With a touch of her hand, she was able to see into the depths of a person's soul. Except for his.
"What do you mean 'it won't work'?" Jason scowled at her as she frowned down at her hand on his. "It works for everyone else."
If she hadn't been quite so busy internally freaking out over the idea that maybe she'd lost her power, Layla would have scowled right back at him. Instead, she let go of his hand and placed a hand on his shoulder. "Maybe your hands don't have a link into your soul," she told him tersely. "I'm going to try again."
"Are you planning on touching every inch of me if it doesn't work?" He smirked at her when she lifted her head and glared at him.
"Why on earth did you, of all people, need to come in to have his soul checked?" she wondered aloud exasperatedly. "Or did you just come in to torture me?"
He rolled his eyes. "While I do get pleasure out of annoying the hell out of you, I really do need you to look into it. I might not believe in this stupid mumbo jumbo crap, but, hey, it worked for everyone else, so I thought I'd try it." He scowled when she patted her hand across his shoulder and onto his neck. "Obviously, I came on your off day."
"I don't have off days," she snapped. Her frustration at her power began to turn into fear. What if she'd actually lost it? She'd never gone a day without it since the day she'd been born, but, what if it had just suddenly blinked off? "I just need some more time."
He resisted the urge to roll his eyes again and tried to focus on other things instead of the way her fingers seemed to flutter over his skin, igniting little fires along the way. He really needed to think of something else, he told himself, or else he might just end up pressing his lips to that tempting spot right under her jaw—and then where would that get him?
Probably in a world of hurt because little miss witch would castrate him on the spot. That is, as long as her powers worked, which they didn't seem to be.
Jason had grown up with Layla in their small New Hampshire town, and, though he'd seen her power at work before, he'd never actually attempted to have her "read" him. He'd been just a tad too afraid of what she might have found if he let her into his soul. After all, a teenage boy wasn't entirely comfortable with letting the girl he was infatuated with see his every secret.
"I don't get it!" Layla let go of his shoulder, huffed out a breath, rocking back on her heels. "In twenty-four years, I've never missed anyone, but you're just not working." She stared down at her hands and flexed them a bit. She closed her eyes briefly and missed seeing Jason startle a bit when her palms glowed with white light.
"Well, I guess that answers your question about whether you still have your mojo or not," he pointed out when she opened her eyes and studied her glowing hands.
"I guess," she said with a frown. Then, she aimed brilliant blue eyes up at him and into him. "Are you completely open, Jason?"
That look always made him want to squirm, so he shrugged his shoulders, trying to shake off the feeling. "What? What do you mean?"
Layla rubbed her palms together, extinguishing the light. Scooping her hair off her neck, she turned to pace the confines of her office space as she thought. "In order for me to truly be able to see into someone, they need to be absolutely open and trusting of the power. If you're even the least bit skeptical, it won't work." She glanced over her shoulder at him, those cat-eyes all-knowing. "Are you a skeptic?"
His brows shot up even as his palms went damp. "Of course not! I've seen what you can do," he replied, flustered. "I've seen it since we were little, so how the hell would I be skeptical?"
"Do you trust me?"
More than you know, he thought, but kept the thought inside. "Sure I do."
"Seriously. Don't waste my time, okay? I have another patient coming in soon, so I need to figure out what is hampering our progress here." She tapped a finger against her lips as she studied him.
Jason Fox had always been the most attractive man she'd ever known, and she'd known many. Those grey eyes, the permanently tousled hair, and a smile that flashed wickedly every now and then and made her heart bump erratically—combined, they were a hell of a shock to the female system. If she were honest with herself, she would admit to having had a teeny, tiny—okay, huge—longing for him since forever.
Focus, Layla, she told herself now and tried to concentrate on the problem at hand. Why, she wondered, was he the one person immune to her abilities?
She'd known him her entire life, had touched him before, but, now that she thought about it, she hadn't actually felt anything emanating from him in the past either.
"What?" He narrowed his eyes at her scrutiny. "What are you thinking?"
She leaned against her enormous oak desk and continued to watch him. "Just that I've touched you before and never seen into you in the past either. I wonder why that is," she murmured more to herself than to him, before looking into his eyes again. "Why do you need to have your soul read?"
Jason shoved his hands in his pockets and shrugged. "You don't need to know that do you?"
