By: Penny Wylder

“Just doing my job, Ms...” He pauses. Catches my eye and holds it for a long moment, as he gently lowers me onto the seat. I collapse onto it, trying to hide my relief as I finally let my legs relax. They did not want to keep holding me upright, not after all that. “Clove,” he amends, gaze still fixed on me.

I fight the urge to shiver. His voice is a deep baritone, the New York accent sexy on him.

“Your job shouldn’t have to involve fending off crazy attackers,” I reply with a sigh. “Sorry about him.”

“Don’t you dare apologize,” he says, nearly cutting me off. He looks dead serious as he glances over my head, and I know he’s looking back through the glass windows at where Dick was a moment ago. “I see shitheads like him all the time—drunk stockbroker trust fund kids who think they deserve whatever they want.” He glances back at me. “Or whoever.”

I grimace and bite the inside of my lip. “The worst part is, I’m not even sure that was the worst first date I’ve ever been on.”

I expect him to laugh, but instead, he only looks angrier. He takes a seat next to me on the settee, shaking his head.

“Men in this city can be absolute scum. They don’t know how to treat a real woman.”

I swallow hard. Suddenly, with him so close beside me, it’s getting difficult to focus. My blood is still pumping hard, the adrenaline making my hands quivery, my feet feel numb and a little shaky. Though, it might not all be adrenaline from Dick’s attack anymore. It’s hard to tell, what with the way my hormones are reacting to the heat pouring off of Zayne’s body and the proximity of his strong arms, his biceps visible through his uniform shirt.

I force myself to shrug, playing it nonchalant. “There are assholes everywhere, I guess.”

“Not like here,” he scowls. “And you shouldn’t have to deal with them, anyway. You don’t deserve that.” He casts a sideways glance at me, our eyes locking once more. “You deserve a man who treats you right. Someone who understands your value. Who knows what a woman like you needs.”

“And what’s that?” I ask. Somehow, my voice has dropped to a whisper. I don’t remember giving it permission to do that. Then again, I don’t remember leaning toward Zayne either, and I don’t remember giving myself permission to stare at his lips, just inches away from mine, slightly parted as though he’s about to say something else—or maybe just close the gap between us and crush his lips against mine, kiss me until I forget about tonight.

“Respect,” he replies. His eyes dip down a little too, glancing at my mouth, then back to my eyes. I lick my lips and his eyes flicker again. “Care. Whatever you desire, honestly.”

My throat feels tight, my mouth dry. I suck in a deep breath of air and turn my head a little, glance around the lobby, mostly for an excuse to break the tension between us. But dammit, his scent follows me. He smells amazing—like pine needles and crisp fall air, and something else under it all, something heady and masculine and entirely him.

“Yeah. Well,” I say, eyes still on the empty lobby. “Guys like that are in short supply.”

“Depends where you look,” he says, and I can still feel his eyes on me, burning into me, even without looking at him. It’s a physical sensation, as if he’s touching me, caressing me with his gaze.

“Definitely not where I met him,” I say with a half-laugh. “Stupid dating app.”

Zayne laughs. Damn him, even his laugh is sexy, full-throated, and deep. “Which app are you using?” he asks.

I tell him, and in response, he pulls out his phone and unlocks the screen. Shows me the same app on his background.

This time, I laugh too. “Had any better luck with the ladies on there than I have with the guys?”

He smirks. “Well, I can’t say any women have stalked me home after dates,” he admits. Then shakes his head. “But no, I haven’t exactly met a lot of decent matches lately.”

“Do share. Maybe it’ll help me feel better about my abysmal luck.”

He laughs and leans back on the settee. “Oh god, where to start. There was the girl who asked me to sign an NDA before we could start dating—she brought triplicate copies to the bar.”

I burst out laughing.

His grin widens as he thinks back. “Hmm, and then there was the woman wearing a wedding ring. When I called her out on it, she insisted it was a fake diamond, that she just wears it to fend off guys hounding her. Sure, lady. And then one girl spent the whole date showing me photos of her five cats…”