The VIP Doubles Down
Page 18

 Nancy Herkness

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However, the pressure lessened as she worked over the worst spots in his neck and shoulders. He got fond of the little spurts of breath she let out when she pushed especially hard. It was just enough advance warning so the pain didn’t surprise a groan out of him.
And then she was stroking his back again, petting him like a dog who had done well. “Aren’t you going to say, ‘Good boy’?”
“What?” The rhythm of her movements never faltered despite the puzzlement in her voice.
“Isn’t this my reward for letting you pummel me?”
“Your reward will be the ability to move without wincing. Now I’d like you to roll over, keeping your head on the headrest.”
Her professional persona was impressive but not as much fun as her country-girl one. He felt her lift the blanket so he could shift without getting tangled. As he turned, he felt a shock of desire. The skin of her face and neck held a light sheen of effort, while curling wisps of fiery red hair clung damply to it. Her gray eyes were smoky, with some emotion he couldn’t interpret, and her thick ponytail trailed over her shoulder to rest on the curve of her breast, rising and falling with her audible breath.
She looked as though she’d just made love.
Her gaze skimmed over his chest, but he felt as though she had touched him lower. Luckily, she floated the blanket back over him and moved to the head of the table.
She slipped her warm hands between his head and the headrest, cupping his skull in her palms as she leaned over to meet his gaze, her ponytail swinging just above his nose. “Now I’m going to ask you to trust me again.”
The upside-down angle of her face was disconcerting, but her scent of wintergreen and something lemony combined with pure warm woman sent another streak of lust down to his crotch. “You’ve dosed me with electric ants, jabbed your thumbs into my already tortured muscles, and refused to discuss Julian Best. Explain why I should trust you.”
She smiled, the inversion still disorienting him. “Because you know this is all good for you. I’m going to remove the headrest and hold your head in my hands. I don’t want you to support any of your weight with your neck muscles. Relax into my grasp. I promise not to drop you.” She flicked her ponytail back with a toss of her head. “That’s where the trust comes in.”
“Ah, that’s an easy one. Barely any trust required.” He closed his eyes. He could feel her fingers threaded in his hair, their tips resting on the nape of his neck.
“You may not feel that way when the headrest drops out from under you. I’m going to shift so your head is resting on one of my hands, but don’t worry, I’m strong enough to hold you.”
He felt her words in a way that had nothing to do with his physical problems.
But she continued with her work, withdrawing one of her hands while she centered her other one under the back curve of his skull. A couple of clicks and creaks and the cushion of the headrest vanished. He tensed, but the level of his head didn’t shift by even a single millimeter. Almost immediately her other hand was cradling him as well. He willed himself to believe in her and let all the weight of his head rest on her palms.
“That’s good,” she said. He felt a flare of pride at her approval.
“Now I’m going to carefully move your head in various directions. Again, try not to assist me. Let your head sink into my hands, so I control all the movement.”
“Ha! Don’t you know that writers are control freaks? We make our characters dance to our own weird tunes. That’s half the fun.”
She angled his head ever so slowly to the right. “What’s the other half?”
Just as the position became uncomfortable, she reversed the motion. “Rewriting,” he said. “You know how you think of a brilliant response to an insult six hours later when it’s utterly useless? A writer has a time machine. I can go back to the moment the insult was hurled and parry it with my slow but rapier-sharp wit.”
“Relax. I’ve got you,” she said, rotating his head gently to the right. “I guess us nonwriters think you just sit down at your computer and the book comes out the way we read it.”
“We foster that myth. It makes us seem more like creative geniuses and less like mere craftsmen.” There was something very restful about allowing Allie to manipulate his head. Her grip was firm enough to instill confidence but soft enough to feel like a caress.
“I have more respect for craftsmen. They work hard at what they do.” Her voice held a tart bite, but her movements were calm.
“So I should show you my marked-up manuscripts to impress you.” It sounded as though his capable little therapist knew an artistic sort she didn’t care for.
“Now I’d like you to sit up,” she said. “I’ll help you so you don’t stress your muscles.”
He gave her his entire trust, letting her guide him upright with her skillful hands. Before she stepped back, she adjusted the blanket so it remained draped over his shoulders.
She met his gaze straight on. “Now, on a scale of one to ten, where is your pain level? I want an honest answer, not a diplomatic one.”
He raised his eyebrows. “Have I given you any reason to believe I would be diplomatic?”
A smile tugged at the corners of her lips. “Good point. Give me your usual brutal honesty.”
He rolled his head in a half circle and saw her wince as though she was afraid he would undo all her hard work. Astonishment flashed through him as he rolled it again. The muscles still pulled in his shoulders, and he could feel soreness where she had pinpointed his severest problems. But the grinding sensation at the base of his skull was gone, and he could turn his chin fully from shoulder to shoulder without a grimace. “Three,” he said. “You’re a witch.”
“Glinda or Bellatrix Lestrange?”
He lifted a hand to probe the miraculously mobile back of his neck. “You use Bellatrixian methods to achieve Glindian results.”
“It didn’t hurt that much, did it?” A line of worry creased her forehead.
“I would face a charging rhino with less terror than you strike in my heart.”
The furrow vanished. “I’ve been called a lot of names, but this is the first for a charging rhino.” She glanced at her watch. “I guess we won’t have time for the swiss ball.”
“You have another implement of torture in your bag?”