Copyright © 2011 Corrina Lawson
All rights reserved — a Samhain Publishing, Ltd. publication
“I’ve heard all about psychologists from Daz, about how they spin your head around, find ways to twist words and declare people unfit for duty.”
Beth breathed an inward sigh of relief. He objected to her being a psychologist. He didn’t suspect what else she was. “Who’s Daz?”
“F-Team’s leader, my commander.” Alec stepped closer, tapping the notebook against his hip.
She backpedaled automatically, then wished she hadn’t given ground. Still, avoiding confrontation was right until she had the full story behind his hostility. No surprise that Alec’s assault team commander didn’t like psychologists. Few soldiers did.
“Ah. And does Daz approve of trying to bully people who are shorter and obviously less gifted than you?”
Alec backed up, giving her space again.
“You don’t look too concerned.”
“Why would you want to intimidate me? Obviously, I can’t hurt you.” She rubbed her neck again.
“Yeah, you can. You write a bad report and recommend me out of F-Team, then I’m out.”
He thought she had the power to do that? No wonder he was hostile. “Who told you that would happen?”
“I was ordered here. I can read between the lines.” He covered her scarf with the notebook in his other hand. “Besides, you’re a shrink.”
“So I’m going to make your head smaller?”
He smiled, despite himself. It was a charming smile. “No, I just—”
“Have an aversion to psychologists? Or to small women?” She pointed at his hand. “Or to silk scarves?”
“How about people who manipulate me? Like you’re doing with all these questions. Like—” He shook his head and let the sentence hang in the air.
Had he been about to say “like Richard Lansing”? Lansing was the head of the Resource, and Beth guessed he was behind Alec’s hostility. Lansing had been furious that the CIA had used its leverage with the Resource to order Alec into counseling. What would be the best way to sabotage that counseling? Exactly this, by making Alec too angry to listen to her.
No wonder Alec had a thing against people who manipulated him.
Alec tossed the notebook back onto the coffee table. It hit with a clunk and slid several inches. He kept the scarf wrapped around his hand. She kept her chair between them.
“You’re operating under a false impression,” she said. “I can’t force you to work with me. You don’t have to do this.”
“Of course I have to do this.” He leaned over the back of the other chair.
“Lansing thinks it’s necessary.”
She’d guessed right. Lansing had set her up. “Your foster father? He can force you into things?”
“Yes. No. I mean, sorta.”
“What things can he force you into?” Good, Alec resented his situation. As well he should.
“Look, he’s got my best interests at heart.”
Beth was sure that Lansing had Lansing’s best interests at heart. But Alec needed to find that out for himself. “What makes you believe that?”
“He raised me. He taught me to use my fire as a child, when it was out of control. He made me what I am.”
She nodded, hoping to encourage more conversation.
But Alec broke eye contact and stared at the bowl of M&Ms on the coffee table between the two chairs.
“So you’re saying that I can just ask and you’ll leave and I’ll never see you again?”
She nodded again. “You’re my client. I can’t treat you without your consent, no matter what Director Lansing wants. If you decide that you don’t want my help, this will be our only session, as much as that would disappoint me.”
Disappoint didn’t begin to cover it. She needed to help Alec get out of his lifelong prison. But she couldn’t force this on him. That would be exchanging one prison for another.
“We’ll see.” He flopped into the chair and tore a piece of paper from her notepad. “I was just fooling with the scarf.” He held up his hand. “Watch.”
He crumpled the paper in his hand and concentrated. It erupted in flames. Power seemed to burst outward from him. Her face flushed. A second later, the fire went out. He opened his palm and let the paper’s ashes fall on the table.
My God. Beth was reminded of the original meaning of “awesome”. The inspiration of awe. During that demonstration, Alec had looked like a god come down from Mount Olympus, smiling as he showed off to lesser mortals.
“The power you have is frightening to a lot of people, I imagine. I can see why their reactions would bother you.” Did everyone sense that burst of power when Alec used his fire? Philip hadn’t mentioned it. He wouldn’t let her walk in blind. That meant he didn’t sense it.
