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'Who the hell are you? And what are you doing in my kitchen?'
Stephanie had arrived at the gatehouse of Mulberry Hall an hour or so ago, and had rung the bell and knocked on the door before deciding that either Jordan St Claire wasn't in or he was just refusing to answer. Either way, it left her with no choice but to let herself in with the key Lucan St Claire had given her. Once she had walked into the kitchen and seen the mess there she hadn't bothered going any further. The dirty plates and untidiness were a complete affront to her inborn need for order and cleanliness. She doubted Jordan had bothered to wash a single cup or plate since his arrival here a month ago!
'This is a kitchen?' She continued to collect up the dirty crockery that seemed to litter every surface, before dropping it gingerly into the sink full of hot, soapy water. 'I thought it was a laboratory for growing bacterial cultures!' She turned, her gaze very direct as she raised derisive dark brows at the unkempt man who stood in the doorway, glaring at her so accusingly.
Only to feel the need to steady herself by leaning against one of the kitchen cabinets as she instantly recognised him. Despite the untidy overlong dark hair, the several days' growth of beard on the sculptured square jaw, and the way the black T-shirt and faded blue jeans hung slightly loose on his large frame, there was no mistaking his identity.
It took every ounce of Stephanie's usual calm col-lectedness to keep her expression coolly mocking as she found herself looking not at Jordan St Claire but at the world-famous actor Jordan Simpson!
Admittedly, the shaggy dark hair and the five o'clock shadow that looked more like an eleven o'clock one managed to disguise most of his handsome featureswhich was perhaps the intention. But there was no mistaking those mesmerising amber-gold eyes. Reviewers' descriptions of the colour of those eyes differed from molten gold to amber to cinnamon-brownbut, whatever the colour, the descriptions were always preceded by the word mesmerising!
As a fan of the English actor, who had taken Hollywood by storm ten years ago when, as a relative unknown, he had been given the starring role in a film that had been an instant box office hit, Stephanie knew exactly who he was. She should do, when she had seen every film this man had ever madetwenty or so to date. A couple of them had even resulted in him winning Oscars for his stunning performances, and she would have recognised those chiselled features in the dark. In her many fantasies involving this man it had always been in the dark
Added to which, she knew Jordan Simpson had fallen from the top of a building six months ago, whilst on the set of his last film. The newspapers had been full of sensational speculation at the time, hinting that Jordan had been severely disfigured. That he might never walk again. That he might never work again.
No doubt about it, Stephanie accepted, as her heart continued to beat rapidly and her cheeks started to feel hot, he might be walking with the aid of a cane, but the man in front of her really was the incredibly handsome actor she had obsessed over for years. A little fact that Lucan St Claire had forgotten to mention to her the previous week, she thought with annoyance. She'd rather have been forewarned!
'Very funny!' Jordan rasped in response to her remark about the kitchen. He stood in the doorway, leaning heavily on the ebony cane he had necessarily to carry around with him everywhere nowadays if he didn't want to end up falling flat on his face. 'That still doesn't tell me who you are or how you got in.'
Jordan had been in an exhausted sleep, lying on the bed that had been brought down to the dining room because he could no longer walk up the stairs, when he'd heard the sound of someone moving about in the kitchen. His first thought had been that it was a burglar, but intruders didn't usually hang around long enough to wash the dishes!
'I have a key.' The redhead shrugged.
His eyes narrowed. 'Given to you by whom, exactly?'
A slight indrawn breath and then another shrug. 'Your brother Lucan.'
Jordan's glare turned to a scowl. 'If my interfering brother sent you here to act as housekeeper, then I think you should know I don't need one.'
'All evidence is to the contrary,' the redhead drawled, and she turned her back on him to once again move efficiently about the kitchen, collecting up yet more dirty plates and stacking them on the draining board. Giving Jordan's narrowed gaze every opportunity to notice how a short white T-shirt clung to the firmness of her breasts and flat stomach, ending a couple of inches short of the low-slung jeans that moulded to narrow hips and the perfect curve of her bottom.
Greatthe only part of his body that didn't already ache from his injuries was now engorged, throbbing and ached like hell!
