I turned to the door. I always kept it ajar when expecting a client, to give the impression that I was open to whatever they needed to talk about. It was a subliminal thing.
Travis stood in the frame, his wide shoulders filling the space, the top of his head almost brushing the wood and his jawline holding a heavy sprinkle of black stubble.
Fuck, he should come with a warning. Hazard to the health of every female heart. He looked good enough to eat, or lick all over at the very least. Tasty.
“Knock, knock,” he said, slipping his gaze down my body.
“Come in. Take a seat.” I gestured to the couch and made a point of not letting my attention slide over his body. I didn’t need to look at soft blue jeans worn in all the right places or at his black polo top with a Nike logo just over his right nipple to imagine what was beneath them. I took a deep breath to stop myself doing just that. His physical attributes weren’t my concern, it was his mind I was after.
He shut the door and sat sideways on the low S curve of the black leather recliner, his long legs folding over and his knees coming up high.
“Please,” I said. “Lie back, make yourself comfortable.” I took a seat on a soft chair just to his left and crossed my legs.
Damn, I hadn’t realized how short this tight little red skirt was. Quickly I uncrossed, then started to worry there was a gap between my knees that would flash the top of my stockings or worse, what was between them. Hurriedly I pressed my notebook over my lap, resisted a squirm and forced a gentle smile at Travis.
“You wear glasses,” he said.
“Contacts usually.” I touched the black frames and pressed them up the bridge of my nose a fraction.
“You were in a hurry this morning then?” He frowned, as though irritated by me being in a hurry.
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“You were in a rush to get to work?”
“Not especially, it’s just the heat and being tired, it’s made my eyes a little sensitive. I thought it best to opt for my glasses when I left home this morning.”
“So you slept at home last night?”
“Pardon?” I creased my brow in confusion.
His fists were clenched and a muscle twitched in his jawline. “You slept at home then and not at…?”
I struggled to keep the surprise out of my expression. Bloody hell, was he getting at what I thought he was? Did he want to know if I’d slept at Peter’s?
His dark eyes were boring into me; they were deep chocolate-brown, almost black. Annoyance swirled in their depths, so did a curious certainty that I’d answer his question. He was definitely a man who was used to getting what he wanted.
Well, I supposed he would again now, because if he didn’t chill out we’d get nowhere and I had things to start work on. Plus I hadn’t slept with Peter. I wasn’t a to-bed-on-the-first-date kind of woman, so what was the harm in being truthful? “Yes, I slept at home last night.” I opened my notepad, clicked the spring on my ball-point pen and tilted my chin. “Alone.” I caught his steady gaze. Yes, I’d told him something he had no right to wonder about. But by telling Travis what he appeared to want to know, he owed me something in the confessing stakes.
He nodded slowly, then lifted his legs and did as I’d asked, lay back on the chair and settled his gaze over the L.A. skyline.
“And what about you?” I asked, watching as he unfurled his fists and rested his hands over his flat belly. “Did you sleep alone?”
He frowned. “You know I did.”
“No I don’t.”
“I was eating alone, Marie. You saw me.”
“Yes. I did. But you could have been heading out to meet someone or catching up with other players. I’m not a mind-reader.”
I waited for him to elaborate on our chance encounter or offer some information on the rest of his evening. He didn’t.
“In these sessions, Travis, it’s important for me to know who else is in your life, who you hang out with, who you share your thoughts and feelings with.”
“You have everything you need to know in my file.”
“Your file is full of facts. I’m more interested in the non-tangible things.”
“Things like who your special someone is.”
He sucked in a breath, rolled his lips in on themselves and stared out the window.
“Have you left someone you care about back in England?” I asked gently.
“I think this is all very much beyond the realms of what we’re supposed to be doing here.” He’d fisted his fingers again and shifted his right foot irritably, as though kicking something away. I wondered if he was imagining it was my head.
“It’s up to us to decide what we want to do with our time together, Travis. We can talk about your accident or cognitive methods for keeping calm and focused under pressure, or you can unload all the stuff that fills your mind and stops you from being able to concentrate on court. Entirely up to you.”
“Great, in that case we won’t discuss my love life. It really is the last thing that plays on my mind when I’m beating an opponent into submission.”
Okay, now was the time to play my trump card. “Yet you feel it necessary to ask me about my love life.”
“You didn’t have to answer.”
“No, I didn’t, but you wanted to know, and since we’re stuck with each other for three hours a week for the foreseeable future I figured it would make sense for us to know a little about each other’s lives.”
“So now we do. I know you’re dating my coach and he wants to get into your knickers, and you know I sleep alone and have done for a long time now.” He paused. “Too long.”
Great, now we were getting somewhere. “And would you like that to change?”
