“Hi, Oz,” I say.
He squints. “And you are?”
“You don’t know me, but everyone knows you.”
He huffs. “Is that right? As the has-been, right? I’m making a comeback, just you wait and see.” He drinks from his silver flask. Maverick smirks at me and goes to pluck the needle from Oz’s grip.
When he walks up to me with the needle, I suddenly don’t know what possessed me to come to his aid. I’ve sewn pillows, not warm, living flesh.
“Do your worst,” he says, raising his good eyebrow, challenging me.
“Has it been sterilized. . . ?” I ask, trying to focus on the needle he just handed to me.
Not on the fact that Maverick is too close.
Not on the fact that Maverick is watching me with more interest than he’s ever watched me with.
Pulling out the nightstand drawer, he grabs a lighter, turns it on, flickers it over the needle, sterilizing it with the flame, then he walks to a bag of ice and sticks it inside to cool it immediately.
Our fingers brush as he passes the needle again, and then he sits down on the chair by the window. I try to keep my pulse steady as I clean the wound. “No hospital for you, huh,” I whisper.
“Don’t want to go there to heal and I don’t want to go there to die.” His voice is low but adamant, and so close his breath fans over my face—and it feels so warm.
I stop smiling when I see him looking at me and feel that strange flip in my tummy.
Be strong, Reese.
If he can take the gash, you can do some needlework.
You might even take his stare.
I stand between his parted legs. He’s in shorts and . . .
His thighs are massive and bulging like rocks. He’s sitting down, his hair gleams under the yellow room lights, his knees scraped. His legs are hair-dusted and tan. His chest is soaked with sweat. I’m standing, and his face is eye level with my neck. Every inch closer, I get nervous. My hand shakes a little.
I know it’s going to hurt, but there’s no concern in his gaze. Almost as if he’s immune to pain.
“Lower your gaze,” I say.
He drops his gaze. And it doesn’t help. I can’t concentrate because whatever it is he’s staring at now, my lips are tingling. Tingling.
Is he looking at my lips?
I can feel his eyes on me—in me—like he has X-ray vision. I set my fingers on Maverick’s forehead. He doesn’t react to the touch at all, but touching him is making me feel funny. But this is not a funny moment, so you should just get down to business, girl!
Inhaling and holding my breath, I pierce his skin with the tip of the needle, wincing inside. He doesn’t move. He watches me in silence as I ease the needle out. And then pierce his skin again.
“You’ll have a scar,” I whisper ruefully.
He reaches out and curls his wounded hand around my waist as if to steady me, and I can’t stop my body’s instant quiver in reaction. Body, behave!
My hand has stopped stitching as I assess whatever it is that’s unsettling me to the core.
His pinkie somehow stole under my shirt, the others over it. The pad of his finger is a little rough. His fingers grip me a little tighter as he draws me closer. I catch my breath, then realize he’s steadying me so I can finish. And I won’t be able to finish if I keep focusing on the fact that my boobs are right in his face!
I pierce his skin again, this time quickly, trying to sew as tightly as possible so that it heals better. And as fast as possible, so I can get out of here. He inhales sharply.
I pause. “I’m hurting you.”
His head tilts and his eyes flick up to mine and there is so much heat there, the kind that I have never seen in anyone’s eyes when they look at me. Not me.
“Are you done?” he asks, voice textured, his eyes roiling with frustration all of a sudden, as if he can’t wait for me to be done. But his fingers are clutching me closer, until my knee is up against . . . his groin.
I purse my lips and focus on piercing his skin again. I do a total of twelve stitches. Even while my heart is running like Seabiscuit in my chest and I pray he doesn’t notice how fast my chest rises and falls.
“There. You’ll live to fight another day.”
I pull away and then put almost half the room between us as I search for something to say. “I brought ice cream to celebrate. It’s your first fight at the Underground. Tell me!”
Back to the business of celebrating, I bring out my ice cream pack.
He leans forward, elbows to his knees, watching me in curiosity. “It was nothing special.” He curls his fingers into his palms and watches my profile intently.
Then Oz says, “It was spectacular! He KO’d three!”
Maverick’s eyes flash on Oz, a spark hot enough to melt steel. He growls angrily, shaking his head. “Not enough.”
“Better than any starter fighter I’ve seen in a long time. You broke Twister in one round.” He stares at Maverick, who’s staring at me.
“Twister?” I ask, impressed.
“I’ll get you a cab so you can go home, Oz,” Maverick tells him. I notice how meaningfully Maverick’s eyes slide toward the door.
Oz’s eyebrows fly up.
So do mine.
Maverick looks unperturbed.
I have the strangest feeling that he wants to be alone with me.
A kernel of panic settles in my gut.
And two of excitement.
Three of lust.
“Boy, I’ve been taking care of myself before you came along, so fuck off. I can get my own cab.” Oz slaps the first-aid kit closed and carries it under his armpit as he sips from his flask and grabs his coat.