Blair carted the last box up the top three stairs. Squeezing herself between it and the jamb, she maneuvered it through the door and dropped it down on top of two others piled just inside the door. Her arms quivered from the exertion. Her legs ached.
"Thank heaven that's the last one," she said to herself on an exhalation that escaped her lips slowly and leisurely. With rigid arms she braced herself over the top of the box and tried to catch her breath. When she straightened, she noticed the tightness of the muscles in her lower back and groaned. Was there any part of her body that didn't ache?
Glancing down at her wristwatch, her lips thinned with irritation. She had called the YMCA over two hours ago and asked them to send over a masseur. Not having changed residences in more than eight years, she had forgotten how physically exhausting moving could be. A massage was the most relaxing thing she could think of. Since her telephone hadn't been installed yet, she had driven to the nearest service station and used the pay phone. The receptionist who answered the Y's telephone had assured her that someone would be sent over within an hour.
"So much for efficiency," she muttered to herself, whisking off the bandana-print scarf she had tied around her long dark hair. It tumbled to the middle of her back like a bolt of satin being unrolled. If the staff of the YMCA typified the pace of life in this provincial backwater town, she'd be a raving maniac in a week.
She gazed around the three-room apartment that would be her home for the next six months. It didn't look like much now with boxes and bundles heaped on its hardwood floors, but with a little imagination, she hoped she could make it at least livable. Pam had assured her that it was the best and most private place in town, ". . . unless you want to live in one of those sterile apartment complexes, which I'm sure you don't," she had added.
Upon arrival from the city to the small town on the Atlantic side of Long Island where her friend Pam Delgado had moved several years ago, Blair had to admit that living in a garage apartment behind a Victorian house on a quiet, tree-shaded street had more appeal than living in a concrete cracker box.
She skirted the maze of boxes as she made her way to the small kitchen on the other side of the large room that served as both living and sleeping area. She had been pleased to see that the refrigerator was no more than two decades old and had a bucket inside the freezing compartment in which to empty ice trays. Taking out a few cubes, she plunked them into a tall glass she'd managed to find earlier and popped off the top of a diet soda can. Just as it was foaming over the ice, someone knocked on the door.
"Wouldn't you know it," she grumbled. Taking a sip of the not yet cold drink, she weaved her way through the boxes again and pulled open the door.
"It's about time," she said querulously.
"I beg your pardon," the man on the doorstep said.
Blair's green eyes were level with a massive chest and she had to lift them a considerable distance to greet the most intriguing pair of eyes she'd ever encountered. Startlingly blue, they were surrounded by thick, curling lashes, dark at the lashline and gilded at the tips. A network of weblike lines, white against darkly tanned skin, extended from the outer corners of his eyes to fade into his temples. Brows well defined, but thick, arched over the eyes that were examining her as closely as she was him.
To avoid that careful scrutiny, she quickly lowered her eyes, mistakenly thinking that would be the safest thing to do. She wasn't prepared for them coming to rest on a golden-brown mustache, the exact color of the brows that framed his eyes. The mustache curved over a wide, sensuous mouth. Beneath sculptured lips was a strong, firm chin with a vertical dent carved into its center. She avoided analyzing that too, and lifted her eyes to take in a well-designed nose, slightly concave cheeks, and assertive cheekbones, which brought her back to those eyes. They hadn't wavered from her face.
All in all, it was the most marvelous assembly of masculine features Blair had ever seen. She felt like stammering, but somehow managed not to when she demanded, "Didn't anyone tell you how to get here?"
He shook the head that was capped with blond wavy hair, slightly silvered at the temples. "No."
"Well, it's no wonder you're over an hour late. None of the streets in this town are marked with signs," she said crossly. Stepping aside, she said, "Come on in. I need you more now than I did when I called."
He stepped through the door and she closed it behind him to conserve the air that flowed from the one-window air-conditioning unit that cooled the entire apartment. He hadn't brought any equipment in with him, only a body what would intimidate the most fearsome professional football lineman.
