Authors: Lynda Chance
Too many to count.
Zach was her secret, hidden crush. In her younger teenage years, she imagined herself in love with him. He was the man who was too old for her, already married, and in her mind, totally beyond her reach. But that never stopped her from dreaming about him.
But now here he was,
married, and so within her reach that she could feel every ragged breath he took. She could taste the essence of his hunger; she was becoming intoxicated by the male pheromones that radiated from his skin.
He wanted her
. She'd known for a long time that he wanted her. She'd known it deep down, in her subconscious, for the longest time, even if she was only now admitting it to herself.
What once would have thrilled her to death was now too frightening to contemplate.
She squeezed her eyes shut tighter and tried with everything she had to think of nothing but his kiss. She wrapped her arms around his neck, she kissed him back, she tried to temper the fear that beat through her bloodstream.
He must have felt the change in her, because his hands tightened on her skin and a low growl came from the back of his throat. His mouth slanted over hers again; his fingers felt as if they wanted to crush her skull. His muscles corded under her hands and oxygen rattled in and out of his lungs as he took rasping breaths.
The motivation for his kiss seemed to change and a dangerous sizzle filled the air around her. Katie could feel the sexual need that poured from the large frame that held her and when one steely hand dropped from her face and enclosed her breast with a possessive grip, she gasped and reared back.
Their eyes flew open at the same time, and Katie could see the raw fervor that smoldered in his gaze. She sucked in oxygen as he did the same, and as they stared at each other, each breathing raggedly, no words were needed. But Katie knew in that instant that nothing would ever be the same between them again.
Gone was the Zachary McIntyre of her youth, gone also was the man who mostly ignored her in his anger. Somehow, they'd crossed a line and Katie suddenly knew that the subdued heat she'd always seen in his eyes when he looked at her would be manifested in a new way. She was something he wanted, and Zach McIntyre always got what he wanted. Her pulse shot up to the stratosphere as fear congealed in her stomach.
She wasn't ready for a sexual relationship with him. She wanted to be ready, she really did. But the choice had been stripped from her and now all she could do was try to protect herself from what he wanted from her.
She didn't think he'd give up easily.
And as he studied her now and pressed a soft, closing kiss on her forehead, she was astonished to realize that the prayer she said deep down in her subconscious was that he wouldn't give up easily.
Katie barely slept for the remainder of the night, and as she walked into the McIntyre kitchen the next morning looking for coffee, she steeled her nerves, expecting to find Zach.
And find him, she did.
He glanced up from his laptop, but he was silent as he studied her. She felt the heat of a blush cover her face and after turning her quivering lips up in a half-hearted attempt at a smile, she walked past him and made her way to the coffee maker.
After she poured a cup and added creamer, she strolled over to the window and looked out. She stalled as long as she could, and when she turned back to him, he was still watching her intently.
His stare became pointed and he lifted a single eyebrow.
She blew on her coffee and took a small sip. "Good morning."
"Is it?" he asked in a low, gravelly tone.
Katie ignored his question. "Is Hannah still asleep?"
"I imagine. She's still in her room."
Katie's insides twisted up at the thought of being alone with Zach. She just couldn't take it right now. She took another sip of her coffee, and then quickly dumped it in the sink and rinsed the cup.
"What are you doing?"
"Oh, nothing." She answered vaguely. "I've got to go."
"No, you don't," he negated quietly in a firm voice.
"I've got a million things to do today before I head back to school. I need to spend some time with my parents, catch-up, talk to them for--"
"You need to sit your butt in that chair and
talk to me,"
he ordered as he pointed to the chair at the kitchen table across from him.
A shiver of heat landed in Katie's stomach as a sliver of dread slid down her spine. How could she feel such opposing sentiments? "We don't have anything to talk about," she said as neutrally as possible.
His eyes narrowed. "Katie. Don't give me that shit. I'm not in the mood for it. I didn't sleep a goddamn bit last night, and we're going to talk about it."
The tone of his voice was making her feel trapped and she swung around, intending to head for the guestroom to grab her stuff. "We don't have anything to talk about," she reiterated a bit more strongly, moving toward the door.
She never reached it. She heard his chair scrape back from the table before she felt his hand on her arm. He swung her around and backed her up until her spine hit the wall. "Nothing to talk about?" His eyes ran over her from top to bottom before settling back on her face. "How about the fact that you chose to take refuge in my arms last night and the feeling was so fucking intoxicating that I almost lost it?"
Oxygen became lodged in her throat as pleasure blossomed through her veins, pleasure that she knew she had to quickly subdue. She scraped her bottom lip between her teeth in agitation and could only answer him with a slight shake of her head.
"No?" He asked with a deep scowl.
She could only shake her head again, struck mute by anxiety, embarrassment, and a subtle sexual tension that she wouldn't allow herself to acknowledge.
"Katie," he began, but she finally found her voice.
"Thank you for helping me last night," she began as his eyes held hers. "I'm glad you were there . . . " her voice trailed off.
"But I've got to get going."
"Are you going to pretend it meant nothing?"
She shut her eyes for a second before opening them again. "It didn't mean anything, Zach."
"You kiss all men like that?"
She froze as his harsh words pierced through her. She didn't owe him an explanation. And he wasn't going to get one. "No, I don't," she bit out as she ripped out of his hold. She paced to the doorway. "Goodbye."