"No," she said slowly. "But I can usually figure it out once I get inside of a patient. Since I can't do that with you, maybe I need to be more specific in my search. Tell me why you need my help."
He stared at her for a few moments, puzzling over what he could and couldn't reveal to her. Finally, he shrugged and met her gaze. "I need to know what kind of feelings I have for someone and whether or not I should act on them."
"Oh." Layla felt her heart drop to her toes and was instantly annoyed with herself. "Well, then, that shouldn't be too hard to do. As long as your soul cooperates, that is."
Jason tried not to tense up when she moved in close to him. He knew it was important for the process for him to be open to her power, so he tried his hardest not to smell the sweetly floral fragrance that wafted from her hair. His stomach muscles clenched, and he fought to not scowl. "So what do you do differently now that you know what I want?"
"I touch your heart," she replied quietly, and he looked down at her sharply. Her head barely reached his shoulder, and she wasn't looking up at him, so he couldn't see her expression. Instead, he braced himself as she lifted her tiny hand and pressed it to his heart.
The electricity was instantaneous and blew through him. He wondered vaguely if his hair was standing on end before he lost his breath.
Image after image flashed through his mind of Layla, always Layla from their childhood to the present. Twenty-four years of emotion, affection, and memories. He wondered why he didn't just burn up from the love for her that was buzzing through his system.
Then, she faltered, her hand trembling on his heart, and he glanced down, alarmed, just in time to see her eyes roll back in her head. He barely managed to catch her before she hit the ground and carefully eased her into an armchair. Her head lolled around a bit, her long, dark curls flopping about a bit before he rested it against the high side of the chair.
Worriedly, he filled a cup of water from the cooler in the corner of her office and hurried back to her just as her eyelids began to flutter.
"Here," he murmured, pressing the paper cup to her lips as she moaned. "Drink a little. Slowly." When her eyes opened and latched onto his, he smiled grimly. "Guess that's never happened before either, huh?"
Layla took a sip as her whirling thoughts tried to coalesce unsuccessfully. Instead, she ended up staring at Jason, dazed. "Why didn't you tell me?" she finally whispered and watched as his face drained of all color.
"I, uh…" He looked away from her and stood. "Layla, I-"
A knock on her door interrupted him, and her assistant poked her head in the room. Flashing him an apologetic smile, she turned to Layla. "Your two o'clock is here. You almost set?"
Layla's eyes were still on Jason. "No, actually-"
"Actually, yes, we're done," Jason interrupted her as he grabbed his coat. "Thanks for the help, Layla. I'll see you later."
He was gone so quickly that she was left, blinking after him.
Her assistant's brows lifted. "Boy, he was in a hurry. Should I tell Mrs. Crane to come on back?"
Layla lifted a hand to her still-spinning head. "Yeah, sure. Thanks, Lori."
When she was alone again, Layla sighed. The session with Jason had exceeded any of her expectations. Somehow, he'd always managed to surprise her, and this time was no different.
So what, she thought, was she supposed to do with the knowledge that her childhood infatuation was madly in love with her?
Jason paced from one end of his apartment to the other, unable to focus on anything but the fact that Layla Stevens now knew exactly how he felt about her. Which meant that she now had the power to hurt him if she turned him down.
When, he corrected himself. When she turned him down. Because it was inevitable that she would. Growing up, she'd never, not once, given him any reason to believe that she thought of him as anything more than a friend and constant annoyance. She'd never dated anyone either, he knew, but that was because her power usually freaked most guys out. Not to mention the fact that she couldn't carelessly touch anyone without a barrage of emotions piling into her.
It had, in her own words, made intimacy hell on wheels.
He'd known that because she'd come to him, complaining often about it. During those times, he'd just never had the guts to ask her out because he'd been afraid that the same thing would happen between them that had happened between every other boy she'd ever tried to date.
But what did it mean, he wondered, that she could touch him anywhere, except his heart, without having all those feelings and memories cascade down on her? Could it mean that-
"Don't go there, Fox," he muttered to himself as he flopped down on his couch. "That sort of thinking will lead to nowhere. Just forget about it."
And, trying to convince himself to go along with it, he grabbed the remote and flicked on the television.
And tried to forget about how he was uncontrollably and irrevocably in love with Layla Stevens.
