It’s not often I struggle to keep my professional facade when I’m with a patient, but today… today it was really, really difficult.
“I think this is the first time a bird’s asked me to lie down while my clothes are still on.”
I did my best to fight back the heat in my cheeks as my patient flopped down on the couch in my office with all the self-assuredness of a rockstar.
He looked like one too, with his black leather jacket and hard rows of muscles pressing against his t-shirt. It was white, and tight enough that I could see the shadow of several tattoos on his chest.
“Again, I didn’t ask you to lie down. The couch is for deeper therapy—not the first evaluation.”
He gave me a smirk and casually kicked his boot-clad feet up onto the armrest of the couch closest to me, lifting his arms above his head so his shirt stretched taut across his chest. “Is that so, Miss Holler?”
“Yes, that is so.” I bit the inside of my cheek to keep my tone neutral while I stared at his face. His completely perfect face, with its high cheekbones, light gray eyes, and eyebrows raised in obvious mockery. His stupidly sensual mouth with its defined cupid's bow and full lower lip was drawn into an imitation of a smile, but the coolness in his almost silvery eyes contradicted it. Despite having scheduled an appointment with me himself, it was obvious that my newest patient saw me as an opponent to conquer.
I sighed and tried to relax my expression before it betrayed my inner turmoil. He might be a smart arse—with abs that looked like they were carved from rock, even through his clothes—but it was my job to help him. Even if I mostly just wanted to kick his arse off my couch and out the door for rattling me so thoroughly within five minutes of meeting him.
“Why are you here?”
The corner of his mouth slipped down for the briefest moment as his gaze flickered to his boots. A display of uncertainty? Interesting.
Then he looked back up, and his armor of arrogance was back, complete with that annoying smirk. “Never did do a psychologist before, and when I came across your name it reminded me of a stern schoolteacher. The prissy types always did it for me.”
I counted silently to ten and wished that the blush I could feel spread across my face would go the hell away. “I very much doubt that’s the case—”
“Your glasses are pretty hot. I wouldn’t mind if you kept them on.”
“—so how about you stop acting like a hormonal adolescent and tell me what’s happened to make you seek out therapy?” I was pretty proud of how unwavering I managed to keep my voice, despite his interruption.
“And what if you’re wrong and that is why I’m here?” With a single, graceful movement, the rockstar look-alike sat up and swiveled around so he was supporting his elbows on his knees. He leaned forward a little and focused his unnerving gaze on me, and his smirk hiked up a little at the corner. “Then what do we do?”
I suppressed a primal shiver at the almost predatory gleam in his eyes. No doubt he was used to women tossing their panties at him after being on the receiving end of that look—even I couldn’t help the small burst of desire it made trickle through my abdomen, and I was already distinctly unimpressed with his bad boy routine.
“Then we have a very disappointing hour ahead of us, Mr. Steel, because that isn’t happening. If that were truly your intent, then your money would have been better spent on one of the ladies down on the corner. Even if they charge extra for role playing, I’m sure you could have gotten it cheaper than what this session will cost you. Now, are you quite done trying to intimidate me so we can get on with the session?”
His smirk turned to a slow, full smile. “Mr. Steel now, is it? You can call me Blaine, love. My mother went out of her way to give me a, ah, special name, so you may as well use it.”
“Do you have some resentment toward your mother?” I’m not gonna lie—I latched on to the mother angle with both hands.
“Nah, she was a good woman.” Blaine pushed his fingers through his black, perfectly tousled hair and sighed.
“You say was? When did she die?”
He quirked an eyebrow at me. “Caught on to that one, eh? When I was ten, so about eighteen years ago now.”
Finally. I’d found the crack in Blaine Steel’s armor. “How did she die?”
Blaine frowned, his idling hand sliding from his hair down to the back of his neck. “Doesn’t matter. It’s a long time ago.”
It was a clear dismissal. Everything from his tone to his suddenly darkening eyes told me that here lay trouble—which of course meant I needed to dig deeper. But as I’d pointed out to him before, this was just the initial consultation, where I was meant to learn more about a new patient before deciding on how to best proceed.
“Tell me a bit about the rest of your family. Your father. Siblings, if you have any.”
He sighed again, as if relieved to leave the subject of his mum’s death, and leaned back, arms spread out over the back of the sofa. “There’s not much to tell. My dad’s a strong leader, runs his business with an iron fist. He eventually remarried, and me and my five brothers joined the family business when we grew up.”
He wasn’t telling me even close to the truth. I narrowed my eyes at him and pushed my glasses up higher on my nose. I’d always been pretty good at reading body language, which is partly why I chose to study psychology in the first place, and Blaine was easy to read. Tensed shoulders, jaw slightly lifted in challenge, and a hard look in his gray eyes—yeah, he was hiding some major family drama.
