I’m floating a bit from his comment about me being small, which I’m not, not really. But the latter half of his sentence brings me crashing back down to the ground.
“Leave things like that to men?” Oh, there she is—my inner feminist coming out to play. She’s outraged. “I’m perfectly capable of doing anything that a man can do.”
He smirks again, and I see red.
“I’m not trying to keep down your right to vote, or attempting to put you barefoot in the kitchen, or whatever else it is you women folk get tied in knots about. Though the kitchen would likely be safer.”
“What did you say?” I gape; I can’t help it.
“My point is that some differences between men and women, they are biology.” His stare catches my own, and though his expression is mild, his words, the most subtle shift of his body in that chair, serve to demonstrate exactly what he means.
He is a large, well-muscled man.
I am a small, soft woman.
No matter how much of a fight I put up, he could overpower me in about three seconds.
Some cavewoman part of me purrs at the notion, and I gasp, appalled at myself.
He takes my gasp as outrage, and the expression on his face shifts... becomes darker.
“Shall I take that to mean you need a demonstration of just how different we are?” He slides forward, lays his palms flat on the bed. Though I do my best to suppress it, the image of him overpowering me, pressing my naked body down into the slinky sheets of this bed floods my mind.
What is wrong with me?
As he moves, the dim light of the room dances over the fine bones of his face. His left eye is cast in shadow, a shadow that doesn’t move when he does. Not a large bruise, but noticeable enough.
“Where did someone like you get a black eye?” I blurt out, mostly to break the tension. Raising an eyebrow, he eases back, and the spell is broken.
I’m left with a pulse that thunders through my veins. I inhale, then exhale slowly, trying to calm it.
The question seems to set him back, if only for a second, and then he has that smooth mask back in place. He even smiles wryly.
“You don’t recognize your own handiwork?” He sounds amused. I, however, am appalled.
“Shut up.” It’s American slang, using those words to say that you don’t believe something, but his affronted expression tells me that he doesn’t understand. Realizing I have shoved my foot in my mouth, I hurry on. “I’ve never punched anyone in my life.”
Not that I wouldn’t, if I had to. I try to do what’s right, what the moral compass inside each of us—the one that my mother has always so blithely ignored—says is wrong, and what is right. But I cannot think of a single reason that I would swing at this stranger. Even if he clearly got me medical attention that I do not want.
“Well, I assure you, I am not mistaken.” He rubs his hand over the stubble on his jaw, eyeing me thoughtfully. That stubble, the dark shadow, lends him a human edge that he was missing when I first saw him in the airport—a well groomed, dark companion to Italian Barbie.
“You passed out from blood loss. The ambulance came. You woke up just as we arrived at the hospital. You were quite insistent that we not go inside, so you took a swing at me.” He shrugs, and if I’m not mistaken, he’s a bit embarrassed that I—a woman—managed to land a hit. “I did not wish to upset you further, so I asked them to instead bring you here. To my home. I had my family doctor come to treat you.”
The family doctor of some man I don’t know, examining me while I’m unconscious. Great. “Why were you in the ambulance?”
I know, from the times I’ve had to ship my mom off to the hospital to get her stomach pumped, that only family members are allowed to accompany a patient in an ambulance—and then only one.
A quick look around serves as a reminder that this man likely has enough money to bend all kinds of rules.
And the air of arrogance that he wears as comfortably as he wore that dark blue sweater earlier makes me think that he wouldn’t have any problem bending them. Which is why I’m surprised to see that confidence falter, just for a split second, but impossible to miss.
“It is my fault that you needed the ambulance.” His words are stiff, colored with the faintest hint of... guilt?
“How do you figure that?” I sit up straighter, which causes the sheet that I’m holding to me to slide down slightly. I don’t care, but I do notice that his eyes dip briefly to the hint of cleavage that I now have on display before rising back up. “It’s not your fault. It’s the fault of the man with the knife.”
The man shakes his head, completely dismissing my words, and anger rises inside of me. “No. It is my fault. I hesitated. If I hadn’t, I would have reached him first. The blade that hurt you should have been meant for me.”
As he speaks, he reaches across my lap. Sliding the heavy locks of my hair back so that it hangs behind my shoulder, he traces a finger over the line of my cut.
I stiffen, then shudder—his finger is cool against my feverishly hot skin.
I shake my head in disagreement, knowing as I do that somehow there will be no changing his mind.
“I can’t afford any of this.” Shame, that ghost that has haunted me my entire life, becomes a visible apparition. “I am—well, was—a student. The ambulance. The doctor. The medicine.”
“Well, I can.” Pulling away from me abruptly, he stands. “It is my responsibility. My fault. So you will stay until you heal.”
Hell no. I know that I don’t actually have any other options right now, but instinct is its own entity, honed over long years of watching my mother make promises that she could never fill, anything to get her next fix.
I slide over to the edge of the bed. I have to get up. I can’t owe him any more than I already do.
The abrupt movement causes my stitches to pull tight, tugging on the healthy skin surrounding the wound, and I cry out in pain.
“Lie down.” The word is a full-on command, infused with the authority of a man who knows that he will be obeyed.
Again, instinct tells me to rail against it. But someone else—something either much smarter or much more idiotic—has me doing as he says.
He scowls down at me, an expression that suits him better than the smile, though I like the smile far better.
“I am not holding you hostage.” He points to a cordless phone that rests on the bedside table. “You are free to call whomever you wish, so that they do not worry. But you will stay until you are healed. I assure you, the money—it is nothing.”