones that involved Jensen, because Dash sought to protect her.

But enough was enough. If they were to work together long-term, and he had every intention of doing just that, Kylie had to learn to deal with Jensen. And he planned to push her. She was extremely intelligent. She had an MBA and, in his opinion, that degree was wasted in her current position. It was one she was comfortable in, and he knew she liked it that way.

She liked nothing that pushed her out of her comfort zone. She liked routine—a trait they shared, though it would annoy her that the two of them had anything in common.

But in fact, they had far more in common than Kylie knew or would admit to. They were both disciplined people who liked control. He was fully prepared to be involved in a battle of wills, a battle he intended to win. He just hoped he didn’t push her to the point of her walking away from her job.

A moment later, Kylie appeared at the door, her features locked and impassive as she stared coolly at him.

“You wanted something, sir?”

“You can drop the sir,” he said dryly. “You don’t call Dash sir. My name is sufficient. Call me Jensen or call me nothing at all.”

Her lips thinned and he sighed.

“Is everything going to be a battle with you, Kylie? It was a simple enough request. Say it. Say my name,” he challenged. “It won’t kill you.”

“You wanted something . . . Jensen?”

His name came out strangled-sounding, as if she’d had to force it from her lips. It was a start.

He motioned her to the seat in front of his desk. Reluctantly she walked over and then perched on the edge of the chair, her hands folded primly in front of her, but she had the look of an animal prepared to bolt at the first sign of danger. He doubted she knew that she telegraphed her fear so broadly. Her eyes were wide, her nostrils flaring, and he could see the pulse beating a rapid staccato at her neck.

“I’m not going to leap across the desk and attack you,” he murmured.

Her eyes narrowed in annoyance. “I’d kick your ass if you tried.”

He threw back his head and laughed, and her eyes widened in surprise. She looked . . . shocked. He sobered and glanced curiously at her. “What was that look for?”

She immediately dropped her gaze and remained silent.

“Kylie?” he prompted.

She sighed and then lifted her head, her stare rebellious, her chin thrust upward.

“It’s just that I’ve never seen you laugh. Or smile, really. In my office earlier was the first time I’ve seen you look anything but mildly interested. You don’t show your emotions much. No one can ever tell what you’re thinking.”

His eyebrow quirked upward. So she had been studying him. She knew enough about him for him to realize she’d spent a lot of time observing him and his reactions.

His features relaxed into a smile, as he noted again her surprise.

“I’ve been accused of being an emotionless, uptight bastard by more than one person,” he said in amusement. “Perhaps you draw out another side to me that no one else sees.”

She looked disgruntled by that suggestion.

“You wanted something?” she prompted, obviously anxious for the meeting to be over.

He had no such plans for her to scurry back to the safety of her office where she shut the rest of the world out. He knew she went straight home every day. Didn’t have a social life unless you counted her lunches with Chessy and Joss, her two best friends. In fact, their circle of friends were the only people Kylie had any sort of a connection to.

It had to be a lonely life and he hated that for her. Hated that her past had shaped her future—was still shaping her future—and that she didn’t seem to be able to shake off the bonds of her childhood.

He shuffled the stack of papers in front of him.

“I want you to study up on these profiles. As I said in your office, S&G Oil is downsizing one of their refineries. They need to cut one hundred million in expenses so they’re looking for ways to combine jobs. They want to eliminate at least thirty positions and cut nonessential expenses, and they want us to find those for them.”

She was clearly flabbergasted by his request.

“But Jensen, I know nothing about this sort of thing. I’m an administrative assistant.”

He smiled again, watching her reaction to his expression. She wasn’t indifferent to him and that likely pissed her off all the more.

“I want you to learn,” he said gently. “When Carson was alive, he and Dash were looking to take on a third partner. They certainly had the business. After Carson died it was too much for Dash to handle, and he had to work his ass off to keep the business solvent until he brought me in. There is still a need for a third partner and you have the credentials. All you lack is experience.”

Her mouth dropped open and she was speechless. He felt smug over causing that anomaly. The woman was never short on retorts.

“You want me to be a partner?” she squeaked.

“I can’t promise that,” he said smoothly. “Consider this your trial by fire. It won’t happen today or tomorrow or even over the next few months, but there’s no reason to seek out another partner when we have a perfectly capable person working with us already. You know everything that goes on in this office, Kylie. Every single piece of information is passed through you. You know all our clients. You schedule our meetings. You absolutely know the ins and outs of this business. There is no reason you shouldn’t have the opportunity to be promoted.”

