He turned off the shower and stepped out, wrapping a towel around his lean hips. “You can dry me off if you’d like,” he said, peering through his lashes at her and making her fingers itch to do just that.
Did he ever quit being so…him? “I’d like for you to hurry up.”
“Repetition is a sign of distraction, you know.”
“Sit.” She pointed to the chair she’d brought in earlier.
He gave her a lazy smile, doing as she asked. “I’m ready for your tender ministrations.”
She grabbed the small jar, determined to approach him in a completely clinical manner. “Tristan—Dr. Reed gave me some clothes and a pair of shoes for you to change into. He said you could keep them.”
“Boyfriend?” His mouth flattened.
“Nice guy.” Rose stepped closer and applied the lightly scented ointment to his shoulders first, following the lines and contours of sinew. He was pure muscle, smooth skin over iron. She wanted to touch him everywhere he didn’t need the ointment. She traced the cross tattoo on his bicep. The broad planes of his back were next.
After applying more ointment, she gently kneaded it in, and he made small sounds of pleasure. She took her time, rubbing and kneading from left to right. Up, then down.
But she knew she’d eventually have to face him. She peeked over his shoulder. His hands were clenched into two fists and rested on his muscular thighs. Her eyes widened when she saw the outline of his very large erection under the towel.
Swallowing, she rubbed harder.
“Nails, love, watch your nails.” He bent over slightly and put his hands in his lap.
“Sorry.” Taking a deep breath, she walked around to the front of the chair. She expected a flip remark or even a smug grin, but he remained completely silent and wore a serious expression as she positioned herself between his legs.
The first pass over his chest had her blood racing through her veins. On the second, her knuckles skimmed one of his nipple rings and her blood turned to molasses. Nothing could stop her from touching him again. Her fingers lightly stroked his chest. A soft dusting of toffee-colored hair tickled her skin as she traced the ever-narrowing trail that disappeared under…Her hand froze. She looked away, willing herself to leave the room. Or even step away from him.
But she couldn’t move. The realization that his large hand had clamped around her wrist hit her and she almost dropped the jar. “Did my nails get you again?” she asked, her voice hoarse.
“No,” he said thickly, “I can manage from here.” He plucked the jar from her hand, and she ventured a glance at his face. His cheeks were flushed and his nostrils flared slightly. His talented tongue licked at his bottom lip.
She inched closer, wanting to kiss that full bottom lip. To take it between her teeth and tug.
“You can go now, Rose,” he said, breaking the spell she was under.
Somehow she managed to straighten and walk out of the bathroom without looking back.
Fifteen minutes later, she helped him down the stairs and to the back door.
“Be sure to thank your doctor friend for the clothes and shoes,” Sasha said as he held the door open for her. Dismissing her help with a shake of his head, he limped only slightly to the sidewalk.
Despite the grimace of pain he didn’t mask quickly enough from her view, Rose knew better than to feel sorry for him.
He cursed and leaned over, resting his hands on his thighs for a moment before standing and turning to face her. The lines around his mouth were white.
Well, maybe she felt a tiny bit sorry for him. “Here’s your phone.” She held it out and he grabbed it, sliding the cell into the back pocket of his borrowed jeans. “You left it in the bathroom.”
A black Mercedes idled at a discreet distance, but in the small town of Holland Springs an unfamiliar and expensive car at any distance warranted gossip.
He took her by the hand, his eyes mysterious and compelling. “I know this is a day too late, however, I want to apologize, Rose. You deserved better than the silent treatment I gave you. It was rude and uncalled for. I—”
“Just the silent treatment?” She tilted her head to one side.
His jaw worked for a moment. “No, I’m sorry for ending our date so abruptly. But I won’t apologize for what happened before then. I enjoyed spending time with you. It was…” His eyes shifted, looking behind her and becoming hard as peridot gemstones. “Anyway, you’re an extremely generous woman to help me.”
She might have helped him, but she wasn’t ready to forgive. Or forget. “I would have helped anyone in that situation.”
He gave her a wry smile, his thumb stroking the pulse of her wrist with a continuous lazy glide. “So, this is good-bye.”
“You won’t be coming back?”
“I think two holidays spent in Holland Springs is enough, don't you?” He winked.
“Have a safe trip.” Gently tugging her hand away, she left him standing there.
She walked inside her store, closing the door and leaning against it, her heart pounding in her chest. Blowing out a breath, she nodded once and sank to the floor, the dissipation of adrenaline leaving her body limp.
It really was for the best that he wouldn’t be back. No more surprise visits or using his siren’s voice to ensnare her like she was one of those sea-faring sailors of yore. No more spontaneous dates or kissing, or…She let out a heavy sigh.
Sasha Romanov was completely out of her life. For good.
Three months later
There were very few days Rose wished she were an actual witch, but today was one of them.
Thursday had started out innocuous enough: delivering packages to Alden’s; emailing confirmations for new orders while feeding Ivy; shoving strawberry yogurt down her own throat; and then, opening Carolina Dreams for business at ten.
Today, she’d been busy dusting the inside of the store’s windows and had gotten a glimpse of a tall, lean form that made her palms sweat and her knees weak.
A flash of Sasha Romanov’s killer smile as he inspected Retro Dayz, the store for sale across the street, made her jaw tighten.
If she possessed the power to poof him back to jolly old England or some other exotic location, like the deepest depths of hell—she would. Gladly.
He’d lied to her.
Sasha had said he wasn’t coming back.
But there he was.
And here she was, staring at him through her store’s front window like an Old Navy mannequin.