The VIP Doubles Down
Page 17

 Nancy Herkness

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A muted huff came from the massage table. “You and Archer. Always needling.”
Allie felt a sense of satisfaction as she pulled the warm, wintergreen-scented pillows out of the microwave. Being mentioned along with his illustrious friend meant she was making progress. Maybe this job would pan out after all.
She laid the pillows over his blanket-covered shoulders. She heard him sniff as the minty aroma swirled in the air. “This seems more like spa day than physical therapy,” he muttered.
“Just wait until we get to the massage,” she said, turning on the stim unit. “Tell me when the current feels good to you.” She took it up gradually again.
“More,” he said as she hit one level higher than the last session.
“Pushing it too high won’t make it work better, you know.”
“My friends will tell you that I’m always pushing.”
She edged the dial up until it hit the maximum. “That’s as high as it goes.”
“Wimpy machine.”
“I’ll bring a stun gun tomorrow.”
That got a laugh out of him before he asked a question she’d hoped to avoid. “What sort of woman did you and your mother feel would suit Julian Best?”
She blew out a frustrated breath but kept her voice calm. “I don’t think that discussing Julian will help you relax the way your muscles need you to.”
“Discussing Julian is why I asked you back here.”
So that’s what his warning about false pretenses meant. She considered just doing what he wanted. It would guarantee her the job for a few more days, at the very least. But her professional pride and personal compassion wouldn’t allow that. “How about a deal? We spend an hour and a half working on your physical issues and thirty minutes discussing Julian Best.”
“An hour on each.”
“I can tell you everything Mama and I made up about Julian in twenty minutes.”
“We’re going to do something called brainstorming.”
“You want me to brainstorm with you? I don’t know anything about writing books.”
He lifted his head and rolled onto his side, making his dark hair wave wildly around the sharp planes of his face while the heat packs thudded onto the floor. “I feel at a disadvantage negotiating without being able to see my opponent’s face.”
“Hey, I’m on your side.”
“That remains to be seen.” He pinned her with his gaze. “An hour and a half on physical therapy and an hour on Julian. I’ll pay you for the extra time.”
Her heart leaped. Another half an hour of pay. “I feel like I’d be cheating you to take extra money for talking about a . . . a nonexistent person.”
“While I may not be using your professional skills, I would not dream of asking for your time for free.” He held out his open hand in a gesture of entreaty. “Humor me.”
Okay, she’d tried to turn him down. “Agreed. Now please lie down and try to relax.” Without thinking, she reached out to give his upper arm a little tug. When she touched him, he flinched and dropped his gaze to where her fingers were wrapped around the swelling ridges of his biceps. She jerked her hand away. “Did I hurt you?”
“No,” he rasped. “Quite the contrary. I just wasn’t prepared. Time for me to get back to relaxing.”
He flipped onto his stomach with a slight hitch in his movement, dragging the blanket back over his shoulders. Allie walked around to replace the rice packs on his shoulders. She stared at the back of his head as though she could see into his mind to decipher his odd reaction.
While the e-stim did its work, Allie perched on the nearby weight bench and debated how much of her made-up Julian Best stories to share with the writer. They were wildly romantic fantasies that she was sure would make Gavin snicker. She sighed. If she had to talk for an hour, she couldn’t afford to edit out any material.
The stim unit shut down, and Gavin began to stir. She rested her hand on his blanket-covered back. “Stay still. I’m going to detach the stim pads and start the massage. That way your muscles don’t have time to tense up again.”
“I’m beginning to like physical therapy.”
Allie smirked. “That’s because we haven’t gotten to the hard part yet.”
Chapter 7
As she removed the stim pads, every brush of the therapist’s fingertips sent flickering sparks racing across Gavin’s skin. How was he supposed to relax when the stampeding ants had nothing on Allie’s electrical charge?
He was a mature adult. He could control his responses.
Or he could until she removed the last of the sticky pads and began to stroke his shoulders with long, firm sweeps of her oil-slicked hands. Her palms felt like warm satin gliding over his skin. He nearly moaned as she kneaded a tight spot on the back of his neck, the pressure of her fingertips balanced right on the edge between pleasure and pain. His body soaked up her touch like a plant drawing in water after a drought. He felt lighter and more expansive. And aroused.
The crisp scent of wintergreen swirled past his nostrils again. “Are you wearing eau de mint?” he asked.
Her chuckle sounded from above him. “It’s the massage oil. I figured you’d prefer this to something floral.”
“Don’t you have something neutral? I’ll smell like Vicks VapoRub.”
“I’ll bring unscented oil tomorrow.”
He heard the stiffness in her voice and felt like an ass. Truth was, he liked the smell. It reminded him of hiking in the woods of New England. His testiness was an attempt to shake off some of the sensual cocoon she had woven around him.
He kept waiting for a pause in the assault on his self-control, but she never broke contact, always keeping a warm palm pressed against his bare skin as she shifted around him. He remembered from some distant piece of research that this was one mark of a skilled masseuse.
“Okay, the fun part is over,” she said, although the slide of her soft, warm hands over his skin belied her words. “Now you need to tell me if anything I do causes you discomfort.”
And then she showed her true colors as she dug her thumbs into a knot on the back of his neck, sending a bolt of agony through the muscle. He grunted.
“Too much?” she asked, easing the pressure.
“Yes, but don’t stop. You seduced me with your ants and your massage, and now I must pay for the pleasure.”