Clad in white shorts and a navy-blue T-shirt, the man looked marvelous. Blair could see that the tan that bronzed his face covered the rest of him, as did that fine curly golden hair. His legs were long and lean, but muscles rippled in his calves and thighs as he made slow progress around the first boxes blocking his path. Blair excused her interest in those muscles as purely professional. She was well acquainted with every muscle of the human body, its use, and how to treat it.
"Didn't you bring a portable bed or table or anything with you?" she asked.
He stopped suddenly and turned around to face her. "No."
She sighed. "It's just as well. I don't know where we would have put it. I've already padded the kitchen table with a quilt. Will that be all right?" He turned his head to eye the table dubiously. "I haven't made up the bed in the sofa yet and didn't want to plow through all these boxes looking for linens. I need you right now. Do you mind doing it on the kitchen table?"
His eyes crinkled at the corners, but there wasn't even the slightest smiling twitch of his mustache when he answered levelly, "Not at all."
His laconic answers annoyed her. She felt like a babbling moron while he remained aloof, watching her with indulgent amusement. He hadn't even apologized for being late. But then he didn't look like a man to whom apologies would come easily. He was looking at her steadily with a curiosity he couldn't disguise. She strongly suspected that lying just beneath his placid features was a booming laugh dying to be freed. Why, she couldn't fathom.
She tracked the path his eyes took down the length of her petite body. Never having known a moment's modesty in her life, the sudden impulse to cover herself was foreign, but there nonetheless. His eyes seemed to wash over her, leaving behind a blushing stain everywhere they touched. There was certainly nothing alluring in her attire, yet his slow, silent appraisal made her feel that the denim cutoffs and white eyelet halter-top were the flimsiest of negligees.
Had he made some lascivious remark like the ones that were often thrown to her on the streets of New York, she would have flung back a scathing insult. Or had he commented clinically on her good muscle tone, the length and formation of her legs, her graceful carriage, she would have thanked him and never given it a thought. Those kinds of comments she could handle. The ones eloquently transmitted by his eyes, she had no comebacks for.
"Well, shall we get started?" The corners of his mouth lifted in the suggestion of a smile.
His voice sent a shiver up her spine. It seemed to caress her ears with its deep rumbling timbre. How else could it sound since it originated in that chest? "Don't you want me to undress first?"
One brow leaped into a quizzical arch over his eye. "I guess so. Yes."
"I'll be just a minute then." She hurried into the bathroom, where earlier she had brought out an old sheet from one of the boxes. Her fingers fumbled with the fastening on her shorts. What was wrong with her? Why was she so nervous? She'd had massages before, many in the privacy of her apartment in Manhattan. Never had she been anxious about it. She hadn't been anxious about this one until she'd seen the masseur. Maybe if the guy bothered her so much, she shouldn't go through with it.
One shooting pain from her legs told her she would be foolhardy to pass up this opportunity. Her abused muscles needed soothing, and the doctor had recommended this sort of therapy. She was being silly. In her nearly thirty years, she'd never been fainthearted about anything. Wrapping the sheet around her naked body, she boldly opened the bathroom door and stepped out.
"I take it you didn't bring any lotion either," she said, brushing past him disdainfully.
"No, I didn't bring any lotion."
"I should be glad. Sometimes the lotions masseurs use smell medicinal. You can use this." She handed him the plastic bottle of lotion she'd brought from the bathroom. It was scented with her favorite fragrance. "And here are some towels for when you . . . for when you need them," she finished self-consciously, extending him the folded terrycloth towels.
She wished he wouldn't look at her as though he were about to devour her. She had shared matchbox-sized dressing rooms with men and women all racing to get into the next costume change. Often she'd been forced to forgo a trip to the dressing room and change just offstage with no screening whatsoever.
Excerpted from Heaven's Price by Sandra Brown. Copyright © 2007 by Sandra Brown. Excerpted by permission of Fanfare, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.