So why did she feel it?
“The idiot CIA liaison on the last mission freaked about my fire,” Alec said.
“And you didn’t handle that well, which is why I’m here.”
“You didn’t freak.”
“Why should I? Your fire seemed perfectly under control.”
“It was.” He frowned. “You’re not being straight with me. You have orders from Lansing to treat me, no matter what. So you have to do that, no matter what.”
She shrugged. “Orders or no, Lansing already knows that I can’t treat you without your consent. I only wish—”
She glanced away from him, just for a second, to the camera hidden near the window, cursing again that this couldn’t be a real session. But there had been no choice. No cameras, no getting to Alec at all.
“Um, I’m a little out of my element,” she said. “As you said, I’m from outside. I’m used to working in my own office.”
“We have to meet here. I need security around me for my protection.”
“So I understand. The security procedures to get inside this complex are impressive.” They’d done everything but body-search her.
“Where’s your office?”
“Not far. About forty minutes away, in Montclair.”
“That’s a little south of here? Closer to New York?”
“Yes,” she said. “Alec?”
“Have you decided if you want to work with me?”
He tapped his fingertips on the armrest. “Assuming I agree to be your client, what exactly would we be doing?”
She came around from the back of the chair, sat and leaned forward, resting her elbows on her thighs. Now, they were getting somewhere.
“My plan is practical application. Role playing, anticipating future situations, like how to defuse personal issues without violence.” Such as finding a better way to show annoyance than burning paper to intimidate a psychologist half his size.
“For a start, we can go over the situations where you’ve had trouble in the past and sort out where you could have made different choices.” She crossed her legs, relaxing back in the chair, trying to appear more in control than she felt. “But before that, you need to give me back my scarf.” She put out her hand.
“Don’t you want to probe my confused psyche? Ask me a bunch of how-do-I-feel questions?”
“Would you like me to do that, Alec?”
He narrowed his eyes, then smiled as he realized she was kidding.
“Role playing sounds like simulated training. That’s okay. But I want to know more about you.”
“I’m close to my doctorate in psychology and I mostly work with gifted teens and young adults.” And I’m here to help you, even if you wouldn’t think of it as help yet.
“You don’t look old enough to have a doctorate,” he said.
She smiled. “I’m two years older than you are.”
“I’d have pegged you as twenty, not twenty-five.”
“I get that a lot.”
“Can I call you Beth?”
“Beth is too informal.”
“You’ve been calling me by my first name.”
He noticed everything. “You have a point. All right, try ‘counselor’. It’s close enough.”
“Okay, then, counselor.”
He unwrapped the scarf from his hand and held it out to her. His larger, stronger fingers brushed against her shorter, more delicate fingertips as the silk slid from his hand into hers.
The nerves at the base of her skull exploded, sending what felt like an electric current through her spine and down to her toes. It enveloped her like a living thing, a concentrated stream of the same power she’d sensed from him the entire session.
Save that this power aroused her. Every nerve seemed blown wide open, raw with longing.
More, please. No, wait…
Alec jerked back abruptly into his chair, his shoes scraping against the carpet, and rubbed his palm.
She froze and wasn’t entirely sure she could have moved if she wanted. She tried to breathe normally. What the hell had he done? Judging by his reaction, Alec didn’t know either.
“Is something wrong?” The scarf still dangled from her hand. Her voice worked. Surprising, especially since the rest of her felt completely stunned.
He darted a glance at the camera. “No, nothing’s wrong, other than that I didn’t expect you to have such soft hands.” He grinned. “And you’re very pretty. Such a cute little button nose. Nice eyes too.”
She got the message. Play this down for Lansing and his watchers. “Thank you.” She sat back in the chair, the energy from their touch fading. Good. Being aroused by a client was right up there on the list of things that shouldn’t happen. Ever.
But she’d never felt that alive before.