She gave him a push but she might as well have tried to move a brick wall. “You think everything’s sexy.”
He shook his head. “I’m pretty sure it’s just you.”
She hesitated. “Dell, are we okay?”
“You mean because of this morning?”
“I don’t know. Why did you leave like that, like I was your dirty little secret?”
There was something in his voice now. Same tone, but there was definitely something new. Temper, she realized. He was always so careful to show the world nothing but easygoing and laid-back no matter what the circumstances. For some crazy reason, seeing the extra depth went a long way toward defusing her.
Maybe because she knew that if he was showing her his feelings, she meant something to him. “I had to get to work,” she said. “That’s all.”
“Or . . .”
“There’s no ‘or,’” she said, not sounding nearly as calm as him. She was good at hiding in a very different way than he was.
“There’s definitely an ‘or,’” he said. “You didn’t trust yourself with me.”
Okay, now that was annoying. Mostly because it was true. “I stayed all night. I trusted you right through what, a half box of condoms?”
He nodded agreeably, but she had his number now. He was feeling anything but agreeable. “So this is just sex,” he said.
She stared at him, unable to believe that this had gotten so off track. “Is it ever anything else for you?”
For a moment there was a sort of horrible beat of weighted, awkward silence, and she’d have given just about anything to take back the words, but Dell let out a mirthless laugh. “Okay, let me get this straight,” he said. “You tiptoeing off in the middle of the night is my fault?”
“It was dawn, Dell.”
“Fuck, Jade.” He pressed the heels of his hands to his eyes. “Uncle. I give up. I can’t guess anymore. You’re going to have to come right out and tell me.”
“Tell you what?” She knew what, she knew exactly what, but she needed to buy herself a second. Or a bunch of seconds.
He dropped his hands to his sides. “What the hell I have to do so that you’ll feel safe with me.”
“With your body, maybe.” He gave a slow shake of his head. “When I’m buried deep inside you and you’re panting out my name, wrapped tight around me . . . yeah, you know you’re safe with me, then, that I’ll take you where you want to go. But any other time it’s like pulling teeth to get you to tell me things about you.”
Panic licked at her. “You know me.”
“Some things, like you snub your nose at almost all crap food—except ice cream. Ice cream you hoard like it’s your crack. You like your clothes and yet you don’t mind getting animal hair on them. You have to have things in careful order because it makes you feel in control, and yet there’s one area you like to be just a little bit messy and unorganized.”
“In bed,” he said bluntly. “In bed you don’t mind giving up control.”
She blushed. “See that? You do know me.”
He was already shaking his head. “It’s not enough.”
“What could you possibly want to know that you think you don’t?” she asked.
“Why you’re really here. What your life was like in Chicago. What happened to you to make you leave. Why you slowly came to life here, and yet you’re still going back.”
The little ball of anxiety in her chest, the one that had been there since she’d slept with him and then done something even worse, started to fall for him, grew and spread so that she couldn’t breathe. “You say that like you’re an open book,” she managed.
His eyes never left hers. “I am an open book, Jade. For you. I may be a little slow on the uptake in the emotion department, but you can ask me anything and I’ll answer.”
Would he? His expression was intent. Focused.
And wrenchingly, bluntly open.
He meant it. She could ask him anything. Like . . . was he falling, too?
Except she wasn’t ready for the answer.
“Only you won’t ask me anything, will you, Jade? Because you’re good with this, just as it is. And hell, why not? It’s all I ever do, right?”
“Dell,” she said softly in regret. She’d hurt him. She’d never even known she could.
“Give me a few minutes before you let Keith bring any patients back,” he said, and vanished into his office.
There was little that got to Dell. Abuse or neglect of any kind. Someone f**king with someone he cared about.
But a woman? A woman hadn’t gotten to him in a long time, if ever.
Which was what made the way he felt about Jade so difficult. He’d been waiting for her to make the next move. He’d been waiting for a week now, and he wasn’t good with waiting. In fact, he sucked at it, mostly because he’d never done it before.
Adam thought he was an idiot. Dell was leaning toward agreeing with him.
Brady thought he should cut his losses and forget it. After all, she was leaving.
But Dell couldn’t fold, not yet. He wanted . . . Christ. He wanted so much it hurt.
And yet it had to be her move . . .
It was the end of a very long day. Still in scrubs, he stood at the window watching a storm move in—not nearly as nice a view as the one from his desk if he leaned forward just so to catch a glimpse of Jade—but definitely safer.
Besides, he’d watched her enough today. Just a few minutes ago she’d been checking out Ashes, an Australian blue heeler, who’d managed to stab herself on a low-lying branch in the woods. The branch had caused considerable damage to Ashes, requiring surgery, a drain, and multiple visits. Nick, Ashes’s owner, was an out-of-work construction worker who faithfully paid cash for each visit. He’d been standing there meticulously counting out money from his wallet and must have fallen short because Jade covered his hand and shook her head, sending him on his way.
Once Nick had left, she’d gotten up and added three twenties to the cash box.
From her own purse.
Behind Dell, he heard the click click clicking of heels coming down the hall toward him. Jade, of course. And given the attitude in every step she made, she’d discovered what he’d done and they were heading for their second fight in three, two, one . . .
She stalked into his office and stopped, hands on hips, giving him that teacher to errant pupil look that always made him so hot.
She didn’t speak.
He could appreciate the tactic but he wasn’t in the mood. Besides, there was little he could do to get on her good side now. And it wasn’t as if she cared about getting on his good side. “Problem?” he asked calmly.
“You know there is.”
