Buy in eBook Now!
eBook ISBN: 978-1-941785-21-8
Buy in Print Now!
Print ISBN: Rereleased Print Edition Coming Soon
Buy in Audio Book Now!
Copyright © 2009 Jayne Rylon
Dr. Kurt Foster revolted against the ultimatum his colleague, Dr. Luke Malone, had just delivered on behalf of the Elembreth University Psychology Board. Kurt shook his head then continued, “I won’t do it.”
“Don’t make this harder than it already is, Kurt. You no longer have a choice.”
He registered the genuine regret in Luke’s expression when the other man slid the rejected paperwork across the glossy surface of Kurt’s desk.
“They denied your plea. There are consequences to decking James, even if the bastard deserved it.”
Kurt yanked open a drawer, dumped the folder inside then slammed it shut, wincing as he flexed his scabbed knuckles. “She’s been violated once. I won’t let her be subjected to it again without her permission.”
“Calm down. I admit it’s not typical procedure but I’m here to do the only thing in my control to prevent the board from kicking your ass out and firing you from the job you love.” Luke inhaled, his gaze darting away for a moment. “The board has ruled. You’re to conduct the Dream Machine experiment with Rebecca.”
“Yes, sir, Mr. Board President.” Kurt sneered. Luke didn’t deserve his foul mood but he couldn’t suppress the urge to swipe at someone while everything he’d built crumbled around him. He shoved back then began to pace, scrubbing his hands through his hair. “Damn! I don’t mean that, Luke. I just…”
“I know.” Of course the renowned psychologist understood. “You feel guilty because her dreams were invaded, because watching them made you want her more and because you’re afraid she’s not ready. But you have an impeccable record. You know I think of you as a brother, but I’m speaking for the board when I say you’re the right man for this job. This is the only opportunity you have for a true control. You’d never be allowed a blind trial if Dr. Dipshit hadn’t broken into your lab. He proved it’s safe. And that Rebecca wants this. You starred in every single wild dream of hers. She needs you.”
The fury Kurt hadn’t succeeded in pounding out on James prohibited him from answering. He’d never intended his invention to be used like this. As a leader in the field of sexual therapy and repression research, he strived to help people, not hurt them.
Two nights ago, he’d forgotten to lock the damn door to his private laboratory, which adjoined the university practice. His assistant, Rebecca Williams, had paid the price for his moment of carelessness. And she didn’t even know it yet.
Now, he had to fix it.
If he didn’t agree to the board’s demands, they would find someone else to take his place. Probably Luke. Jealousy sealed his fate.
Defeated, he sank into the plush leather desk chair.
“How’s this going to work?”
“The board is giving you seven days to prove the Dream Machine is a viable treatment for sexual repression. They agreed to allow you to operate without a witness in person, but you have to record the proceedings for me to review each day. If you tell her about the break-in, the board will terminate the study. I won’t be able to intervene to protect you again. You’ll bring her to a board meeting midway through to present your progress. If they see merit in the work, they’ll allow you to continue to completion.”
Kurt knew Luke well enough to identify the heat layered beneath concern in the other man’s eyes. He growled low in his throat. “Don’t be thinking about her like that.”
A rich laugh rumbled from Luke as a wicked grin spread across his face. “I admit it. I’m envious. Just think, this is your golden chance to have her without ruining your working relationship. She’s not the innocent young woman you first met as your student. She’s about to graduate at the top of her class and, no one knows better than you, her stellar performance in the university psychology intern program makes her a clear candidate for a permanent position.”
The knot of worry, frustration, anger and betrayal lodged in Kurt’s gut loosened for a moment. “Does that mean my nomination was voted on?”
Luke confirmed the only good news he’d had today. “The board agreed this experience will complete her training. If she can learn to cope with her emotions instead of repressing them, their last reservations on her character will be invalidated. If the experiment is successful, and if she accepts the position, the board will appoint her as your partner. The decision was unanimous.”
“Then it’s a deal.” Kurt would do whatever necessary to ensure Becca’s dream came true. It was the least he could do. “But how the hell am I going to get her to agree to be my subject without filling her in on the details? I won’t do this without her consent.”
The wattage of Luke’s smile doubled. That look had lured in many willing women over the years they’d been friends. It appeared charming but the devilish smirk meant he’d been up to no good.
“Shit, you already started didn’t you?” Kurt groaned.
“Let’s say the wheels are in motion. She’ll come to you. Soon.”
“Don’t tell me. I don’t want to know.” Kurt rose, shaking his head.
