The VIP Doubles Down
Page 19

 Nancy Herkness

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She pointed to the large vinyl ball tucked in a corner of the room. “You own your own implement. I saw it yesterday.”
“It looks so harmless, but in your hands I’m sure it will become a thing of horror.”
“Enough to give you nightmares.” Her tone was as dry as the Sahara.
He eased off the table and grabbed his shirt from the weight machine, pulling it on over his head with delicious, nearly painless ease.
“And now it’s story time.”
More like humiliation time. He would be so disappointed in her ridiculous fantasies.
Allie handed him the bottle of designer spring water she’d found in the minifridge. “You need to hydrate after the massage.”
Thank goodness he’d put his shirt back on. Once she stopped actively working on him, Gavin’s bare chest became a distraction. If she were honest, his eyes, his mouth, and his hair were distractions, too. The man was so darned mouthwatering. Maybe he was just so different from Troy’s blond all-American good looks that she found the contrast refreshing.
Or maybe she had fallen a little in love with him while staring at his book-jacket photos over the years, picturing Julian as looking like his creator.
“May I pack up my equipment first?” she asked, heading for the bench where her duffel bag sat.
“I want your full focus, so go ahead. We’ll go upstairs to my office for our discussion.”
She wiped her hands on her towel and began stowing the stim pads. He prowled over to stand beside her, so close that she could feel the heat emanating from his body.
“You have a considerable investment in that bag,” he said.
“Good tools are important.”
He reached out to close his long fingers around her wrist, stretching her arm up so her hand was level with his face. “I would say this is your most valuable tool.” He rotated her wrist slightly. “Small but filled with power.”
She could feel the pulse in her wrist beating too fast against his fingertips. He was examining her hand as though it were some sort of independent artifact, a position she found both awkward and thrilling. When he traced along the lifeline on her palm, a shiver of awareness radiated up her arm and into her breasts and belly. She sucked in her breath and stood utterly still.
He released her. “I interrupted your packing.”
She flexed her fingers, still feeling the echo of his grip on her wrist and his touch on her palm. “I’m almost done.” Gavin’s face lit with anticipation, which made her nervous. “You’re not going to be able to use my silly stories in a book, you know.”
“I wouldn’t dream of it. They’re your stories. But when we were talking about Julian yesterday, my imagination went to work for the first time in months.” He took a swig of his water and looked at her in a way that sent swirls of warmth spiraling deep inside her. “You might be my new muse.”
She reached for the handles of the duffel, throwing Gavin a warning glance when he tried to grab them first.
“Does it pay well, being a muse?” she asked.
“I’ve never paid my old muse a penny. Maybe that’s why she’s gone on strike.”
“Well, darn.” Allie was very aware of his presence just behind her as they climbed the steps. She walked stiffly, wondering what part of her body he was looking at, but she kept her words light. “I thought I’d discovered a profitable side business. Muse for hire.”
“I know many writers who would pay you almost any amount if it were that easy.”
Allie halted in the hallway, not sure which way to go. Gavin led her to the foot of the main staircase, where she stowed her duffel in the coat closet.
Turning, she looked up to discover a cascading bronze-and-crystal chandelier hanging from a plaster rosette three floors up, framed by the graceful curves of the staircase’s polished wooden banisters. All that wasted space in a city that charged thousands of dollars per square foot illustrated with great vividness just how wealthy Gavin Miller was. Which meant she needed to treat him as a valued client rather than lusting after his body.
“Come with me,” he said, inviting her to walk beside him up the stairs. Their athletic attire looked out of place against the highly grained wood paneling and the jewel-toned Oriental runner. She should be wearing one of Kate Winslet’s gowns from Titanic, while he should be decked out in white tie and tails. She gave a little gasp as she pictured him that way, holding out his arm for her gloved hand to rest on. Her heart flipped in her chest as she imagined the feel of his hard muscle under the fine wool.
As they reached the second floor, he gestured toward a paneled door. “If you’d like to freshen up, please feel free. I might splash some water on my face myself.”
She practically bolted for the bathroom, but he still managed to get there first, twisting the knob and pushing the door inward for her.
She slipped into a powder room that was twice the size of her apartment’s kitchen, closed the door and leaned against it. She needed to get her rioting imagination under control. And her overheated face.
Shoving away from the door, she walked to the embossed copper bowl that served as a sink. One look in the mirror made her grimace. Her hair was frizzing around her face, several spots of massage oil marred her shirt, and her cheeks were flushed as though she had a nasty fever.
She gave her face a good scrub with cold water and redid her ponytail, using the rice paper–wrapped throwaway comb thoughtfully provided for a guest’s bad hair day. Her shirt was a lost cause because dabbing the spots with soapy water would just make them more noticeable.
Well, Gavin Miller would have to accept that she looked like what she was: a working physical therapist. No lolling about on a chaise longue wearing a flowing silk robe for this particular muse. Or maybe that was more what muses for artists did. Allie made a silly face at herself in the mirror and walked out the door.
Gavin stood in the hall, with comb marks in his damp hair, swiping away at his cell phone. He lifted his head and smiled, creating a wave of sizzling desire that obliterated all her excellent resolutions about not lusting after him.
“Shall we?” He stepped closer and lightly pressed his hand into the small of her back to start her moving toward the front of the mansion. His touch rippled across her skin like the highest setting of the e-stim unit, but she couldn’t avoid it without seeming rude.