Small Town Redemption
Talk about a change of plans!
E.R. nurse Charlotte Ellison has her life mapped out, including a happily-ever-after with the perfect man. Sure, that disastrous night with sexy badass Kane Bartasavich wasn’t in the plan. He’s the opposite of perfect, and forever isn’t in his vocabulary. What was she thinking? Still, she simply has to stay away from him and everything will be on track.
But avoidance is impossible when Kane lands in her E.R. All of Charlotte’s protective instincts come out when she sees him in pain. She knows firsthand getting involved with him is a bad deal. But this attraction might be too deep to ignore.
“Okay,” she said, eyeing him like a general studying a battle plan. “We’ll do this with you sitting.”
She took off his sling then reached around him and gently slid the hem of his shirt up. He was remarkably compliant, lifting his good arm without a word, letting her pull the shirt over his head and then down the arm with the cast.
Yep, those tattoos were still there, along with some bruising on his right side and an ugly scrape above his hip.
“Your turn,” he said with a crooked, not-quite-with it grin.
“Yeah, that’s not going to happen.” She dropped the shirt to the floor, then riffled through the laundry basket by the table.
She found a worn sweatshirt, the cuffs frayed, the material thin and soft from repeated washings. She hesitantly brought it to her nose. Sniffed. Clean. Great. She pulled it over his head.
“You took your shirt off the last time you were here,” he said when his face was visible again.
“True. But all of my clothes are staying on this visit.”
He looked comically disappointed. “I liked your last visit better.”
“You must.” She helped his arms into the sleeves. “You keep talking about it.”
“It was a memorable experience.” He slid his finger up her arm, eliciting goose bumps and a weird sense of longing inside her. “I’ll never forget how you looked standing in my kitchen in your jeans and bra.”
She wanted to slap his hand away, had to remind herself he was injured and under the influence of pain meds. But still, he had a lot of nerve saying that. Hadn’t he humiliated her enough that morning? “Please. You can barely remember my name, let alone what I look like.”
“I remember your name.” He settled his hand on her hip, slipped the very tips of his fingers under the hems of her tunic and the T-shirt beneath. “Charlotte.”
She shivered at the combination of his nails lightly scraping her skin and the sound of him saying her name slowly, drawing it out as if tasting it on his tongue. Savoring it.
“I remember everything about that morning,” he continued softly as if talking to himself. Confusing her even more with his quiet words, his thumb now rubbing the slope of her waist. “Standing there in your black, lacy bra, your skin so smooth and pale. Your hair like a sunset, all bright and flaming. I wish I could forget. I want to forget. But I can’t.” His fingers tensed, pressing into skin. He tilted his head back, held her gaze. “I dream of you, Red.”
Oh. My. God.
Her breath shuddered out. A flush crept up her body from her toes to her scalp, leaving all sorts of interesting and dangerous tingles in its wake. Only to be doused by a wave of sanity, of cold, calculating reason.
He couldn’t forget her? He dreamed about her?
What the hell was she supposed to think about that? How was she supposed to act? Flattered? Grateful? Oh, he was good. Excellent at drawing a woman in, making her believe every word he uttered and begging for more. But she wouldn’t beg. Not any man. Not ever again.
Did he think she was so lonely, so needy she’d fall all over him because of a few pretty words? The only reason he was even saying any of those things was because he was hurt and, thanks to the pain meds working their way through his bloodstream, not in complete control of himself.
He didn’t want her. Not really.
Shoving his hand away, she smirked. And hoped it was as sharp, as condescending, as the ones he always gave her. “Then I guess I was right when I said you’d be kicking your own ass for not taking me up on my offer.”
He stared at his hand as if wondering why it wasn’t still on her person. “I guess you were.”
“Well, now you can be stuck in your misery,” she told him as she helped him put his good arm into the sleeve of the sweatshirt, her moves ruthlessly controlled. “While I revel in knowing I was right.”
He closed his eyes. Sighed. “You’re a cold one, aren’t you, Red?”
Cold? Her? Please. She was as sweet and good-natured as they came, damn it.
“What I am,” she said, tugging his shirt down, then tucking her hands behind her back so she wouldn’t smooth his hair, “is smart.” Smart enough to learn her lesson the first time. “You sure you don’t want me to help you to your bed?” She held up a hand. “And before you answer, let me make it clear that is not an invitation to join you.”
“I’m good here.”
She wasn’t about to argue with him over where he slept. “Can you lie down on your own?”
He nodded and eased back, resting his head on the pillow. She helped lift his legs onto the couch. He put both hands on his flat stomach and she balled up another shirt from the laundry, carefully wedged it under his cast between the back of the couch and his side.
She straightened. Turned.
His good hand shot out, grabbed her wrist, his eyes closed, his voice low and rough. “Stay with me.”
She tried to tug free, but it was no use. “I have to go.”
She was tired, closing in on exhausted, and that exhaustion was playing tricks on her mind. Had her thinking maybe Kane wasn’t an arrogant ass. That there was more to him than his good looks and bad attitude, both of which drew women to him like suicidal moths to a bonfire.
He really was dangerous. And she was a girl used to playing it safe.
“You’ll be okay,” she assured him. Still, he held on tight, reminding her of how he’d clung to her while he’d gotten his stitches. She crouched next to his side, gentled her tone. “I’m going to get you a blanket. I’ll be right back.”
“Promise,” he murmured, his eyes staring into hers as if knowing she prided herself on never breaking her word. “Promise you’ll stay.”
He needed her. She wasn’t sure whether to sigh, scream or run like hell. Knew there was only one thing for her to do. Stay.