“Merde. This looks bad.”
I start. “Did you just curse in French?”
He shrugs. “My minor. The curse words are the easiest. New shoes?” He frowns as he glances at my footwear. “You walk a lot, Serena? You need sneakers.”
Tell me about it.
“A person walks 65,000 miles in their lifetime. That’s enough to go around the earth three times.”
“I make you nervous. This explains a lot about how you acted at the Pig.”
“No. It. Doesn’t.” I give the words a little extra clip.
“Maybe wear socks next time you go around the world.” His hair falls in his face, obscuring his features as he hovers over my feet, holding them in his hands. His fingers are long and nimble, his nails blunt as he tears open an antiseptic pad, pulls it out, and brushes it over my ankle. My skin sizzles.
I flinch and gasp. “Oh my God, it feels like a blowtorch!”
His lips quirk. “You gonna pass out?”
My face feels clammy, the air in the room sparse. I lick my lips. “I hate to admit this, but I banged my toe on the coffee table last month. Blood everywhere. Total carnage. I woke up five minutes after the murder scene. So, maybe I have a tendency—” My hands clench as he touches another blister, ramping up the sting.
“Hmmm, you’re pale. Talk to me, it will help.” He blows on my skin, soothing the burn.
I suck in a breath. “Well, back to nemeses, there’s my favorite, Harry Potter and Voldemort—” I pause, my heart skipping as another bead of blood trickles down my foot. “Oh, no…” I sway on the table, my throat moving convulsively.
He looks up at me, searching my face. “Just breathe. Big inhale, long exhale.”
The room spins, and I lean forward, resting my forehead on his chest.
He pulls my face up. “Serena? Hey, baby, focus on me.”
“Don’t call me baby,” I whisper. That was Vane’s nickname for me.
I stare into his ocean gaze, trying to focus, but the sting isn’t going away, and the crimson color that’s dripping down my foot… “This is incredibly embarrassing, because I’d like to believe I’m tough, and I apologize in advance, but I think I might…” The room darkens, dots flashing in my field of vision. “Pass out.”
He presses my face down between my legs, maneuvering me until my back is bent. “That’s it, breathe for me.”
I suck in air and blow it out, trying to ignore his hands in my hair, the way his fingers knead my nape. It’s not a sexual touch, but careful and deep. My muscles unlock as I let out a long breath.
“I like your dandelion tattoo,” he says quietly. “What does it mean?”
The image on my nape is about four inches long, a blue dandelion with the seeds flying away on one side. “Thanks,” I say, my head still bent. “Second chances. It’s a weed, but has deep roots, like a close family, and comes back again and again. Got it when I was seventeen with a fake ID. There might have been vodka involved. My parents grounded me for a month.” I pause, feeling better already. Talking does help. “These days, it symbolizes hope for happiness and love. I’m a bit of a dreamer, I guess.”
A gruff laugh comes from him. “Seventeen? You’re a rebel.”
“Not so much lately.”
He pauses, as his fingers drift over my tattoo. “To me, a dandelion means wishing for something. I happen to know a lot about that.”
“Oh. What do you wish for?”
There’s a silence, then, “Besides being a good quarterback, I wish I could go back in time, knowing what I know now, so I don’t screw it up. Do you have any more tattoos?”
“No. I was a little wild when I got it, I guess, but in my defense, my dad was covered in tattoos. He was upset about the drinking. He was a cop. He is—was—the best man I ever met. Yours are nice. I like the roses.”
“You noticed them,” he purrs.
I rise up and look at him. I imagine my face is flushed from being bent, and I can feel the color deepening.
“I saw your”—magnificent chest—“tattoos at the Pig.”
“You might feel better if you let this down.” He pulls my hair out of the messy bun and spreads it out with his hands.
“Yeah?” he asks.
“Yeah.” My eyes land on his lips then dart away. Oh, man. Is he flirting?
That question is answered when his hands fall away from me as he gets back to work, kneeling down and inspecting my ankles. He wipes the rest of the blood away with another alcohol pad. “What about Seinfeld and Newman?”
“Oldie but a goodie.”
“Ever watch Alien? Ripley and the alien were archenemies.”
“Kept my eyes closed through most of it, especially the nightmare scene where she delivers a baby alien…” I wince. “Let’s talk about something else. That movie isn’t helping.”