The VIP Doubles Down
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“Let me be the judge of that.”
The ants abruptly stopped racing around his back. Their absence seemed almost like silence.
“You’re done,” Allie said. He could hear the relief in her voice. He was about to warn her that he hadn’t forgotten what they were talking about when she twitched the blanket back and began gently peeling away the stim pads. Every brush of her fingertips against his skin sent a streak of arousal down to his groin.
When she removed the last pad, she settled the blanket back over him. He was grateful when she said, “Relax for a few minutes so your muscles can release more fully.”
He could hear the faint pop of wires being unplugged, the tiny ticks of equipment being stowed in plastic compartments, the rustle of her clothing, even the barely audible swish of her breathing. His eyelids drifted closed.
Allie smiled to herself as she heard Gavin’s breathing turn slow and even. She closed the stim unit’s case but didn’t latch it, not wanting the sharp noise to wake him. Perching on a nearby weight bench, she pulled out her cell phone and swiped into the Julian Best book she had started to reread after Ms. Dreyer hired her to work with Gavin. It would keep her eyes off the thick, dark hair and powerfully arched feet of her patient. Thank goodness he had a blanket covering the rest of him or even Julian Best would not be able to hold her attention.
Gavin was owed another half an hour of her time, so she would watch over him while he got some much-needed sleep.
Thirty minutes later the vibration of her phone alarm yanked her out of a tense scene between Julian and his nemesis, Sturgis Wolfe.
She stowed her phone and surveyed the still-sleeping writer, biting her lip as she debated whether to wake him or not.
Although she knew it was in her own best interest to talk with him now, while it was clear that the electrical stim had been effective, she couldn’t bring herself to disturb his slumber.
She tiptoed around, gathering her equipment, and made her way upstairs. She finished closing up her stim unit in the hallway before she went in search of the housekeeper, finding her in a kitchen with sleekly modern cherry cabinets and pale gray granite countertops.
“Mr. Gavin is asleep in gym?” the housekeeper asked in surprise as she dried her hands on a white linen towel. “That is good. He does not sleep at night.”
“Please tell him that’s why I didn’t wake him. I’ll call him later about tomorrow.”
“That is good,” the older woman repeated in her Eastern European accent, ushering Allie back into the hallway. “You do a good thing for him.”
As she lugged her duffel bag down the front steps, Allie hoped she hadn’t been so “good” that she’d cheated herself out of the opportunity to work another day.
Gavin swam up out of sleep at a leisurely pace until he realized he was lying with his face in a massage cradle. “What the hell . . . ?” He jerked up onto his elbows and saw he was in his own gym before memory surged back.
“You’re awake. I have water.”
Disappointment seeped through him. He had hoped for Allie’s voice, not Ludmilla’s. Grabbing the blanket with one hand to keep it over his shoulders, he sat up and tried to shake the fog from his brain. “What time is it?”
“Fifteen minutes past one. You sleep long time. Is good for you.” Ludmilla stood with a tray holding a glass of ice water with lemon slices floating on top. “Miss Nichols say you should drink after treatment.”
“Thanks.” Gavin picked up the water and took a gulp. He considered pouring it over his head as a wake-up shock. “When did Ms. Nichols leave?”
“Two hours ago. She say not to wake you. She call you later.”
He rolled his shoulders and then his neck. Damned if they didn’t feel less tight. And he’d slept like a dead person.
“Now I go make lunch, Mr. Gavin. You come when you are ready.”
Gavin sat on the table, sipping his water. He felt a strange reluctance to move, as though leaving the cushioned sanctuary would break the spell that had allowed him to sleep.
No, Allie Nichols had allowed him to sleep. With her herd of electric ants, her soft fingertips, and her West Virginia twang. And her passion for Julian Best.
He straightened as he remembered. Julian had been alive again in his mind. He’d started to imagine how Julian would meet a normal woman, how the spy could convince himself that he could protect her.
Gavin put down the water glass and slid to the floor. Pulling on his sweater and slipping his feet back into his loafers, he took the stairs two at a time up to the second floor.
He strode into his office and sat down in front of the computer screen, jiggling the mouse to wake it. When the blank page came up yet again, he typed, “Julian Best needs a good woman.”
That was all he could manage, but the six words were more than he’d written about Julian in months.
He grimaced and scooped his phone off the desk to call Allie, cursing when it went to voice mail. His message was brief. “Schedule me for two hours tomorrow, whenever you can fit it in.”
After lunch, he sat in front of the computer, hoping equally for Allie’s phone call and more words. Instead, he got an e-mail from his stepsister Ruth.
She was the oldest of the three girls his father’s remarriage had brought into their previously all-male household. She had been nine when Gavin was thirteen. The two younger daughters had followed their mother’s lead, treating Gavin as a cross between a wild animal and a freak. Ruth had decided to adopt Gavin.
Today she was married to the man who had taken over Miller’s Feed and Dry Goods, and was mother to two children. But for reasons he could never fathom, she remained his staunch ally in his battles with his stepmother.
Gavin, have you looked in the box I sent you? You’ll want to see what’s in there, I promise.
He didn’t understand why she had to make such a big deal out of the shipping carton that had arrived a couple of weeks before. Irritated, he shot back, Why don’t you just tell me what you think is so damned important about it?
Ruth’s response came immediately. It’s too complicated. Just open it. And don’t be cranky. I’m the one who likes you.