[Phantom Warriors 01] Bacchus (6 page)

BOOK: [Phantom Warriors 01] Bacchus
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background from you.”

Her brows knit. “Me? Why? Are you some kind of attorney? Or doctor?”

Bacchus didn’t answer. He simply moved to his briefcase, popped the clasp and

proceeded to remove several documents with Ryan’s name plastered across the top of

them.

“Your ex-fiancé is a very troubled man.”

Jill sighed. “I know. He hasn’t been the same since John’s death a year ago.”

“Depression is dangerous if left unchecked.” Bacchus nodded. “He misses your

brother and has been unable to fill the empty space his death created.”

“He’s not the only one. You talk as if you’re speaking from experience.” She

threaded her fingers together, and then placed her hands on her lap.

“Like most people, I do know what it’s like to lose something you hold dear. I’m

also well aware of the despair that one feels when you lose hope.”

Jill knew Bacchus was telling her something important, but decided not to press for

more information. It wasn’t any of her business. Besides, she didn’t think he’d elaborate

anyhow. “Would you like another cup of coffee?” she asked instead, focusing on a

benign subject.

He nodded. “Please.” He held his cup out for her.

Their fingers brushed as she poured, but this time Jill didn’t pull away. “So how do

you know so much about Ryan? Are you two friends?”

“I suppose you could say I’ve been inside his mind,” he said cryptically.

“Wow, I can’t believe it.” She finished pouring and sat the carafe down.

“Believe what?”

Jill handed Bacchus the mug. “I can’t believe that Ryan sought professional help. He

hated the psychiatrist I sent John to. Called him a quack for not realizing how depressed

my brother was at the time. Ryan kept going on and on about shrinking heads and all

that bull. I’m sure he thought he was helping John, but the truth is, my brother didn’t

want our help. What’s that old cliché? You can lead a horse to water… Now all we have

left is guilt and what ifs.” She paused, then plunged on. “The truth is, Ryan blames me

for John’s death.”

Bacchus peered over the top of the coffee cup at her. The steam curled over his

glasses like ghostly shadows. He didn’t so much look at her as look right through her.

Jill fidgeted under his close scrutiny.

“Ryan may not express it well, but he cares about you very much. I know this to be

so. He worries that you’re allowing your life to slip by without truly living.”

“If he cared about me so much, he wouldn’t have thrown away our relationship nine

months ago.”

“He was a fool,” Bacchus said.

Jill shook her head, feeling renewed warmth flood her face. “That’s not true.

Everyone deals with death differently. Ryan chose to run away. But if it’ll make him feel

better, you can tell Ryan that I have a full life.” She waved her hand around to indicate

the house.

Bacchus cocked his head and stared at her.

“If you don’t believe me, then look around you.”

He snorted. “We could argue semantics, but I think you’ve already proven my point

by getting so defensive.”

“How dare you! Who in the hell—”

Bacchus held up his hand to halt her words. “When was the last time you went out

with a man?”

Jill put her mug down with a clink. “I don’t see how that has anything to do with

Ryan’s
state of mind.”

“It helps if I can get to know the people close to the individual I’ve absorbed.”

“Absorbed? Like a sponge? That’s a strange way of putting it, but I think I

understand.” She curled her legs under her body and sat back. “I haven’t dated anyone

since Ryan left. I wasn’t exactly in a hurry to get back out there after a death in the family

and a broken engagement.”

Gosh, she sounded pathetic to her own ears. What must the doctor think? Jill

glanced at his face. For a second, she could’ve sworn he looked pleased, but the

expression disappeared so quickly, Jill decided she was mistaken. Why would he care if

she dated, when it was Ryan they were discussing? At least she thought that’s who they

were talking about. Jill reached behind her and adjusted the can of pepper spray. It’d

slipped and had started to jab her. That done, she took a sip of coffee.

“When was the last time you had sex?” Bacchus put his cup down and leaned closer.

