Authors: Lynda Chance
She followed him through to a state of the art kitchen, and stopped in dismay as he walked to the refrigerator and took out a large casserole dish and put it in the microwave, and then turned to face her, where she stood in the doorway of the room.
"Is chicken alfredo okay with you?" He asked as he watched her hovering.
Katie tried to get her sluggish brain to function. Seeing him in this domestic milieu was throwing her for a loop. "N-no, thank you. I've already had lunch. I'm not hungry." She told the truth; the butterflies crowding around in her stomach left no room for even the thought of food. She needed to get a grip on herself and her fear. No matter how much Zach intimidated her, he
Hannah's brother and she knew he'd never hurt her. Just because they were alone in his apartment, that didn't change anything.
He wasn't dangerous. He wouldn't hurt her.
As she tried to breathe steadily, those things ran like a mantra through her head.
Zach observed the slender girl in front of him. No, she wouldn't be used to eating more than the obligatory three meals a day. She certainly would never have a problem with her weight. Her small breasts and delicate hips were accentuated by the slender curves she possessed. His body tightened as anticipation lashed him in coils of atavistic need.
The microwave beeped and he forced himself to turn and dish out a single plate of food. He poured two glasses of iced tea, handed her one, then turned and began eating while he stood leaning against the counter, holding his plate.
Katie took a sip of the tea and tried not to be obvious about watching him. She'd never seen anyone stand and eat when they were in their own home where there were chairs and a table available. She hovered quietly and watched him inhale his food. He ate in a very mechanical way, as if he were only going through the motions of eating for the fuel his body needed. "Did you make that last night?" She asked, unable to contain her curiosity any longer as she indicated the casserole with a slight wave of her hand.
"My domestic abilities don't run that deep. My housekeeper cooks for me a few times a week and keeps my refrigerator stocked." He wolfed down another bite, like a starving man who had been doing hard physical labor instead of sitting behind a desk making corporate decisions or whatever he did all day. "I got sick of take-out and fast food about a year ago and settled into this routine."
After a few more large bites that completely cleared the plate of food, Zach turned and put the dish in the sink and ran water over it before swallowing the entire glass of tea in one huge slug.
Katie continued to watch in fascination. To her way of thinking, he was acting more like a Texas ranch hand than a Texas businessman. He turned to face her. "Are you finished with that?" At her nod, he took her glass and deposited it in the sink, too.
He ushered her out of the kitchen and into the living room where he indicated that she sit on the sofa. After she slowly complied, her nerves took another jolt as he sank down beside her instead of choosing one of the chairs that flanked the couch. Her tension etched up a notch as he leisurely reached over and picked up a strand of her hair and began rubbing it between his fingers, while his eyes ran over her in such a fascinated and possessive manner that Katie's throat closed up.
Her mind splintered in a million directions at his curious actions. But one thought rose to the surface.
She had to get
out of here
. She pulled back from him, but his hand stayed on her hair, pulling on her and creating a live wire of electricity between them that was so strong she was shocked at the depth of its physical intensity. Her eyes flared wide as she looked at him questioningly.
Katie could see that he was examining her reactions and the look in his eyes became even more intense. He studied her as if she were an intriguing puzzle, one that he wanted to solve. She stared in alarmed curiosity as his eyes dropped to her breasts and heat tinged his cheekbones before he lifted his eyes to hers again and finally asked, "Are you sexually active, Katie?" His voice was a deep drawl, as calm as if they were discussing the weather, but the tic in his cheek told of his unconditional involvement in the answer she might give.
Feeling the oxygen stick in her throat, anxiety slithered through Katie at the loaded question and with only a momentarily delayed reaction, she jumped up from the couch, feeling the jerk on her scalp before he let her hair go with a look of extreme reluctance. Her legs became tangled in her need to escape and she stumbled toward him. Without hesitation, he reached out from where he sat and steadied her, his hands going to her hips, in nothing less than a controlling caress. Her hands fell to his shoulders in a bid for stability, and his fingers ran up and down her waistline, as if to soothe her.
soothe her, not a bit, and she pulled away from him and began backing to the door, keeping him in her line of sight for the moment.
With a long drawn out sigh, he continued to sit while she turned and rushed to the door on trembling limbs.
"I want to leave now," Katie demanded in a firm voice, but inside, she was quaking.
Screw Josh and Hannah; they were on their own.
Katie had stalled Zach as long as she could; she needed out of this apartment,
Damn him and his question. She
sexually active, she might not
want to be sexually active again, and she knew if she ever did, it wouldn't be with someone like Zachary McIntyre, who scared the shit out of her with his intense masculinity.
Her hand landed on the doorknob, but it wouldn't turn. "How do you unlock this door?" Distress banged loudly through her veins and she vaguely realized that hysteria wasn't far from the surface.
Zach casually leaned back and locked his hands behind his head, as if he had all the time in the world and her nerves took another jolt. "It's on a remotely activated sensor. It won't open until I unlock it."
Katie turned fully to face him, her eyebrows coming together in a scowl as she tried with everything inside of her not to be intimidated. "Unlock the door, Zach."
"Do you have student loans, Katie?" His voice was deep, coming from across the room as he questioned her, the point he was trying to make unknown to her.
"What? Why? Some. What does it matter?
Oh my God
. Are you afraid I'm going to try to get money from Hannah? Is that what this is all about?" Katie's anger mingled with her confusion and fear and ignited into a bristling ball of fury.
