Against the Ropes

Page 8


“You asked me not to hurt him.”
I twist my lips to the side. “So…it is how I imagined?”
“Probably worse.”
I slide the ice pack to a better position. “Well, then my first instinct to stay outside was a good one. I’ll remember that the next time I’m tempted to sell tickets at a fight club to make a little extra cash.”
He frowns. “Do you need work?”
“I have a job at the admissions desk at the County Hospital, but the occasional odd job helps make ends meet.”
He tucks an errant strand of hair behind my ear, and the gentle, casual gesture makes my toes curl.
“I’ve been looking for someone with emergency medical experience to handle first aid at the club.” His hand lingers on my shoulder and my stomach does a backflip.
“This was just a one-off for me,” I say. “I couldn’t work here permanently because of the whole violence aspect.”
He cups my chin in his warm palm and strokes my cheek with his thumb. My heart flutters and desire sends shivers through my body.
“Is it just the violence, or do you have a boyfriend who doesn’t like the idea of you working here?” He drops his hand, and his tattoos undulate across his chest. The longer I stare at them, the more the center line begins to resemble a dragon, twisting its way down his sternum and over his abdomen, only to disappear under the waistband of his shorts. Oh, to be that dragon!
“No boyfriend.” I manage a hoarse whisper. “I mean not right at this very moment. I had one. Well, three, actually. In my life. Serious boyfriends. But not all at once and never for longer than a month or two. It just didn’t work out with any of them. It never does.”
“I find that hard to believe.” The caress in his voice turns my bones to mush.
Scrambling to orient myself, I focus again on his tattoos. So many. So intricate. But why only on the right side of his body? Maybe it was too painful. I remember the night Amanda and I foolishly decided to get matching tattoos to celebrate our high school graduation and how I screamed and ran the minute the needle touched my skin.
Unthinking, I stroke my finger down the dragon, stopping just before it disappears below his waistband.
Torment hisses in a breath.
I gasp. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have…I wasn’t thinking…I know it hurts to get a tattoo and I was imagining your pain, and they are so beautiful and scary at the same time.”
This is mortifying. I am on the verge of running away when the door opens and Amanda steps inside. “All ready to go?”
Oh, thank God.
“Yup.” I hand the ice pack to Torment. “I’m sorry I can’t stay longer, but Amanda is my ride home.”
Amanda disappears and I repeat my instructions of when and how long to ice his shoulder. I get no response. His face is impassive and I can’t tell if he is angry, disappointed, or indifferent.
After I tidy up the room, I turn to him and for lack of anything better to do or say, I hold out a stiff hand. “It was nice to meet you.”
He slides his hand against my palm and strokes his thumb over the sensitive skin near my wrist.
A delicious shiver slides down my spine. I can feel his eyes on me, willing me to look up, but I don’t want him to see how much he affects me. Especially since I’ll never see him again.
“Bye.” I pull away and race through the door.
Jake and Amanda are chatting outside the ticket office.
“Can we go now?” I shift from one foot to the other.
Amanda looks at me and her eyes widen. “What’s wrong, Mac?”
“Nothing. I just…I thought we were leaving.”
She gives me a long, assessing look. Her eyes flick over my shoulder and back to my face. She raises a perfectly arched eyebrow and gives me a conspiratorial nod.
Uh-oh. Maybe I should stay at the club. My ride home promises to be an inquisition—Amanda style.
“Sorry, Jake.” She pecks him on the cheek, leaving behind the faint, pink imprint of her lush lips. “Have to go. Friends come first. But I’ll see you at my place after your fight. Don’t shower. I like you all sweaty and pumped up.”
Jake rakes his hand through his thick, blond hair and grins. “I aim to please.”
Amanda pushes open the door, and I glance back over my shoulder. Torment is standing in the doorway to the first aid room, still as a statue, his body chiseled from the finest marble, his tattoos begging to be explored.
No way in hell can I bring myself to go back and ask for my paycheck. I can’t face him ever again.
He studies me, thoughtful, focused, intent, and then he smiles, transforming breathtaking good looks into utter irresistibility in a heartbeat. My breath catches in my throat. I take one last, lingering look. And then I walk out the door.
Chapter 3
I’m afraid she’s taken
“You’re five minutes late, Mac. That’s coming off your pay.”
Big Doris taps her clipboard while I take my seat at Admissions Desk One in Oakland’s leading county hospital. Although only five-foot-two and weighing no more than ninety-nine pounds, Big Doris is possessed of an unnaturally loud voice, and her words boom throughout the crowded waiting room, drawing titters from the patients waiting to see the triage nurse.
“I’m not late. The clock is five minutes fast. According to my watch, I’m exactly on time.”
“According to the hospital clock, you are late.” Big Doris writes up a shame-inducing green slip for my personnel file and then peers down at me over horn-rimmed glasses that I suspect are only for show.