Kitty's nemesis stood in the lobby with Ian, who practically drooled all over himself while talking to the angry giant--Mr. Tall, Sexy, and Mean.
If only Jack could have been her type. But no, for some insane reason she responded to Karen's brother. She'd even entertained the thought of using Dane for a quick one-night stand, just for the physical release she desperately needed. But in the end, he annoyed her too much to lower her standards.
And if she was honest with herself, he scared her. Dane dominated his space, and he had that aura of someone in control of himself and everyone around him. Kitty had been fighting her fascination with the idea of submitting for years. She wasn't weak or spineless, and the idea that she needed to sexually submit to gain satisfaction shamed her. Yet she sensed Dane would ease her humiliating cravings, which made him that much more tempting--and dangerous.
I'm in control. He's nothing but a problem to solve. Been there, done that. Deal, Kitty.
She took a deep breath, then let it out and continued her approach.
As if he sensed her, Dane turned from Ian in midsentence and watched her with a narrowed gaze. Like a lion scenting a gazelle.
She shook the thought off and forced a smile. "Well, well. Dane Hanson. Finally come for that gym membership?"
Ian's sly grin made her inwardly groan. "Hey, Kitty. We were just talking about you."
"I'll bet." She came to stand next to him, aware she stood an inch taller than the slick forger. Next to Ian, she felt gawky and awkward. Too busty, too tall, too colorful. Not particularly meek or unassuming, but a woman who spoke her mind and had no problem with confrontation. Well, not when she could defuse any situation.
Unfortunately, she didn't seem to be able to connect with Dane. Some people were like that, but the ones she'd been unable to manipulate had been psychic. Dane seemed normal enough. On the two occasions they'd spoken, or rather, he'd talked at her, she'd tried to calm him down. Yet he'd quietly raged all the same. He didn't yell or threaten. He glared. And with his size, a glare would normally be all it took to scare a person. But not Kitty.
This time she planned to give him her all. She smiled at him. "Well then, Dane. What can we do for you?"
He planted his large hands on his hips and studied her while she studied him. He wore jeans and a sweatshirt that clung lovingly to his broad chest. His chestnut-brown hair had been cut since the last time she'd seen him, and it suited him. Crisp and clean, the man didn't have an inch of excess on him anywhere...that she knew about. She had to force herself to keep from checking the fly of his jeans and stared into his dark brown eyes, searching for that pulse of anger he should be feeling. Except she sensed nothing at all.
Now not only was she unable to manipulate his emotions, she couldn't feel them either, and that freaked her the hell out.
"Kitty? You okay?" Ian sounded concerned, but Kitty couldn't take her gaze from an obviously furious Dane Hanson. She could see the vein pounding in his neck and the wrath glinting in his gaze. But she couldn't feel a damn thing. Well, except for being so turned on she wanted to lick him from his head to his toes and everywhere in between.
Focus, damn it. How the hell can he block me like this?
"I need a moment with Ms. Nelson," he uttered in a low, gravelly voice.
Ian shook his head. "I don't think--"
Kitty interrupted, "Ian, it's okay. Dane, follow me. We'll talk in my office."
Ian scowled at her and Dane but didn't argue. "I'll man the lobby. But Nathan and Chloe are out there. And the others are right down the hall," he added in a louder voice, obviously as a warning to Dane.
She turned and walked into the main gym, past the weights section, and nodded to Chloe and Nathan with a smile. Behind her, Dane remained a solid presence that refused to go away. How could she be so aware of someone yet unable to sense his emotions?
Kitty led him down the hallway their nonpsychic employees used. They had a staff of eleven psychics on hand and a half-dozen civilians, none of whom had any inkling of the power they worked around on a daily basis. She entered her office and took a seat behind her desk. It remained clear and organized at all times, a lot like the way she kept her life. Compartmentalized.
Dane didn't wait to be asked to sit. He shut the door behind him and practically threw himself into a chair facing hers across the desk. But he gave the appearance of being at ease as he sat back and crossed an ankle over his knee. "You're responsible for this."
"O-kay. Want to tell me what 'this' is?"
"My sister and that jackass are talking about getting engaged."
