**No Amazon e-book preorder.
Will go live on/around release day
Copyright © 2022 Penelope Ward
“What do you do exactly?”
“I…stand beside you and rub my hands into your skin and work to get some of the knots out of your muscles.”
He shook his head. “No. I meant, what do you do? Is this your full-time gig?”
Is that an insult? “Yes. I went to school for massage after college, and I make a good living. Being a massage therapist is not something you do on the side. It’s a great, fulfilling career in and of itself,” I said defensively.
“I didn’t mean to imply it wasn’t.” He fidgeted with his watch, which looked like it cost more than my car.
I blew out a breath. “I do have other aspirations, but this pays the bills and allows me to put some money away, too. I’m currently saving for a trip to Europe.”
“I see.” He stared out the window, almost looking as though he wanted to escape.
What’s with this guy? “Look…I can leave if you’re not comfortable.”
“No.” He walked over to a cabinet and took out a bottle of some kind of liquor. “I just need something to take the edge off.” He poured himself a glass of amber-colored liquid.
I stared at his big, masculine hands. “Well, this is a first.”
“A first what?” he asked.
“The first time a client has ever had to relax before a relaxing massage.” When I laughed, I accidentally snorted.
His eyes narrowed. “What the hell was that?”
“Sorry. I didn’t mean to snort. That happens sometimes when I’m nervous. It just comes out.”
“Why are you nervous?”
“Maybe your attitude is rubbing off on me.”
He chugged the alcohol and slammed the glass down. “I’m sorry. I don’t know how to relax. It’s my nature. Even when I’m supposed to be freaking relaxing…the thought of relaxing stresses me out.”
I nodded. “That’s actually a real thing. It’s called relaxation-induced anxiety.”
He chuckled. “Thanks for the diagnosis.”
“I used to be like you. I’d get panic attacks from the quiet when I tried to meditate.”
He licked the side of his mouth. “I suppose that defeats the purpose.”
“Exactly. And sitting still, like in the hair salon or dentist’s chair, used to make me panicky when I was younger.”
“Younger? You’re pretty young. How long have you been doing this massage thing?” he asked.
“A couple of years.”
“What made you get into it?”
“I wanted to make people feel good. And it doesn’t bore me. I never have to be in one place.”
“Does it pay well? How much of the fee do you get to keep?”
My eyes narrowed. “You ask a lot of questions.”
“Well, maybe I need to get comfortable with you before I let you put your hands all over me.”
For some reason that comment rubbed me the wrong way. Let me put my hands on him? As if it was a privilege? (As if he could read my mind and sense my attraction? Ugh.)
I raised my voice. “I thought you told the company someone recommended me. Why are you so apprehensive?”
“Okay.” He sighed, scrubbing his hand over his face. “Let’s get this over with. What do I do?”
Jesus. He’s wound tight. “Take off your shirt and lie down on the table. You can leave your pants on or take them off.”
He let out a guttural laugh. “Take my pants off?”
“Yes. That’s actually customary. But it’s always the client’s choice. I can leave the room, if you wish, while you undress. There’s a towel to cover yourself. But you can totally leave your pants on, too.”
“I will be leaving my pants on, thanks.”
“Okay. Just make sure you take the stick out of your ass one way or the other.”
He glared at me but finally cracked a slight smile. I’d take it.
I laughed. “In all seriousness, just breathe. That’s all you need to worry about.” I took a deep breath in, willing myself to take my own advice.
Dax slowly pulled his shirt over his head, once again granting me a view of his rippled muscles. There wasn’t an inch of anything soft on his body. I turned away suddenly when I caught my eyes lingering a little too long.
He then lay down stomach-first on the table and within seconds, I heard the pitter-patter of paws and the clanking of a metal collar coming from down the hall.
A large English sheepdog pushed through the door and entered the room, barking profusely at the sight of me. Then he jumped up on the table and landed on Dax’s back.
“Damn it, Winston!” Dax yelled.
I didn’t even know a dog that big could jump so high. The dog shot me the evil eye.
This house is just full of welcoming people.
“Hello,” I said awkwardly.
He growled. It seemed Doggy was just as extra as his owner.
“Get off me, you fluffernutter!” Dax groaned.
The dog kept growling at me while I covered my mouth to keep from laughing. “Why is
he so angry?” I asked, trying to stifle my amusement.
“He’s protective to a fault. He was napping upstairs when you arrived. I hoped he’d stay sleeping. I hadn’t planned on him coming down, although I should’ve.”
Dax sat up and somehow got the beast of a dog off him. He hopped down off the table. “I’ll be right back,” he said, guiding Winston out of the room and down the hall.
The sound of the collar disappeared into the distance.
Left alone for a moment, I exhaled and wandered over to a shelf that displayed various things, including a large, white seashell that seemed completely out of place, given the room’s otherwise masculine vibe. It was beautiful. Remembering what my mother had told me when I was little, I lifted the shell and placed it against my ear in an attempt to hear “the ocean.” Met with the ambient noise that resonated from within, I closed my eyes and smiled.
“Please don’t touch that,” Dax called from behind me.
Shaken by his abrupt tone, I jerked, and the shell slipped from my fingers and crashed to the ground.
He let out a jarring shriek.
My hands shook. “I’m so sorry… I…” I bent to clean up the pieces, but he bolted to stop me.
“Don’t touch anything!” His tone was grating.
“Why? It’s my fault,” I insisted.
“Please just get up,” he commanded in an even harsher tone.
Burning with embarrassment, I stared down at the mess. That’s when I realized something had fallen out of the shell.