An hour later, after having spent at least twenty minutes trying to find out where Stephanie lived, Tom stood by her front door. He held onto her whilst trying to work out where she had put the house keys. Reaching for her handbag, he searched through the contents and fished them out, letting them both into her house. She stumbled through the hallway, into the lounge and over to the cream leather sofa where she flung herself down. He hesitated then, but after a few moments he walked over and stared down at her. Her eyes were soft and dreamy as she stared back at him and he stood there for a while, his eyes locked with hers. Then his glance began to move over her as she lay on the sofa in that clingy, satin dress. He allowed himself the luxury of being able to look openly at her without her disapproval.
“Are you looking at me Tom?” she asked, gazing up at him flirtatiously.
“You bet I am…because come tomorrow, I have the distinct feeling that you’ll be back to the same old prudish Stephanie White. I’m rather liking Miss Wild and Wonderful Stephie, so I’m making the most of it.”
He sat down then on the sofa at her side and she struggled to a sitting position, tucking her feet under her again. He watched her, mulling something over in his mind before breaking the silence.
“Stephie, if I asked you something now would you tell me the truth?”
“Of course,” she said, shrugging a shoulder at him.
He paused for a moment. “Okay, I want to know once and for all, for the record, are you at all attracted to me or am I wasting my time?” He stared into those stunning eyes of hers and waited for a reaction. She smiled a slow lazy smile and leant closer to him, making his heart jolt with excitement.
“Well you know the…what did you say? Ah yes, the prudish Stephanie White would say that she was most definitely not.”
He leant towards her, closing the gap further so that their faces were inches apart.
“And the wild and wonderful Stephie, what would she say?”
Her eyes moved over his face for a second before she answered. “She might have to admit to being secretly attracted to him all along.” And with that she turned around and slid off the sofa, crawling away from him on her hands and knees, mumbling, “God I’m thirsty now, where’s that water?”
He watched her struggle across the hardwood floor, her bottom wriggling enticingly in front of him, before the full realisation of her words sunk in.
“Whoa, wait a minute tiger. What did you say?” He suddenly made after her, grabbing her around the waist and turning her around to face him. She looked down in surprise at his hands around her waist.
He repeated, “What did you say Stephie?”
“I said I’m thirsty, I need some water.”
He frowned. “No not that bit, what did you say before that?” She stared blankly back at him. Was she toying with him? Damn it, the one woman he was completely crazy about, the woman who’d been constantly in his head for months, had just admitted that she was attracted to him, but she was completely spaced out! It could only happen to him. He reluctantly came to the conclusion that he would have to leave her to get over the effects of the pill. He’d like nothing more than to stay there longer with her, but he’d actually rather have her back to normal before things went any further. He had a sneaking suspicion however, that once she was the usual Stephanie again, their relationship would be back on ice. But who knows, maybe she’d appreciate him being a gentleman, and at least they’d be spending some time together now that they were both working on the story. “Come on, I’d better be going,” he sighed.
He found the bottle of water that she’d dropped on the way in and pushed it into her hand as he pulled her up off the floor. She swayed alarmingly and he eyed the stairs through the hallway. He didn’t relish getting her up there, and decided against carrying her up, in favour of laying her back on the sofa. He’d wait for a while until she fell asleep, just to check that she was okay. He got her back onto the sofa, holding her head up for her to drink some of the water, and he was relieved to see her drink most of the bottle. She lay back down and he went into the kitchen to refill the bottle. When he came back, she had her eyes closed, her head to one side and her arms flung above her head. He looked at her again, unable to resist. Her face was extremely flushed and her hair was fanned out on the sofa cushion. She turned her head slowly, moaning,
“It’s too hot Tom.” She twisted her head again on the cushion. “Tom, I’m burning up.”
“So am I sweetheart,” he said under his breath. He pictured himself reaching down, taking hold of her wrists and pressing his body hard against hers. It took all his self-control to stop himself from doing just that. With a shake of his head he lifted her up instead to give her more water.
“Come on Stephie, you’ve got to get some sleep now honey.” He lay her back and she said nothing, closing her eyes.
He sat in her armchair watching over her until his own eyes eventually shut.
Tom woke suddenly and sat bolt upright.
“Tom! There’s something wrong.” Stephanie was sitting up on the sofa with her face in her hands. “I feel odd, I can hardly breathe!”
