“How’s that ankle of yours feelin’?” Wyatt asked Tal. He had her sitting comfortably on his old brass bed, leaning against the headboard, pillows behind her back, her bad ankle over his thigh as he gently massaged it.
“Mmm, better,” Tal said, closing her eyes.
“Did you take your medication?” Wyatt asked her, sliding a glance her way. She had just come out of the bathroom after soaking in the old claw-foot bathtub. Her black hair was still up in a mussed topknot. She looked tired, and he knew traveling with her bum ankle had taken a toll on her. Tal would never complain about pain. It just wasn’t part of her makeup. As a Marine Corps sniper, she’d always worked hurt. It might not have been broken bones like this, but, as a mountain goat climbing around in the Hindu Kush of Afghanistan, out in brutal weather and other harsh conditions, bruises, cuts, scrapes, and even a strain were tolerated so she could successfully finish a mission.
“No, you know I didn’t.”
Wyatt chuckled and continued to tenderly ease the swelling out of her once-crushed ankle. He did this every night when they were home, and he especially wanted to do it when he was on the road with her. “I think we did a little too much walking around the ranch this afternoon. Your ankle is really swollen. Sure you aren’t in pain?” He knew she was and saw her lips flex at his needling her about it.
“I’ll take some ibuprofen to get you off my back, Lockwood.”
Chuckling, he said, “I’m such a pest to you, Ms. Culver.” The corners of her lips lifted and she opened her eyes.
“You are a royal pain in the ass sometimes, on that we agree.”
“But,” Wyatt said lightly, moving his fingers down from below her knee to her ankle and then beginning to massage her foot, “there are other times, Ms. Culver, you really enjoy having me around.”
“That is very true, cowboy. Good thing those times outweigh the pain-in-the-ass times, huh?”
Seeing the sparkle of teasing in her green eyes, Wyatt moved his hand over the red flannel robe she wore on top of her white flannel pajamas. “Indeed.” He felt her begin to relax as he pushed the fluid out of her ankle area. “Feelin’ a little better, darlin’?”
“Oh,” she sighed, “much . . . I don’t know what I’d do without you, Wyatt. You spoil me rotten.”
“I’m better than any meds you aren’t taking.”
“I don’t like drugs, Wyatt, so don’t climb on that bandwagon tonight, okay?”
“Miss Grumpy, are we?”
She couldn’t stay irritable long with Wyatt around. He had that Texas good-ol’-boy attitude, was a terrible tease in a nice way, and inevitably lifted her out of her low mood. “Hey, getting serious for a moment?”
“I’m always serious where you’re concerned,” Wyatt drawled, giving her a warm look.
She snorted. “Yes, you’ve been acting like a mother hen with me all day today. Shadowing me, keeping a hand on my elbow or against the small of my back in case I might stumble and fall.”
“Ah, the truth comes out now.” His lips quirked.
“I’m not going to use a cane while I’m here, Wyatt. That’s all there is to it. And you need to let me walk on my own and stop hovering around me as if I’m going to fall on my ass any second.”
He moved his fingers to her arch, hearing her groan with pleasure. “Okay, I’ll stop being a mother hen with you. Fair enough?”
“Yes . . . thank you.”
“My family does not see you as a weak woman, darlin’. They know you’re one tough Marine.”
“I just hate showing up like this,” she muttered.
“We all have our prideful moments,” Wyatt said amiably, working each of her toes, hearing her groan with more pleasure. Tal loved to have her feet massaged.