It was the first time Jordan had felt the least bit of sexual interest in a woman since the accident six months agobut, considering the pitiful condition the rest of his body was in, it wasn't an interest he particularly welcomed now. 'Most of that stuff will go into the dishwasher, you know,' he muttered resentfully as the redhead began to wash the dishes already in the soapy water in the sink.
'They could have gone in the dishwasher after they were first used,' she corrected without turning. 'Now they need to be soaked first.'
'Implying that I'm a slob?'
'Oh, it wasn't an implication,' she commented pertly.
'It may have escaped your notice, but I'm slightly impaired here!' Jordan defended angrily; he didn't have much of an appetite nowadays anyway, but on the occasions he did feel hungry his hip and leg ached so much by the time he had finished preparing the food and eating it that he didn't feel up to doing the dishes.
The redhead stopped washing up to slowly turn and look at him with wide green eyes. 'Wow.' She gave a rueful shake of her head. 'I have to admit I didn't expect you to play the "I'm crippled" card right off the bat!'
Jordan drew in a harsh, disbelieving breath even as his fingers tightened about his cane until the knuckles showed white. 'What did you just say?'
Stephanie's gaze continued to calmly meet Jordan's fierce amber eyes even as she quickly registered the way his already pale cheeks had taken on a grey tinge, along with the resentful stiffening of a body that obviously showed the signs of being ravaged by pain and illness.
Normally a complete professional when it came to her job, Stephanie was finding it difficult to deal with Jordan's dark and sensual good-looks with her usual detachment. In fact, she had deliberately not looked at him for some minutes in an effort to regain her equilibrium! Usually level-headed when it came to men, Stephanie had dragged her reluctant sister along to see every film Jordan Simpson had ever made, just so that she could sit in the impersonal darkness of the cinema and drool over the big screen image of him before she was later able to buy the film on DVD and drool over him in private. Her sister Joey was just going to fall over laughing when she learnt who Stephanie had taken on as her patient!
Her expression remained outwardly cool as she inwardly acknowledged that thankfully the sexy and ruggedly handsome actor was barely recognisable in the gaunt and pale man in front of her. Except for those eyes!
'I'm sorry. I thought that was how you now thought of yourself? As a cripple,' she said evenly.
Those eyes glittered a dangerous gold. 'Forget who you are and what you're doing here, and just get the hell out of my home!' he ordered furiously.
'I don't think so.'
He frowned fiercely at the calmness of her reply. 'You don't?'
Stephanie smiled unconcernedly in the face of the fury she could see he was trying so hard to restrain. 'This is your brother's home, not yours, and the fact that Lucan gave me a key to get in shows he has no problem with me being here.'
Jordan drew in a harsh breath. 'I have a problem with you being here.'
She smiled slightly. 'Unfortunately for you, you aren't the one paying the bills.'
'I don't need a damned housekeeper!' he repeated, frustrated.
'As I said, that's questionable,' Stephanie teased lightly as she moved to dry her hands on a towel that also looked as if it needed to come face to face with some hot soapy wateror, more preferably, disinfectant! 'Stephanie McKinley.' She thrust out the dry hand. 'And I'm not a housekeeper.'
A hand Jordan deliberately chose to ignore, breathing deeply as he looked down at her from between narrowed lids. Probably aged in her mid to late twenties, the woman had incredibly long, dark lashes fringing eyes of deep green, and the freckles that usually accompanied hair as red as hers were a light dusting across her small uptilted nose. Her lips were full, the bottom one slightly more so than the top, above a pointed and determined chin. She also had one very sexy body beneath the casual white T-shirt and denims, andas he was now all too well awarea tongue like a viper!
No onenot even his two brothershad dared to talk to Jordan these last few months in the way Stephanie McKinley just had.
'How do you know Lucan?' Jordan probed suddenly.
'I don't.' With a shrug, the woman allowed her hand to fall back to her side. 'At least, not in the way I think you're implying I might.' She gave him another mocking glance.
Jordan had been standing for longer than he usually did, and as a result his hip was starting to ache. Badly. A definite strain on his already short temper! 'Is paying a woman to go to bed with me Lucan's idea of a joke?'
