The VIP Doubles Down
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“I didn’t like living with my stepmother.” Now why had he told her that? He tightened his arms across his chest, which sent a ripple of pain along his shoulders.
“My best friend had that kind of stepmother,” Allie said. “Just like the one in Cinderella.”
That surprised a short laugh out of him. “Mine didn’t quite make me scrub the floors.”
“Lucky for you.” Allie smiled at him, changing from earnest therapist to sympathetic friend in an instant.
He wasn’t falling for it. “Don’t you need to ask me more questions, or are we done with the inquisition?”
“I have a few more.” She closed her eyes for a moment, as though consulting a mental list. “Is the pain worse in the morning or in the evening?”
“Aha, you’re trying to catch me out. I never mentioned any pain.”
She focused those limpid gray eyes on him and waited. He did his best to stare levelly back at her, but finally he broke and pushed out of the chair, his back complaining at the sudden movement. Stalking over to the bar hidden in an ornate English marquetry cabinet, he flicked open the doors. “Would you like some water?” he asked, rummaging in the minifridge.
“That would be nice, thanks.”
He set two paper-thin crystal tumblers out and poured bottled spring water into them. Carrying them across the room, he handed her a glass before raising his to his lips. As she lifted hers for a sip, he noticed her hand. Short, neat nails with no polish. Slim fingers, but the back of her hand was square, giving the impression of strength.
“Are you more comfortable standing than sitting?” she asked.
“Depends on what you mean by comfortable.” He gave her a slanted smile. “Physically or mentally?”
“I’ll take an answer to either one.”
He took another swallow, studying her over the edge of his glass. She sat straight with her knees and ankles together, her glass resting on one thigh. Her skin was creamy against the dark blue of her shirt, another clue that her hair color was real. Her gaze didn’t flinch from his, but he caught the creeping pink of a blush rising in her cheeks. Her composure was not as firm as she tried to make it appear. “I was attempting to interrupt your interrogation by standing up, but you refuse to be distracted.”
“I’ve heard that complaint before.” She inspected the table next to her chair before she set her glass down on a silver ashtray. Leaning forward, she locked her gaze on his face. “May I try something? It won’t take long.”
“That’s very open-ended. I’m not sure I can answer it.”
“Will you trust me?”
“And that is an even more difficult question to answer.” He looked at her supplicating posture. There was a taut edge of desperation in her face. He shrugged and sat down. “I’m not sure I can commit to trusting you, but go ahead and try whatever it is.”
Relief softened the line of her jaw. “Thank you.” She reached down to unzip her duffel bag, pulling a black plastic case out of it before she stood up. “I’d like to use a little electrical stimulation on your neck, if you’ll allow me. It will help the muscles release.”
“Why my neck?”
“I’ve been watching you move,” she said, walking toward him, the case almost hidden behind her thigh. She looked as though she were approaching a skittish horse. “You’re holding your neck and shoulders stiffly.”
“So it isn’t my animal magnetism that’s been holding your attention.”
She ignored his provocation and kept moving until she was behind his chair. “I’m going to touch your neck now, just to see where the worst tightness is. Is that all right?”
“Go ahead.” Not being able to see her made the hairs on the back of his neck prickle.
He heard her rub her hands together and then felt a gentle pressure of warm fingertips walking along the knotted muscles down the back of his neck. Her touch sent a tingle dancing over his skin, and he nearly groaned out loud. It had been too long since he’d been touched with kindness. When she slid her fingers under the neckline of his cashmere sweater to follow the muscle along his shoulder, the sensation flowed straight down to his groin. It was an inappropriate response on his part, he knew, but he didn’t want her to stop.
He swallowed a protest when she withdrew her fingers and smoothed his sweater into place.
“Have you ever had electrical stim before?” she asked.
He could hear the case being snapped open and then the crinkling of paper. “I’ve never had physical therapy of any kind.”
There was a ripping sound before she walked around to stand in front of him. Her cheeks were tinged with pink again, and her ponytail had fallen forward over her shoulder. He had an almost ungovernable impulse to pick up the skein of glistening red waves to see if they felt as smoldering and silky as they appeared.
Allie held up a small, square white pad with a wire dangling from it. “I’m going to place four of these pads on your neck and attach them to this portable electro stim machine.” She showed him a gray box that looked much like a clunky, old-fashioned cell phone. “I’ll start the current very low and ease it up gradually. The moment you feel any discomfort, please tell me. It’s completely safe.”
He nodded without any thought of the stim. He just wanted to feel her fingers on his skin again.
Allie fixed her gaze on her patient and waited. Most people had concerns about what it would feel like. “Do you have any questions about the treatment?”
“No.” He gave her a glinting look from under half-closed eyelids. There was an unsettling flame in his eyes. “You asked me to trust you.”
“And you couldn’t commit to it.” She was sparring with him to delay touching him again. When she’d brushed aside the thick brown hair that curled low on his neck, she’d felt a shock of awareness. The shoulders under the luxuriously soft black sweater were broad and sculpted with muscle. The skin on his nape was satiny, and she wanted to stroke it in ways that had nothing to do with deciding where to position the electrode pads.
What was wrong with her? She’d never reacted to a patient this way before.
He angled his head down so his neck was exposed. “I’m putting my head on the proverbial chopping block. Work your magic before I change my mind.”