Her mouth dropped open and she swallowed as if she couldn’t even come up with a response.

“I don’t need you to stay,” she protested.

He put a finger to her lips and simply shook his head. “You don’t want me to stay,” he amended. “But yes, you do need me to stay. And that’s the difference.”

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“You don’t understand,” she said desperately.

“Shh, baby. I understand far more than you realize. Don’t you think I know how frightened you are of me? How much that guts me and how much I wish it were different? The very last thing I want is for you to fear me, and no matter what it takes, Kylie, I’m going to prove to you that you are absolutely safe with me. Safer than you’ll ever be with anyone else. I will never hurt you. Never.”

Tears gathered in her eyes. “I don’t want to be afraid of you.”

His entire heart softened at her admission. No, she didn’t want to fear him, but fear was irrational. It defied explanation, and the simple fact was that it wasn’t personal to him. She’d fear any man being this close to her. In her bedroom, sleeping in her bed. But before the night was over with, she’d know that there was nothing he wouldn’t do in order to ensure she no longer feared him.

“I’m sleeping here tonight. With you. In this bed,” he said in a calm voice as if they were discussing the mundane.

Terror blistered through her eyes and her breath quickened. Her pulse stuttered and panic slammed into her. He could see her struggling for breath, her nostrils flaring with the effort.

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“Listen to me, Kylie. I understand you far better than you think. You value control in all things, because you once had that control taken from you. I’m going to give that back to you. Tonight. I’m going to sleep here, with you, so that you know you’re safe. I want you to rest. One night without dreams, or at the very least someone to comfort you when the dreams torture you. And so you are in absolute control and so you know you have nothing to fear, you’re going to tie my hands to your bedpost so that I am, in effect, helpless.”

FIVE

KYLIE stared at Jensen in complete astonishment. “That’s crazy!”

It was more than crazy. It was absolute insanity. Tie him to the bed? Despite the fact that this was a man she’d never imagine putting himself in a vulnerable position with anyone, particularly a woman, the idea of tying anyone to her bed was just nuts!

“Would it make you feel safer?” he asked mildly, as if he hadn’t just proposed such lunacy. “Think about it, Kylie. You would have complete control. Nothing to fear. I would, in effect, be utterly helpless. But I will not leave you alone tonight. So your only two options are to trust me enough to share your bed with me or tie my hands to the headboard.”

Her head spun. Her thoughts were a jumble of chaotic mess. The sheer selflessness that such an act involved was overwhelming.

Without waiting for her response, he abruptly got up and left her room. Maybe he had decided that he’d experienced a brief break from reality and was now getting the hell out. She didn’t know if she was relieved or disappointed.

No matter how much she protested the idea or how much her instincts screamed that this man was dangerous to her, the thought of being alone tonight, like so many other nights, was more than she could bear.

She’d just about decided he had run for cover when he returned, striding through her door as though he belonged there, a pair of handcuffs in his hand.

Handcuffs.

Her eyes bugged out as she stared openmouthed at him.

“Who the hell carries handcuffs around with them unless they’re a cop?” she demanded.

The corner of his mouth quirked upward. “Never know when one might need them.”

Her eyes narrowed. “Are you into kink? That dominant stuff Dash and Tate are involved in? Are you like them?”

His gaze was level and he seemed unruffled by her suspicion.

“I can assure you I am not like them. I’m me. Jensen. I don’t need or have any desire to model my desires after another or to emulate others. What Dash and Tate do is their own business, between them and their partners. Just as what I do, what I need and desire, is my own.”

“You want me to use those. On you,” she said in a voice barely above a whisper.

He sat down beside her, his fingertips grazing the skin from her shoulder to her elbow. Even through the material of her pajamas the heat from his touch scalded her.

“What I want is for you to feel safe,” he corrected. “And if this enables you to feel safe. With me. Then yes, that is exactly what I want you to do. Handcuff me to your bed.”

