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His huge mass and all the black clothes were completely out of place among the pale marble and the crystal and gold accents—and a shiver of thrill went through her. He was standing in a place she was naked in on a regular basis.

She wasn’t sure why this occurred to her or even seemed so erotic. But it did.

Elise pulled a monogrammed hand towel off a gold bar and cranked on the gold faucet. Putting her fingers under the rush, she waited for the water to—

“It doesn’t need to be warm,” he muttered.

It seemed silly to argue with him. So she just stood there until the temperature was right, and then wet the terry cloth.

“Just give it to me,” he demanded as he held out his hand.

Squeezing the excess free, she went over and put the towel into his palm. “Be careful—whoa! What are you doing?”

Well, that was obvious. He was trying to scrub off that whole side of his face.

She grabbed his forearm, and as he recoiled, like she’d surprised him, she took advantage of the reaction and snatched the towel back. Yanking him farther into the bathroom, she pushed him down onto the bench by the tub. Stepping in close, she batted his hands out of the way and went to work properly.

“How’d this happen?” She dabbed with care. “It doesn’t look dirty. Who hit you and is he still alive?”

Axwelle’s response? A jaw that ground his lower molars into his top ones—like he was having a conversation with someone in his head. Her? Or the person he’d fought with?

Probably her.

“You can tell me, you know.” Elise went over to the sink again and rinsed out the towel. Came back. “I’m not going to judge.”

Leaning in still closer, she focused on the laceration. “I think this is going to need stitches. It’s deep and wide? Can you see out of this eye?”

No answer. Just more of that tightly locked and ever-rotating lower jaw.

“Okay, Mr. Chatty, let me see what I can cover this with. And then you need to go see Havers. You’re obviously healthy, so you’re going to heal, but this might get infected before it closes itself.”

Elise patted the area dry with the other end of the towel and went to her cabinets, bending over the center drawers as she pulled them open one by one. The first aid kit was in the last one by the floor.

Rifling through the Band-Aids and gauze patches, she took one of the big squares out. “This’ll do.”

She shucked the wrapper into the wastepaper basket and headed over to her silent, morose patient.

“So, yes, thank you for asking,” she murmured as she got in close again. “I love going to school. I’m really good at it, but just as important, it’s where I get to be myself. No assumptions or restrictions because of where I come from. Nothing but my own actions and words defining who I am. It’s freedom to me.”

She peeled the backing off the two adhesive ends, pinched the gaping hole in his flesh, and covered the laceration, making sure that the bandage squeezed the wound tight. Crushing the little tabs in her fist, she stepped back. Axwelle was staring straight ahead, as if he hadn’t been able to stand her getting near him.

Cursing under her breath again, she felt like her chance to keep going to that human university was disappearing in front of her very eyes.

“Look,” she said with exhaustion. “I know you and I are doing the oil-and-water routine here, but I really need this to work. I need to finish my doctorate. It’s years of my life. I mean … if you don’t want the job, just back out now and let me try to find someone else, okay? Hello? Are you listening to me even in the slightest?” She threw up her hands. “This is ridiculous. Why did you come here at all?”

Maybe she had gotten him wrong. She could have sworn he’d been staring at her because he found her attractive. Maybe it was the other way around—

Abruptly, his hands gripped his knees and squeezed.

“Are you stroking out or something?” she demanded. “Because my medical expertise stops at Band-Aids.”

When he just stayed where he was, she put her hands on her hips for the third time in his presence. “Will you just tell me what the hell is going on here? Do you need an ambulance? Did they hit you so hard you have a concussion? Whatever it is, you better tell me right now or I’m going to drag you out of this house and leave you to die on my front lawn.”

His upper lip curled up off his fangs and he shook his head.

“You really are a coward,” she muttered. “Big tough guy like you, but you can’t talk about anything—”

“Coward?” he bit out. “You think I’m a coward.”

“Yeah, I do. What’s the other explanation?”

“Coward, huh. Fine. How’s this for a problem.”

With that, he rose to his full height, mirrored her pose with his hands on his hips—and just stood there, like that said it all.

Elise shrugged with a frown. “Yes? And? You want to remind me that you’re six-six? Six-seven? Dressed in black? What—”

Annnnnnnd that was when she saw it.

It was a very big it. A very … erect it, straining the front of his pants.

TWELVE

How’s that for communication, Axe wanted to say.

Instead, he simply let the female get a good hard gander at his little coward, which was neither little at all nor cowardly in the slightest. In fact, his cock was really damn bold, completely unapologetic, and seemed to be twice the size it usually was.

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