I glanced at the clock on the wall for the umpteenth time, tapping my fingers on the wooden surface of my desk.
“Today, mister. Today.”
Breathe, Claire. Relax. Maybe he got stuck in the traffic. Yes. He could be here any minute.
I cast another glance at the clock, still miffed. Jared Holmes was almost thirty minutes late, managing to set a new record for client tardiness. Maybe I could give him a medal or something?
This was supposed to be our first session, but how was I supposed to conduct our first meeting properly, if I barely had time for introductions and a little bit of chit-chat?
Sighing, I glanced at my manicured nails, finding no skin to pick at. That had been one of my uglier habits when I was younger. I’d always picked at the skin around my nails when I was feeling anxious, but these days I’d traded that for tapping fingers on my desk, which was an equally ineffective stress-relieving habit.
Normally I’m pretty easy-going—calm, unperturbed and collected in situations that made most other people flustered and distressed—but one of my biggest pet peeves was when a client was late. Seriously, I could deal with a lot of bad things coming from clients or other people, save only one thing. Don’t be late. It wasn’t too much to ask, right?
Just when I thought I should give up on the appointment and head over to Starbucks for a vanilla latte, the door of my office opened and the epitome of sexiness walked in.
My eyes widened, and I stood up, making a quick inspection of one perfectly sculpted male body. He was tall, athletic, dressed in a sexy navy suit, and had a strikingly handsome face. And if I hadn’t been distracted enough, the moment our eyes met was the moment my professional composure ceased to exist, and all I was able to do was gape at him.
His deep green eyes were piercing, slightly shielded by his dark hair that fell over his forehead in beautiful waves, and my fingers actually itched to run through that silky softness. My body felt hot. Too hot.
His sensually sculpted lips curved into a barely visible smile when he broke our eye contact and let his gaze slide down my body. My chest rose and fell more rapidly with each second that he spent checking me out until my brain finally kicked back into gear and I again remembered who the hell I was and what I was there for.
He was my client, for Christ’s sake, and here I was—acting like I’d never seen a gorgeous man before in my life.
“Mr. Holmes, is it?” I asked, resuming my role. He was thirty minutes late by now, and I had no intention of letting this slide.
“That’s right,” he said when he reached my desk, never removing his hot gaze from me. His arm extended for a handshake, but I didn’t accept it. His seductive smile immediately vanished. He raised his brow, putting a definite end to the entrancement that had kept us connected just a few moments ago.
“What? You don’t do handshakes? Afraid of germs or something like that?”
And just like that—my dislike for him reached a whole new level. I was actually furious now, which was odd since fury and I were like two poles of a magnet.
My face twisted in a scowl, and for a moment, I completely forgot that he was a client and that I was supposed to be more composed than this.
“We have only thirty minutes left.”
“I know,” he gritted out. The muscle in his jaw ticked, giving me another proof of how angry he was right now. “Look, Miss...?”
“Miss Matthews. This is my session, right?” His voice dripped with venom, his eyes slicing me, preventing me from breathing properly. “So I’ll spend as much goddamn time here as I want because I’m the one who’s paying here. Okay? Or do I have to remind you what the client-employee relationship is?”
He shook his head, as he was far from done. “I was told you’re one of the best anger management therapists in the city, but so far the only thing you’ve done was to convince me I was completely misled.”
I clenched my hands tightly, on the verge of telling him to go to hell, but then my defiance came to a screeching halt.
He was right. He was the client, and I couldn’t force him to do anything. I was acting totally unprofessional, which was not like me. I should know better. I was the one who was supposed to calm the clients down, not the other way around.
Letting out a long exhale, I relaxed my hands and put a polite smile on my face. “You’re absolutely right, and I sincerely apologize, Mr. Holmes. I’m sorry for acting so rudely, and if you’ll let me make things right, I’ll make your time here worthwhile. Here.” I stretched my hand out, hoping he would accept the handshake. “Let’s do this the right way. I’m Claire Matthews. It’s nice to meet you.”
His eyes lingered on my hand a moment longer before he reached out and connected our hands, giving a firm handshake, and shivers danced across my skin.
“I’m Jared Holmes. Nice to meet you, too.”
I swallowed with difficulty when he didn’t let go of my hand, trapped by his fiery gaze. Had he felt the same thing?
“Please, take a seat,” I broke the silence between us, swallowing a few times to give my dry throat much-needed moisture. I gave him another quick once-over, wishing he wasn’t that handsome. It could start to get distracting.
I waited for him to sit on the chair across from me before I followed suit. “So, Mr. Holmes, if I remember our brief phone conversation a couple of days ago well, you’ve come to my clinic for anger therapy?”
