“No. I’m afraid you just missed her, but I can schedule you for Monday morning if that’s all right.” Though handsome, his blatant interest didn’t stir the heart-fluttering, chaotic beat associated with Marc’s presence.
“Sure, darlin’. What time is good for you?” Leaning over the bi-level counter allowed him visual access to her organized space. “Ah…I see you read erotic romance. I have a sister that writes for a large, New York publisher.”
Oh hell. Her fingers couldn’t move fast enough to hide the book’s cover, a leather-clad man handcuffing his naked woman’s upper arms behind her back in front of a spanking bench. In her haste to hide the cover, she inadvertently skid the book off the counter, landing several feet to Marc’s side. Where else would it land?
His swift reflexes resulted in scooping up the offending material. After a quick glance at the cover, his head tilted back and forth, as if judging the merits of the scene depicted and finding it lacking in some specific way. Something inside her dictated he’d return the book—for a price.
Fiery heat blazed up her neck to engulf her face, becoming an inferno worthy of a three-alarm fire. His shaking shoulders did nothing for her composure. Yeah, and he owns the BDSM club thirty miles away.
“How about Monday morning at ten-thirty. Uh, your name, sir?” After fumbling the appointment card twice, she placed it on the counter and grabbed the nearby pen. Panic became a palpable pressure in her chest. Perspiration dotted her forehead and spine between her shoulder blades.
“Clayton Hutson and that sounds great, darlin’. I’ll see you then…unless you’d let me take you to dinner tonight.”
“Sorry, Mr. Hutson, I’m busy tonight.” I think I’ll just call you slick.
“Well, how about lunch tomorrow?”
Something in his distinct and intense scrutiny now scared her shitless, a foreboding she hadn’t endured for three years. The prickling along her nape and arms never happened randomly. Blood drained from her face to leave her shaken at the sight of his rough hands on the counter, calloused hands that could wield a garrote with expertise. Could he be the serial killer responsible for the recent murders?
The fact he stood before her, overshadowing and transmitting such bad vibes ensured she wouldn’t feel safe for a long time, even if he just saw her as a sexual conquest.
Under normal circumstances, discerning someone’s goals amounted to a simple exercise, whether honest or nefarious, but Marc’s overwhelming effect on her mindset obliterated her ability to pick up slick’s intentions.
A suggestive throat clearing transferred her attention back to Marc, whose demeanor revealed no evidence of his earlier carefree banter. “No, Hutson. She’s with me.” His expression lost all signs of levity as he crowded closer to her workspace, edging the other man out. “I’ll pick you up at ten a.m., Dani. Okay?” Darius’s combination whine-growl elicited a like response in the other dog. Each shepherd’s attunement to his master’s emotions came as no surprise.
Hutson’s face broadcast a tangle of warning signs she’d label aggressive if expressed in canine form, non-blinking, direct eye contact, dilated pupils, hardened jaw, and a predator’s grin.
Her well-planned intentions evaporated like seawater meeting magma, the haze forming smothered the intricate workings of her mind. At this point, mangled words were a useless commodity. She merely nodded.
“Right then. Have a good day, Mr. Hutson.” Marc’s conspicuous dismissal earned him a groan and insincere apology.
“Sorry, man. Didn’t know she was taken. It’s not as if she’s wearing a ring or collar. Nice dog by the way. I watched him track in his first trial. Good nose in bad weather and difficult cover.” His calculating gaze bore into Marc as if gauging the likelihood of winning a dirty, no-holds-barred fight; his shark’s grin hid nothing.
Hutson’s departure allowed Dani to draw a slow lungful of toxin-purging air. “Thank you, Marc. He made me a bit nervous for some reason.”
“Welcome. Any time. He kicked my sixth sense into overdrive, too. You all right? You turned white as a sheet. Do you know him from somewhere?” Darius whined and chuffed, pulling on his leash until Marc let go. “What’s up, boy? You never misbehave…”
Barreling around the counter to rub against her thigh, Darius’ chest rumbled when Dani buried her face in the long hair at his neck. “Aw, sweetie. It’s all right. You’re such a good boy.” His fur smelled of oatmeal and vanilla shampoo, the same she used with dog baths in the office. “I’ve never seen that guy before, but he gave me the creeps.”
“We’ll hang around until you leave.” More a command than offer, his statement, along with his expression, brooked no argument.
“Thanks. Something about him…” The soft fur against her cheek imbued a soothing calm, unattainable through any other means.
“Yeah, me too. Anyway, about tomorrow, give me your address and I’ll pick you up.”
“Oh. I thought you just said that to get me off the hook with Hutson. You really don’t need to bother.” Miles of blood vessels conveyed scorching, liquid heat blazing a trail up her neck and across her face. Intervention via reality proved to be a bitch. She stood no chance holding her own with this man turned demi-god.
“No trouble at all. That way I can check and make sure you’re all right.”
“How ’bout I meet you there.” The less information she gave a man like this, the better. Dangerous in his own way, Marc Crofton embodied thoughts of lust, dreams of bondage, large wooden X’s, and unspeakable toys wringing out mind-blowing sensations. Like any man would want a girl like me.
“Ahh…I look forward to earning your trust. Perhaps after a day at the trials, you’d join me for dinner.” He didn’t just set the book down on her workspace, no, he had to make a meal of it, placing it conspicuously then patting the cover.
“Oh, I-I don’t eat dinner. Well, um, I eat dinner but not on weekends. No. Actually, I don’t go out on weekends…Well, I go out….” Any minute, tears of humiliation would stain her cheeks. “I don’t date.” Crap, just shoot me now.
“That’s fine. I’m not ready for a date, either. Good thing we cleared that up. We’ll just grab a bite to eat. I’d hate to keep you out all day and return you home tired and hungry, very bad manners.” The look in his gaze spoke of insatiable appetites, steamy, erotic, raw nights filled with breathless screams and creative, salacious undertakings. Carnal whispers filtered through her mind, encouraged by her rich imagination and curious nature to form a solid wall of longing buffeted by her long-suffering, low self-esteem.