About the Author
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
The man was naked.
I pressed my palms against the reinforced steel door, already on my tippy toes, and peered through the small square window made of shatterproof glass. Beneath the window was a narrow slot that allowed sound to escape, which was the only way to speak to the patient inside. The setup was old-school, and a prime example of the many quirks at the Dante Clinic.
He paced endlessly, emulating an animal in a cage. It bothered me how close the analogy was to the truth. However, the safety of the staff and the other patients took precedence over his comfort. How soon he got out was entirely up to him . . . and, well, me. I was still getting used to being in charge of the clinic. I’d been given control over an entire building and the people within it after I’d already proven—in public, no less—how incapable I was of controlling myself.
So, yeah. Everyone here was screwed.
Mr. Dante asked only that I did my best as the clinic’s administrator and full-time on-site therapist. I threw in the guarantee that I would never again square off with my famous mother on a national talk show. Uh-huh. That happened. It was fun, if my definition of fun was “humiliated and disgraced by psycho(therapist) parent in front of a live audience.” Did I mention the serial killer I’d let loose on Oklahoma City? Okay, not on purpose, but still totally my fault.
What’s done is done, I reminded myself. Unless someone invented a time machine and a way to give me a personality transplant, I couldn’t change my past.
I refocused my attention on the new patient.
The poor guy didn’t even have a pair of boxers to cover his . . . um . . . I blanked as he made another turn and revealed his front. Yep. There it was. In all its glory.
Sweet mamma jamma.
His penis was huge, and it wasn’t even erect.
Heat swept through me, along with a big heap of shame. Get a grip, Kelsey, you heartless slut. I was behaving unprofessionally—even though it was only mentally. Just because I hadn’t had sex in . . . er, ever, didn’t mean I had the right to entertain the idea of sleeping with a client.
No matter how gorgeous.
Or well endowed.
For all my faults as a psychotherapist, I’d never had sex with a patient. (See, Mother? I could too be ethical.) No matter how badly I messed up last year, I still wanted to help as many people as I could. I might’ve chosen my profession out of duty (and maternal expectation), but I was committed to it all the same. Sometimes I dreamed about the other things I might’ve done with my life. I could’ve been a scuba diving instructor. Or a painter living in an artists’ colony. Or an alligator wrangler in Florida. Ah, well. Dreams were for people with choices (and who had mothers who didn’t begin every sentence with, “It’s your duty to . . . ”).
I studied my new client. His thick black hair reached midback and swung like a dark curtain as he whipped around, his agitation growing with each long stride. He was well over six feet tall. Every part of the man was built—a beautiful body crafted by hard work, not gym time. I pegged him for a construction worker, or maybe an outdoorsman. It was wrong, so very, very wrong, to watch the bunch and flex of his muscles. Oh, baby . . . Okay, okay, enough. Sheesh. He deserved better from me than a hormone-fueled assessment of his physical attributes. I really needed to study him from the point of view of an open-minded, nonjudgmental, kindhearted (and mature) therapist.
He was dirty and bruised. Scars crisscrossed his torso, and there were burns on his arms, too. He’d been tortured, though he seemed unconcerned by his injuries. With my empathic abilities, I could literally know about a person’s pain, whether physical or emotional. That ability was another reason I became a therapist. I thought it was God’s big hint to me about my life’s purpose: Go forth, Kelsey, and help wayward souls.
I wanted to help this man, even though he didn’t particularly strike me as a wayward soul. I got the distinct impression he was strong in mind and heart—but that was more a supposition than an empathically derived certainty.
I felt the sudden, intense snap of his anger. It reached out and tried to bite at me, but I slapped it away. I was used to fending off the emotions of others, but his were somehow different.
Every so often he paused to punch at the walls. He was also cursing—in German.
The walls and floor were padded. The cell—and I cringed to call it that—had no furniture. The place was called the induction room because sometimes new clients needed time and space to calm down before being assigned a residency. Their suites were no less secure, but when an angry psychiatric patient threatened to rip off your head, he might actually try to do it.
He stopped in the middle of the room. His head rose, and he stared at the door. His eyes were like chips of jade. I saw the flare of his nostrils. He was . . . scenting?
He rushed forward so fast he was nearly a blur, and slammed his entire body against the steel. The metal actually groaned.
I squeaked and backed away, forgetting that I was the one in charge here. Could potent masculinity reach through two feet of steel to taunt me? Or was it my libido’s insisting to replay the images of his gorgeousness?
His face pressed against the glass. He studied me with a cold expression. “Let me out,” he said. “Now.”
Holy crap. He was scary. But he wasn’t the scariest person in the clinic. That would be my boss, Mr. Dante, and after him, the enigmatic Sven, who was in charge of security here.
“What’s your name?” I asked.
His lips thinned. “What’s yours?”
“Kelsey.” Asking patients to use my first name was my initial salvo to make them feel comfortable, but I got the feeling he was too much an alpha personality. I straightened and put my shoulders back. “Kelsey Morningstone. I run this facility.”
He gaze dropped to my breasts, which I had sorta thrust out there in an effort to create my “in-charge” body language. I couldn’t back off now, so I tried to pretend that his gaze wasn’t wandering over my boobs, or that I noticed his inspection.
“Let me out, Kelsey.” His voice had gone low and smoky. My belly clenched as my girly parts perked up. Stop that, I demanded. He’s a patient.
“Do you know where you are?” I asked.
One eyebrow quirked.
I flushed at the silent chastisement. Of course he knew he was in a padded cell. Okay. Seriously. I had to get in control of myself, the situation, and him. “You’re at the Dante Clinic. You were brought in last night from another facility.”
I hadn’t been told much, only that he’d been rescued from a private laboratory. I shuddered to think about the kind of experimentation he’d gone through, much less why he’d been chosen to be a guinea pig. I hadn’t asked more questions about the patient’s previous situation because one, you didn’t question a billionaire, and two, the less I knew, the less I had to wrestle with my conscience about this job and all that it entailed.
“You don’t remember?” I asked.
“Do you know your name?”
“Is that your name,” I asked gently, “or is that the name your captors used?”
“Captors.” He made the word sound like both a question and a statement. He pushed away from the door, his frustration bubbling through my psychic shields. I returned to the window to watch him pace. He was frowning and rubbing his temples, obviously trying to remember what he’d forgotten.
Which was his entire life.
“As soon as you’re ready, we’ll get you a shower, some clothes, and a hot meal. Then we can talk.”
“I don’t want to talk,” he said. “I want to leave.”
“Where would you go?”
For the first time, I saw panic enter his gaze. His anger shot out again, and wrapped deeply within it was a terrible sorrow. Staving off his emotions was difficult. They were so strong, and so . . . strange. Animalistic.
“When will you let me out?” He sounded like he was chewing gravel. I was sure it chafed his ego to ask even that simple question. Even without my empathic abilities, I knew he was not used to relying on the kindness of others.
“I’ll make the arrangements,” I promised. “Damian, you must accept that the clinic is your home now. The sooner you do, the sooner we can focus on how to help you.”
He considered my words for a moment; then he looked at me solemnly. “I have nowhere else to go.”
Yeah. That made two of us.