She’d finally opted for jeans and a comfortable top. Casual. Not too desperate. She wanted to appear as though she were comfortable with him. And that wouldn’t be a stretch because she did feel at ease with him even if she hadn’t in the beginning. All of that had changed during the night he’d spent with her.
Trust, something she didn’t readily give to anyone, had been formed the night he’d held her through her nightmares and offered her comfort. A part of her recognized that this man wouldn’t hurt her. Her mind protested, used to self-preservation. Her heart, on the other hand, had quickly offered its trust, leaving her brain to wonder if she’d lost what little of her sanity she had left.
The doorbell rang, spurring her into action. She nervously gave herself one last glance in the mirror, satisfied that she looked . . . normal. Then she went to answer the door.
Jensen filled her doorway the minute she opened the door. He loomed there, larger than life. Tall, muscular. Strong. To her relief, he too had dressed casually. Faded jeans that conformed to his body and made her want to get an eyeful of how his ass filled them out. And a simple T-shirt that stretched over his muscled arms and chest.
If she thought he looked sexy in his business clothing, seeing him in jeans and a T-shirt was mind-blowing. God, was she actually lusting after him? She hadn’t thought herself capable of feeling physical attraction to a man—any man. And yet here she stood, drinking her fill and having decidedly naughty thoughts.
Who knew she had it in her?
Instead of inspiring panic, she was filled with the unfamiliar sensation of . . . optimism. She offered him a genuine smile and then gestured for him to come inside. He was carrying two grocery bags and had a bottle of wine tucked under one arm.
“Let me help you,” she offered.
“Nope,” he said. “I’ll dump it all in the kitchen and get started. I’d love for you to join me and keep me company, though.”
She followed behind and slid onto one of the barstools as he unloaded the items from the grocery bags.
“What’s on the menu?” she asked lightly.
“Aussie chicken,” he said. “Ever heard of it?”
She shook her head.
“Then you’re in for a treat. It’s basically baked chicken br**sts in a homemade honey mustard sauce with bacon, mushrooms and cheese. Can’t go wrong with that combination.”
She took in his warm smile, soaked it up like an addict in need of a fix. He just had a settling effect on her. She worried she’d become too dependent, that she’d need him too much. She’d never considered herself a clingy person. Just the opposite. She avoided relationships, any bonds with people other than her immediate circle of friends. But she could well see how dependent she could become on Jensen and that scared her. She didn’t want anyone but herself to have any control over her happiness.
But was she truly happy?
Even she knew the answer to that one. She wasn’t unhappy but neither was she happy. She just . . . existed. Went through the motions. Lived day-to-day on autopilot. Wasn’t it time for her to wake up and live? Really live?
“It sounds delicious,” she said, huskiness lacing her voice.
He smiled again and she caught her breath. Good God. She was sitting here lusting over him. Her! She breathed in, savoring the newness of such overwhelming emotions. Feelings she’d kept under tight rein her entire life. What was happening to her? Had she merely been waiting for him? Was he the one who’d break through her barriers and make her get over her fears?
“How did your dinner with Chessy go?” he asked as he set to work preparing the dish.
He poured two glasses of wine and slid one across the counter to her. She picked it up and brought it to her lips, inhaling the aroma. She rarely drank and usually only with friends. Alcohol made her uneasy because she was intimately acquainted with the dark side of it. Being around people drinking heavily was something she always avoided.
“It went well,” she said, after sipping the drink. “She’s lonely. Tate’s so busy with his job.”
Jensen glanced up, his expression seeking. “She unhappy?”
Kylie grimaced. She shouldn’t have said anything. She felt like the worst sort of friend betraying Chessy’s confidence. But there was something about Jensen that caught her off guard and made her relax. Her lips loosened around him and she found herself telling him things she’d never share with anyone else.
“I’m not going to betray your confidence, Kylie,” Jensen said in a low voice. “We’re just having a conversation. Nothing more. You don’t have to worry about me involving myself in someone else’s relationship. Besides, Tate and I are mere acquaintances, brought together by circumstance more than friendship. I like him and Chessy both. I’d hate to know she was unhappy.”
“It’s me who’s betraying a confidence,” Kylie muttered. “For some reason I find myself blurting stuff out to you.”
“That’s not a bad thing,” he observed, staring thoughtfully at her. If there had been any hint of triumph in his eyes, it would have annoyed her, but there was just intent consideration.
“I’d like you to feel as though you can talk to me about anything,” he continued.
Kylie sighed. “Tate’s just super busy and Chessy is lonely. I understand that feeling but unlike me, she isn’t used to it. She’s outgoing and bubbly. She needs to be surrounded by people and she needs more of Tate’s time than she’s currently getting.”
“Does he know how she feels?” Jensen asked. “Just from observing them the few times I’ve been around them, I’d say the man worships the ground she walks on. Most men, upon learning their woman was the least bit unhappy, would move heaven and earth to correct the problem. But if he doesn’t know . . .”
“He doesn’t,” Kylie supplied. “Or at least she hasn’t confronted him. It’s a difficult position she’s in because she feels that if she were to tell Tate she’s unhappy, he would feel as though he failed her. There was a time we talked about her fear that he was cheating. But she wouldn’t confront him because she knew if she ever expressed that kind of doubt in him that it would be a rift that wouldn’t be easily mended. She didn’t want to give him any hint that she didn’t have faith in him. I just want her to be happy. I hate seeing her so sad. It makes me want to smack Tate upside the head and ask him if he even sees what he’s doing to his wife.”
Jensen grimaced. “That doesn’t sound like a fun place for her to be. Worried but unable to voice her fears. I prefer open communication myself. I’d hate for my woman to ever fear speaking to me about anything.”