She glanced down at the papers he’d shoved across his desk to her. The information she’d collected and organized for him and Dash. She was certainly acquainted with the process.

He could swear excitement flared in her eyes, but it was gone almost before it fully registered.

“What do you want me to do?” she asked huskily.

“We have a meeting with the CFO of S&G in three days’ time. I want you to accompany me. You have three days to familiarize yourself with their business. The positions, salaries and duties of each employee listed. Their overhead and every single penny they have in expenses. I want you to draw up your own plan and present it to me in two days. I want your ideas and then we’ll discuss before you and I meet with the CFO.”

She gaped incredulously at him. “You’d trust this big of a contract with me?”

“I didn’t say that I’d agree with your ideas,” he said mildly. “Merely that I want to see them. We’ll put our heads together and see what we agree—and disagree—on, and then we’ll put together a plan that incorporates both our ideas before we attend that meeting.”

“I didn’t expect this,” she murmured.

But he could see the spark in her eyes. She loved a challenge every bit as much as he did. He hadn’t been wrong. She was wasted in her position as an administrative assistant. It was too safe. She could do that job in her sleep. She needed this. Something to get her blood pumping and remind her that she was alive.

“I have faith in you, Kylie. Can you say the same about yourself?”

This time fire shone in her eyes and he held back the grin of triumph. Oh yes, she loved a good challenge, and perhaps she hadn’t been challenged in such a way ever. Dash had been far too easy on her. Not that he expected Dash to be a flaming asshole, but he’d wrapped Kylie in cotton after Carson’s death, and from all Dash had said, Carson had wrapped her in that same cotton when he was alive. Neither man wanting to do anything to hurt this fragile woman.

But her fragility disguised the intelligent, fiery woman underneath that shell and Jensen intended to draw her out. Dash would likely kick his ass if he knew what Jensen was doing, but for the next two weeks, Jensen was in control and Dash would be completely oblivious to anything business related—as he should be. And Jensen intended to make the most of those two weeks.

“I can do it,” she said, resolve tight in her voice. “When do you want to meet to go over my proposal?”

“Wednesday night. Dinner at Capitol Grill. I know you and the girls like the Lux Café, but I want something quieter and more intimate if we’re to discuss something confidential. I can arrange for a table in a quiet corner where we won’t be overheard.”

Kylie’s brow furrowed into a frown and he could literally see the wheels spinning in her head.

“What would be more private than here in the office?” she asked. “Certainly dinner isn’t necessary.”

“No,” he agreed. “But it’s what I want.”

She had nothing to say to that, though he could see she had no liking for the idea of them having dinner together.

“I’ll make a reservation for seven,” he continued, as if he were oblivious to her discomfort. “I’ll read your proposal beforehand and we’ll discuss it over dinner. I’ll prepare the final analysis before our meeting with the CFO. I’ll pick you up at your house at eight Thursday morning and we’ll ride together to meet with S&G’s CFO in his office.”

He could tell she was caught in an epic battle with herself. She did not want to have dinner with him or even meet him outside of work, nor did she want to ride with him to their meeting, but neither did she want to pass up the opportunity he’d presented her with.

She bit her lip in consternation, and he’d never wanted something so badly as to reach across the desk, thumb her lip free and then kiss away the damage she was doing to the tender flesh. His dick reacted to that image, and he was glad he was seated behind his desk where she couldn’t see his physical reaction to her. She’d tuck tail and run for the hills, and she’d very likely tender her resignation within the hour.

He sighed, silently commanding his dick to behave. Not that it did a bit of good because the woman just did it for him and he couldn’t even explain why. Challenge. She was a challenge. That had to be it. Because he simply couldn’t resist a challenge. Even as he reasoned away his inexplicable attraction to a woman who in no way returned it, he knew he was a goddamn liar.

She riled every single one of his protective instincts. She made him want to treat her gently, cherish her and protect her from anything that could ever hurt her, physically or emotionally.

Damn it, he wanted to show her that not all men were assholes. That not all dominant men were focused so solidly on the more physical aspects of dominance. Emotional surrender was what he was after with Kylie. He’d never mark her, never tie her up. Never take a flogger to her tender flesh. He’d never do anything to frighten her or make her feel as vulnerable as she’d felt in the past in the hands of a monster. He’d never do anything to remind her of her past abuse. He’d die before allowing that to happen. He too had demons he fought, and it would have made him physically ill to ever do anything to a woman that could be construed as abuse.

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