Jill choked and her eyes started to water as coffee threatened to come out of her

nose. “Now, wait one minute. That is none of your business.” She sat straighter, not

liking the direction the conversation was going in. “I’m all for giving you information

that may help Ryan deal with his grief or, more appropriately, his guilt, but my sex life

is off limits. Got it?”

Bacchus sat back abruptly. “Fine. If you don’t want to help, say so. He’s staying

away for your benefit, not his own.”

Jill felt heat radiate from the tips of her ears. This whole line of questioning made

her uncomfortable. Not so much from the questions as from her answers. Had it really

been a year since she’d had sex?

She cringed inwardly and debated whether to lie, but knew that wouldn’t help Ryan

or her. Jill straightened in her chair and met Bacchus’ gaze. “It’s been a year, give or take

a month.”
Ryan hadn’t touched her after John’s death.

“So, it’s true that you’ve put your life on hold.” It wasn’t an accusation, only a

statement of fact.

“I prefer to think of it as regrouping.” She scooted closer. “Surely as a psychiatrist

you, of all people, understand that.”

“I do indeed, and I find it admirable, but Ryan and I worry that you aren’t taking

care of your needs.”

“We aren’t talking about me. This is about Ryan, and it sounds like he’s taking care

of his needs just fine. I have adult toys to take care of mine. I also have a job I love,

training and breeding dogs. I keep up the house. It’s not much, but I think I’ve done a

pretty good job with it. I may not use my degree, but I’m happy.” She hated having to

defend herself. She was happy, damn it. Or at least she was starting to feel happy again.

Jill didn’t need a therapist telling her otherwise. No wonder John had fought her tooth

and nail against going to see one.

“What was your field of study?” Bacchus asked.

She laughed at the sudden change of subject, grateful for the reprieve. “I’m

surprised Ryan didn’t tell you. He loves shocking people. I have a degree in

herpetology.”

“You study reptiles?” There was genuine interest in his voice and something flared

to life in his eyes. For a second, they’d looked as if they had turned red, but that was

impossible. A play of sunlight, she thought, dismissively.

“Most people fear reptiles, particularly snakes. This includes Ryan. Their first

reaction is to want to kill the creature. If only people understood how necessary reptiles

are to the ecosystem, they’d think twice before they destroyed them.”

“You don’t fear them? Not even a little?”

“No, I find them fascinating. I always have. Their ability to survive and adapt to the

planet, despite catastrophic changes to the atmosphere. It’s miraculous really.”

“You sound like you wish you could be a reptile.”

She shrugged. “Sometimes I think it would be cool. It would certainly be easier to

live without all the emotional baggage.”

“I’m not sure that would be enjoyable. When that element is missing, life feels

somewhat incomplete.”

She laughed. “Are you speaking from experience?”

“Perhaps,” Bacchus said, a secretive smile ghosting his sensuous lips.

Jill felt herself drawn toward him and had to force herself back.

“Reptiles are fascinating creatures,” he said, getting back to their previous subject.

“Each has its own unique personality and behavior patterns, much like humans.”

“Yes, exactly. I’ve always told John and Ryan that. They laughed at me.” Jill grinned,

tucking a hair behind her ear. “Not that it really matters now. I don’t study reptiles

anymore, only dogs. Man’s best friend and all that. They’re easier to handle and you don

’t have to move out of the area to find a job.”

“I see no dogs here.” Bacchus glanced around the room. “Are they in your

backyard?”

“No.” She snorted. “There isn’t exactly enough space to breed dogs here at my

house. If you hadn’t noticed, I live on a piece of property the size of a postage stamp.

The owners of the animals rent space at a kennel and give me access so that I can do my

job.”

“Sounds like an acceptable arrangement.”

“Believe me, it is. I’m only responsible for them during breeding periods and

obedience training.” They lapsed into silence for a few moments, each enjoying the

others company, while they drank their coffee.

Bacchus was the first to speak. “Do you have many friends? Any prospective

lovers?”

