Her heart skipped behind her rib cage—and then she jumped as the butler came out of the library.
“Oh, I have it,” she told him with what she hoped was an easy smile. “Not to worry.”
The doggen shuffled to a halt as if a polite dog fight between his sense of duty and her direct order were jamming his circuits.
“It’s all right,” Elise said. “Do return to your more important duties.”
He hesitated for another moment, his eyes going to the big brass handle as if he had to go through at least a mental projection of doing the deed before he could leave. And then he bowed to her and returned to whatever polishing, dusting, or inspection he’d been performing.
Elise took a deep breath and opened the heavy door. Bracing herself to look up, she—
“Oh, my God!”
Axwelle was still in the clothes that he’d worn to the interview, the turtleneck and simple black slacks just as appealing on him. Hair was still thick and black and cropped. Face remained as rugged and compelling as it had been.
But he was bleeding.
Underneath his left eye, or maybe it was off to the side, there was some kind of cut, the skin broken and leaking. There was a bruise coming up, too, the cheekbone beneath the laceration swelling and turning red.
“You told me to come,” he said with a frown.
“Your eye.” She pointed to the injury. “You’re hurt.”
He put his hand up and touched his face, but rather than being alarmed, he merely seemed annoyed.
“You got a Kleenex?” he asked.
“Tissue? Or toilet paper will work just fine. Point me in the direction of your bathroom.”
“Oh, for God’s sake.” She grabbed his hand before she knew what she was doing. “Let me take care of it.”
There was some initial resistance as she shut the door and tried to walk off with him, but then he followed. At least until she got to the foot of the curving staircase.
“We’re going upstairs,” she said, pulling on his hand. “I have a first aid kit in my room. And I also have my schedule for next semester up there.”
“You don’t have it on your phone? And come on, we don’t need to make a big deal about this—”
Axwelle stopped short, and the glower that hit his face made his eyes glow. “Of what.”
“You tell me. Because I can’t figure out why you don’t want to go upstairs.”
With a curse under his breath, he took the steps two at a time, and Elise found herself smiling a little as she jogged behind him.
“So what happened to your face?” she asked his huge shoulders.
“FYI, if you’re going to lie to try to get me off the scent, at least make it believable. We’re not heading for a Band-Aid because ‘nothing’ happened.”
“It’s none of your business, how ’bout that. And Christ, I’m getting really tired of telling you people that.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Big house,” he commented as they came to the second floor and he looked at the hall that went off in both directions. “How many rooms?”
“Really.” She put her hands on her hips. “That’s your next best?”
His stare locked on hers, and as he leaned in, his incredible size and power registered—but not in a threatening way.
More in a way that made her eyes flick down to his mouth for a split second.
“I’m not talking about it to you,” he said. “If you want to play nurse, that’s fine. But just because you’re insisting on mopping me up, doesn’t mean you’re due some kind of explanation. Are we clear?”
Elise looked at him for a long moment. They were dangerously close to getting off on a seriously wrong foot. And if she lost him? If he decided to walk out on her?
She didn’t want to give her father an excuse to rethink his decision.
Answer the damn house question, she told herself. Get on neutral ground.
“I don’t know how many rooms we have.” She cursed under her breath as she went to the left. “Maybe forty? Fifty? Something like that. My father built it in nineteen ten.”
She was very aware of him behind her, sensing that body of his. His presence. His aura.
In fact, she found herself walking differently, her hips moving from side to side more, her shoulders shifting. She had no idea how she knew this … but she was sure he was measuring the shape of her ass, her thighs. Then again, it was exactly what she did—what she was doing—to him.
“Here’s my room.”
Opening the way in, she resisted the urge to Vanna White the exotic objects in the room, like the bed!, the vanity!, this beautiful desk!, the wallpaper!
What was it about physical attraction that turned even the smartest people into babbling idiots?
“My bath is in here.” She indicated the way through the open double doors. Like he might have no frickin’ clue what the marble space was. “Come with me.”
Inside, the mirror over the double sinks gave her a wide-angle view of him as he stopped in between the doorjambs and proceeded no farther.
“Just give me something to wipe the blood off.” His eyes moved over the claw-foot tub, the glassed-in shower in the corner, the banks of windows that were dark. “I’ll take care of it.”