Stephanie smiled in the face of the deliberate insultat the same time as she wryly wondered whether the coldly remote man she had met the previous week even had a sense of humour! 'Do I look like a woman men pay to go to bed with them?'
'How the hell should I know?' Jordan scorned.
'Implying you don't usually need to pay a woman to go to bed with you?' That was something she was already well aware ofJordan Simpson had trouble keeping women out of his bed rather than the opposite!
'Not usually, no,' he ground out.
Stephanie realised that he was deliberately trying to unnerve and embarrass her with the intimacy of this conversation. He was succeeding, toowhich wasn't a good thing in the circumstances.
She raised an eyebrow. 'I assure you I would have absolutely no interest in going to bed with a man who is so full of self-pity that he's not only shut himself off from his family but the rest of the world, too.'
Jordan's face darkened ominously. 'What the hell would you know about it?' he snarled viciously. 'I don't see you suffering pitying looks every time you so much as go outside, as you stumble about with the aid of a cane just so that you don't completely embarrass yourself by falling flat on your backside!'
Stephanie hesitated slightly before answering. 'Not any more, no.'
Those golden eyes narrowed to dark slits. 'What exactly does that mean?'
Stephanie calmly met that furiously glittering gaze. 'It means that when I was ten years old I was involved in a car crash that left me confined to a wheelchair for two years. I couldn't walk at all for all of that time, not even to "stumble about with the aid of a cane". You, on the other hand, still have mobility in both your legs, which is why you won't be receiving any of those pitying looks from me that you seem to find so offensive from the rest of humanity!'
Ordinarily Stephanie didn't tell her patients of her own years spent in a wheelchair. She saw no reason why she needed to, and wouldn't have done so now, either, if the challenge in Jordan's tone hadn't touched on a raw nerve.
'You were lucky enough to get up and walk so now you think anyone else who finds themselves in the same position should do the same?' he said.
'So you've had the bad luck to receive injuries that have left you less than your previously robust and healthy self. Either live with it, or fight it, but don't hide yourself away here, feeling sorry for yourself.' She was breathing hard in her agitation.
Jordan looked down at her with sudden comprehension. 'If Lucan didn't send you here to go to bed with me, then who the hell are you? Yet another doctor? Or perhaps my arrogant big brother now thinks I'm in need of a shrink?' His top lip turned back contemptuously.
Stephanie McKinley quirked dark brows. 'I had the impression from reading your medical notes that your skull escaped injury when you fell?'
'It did,' he bit out tightly.
She raised auburn brows. 'Do you think you're in need of a psychiatrist?'
He scowled darkly. 'I'm not playing this game with you, Miss McKinley.'
'I assure you I don't consider this a game, Mr Simpson'
'You know who I am?' Jordan interjected.
'Well, of course I know who you are.' Irritation creased the smooth creaminess of her brow. 'You're a household name. Obviously you're feeling less than your usual suave and charming self,' she concluded tactfully, 'but you're still you.'
Was he? Sometimes Jordan wondered. Until six months ago he had enjoyed his life. Living in California. Doing the work he loved to do. 'Suave and charming' enough to be able to go to bed with any woman who took his interest. Since the accident all that had changed. He had changed.
'In that case, Miss McKinley, what I need is for someone to find a screenplay that calls for a male lead who limps! Know of any?' Jordan growled his frustration as he moved away from her, favouring his right side as usual, as the damaged muscle and bones in his hip and leg protested at the movement. Hell, he hurt no matter if he moved or not!
'Not offhand, no,' the redhead said tartly. 'And you wouldn't need one if you concentrated your energies on getting back the full use of that leg instead of wallowing in self-pity.'
'Damn it to hell!' Jordan gave a groan of disgust, his eyes lifting to the heavens in supplication. 'You're another sadistic physiotherapist, aren't you? Come to pound and massage until I can't stand the pain any longer.' It was a statement, not a question; Jordan had had one physiotherapist or another working on his leg and hip for weeks, months, since the surgeon had finished putting his shattered bones back together. None of them had succeeded in doing more than sending him to hell and back.