Her legs looked ten miles long in the skirt she was wearing today, and her cute little boots had given him dirty thoughts all day long. He really liked watching what he’d come to think of as the Jade show. Today, for instance, after getting caught dancing—Christ, he’d loved that—she’d sat at her desk, doing that little OCD thing she did with her pencils, lining them up perfectly, making her lists.
And she was leaving . . .
She ran his office, she managed his life, she made things . . . easy for him. Easy and good.
And in return he’d thought he was giving her something. Stability. Comfort. Safety.
When he pictured his world without her in it, something funny happened inside him.
He went cold.
She held up her paycheck. “This, Dell. This is the problem. My paycheck. It isn’t right.”
“You know it isn’t.” She set it on his desk, then stabbed at it with her finger, pushing it across the wood surface toward him. “You seem to have given me a raise.”
“Are you objecting?”
“Hell no. I’ve earned it. But double? You nearly doubled my salary?”
She was wearing peach gloss today, and he gave brief thought to yanking her onto his lap and settling this pent-up anger between them in the age-old way of the Neanderthal caveman dwellers.
He wasn’t sure why he was giving her this big push now. It felt an awful lot like desperation, a last-ditch effort to see if she’d stay.
“You’re doing the work of office manager and full-charge bookkeeper,” he said. “I’m just giving you the money that goes with it. You’re getting what’s fair.”
“This is hardly fair.”
“No? Okay, how much more do you think—”
“Oh my God, you are the most stubborn-ass, confusing, arrogant man on the planet!”
“So I take it that you’re not going to thank me for the raise by having your way with me then?”
She smacked him upside the back of the head with the envelope. Figuring that fighting back was fair, he went with the caveman urge and yanked her into his lap. He slid one hand to the nape of her neck, the other to her waist and leaned in, pressing his forehead to hers. “To first blood or the death?”
“I feel like we’ve already drawn blood.” But she melted into him a little, his favorite ice princess, and for a long beat they just breathed each other’s air.
“I know what you’re doing,” she finally whispered.
“Yes.” She cupped his face. “You’re woman-whispering me with the alpha-dog move, touching my neck, pretending to be trying to get lucky to throw me off, but you’re really doing the whole calm, assertive domination thing.”
“No, the domination thing would be stripping you na**d and sprawling you out on my desk so I could—”
“Dell.” She shook her head but gave herself away by biting her lower lip and glancing at his desktop. “I can’t take the raise or the job.”
“You already have the job, Jade.”
“You’re leaving,” he said. “Yeah. Believe me, I know.”
“Do you? Do you really? Then why haven’t you put out an ad for my replacement? I could train them.”
Fuck, how he hated that idea.
She sighed and dropped her head to his shoulder. With a sigh of his own, Dell slid his hand down her back for the sheer pleasure of touching her. “Just tell me this. Why are you going back? Is it for duty or because you miss your life there?”
“What’s the difference?”
“Missing your life is one thing. And a good reason to go. You tell me it’s because you miss your life and I’ll step back and be happy for you.”
“And if it’s duty?”
He gave a slow shake of his head. “I don’t see how that can be a good enough reason to give up your life.”
“And I don’t see how that’s your call,” said a male voice from the doorway.
The guy was thirtyish, leanly muscled, and dressed like he was heading to an A-list event. And he was apparently familiar to Jade because she leapt out of Dell’s arms with a surprised gasp.
“The front door was unlocked,” the guy said. “But the front desk was deserted, so . . .”
“You’re . . . here,” Jade said, and walked into his arms.
Dell couldn’t see Jade’s face, but he could see the guy’s as he squeezed Jade, his expression a grimace of relief and love, his hands fisting on her sweater as if he couldn’t get enough. Jade appeared to be doing the same and Dell stood, fighting an entirely different Neanderthal caveman dweller urge now.
Jade finally pulled back from the warm hug and smacked the man hard in the chest. “I told you not to come here,” she said.
“And I listened. For a year and a half.” He tugged on a strand of Jade’s hair. “Now introduce me to the man who just had his hands on you and is looking like maybe he wants to kill me.”
Jade looked back at Dell, not giving much away. “Dell, this is my cousin Dr. Sam Bennett. Sam, this is Dr. Dell Connelly, my . . . boss.”
At the slight hesitation, Sam’s mouth twisted into a wry smile. “Interesting inner-office policies,” he said directly to Dell, eyes cool in a way they hadn’t been with Jade.
“Sam,” Jade admonished, and pushed him toward the door, adding a little push. “Wait for me by the front desk.” She added a second shove, then when Sam was gone, turned back to Dell. “Sorry about that. He’s a little protective.”
Dell just looked at her, willing her to talk to him without him having to give her the inquisition, but this was Jade. The Queen of Emotional Fortress.
“I’ll see you tomorrow,” she said. “Okay? We’ll discuss this”—she pointed to her paycheck—“further.”
“That’s not first on my list,” he said.
Her eyes met his and something happened. The air condensed and a fierce hunger gutted him.
Her expression mirrored what he felt and it was staggering. “I won’t be here tomorrow,” he reminded her. “I’m flying up north for the next few days to cover the ranches I’m under contract with.”
“That’s right.” She nodded. “Monday, then.” She started to leave the room, but paused and moved toward him instead. “Dell, I—”
He had no idea what she meant to say. He didn’t care. His circuits had crossed and rather than go back to his desk, he reached for her.
She met him halfway and slid her hands into his hair as he hauled her up against him. Their mouths collided in a hard, deep kiss. No tenderness, not an ounce. In its place was a boatload of frustration and aggression, which was working for him until she abruptly pulled away and, with one last look, left him. Dell told himself to get used to it.