He sighed and shoved his hand through his hair. I watched the black strands feather through his fingers and an image of myself doing that to him as he kissed down my sternum, onto my stomach, lower, suddenly stole into my mind.
I tightened my legs together. Felt a pleasurable little rush of heat in my lower abdomen. No. That was a ridiculous thing to daydream about. Travis Connolly was not only way out of my league, he was also a surly grump. Sitting here talking to him was stretching seconds into minutes.
“Are you asking me if I want to get married?” he asked, his gaze slipping to my chest.
Damn it, my nipples were tingling now.
“No, not at all. Simply wondering if you feel your career allows you to have a romantic relationship or if it’s something you’ve sacrificed in the name of tennis.”
“I’ve sacrificed lots of things to be number one seed.”
He twitched his shoulders as if suggesting those things were insignificant to him. The mere fact he made that micro movement told me they weren’t.
“Like what?” I asked.
He finally shifted his attention from my chest and let out a long breath. “I didn’t go to uni like a lot of my friends did so I missed out on the whole student experience. I’ve had to turn down countless invitations to parties, weddings, etcetera over the years because I’ve been playing on the other side of the world. And yes, occasionally I’ve felt that I haven’t been in a situation where I could be with someone I wanted to spend more time with.”
“That must be hard. Especially if those people you wanted to be with were important to you.”
“Yes, it was, but they understood and moved on.”
“They moved on?”
“Yes.” He tightened his lips into a thin line and stared out the window.
“It’s important,” I said, “to have love and support from those you care about.”
He shrugged. “Important but not essential.”
“What do you mean?”
He stared at me again, my face this time. “I don’t need anyone, Marie. I can do this alone. I’m used to relying on me.” He jabbed his thumb at his chest. “Even if I was in a relationship, that wouldn’t change. I would still be relying on myself, day in day out.”
“Most people believe that having a partner means you don’t feel alone, that you don’t need to be so brutally dependent on yourself and problems encountered through life are halved.”
“I’m not most people.”
Boy, did I agree with that. “In which case, Travis, you’re very lucky to feel that way.” I paused to let my acknowledgement of his statement sink in. “Has it changed though, that sense of absolute self-reliance, since the accident?”
“No, why would it?” He frowned.
“Sometimes it does when you have a near-death experience.”
He laughed. “It was hardly a near-death experience. I think you’re being a bit dramatic for the sake of justifying your job.”
I didn’t need to justify anything but I let him have that one, for now. “You told me all about it in our last session, Travis. It sounded pretty terrifying. If I’d been knocked unconscious, broken my ribs and then been strapped to a board and blue-lighted to hospital I would certainly wonder whether or not I’d survive and if I did how my life might be changed.”
“I did survive, and my life hasn’t changed.” He rolled his eyes, letting me know he thought I was talking rubbish.
“But you’re here, in L.A.”
“Well yes, but only to get back to peak fitness and then I’ll reclaim my titles and it will be as if the accident never happened.”
“I hope that’s exactly what the next few months bring for you.” I smiled to defuse the tension.
“They will.” He folded his arms. “My sponsors are paying good money for that to happen.”
“A place like this doesn’t come cheap.” I paused. “And has the fracture site been giving you any pain while you’ve been at Los Carlos?”
He cocked his eyebrows. “What has that got to do with my mental state and all this psychobabble of yours?”
God, it was like drawing blood from a stone. I was certainly earning my money here. “Pain affects the body, yes, but also the mind. I’m just wondering if you’re still suffering any twinges.”
“And if you were you’d tell your doctor?”
“Good, because all pain is bad for your psychological health as well as your physical.” I crossed my ankles and tapped my heel on the wooden floor.
He looked at my feet. “Do you really think so?”
“That all pain is bad?”
“Yes, it’s the body’s warning system to let you know something is wrong.”
“Or right,” he said quietly, his lips barely moving, his attention rising from my feet to my face.
“I’m not following you.”
He sat and swung his feet to the floor. Rubbed his hand down his cheek and around his chin,; the stubble making a rasping sound against his palm.
“Travis?” I said, closing the notebook and hoping that would send a signal that whatever he wanted to tell me would be off the record. Was he still suffering when he was training? Had he not healed properly? If so that was something we needed to take very seriously.
He stared at me, almost as if he was angry that I’d made him think of something, then stood, walked to the window and surveyed L.A.
I couldn’t help but ogle his cute behind. I knew what his arse looked like naked but bloody hell, he could fill out a pair of jeans to perfection. His tennis gear looked amazing on him but jeans, especially a pair that suggested he’d spent many an hour lounging in them, were enough to actually make my mouth water.
He placed his hands on his hips, kept his back to me. “Come here, Marie.”
“Why?” I looked at the back of his head, how his dark hair sat like silken fingers on his collar.