“That’s right.” He looked around my office, paying extra attention to my diplomas on the wall and the small glass display with the diplomas I’d collected over years in the corner. I didn’t fail to notice a hint of admiration in his eyes, and my chest inflated with pride.
I licked my lips, experiencing a dull ache in my chest when his eyes traveled down to my mouth for the briefest moment before he glanced away.
“Can you tell me something about yourself and the reason you’re here?”
He clenched his jaw, and his eyes made another trip around my office. He was nervous.
“I’m a thirty-two-year-old CEO in a family-owned corporation. So, I have to be responsible for pretty much everything. Lately, we’ve implemented some changes that forced me to work overtime almost every day. I started getting more tired and anxious, but that’s not the main issue here.”
He looked away and began bouncing his legs up and down, showing me yet another sign of his uneasiness.
“What is the main issue?” I asked in a gentle voice, spurring him on.
“I’ve been losing my temper easily lately, and snapping at staff and colleagues. I was dealing with it just fine, but the board doesn’t feel that way. They forced me to take a break and seek anger therapy, so here I am.”
He wasn’t happy being here—that much I’d deduced on my own. Our squabble when he arrived certainly didn’t help his case.
“Well, the first step to getting better is seeking help. You’re here, and this means more than you’re probably aware of.”
He didn’t buy my mantra. “I’m still reluctant about this therapy. So since therapy is all about honesty and such crap”—I winced at his crude word, frowning because he had no filter—“I’ll be honest with you. I don’t feel like I’m the only one to be blamed here. I understand that since those changes started we’ve all been under stress more than usual, but that’s not an excuse. If I’m able to give 100% and do my job right, I expect the same from my subordinates. So what if I raise my voice? So what if I rebuke them? If they haven’t made a mistake in the first place, none of that would happen.”
I had to restrain myself from recoiling at this affront, feeling like I was slapped. Was he serious? He actually refused to fully embrace accountability for his actions.
“So I’m not sure about this therapy thing at all.”
I had no idea what was about Jared that galled me so much. After all, I’d seen my fair share of clients who acted even worse in my office, throwing a myriad of insults at me whenever there was something that provoked them during sessions. However, I’d never let them affect me, accepting that predicament as a part of my job.
But Jared... He wasn’t even here by his choice. He didn’t find any fault in his behavior.
I was supposed to keep my cool and act like the professional I was, but it was proving difficult with him.
No. I couldn’t let his words get to me. I pressed my hands against my thighs, trying one last time to keep it together.
I could do this. I could remain positive and keep my totally-not-sincere smile on my face.
“I understand your reluctance to be here and that you’re wary of me, but maybe therapy can change your view on certain things. It can help you see things a bit differently.”
Uh-oh. His face turned rigid. Bad sign.
“Like what? That I actually have issues? It’s just stress. Nothing else. We all deal with it.” He crossed his arms over his chest—he was shielding himself from me.
I put an extra effort to keep my voice even and free of any negative tone. “Look at it this way. If you deny the existence of that unhealthy anger and keep it in you, it will only accumulate until you break down. If you keep acting like you have no issues, you can only make things worse for yourself—”
His face turned completely red, the veins in his temples bulging out. “Keep acting like I have no issues?”
I gritted my teeth, quickly losing the battle against myself. I was seconds away from flipping him off and closing the door in his face, even though I’d never done such a thing in my entire life. I was always the calm one in arguments. I even acted as a go-between in other people’s quarrels. I never experienced that boiling rage that could lead to words or actions I would definitely regret afterward.
Jared, however, was like an itchy scab that was constantly irritating me. No matter how hard I tried to ignore it, I couldn’t—just like I couldn’t stay indifferent to Jared. He definitely brought out the worst in me.
He was one of the most attractive guys I’d ever laid my eyes on, but his personality and looks were completely out of balance, killing any possible interest I could have in him.
It seemed that beauty and a nice personality just didn’t go together in men. They were too much for one package.
“Yes,” I said through my teeth. “You have a problem, Mr. Holmes, and accepting it would present one of the most important steps in your recovery—”
He jumped up to his feet, slamming his hand against my desk, and I stood up too, as pissed off as he was.
“Spare me with the platitudes! Steps? That’s bullshit! And I’m done here.”
He spun on his heel and stomped out of my office before I could even tell him to get out and never return again.
“I can’t believe him!” I pressed my hand against my chest, breathing heavily. “He’s an obnoxious, horrible jerk, and I don’t want to see him ever again.”
I glanced at the clock on the wall. Ten minutes. Our “session” lasted for only ten minutes. Good riddance! Better ten wasted minutes than sixty.
I slumped into my chair and closed my eyes, covering them with my forearm. Now all I had to do was to push Jaren Holmes out of my mind and completely forget about him. I wasn’t going to waste one more second thinking about what just happened.