“Darius,” she said again, breaking into his thoughts.
“Yes, Your Highness?” he asked absently.
She didn’t even glance at him. “Take off your shirt.”
He paused, not sure he’d heard her correctly. ... His tone was carefully amused. “Excuse me?”
“Take off your waistcoat and shirt, please.”
“Ahh, Your Highness,” he said lightly. “Believe me, I’m flattered but I’m not in the mood.”
She jerked her lovely face over her shoulder to scowl at him. “I’m not propositioning you, Santiago. For heaven’s sake! Don’t just sit there bleeding like a dolt. Undress. Now.”
For about two seconds, he considered obeying, then he merely watched her march across the room to another door, relieved to see at least she had the decency to blush. Most of the women he knew lacked that charming ability, or lost it, at any rate, by the time he was through with them. ...
When she came back into the sitting room, she had some hand towels draped over her arm, a sewing basket in one hand, and a bottle in the other of what appeared to be a whiskey. She set everything on the floor near his chair, then dragged the ottoman over and sat down on it across from him.
“Is there a problem, Santiago?” she asked, folding her graceful hands in her lap.
He stared at her.
“This will not do. You still have on all your clothes.”
Isn’t that my line? he thought, regarding her suspiciously.
Lifting both brows, she gave him a bland smile of waning patience. “Why do you prefer to suffer?”
“Because then I always know what to expect,” he replied with his most arrogant smirk.
She ignored it. “Why won’t you let me help you?”
He eyed the sewing basket, then glanced at her. “With all due respect, Your Highness, I’d rather not serve as the royal pincushion.”
“I know what to do,” she said. “I help at the pensioner’s hospital once a week.” ...
“If I needed stitches,” he told her, his heart pounding suddenly, “I’ll do it myself.”
“You said the cut runs over your shoulder to your back. Use your head. How do you intend to reach a wound that’s on your back?”
“I’ll see the surgeon.”
She gave him a smile of sugared treachery and reached up to tap his chin fondly with one fingertip. “Don’t tell lies, Santiago. I know you won’t see him. Don’t you trust me?”
Was she deliberately being obtuse or tormenting him just for fun? he wondered, inching back in his chair away from her. Maybe an aged pensioner of seventy could endure the touch of those silken hands without ravishing her, but he wasn’t half that old yet. ...
“I really don’t have time to play doctor with you.”
“Don’t make me pull rank on you,” she advised him. ... “If you refuse, I shall have to make it an order. Strip, sir.”
He didn’t move. He couldn’t suddenly. His heart was pounding and he couldn’t find his voice.
Done threading the needle, she set it carefully aside. She laid both hands on her thighs, gazing up at him.
He stared down at her, feeling increasingly cornered, unable even to spit out the words to explain his protest. What was he to say, Don’t touch me? He wasn’t that skilled a liar. Truly, over the past few years there had been moments, desperate moments near the edge of his solitary endurance, when he wanted this girl so much he quite despised her. He could not be fire for her, so he had chosen to be ice.
Now she was gazing at him as only she ever did, as if she saw things in him no one else could see, those unforgettable violet eyes looking too deeply into him, her gaze like a flash of lightning, illuminating landscapes within him he preferred to keep dark.
Save me, the thought trailed to his mind, he knew not why. He could only sit there, captivated, immobilized, half-terrified. Someone wanted to help him and he didn’t know how to react. Not just anyone.
The only living thing he ever trusted.
The only one he couldn’t have.