Bittersweet Obsessions

Annie Rayburn
Available from Red Sage Publishing

A mountain of a man stood before her in jeans and hiking shoes. He offered her a tiny pill cup and bottled water.
“What’s that?” She made no move to take the items.
“A mild pain reliever. Dr. Wisener ordered them for your headache.”
His eyes were kind in a face that could be labeled rugged, if not for the full bottom lip. There was no one thing that made him appealing, certainly not the once-broken nose or too-thick brows. Yet she found the overall combination attractive. She tossed her hair over one shoulder and angled her body toward his as a memory tickled the back of her mind. She’d seen those eyes before.  “Have we met?”
“I was at the pool with Klaus.” A manly scent of spice drifted across her nose, along with something reminding her of autumn and cozy fires on chilly days.
Big man. Yummy. Wet. Clingy trunks. Yeah, fuzzy as her mind had been then, it was coming back to her. “You look different with street clothes and dry hair. However, you don’t look like a nurse.”
Humor lurked at his mouth. “That’s a relief.”
He sat down beside her, the bench creaking from his bulk, and dipped wavy brown hair in her direction. “I’m Paolo,” he said quietly.
Teriza tasted bitter disappointment. “Another professional fucker. What a surprise.”
Except for a tic in his jaw, he showed no reaction. “You’re angry and you have a right to be. It was rude of Klaus not to inform you he had to leave, but it was unexpected and unavoidable.”
“And I’m uninterested. Please go away and take your fake accent with you. Find someone else to do.”
He grinned, the action transforming his face into open, friendly lines. Teriza felt a jolt all the way to her toes.
“When I’m tired it’s hard to keep up the pretense,” he fell into an authentic Texas drawl.  “It’s Paul, not Paolo. And just so we’re clear, I’m off-duty. I have no intention of doing you or anyone else.” He covered a yawn with his fist, but offered no apology.
Another man with zero interest in her. She reached down, yanked up a blade of grass, ran it through her fingers and let it fall. “I’d have to be dying to let anyone else near me.”
“Yeah, I read your requirements. Didn’t figure I’d appeal to you.”
“My what?”
“Your preferences in a surrogate. About the only thing I’ve got covered in that laundry list is height.”
Teriza stared at him open-mouthed, then snapped it closed. “Shit.”
We can go with that one. Klaus’s words came back to haunt her. She clapped a hand over her mouth, then promptly let it drop to her lap. “The fantasy list too?”
He shrugged, humor crinkling the outer corners of his eyes and mouth. “We’re not supposed to dig into your minds, and few women like to articulate that stuff. Fulfilling your fantasies is supposed to—” He made air quotes. “—just happen.”
For the first time since she’d arrived at this place, someone was being straight with her. How far would he run with it? “I’ll take the pills if you’ll tell me what was so important.”
“With Pretty Boy?” He scratched his jaw, day old stubble creating a raspy sound that gave her delicious gooseflesh.
“Yes.” His raw masculinity appealed to her. Or was it that most anyone could turn her on in her current state?
“I’m not at liberty to say. We’re not supposed to discuss personal lives with the patients. It helps us maintain a professional distance.”
“Convenient too.” She was being a brat, but couldn’t find her caring gene at the moment. “If I don’t take the pills, it could negate all of Klaus’s considerable effort and you’ll be forced to work on your day off. Wouldn’t that be a shame?”
His gaze flicked over her. “It wouldn’t be a hardship.”
Paul’s softly delivered admission soothed her.  She drew in a shaky breath and released it. “Thank you.”
He dipped his head toward her again, their gazes locked together. Teriza’s pulse tripped, imagining his big body rising over her, pushing into her. Oh my. She turned her attention back to the pond.
“You should take the pills. I can see the pain in your eyes.”
“Truth first.”
He sighed. “We’re regular people, you know. Most of us have mothers and fathers and extended family. Sometimes emergencies happen and one duty trumps another.”
Cryptic, but he’d told her the truth. She could see that in his eyes. Teriza took the pills and washed them down.
Paul reached out, then halted, his hand hovering between them, gaze focused on her parted lips. His lashes lifted. Hazel eyes stained with desire looked straight into hers.
Teriza could have sworn pheromones were at play between them. How could that be?
In the distance, a dog barked and another joined in. Paul blinked, but took his time wiping a drop of water off her upper lip with his thumb. Heat buzzed in the skin he’d touched. “Too bad you’re into pretty boys. We might have been interesting.”

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