Luke met him halfway around the desk then clapped his hand on Kurt’s bruised shoulder. They walked side by side toward the office door. “Call me when you have the first stage finished then I’ll gather the board. And please, be careful.”
“Got it. Luke…” Kurt pivoted, tempted to hug the man who’d been his closest friend for years. After a brief but awkward silence, he settled for silent communication. “Thanks.”
Luke responded with a tiny nod before slipping into the lobby.
By four o’clock in the afternoon, it’d already been a long day for Rebecca Williams.
Well, two days. She’d pulled an all-nighter studying, then taken her early morning final exam before going straight to work at the clinic. Dr. Foster was booked solid, which meant a lot of prep work for her. There hadn’t even been a second to talk to him about the memo on her desk. As soon as he finished his meeting with Dr. Malone, she’d do it.
She promised herself she wouldn’t back down.
Her pencil paused in mid cross-through on the last item of her to-do list when the front door burst open. A woman barged into the lobby, her eyes puffy and red from crying. Mussed hair stood out from her scalp as though she’d run her hands through it a million times.
“Mrs. Henderson?” Rebecca hardly recognized the disheveled woman. She jumped to her feet, meeting the woman halfway. “What’s wrong?”
The woman rushed straight to her and flung her arms around Rebecca. “I caught Jim with some piece of trash. In our room. Right on my own bed.” The words were muffled against Rebecca’s shoulder. Sobs wracked her body. Steering her down the hall, Rebecca led Mrs. Henderson to privacy in a vacant patient room.
“Everything’s going to be all right. Have a seat and I’ll get Dr. Foster. It’ll be just a moment.” Rebecca helped the woman to the chair while she tried to soothe her with a calm voice.
“No! Don’t go. I’d rather talk to you.” Mrs. Henderson grabbed her hand, preventing her from turning away. “Please.”
How could she deny the woman?
“Of course.” She settled on the adjoining chair, Mrs. Henderson still grasping her hand like a lifeline. “Where would you like to start?”
Rebecca updated Mrs. Henderson’s case file with the details of their session when her cell blasted the shrill emergency ring associated with her sister. She dove for her purse then dug out her phone. Can this day get any worse?
“Calm down, Elsa.” Rebecca quieted her hysterical younger sister over the phone. “I think everything’s going to work out. I didn’t tell you yet because I don’t want to get your hopes up again but I have a plan. I can’t really talk right now, I’m at work. I’ll know for sure by tonight. I promise I’ll call you then.”
“Becca, that’s awesome!” Her sister’s elated voice proved she had skipped over the maybes going straight to assuming everything was taken care of. Great. “I’m going to tell Mom. Talk to you tonight! Love you!”
“I love you too, Elsa.” Rebecca wasn’t sure her sister heard her response as she went off in the background, screeching for their mother. She hoped the woman was having a good day but she could only worry about so many things at once. Sighing, she slipped her cell phone back into her plain purse.
As she tucked the black bag under her desk in the reception area of Dr. Foster’s university practice, the door to his office opened and Dr. Malone emerged.
“Thanks for covering, Rebecca. See you soon.” The tall, handsome doctor always found time to chat with her, no matter the difference in their ranks. She enjoyed seeing him but, today, she was swamped and finding it difficult to focus on anything but the decision she’d made earlier.
“You’re welcome, Dr. Malone. Have a good day.” She responded automatically, without questioning the curious look he shot her before making his way out the front door.
Slotting Mrs. Henderson’s file back into the cabinet, she decided it was now or never.
Rebecca snuck one final glance at the paper fluttering in her hand, willing herself to stop shaking. She paused then drew a deep breath to fortify her nerve before knocking on the heavy wood-paneled door to Dr. Foster’s office.
She nudged open the door to his workspace then turned to guide it closed, eliminating the risk of anyone overhearing her outlandish request. Resisting the urge to make up a lame excuse and duck back out, she scanned his inner office then took a wary step forward.
The area was spacious but comfortable. Soft incandescent light emanated from lamps positioned around the room. The warm illumination made the space seem intimate for its size. Plush carpet covered the floor and substantial masculine furniture in rich jewel tones clustered to facilitate group conversation.
Dr. Foster had designed the soothing atmosphere to encourage his patients to relax during their sometimes intense sessions. The innovative psychologist specialized in relationship therapy and sexual repression issues while holding a distinguished position here at Elembreth University, where he both taught and maintained a small clinic.
“Rebecca, is there something I can do for you?” Kurt—no, Dr. Foster—asked. She kept slipping lately.
“Yes, Doctor. First, while you met with Dr. Malone, Mrs. Henderson came in.”