“Do as I ask.”
I was about to retort that I’d do no such thing. I was his psychologist and I’d stay in my chair, but something in me wanted to comply with his request. Perhaps it was the way he’d said it, as if I had no choice but to go to him, or maybe it was some kind of magnetism his sexy aura gave off that pulled me in like a fish on a line.
Placing the notebook and pen on the chair, I moved to the window and stood next to him, about a foot away.
“Some people like pain,” he said, still not looking at me.
“Masochists you mean?”
“Yes, I suppose.”
Shit, was he trying to tell me that he enjoyed the pain the accident had left him with? If so, we really needed to discuss this. “That’s not the majority of people though.”
“No, but more than you think. And some people like administering pain.” He turned to me, cocked his head slightly and moved into the space I’d left between us.
I looked into his eyes. Swallowed and tasted his cologne as it traveled into my nostrils and then laced my tongue. “Would you consider them to be good people, Travis? These individuals that like to hurt others.”
“I’ve known a few people who like to give and receive higher sensations, and most of them I consider to be good friends as well as good people.”
I hesitated, felt his body heat radiating toward me, wrapping around me as I pondered his words. We were close, very close, and his consuming presence made logical thinking much harder than normal. “I’m not quite sure what you’re telling me.”
“You talk about pain like it’s a bad thing, Marie.”
He smiled but it wasn’t a sweet smile, more like one of a hunter who’d spotted prey.
“Pain is unpleasant for a reason,” I said. “Because it’s bad.”
“I disagree.” He raised his eyebrows and widened his eyes. It was a challenging, cocky gesture.
A tingle snaked its way up my spine and threatened to wreak havoc in my body by turning into a tremble. But I beat it down. I wouldn’t let a patient get to me this way. I was the one supposed to be holding the reins here.
“Maybe, Marie, you should open your mind to new ideas with a little more grace.”
“I fail to see how I haven’t been graceful in discussing your theory that pain is good.”
“Can we keep it that way?”
“I hope so.”
“In that case,” he flicked his attention from my eyes and looked at my hair, “would you like me to demonstrate?”
Damn, the guy made me feel tiny. Even though I was wearing heels, his broad chest and wide shoulders were looming over me. “Okay.”
He twitched the right side of his mouth into a half-smile. Now he looked like a hunter who’d captured his prey. A trickle of fight or flight seeped into my system. Which would be my best option?
“Now that’s the first rule.” He reached up and undid the clasp holding my hair on the top of my head. It tumbled around my shoulders as the clasp fell to the floor. “Consent.”
“Doesn’t consent require knowing what you’re agreeing to?” Fuck, with him this close and stroking my hair, spreading it out, I’d pretty much agree to anything. Who was I kidding? Fight or flight was not an option, the only thing that shot through my mind was giving myself over to him. Allowing him to do whatever he wanted, control my body, feed it what it needed.
Damn, it had been too long since I’d been with a man. It was making me desperate.
He slotted his other hand over the left side of my head, the sound of him sliding his fingers over the shell of my ear noisy. My breath hitched and I locked my knees to stabilize my stance. I stared up at him, noting the small shafts of black hair sneaking out of his skin on his chin and the way his bottom lip was a little plumper than the top.
“You see, some pain,” he said, gathering my hair up at my crown and tugging to create tension on the roots, “can heighten the awareness of everything else going on in the body.”
He pulled harder, forcing my head to tip back.
I gasped as discomfort shot across my scalp.
He increased the pressure a little more.
I reached out and clutched at his shirt, felt his hard chest beneath. “Travis, I—”
“Shh, I’m just showing you.” He slipped his arm around my waist, dragged me close and yanked my hair, really hard.
“Ow, I—” A barrage of sensations blasted through my system. The feel of him pressing up against me, hot hard male, all wide pecs and solid thighs. The pain from having my hair tugged with force, and the awareness that my belly was shoved right up against his groin. A groin that held a wedge of thick flesh.
“Just feel,” he whispered, hovering his lips over mine. “Endorphins are rushing into your bloodstream, giving you a natural high as pain alerts your nerve endings that something exciting is happening.” He slid his free hand up my back, tracing the outline of my spine through my blouse.
I breathed in the air he was breathing out, warm and sweet. The scream of hurt in my scalp made me want to wriggle but being held so firmly and confidently kept me still. The heat of the discomfort slipped down my nape and neck and over my shoulders, then combined with the lovely sensation of him stroking my back.
“Can you feel it?” he whispered. “Pain mixing with pleasure, the lines between the two blurring.”
I could feel it with every fiber of my being. My skin was alive with awareness, my breasts were heavy and desperate for stimulation, and between my legs I was buzzing for action. Good, hard man action, preferably of the naked, sweaty variety. “Yes,” I gasped.