She recognized that her voice was flat. There wasn't anything she could do about it though, her emotions were flat, her life was flat.
She turned and left.
Zach watched as Katie left the room, resentment building in his gut. Obviously, last night had only been an anomaly. She'd been soft and feminine in his arms because of the nightmare she'd had. That's the only reason she'd reacted the way she had and now he had to start from point
all over again.
So close. He thought he'd been so damn close.
But it had only been a figment of his imagination. Jet lag and stress from his trip to the Middle East must have addled his brain.
Katie hadn't wanted him anymore last night than she ever had. He was just as screwed as he'd been since day one.
Wanting her with an irrefutable ache in his gut and forced to do without.
Fort Worth, Texas
Katie rushed around the crowded restaurant trying to be thankful she had a job. She had to remember that
she was lucky she had a job
. So many of her friends at UTA hadn't been able to find anything at all this semester. Admittedly, waiting tables wasn't the best, but it was a job and the tips were cold, hard cash.
Something she desperately needed to make ends meet.
The restaurant was near the stockyards in Fort Worth, and it was close enough that she could be there in twenty minutes, if the traffic wasn't bad and if her old car didn't give her any problems.
Today the traffic had been ferocious and she'd been ten minutes late. Her manager had bitten her head off, before he'd rushed her out to begin waiting tables.
Katie had just finished dropping off a cheeseburger basket and the sirloin special to two businessmen when she saw Zach walk through the front door.
He stood inside the crowded restaurant and stopped at the hostess stand as if he owned the place. His hair was dark and tousled from the wind, but that was the only thing that looked out of place about his appearance. He wore a dark grey bespoke suit that appeared as if it had been hand-tailored for him, and as he casually glanced around the restaurant, Katie realized he looked nothing like he usually did when he was at home in Redwood Falls.
She had no idea why he was in Fort Worth today, instead of his office in Dallas, but seeing him again after a few months was causing her stomach to roil in agitation and her palms to sweat. As she held the empty tray in front of her like a shield, she saw the hostess, a new girl named JayLynn, scan the seating chart and then look back up at him. Katie swore she could see the blush on the girl's face from here, and she knew exactly why.
Zach McIntyre could make any woman blush, whether she was eight or eighty.
Katie held her breath and bit her lip as the younger girl led Zach to a table for two.
A table in her section.
She closed her eyes and groaned.
Not today. God, not today
Zach had waited as long as he could. He'd spent the last several months purposely buried under a pile of work to keep from thinking about Katie Turner. He'd filed the necessary permits to build a new wind farm near the Permian Basin and the work involved had been intense and complicated. He'd travelled back and forth and lived out of a suitcase as he worked with his lawyers to negotiate settlements with land owners, registered with the appropriate commissions, and sought the best contracts he could find to furnish the structures themselves.
But now he was all played out.
He needed to go see Katie and get a fix. He'd tried to stop himself, but it was impossible. It had been a relative cakewalk to find out from Hannah where Katie was working. Did he have a deeply ingrained need just to see her? Yeah, he did. Was he checking up on her and making damn sure nobody was trying to move in on what he saw as his territory? Yeah, he was. He wasn't going to dwell on it too long, and he wasn't going to try to make excuses for himself. He was going to walk in, make sure she was okay, and in the process, remind her that he was still alive and damn, how should he put it?
And the restaurant in Fort Worth worked perfectly for his cover story, should it come up.
The only wrinkle would be the actual day and time he went. He could only guess at when she'd be working, but hell, if he missed her, he'd try again.
He'd had a small moment there when he'd felt like a sociopath because he'd lurked outside the window, in an attempt to figure out which part of the restaurant she was working in. He wanted this to look like a coincidence to her, so he couldn't risk asking to be placed in her section. As he'd glanced through the window, he'd spied her immediately.
She was beautiful as usual, but her harried and frazzled look contorted his features into a grimace and upset him at once. He detested that she was forced to work so much. Hannah had mentioned Katie's plight and how difficult it was for her to maintain both her scholarship and a job at the same time. He felt a moment of guilt for the ease his college years had been. He'd certainly never had to worry about money. He couldn't remember being spoiled exactly, his father had been too disciplined and strict for that, but he did remember that he'd only been responsible for keeping his grades in check.
From what Hannah told him, Katie had to study quite intensely to maintain the high grade point average the university required for her academic support to continue, and on top of that, she had no money coming in from her parents for incidentals.
Incidentals, such as food, gasoline, and clothing.
He'd like to help her out with money, but they didn't have that kind of relationship. He certainly wanted that type of relationship, but so far, she'd shot him down to nothing. Yeah, he'd like to take care of her, make her life easier. It wasn't just something he felt like he wanted to do, it was something he felt like he
to do. It suddenly struck him how deeply he felt as if Katie already belonged to him, and he knew for a fact that it would send her screaming in panic if she realized how mapped out her future already was in his brain.
Without wasting any more time, Zach followed the hostess to an open table that he indicated was his preference. He zeroed in on Katie immediately, and the minute her eyes met his and he knew she was aware of his presence, his temperature escalated and he savored the immediate effect she had on his groin. An unbearable sense of urgency encompassed his being; it was taking entirely too damn long to accomplish his goal. Her beauty was almost mesmerizing, and as she strolled toward his table with unconscious grace and placed a menu in front of him, Zach was seized with a need so hot and fierce that he had to grip his hands together to keep from reaching out for her.