Did it make her a raving lunatic to give consideration to his bizarre proposition? But she didn’t want him to leave. She didn’t want to be alone. She’d been alone for so very long. Just one night she wanted what he promised. Peace. A respite from fear and the agony of her dreams. A source of comfort, one he was selflessly offering her. Would she be a fool to refuse him?

“Perhaps just one hand,” she murmured. “I wouldn’t want you to be too uncomfortable.”

His eyes gleamed, the only outward sign of his triumph. He remained still and silent, almost as if he were waiting for her to change her mind and back out. She wasn’t a coward and she was trying damn hard to stop being so weak. It was one night. And he’d be handcuffed to her bed. Even so, she didn’t believe for a single minute that he’d ever harm her. Her heart knew that, but her mind was firmly entrenched in self-preservation. Her mind was screaming at her to make him leave. Her heart and mind were at constant odds when it came to this man. An unusual occurrence since they normally were in perfect alignment. Trust no one. It had long been her mantra. Only now, her heart was sending different signals than her brain and the battle was exhausting.

“Do you have anything to wear?” she asked awkwardly.

“I can sleep in my clothes.”

Her brows furrowed. “But what about tomorrow? The meeting, I mean. I know how important it is. I don’t want to screw it up for you, Jensen.”

“I’ll get up early enough to go home and shower and change and then I’ll come back by to pick you up,” he said easily.

“Uhm . . . okay,” she finally conceded and then closed her eyes, wondering what had possessed her. Maybe she was finally losing what little of her sanity she’d retained.

He kicked off his shoes and then unbuttoned the neck of his shirt and slipped his belt off, tossing everything to the side. Then he motioned for her to slip underneath the covers. He moved to the other side, careful to keep distance between them even as he slid underneath the covers with her. Then, facing her, he lifted his left arm and extended the cuffs to her with his right hand, motioning for her to secure his wrist to the headboard.

Dear God, had it really come to this? That she couldn’t have a man in bed with her without handcuffing him so he was no threat? She wished she was brave enough to tell him it wasn’t necessary. The rational part of herself told her it was exactly what she should do. And not return his generosity and his care of her with mistrust. But the irrational part that controlled so much of her thoughts and actions told her she’d be a fool not to ensure her safety.

Carefully she cuffed his wrist to one of the slats of the headboard and then leaned back, biting into her bottom lip.

“It doesn’t look comfortable,” she said in consternation.

“I’ll survive,” he said dryly. “I’ve slept in far worse conditions.”

“I’m sorry,” she said softly.

He glanced curiously at her, reaching out to touch her chin with his free hand. “What are you sorry for, baby?”

She closed her eyes. “That I’m not brave enough to let you sleep here without the handcuffs. That I’m too much of a coward to refuse your unselfish gesture. I’m the selfish one, Jensen. I’m sorry I’m not as strong as you.”

His expression gentled as he cupped her chin, brushing the pad of his thumb over her jaw.

“It’s a start that you’re even allowing me in your bed, with or without handcuffs. I’ll take that gift, no matter how it’s given.”

She flushed at the promise in his voice. The promise that he’d be there again, that there would be another occasion and that this wasn’t a freak occurrence. No, it wouldn’t happen again. She wouldn’t let it. She’d agreed to this lunacy in a moment of weakness. The weakness she loathed so much. Because she didn’t want to be alone for just one night.

But she wouldn’t allow it again.

“Ready for lights-out?” she asked lightly.

He nodded, his gaze still on her like a warm blanket.

She reached behind her to turn off the lamp and then turned back, snuggling under the covers, trying not to focus on the fact that Jensen was mere inches away. She could hear his soft breathing. Could feel his warmth reaching out to her, enfolding her in its tender embrace.

“Going to get the closet light too?” he asked.

She was glad it wasn’t light enough that he could see her embarrassed flush.

“No,” she said quietly. “I leave it on. I don’t like to sleep in total darkness. Does it bother you?”

