Two days to Christmas and Noelle Mason is in danger of becoming a New York City statistic when a walking cliché—tall, dark and unshaven—rushes in to rescue her. Thus, when he literally and painfully bumps into her just hours later, bleeding and with bad men chasing after him, she decides to return the favor.
His cover blown by someone on the inside, Sergio Ramirez knows hospitals, the station house and even his home are off limits to him. As should be the woman determined to help him, but it’s snowing and cold outside, and Noelle’s so very willing to share her body heat and work with him to generate even more.
Then the bad men catch up with him—and this time they have guns.
"Are you hurt?"
The voice was low and raspy, but it triggered something in Noelle’s still-recovering memory. Heart picking up pace once more, she peered up at the lean figure sitting rather rigidly on the backseat. She could make out the shape of the head in the gloomy interior of the moving cab. The shoulders were broad and the torso long. The line of the jaw was shadowed with stubble. Her eyes widened. "You."
There was a dry, masculine chuckle followed by a groan and a muffled curse. "Yeah, me. How are you doing down there?"
"I’m in pain, but I’ll live." It was the truth. She had banged her head before and suffered nothing more than a raging headache for a few hours. Such were the trials of wanting to play pond hockey with four older—and much bigger—brothers.
"Can you get up?" he asked.
"Yes," she answered and began disentangling their legs. She was puzzled when he didn’t offer his help. Maybe he only did one good deed per night.
Noelle slowly released her breath when she was finally seated beside the man who had saved her earlier only to violently barrel into her from behind a few minutes ago. Pain creased her brow. She closed her eyes, needing the refuge of darkness.
"I thought I told you to go straight home," he finally said quietly, turning to look at her.
"You did," she confirmed without opening her eyes. "I didn’t listen."
She made a noncommittal sound. "Where are you going?"
Noelle’s lashes lifted and she caught the driver’s gaze in the rearview mirror. She had to give the man credit for taking it all in stride. It couldn’t be every night when he gets a woman shoved into his cab by a strange man on the run. Then again, what did she know? Maybe this was a common occurrence for him.
"Then why is the cab moving?"
"I told the driver to drive," he explained, the words labored.
Noelle frowned. Was he hurt? She slowly turned her head to the right and glanced down. Her frown deepened.
"Is there a reason why you’re clutching your side like that?"
"Yes," he gritted between clenched teeth, the pain almost successfully veiling the sarcasm in his voice.
Her brow puckered, but it wasn’t because of the ache in her head this time. "Oh." Her eyes widened. Realization dawned. It was belated, but it did dawn. "Oh God! How bad is it?"
Her headache was forgotten as her hands felt all over his face. It was heated and coated with a sheen of cooling sweat. His stubble scratched her fingertips. Noelle’s exploration halted there as she savored the discreet tingle that shot through her fingertips straight to her tummy. She was a sick, sick woman to be turned on by a man bleeding all over the place.
And only hours ago, she’d believed herself in love with another man.
Noelle gingerly probed beneath her defenses. She should be hurt, torn up inside. Yet, all she felt was more anger at herself for being so stupid than at Gil for cheating on her.
The rough voice pulled her back. "Not there."
Noelle was glad of the darkness as warmth flooded her cheeks.
"Is it just your side?"
"Are you going to let me check it out?"
"Are you a nurse or a doctor or a paramedic?"
She drew back as if attacked by a kitten. Her lips thinned. "No, but I do know basic first aid. Or do you think sheer macho willpower will take care of your injury?"
A rough sound rumbled from his chest. "I’m sorry." Very gingerly, very slowly, he moved his hands away from his left side and said, "Here."
Carefully, Noelle scooted down so she could better examine the wound. She pulled the black T-shirt from his jeans and peeled it up. A blade had sliced through the leather jacket and the T-shirt and left a long cut that wasn’t as deep as she’d feared. But it wasn’t as shallow as she’d hoped.
"We should get you to a hospital. You need stitches."
The only response she got was an indecipherable grunt. She assumed it was a sound of protest.
She sighed. "Shouldn’t I call the police?"
He growled a very decisive negative.
"What is this aversion you have to the police? Is it cops in general or just the NYPD?"
"No," he repeated more firmly.
"Why not? Your tax dollars pay for their services." A thought occurred to her. "Uh, you do pay taxes, right?"
He slanted a narrow glance at her. "Yes."
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