“Oh, damn.” He began peeling her outer garments from her, after which he touched her cheek with such gentle fingers, she didn’t know why her face stung. “You’re hurt.” His voice was guttural. Taking her completely by surprise, he swung her into his arms and carried her to the sofa, close enough to the fire that she sighed in new relief.
“You’re soaking wet.” Now he mostly sounded angry. “I want to see where you’re hurt, then we’ll decide whether you need the E.R. or just a hot bath.”
A hot bath sounded like heaven, but the apartment had only a small shower.
Self-conscious, she pulled her turtleneck over her head and then craned her neck to see her shoulder. It was flaming red and when he gently manipulated it, she winced.
“You’re going to have a hell of a bruise,” he growled.
The shakes were subsiding. “I think I whacked my knee instead of twisting it,” she said. Under his peremptory stare, she half stood and eased her jeans down, too. Her knee was swelling, but not badly, and, oh, boy, but she was going to have a hell of a bruise there, too, to quote him.
“I’m okay,” she muttered, pulling the jeans back up. When she reached for the turtleneck, Colin tossed it away.
“We’ll see how you feel after a bath. Here, put your arms around my neck.”
No one had ever carried her before like this. Or at least...no one in her memory. Stiff and self-conscious and excruciatingly aware of his strength, his scent, his body, she kept her gaze fixed on Colin’s strong jaw, rough with a day’s growth of beard. In an effort to distract herself, she tried to picture her father carrying her like this and couldn’t.
Colin’s bathroom was positively sybaritic, the tub huge and surrounded by a forest of deep green tiles, a few scattered ones textured with what looked like the imprint of pinecones. He started the water running, tested it with his hand, then rose to his feet and looked at her. “Can you get undressed by yourself?” His voice was a little gruff.
“Of course I can!” Nell couldn’t quite bring herself to meet his compelling gray eyes but that didn’t mean she had to sound like a languishing heroine of some 19th century Gothic romance.
Although...she hadn’t known the meaning of the word shy until now. Here she was wearing nothing but her bra and unsnapped, wet jeans. For once in her life she wished she wore boring undergarments. This bra happened to be black with hot pink polka dots, the cups framed with hot pink lace. And oh, yes, she hurt and the fear still came and went like ocean waves, pounding and receding, but that didn’t mean she couldn’t also feel aware of him with every cell of her body.
His hand curled into a half fist, he stroked the cheek that wasn’t scraped with his knuckles. “Okay,” he murmured, the deep voice tender. “I’ll run over to the apartment and bring you dry clothes.”
“Thank you,” she said huskily.
He still didn’t move for a moment, and she knew his gaze rested on her face. But then with a nod he went.
She peered first into the mirror and saw that a long scrape decorated one side of her face. Her hair was plastered to her head and dripping, and her eyes looked wild. No wonder he’d reacted with alarm at first sight of her on his doorstep.
Her knee was stiffening. Swinging that leg over the side of the tub was a challenge, but sinking into the hot water was heavenly.
When the door opened partway, she crossed her arms over her breasts, but all he did was set a pile of clothes on the floor and quietly close the door again.
Nell stayed in the tub long enough to warm herself through, but not as long as she’d have liked. She imagined Colin pacing outside the bathroom. He would want to know what had happened, and she needed to tell him.
He’d brought underwear but not a bra, she saw. Despite the long soak, her arm was reluctant to lift, so she decided to skip putting the one she had back on. She squirmed and wriggled to get the T-shirt and fleece mock-neck over her head, then had to sit on the closed toilet seat to ease the jeans up and get on the heavy socks. Finally, she looked in his drawers until she found a comb and used it to restore order to her wet hair. For the moment, she decided to leave her pile of wet clothes on the floor. She could ask him for a plastic grocery bag to stuff them in so she didn’t drip all over the floor.
He must have heard the door open, because he was pouring boiling water into a mug when she reached the kitchen.
“Cocoa,” he said without looking at her. “I hope you like it.”
“It sounds wonderful.” She smiled tentatively as he turned. “You must have a sweet tooth.”