The VIP Doubles Down
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“Perfectly. Proceed.” His voice was tight.
She positioned the other three pads and connected them to the stim unit. Checking the settings, she turned it on and watched him for any sign of distress. He sat utterly still, with his head tilted forward.
“Shall I increase the stimulation?” she asked.
“Push it. I can barely feel anything.”
She dialed the current up to a moderate level.
“There’s a slight sense of buzzing,” he said. “Keep going.”
She increased the current.
The setting was already in the high range, but she gave it a tiny bit more juice.
“Should it feel like there’s a frenzied herd of ants stampeding around on my neck?”
She chuckled. “That’s about the best description I’ve ever heard of what electrical stim feels like.”
“I am a writer.” His tone was dry. “How long will the stampede last?”
“Fifteen minutes.” She figured that was as long as he would tolerate sitting still, but it was enough time to have some effect on his tight muscles. “You can lean back and relax. The pads will stay in place.”
He lifted his head and slid back in the chair. “Must you hover behind me?”
“I’d like to monitor the stim unit, in case you become uncomfortable.” She also wanted to avoid those penetrating eyes. That watchful gaze of his seemed to catch every flicker of feeling, every nuance of movement. It was nerve-racking.
“Well, monitor it from beside me.” Irritated and demanding.
Allie rearranged the wires so she could place the stim unit on the table beside the writer. She carefully lifted a polished wooden chair with a needlepoint seat from its position by the wall and placed it by the table. As she settled in the chair, it creaked and she flinched. “I hope I didn’t just break Louis the Fourteenth’s favorite chair.”
Instead of laughing, Gavin gave her a sharp look. “You know your antiques.”
“All I know is that this chair looks old and fancy, so I named the oldest, fanciest person I could think of.” Allie flicked her gaze to the stim unit’s dials and back. “Was it really Louis the Fourteenth’s chair? Because I’ll get off it.”
Now he barked out a quick laugh. “To the best of my knowledge, Louis never sat there, so you’re safe.”
“Is everything in this room old like the chair?” Allie wanted to distract him so he would allow the stim session to continue.
Miller’s gaze skimmed around the parlor. “Most of it. This room was furnished during my collector period.”
“You don’t buy antique furniture anymore?”
“I discovered that old Louis’s chairs aren’t all that comfortable. We’ve made something called progress in the intervening centuries.”
Allie shifted a fraction of an inch, and the chair groaned again, so she froze. “What period are you in now, if you’re not collecting?”
He put his elbows on the chair arms and steepled his fingers, but she saw the way his jaw muscle tightened. “I am in a fallow period.”
Bad question. “That’s a good farming technique. Rest the soil so it gets fertile again.”
“Metaphors are supposed to be my bailiwick.”
“I didn’t mean to use a metaphor. I grew up in the country. Fallow reminded me of that.”
“So tell me about your roots, Ms. Nichols.”
“Allie.” He nodded. She breathed an inward sigh of relief. She had the country-girl patter down cold. “I’m from a little, tiny town in the mountains called Sanctuary. I grew up riding my pony like other kids ride their bicycles. My friends and I would pack some sandwiches, take our ponies down to the river, swim and have a picnic, and canter back home again before dark.”
“A downright idyllic childhood.” A hint of sarcasm undercut the pretty words. “Did you have a dog, too?”
“My family had five dogs and three cats. And sometimes an orphaned lamb that we’d raise and return to a local farmer.”
“Where’s the conflict?”
The writer turned his body in his chair so he could look directly at her. “You left this vision of bucolic perfection and came to a rude, dirty, noisy city. What drove you away?”
“I told you . . . a great job. I mean, it didn’t drive me away. It brought me to New York.” Allie’s story had never been challenged before. And she always left Troy out of the telling.
“Of course. In Sanctuary, no one would need physical therapy, because no one gets hurt in paradise.”
She recognized the anger generated by pain. Since he couldn’t write, which was the thing he was most successful at, he was in more than just physical distress. She kept her voice upbeat. “It’s a really small town, so there are not a lot of job openings. I had to move, no matter what. New York offered many opportunities.”
When they’d gotten engaged, Troy had given her the choice of New York or Los Angeles, so she’d chosen the city least distant from West Virginia.
“Do you handle only private clients like me?”
Right now, she handled only one patient, private or otherwise. Him.
“Until recently I worked in a rehab facility, but I decided to go out on my own.” Not by choice, of course. Her ex-husband had gotten her fired. “I wanted to have the ability to develop longer-term care plans for my clients. Now I can help them not just to recover from a specific issue, but teach them how to prevent it from occurring again.”
“So you can teach me how not to have writer’s block?” His dark eyebrows were arched in sardonic inquiry.
He’d said it. She hadn’t.
“I can teach you how to counteract the physical effects of writer’s block.”
He sighed. “And here I thought my agent had found a miracle worker.”
“Is the stim level still comfortable for you?” She wished she could fix his writer’s block as well as his muscle aches. She missed Julian Best.
“It’s right on the border of discomfort. I like it.” His smile rivaled a razor blade.