“Like I told you earlier, it’s been awhile. I’m a pretty private person. I keep a busy

schedule between my job and… ”
Waiting for Ryan to return.
Jill stopped short of

admitting the truth. She had spent the last year on hold, while Ryan had moved on. It

was foolish. She’d been foolish, but not anymore. She met his questing gaze. “The things

you mentioned aren’t always easy to come by, Dr. Bacchus.”

“Perhaps that will soon change.”

His innocent words sent tingles along Jill’s spine, leaving behind dark carnal

thoughts and tempting erotic images. She squeezed her thighs together to stave off the

sudden hunger building inside her. It would be so easy to lean forward and press her

lips to his mouth. Would Bacchus taste as exotic as he looked? Would he take command

like she longed for a man to do? Instead of acting upon her urges, Jill shrugged

noncommittally. “We’ll see.”

Chapter Three

Bacchus couldn’t keep his eyes off the woman before him. She was everything Ryan

thought and more. Much more. In Ryan’s mind, Jill was someone whom he counted on

to be there whenever his life fell apart. It was selfish of him. So selfish in fact, that he’d

actually gone out of his way to run men off who expressed interest in her. That was the

main reason behind his marriage proposal. He hadn’t wanted anyone else to have her,

but that sentiment ended with John’s suicide. Bacchus supposed he should thank Ryan

someday for his vigilance. The man’s actions had kept another from claiming Jill… until

now.

He curled his fingers around the coffee mug to keep from reaching out and touching

her. She’d straightened her messy hair while the coffee brewed. The thought that she

cared enough to do so for him gave Bacchus pleasure and renewed hope. She may feign

indifference, but inside a storm brewed and he planned to fuel the winds.

“I’d like to observe you at work if I may. Ryan gave me a great deal of information

about your skills, but I prefer to witness them firsthand. It would help me understand

the dynamics of your relationship.”

“I suppose that would be okay,” she said hesitantly. “I still don’t see the point, since

he’s already moved on.”

Bacchus released a heavy breath, then met her gaze. “He wants you to be happy, Ms.

Tanner. He has a new love and wants the same for you.” Bacchus straightened the sleeve

of his jacket. “I am here to make sure that happens.”

“What? I’m confused. Ryan hired you for me?”

“Not exactly. Let’s just say he directed me to your location.” Bacchus finished the

coffee, allowing her to digest what he’d told her. She had a sharp mind and it wouldn’t

take long for her to jump from one conclusion to another. He’d planted enough of a false

trail to lead her in circles for at least a few hours. Long enough for her to get used to

having him around. Bacchus spread his arms wide, taking up much of the loveseat he

occupied. He crossed his ankle over his knee and sat back to wait.

Jill remained silent, staring off into space. Her white teeth worried her bottom lip

and her brow drew down over her eyes. He could tell her mind churned beneath the

calm façade. Bacchus could see her emotions flitting one after the other over her

porcelain features. He needed to gain her trust and fast. It wouldn’t take long before the

Atlanteans left and sent a ship back for him or, more likely, the Phantom people would

grow impatient and dispatch a transport—if they hadn’t already. If that were the case,

there was no telling when they’d departed and could be here at any time.

The Atlanteans might be an efficient people, but the Phantoms were desperate. He

had to act fast. Bacchus took a deep breath, scenting his pheromones again in the air.

Damn, his body had crossed into mating mode without his consent. How could this be

without testing for compatibility?

He wasn’t sure how the tiny molecules affected a human, but he knew they had the

power to entrance an Atlantean woman, making her malleable and willing. Much like

his saliva could intoxicate with one swipe of his tongue. Phantom women only scented

such things from their mates. Jill had already experienced a tiny bit of euphoria and that

was before he’d stepped inside the door. He needed to get Jill out of her house, but he

wanted to remain in her company.

Finally, Bacchus broke the peace. “I mentioned observing you at your job earlier. Do

you have to go to work today?”

She nodded absently, before replying. “There’s a bitch in heat that I need to stud

BOOK: [Phantom Warriors 01] Bacchus
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