Xenakis's Convenient Bride

By: Dani Collins

He hadn’t experienced impotent rage like this since his early days of moving to New York, when he’d been forced to live a life he didn’t want, yet defend it on the schoolyard. And he’d never before experienced such a singular need to prove something to a woman. Force her to acknowledge the spark between them.

He wanted to catch her by the arms, pull her in and kiss her until she succumbed to this fierce thing between them, show her—

He was too deep in thought, throwing too much weight behind the hammer. A chunk of broken tile flew up and grazed his shin, completely painless for a moment as it scored a lancing line into his flesh.

Then the burn arrived in a white-hot streak. He swore.

* * *

Calli heard several nasty curses in a biting tone. It meant trouble in any language.

She had spent the last few days trying to ignore Stavros, which was impossible, but she couldn’t ignore that. She instinctively clicked off the burner and moved to glance through the screen-covered door to the courtyard.

He was bare-chested, wrapping his lower leg with his T-shirt. Blood stained through the bright yellow.

She ran for the first-aid kit, then hurried out to him. “What happened?”

It was obvious what had happened. He wore sturdy work boots and had showed up in jeans this morning, but it was already hot, even in the partially shaded courtyard and with the cooling curtain running beside the outdoor lounge. He had stripped down to his shorts an hour ago—yes, she had noticed—and now a jagged piece of tile had cut his leg.

“Let me see.”

She started to open the kit, but as he unwrapped the shirt, she knew this was beyond her rudimentary skills. Good thing she wasn’t squeamish.

“That needs stitches.”

“Butterfly bandages will do.”

“No, that’s deep. It needs to be properly cleaned and dressed. Are your shots up-to-date?”

He gave her a pithy look. “I have regular physicals, and yes, I’m one hundred percent healthy.”

She had a feeling he wasn’t talking about tetanus, but refused to be sidetracked. For the last six years she’d been dealing with an overbearing boss and keeping his spoiled daughter out of trouble. She had learned to dig in her heels when circumstances required.

“Do you know where the clinic is? It’s not a proper hospital and only open during the day. You’re best to go now or you’ll be paying the call-in fee for after hours. Or trying to find a boat to the mainland for treatment there.”

She tried to ignore the twist and flex of his naked torso and the scent of his body as he reached to take a roll of gauze from the kit. “I don’t have a vehicle.”

“Shall I call your employer?”

“No one likes a tattletale.” He efficiently rewrapped the T-shirt and used the gauze to secure it, then used barbed clips to fasten the tails.

“No one likes stained tiles.” She nodded at the red working its way through the layers of gauze. “I meant should I ask him to come take you to the clinic. I noticed you don’t have the truck today.”

“He’ll say I have a job to finish. Which I do.”

That was a barb at her, but he had been attacking his task doggedly, seeming determined to complete on time. Yes, she had peered out at him regularly, and his relentless work ethic dented her perception of him as a useless philanderer, intriguing her.

“Shall I drive you?”

“Look.” He pinched the bridge of his nose, swore under his breath. “I don’t have insurance. And I can’t afford to pay for treatment. Okay?” He begrudged admitting it, she could tell. It wasn’t so much a blow to his pride, though. He was impatient. Exasperated.

She was surprised. Not that he resented admitting he was short on resources, but that he was down on his luck at all. He didn’t possess even a shred of humility and oozed a type of confidence she only saw in men with fountains of money, like Takis. Who was this man? What had happened to knock him off his keel?

“You think Ionnes will fire you if you make a work-injury claim? He’s not like that. But I’ll have them send the bill here. We can lump it in with the costs of the repair. My boss won’t mind.” Since she would pay it out of her own pocket.

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