She nearly lost her nerve a hundred times on the short walk from her apartment building to his. They were only a few blocks apart, but she came up with tons of excuses as to why she couldn't or shouldn't go through with it.
The only thing that got her to his door was the memory of the look on his face when she'd woken up after passing out in her office earlier that day.
Just as she lifted a hand to knock on his door, she heard a thump, muffled cursing, and then the door was yanked open.
Jason gaped at her. "Layla?"
"Hi." She'd never sounded quite so timid in her life, but she was nervous, nervous, nervous in front of him now. "Can I—Can I come in?"
He stared at her for so long that she was unsure whether he'd heard her. Then, as she opened her mouth again, he held the door open wider. "Sure. Yeah. Come in."
She'd been in his home before, but she took the time to look around again. It gave her something to do while she tried to figure out how to start what had to be the world's most awkward conversation.
"I'm in love with you."
They spoke at the same time, and Layla had the fascinating experience of seeing an embarrassed Jason Fox.
"Oh?" He scowled at her. It seemed he'd been doing that a lot lately. "That's all you can say? I reveal my lifelong obsession with you—which is damned embarrassing, by the way—and all you can say is 'Oh'?"
Layla bit her lip nervously. "Well, it's just that—I need a little time to process this information."
"You've had all afternoon," he started to growl, then stopped himself. "Fine, process away. Send me a memo when you're done." He spun away to stalk out of the room.
"Done," she called out behind him, stopping him in his tracks. "I've processed, and I know what to say now."
Jason turned around slowly, afraid to let himself hope. Her face gave away nothing. "Yeah? What's that?"
She grinned suddenly. "What on earth took you so long?"
His jaw dropped. "What?"
"Okay, look. I know I was always complaining about how I could never go out with anyone because I couldn't control my powers when it came to touching another person, but, really, Jason. You could've just made fun of me like you always did then asked me out!"
"That doesn't even make sense," he pointed out after a moment. "How could I ask you out if you'd never even showed a hint of how you felt? Not that I know what you really do feel even now," he pointed out.
Layla narrowed her eyes. "Haven't you figured it out yet? I know you're a smart guy, Jason."
"You're gonna have to spell it out for me, Layla," he said quietly. "You've seen inside me, you know what's in there for you, but I need to hear you tell me what you feel for me."
Her insides quaked just a bit, but she saw his hand tremble and knew that it was as hard for him as it was for her. "I've had a thing for you since we were ten," she murmured. "I was just too scared that you would laugh in my face if I ever mentioned it."
"I know the feeling," he muttered.
Layla ignored the comment and continued. "And then, today, what I felt when I looked into you blew me away. I couldn't believe that you actually felt the same way about me that I felt about you. It doesn't seem quite real." She held up a hand to stop him when he started to move closer. "Then there's that part about how I can touch you anywhere, except your heart, and not feel anything. That certainly makes things easier, but it baffled me all the same."
"It doesn't matter," he began, but she shook her head.
"No, let me finish." She gripped the back of his couch. "I decided to call one of my mentors at that institute I was at in Switzerland for a few years. They'd helped me figure out a lot about my power, so I thought they might have an answer."
She wouldn't quite meet his eyes, Jason thought but tried to remain patient when all he wanted was to scoop her into his arms. "Did they?"
"Not entirely." Layla glanced up at him for a moment before looking away again. "This isn't the first time someone with paranormal powers has been unable to use them on another person. Usually, there's only one person in the entire world that someone like me can't work with." She paused to take a deep breath and work up the nerve to look into his eyes. "Jason, almost one hundred percent of the time, they ended up spending the rest of their lives with each other."
He was quiet for a long while, the only contact between them was the way their eyes held, unable to break away. Just when her nerves stretched to the breaking point, he spoke. "Is that a proposal, Layla?"
The green of his eyes was warm, and her lips curved in response. "I don't know, Fox. You're a pretty messy guy. I'm not sure I want to spend the rest of my life in a pig sty."
When she found herself caught up in his arms, their noses brushing, she laughed. Jason grinned down at her. "We'll take it slow then. You learn to be less neat, and I'll learn to be less messy. Deal?"
"Deal," she murmured before his lips pressed to hers, and brilliant colors exploded behind her eyes.