“Why are you here, Blaine?” I kept my tone as light and gentle as I could, knowing that if I pushed too hard, he’d probably shut down, and I’d get treated to the delightful return of the cocky bastard who’d first sauntered into my small office.
“Shit, I don’t know.” He flexed his hands and leaned forward again, grabbing his knees as if looking for some anchor. The tension vibrating off him was practically palpable. “My brother went to jail and it was really fucked up. He didn’t do shit, and I found out… I lost control. I nearly killed…” He looked up then, and straight into my eyes, and the torment in his gaze nearly knocked the breath out of my lungs.
It lasted for maybe a fifth of a second.
I could practically see the emotional wall slamming down the moment he realized he’d let me get even a sneak peak into whatever pain had made him desperate enough to seek out a therapist. Every part of his body tensed just a fraction, even as his face slid into a sardonic smile.
He let his gaze slide lazily up and down my body. “But then again, sometimes losing control is good. Isn’t it, love?”
I gritted my teeth. I had been so close to seeing something real, but here we were, back to the arrogant bastard from before. It was funny, really. I’d known him for all of twenty minutes, and I was already sure that if I’d met him under any other circumstance than as a patient, I would not have walked away—I would have run. But he was my patient, and it was my duty to try to help him as best I could.
“You’re using sexual innuendos to avoid talking about what’s bothering you. I’m sure it’s worked well for you so far, but let’s for a minute assume you came here because something happened that was so bad, you didn’t know what else to do. I know your type—you believe your masculinity lives in your ability to intimidate others and to never, ever show any hint of emotion. I get that being here goes against everything you’ve been brought up to believe in.
“So I guess the only question left is—was whatever happened to make you seek out professional help so bad you’re willing to surrender all that attitude for what’s left of our session?”
I was treated to what was quite obviously a rare sight—an array of emotions crossing Blaine Steel’s handsome face, morphing from shock, frustration and finally into anger—until his eyes narrowed ever so slightly and his expression slid into the now familiar mask of irreverence. Only this time, there was an unmistakable edge of irritation behind his stare.
With the same ease as a big cat, he got up from the couch and strolled to the far wall where my diploma hung above a low bookshelf, back turned. “Attitude? Is that psychology-speak, then? I see you got your diploma at Liverpool John Moores University. Not exactly Stanford, is it?”
Despite myself, I felt my temper rise. If there was one thing in my life I was proud of, it was that I’d managed to overcome my fucked up past and acquire a degree that allowed me to help people.
“It’s a hell of a lot better than being a petty thief, or whatever you did instead of educating yourself.”
I shouldn’t have let him get to me. And I especially shouldn’t have lashed out—not only because it was as unprofessional as it got, but also because that was exactly what Blaine wanted. I saw it in his eyes the moment he turned back around, smug triumph written all over his stupidly handsome face.
“My, they do certainly educate quality shrinks up north, huh, love?” He walked over to my chair, all swagger, and it just made my blood boil all the more. “You’d think you at least were smart enough to keep your tongue in check. People have gotten hurt for a lot less than calling me a thief.”
And there it was—the vocalization of the threat I’d seen in his eyes when I’d pushed him. No, he wasn’t a thief. His cocky attitude stemmed from something much more sinister than that.
A burst of fear shot up my spine from that place deep inside where I had locked up all the horrible memories of what—and who—I came from.
This man was the same kind I had grown up with. The kind that took what they wanted and didn’t shy away from using force to get it. Yeah, the kind of arrogance streaming off Blaine Steel was the kind a man attained when he was above the law.
He was dangerous.
The sudden spike of fear must have shown on my face, because some of the hardness in his gaze eased a little. He flicked his eyes up and down me again, then lowered his dark lashes halfway, focusing on my lips.
“Not that I’d hurt a bird—even if she is a mouthy little bitch.”
His hand grazing gently across my cheek made my anger well up again, eradicating my fear in a smoldering flood of rage.
I smacked his hand away and flew to my feet. He was less than a foot away, and since I only came up to his shoulder, I had to crane my neck back to glare at him. “Get out.”
There was no mistaking the victory in his eyes as he cocked an eyebrow at me with such self-assured arrogance that it took everything I had not to slap him. “You’re really throwing me out of your office?”
“Yes, I am,” I hissed. “And for the record, the next time you want someone to help you, you might get further if you show just an ounce of respect.”
Blaine just smirked, obviously not the least bit bothered by my anger. “Respect, little dove, is not something I give out all that easily.” And then he put his hand on my arse and squeezed. “But maybe you could try and win it another way?”
It was only that tiny voice of experience with men like Blaine at the back of my mind that stopped me from smacking the smirk off his face then and there. Instead, I stepped back and away from his touch so I could point at the door.
* * * *