Instinctively, he tightened his arms around her, offering her silent encouragement.
“I hate this,” she said in a broken voice. A statement she’d made multiple times when it came to her weaknesses, as she deemed them.
He rubbed one hand up and down her arm, from shoulder to wrist, before tangling their fingers together, squeezing so she felt the support he offered.
“I hate him,” she whispered. “For what he did to me. To us. Me and Carson. I hate my mother for leaving us with him. I get why she would want out. But why would she leave us, knowing what a monster he was? Sometimes I think I hate her more than even him. How screwed up is that?”
Jensen knew that he was seeing a side of Kylie she hid from the rest of the world. That she was opening up to him when she firmly held back that part of herself from everyone else.
He was humbled and grateful that she’d chosen him. He realized it was due to proximity and the fact he’d forced himself into her bed, but he’d take whatever he could however he could get it. In time, she’d come to him willingly. Would open up to him without reservation or hesitation. Until then he’d satisfy himself with whatever tidbits she allowed to slip through her carefully guarded barriers.
“It’s not screwed up at all, baby. She abandoned you. And not just simply abandoned you but left you with a man she knew would harm you. You have every reason to hate her. I hope to hell you don’t spend even a minute feeling guilt over your feelings about your mother. You should have no guilt for hating the two people who should have loved and protected you. Two people you should have been able to turn to when you could turn to no one else. They betrayed you, Kylie. You don’t betray them now by hating them and what they did to you.”
“Thank you,” she said so quietly he almost didn’t hear the aching softness of her voice.
He squeezed her, holding on to her, never wanting to let her go.
“You’re more than welcome, baby. But I want you to promise me something, okay?”
She shifted in his arms and pulled her head away to look at him, though her lips trembled and he could tell it was difficult for her to meet his gaze. She was mortified that he was witnessing her at her most vulnerable. It made him want to kiss her all the more, but he refused to take advantage of her when she was so achingly fragile. It would make him a complete asshole.
When he was certain he had her full attention, he let one finger drift down the line of her cheekbone and then to her chin.
“In the morning, when this night is but a memory, and you think back on all that’s happened, promise me you won’t have a single moment of regret. Promise me that you won’t be embarrassed or uncomfortable with what has occurred between us. Promise me that you won’t start avoiding me even more than you do already. Some things are inevitable, Kylie. You and I are inevitable. No matter how much you fight it. No matter how much you deny it. We are inevitable.
“What you’ve given me tonight is very precious and I’ll forever be humbled and grateful that you put your trust in me. That you allowed me inside those carefully constructed barriers that you erect to keep the rest of the world at bay. But I’ve seen inside. I’ve seen the real you, baby. And that’s the person I want.”
Her brow furrowed in concentration and her lips pursed and then fell open as if she couldn’t quite form a response.
He put his fingers over those lush lips, not wanting to hear anything but her assent.
“Promise me,” he whispered in a husky tone.
She closed her eyes but finally nodded.
“Give me the words, your promise. I need to hear them. We both do. Because one thing about you, baby, is that you’re loyal. And you’re honest. And once you give your word, you won’t go back on it. So give me your promise. Let me hear it. Do this much for me.”
“I promise,” she whispered, her voice cracking under the strain of having to capitulate.
He leaned forward and brushed his lips over hers. Just a light kiss. Nothing like what he truly wanted. Just something warm and comforting, meant to soothe and not overwhelm.
“Now go to sleep, baby. Here in my arms where nothing can hurt you. I’ll be right here. This time when you dream, dream of me.”
She snuggled back into his arms to his immense satisfaction and then gave a soft sigh, closing her eyes as she pillowed her head on his shoulder.
He lay there awake, long after she finally drifted into a dreamless sleep. Staring up at the ceiling as he pondered the puzzle that was Kylie Breckenridge. What was he going to do with her?
He knew he couldn’t walk away from her. He didn’t fool himself into thinking things would miraculously change after one night. If anything she’d be more determined than ever that he’d never see her at her most vulnerable again.
Somehow, some way, he had to break past those barriers. Bust them down for good and insert himself in her heart and soul. He’d already decided that she was well worth the fight, and he knew it would be a fight indeed.
But he wouldn’t give up. Kylie was stubborn. Proud. Defiant. But he was every bit as stubborn and determined as she was. For the first time in her life, she’d met her match in him. Because he sure as hell wasn’t giving up. This was one battle he would win, no matter the cost.
KYLIE awoke to a completely alien sensation. She laid there, trying to process just what was different. She felt . . . rested. No lingering darkness from nightmares. She felt . . . safe.
It was then she registered the fact that she was not alone in her bed. Not only was she not alone, but a very male, very hard body was wrapped protectively around her and her head was pillowed on a muscled shoulder.
Memories from the night before—humiliating memories—crashed through her mind like a landslide. She’d made an utter ass of herself. Completely fallen apart on him. For God’s sake, she’d handcuffed him to her bed.
“Remember your promise, Kylie.”
His soft voice rumbled from his chest, bringing with it another reminder of the hastily given promise not to regret. Not to be ashamed or embarrassed. Not to freak out. She didn’t have a prayer of keeping the promise because everything about this situation completely freaked her out.
“What time is it?” she croaked out. A perfectly neutral question, one that would remind them both that they had important matters this morning that had nothing to do with the fact they were in bed. Together.
“It’s only six,” he said in that infuriatingly calm voice of his. He sounded completely unruffled by the fact they were wrapped up like two lovebugs.
“You want coffee?” she asked even as she pushed herself up and away, putting distance between them.
He smiled, almost as if he knew her utter panic. “Coffee would be nice. I’ll have a cup and then head over to my place to shower and change. Then I’ll run back by and pick you up.”
