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DUKE EYED HIS neatly folded clothes at the bottom of the bed. He was at a cross of emotions. He was happy to get the hell out of the hospital, but anger dulled the shine some. He’d been teetering somewhere between pissed and relief since Dr. Scott came in and gave him the news that he’d be discharged in a few days. The smile had barely settled on his lips before she’d told him he’d need someone to help care for him until he was stronger.
Being forced into something didn’t settle well with him, and when he was told he’d have a grown up version of a babysitter, his ego thinned to the width of a piece of paper.
On the other hand, staying in a hospital where he was the only one awake besides the nurses didn’t do much for him either. He hated having nurses coming and going all day checking his stats.
There came a time when a man found himself backed against a wall and with no ego remaining to protect, he admitted his ass was in a sling.
It took him a full minute to think over the Dr. Scott’s offer of breaking out of the sanitary jail and told her to print off his discharge papers. Hell, she’d even agreed to set up his nurse. Once he got to the Swift Wind, where he planned to stay until the McAllister was ready, the sitter would run from the spitting, crude bunch of men who lived in the residential hand quarters. The thought brought vengeance in his gut.
He checked out his clothes and smiled. Damn, he was glad to get out of the open-backed gown and thin pajama bottoms. He needed real clothes—manly clothes. He guessed anything would butter up his bruised ego. He’d have to thank Chance for dropping them off, especially for remembering his old, scuffed boots.
Dressing in the new, red-checkered flannel and dark jeans, he was pulling on his last boot when he heard someone behind him. “I see the clothes are a little big.” It was Lila.
His stomach twisted like someone wringing a wet dishtowel. What was she doing here? He glanced across the worn floor to sandals that showed off red painted toenails, up her long, bare legs, skirt, along her slender waist, stopping to admire the shape of her full breasts, until he reached her face. Oh hell, she cocked her hidden lasers and burned a hole straight through him. What was she up to?
He straightened, but didn’t get up. His legs were still weak, and with the blood draining from his head and rushing into his groin, he was bound to fall flat on his face. “If the clothes are big that’s only because Chance thinks everyone is two-hundred pounds.”
As she reduced the distance between them in the already-too-small room, beads of sweat formed on his upper lip. Damn betrayal of his body.
“Chance had nothing to do with it. I brought them from home, the shirt I bought new.”
He swallowed the scratchiness in his throat. “You brought the clothes?” And what did she mean by “from home.” They’d never lived together.
“Yes, don’t sound so shocked. I made the best choice with what I thought would fit you. You’ve lost weight.”
“They’re fine. I’ll eat some of Thelma’s home cooking and I’ll have my gut back in no time. A man’s first meal after a coma should never be fed to him through an IV.” He patted his stomach as his mouth watered, already tasting Thelma’s fried chicken, mashed potatoes and homemade rolls. Lila moved and his thoughts of food disappeared and her scent took its place. A hint of blackberry blended with vanilla. He’d never forget that smell.
“I’m glad you have your appetite,” she said, “but—”
“Thanks. Now you can leave.” No good ever came from someone adding “but” at the end of a sentence. He was getting a feeling deep inside his chest and he didn’t like it one bit.
“Thelma has a broken leg and is staying with her family during healing. And leaving? I’m actually waiting.” She turned her chin up as if she dared him to challenge her.
Duke felt every muscle in his body quiver. “Waiting? For hell to freeze over?”
A crafty smile slithered its way across the perfect shape of her lips. “Well, not quite.”
He bit back a smile. “You’re not here just to drop my clothes off, are you?” With a shake of her head, and a shrug of one shoulder, she laughed. It was the laugh of a woman who had him by the balls.
“No, afraid not. Looks like you and I are going to be spending a lot of time together.”
Duke felt a sting as the hand of reality slapped him. He’d been tricked. Anger shot through him. “You’re kidding me. You? My nurse? Not going to happen.”
“Duke,” she sighed. “Can we do this the easy way?”
“Not the easy way, not the hard way, just no way at all.”
“Well, then, you could stay here.”
The mere words made him cringe. “Hell no!” He scrubbed his jaw. A man could go insane stuck in a room. No, he couldn’t stay. “I hope you packed up your boots, old jeans and a chastity belt.”
“And why is that?” She didn’t appear the least bit bothered. Her eyes beckoned him and he thought he’d drown in them if he stared too long.
“Because the boys at the Swift Wind won’t know how to control themselves with a pretty woman sleeping in the workers quarters.” Happy with himself, he straightened his back. He guessed she’d last all of one night, considering she wasn’t much into roughing it. That’d take care of his problem.
“Oh, we’re not heading to the Swift Wind. Didn’t Chance tell you the good news? He told you everything else.”
His heart skipped a beat. He could hear the air sizzle around him as his blood heated. “Tell me what?”
“We’re going home…”