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He gripped the squared edges of the wood railing. Rough and solid beneath his palms, it conveyed a sense of permanence, of ownership. Beyond the deck where he stood and the black, irregular skyline of scrubby forest that flowed down the hill upon which he had built his secluded home, San Antonio spread out in a rumpled quilt of white and amber lights, stitched together by the sinuously askew seams of major streets and highways. He often stood on the large, terraced deck, gazing out over the city he both loved and nightly escaped, a city he had helped to build, often with his own two hands. This night, however, he studied the ground below, the murky black shadows of lush forest cedar interspersed with spindly sprays of mesquite and squat, wicked cactus.
She was there. Somewhere. He could not see her, but she was there. He sensed her, still attuned even after these many, many months to his ex-wife's volatile presence. Every time the kids slept over, she made some sort of scene, created some sort of crisis. He couldn't believe that tonight wouldbe the exception.
Quietly, so as not to disturb his daughter, whose room in the large, rambling house overlooked the deck, he turned and moved to the top of the steep, open stairs that would carry him down to the narrow drive that ran behind the house. The warm summer breeze made his T-shirt stick to his back and molded the thin pajama bottoms to his body. He did not want another confrontation, but this madness had to stop.
He was certain that she was there, stalking, watching, planning her next scene, her next outrageous demand, utterly determined to ruin his life, to punish him for failing to make her happy, for failing to make all her mad dreams come true. She was there, wanting, needing, his destruction. Most of all, she wanted to turn his children against him, to ensure that he did not see them if she could, to remove his influence from their sad, unstable lives and, if she could not manage that, then to ruin every visit, every cherished moment that he spent with them, because, more than she wanted money, control, someone to worship at her feet and make all her fears go away, she wanted to remove every vestige of the love she could not claim from his life.
Until he felt the hands at the small of his back, he did not realize that, even more than she wanted to punish him, she wanted him dead.
* * *
Pain swirled through his body, dull here, deep there, throbbing, pulsing, ambiguous. He floated on it, drifting blindly from one ache to another, trying to form thoughts, losing them. Then suddenly, hot pincers clamped his inner thigh and began slowly tearing the muscle from the bone. He heard a hoarse, agonized cry. A fellow sufferer or him? Him, he decided, dimly aware of trying to reach the source of his agony. His right arm felt as if it were nailed down, and when he tried to move it, a new pain flooded him.
Someone whom he couldn't see said, "I've got it. I've got it." It was an angel's voice, melodic and female.
Small, cool hands kneaded away the anguish. The white-hot pinching faded. Ahhhhh. The relief felt magical. He was floating again, his whole being focused on the sensations aroused by those hands slowly working their way up his thigh, electrifying his flesh. A new sensation rose - literally. A roiling sea of contrasts tossed him from one extreme to another: shadows and light, heat and cold, pain and indulgence. The relief of unconsciousness and the greed of arousal beckoned with equal appeal.
Lyrical, that voice whispered in his ear again. "There. How's that? Better? Cramp gone now?"
He tried to answer, but his tongue felt thick and unwieldly in his dry mouth. "Ungh."
The wondrous hands vanished. He tried to bring them back, becoming aware of incapacitating weakness and muscles tight with soreness, of a dizzy head and confusion. Where was he? The unusual heaviness on his right side and in his groin weighed him down. Then he felt something brush against his lips. Ah, his erotic angel had not abandoned him. The heaviness in his groin grew more pronounced. He puckered his mouth around a small round something.
"Sip. Just a sip." Like honey, that voice. Cool, sweet water flowed into his mouth, and he gulped it greedily. Panting with relief, he squinted his eyes, trying to focus.
"Are you in pain? Use this." Something hard was pressed into his hand. He lifted his head, tried to look at the thing in his palm and got distracted by a new realization. A bed. He was in bed. But with whom? He tried to put a name, a face, a body to that voice.
"Like this." Slender fingers wrapped around and manipulated his own. The haze parted, and he looked up into a pretty, delicate face, one he had surely never seen before. Dark hair, a long, thick plait of it coiled beneath her ear. Soft, green eyes. The nose was almost too small, the chin almost too pointed, but the mouth ... Oh, the mouth. A perfect, pink, beestung bow. A mouth waiting to be kissed. By him.
Heat pulsed in his groin, and instinctively he lifted his arm, the left one, since the right had turned to stone. The hard thing fell away, but he paid it no mind as he clasped his hand behind her head, his erotic angel with the dulcet voice and gentle touch. Straining upward and pulling down, he brought his mouth to hers. Her lips were soft and supple. They parted against his, and he used all his strength to press harder, to taste her. Sweet. So very sweet. He held on to that as long as he could, his only reality in a nightmare of torture and chaos.
Hums and squeaks swirled around him, fire and pain, need and delight. Where had he met her? What was her name, and why couldn't he remember? Despite his best efforts, gloom eddied in the center of his mind, denying him answers and growing in rings of numbing shadow, darker, darker, until the world went black with a noisy clang.
Excerpted from His Private Nurse by Arlene James
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.