“Damn. Is Jim screwing around on her again?” Dr. Foster cared for each of his patients on a personal level. She admired the fact that he didn’t need case notes to remember the details of their situations.
“Tell her to come in. Luke was my last appointment for the day, I can see her right now.”
Rebecca hesitated. Would he be angry she’d overstepped her place by talking with Mrs. Henderson? His displeasure would make her offer even harder to make.
“Actually, she’s gone now. She requested a session with me instead.”
“About time.” He didn’t seem the least bit concerned.
“You don’t care that I met alone with one of your patients?”
“Of course not. You’re ready for this, Rebecca. You’ve put six years into your residency here at the clinic. You did have your last exam today didn’t you?”
“Since you’re my best student, I know you aced it. Therefore, waiting for your degree on graduation day is a formality. You’re a well-qualified therapist. Mrs. Henderson is one of my more dramatic patients. How did you feel dealing with her radical emotions alone?”
“I did as you’ve taught me. I listened actively with compassion, then worked the case by giving feedback on what I heard, provided the statistics of cheating husbands, supplied her with resources for local support groups and talked her through how to find help if she chooses to divorce him.”
“Sometimes it takes more than facts and methodology to heal someone’s heart. But for your first time flying solo, it sounds like you did very well.”
Pride swept over her. She’d worked her ass off for this. His approval meant more than the piece of paper that would bestow her official title.
And his sexy smile made an excellent reward.
Dr. Foster could make a blind woman do a double take. In his mid thirties, he had slight laugh lines crinkled around his dark grey eyes. Their stormy depths contradicted his inviting personality, which enhanced his charm and made her curious about what lay beneath his enigmatic surface.
Standing over six feet tall, he towered above her. His height and lean but powerful build combined with his wavy black hair, which he kept long enough to graze his shirt collar, to give him a dangerous edge. It caught her off balance at odd moments during the day when her overactive imagination insisted she’d caught him staring at her.
To Rebecca, his psychical perfection was only a fraction of what made him attractive. Touted as the genius of his field, he had risen to his prestige early, though with some controversy. His opponents argued against his sometimes-extreme methods but, based on his record-smashing success rates and the rave reviews of his patients, they had conceded his superiority in the field.
His drive and passion for helping others outshone his piercing eyes in her estimation. The gentle care and devotion he lavished on his patients when assisting them in resolving their issues had made him her idol.
A million tiny things along the way had gradually shaped her case of professional infatuation into a deep caring for the man behind the doctor. From his easygoing personality, to his effortless problem solving and the natural insight he had into the way people wanted to be treated, Rebecca admitted her attraction to him had never been stronger.
Which made him perfect for her proposition.
“Your respect means a lot to me, Dr. Foster.”
“You’ve earned it.”
“Well, then, I also wanted to inquire about the ad for an experiment subject you assigned me to place in the paper.”
“Um…the ad?” For a moment he looked lost, as if he had no clue what she referred to. Before she could clarify, he recovered then asked, “Is there something wrong with it?”
Rebecca paused, gathering her courage before answering. “No. That’s not what I meant.”
Last chance, Rebecca. Say it or leave.
“I’m interested in participating in the study myself and wondered if volunteering would be against office policy.”
He blinked, not responding immediately to her statement, so she continued. She’d gathered her facts in anticipation of convincing him.
“You have a very competitive fee listed here but, no matter how much money is offered, finding volunteers for this type of personal, sensitive experiment is often a long and painful process. In the six years I’ve worked here, I know of eight promising studies left untried due to lack of willing participants. We both know no amount of theory will substitute for praxis.”
If she could assist in Dr. Foster’s experiment, she could repay some of the selflessness he’d shown her as a mentor. Her arguments seemed to work. He leaned forward, setting aside the case folder he’d been reviewing. He cupped his chin, a gesture she’d come to recognize as his thinking posture, while he studied her across his expansive mahogany desk. She tried not to shift but failed beneath the weight of his stare.
What did he see when he looked at her?
Compared to the elegant, tailored suit conforming to the defined lines of his torso and great ass, her bargain-bin outfit must seem frumpy at best. Fancy clothes didn’t make the cut in her student’s budget but she made sure to dress professionally, if not always fashionably.
For a moment, they assessed each other.
Rebecca couldn’t help but note the way his unruly hair feathered across his brow in contrast to the neatness of everything else in the room. When the silence stretched a little longer than comfort allowed, Rebecca’s uncertainty grew. She began to stammer.
“I understand. You know, if it’s not okay for me to participate. I just thought it might be hard for you to find subjects or something.” God, this is unbelievable! She was an articulate researcher used to communicating detailed observations but she couldn’t form a simple sentence around him sometimes.