“There’s no need,” she said hastily. “I can just meet you there.”
“You forget you’re without a vehicle,” he pointed out. “Besides, I thought we’d have lunch after and discuss the results of the meeting. Then I’ll run you by the restaurant to get your car.”
He made it sound like business, all business, but she knew differently. There was a tone to his voice that had been absent until now. Somehow more intimate and . . . tender. He looked at her so tenderly it made her heart ache. And made her even more desperate to increase the distance between them.
She slid to the edge of the bed and got up, going to her closet to get her robe. Her pajamas more than adequately covered her but she still felt vulnerable and she wanted—needed—that extra barrier of clothing.
“I’ll have the coffee ready in a few minutes,” she muttered. “Take your time. Feel free to make use of the bathroom.”
She turned before she could see his expression, that knowing smile. Her world felt tilted on its axis. She had no idea what to make of this abrupt shift in their relationship. What relationship? He was her boss. Well, one of them. She was his employee. Certainly not his bed partner even if he’d spent the night, part of the night, handcuffed to her bed.
Heat rushed like fire through her cheeks. God, how humiliating. What kind of freak did it make her that she’d handcuffed a man to her bed? How weak did it make her that she’d actually needed it to feel safe? And weaker still, because in the throes of a nightmare, she’d wrenched his arm free so he could hold her.
Jensen Tucker had held her, had wrapped himself completely around her the entire night, and God help her, she’d loved every minute of it. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d slept so peacefully. That she’d felt absolutely safe. After that first nightmare, when he’d pulled her into his arms, she’d fallen into a deep, dreamless sleep, completely unbothered by the demons that taunted her on a regular basis. Who needed therapy? Apparently all she needed was Jensen Tucker’s strong embrace. Not that she’d ever admit that to him. It would only give him that much more power over her, and she’d vowed never to give anyone that kind of power over her. Never again.
She busied herself making the coffee, her thoughts chaotic and unbalanced. He made her that way. What the hell did he want from her? He’d all but staked his claim. Some of the things he’d said she was still grappling with. Had no idea of their meaning. Or perhaps she knew only too well and was too chickenshit to deal with them with her big girl pants on.
But why did he seem to want her? Why would he even care? She was one hot mess. A head case. And worse, he knew it. Calmly accepted it like it was the most normal thing in the world. He’d inserted himself as her . . . protector? He certainly seemed to accept the role. Even embraced it. He’d made no bones about the fact that they were, what had he said? Inevitable?
He was as crazy as she was apparently. Two hot-mess head cases? Surely a recipe for disaster. He was strong. She was weak. Not the ingredients for a successful relationship for sure. And he was a control freak. She knew that much about him. His world was meticulously well-ordered. No chaos. No messes. He was every bit as dominant as Tate and Dash were, no matter that he said he was nothing like them. He hadn’t seemed to like the comparison, but then she could understand why. He was definitely a law unto himself. There were certainly no two Jensen Tuckers. God help her. One was enough. More than enough.
He came in a few moments later and her gaze flitted to him, taking in his rumpled appearance. The fact that he was still wearing the same clothes from the night before. But even wrinkled and unkempt the man was just damn sexy.
She could admit that to herself now. Hell, she’d spent the night with him. No, they hadn’t had sex, but in many ways, what they’d experienced was far more intimate than sex. He’d simply offered her comfort. What she’d needed the most. She would not be an ungrateful bitch even if that was her instinctual, self-protective reaction. Her reaction to anything that could possibly hurt her.
She could see that about herself. She could see herself as others likely did and what she saw made her cringe. It was a miracle she had any friends left because God knew she hadn’t been a very good friend herself. But she could change that. Starting now. She could bend without breaking. It was time to start returning the unconditional love and support her friends had offered her since Carson died.
She’d been so wrapped up in her own grief and misery that she’d become a selfish bitch. She didn’t like herself very much, and if she didn’t like herself, how could she expect others to like her? Why the hell did Jensen seem to like her? She certainly hadn’t been remotely receptive to any of his overtures. She’d returned every kindness he’d offered her with blatant rudeness. And yet he’d stayed with her last night, offering unconditional, unquestioning support. Why?
Was he a masochist?
He sat down at the bar and she pushed a cup of coffee in his direction. For a moment there was an awkward silence between them but then she gathered her courage and took the bull by the horns.
“Thank you for last night,” she said in a low voice. “It meant . . . a lot. You didn’t have to do it, but I’m grateful you did. That you . . . stayed. Thank you.”
His eyes were warm as he stared at her, his gaze stroking her face as surely as if he’d reached out and touched her with his hand. She almost wished he would. Touch her. Her skin came alive at the mere thought and her thoughts drifted to the night before. Of how wonderful it had felt to be in his arms, surrounded by his strength and the unspoken promise that nothing would hurt her while he was with her.
“You’re welcome, Kylie. I’m glad I was here so you didn’t have to suffer alone as you do many other nights, I’m sure.”
She flushed, not even bothering to deny it. He’d know she was lying.
“You going to have a cup?” he asked, his gaze taking in the fact she hadn’t poured herself any coffee.
She shook her head. “No. I’m jittery enough. Caffeine would only make it worse.”
“Do I make you that nervous?” he asked mildly. “Surely after last night you realize I’m not a monster.”
She felt the betraying heat creep up her neck again. “No, I don’t think that at all,” she said softly. “This is just . . . uncomfortable for me. You have to understand. I don’t allow others to see me as you saw me last night. It bothers me. I feel . . . vulnerable, and I hate that feeling.”
He set his mug down and reached across the bar to take her hand. “I don’t want to make you feel that way, baby. I want you to feel just the opposite. You can be yourself with me. I understand you. Far better than you realize. We all have our demons to battle. You aren’t alone.”