Of all the reactions Dane expected from Elise, this hadn’t been it. She sounded… resigned? Wistful? What was she hiding? Was she already taken?
“You have a man then,” he stated as if it were a fact even as he had to force himself to remain calm. The idea of her with another man made his hackles rise. Besides, any man who’d let his woman go into the backwoods of Kentucky deserved to have her taken from him.
“It’s just not a good idea. Will you just discuss this with me?”
“Happily. You’re interested in me. I’m interested in you. Let’s talk.”
“Not that,” she said with a sigh. “Let’s talk about you helping me out with your plant etymology. Do that, then I’ll leave you alone on your mountain.”
“The only way we don’t discuss our attraction to each other is if you tell me you have a man.” When she said nothing, he continued. “Gets lonely up here,” he said, needing to keep her engaged and on topic. He thought that, one day, he’d gladly give up his research to be used for the greater good. Until the day he could do it freely, without fear of prosecution, he wouldn’t risk it. “I could use some company. Why not work with me and my brother here. He could use your expertise when he lobbies for support. I could teach you everything I know about medical marijuana.”
“I’m already working for the same thing you guys are,”she said, her eyes darting around the room as if looking for an escape route. The predator in Dane made him move between her and the nearest door, not wanting her to get away from him. She noticed and stepped in the other direction.
“Stop,” he said, using a soft tone but a commanding edge. “Don’t run from me.” She looked on the edge of panic. The last thing Dane wanted was to frighten her. “I’m not going to hurt you, Elise. Never.”
“Yes you will,” she said softly, her bottom lip trembling. “I came here prepared to deal with anything you could throw at me. But not this.” Her voice was the merest whisper.
“So don’t prepare for it. We can explore it together. See where it leads us.” He gave her a grin he knew melted panties in three counties — a proven fact. “I promise you it will be a good time.”
“I don’t know you.”
“You knew enough about me to come by yourself to the middle of nowhere to meet with me.” He paused, giving her a time to absorb what he was saying. “Give me a chance. If nothing else, I swear to you it will be a one night stand neither of us will ever forget.” He waggled his eyebrows at her, knowing she’d laugh. When she didn’t, he frowned. “There’s something else going on here isn’t there.” A protective instinct he hadn’t realized he’d possessed outside his family rose and roared to life. This woman had been hurt.
“It’s personal,” Elise said after a pause. “Something I’d rather not discuss right now.” When he only continued to stare at her, she finally rushed to say. “I have scars, OK? It’s not something I want you to see.”
“What from? How were you hurt?”
“It’s none of your business.”
“I’m making it my business.” Dane stepped closer to her, placing his hands on her shoulders. “Look,” he continued, softening his tone. “You’re asking me to take a leap of faith with you. I’m asking the same. Tell me what happened to you and I’ll help you with your etymology problem.”
She nibbled her bottom lip, obviously weighing the pros and cons. Dane could tell the exact moment she decided to tell him. There was a look of resignation on her face, as if she knew whatever she revealed to him would… damage her in some way. That look alone nearly made him let up. Dane felt as if someone had gut shot him, leaving him to bleed to death. If he’d hurt her by getting her to share this secret, he’d never forgive himself. But, bastard that he was, he wanted to know.
“There’s a reason I’m so strongly for this. For the use and availability of marijuana for medical reasons.”
He tensed. “Go on.”
Elise turned away from him, pacing a few steps away. This was really hard for her. Had she lost a lover? Husband?
“I’m a two year cancer survivor,” she said, lifting her chin as she turned around. “It… changed me.”
“As would any experience like that. But I get the feeling there’s more.”
She opened her mouth slightly. “You want me to tell you more?”
“I want to know why you won’t explore our attraction to each other. There’s no way you thought a cancer diagnosis, or any scars you got from it would put me off.” Before he could stop himself, Dane reached out to caress her cheek. As he did, she winced slightly as if he’d hurt her. Maybe it was the thought of intimacy between them if he couldn’t accept her flaws?
And then he knew.
“You had breast cancer, ” he said quietly.