“No, thanks, Doc.” Axe looked at the human and put out his palm. “I owe you a lot.”

“Yup, you do. But the service with a smile is free. Just make sure you come see me first thing at nightfall, ’kay? I know there isn’t class, but we’ve got to take those stitches out.”



After they clapped hands, the surgeon shut his mobile unit back up, and took off while Axe headed for the front door.

Crap. He could have used a minute to brush his hair and his teeth before he saw Elise. And then there were all the bandages.…

Ha, and she thought that cut by his eye had been a thing.

At least she couldn’t accuse him of not keeping things between them spicy. Or at the very least … surprising.


Emotions were tricky little devils.

A lot of the time, Elise knew, when you had something happen that was upsetting, shocking, or disorienting, you got through whatever it was—the confrontation, the abuse, the bad news, the accident that was your fault or maybe someone else’s—and came out the other side feeling relieved it was over.

But then the stewing started.

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As she sat in front of the fire that she had set hours ago in Axe’s hearth, she stared at the yellow and orange flames and replayed her aunt’s “maternal” monologue over and over again. God … it was as if her brain had grooves in it and her thoughts were the stuck needle on the record.

Even after having broken-and-entered into this house that was not hers—granted, the front door had not been locked—and in spite of sitting here, in the very place Axe and she had nearly made love the night before, all she could see and hear was what had happened in that closet—

The sound of an engine outside the little house had her leaping to her feet, and for a moment, she panicked, thinking her father had somehow found out where she was—but then she sensed Axe’s presence, the blood he had given her once again a homing beacon she was so glad to have.

Except what if he were angry that she’d come so early? It must be three? Three-thirty? Which was less of a problem than the fact that she’d arrived here just before midnight.

Hopefully, he wouldn’t be—

The door swung wide, and as Axe lurched in, she clapped a palm over her mouth so she wouldn’t scream. Throwing out a hand blindly, she caught herself against the hearth’s warm face.

Axe was dressed in a hospital johnny, his bare legs plugged into a pair of slippers. He was walking as if he were in great pain, and there were bandages visible on his biceps and his shoulder—undoubtedly in other places, too.

But that wasn’t the worst of it. His face was lashed with scars, as if he had gotten too close to a series of knives or maybe barbed wire.

He stopped as he saw her reaction. “That bad, huh?”

“Oh, God …” She ran to him with her arms out, and then pulled up short. “Where aren’t you hurt? What happened!”

Before he could stop her, she stepped to his side and put a supporting arm around his waist. “Lean on me.”

She was surprised when he did. And that scared her almost as much as the sight of his face did.

“Come by the fire.” She said this even though she was heading in that direction. “Did you break out of the hospital? How did they let you leave?”

Over at the pallet, she helped him ease down, the firelight licking over him, hopefully giving him warmth. And as soon as he was even partially settled, she jumped up and rushed over to close the door.

“May I bring you anything?” she said as she returned and crouched beside him.

All he did was look up at her, his eyes softening, the strain in his face relaxing. “I have everything I need right here.”

As he reached up to stroke her cheek, she met him more than halfway so he wouldn’t have to work for the contact.

“What happened, Axe?”

“It doesn’t matter.” His fingertips drifted over her jaw, her throat. “And nothing hurts anymore.”

She looked down his body and cursed. The johnny’s hem had risen up, and there was a thick bandage around his thigh. Also, a bulge under his opposite arm, right where his ribs were. And oh, dear Lord, that face.

“Am I that ugly?” he whispered.

“Never. Not to me.”

“It’s okay, you can say it. You like the truth, remember?”

All Elise could do was shake her head, because her eyes were watering and her hands had started to tremble and everything seemed to crash down on her at once.

“I’m all right,” he murmured. “Come here, lie beside me.”

Elise stretched out and propped herself up on her elbow. “You’re not going to tell me what happened, are you.”

“It’s just not important.”

“Yes, it is.”

But he clammed up. And simply stared at her.

“I wish there was something I could do,” she said.

“There is.”


“Get my toothbrush, toothpaste, and a cup of water from upstairs? I’d love to brush my teeth.”

For a second, she thought he was kidding. And then she smiled because it did make her feel useful.

“Anything else?” she said as she sat up.

“Yes, but I’ll tell you after I floss.”

Elise blinked. And then shook her head. “You’re not … you’re not coming on to me, are you?”

“Does it offend you?”

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