'This way.' It was Poppy, beside him again, her voice as colourless as a mountain brook. She swept one arm in a wide gesture and he located the door.
Slowly he paced beside her, his good hand clenched around the walking stick, his body tense with effort.
The big door swung open with a whoosh of crisp air. He hesitated then stepped out, relishing the cocktail of smells bombarding him: exhaust fumes and dust, smoke and spicy cooking. It was so different to the scoured smell of the hospital. He heard bustling life surround him. Relief battered like a wave, making him light-headed.
Not even to himself had he admitted to fear that he'd never leave the hospital. Yet he felt a weight slide off his shoulders.
'Orsino! Orsino! Over here!'
He blinked, trying and failing to focus on the faces surrounding him. His heart drummed in his chest and a cold sweat broke out on his brow. Something suspiciously like panic twisted in his gut.
A hand closed around his sleeve.
Poppy. She was there beside him.
He breathed deep, hating the way tension eased because he wasn't alone. Hating the fact that she felt the way his arm shook. She of all women.
It was one thing to imagine her pandering to his every whim while he regained his strength. It was another to have her guess how much this cost him. To know how much he needed her right now. His pride smarted.
Gritting his teeth, Orsino walked on, aware of the warmth of her hand through the sleeve of his jacket. Aware too, of the curious leap of excitement he felt being close to her again.
As they walked slowly the voices grew strident and blurred faces crowded close.
'Can you see, Orsino?'
'How close did you come to death?'
'Are you and Poppy reconciling? Are you in love after all this time? How about a kiss for the camera?'
Poppy spoke. 'The car is straight ahead.' There was nothing in her tone, neither stress nor sympathy. She might have been talking to a stranger.
He hadn't expected her to feel anything. He'd had her measure since the night five years ago when he'd discovered what she really was.
Why did it matter that he'd been mistaken in the hospital, imagining he'd got under her skin? Why did it matter that he meant nothing to her?
Yet it did.
Because almost dying out there on the mountain, he'd faced the terrible truth that some part of him was still connected to her.
The realisation was like salt poured on an open wound. A wound he'd believed healed. His gut churned with the force of his reaction as years of resentment came flooding free.
Someone jostled them and his stick clattered to the ground. He reached out and found himself grasping soft cashmere and even softer hair. His fingers tightened.
'That's it, Orsino. Just one kiss!' Around them the paparazzi pressed closer.
'Can you stand while I reach for your stick?' Poppy's words were innocent enough but her ice-cool tone struck him again. To her he was an encumbrance till the divorce, a necessary responsibility. No more.
Five years ago she'd made a fool of him. Even now, when he'd blackmailed her into dancing to his tune, he hadn't dented her self-assurance much less her emotions.
Impotent fury spiked.
He would get a reaction from her.
Planting his feet more solidly, he released his hold and heard her breath sigh out. But before she could draw away he lifted his hand to the back of her head, to the silk tresses that moved as she jerked beneath his hold.
Her tangy, sweet scent filled his nostrils.
'Orsino?' Her voice wobbled.
Now that was a reaction.
He looked down into wide eyes. The fiery burn in his belly flared and spread as he held her tight and slanted his mouth over hers.
Poppy could have broken away from him. She should. He held her with one arm only, the plaster on his other arm pressing against her middle.
His splayed hand held her firmly but not unbreakably.
So why did she hesitate as his mouth captured hers?
Maybe it was the surprising restraint in the touch of his cool lips against hers. It reminded her of the first time they'd kissed. Then he'd scooped her close, his shoulders blocking out the world, leaving her cocooned in the passion that swirled like a maelstrom between them. Yet he'd taken her mouth with a gentleness that had been more devastating than any urgent caress. He'd undone her with one simple kiss, because she'd felt not only desired but cherished.
His mouth moved now against hers, pressing gently. Poppy felt the years peel back, as if awakening to a man for the first time.
A shudder ran the length of her body as nerve endings sprang to life.
His tongue swept the seam of her lips, coaxing a response that rippled through her, from her mouth down to her tingling nipples and her toes curling in her boots.
Orsino's hand moved in her hair, long fingers strong and hard and ridiculously erotic given all he did was hold her.
Her heart hammered into her breastbone and her eyes fluttered shut as her lips moved tentatively against his.
Sensation flooded her, the sound of blood pulsing in her ears, the tensile strength of him against her, the dark chocolate and spice deliciousness that was the shockingly familiar taste of Orsino on her tongue.
He pressed closer and reason finally surfaced from the inchoate thoughts tumbling through her mind.
She pulled back, eyes wide at her body's betrayal.
Impenetrable dark glasses stared back at her. Her eyes dropped to the thin, mobile mouth that had so easily worked magic on hers. She caught a gleam of dampness on his bottom lip, the sheen where her mouth had met his.
Wrenching free of his hold, Poppy staggered back, heart pounding, her breath sawing from her lips.
Still he stood unmoving while all around them cameras clicked and whirred and reporters climbed over each other for a better view.
She felt like she'd had an out of body experience. It sure wasn't her body that had responded to Orsino so eagerly. It couldn't be. She'd eradicated him from her system.
Pity your body doesn't know it.
The snide little voice came from inside her head.
Imagine what would have happened if he'd had two hands to work with.Reviews Return