Giving In (Surrender Trilogy #2)


by Maya Banks

ONE

“YOU look like hell,” Jensen Tucker said bluntly from the doorway of Kylie Breckenridge’s office.

Kylie shot him a look that would have withered a lesser man. But Jensen was frustratingly unaffected by her icy demeanor around him. He acted as if he didn’t have a clue that he bugged the shit out of her. But no, she imagined he knew exactly how much he bothered her, and he just chose to ignore it. Stubborn, impossible, completely overbearing man. Precisely the kind of man she avoided at all costs.

Only he was her boss. That put another sour expression on her face. Carson had been her boss, he and Dash. And then when her brother had died three years ago, Dash had become her only boss and she had liked it that way.

Jensen should hire his own damn personal assistant, but he seemed perfectly content to dump his workload on Kylie and annoy the piss out of her in the process.

“Gee, thanks,” she said in a tone to match her glare. “Nice to know I pass muster around here.”

Jensen strolled into her office, uninvited. But then he’d never come in here if he waited for an invitation. Kylie had made it clear she didn’t want him anywhere near her. Another thing he chose to ignore.

He took a seat in one of the chairs in front of her desk, and she made a mental note to get rid of them. They were unnecessary. Jensen and Dash did all the entertaining of their clients. There wasn’t a need for anyone to ever enter her office. She did her job quietly and efficiently, never drawing attention to herself. Only for some reason, Jensen seemed determined to invade her personal space. A fact that had increasingly frustrated her in the weeks since he’d joined Dash in their consulting firm.

“You aren’t sleeping,” he said in that same straightforward tone he’d used to tell her she looked like hell.

His gaze penetrated her, raking over her features, and she knew what he saw. What she saw in the mirror every morning. Eyes haunted with the past. Deep shadows seemingly permanently etched underneath her eyes. She knew what she looked like. She didn’t need this arrogant ass**le to point it out to her.

“I wasn’t aware that my appearance or sleep habits in any way interfered with my duties here.”

Her sarcasm was wasted because Jensen just let it roll off him, much like he did everything else. Never once had she seen him express any sort of emotion. He didn’t get upset or angry but neither had she ever seen him express happiness or excitement. Nothing but that steady gaze that saw too much. Peeling back the layers of her skin—and her mind. She hated it. She felt like a bug under a microscope. She wouldn’t put it past him to know when she went to the damn bathroom.

He was a man who nothing escaped his notice. He was quiet, observant. He stood back and observed others. It suited him well for the career he’d chosen. But it discomfited her. He could save his scrutiny for the consulting jobs he and Dash took on. Those companies needed his unbiased and discerning eye. She sure as hell didn’t need it or want it.

“You do a damn fine job, Kylie. I don’t believe I’ve ever given you reason to doubt my confidence in your abilities. If I have, then I apologize. Dash and I would certainly be lost without you.”

She blinked in surprise over the unexpected praise, and unwanted color washed into her cheeks, warming her skin. She didn’t want to acknowledge the brief surge of pleasure his veiled compliment had brought.

“When was the last time you slept?” he asked pointedly, still staring at her, studying intently.

“Last night,” she said lightly. “Just like I do every night.”

“Bullshit.”

Her eyes widened at the growl in his voice.

“If you’re even getting a few hours of sleep I’d find that hard to believe. Why don’t you take some time off? Go somewhere. Relax. Take a vacation. Dash says you’ve never once taken off. Only when Carson died.”

Kylie flinched, unable to temper the surge of grief that hit her square in the chest.

“You can say it,” Jensen said in an almost brutal tone. “He’s dead, Kylie. Joss has moved on so why can’t you?”

She slapped her palms down on her desk and stood, staring him down, not giving a single inch.

“He was my family,” she hissed. “My only family. He was all I had left in the world. He was the only person who loved me, who protected me, and now he’s gone. If you think I can just blithely forget that and go on about my life like his death didn’t affect me, you can go to hell.”

“There. Finally some emotion, Kylie. Even if you’re spitting mad. But at least you’re not acting like some goddamn robot working on autopilot. Would it kill you to be human like the rest of us? Shit happens. You deal with it, pick up the pieces and move on. Just like everyone else in the human race. You aren’t special. You aren’t the only person who’s had a shitty past and who’s lost someone they love.”

Fury clouded her vision, making the room go hazy. Anger tightened every one of her features and for a moment she was paralyzed, unable to respond around the knot in her throat choking her.

“How dare you?” she raged. “Who the hell are you to judge me? You don’t know a goddamn thing about me. Get the hell out of my office and don’t come back. If you want or need something, you can damn well e-mail me, call me or text. But do not come back into my office.”

He didn’t react to her outburst. To her astonishment, a faint smile glimmered on his lips.

“I know a hell of a lot more about you than you think. But you’re right. I don’t know everything. But I plan to change that. Starting now. You and I are going to be working very closely over the next few weeks because Dash and Joss are going on their honeymoon. We’re trying to land a contract with Simpson & Gerrick Oil and it’s a big one. They’re downsizing and they want to cut the fat. Get rid of the unproductive workers. Rearrange duties. Decide who goes and who stays. And that’s going to fall on you and me.”

Kylie’s eyes widened. “I don’t have any experience in handling that. I work in the background, Jensen. You know that. I run the office. You and Dash are the cutthroats.”

“And you don’t have the heart for it, do you, Kylie?”

She flushed. Admitting her weaknesses wasn’t on her top-ten list of things to reveal.

“You act the bitch. You come across as abrasive, even to the people who love you. I wonder why? Are you so afraid of loving someone, of getting close to someone and losing them like you lost Carson? Because you don’t fool me, Kylie. Not in the least. Underneath that tough-as-nails exterior lies a vulnerable, bighearted woman and she’s who I want to pull out. And I will. Take it to the bank, sweetheart. You and I are going to be seeing a lot more of one another so get used to it.”

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