Awaken to Pleasure(2)

By: Nalini Singh


He was furious with her. “It’ll dry.” A plume of water from a passing motorist momentarily blanketed the windscreen in sleet. He slowed to a crawl until the vehicle had passed, taking the chance to send a glare Taylor’s way. “What the hell were you doing catching a bus at this time of night?” His voice was a lacerating whip. How dare she put herself in such a vulnerable position?

“None of your b-b-business.” The sound of chattering teeth destroyed her attempt at a haughty dismissal.

“Taylor,” he warned, in a tone that he only used when his temper was on the thinnest edge, as she very well knew.

“You’re not my boss anymore, so don’t Taylor me.” His passenger’s unrepentant stubbornness was a living being in the air around them.

Jackson was used to being obeyed, especially by pretty young women. Everyone loved the man who could get them onto the silver screen, though he remembered vividly that Taylor harbored no such ambition. He also recalled the steely spine beneath that beautiful exterior. Aware that the more he demanded, the more obstinate she’d become, he tried a calmer approach. “I’m being a Good Samaritan. Humor me.”

She didn’t say anything for a while but he figured that was because she was thawing out. When she finally spoke, what she revealed made his blood boil. All thoughts of calming down were consigned to the deepest hell.

“My ride wanted more than I did. I left.” Out of the corner of his eye, he could see her huddling into the seat. The small sign of vulnerability tore at him. All of his protective instincts awoke fully armed.

“Did he hurt you?” His hands had turned into claws on the steering wheel.

A pause. “No.”

“Taylor.”

“Don’t Taylor me!” she cried again, but her voice broke at the end—another uncharacteristic sign of weakness. “He was a bozo.” She sniffed. “I thought he was someone I could trust. We were at a party on the Shore thrown by Dracena Medical—the place where I’ve been temping for the past three months. My contract ended yesterday, but they invited me to the party anyway. When it began to break up, one of the project directors offered a few of us a ride home. I didn’t realize that I was going to be the last one left in the car until it was too late.” She was babbling, betraying her fear even as she tried to convince him of the lightness of the matter.

“I’d never have gone with him otherwise. I thought I’d get dropped off first because the others live farther out, but apparently, they’d all decided to get off in the city and go dancing. He didn’t tell me that. I still thought it would be okay until…well, as soon as the others left, he started talking about…s-spending the night with me.”

Jackson became quietly murderous at the evidence of this man’s predetermination to get her alone. “Did he hurt you?” he repeated, knowing that she’d told him the truth about why she’d accepted the ride. He’d long ago learned of her wariness around most men.

She mumbled something under her breath.

“Did. He. Hurt. You?” He was ruthless, aware that her emotional state made her susceptible to questioning. Freed from the constraints which had forced him to keep his distance in the past, he would protect her with every breath in his body. “Answer me.”

“He ripped my shirtsleeve when I was leaving the car. And he’s got my purse. No big deal,” she muttered.

A wave of red rose in front of his eyes. “Name?” Taylor had always touched the deepest, most primitive part of him. Tonight, that part was beyond furious.

“Jackson, I…” She sounded hesitant.

“Name?” The night outside wasn’t as dark as his thoughts about the man who’d dared to assault her.

“Why?” The question was far more confident, his stubborn, temperamental Taylor rising back from the upsetting experience.

He gave her an imminently reasonable answer. “How else are you going to get your purse back?”

“You’re, um…not going to mess him up are you?”

“What do you think I am—some sort of mobster?” He was well aware that he looked like one. Big, dark and thickly muscled. Half of that was genetics. Being part Italian and part Viking tended to do that to a man. The other half was nightmares. Exercise took his mind off them. Add his black hair and eyes and he could easily pass for one of the mafioso.

“Maybe.” She didn’t sound timid, as one should while conversing with a mobster.

“I’ll just pick up your purse. No problem,” he lied. This creep was going to have major problems.

“Promise you won’t hurt him first.”