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“You’re fifteen minutes late,” Sean stated from his seat behind his desk when Alessa entered his office on Thursday. His anticipation at seeing her again after catching her name on the schedule dimmed with her tardiness. He’d hoped the one time she’d been a no-show had put an end to her testing him so they could move on.
Alessa waved her hand in an airy, indifferent gesture that matched her off-the-cuff excuse. “Sorry, got tied up.” She plopped into the chair, crossed her legs and arms and gazed at him as if daring him to make an issue of it. He remained quiet until she fidgeted in her seat, her multi-colored, calf-length skirt sliding over her leg as she swung her foot.
“Having a bad day, sweetheart?” Sean drawled with deliberate sarcasm just to see what she’d do.
Those slim brows dipped in a frown and her soft lips tightened. “Don’t call me sweetheart.”
“Why?” He could tell she hadn’t expected to come up with a reason when she unfolded her arms and went for a hangnail. “Knock it off and talk to me. That’s why you’re here.”
Her hands went to the armrests, the quick way she resumed the grip he’d instructed her to take the last time sending a surge of pleasure through him until she jumped up and began pacing. “Look, I had a bad night at work then didn’t sleep well. Do you want me to stay or not?” she snapped without looking at him.
No, she definitely wasn’t done testing him. “Sit down and tell me about the first foster home you can remember, and why you left.”
“I didn’t leave. They asked for me to be removed.” She sat with another disgruntled plop and glared at him. “I told you, I was difficult.”
He regarded her with a steady look, his voice as bland as his simple inquiry. “Why?”
“Why were you being difficult? Did you not like the adults, the other kids? Did they make you eat gross vegetables?”
“I like all veggies and everybody,” she returned without pause.
“Alessa.” A delicate shiver shook her at his warning tone, so at least he was getting through to her on some level.
“Fine. You want details? Let’s see, I was around five, so I don’t remember much except missing the little girl I played with in my first home. In the second place, the kids were older, around nine or ten, and didn’t like me bothering them.” She shrugged and glanced away to add, “I’d get bored by myself, so I’d pester them, I guess. I don’t recall their names, but the parents grew tired of their kid’s constant complaining and told me it’d be better if I went to someone who had kids my age. Good enough?” she finished, looking back at him.
Attitude dripped from her, but the disquiet in her whiskey eyes gave her away. “I remember when we danced at the weddings thinking you were shy and quiet. Did you come across this belligerent with your foster parents?”
She shrugged. “Like I said, I could be difficult.”
Had anyone ever stuck with her? Sean could see a clear picture of her past, a lonely girl reaching out the only way she knew how. The neglectful foster care system had let her down as much as her poor choice of men. “So, the next home, were there kids your age?”
Alessa stood again and turned her back to him, but not before he saw the rigid set to her jaw. Walking across the room, she stopped in front of his law degree hanging on the wall. “I went to Florida State as well. Did you grow up in Tallahassee?”
“No, here in Miami. You didn’t answer my question, Alessa.”
Shaking her head, she kept her back to him when she replied, “Let’s talk about something else.”
“Okay. What do you want to discuss?”
Her shoulders lifted with her deep inhale, then she blurted the last thing he wanted her to say. “You mentioned introducing me to someone who could tutor me into giving up complete control. What if I said I wanted it to be you?”
Nothing like handing me my fucking dream on a platter. Sean willed his rapid heartbeat to slow down as he took a moment to think her offer through and ponder where it came from. There were numerous reasons why he should turn her down: they would still be thrown together at social gatherings of their mutual friends afterward, which could be awkward; Dax and Krista would kill him if she ended up hurt; it would cross an ethical line he’d never violated before; and it would test his own control to give her a taste of what she claimed to want.
“You’re not saying anything.” Alessa’s shoulder’s slumped before her back went rigid and she pivoted to face him.
And there, etched on her pale face, was the one reason he couldn’t turn her down. She’d already braced for his refusal, for him to be the next person to turn his back on her. Enough people had rejected her; he couldn’t be another in a long line of inconsiderate jerks who hadn’t cared enough to give her what she needed.
“Does this mean you’re through testing me and you’ve concluded you can trust me?”
Her brows dipped in that cute frown again and he continued to find himself amused by her quirks and drawn to the woman they exposed. He could see she hadn’t expected him to catch on to what she was doing.
“What do you mean? You’re the one who’s testing me,” she returned with a defensive glare, a hint of pink staining her cheeks.
“Let’s see, I surmise you so rudely skipped our second appointment because you were waiting to see if I mentioned your visit to any of our mutual friends. Tuesday, my questioning brought up the past, and you suspected I saw beyond what little information you revealed. You thought to push me today by arriving late, and with attitude. How am I doing?”
And just like that, the shy, insecure Alessa returned and sought to flee instead of taking the risk of getting hurt again. “I can see you’re not happy with me.” She started for the door. “Thank you…”
“If your request was another test, I’m happy to say I’ll pass this one as well. Yes, I’ll tutor you however far you want to go.” And he’d begin by enforcing his rule, something his palm had been itching to do since she walked in with attitude written all over her. Since they were running past noon, he knew Barbara would have left for lunch already and they had the entire suite to themselves.
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