She didn't know what to say. Congratulations seemed way, way off. "Ah, and this is bad because...?"
"Because the self-serving bastard is going to use her and dump her after he takes our land. We've talked about this, remember?"
"You mentioned something about that the last time you talked at me. But I had a hard time listening to your dictation. Explain it again, because I'm still not following."
Dane dropped his leg, sat up straight in the chair, and leaned forward, planting his tanned hands on the desk. "My sister is a naive, trusting sort." He gave her a look, indicating he didn't see her as such. "She knew to look out for Douglas McKay. His family has been trying to buy our property for years. But it's ours--mine and my sister's. And we won't sell."
"Good for you. But honestly, I don't care about your land."
"You sure about that? McKay speaks highly of you." He gave her a leering once-over she didn't appreciate. She again tried to delve into his emotional well and tap into his psyche and sensed nothing. She didn't feel a shield keeping her out either. So bizarre.
Annoyed and a little desperate to get a handle on him, Kitty reached out and rested her hand on top of his, needing to see into the big bastard.
Dane glanced down at her smaller hand and raised a brow. "Is this some kind of plea where you throw yourself on my mercy?" He smiled through his teeth. "Because I don't have any."
She hurriedly removed her hand, annoyed that she focused more on his warmth and maleness instead of his emotional void. "I'm trying to calm you down. It's not my fault your sister is in love with Doug. No more than it's my fault he's in love with her."
He rose halfway out of his seat to lean across her desk. "Is that so? Because my sister sings your praises like you two are best friends. And she credits you for giving her the courage to stand up to me. To me." He stood to his full height and loomed over her like a thundercloud. "I'm her brother, for God's sake. Not a monster."
"You could have fooled me," she muttered.
His face darkened. "I won't lose the land my family has kept for generations. I won't give it up to that bastard, McKay. And I won't let my sister get used by some loser with a woman on the side. Though I gotta admit, McKay has good taste."
She didn't understand until Dane's gaze traveled down her T-shirt and stayed on her breasts. "Wait a minute. What did you just say?"
He met her gaze and crossed his arms over his chest. "You heard me. I can see why McKay is interested. You're hot, and you're aggressive. Probably pushed him into making his move, because ever since I've known that kid, he's been a pussy afraid of his own shadow. But yeah, I can see where he'd make a move for you." His dark eyes glittered with anger, but with lust? She couldn't quite tell.
Outraged, Kitty jumped out of her chair and circled her desk to face the oversize creep. She poked him in the chest. "Look, you idiot. Your sister is a nice girl who fell in love with a nice guy. Doug McKay is not my lover, and he's not a pussy." She poked him again, harder this time. "And if you don't clean up your language, I'll shove my foot so far up your ass that when I kick you out of the gym, you'll be shitting my shoes."
He blinked at her, no doubt stunned she'd stood up to him.
She poked him again. "Are we clear?"
She hadn't expected his smile. It brightened his entire face. "Shitting your shoes. Oh yeah, I'll watch my language. Clear as glass."
The irony of her demand wasn't lost on her. She blushed and retreated behind her desk. But she didn't sit, keyed up and irritated because she wanted to poke him again to prolong the contact. "You have a problem with your sister and Doug. I get it. But it's not my problem. Your sister is sweet, and Doug's a decent guy. Maybe if you took the chance to get to know him, you'd see that."
He didn't say anything for a moment, seeming to weigh her words. "You can trust I'll look into McKay. And I'll look into you too. Don't doubt for a second I'll be back, sweetheart."
When he skirted the desk and cornered her, she braced herself to retaliate. She didn't need to yell for help. She'd knee him in the balls so hard he'd--
He reached out and stroked her cheek with a blunt finger. She froze, not daring to breathe.
PART OF DANE wanted to wrap his fingers around her throat and put a little scare into her. He wouldn't hurt her. He didn't hurt women...unless they asked him to. He'd simply demand the truth, because he could see something in her big green eyes that made him doubt she'd been completely honest with him. Unfortunately, a larger part of him, that part between his legs growing steadily bigger, wanted to hold her still while he kissed the breath out of her. This close, he could smell the citrusy shampoo she used. He saw her pupils dilate and felt her rapid breathing.