He got up and went over to her. “You’ll be okay Stephie, look at me.” He pulled her hands away from her face, but she kept her eyes closed. He felt her clench his hand, and she dug her nails into his palm.
“Oh God, I feel so strange. Is it supposed to feel like this?”
He sat next to her on the sofa and put an arm over her shoulder. With a wry laugh he said, “What, you never experimented with this kind of stuff in the girl’s dorms when you were younger Stephie?”
“No, I certainly did not.”
He pulled back then and looked at her, smiling. “At least I’ve got my old Stephie back.”
A brief smile crossed her face but was quickly replaced with a grimace as she took a deep breath, closed her eyes again and groaned.
“Tom, I don’t feel good.”
“I’m not surprised. You know that was a really stupid thing to do, even for a top story. Don’t try anything that stupid again, do you hear me?” he scolded her.
“Oh hell Tom, did I blow it?” she asked, biting her lip.
“Oh no, you did a really good impression of someone completely out of their head on pills though.”
She groaned again. “I remember taking the stuff, and bits in-between, but it all went a bit hazy after that.” She looked at him guiltily. “Thought I could handle it, guess not eh?”
“Guess not. You feeling better? Want more water?” he offered.
“Please,” she nodded.
He got up, and she fell back against the arm of the sofa, closing her eyes again and fighting the waves of nausea and dizziness until he returned with more water. She drank it gratefully and sat back, risking opening her eyes again to look at him. He could see she was struggling to pull it together, but he could think of no other way to help her. He stood then to return to the armchair, but she misunderstood his intention and looked up at him with sudden alarm.
“Are you going?” she asked in a panic. He was half standing, but on hearing her question he sat back next to her again.
“You want me to stay?” He looked directly into her eyes but they darted away as she considered the question. She glanced around the room nervously, unsure of how to reply.
“Well,” she said slowly, “I guess not.” She was completely incorrigible! He knew that she wanted him there; she looked so panicked and ill.
“Look, I’ll stay on here,” he gestured to the sofa. “You get to bed. Then if you need me in the night, just yell.”
“Well, if you want to then, you can stay.”
He looked at her incredulously but said nothing.
She made to stand up then but faltered, so he scooped an arm around her middle and pulled her up again off the sofa. She stood, with his arm pressing her against him, but she edged away at the unfamiliar feeling of it.
He looked down at her. “Hey, I’m not having you falling down the stairs as well today. What am I? A flaming nurse! Let me get you upstairs will you?”
She made an uncomfortable sound at the back of her throat but let him manoeuvre her across the room and up the stairs. He could feel her tense with every small movement, and he knew that his closeness made her feel uneasy.
At the top of the stairs she moved away from him, saying, “I can manage from here thank you.”
He gave her a cynical smile. “I’ll be downstairs if you need me.”
As he made his way back down the stairs, he shook his head in disbelief at how she could be a hot, sexy temptress one minute and miss Ice Maiden again the next. Being around her was like some mild form of torture. How much more could a hot-blooded male take?
Tom woke to daylight, and a cramped, aching body from sleeping all night on the sofa. Hearing some noises coming from the kitchen, he sat up to investigate. He could see Stephie through the doorway. She was dressed and busying herself, putting dishes away and making tea.
“Morning Stephie, how’s your head?”
She approached him, holding two mugs of tea in her hands and offering him one. “It’s been better. Did you manage to get any sleep on there?” she asked.
“Hmm, not much,” he replied.
“Look,” she said sitting on the chair opposite him, “I owe you an apology for last night. You were right; I never should have taken that pill. I’m bloody well furious with myself for doing it. Can we possibly put this all behind us Tom?”
“Sure, your problem is that you were too intent on getting that damn story. You’ve got to slow down. Your safety always comes first.”
“Alright Tom, I know. Let’s just put it down to a momentary lapse shall we?”
“Well, I’m going to go home and get a shower. You could do with laying low today. I’ll pick you up later and we’ll see what more we can find out about Carlton. Get some rest. Whatever he gave you hit you pretty hard.” He stood up to leave.
“Yes, I know,” she said sheepishly. “Oh and Tom,” she paused, “thank you for staying; I do appreciate it.”
“No problem babe. I’ll see you later,” he winked.