Dr. Foster smiled up at her. Rather than soothing her nerves, the expression filled her with desire and fuddled her mind further. The edges of his full mouth turned up until she glimpsed his brilliant white teeth. The thrill of anticipation his wicked grin caused reminded her of the way a mouse might feel right before a hungry cat gobbled it for a snack.
Why didn’t he say anything? This had to work. The study could solve several problems all at once. Efficiency appealed to her.
“Have a seat, Rebecca.” His careful, modulated voice gave no indication of his acceptance or refusal as he gestured to the heavy wingback chair in front of his desk. When she perched on the edge, with her back straight and ankles crossed tight beneath her, he continued. “There’s no rule against staff participation so long as you are fully informed of the requirements and demands of the experiment. Though, I have to admit, I don’t know if you’re right for my study.”
Her stomach pitched at his reservation. She had to get this assignment. Stoically, she sat still as a statue while he took his time observing her reaction. If he wished to gauge her commitment, he wouldn’t find a crack in her resolve.
“My research will get quite personal. I’d need you to be open and honest with me in order for the trial to be successful.”
Rebecca hid a blush, recalling the times she’d copied over notes for the doctor’s case files. Although she’d tried to concentrate on typing the erotic words scrawled in his hasty masculine script, she couldn’t quite block out the detailed stories recounted to him by successful patients on follow-up visits.
Most of them had required standard treatment involving discussion and counseling but, on occasion, a case called for a more unconventional approach. The doctor had been known to observe couples having difficulty in order to provide objective, real-time feedback—witnessing an experience, he contended, neither party could be objective about relating in a traditional session.
“I can handle it, Doctor,” she said, not quite able to confront his steely gaze.
“Rebecca, I’m not trying to dissuade you. However, I need to be frank just as I would be with any other candidate. The study will test a new invention I’ve created. I believe the Dream Machine has the potential to revolutionize the field of sexual therapy. There are so many people who live their lives without realizing their sensual potential because they’re too afraid to tear down the boundaries imposed by society and be free enough to experience what they desire.”
As he explained, it seemed as if he spoke of her instead of a generality. Did he suspect her underlying reason for volunteering? Her face flushed and she hoped he couldn’t detect the telling reaction in the diffused lighting. Somehow, she knew he did. After all, he was a trained observer, noted for his attention to detail.
“My invention taps into subconscious desires by capturing dreams. During the study, I’d monitor your REM cycles using the device then discuss your fantasies with you. Are you prepared to do that with me?”
Rebecca shifted in his desk chair, which engulfed her, while she contemplated the ramifications of participating. Trying to still the subtle hints of her trepidation, she met his gaze head on.
“Yes, Doctor, I think I can.” Shame flooded her when the simple thought of revealing her fantasies to Kurt began to arouse her. Personal feelings shouldn’t be involved in a professional proposition but, from the first day she’d worked at Dr. Foster’s office, she’d battled a dazzling attraction. She gripped the black leather arm rest to keep from fanning her face. Moisture gathered between her legs to serve as indisputable proof. Instead of being mortified, she admitted she’d wanted him for so long that this would be a welcome relief.
She hungered for the things he could teach her.
“There’s one more thing. I’d need to monitor and influence your arousal level both during the dream stages and during our sessions. This will involve significant intimate physical contact between us. Can you agree to the terms of the experiment?”
“I… I…” The scientist in her wanted to ask for more details but the woman in her was too reserved. She’d been with a few men, boys really, during the first years of college but the brief liaisons hadn’t resulted in anything momentous. She’d done it to ease her innate curiosity. None of the encounters had been satisfying. Besides, she’d been much too busy studying and working to spend time on needless pursuits. To be completely honest with herself, she conceded no one but Kurt had ever held her interest.
Afraid she might not live up to his expectations, she hesitated. A vision of him touching her, bringing her pleasure with his skilled hands, overtook her imagination. What if she wasn’t all Dr. Foster required? What if her capability to experience passion fell far below the level of normal desire? Her unease hung in the air as the pause lengthened.
“Becca, it’s all right if you’ve changed your mind. I understand if you can’t do this. I won’t force you to do anything you don’t want to do.” The supportive words couldn’t mask the disappointment resonating in his voice. The fact that he’d called her by her nickname, a name her mother and sister used, made his assurance cut to a more personal level. She recognized it as another test of their evolving relationship.
Instead of confessing her deeper reasons, she took the easy way out.
“No, Doctor, I want to participate. And…well, I need the money right now.” It embarrassed her to admit it. He compensated her well and she didn’t want to seem ungrateful or careless with her finances. But, even if she did, that was easier than admitting how desperately she wanted him to tutor her on more than clinical depression or the scientific method.
