Her stomach fluttered as he gazed at her, desire clearly etched on his face. Her eyes widened and she said, "Oh man, V’s gonna’ kill me. A freaking OmniLab trader. What the hell am I thinking? I’m beyond stupid. I’ve gotta’ get out of here."
She grabbed her jacket and headed for the door. Carl caught her hand and stopped her.
"Kayla, wait. What will it take to get you to join my crew?"
She turned to peer up at him. "I’m not joining your crew, Carl. What happened just now has nothing to do with your offer."
His mouth twisted into a teasing grin. "Should I scan for another listening device?"
She gave him an exasperated look. "Oh, like you wouldn’t suspect that. Give me some credit, will you? I was just returning the favor. But no, I’m not joining your crew. It’s not that part of me isn’t tempted. But this life? For me? Not in a million years."
Something in his voice made her pause and she turned to study him. He seemed to be sincere in not understanding why she would reject his offer. "Do you really not get it? You’re an OmniLab trader. From what I’ve seen, all you traders seem to do is try to run our lives. We’re constantly held under your thumb and have to tiptoe around you. If we piss off the great trader, we’re screwed. Our lives mean nothing to you. I mean, look at what you did earlier today. You threatened Leo, took away my freedom, and split up my team. Now you think I should join you? So I can give you and OmniLab more control over me?"
Carl blew out a long breath and released her hand. "I see." He lowered his gaze for a moment and rubbed the back of his neck. When he looked up, she saw the frustration and disappointment in his eyes. It wasn't what she expected from a trader and she wasn't sure what to think about it.
"It’s obvious you have some pretty strong feelings about the matter. But not all traders are the same, Kayla. I’m not sure what you’ve been told or what you’ve experienced, but each of us has different styles. I try to guide my crew, but I wouldn’t say I control them. I trust them and rely on them."
It was a nice story, but everything she'd experienced led her to think otherwise. She knew firsthand how cruel and manipulative traders could be in their dealings with ruin rats. Even though he seemed to be more trustworthy than others, it might be a ploy to manipulate her further. She wasn't willing to take that leap of faith.
"I find that hard to believe. Your actions earlier were classic trader. Do you handle all your crew members the way you handled me earlier? Do you decide you know best and order them around?"
Carl sighed. "No, I don’t. But then again, most of my team is much more sensible and cautious than you seem to be. From everything I’ve seen over the past several months and from what I’ve heard, you consistently push the limits. You’re talented, Kayla. You’re probably the best scavenger I’ve ever seen, but you’re also the most reckless."
When she didn’t reply, he took a step toward her. "I don’t want to control you. I respect your talent. I just don’t want to see your potential go to waste either from recklessness or an idiot like Leo who doesn’t know how to utilize your skills."
Kayla glared at him and crossed her arms over her chest. "Leo may have napped on the wrong side of the ion shield a few too many times, but he doesn’t try to control me. He may yell, scream, and threaten, but up until today, he’s always let me go my own way. You changed that and it pissed me off."
She wasn't sure what Carl saw in her expression, but his eyes softened. He was silent for a long moment as though choosing his next words carefully.
"You’re right. I admit it wasn’t the best approach. I didn't understand how important your independence is to you."
His admission surprised her. Just when she was convinced he would react in a certain way, he would do or say something unexpected. She bit her lip, unsure about how to handle this situation. The man kept throwing her off balance. The intense chemistry between them didn't help matters either.
As though sensing her turmoil, he took her hand in his again. "Kayla, I want you on my crew. I’ll try to give you the freedom you seem to want. I can offer you things and opportunities you’d never experience as a ruin rat. If you decide this isn’t the life for you, you can always leave. You have nothing to lose."
Kayla shook her head and pulled her hand away. It was too much. His touch, him, the whole OmniLab trader thing. "I can’t. Look, I appreciate the offer. But I won’t ever join a trader’s crew."