Copyright © 2012 Jess Dee
All rights reserved — a Samhain Publishing, Ltd. publication
Long moments passed and there was Claire again, crouching in front of him, pressing a paper cup into his hand. He took it, and almost smiled at her attempts to look after him when she held her hand around the cup too, looping her fingers over his, making sure he didn’t drop it. Then she guided their hands towards his mouth, as if he were incapable.
“Drink,” she insisted. “It’s tea, with lots of sugar. It’ll get you warm and help with the shock.”
He frowned in disdain. “I’m not in shock. Men don’t go into shock.”
Her replying nod showed exactly how much she believed him. “Yeah, okay. Drink the tea anyway.” She tilted her hand.
Hot, milky liquid spilled into his mouth. Hot and very sweet. For someone who took his drinks without sugar, the taste almost made him retch. But to give the woman credit, the tea slid down his throat and landed in a warm puddle in his belly, and when Claire tilted the cup for a second time, he took another sip, and then a third without arguing.
Three swallows were as much as he could handle. The next time she attempted to feed him, he shook his head and lowered both the cup and her hand. “Thank you. That’s enough.”
She looked at him in disbelief.
“Honestly, I don’t need more. I’m fine.” Again he became aware of the scarf around his shoulders filling his head with her beguiling scent.
He set the cup on the floor, removing her fingers from it so it could balance.
Claire shook her head. “You’re white as a sheet and icy cold. You did not respond once when I called your name and barely even noticed when I shook you.”
“Delayed reaction is all,” he assured. “I’m fine.” And he felt it. Felt…calm again. Maybe the tea had helped. Although he suspected it was Miss Jones who had soothed his worries, not the hot drink.
“You, my friend, are not fine. You’re in shock.” She shot him a look that dared him to disagree, and the patience and kindness in her eyes took his breath.
He had a sudden, desperate urge to kiss her.
He almost snorted aloud. Yeah, right. This was no time for a kiss. His grandfather was in hospital, he’d just messed up a lease agreement, and she was madder than hell and threatening legal action.
His thoughts sobered him. Maybe the woman was right. Maybe he had just experienced a delayed shock reaction.
“Would you like to talk about it?” Her voice was gentle, nothing like the irate firecracker who’d stood before him threatening to contact her lawyer.
He shrugged, pulling himself together. Yes, his grandfather was unwell. But he could cope with it. He didn’t have a choice. “There’s nothing to talk about. He had a heart attack. He’s in the hospital. They’re looking after him. End of story.” It wouldn’t do him any good to get caught up in the severity of the situation again. No way could he think clearly if he focused on the trauma.
“That’s a short story. Especially for a man being hospitalized with a heart attack. I’d expected something…a little longer. A little more serious.”
“I’m not sure my grandfather would appreciate my talking about him to you.”
She pulled back and held up her hands, palms facing him. “You’re right. It’s none of my business.”
He mentally slapped himself, feeling like a jerk for cutting her off when she’d done nothing but try to help.
Claire stood, straightening from her knees to her full, impressive height. “I suspect you need some time out, so I’ll leave you alone. The tea’s beside you if you change your mind about wanting more, which I hope you do.”
Jack searched for something to say and came up with nothing.
She reached into her handbag and pulled out a business card, handing it to him. “I’ll come past your offices tomorrow morning. Eleven okay? We can continue our discussion then.” She hesitated, probably giving him a chance to nix the meeting or maybe reschedule.
He didn’t—because he had no idea what was scheduled for tomorrow. Hard as he’d searched, he had yet to find Big Jack’s diary. Perhaps if he’d found it last night he’d have known about the appointment with Miss Jones.
“My number’s on the card if you need to get hold of me before then. But that should give you some recovery time—and some damage-control time.” She nodded at the floor. “Drink your tea. Whether you want it or not, it’ll make you feel better.”
“Wait!” It wasn’t shock that had him calling out. His mind had cleared. He was focused now.
Claire turned to look at him.
He just didn’t want her to walk away from him. Not without thanking her for her kindness. Or apologizing again for messing up the lease agreement. He extended his arm to her. “Can you give me a hand up?”
Confusion fluttered through her eyes, but she blinked and it was gone. “Of course.” She reached over and grabbed his hand with hers.
The second their hands touched, a shock of energy smacked him in the stomach, and Jack knew his every good intention was about to go to hell. He knew he should use his common sense, knew he needed to keep things professional. But damn it, her touch burned a hole through his skin, her perfume played havoc with his stomach, and she stared at their hands with huge eyes, as though she’d also experienced the electric charge.
Using his weight and position as leverage, he tugged hard on her arm, and instead of pulling himself up, he yanked her down.
She toppled with a startled cry.
He caught her, breaking her fall with his body. He should have taken her size into account before acting so impulsively. But he hadn’t, and her weight knocked him over.
Jack landed on his back, clasping her in his arms, ensuring she came to no harm.
He hadn’t meant to land like this—so close. He’d only hoped to…what? Fill his arms with Miss Jones like he’d felt compelled to do since she’d walked into the shop?
But now that she lay above him, her curves pressing against his body, common sense eluded him. Logic left the shop.
Her face turned crimson and an expression of horror—or maybe embarrassment—creased her features. Before she had a minute to catch her breath, he pressed his hand to the back of her neck, pushed her head down and kissed her.