There was an undertone to his statement that was aimed at her. She knew it. He wasn’t talking about Chessy and Tate. He was talking about him and her. He was telling her not to fear ever talking to him about anything.
“For some reason I don’t seem to suffer that affliction around you,” she said in bewilderment. “In fact I’d say it’s just the opposite. I can’t seem to quit just blurting stuff out. I’m not usually such a blabbermouth.”
“Then I’ll take that as a compliment,” he said, his expression sincere. “I like the idea that you’re comfortable enough around me to speak your mind. I hope that it’s the beginnings of trust between us.”
“I do trust you,” she whispered. “I have no idea why. God knows I don’t trust anyone. But for some reason I feel safe with you and that kind of freaks me out.”
He stopped what he was doing and walked around the counter to where she sat. He spun the stool until she faced him and he framed her face in his hands. His eyes glittered with intensity as he stared down at her. She thought he was going to kiss her and he did, just not where she expected.
He pressed his lips tenderly to her forehead and she closed her eyes in pleasure over the simple gesture.
“You are safe with me, Kylie,” he said as he drew back, his hands still framing her face.
He stroked his thumb over her lips, lips she thought he would kiss.
“If you believe nothing else, you can believe that. You are absolutely safe with me and I don’t just mean physically. You are safe in all ways because I will absolutely protect you from anything that could hurt you.”
“Why me?” she blurted. “I don’t get it. I’m not fishing for compliments, Jensen. It’s a sincere question. You can’t have to look far for female companionship. You could likely have any woman you wanted. So why are you interested in me? Do you have any idea what you’re getting yourself into?”
His smile was so tender that it made her heart leap and speed up.
“I know exactly what I’m getting myself into,” he murmured. “As for why you? I can’t answer that. Some things just are. And for me that’s you. I see beyond the image you present to the world to the woman underneath and that’s who I want.”
“We’re too different,” she said in a fretful tone. “And you’re a control freak and I’m a control freak. It’s not like I have some OCD thing, but I like things a certain way. I need them a certain way. Two control freaks in a relationship? Surely that’s a recipe for disaster.”
He continued to smile at her, his eyes warm. He didn’t seem at all put off by her fretting.
“I understand you far more than you realize,” he said softly. “I’m no threat to you, Kylie. For the right woman, I have no issue with relinquishing control. What I’m after has nothing to do with physical submission.”
His words puzzled her. He was speaking as though he were dominant. Like Dash and Tate. And he probably was. Which made his interest in her all the more mystifying.
“Are you dominant?” she whispered. “You never really answered me before when I asked if you were like Tate and Dash. I know you said you were you and not them. But that wasn’t what I meant. Do you like submissive women? Do you like to dominate them?”
“I prefer submissive women, yes,” he said calmly. “Until you I would have said that it was the only kind of relationship I would entertain.”
Her heart sped up, thundering in her chest. “You said what you were after had nothing to do with physical submission. What does that mean?”
He ran his fingers through her hair, his hands returning to her face as he caressed and stroked over her skin.
“What it means is that I would never act out any of the more physical aspects of dominance and submission with you,” he said gently. “Have I ever? Yes. I’ve been involved in dominant/submissive relationships with other women where I employed the physical components that sometimes accompany such a lifestyle. But I would never ever demand of you what you can’t give. So when I say that what I’m after has nothing to do with physical submission, in effect what I want is your emotional surrender.”
“I don’t know what that means,” she said in a low voice. “But it sounds scary. Perhaps even scarier than physical surrender.”
He nodded solemnly. “It’s certainly more powerful. A woman can give of her body and never share her heart or her soul. A very hollow victory indeed. But a woman who surrenders emotionally to the man who has her care in his hands is a very precious thing. And that’s what I want from you, Kylie. Your emotional surrender. Your trust. Your heart. Your soul.”
“Wow,” she whispered. “You don’t ask for much.”
He chuckled, the sound low and rumbling from his chest. Then he kissed her forehead again. “You’ll get there, baby. Just breathe. Don’t overanalyze it. Just breathe and go with it and know I’ve got you.”
She nearly toppled off the stool when he released her to walk back around and resume dinner preparations. Her pulse was racing and she was light-headed. A heady, euphoric feeling took hold, replacing her earlier panic and worry.
She took a steadying sip of the wine and tried not to let how rattled she was show.
Several minutes later, Jensen opened her oven and slipped in the casserole dish. He set the timer and then turned back to her.
“Let’s have another glass of wine in the living room while we wait for dinner to finish cooking.”
She slid from the stool, hoping she didn’t face-plant. She felt giddy and a little silly around him, like a teenager crushing on the quarterback. But then what did she know about such feelings? She’d never experienced them before because she’d never allowed herself to.
He waited for her at the end of the bar and held out his hand for her to take. She slid her fingers through his, enjoying the firm imprint of his hand against hers. They walked into the living room and then simply stood there, hands still entwined.
After a moment, he lifted her hand and pressed a kiss to the inside of her wrist then lowered their clasped hands between them once more.
“Dinner will be ready in half an hour. Would you like to start the movie now or wait and watch it from start to finish after we eat?”
“We can wait,” she said breathlessly. “No reason we can’t sit and wait, right?”
“None at all,” he said in smooth tones.
He led her to the couch and sat, tugging her down beside him.
She was out of her element and she well knew it. She had no idea how to hold cutesy, flirty conversations. What was she supposed to say? Or do? Did they just sit here and stare at each other?
She glanced sideways at Jensen, looking for some clue, but he seemed perfectly content to sit next to her in silence. Several long, painful minutes ensued, the awkwardness growing more pronounced with each passing second.