Fuck. There it was again. The instinct that had seen him on the fast track in the service and working special ops way before most of his team had stepped foot outside Quantico reared its head. Kitty Nelson was much more than she seemed. But what, he didn't know.
She frowned at him. "Dane?"
He'd bet his ass this woman wanted to be bossed around. There was something about her that lit up during their confrontations. He'd growl, and she'd stand firm, but she'd soften when he moved too close. Excitement, not fear, looked back at him. He suddenly wanted nothing more than to explore this incredible attraction he couldn't deny.
Reason wouldn't let him. He'd spent too much time in dangerous situations to be taken in by a woman. Dane knew better than to ever underestimate an opponent, even if she did have dark red hair, soft green eyes, and a killer rack. And height. She wouldn't break under some rough handling.
His fingers itched to touch her again. Damn, but he wanted to feel her breasts. They were big, and they'd fill his hands. Then an image of Doug McKay holding this woman close filled his mind's eye, and a possessive fury had him rethinking his reaction to her.
Dane dropped his hand and took a hurried step back. "I'll see you soon." He turned and left before he made another mistake, like fucking her against the wall. Holy hell, but he wanted to ram hard inside that pussy, to dominate. Had he been that long without sex? It'd been two months since his last fling with that blonde waitress in Madras. He had needs, sure, but he'd never been ruled by his cock. So what the hell was his problem?
He pushed by a brawny guy glaring at him and continued through the gym to the outside. The low temperature and dirty snow still on the ground in piles should have cooled his ardor, but he couldn't stop thinking about the woman. Kitty Nelson.
Dane slammed into his truck and pulled out of the parking lot toward his ranch outside of town. Closer to Tumalo, a more rural area of Central Oregon, the Hanson Ranch had been in the family for several generations as far back as his great-great-grandfather. The Hansons used to focus on a large spread of cattle and left the crops for others, like the McKays. But with the economy gone south and hands moving away over the years, they'd maximized resources. His cousins farmed alfalfa and kept a much smaller stock of farm animals, to include cows, a few goats, and chickens. The ranch was mostly self-sustaining, and he liked it that way. Just one more thing he could control.
He gratefully let his relatives handle all the domestic chores. Karen worked the financials, and the ranch pretty much ran itself, leaving him to focus on his passion--sculpting. His surprising success with what he'd thought would be a hobby still felt unreal.
A swell of pride filled him as he turned onto the dirt road leading to the main house. He shared it with Karen, but he knew his new roommate wouldn't last. He'd expected her to move out before now, with a girlfriend maybe. But all her talk about McKay worried him that she might move in with that idiot. He gritted his teeth and parked the truck. He sat there for a minute, imagining Doug McKay taking over the house and ranch, sleeping with his sister. Dane saw red. It took him some time to calm down, and by then he was shivering, finally feeling the cold. It had started to snow again. Friggin' weather. Two years ago, he'd been sweating his ass off in South America with his squad. Scouting for terrorists, doing the occasional recon, and accomplishing the mission. He'd been in the thick of things, doing what he'd been born to do--protect and defend. Then he'd been hit. Two rounds to the chest. Fast-forward two years, through a medical retirement and honorable discharge, to boredom out the ass. Taking care of his family and sculpting had saved his sanity.
"There you are." Karen came toward him with a smile on her face.
He forced himself to get rid of his anger and smiled back at her as he exited the truck. His little sister had grown into a true beauty. She could do so much better than a McKay.
"Where have you been? I saved dinner for you."
"Thought I'd check out the gym you're always talking about."
Her smile widened. "Good. That place is awesome. Everyone is so friendly there. Did you see Kitty?"
Kitty. Short for Katherine, maybe? Every time he thought of her name, he thought of a cat. Of the word pussy. And he got hard, envisioning the redhead with attitude. Christ, when she'd said that bit about him shitting her shoes, he'd fallen totally in lust. He had a thing for a woman with attitude. Dane liked nothing better than putting her in her place--spread wide to receive him and headlong into an orgasm while he pumped his way to his own.