Six extra-large, emptypizza boxes, along with paper plates and soda cans, littered the floor of the lounge. Elizabeth forged a path through the detritus while carrying two enormous bowls of popcorn. Ryan, behind her, carried two more.
It was movie night. The feature film was Disney’sFrozen, because as expected, the first movie Ryan had drawn from the suggestion box had been excessively violent. He’d countered withHow to Train Your Dragon, but Elizabeth had argued the boys might not learn enough of a lesson from that and a Disney princess would be far more effective.
They set three bowls of popcorn on folding tables within easy reach of the teens. Elizabeth passed the fourth bowl to Dan.
Bean bag chairs had been brought in for the boys. Four leather sofas had been reserved for the adults. The counselors, Colin and Ace, took one of the sofas. Dan and Jazz had one to themselves, as did Dallas and Hannah, who were snuggled up adorably close. That left one sofa for Elizabeth and Ryan to share, which was unfortunate, because matters remained somewhat tense between them.
He hadn’t liked that she’d turned down the use of his guest suite, but living so close to her angsty, dominating, but undeniably attractive boss had danger written all over it. She knew a difficult man when she saw one and he nailed the profile. If his closely guarded background hadn’t already raised a red flag, his micromanagement tendencies would have shaken it under her nose. Combined, they indicated significant issues with trust. And as for his dominance issues…
If a woman ever allowed him to make decisions for her, he’d quickly take over her life. In that regard, he was a little too much like her father. She’d barely distanced herself from a similar overprotective situation and wasn’t anxious to plunge into another.
She also understood the value of keeping her professional and private lives separate—as much as possible, since she lived at the ranch twenty-four seven—for the sake of her mental health. Helping people cope with their problems meant keeping her own to a minimum.
But, even after taking all that into consideration, once she’d found out Jonas was the one who’d left her the note, she’d come close to changing her mind. While her file on him didn’t contain nearly as much information as what Ryan had supplied, all of it combined was enough to sound an alarm. His background read a little too much like that of the boy who’d killed Marianne for her to feel comfortable.
The bias was hers. In the few interactions they’d had, Jonas came across as friendly and highly charismatic. He’d shown no evidence of violent tendencies toward people or animals, and as far as she could tell, from the information made available to her, he’d never had a serious girlfriend.
But the jealousy and obsession were there. He’d bashed in the windshield of a friend’s car because the friend had won a position on the school varsity football team and he hadn’t. He’d burned down his parents’ garage—including a Mercedes and a brand-new Audi—after they’d taken away his driving privileges over a speeding ticket. Ryan had turned up that last detail on his own because the parents hadn’t filed an insurance claim. That omission, in itself, indicated trouble at home. They’d tried to cover up their son’s bad behavior and that was never a healthy reaction.
Plus, underneath the charisma, Jonas was arrogant and entitled. He’d gotten into a fistfight with Tyce and had to be moved to a different bunkhouse—although in fairness to Jonas, Tyce took offense easily and would drop the gloves over any perceived slight.
So, she hadn’t ruled out Ryan’s guest suite completely. She simply hadn’t decided whether or not she’d be moving from one difficult situation to another.
“Why do we have to watch a girl movie?” someone complained.
“What’s the matter? Don’t you like girls?” Jazz, who dealt with men behaving like boys every day, and appeared indifferent to the concept of political correctness, inquired.
The boy’s name was Owen and his cheeks took on the hue of a ripened tomato. Jazz was so pretty and athletic, and owned such a commanding presence, that the boys were completely intimidated by her. “I like big girls. I don’t like little girl movies.”
Jazz scooped up a handful of popcorn and tossed a popped kernel into her mouth. “You have three big girls sitting right here who do like this movie, so maybe you should use this as an opportunity to find out what we like about it. The information might come in handy someday.”
“I like the music,” Hannah chimed in, dimples flashing.
Hannah was another imposing giantess, at least by height-challenged Elizabeth’s standards. While equally as pretty as Jazz, she had such a kind, warm personality that her looks were usually the second thing anyone noticed. She was one of those people everyone liked and naturally gravitated toward, and teenaged boys proved no exception. She’d told Elizabeth she had two brothers, and since Dallas had three, each in their early twenties, she, too, was comfortable around rampaging testosterone.
“I’m only here to humor the women,” Dallas added. “I voted forDead Pool.”
Elizabeth turned a laugh into a cough. Now they knew where tonight’s original movie suggestion had come from. Shaggy-haired Dallas was sweet, and from what she’d heard an excellent doctor, but also that he wasn’t especially adept at reading a room.
“You and I need to talk,” Ryan said to him.
“What about?” Dallas asked, furthering his reputation for obliviousness.
Dan, stretched out on the sofa, had his arm draped around Jazz. “Don’t mind me. I’m here to shoot anyone who tries to leave early.”
Ryan and Elizabeth took their seats. The sofa was comfortable, but deep enough that she had to tuck her legs under her so they didn’t dangle above the floor like a child’s. Ryan sprawled next to her, taking up two-thirds of their shared space because he didn’t suffer from the same size affliction. Her toes brushed against a solid thigh—provoking a reaction that proved keeping her professional and private lives separate was going to be difficult enough without her moving into his guest room.
Ryan took command of the remote.
“I don’t think I’ll need to worry about getting any more notes telling me I’m pretty after tonight,” she leaned over and murmured to him as the movie began.
“What makes you say that?”
“Two gorgeous supermodels eclipse one cute little person.”