She pressed her thumb to it and his eyes snapped open. Her pulse pummelled her neck as she stared into the bluest eyes she’d ever seen. The brilliant turquoise of his irises contrasted with the bloodshot whites, and looked so pure and dazzling it reminded her of an old fifties postcard of the Caribbean Sea, the colour too rich to be real.
His brow creased as he tried to rise and came to a jerking halt, his body confined by the strap.
‘What the …?’ The expletive came out on a gruff whisper. ‘Who tied me down?’
She placed her palm on his upper arm, hoping to reassure him. Unfortunately, the feel of the rock-hard bicep bunching under her fingertips had the opposite effect on her. ‘I did,’ she blurted out. ‘It’s for your own good.’
The magnificent blue eyes narrowed. ‘Who the hell are you?’
Her skin flushed hot despite the chill and the spitting drizzle of autumn rain. ‘I’m one of the lifeguards on Wildwater Bay. We had to bring you in. You hit your head.’
He stopped struggling and dropped his head back, huffed out a breath. ‘Fantastic,’ he murmured. Bitterness clouded his eyes but it didn’t seem to be directed at her. ‘Thanks.’ The curt word lacked conviction. ‘Now, undo the strap.’
She tried not to let the commanding tone annoy her. Rudeness was probably to be expected after what he’d been through. ‘I’m not going to do that,’ she said in her best firm but fair Florence Nightingale voice. ‘You have to stay put until the paramedics get here.’
His jaw hardened. ‘No paramedics,’ he said. ‘Now, let me up.’
‘I really don’t think that’s a good idea,’ she replied, still channelling Florence.
‘Fine; I’ll do it myself.’
She watched, astonished, as he tilted his shoulder down, twisted his torso and then ripped the strap free with one hand. She moved out of the way as he struggled onto his elbows and sat up. He groaned and touched his forehead.
‘That serves you right.’ Forget Florence. Nurse Ratchet suddenly seemed more appropriate. ‘You need to lie down and wait for the paramedics to check you out.’
He swore softly and brought his fingers away. Barely glancing at the bright red stain, he fixed chilly eyes on her. Seeing the headache in them, she bit back the rest of the retort.
He leaned forward, obviously intending to stand up.
She gripped his arm. ‘The paramedics will be here any minute. You need to stay put.’
He glanced at her fingers and she pulled her hand back instinctively.
‘I decide what I need,’ he said, his voice rough.
Maddy fought for composure. Why was he being so flipping difficult? ‘But you may have injuries you’re not aware of.’ His gaze drifted disconcertingly to her chest and her nipples chose that precise moment to thrust against her suit like torpedoes.
‘I’ll risk it.’ Sarcasm edged the words as his eyes lifted to her face, but his lips twitched, almost as if he were struggling not to smile and his eyes didn’t look nearly as chilly any more.
Warmth spread up Maddy’s neck. Unbelievable. Was the world’s worst patient coming on to her? But then he flinched and she was sure she must have imagined it.
‘Hey, mate, where are you off to?’ Luke interrupted the charged silence, his arms laden with the silver body-warming blankets. Maddy wondered if he’d been to Timbuktu and back to get them.
‘I’m leaving.’ The surfer struggled onto his feet.
He staggered and Luke steadied him. ‘D’you think that’s wise? You took quite a tumble.’
The man sent Luke a cold stare. ‘I know.’
Maddy bristled at his rudeness, but Luke seemed unperturbed. ‘At least take a blanket, fella,’ he said, handing over one of the silver sheets. ‘You must be frozen.’
The stranger looked down at Luke’s offering, paused and then took it. ‘Thanks.’ He wrapped the blanket clumsily around his shoulders, his hands trembling. Maddy somehow knew that if he hadn’t been on the verge of hypothermia he would have refused.
‘Where are you staying?’ Luke asked carefully, as if he were speaking to a wild animal that might bite his hand off at any minute. Maddy knew how he felt.
‘You need a lift anywhere?’ Luke added when the man shot him a look loaded with suspicion.
For a minute the only sound was the rush of the wind and the thump of Maddy’s heartbeat in her ears.
Finally the surfer shook his head, the blood running unnoticed in a small rivulet down his temple. ‘I live at Trewan Manor,’ he said, jerking his head towards the forbidding mansion that sat at the top of the cliffs overlooking the Bay. ‘I can get there on the cliff path.’
Maddy’s gaze lifted to the point, a little astonished by the news. She’d been fascinated by that huge old house ever since she’d first started working at the Bay last June, the towering gables and grey stone turrets making her think of Wuthering Heights and Manderley and Thornfield all rolled into one. She’d assumed the place was empty, her artistic nature conjuring up all sorts of fanciful stories to explain its desolate appearance.
Her gaze returned to the surfer. Given his wild good looks, the man fitted his mansion’s raw Gothic beauty to a T. What a shame he had Heathcliff’s temper, Maxim de Winter’s arrogance and Rochester’s condescension to match—all traits that made for gorgeous literary heroes, but were a nightmare to deal with in real life.
Maddy stepped forward as the stranger turned to leave. ‘Hang on a minute; you can’t just …’
Luke thrust his arm out to hold her back. ‘Don’t, Mad. He doesn’t want your help.’
‘But that’s ridiculous; he could be seriously hurt,’ she whispered frantically, not sure why it mattered to her.
‘You can’t rescue everyone.’ Luke sent her a rueful smile, reminding her of Cal, then wrapped the remaining blanket round her and gave her shoulders a reassuring rub. ‘Let’s get back to the café. The first Extreme’s on me.’
Maddy fisted her hands on the blanket and nodded, but her gaze drifted back to the stranger as he walked across the sand. The silver blanket fluttered in the wind like a cape. She frowned, noticing the pronounced hitch in his stride for the first time. ‘He’s limping,’ she murmured. ‘He’s hurt his leg.’ Concern clutched at her throat again.
He stopped to rub his thigh, then carried on walking with a laboured, lopsided gait, his shoulders stiff and erect and oddly defensive.
‘Looks like an old wound,’ Luke said. ‘Must be why he couldn’t stay on the board.’
Concern and confusion tangled into tight little knots of irritation in Maddy’s stomach. What sort of macho fool spent all afternoon attempting something he was incapable of? And nearly killed himself in the process?
‘Nice butt, though,’ Luke said cheekily, and Maddy’s eyes dipped to the firm muscled orbs of his backside, indecently displayed by the skintight suit.
Her pulse-rate kicked up again and the coil of unwanted arousal twisted in the pit of her belly.
As much as she didn’t want to, she had to admit Luke had a point.
‘Unfortunately, I don’t think he’s your type,’ she muttered.
Luke laughed. ‘From the way he checked out your boobs, I’d have to agree with you.’