“My sister is coming to the university next year. This morning we were notified of an administrative error in the financial aid office. The scholarship funds were overdrawn and hers got cut. If I don’t do this, Elsa can’t enroll.” Rebecca hated to admit her need for assistance. Her pride rebelled.
“This isn’t about money, is it?” Though he sounded reluctant to ask her, his eyes seemed almost angry. Afraid she had made him uncomfortable, she worried he might dismiss her as a participant because of his inherent morality. “I’m more than willing to give you an advance on your salary instead. You can always come to me for help.”
“No!” she protested, a little too loud for the quiet intimacy of the office. She’d have to give him more of the truth to assure his acceptance. “I want to help you. You’ve supported me for years. Without you, I’d never have learned so much. I want to do this as a favor.”
“You don’t owe me anything. You’re hands down the best assistant I’ve ever worked with. Having you here has been my pleasure.” His sentiment seemed sincere. Slight dimples accentuated his cheeks when he smiled. Every time she saw them, it spawned an insane urge to lick the delicious indentations. Reining in her impulse, she focused on their discussion.
“I think an apparatus like yours could be a beneficial tool. I would love to see it become a reality. I’d feel honored to know I had some part in its development. Look, I know you’ve given me raises when you didn’t have to. You pay me a lot more than you should. Any student would love to work for you, to learn from you, for free. And finding another subject might be impossible. Please, let me do this to repay you.”
Some of the jovial reassurance faded from his expression. His professionalism slipped for an uncharacteristic moment. “Understand this or our discussion is over right now. You worked your ass off the last few years. You earned every bit of your way. I’ve never seen someone try as hard as you have. Hell, you push yourself to exhaustion half the time. You even fell asleep at your desk two nights ago!”
Oh crap. She’d never seen him get pissed off.
“Dr. Foster, I’m sorry about that. I was studying for finals the night before and I had a few cases I wanted to catch up on before I left the office.” Mortification zinged through her. She didn’t think anyone had noticed.
On most occasions, she could operate effectively on less sleep than the average person could. With the recent culmination of her education, she’d had to make do with the time left after work and school, which was less than she could handle on a routine basis. She counted on the sacrifices she’d made paying off as soon as she finished her degree.
“Shh.” Dr. Foster waved off her excuses, his features relaxing again. “You misunderstood me, I’m not angry with you. I only meant it as an example of how far beyond my expectations you constantly go. In fact, you work too hard sometimes. If I thought for a second you’d listen, I’d order you home for a nap right now.”
She wondered why he glanced away when he spoke. Was he lying about being upset? Before she could ask, he continued.
“Let’s try a little test. If you can’t see it through, you can quit at any time. All you have to do is say you’re done and we’ll stop with no repercussions. Look at me, Becca.”
She met his stare. His eyes shone with tenderness and understanding.
“I realize we’ll be pushing the boundaries of your comfort and experience. I promise you, I won’t hurt you or force you to do anything you don’t want. You know that, don’t you? In fact, I’m willing to pay you for your participation regardless of whether or not you finish the study. I won’t allow money to be a factor in your decision.”
This was the familiar Dr. Foster. Her foolish discomfort evaporated. After all the kindness he had shown her, how could she think he would be mad over one tiny slipup? She’d never before met anyone she admired so much.
Picking up his favorite fountain pen, he twirled it between his fingers as he contemplated her proposal. “Let’s be clear. I want you to participate. I think you would be an excellent candidate. However, I’ll only accept your request if this is something you choose to do of your own free will. I want you to do this for yourself. I think it’ll be an enlightening experience for you, though also probably one of the most difficult assignments you’ve ever had. There are no books to study for the answers here. They have to come from within you.”
Of course, he understands. I need this. Her inability to overcome her shyness and articulate the real reason she wanted to join the experiment underscored her convictions. She could never reach her full potential as a sexual therapist when she remained so out of touch with her own desires. This experiment, and Dr. Foster’s invention, could be the answer. Her cure.
“So, Becca, what will it be?” Leaning back in his chair, Kurt steepled his fingers over his trim abdomen while he considered her. He paused, giving her a moment to mull things over. The space should have been a relief but his self-assured posture compelled her to accept.
“Will you be my subject?”
Rebecca gasped beneath the intensity of his stare, so persuasive it drew her in until his regard consumed her consciousness. She could detect his rich male scent, so strong and spicy in this room, and she shivered in response. Before she knew it, an answer escaped her lips.
“Yes, Doctor. I’m yours.”