‘I have a very sore head and I am slightly disorientated. That is all.’ Angelos coined the assurance with arrogant emphasis. ‘Stop treating me like a child.’

‘How many fingers do you see?’ In her anxiety, Maxie stuck out her thumb instead of the forefinger she had intended.

‘I see one thumb,’ he said very drily. ‘Was that a trick question?’

Flushing a deep pink, Maxie bridled as he yanked off his tie. ‘Do you have to undress?’

‘I am not lying down in wet clothes,’ Angelos informed her loftily.

‘I’ll leave you, then...well, I need to get some bowls for the drips anyway,’ Maxie mumbled awkwardly on her passage out through the door.

Just the thought of Angelos unclothed shot a shocking current of snaking heat right through her trembling body. It was only nervous tension, Maxie told herself urgently as she went downstairs, the result of delayed shock after that horrendous outbreak of masculine violence in the street. She had been really scared, but Angelos was too bone-deep macho and stupid to have been scared. However, she should have forced him to go to the local hospital...but how did you force a male as spectacularly stubborn as Angelos to do something he didn’t want to do, and surely there couldn’t be anything really serious wrong with him when he could still be so sarcastic?

In the scullery, she picked up a bucket and a mop, and then abandoned them to pour some disinfectant into a bowl of water instead. She needed to see close up how bad that cut was. Had he been unconscious for several seconds after the youths had run off? His eyes had been closed, those ridiculously long lashes down like black silk fans and almost hitting his cheekbones. Dear heaven, what was the matter with her? Her mind didn’t feel like her own any more.

Angelos was under her rosebud-sprigged sheets when she hesitantly entered the bedroom again. His eyes seemed closed. She moistened her lower lip with a nervous flick of her tongue. She took in the blatant virility of his big brown shoulders, the rough black curls of hair sprinkling what she could see of his powerful pectoral muscles and that vibrant golden skintone that seemed to cover all of him, and which looked so noticeable against her pale bedding...

‘You’re supposed to stay awake if you have concussion,’ she scolded sharply in response to those unnecessarily intimate observations. Stepping close to the bed, she jabbed at a big brown shoulder and swiftly withdrew her hand from the heat of him again as if she had been scalded, her fair skin burning.

Those amazing black eyes snapped open on her.

‘You’re bleeding all over my pillow,’ Maxie censured, her throat constricting as she ran completely out of breath.

‘I’ll buy you a new one.’

‘No, you buy nothing for me...and you lie still,’ she instructed unevenly. ‘I need to see that cut.’

With an embarrassingly unsteady hand and a pad of kitchen towelling, Maxie cleaned away the blood. As she exposed the small seeping wound, a beautifully shaped brown hand lifted and closed round the delicate bones of her wrist. ‘You’re shaking like a leaf.’

‘You might’ve been knifed or something. I still feel sick thinking about it. But I could’ve dealt with that kid on my own—’

‘I think not...his mates were already moving in to have some fun. Nor would it have cost them much effort to drag you round the corner down that alleyway—’

‘Well, I’m not about to thank you. If you had stayed away from me, it wouldn’t have happened,’ Maxie stated tightly. ‘I’d have stayed in the hotel until closing time and got a lift home with the barman. He lives a couple of miles on down the road.’

With that final censorious declaration, Maxie pulled herself free and took the bowl downstairs again. She would have to go back up and mop the floor but it was true, she was shaking like a leaf and her legs felt like jelly. Unfortunately it wasn’t all the result of shock. Seeing Angelos in her bed, wondering like a nervous adolescent how much, if anything, he was wearing, hadn’t helped.

Five minutes later she went back up, with a motley collection of containers to catch the drips and the mop and bucket. In silence, she did what had to be done, but she was horribly mortified by the necessity, not to mention furious with herself for dismissing the agent’s assessment of the cottage’s condition on the phone. This was the first time it had rained since she had moved in and clearly either a new roof or substantial repairs would be required to make the cottage waterproof before winter set in. It was doubtful that she could afford even repairs.

As each receptacle was finally correctly positioned to catch the drips from overhead, a cacophany of differing noises started up. Split, splat, splash, plop...

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