Part N, in a continuing story from A to Z [link to the beginning]
Zoey regained consciousness to the realization she was being held in strong arms, her face pressed into a masculine chest that smelled so good she took a deep breath and sighed– and then started struggling in earnest when she realized it was Ferraro holding her, carrying her up the main staircase.
How absolutely mortifying.
He merely tightened his grip. “Ms. Prescott. Hold still.”
She told herself she only stopped struggling because it hurt to move. “What are you doing?”
“Assisting you to your room.” His words were clipped and angry.
“You can’t just carry me upstairs.”
“It seems I can.”
“Put me down.”
She noticed her left forearm had a makeshift bandage tied tightly around it. That was good, as that arm had been bleeding a bit too freely. “I’m capable of walking up these stairs on my own.”
“Ms. Prescott. You just proved, rather spectacularly, that you are incapable of simply standing.”
“I was tired. I’m fine now.”
He didn’t reply, just kept steadily climbing the stairs, turning at the landing and proceeding up to the third floor. She wasn’t exactly a lightweight and he wasn’t even breathing heavily.
She heard a commotion and looked over his shoulder to see Mrs. Darby and a couple maids, carrying what looked like a platoon’s worth of first aid supplies, panting up the stairs behind them.
Good grief. This was turning into an outright production. All she needed was a good night’s sleep. And maybe a couple stitches.
To be honest, she was still feeling a bit woozy. She rested her head on Ferraro’s chest, just for a minute, and next thing she knew he was kicking her bedroom door shut in Mrs. Darby’s startled face and depositing her on her bed so she leaned against the headboard of the four-poster.
He paced to the window where he stood staring out into the dark for several minutes, the silence thick with tension, before he pulled the curtains closed and turned to speak.
“What in the hell were you thinking?” he asked, his voice soft and low, vibrating with suppressed anger. His arms were crossed over that impressive chest, his face set in harsh implacable lines.
Zoey swallowed what little was left of her pride after the day’s fiasco. “It was wrong of me to endanger your niece. I apologize for my lack of vigilance.”
“You think that’s what this is about?” His expression was one of disbelief as he ran an impatient hand through his hair.
Why else would he be angry? She’d put Sam in danger. “Well, yes.”
“You think I’m angry that you noticed a vicious predator stalking you, had the presence of mind to get Samantha to safety, and then risked your own life to protect her? You honestly think that is why I am angry?”
“No. Do not speak,” his voice commanding now. He crossed the room to stand over her, all fierce and intimidating male. “What I fail to understand, Ms. Prescott, what makes me utterly furious, is that you did not call me immediately when you saw the wolf.”
And risk his safety too? “But–”
“No, I’m not done.” He wrapped one hand around the bedpost in a white-knuckled grip, as if restraining himself. “Nor did you call me once Samantha was safely out of reach.”
She’d been kind of busy. “I–”
“You didn’t call me as soon as the other wolves chased away the predator,” he continued, leaning over her, right in her face now, bracing his other hand on the headboard on the far side of her head. She slid further down into the pillows in a futile effort to create some distance, to avoid how good he smelled, how very appealing he was at close range.
“NO, you called me as a last resort,” he said, so close now they were breathing the same air, his anger nearly palpable. “You waited until you had no other choice.”
She couldn’t argue with that. She knew the moment he saw the truth of it in her eyes and it seemed to spark something fierce in his.
“You could have bled out, waiting for someone to come looking for you.” His voice was quietly intense, rough with emotion. “Hell, you almost did bleed out, right in my goddamned front entry.”
“No. You could have died out there, Zoey.”
Something changed then, when he said her name like that, some connection between them deepened. She felt a shiver of awareness, of intent, as he stared at her mouth before returning his gaze to hers. Hot, hungry, still angry. She held it, not brave enough to look away, afraid to continue.
There was a polite tap-tap on the door.
Neither of them moved. Neither spoke. Time felt suspended.
He was waiting, she realized, poised on the brink of something neither of them could take back. Waiting for her permission, her acceptance. And she couldn’t give it to him. Or to herself.
“No,” she whispered. She recognized the flare of heated challenge then, daring her. But this was a risk she couldn’t afford to take, not in this place, not with this man.
She took a slow and shaky deep breath, one last time, to savour in memories. Then closed her eyes against temptation, unable to look at him as she said it again, firm and clear this time, “No.”
He remained still for one long impossible beat. She felt his absence with an ache of loss as he moved away. Heard the door open.
“Mrs. Darby,” back in control, crisp authority in his voice, “see that Ms. Prescott stays in this bed until she is completely recovered.”
“Yes, of course, sir.”
Zoey opened her eyes in time to watch him pause in the doorway, give her one last look, intense and vital and barely controlled.
He closed the door behind him as he left and she mouthed the word once more, already needing the reminder.
N is for No.