The way Queenie looked at him just now—Jake really wanted to get her out of his room. When a woman eyed him the way she did, he usually had her in his bed, not standing next to it. He fought the urge to encircle her tiny waist in his fingers and pull her to him.
“Hurry up, I’ve got business downstairs,” he didn’t try to hide the edge in his voice, or the hostility.
“Yes, of course,” Zoe-Esther knew she’d been caught staring again, and winced inside at the unwelcome, unmistakable flush on her face.
“Just let me, just let me—” She fumbled in her pocket to find her wire rims, very relieved when she finally did. “I just need to put these on.” Zoe-Esther held up her spectacles for him to see. “It’s a strain to see clearly without them,” she added, right away upset to have said so much.
He looked more curious to her now than annoyed.
“You need to wear those?”
“Yes, it helps to see things clearly, Mr. Whiskey, especially in my profession,” she answered his indignant question, a bit irked by it. On top of everything else, she didn’t need to hear criticism over needing to wear spectacles.
He smiled now.
The room warmed up, and so did she.
Zoe-Esther didn’t understand the sudden change in him: one minute cold, and the next friendly. What changed his mood? Surely it couldn’t have anything to do with her spectacles. Yet, he seemed so interested in the fact that she needed to wear them. What could her vision, or lack of it, have to do with anything? Whatever the reason for his change in attitude, and the grin that he wore now on his handsome face, she was grateful Mr. Whiskey no longer seemed upset with her.
“Okay, Doc,” he said in a teasing voice, “I’m all yours.”
Zoe-Esther swallowed hard, then set to work.
The wound looked good. No redness, swelling, or signs of infection. The stitches appeared clean. No problems with circulation to the area.
“Mr. Whiskey, please raise your right arm for me, very slowly,” she advised, concentrating so hard on her examination, she was unaware she’d taken hold of his arm to help guide it. “Good, very good. You’re healing nicely and have no restriction in the use of your arm.” She let go of him, oblivious that she’d touched him yet again. “Let me get these sutures out,” she said, then snipped the knots of the sutures in a matter of seconds. “There, all done. You won’t need a dressing. Just keep the area clean and dry and continue to exercise your arm. If you detect any change in the wound or develop pain upon movement, please send for me.”
“Oh, you can bet I will,” Jake said, his voice ragged and low.
His words had the same effect on Zoe-Esther as an open vial of ammonia under her nose. So did his smoky scrutiny. Desperate to escape both, she looked away, remembering now who he was and where she was.
“I have to go, Mr. Whiskey,” she whirled around and grabbed up her supplies and shoved everything into her medical bag. Usually she meticulously collected her things, washed them, and replaced them with care. Nothing, Zoe-Esther recognized, was at all usual about this situation.
“Wait, Queenie. Please.”
She clamped her bag shut but didn’t turn around. If she did, she’d have to look at him again and she wasn’t sure right now if she could and keep her feelings for him a secret. The professional barrier that existed between them only moments before, the barrier that kept him at a safe distance, tumbled away and left Zoe-Esther with nothing but her unmistakable attraction for him.
He mustn’t know.
Papa mustn’t know.
No one must know.
“Please, Queenie,” Jake urged and put his hands on her shoulders, turning her around to face him.
She’d forgotten to take off her spectacles.
Cute. Those spectacles were damn cute on her, Jake decided. Suited her. They’d moved down her little freckled nose, and he gently pushed them back up.
Zoe-Esther yanked off her wire rims and fumbled in her pocket for her case to put them away.
“Queenie,” Jake forced himself not to touch her again. “You don’t have to do that. Those spectacles are about the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen on a woman.”
“You’re a joker, Mr. Whiskey,” she managed to say, despite her tight throat.
“I don’t joke, Queenie, not about that.”
“About what, Mr. Whiskey?” She wished she knew his meaning. And she wished he’d put on his shirt. “I have to go.”
“No. Not yet,” his husky command stilled her.
“I’ll stay a moment if you’ll get dressed, Mr. Whiskey,” she said, bewildered by her own reply, and gave him her back.
Jake liked this woman. A lot.
“All right,” he conceded.
“All right, then,” she slowly pivoted until she faced him again.
“Queenie, where did you come from?”
“From Philadelphia,” she offered.
“No, I mean—”
“Before Philadelphia?” Her nerves made her interrupt him. “From Russia. I came from a village outside of Kiev.”
“No, Queenie, I mean you. How did you, a woman, a doc and all, get here, in my room, in my life?”
Mr. Whiskey’s low, whiskey-voiced question threw her insides into turmoil. Except for a sip or two of ceremonial wine at each Shabbas meal, she had never partaken of strong drink. Why did she feel as if she just had?
“I hardly think, Mr. Whiskey—” Thrills shot through Zoe-Esther. She dared not acknowledge what he’d just said to her. No one, not even Daniel had ever said anything so intimate.
“Don’t think, Queenie. Just tell me,” Jake urged and took a step closer.
Zoe-Esther couldn’t move. She didn’t want to. It went against everything she stood for in life to be in his room now, no longer doctor and patient, but man and woman. If she stayed only for a moment, would it be so wrong?
Jake took her heavy bag from her, and set it down on the table nearby.
Zoe-Esther had nowhere to look, to turn now, but to him. Pulled in by everything about him, his slow smile, his male scent, his powerful physique, she felt herself submitting to him.
“Queenie, I’m gonna kiss you now,” he warned in a thick whisper.
The excitement of his intimate promise vibrated all up and down her spine. At that moment she knew that no power on earth—not her papa or the matchmaker—could stop him from kissing her, or her from wanting him to.