Zach studied Katie and paused a moment before answering, wondering how he'd fucked up so badly already. He took a deep breath and tried to get a hold of the situation. His fucking intellect always took a hike whenever Katie Turner was around. "No, that's not it. I'm sure you wouldn't pull any crap like that. I thought that--." He stopped and studied her expression to see if she was catching on, but she wasn't.
Did he even know what he was asking?
"I can pay your loans off in return for . . . " Zach almost winced when he heard his own words. "Shit. Never mind."
Fucking smooth, McIntyre
You run a multi-million dollar company and that's what almost came from your mouth? You're so fucking hard up for this chick that you're offering her money to what? Spend some time with you? Goddamnit, he wished he could back up five minutes and start all over.
Katie was stunned that she was in this predicament. Suddenly she was locked in Zachary McIntyre's apartment, the sole object of his attention, when only an hour ago she'd been on campus minding her own business. And then his words penetrated the mist in her head and his meaning screamed through to her. She watched him leaning against the cushions like a sultan interviewing his next concubine. She swallowed with some difficulty and forced her throat to work. "You're talking about sex?" Her voice rose and she began to shriek from the raw emotions surging through her. "You're talking about paying me for sex? You think I'm a hooker? A whore?"
Zach was studying her, seemingly patient but it didn't comfort her. "No, I don't. Calm down. You're thinking way too deeply. You're looking to put a bad spin on every word that comes from my mouth."
"A bad spin? You have a good spin on giving me money for sex? And what the hell is wrong with you that you want to pay me for sex?" Katie stopped and tried to recapture her control. She took a few deep breaths as he continued to sit and study her as she hovered by the door. "You're a good-looking guy. You're rich. Why can't you just go out and get a woman the traditional way? You know, date someone. Go out to dinner, maybe a nightclub or something, and then have a night of mutual pleasure?"
Zach felt a shaft of anger he knew he had no right to feel, along with an irritating resentment for the men who had gone before him. An irrational anger toward the unknown man who had undoubtedly taken her virginity. His eyes narrowed on her as red-hot jealousy filled his veins. "Is that the way
"It's none of your
business how I do it." Her fury turned to stubbornness as she crossed her arms over her chest and refused to say another word.
His voice hardened. "We've gotten off track here a bit. I want you to answer the question . . . I want to know if you're sexually active."
"Well, you're not going to know." Katie opened her bag and took her phone out. She punched in two numbers. "Fair warning, Mr. McIntyre, I'm about to call the police. Do you want to open this damn door for me or do you want me to punch in the last digit?"
"Calm down. I'll unlock the door." He stood up and casually made his way over to the door, watching her intently. When he passed her, he turned around and snagged her phone from her grip and ended the call with a press of a button, lifting the phone out of her reach.
Katie sucked in her breath as pure fear slithered down her spine. Taking her phone was
"I'm going to let you out of this door in about twenty seconds, so don't get your panties in a twist. But before I do, I've got something to say to you." He sank his hand into her scalp and lifted her face until her eyes were on his. "I don't want to fight with you. My offer wasn't very smooth and I apologize for that. I wasn't offering to pay you for sex. I don't know what the hell I was thinking. It wasn't premeditated and I didn't mean anything offensive by it. I certainly didn't mean to piss you off or to scare you. All I know is that I want you and I'll take you any way I can get you. I've wanted you a long, long time." Katie was held speechless in his grasp, breathing hard. She was silent as he continued, "But, Katie. . . It's a fact that your family took my wife and child from me." His eyes went to her lips and he expelled a breath. "I believe I'm owed something in return." He lifted her chin another notch as his eyes lifted back to hers and he studied her closely. "And you're what I want."
Sharp anxiety lanced Katie at his words. The depth of his hatred and his need for revenge jarred her. But she was confused by his proposal. "And you're willing to pay me in your quest to make me suffer? That makes no sense."
"That was off the cuff and a bad idea. But I'll agree to just about anything if it will expedite matters. Frankly, the wait has become intolerable." He reached out his other hand and ran it from her temple, down the side of her cheek and settled on her shoulder. "I don't think you're going to forget everything that's happened in the past, but I'm willing to let it go if you are. I've always been willing to forget about it, pretty much from the very beginning. If you agree to give me a chance, if you agree to see me, we can start a relationship just as you described, just like any other couple, and I'll never mention money--" a pained expression came over his features and he muttered under his breath,
"God, that was stupid."
He shook his head as if trying to get his thoughts in order before he continued, "I'll never mention money or anybody owing anything . . . ever again."
For just a second, Katie studied his expression and a tiny kernel of temptation coiled in her stomach as she remembered his last kiss. But just as quickly, the feeling fled and panic took its place as the memory of being held down against her will infiltrated her mind. "I . . . I don't want a relationship . . . with you or with anybody."
Katie stood stunned as he swallowed hard and his tension became palpable at her refusal. "You don't understand." His hand on her face became both forceful and caressing as his eyes ran over her. His voice dropped an octave, and Katie was floored to hear a trace of what sounded like vulnerability in his tone. "I'll let
go. Enough time has gone by now that I know I'll be able to move on." His eyes devoured hers, staring into hers with what Katie could only describe as longing before he continued, "It would be so good between us, baby. And I could give you everything."
His words and the gentle expression on his face confused her. Tears came to her eyes but she shook her head even as she felt another tiny trace of temptation. Was Zachary McIntyre begging her for a relationship? It didn't make sense; she didn't understand. She couldn't deny she was tempted, but she forced herself to stiffen her spine and whisper, "No, I can't."
Why couldn't she?
Why the hell couldn't she get over it? Zachary McIntyre had
fascinated her. If she couldn't let go of her past for him, would she ever be able to?