“Anything that brings you comfort doesn’t bother me,” he said, further baffling her with his statement.

The man was twisting her in knots. For weeks he’d baited her, annoyed her, pissed her off, and now he was treating her so very gently. As if she was something precious and fragile. She was in way over her head and despite what he’d said about giving her complete control tonight, she felt anything but in control. Her mind—and heart—were in utter chaos. Her head was spinning so fast it was a wonder she could even breathe. No, she definitely was not in control.

Because even handcuffed to her bed, there was little doubt that Jensen was controlling the situation.

It should by all rights terrify her. She should be running as fast and as hard as possible in the opposite direction. But something stopped her. And she didn’t know what. There was a promise of something in his eyes that made her want to find out what. And whether she had any hope of ever moving beyond her past and into the present.

JENSEN woke with a start and cursed viciously under his breath. Kylie was curled into a protective ball on the far edge of the bed. Out of his reach. A low whimper tore out of her throat followed by more sounds of terror.

She sounded like a frightened child. And in many ways she was still that frightened, vulnerable child she’d been while she suffered abuse at her father’s hands.

This was why he’d insisted on staying with her. After her panic attack at the restaurant he’d been certain she’d suffer nightmares, that her past would be hovering on the fringes of her consciousness, just waiting for when she was asleep and vulnerable to attack.

And he couldn’t get to her, helpless to watch as she struggled against invisible monsters. Damn him for insisting on the handcuffs, even if he’d have done anything to make her feel safe. Because now he couldn’t hold her, couldn’t soothe her when she was in the throes of terror.

“Kylie. Baby, wake up. You’re safe. You’re with me. Wake up, baby.”

For a moment she was too firmly entrenched in the grasp of her nightmare to respond to his gentle crooning. Then she came awake with a gasp, sitting upright in bed, eyes wild and enormous in her small face. She looked straight ahead, pulling her knees protectively to her chest, and rocked back and forth.

Then she buried her face in her knees, and he could hear the muffled sounds of her sobs.

It broke his heart. Ripped him right in two. His heart was as shattered as hers, her agony his. Her heartbreak his own. Never had he felt so helpless, so full of despair that this beautiful, fragile woman was still a prisoner of her past.

“Come here, baby,” he said gently, praying she wouldn’t refuse his overture.

To his surprise, she didn’t argue. She turned, nearly diving into his one-armed embrace. Then she reached back to her nightstand for the key to the cuffs, fumbling to unlock them, yanking desperately until he was free.

He instantly wrapped both arms around her, pulling her against his body. She clung to him like a burr, her heart pounding against his. Her face was wet with tears and her breaths were coming in ragged puffs as she struggled to gain control.

“Shhh, baby. I’ve got you,” he soothed. “Nothing can hurt you now. I swear it. Let it go. Don’t let it control you any longer.”

He stroked her hair, kissing the top of her head, waiting for her to calm. To realize she was safe and that he had her. That nothing would hurt her when he was near.

“I’m sorry. Sorry, sorry,” she chanted, the words muffled against his chest.

“No, baby. Don’t apologize. Never apologize for this.”

He rubbed his hand down her back, stroking and caressing until he could feel some of the knotted tension leave her body. She wilted, sagging against him, her face buried in his chest.

Her shoulders still shook and he knew she was still crying. Every tear gutted him. Made his heart ache for all the hurt she’d endured. For the hurt she still experienced each and every night.

“Just let me hold you,” he said softly, allowing all the tenderness he felt for her into those simple words. “Go back to sleep now. I’ve got you. Nothing can hurt you here.”

She gave a little sigh and settled against him, her body sheltered by his own. Their legs tangled and she wiggled as if trying to get as close as possible to him.

He thought for a moment that she’d followed his directive and had drifted back into sleep. But then she went still. He could feel her pulse, a rapid staccato against his chest. She tensed as if gathering her courage to say something.

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