The Doctor Takes a Detour
An unexpected detour sets two men on the path to love and healing.
After being attacked by a drug addict, Dr. Josh Parker fled New York, his career as an ER doctor, and a failed relationship. Determined to start fresh, he takes a job as a concierge doctor to the wealthy older population of sunny Naples, Florida. Nothing to fear there. No trauma. No stress.
It’s a good idea that doesn’t last long. Traveling to his new home, he discovers a car accident and is forced to make a detour to render aid. There he meets sexy paramedic Ian Manolas.
Since Ian returned from the Army, every day has been a struggle to atone for past mistakes. The Glades Free Clinic is his chosen path to redemption. The people Ian helps are a world away from Josh’s wealthy clients though. Addicts, prostitutes, gang members: they all come to Ian’s clinic for help, not judgment. He’ll do almost anything to keep the clinic going, including roping in one reluctant—and hot—ex-ER doctor.
The attraction is immediate, but Josh wants nothing to do with Ian’s clinic. For them to have a future, both men must work together to find a path to love, while helping those who need them most.
Reader discretion advised. This title contains the following sensitive themes:
References to Drug Use
depiction/discussion of addiction
Caution: The following details may be considered spoilerish. Click on a label to reveal its content.
Themes: abandonment, acceptance, addiction, angst, drug abuse, duty, enemies to lovers, fitting in, grief, hurt / comfort, illness / injury, isolation, mental illness, military, protection, PTSD, recovery, self-confidence, self-discovery / self-reflection, trust issues, workplace romance
Oh. My. God. He’d never seen anything like it. Swarms of insects with skinny, fluttering black wings, joined together in pairs, doing . . . Well, it was obvious what they were doing, but Josh sure as hell didn’t need to see it.
All he wanted was a cup of coffee to get through the sunset drive across I-75 from the Miami airport to Naples on the southwest coast, but here he was, trapped in a rental sedan and barely able to see out a windshield covered with smeary bug guts.
Not that there was much of a view. Once-white paint peeled from the concrete blocks propping up this lonely gas station, surrounded by acres of Everglades. Or had he passed through that swamp and into the Big Cypress Preserve? It all looked the same. Miles of greenery, with high fences along much of the interstate, presumably to make sure the alligators didn’t wander onto the road.
Icy fingers skittered down his spine despite the August heat and humidity. No alligators in Manhattan. Not animal ones anyway. He couldn’t vouch for some of the humans.
And he couldn’t sit here in this sweltering car all night. He squinted through the window as a truck pulled up and the occupant slammed out of her vehicle, hauled the neck of her shirt up over her nose and mouth, and then made a run for the store’s rusting metal doorway.
Sucking in air so he could hold his breath long enough not to inhale any bugs, Josh did the same, jumping out of the car and banging the door closed before hurrying through the black clouds and into the store.
“Jesus Christ.” He fought the store’s door in his haste to get it closed and block out the bugs, and then scraped his fingers through his hair, shuddering at the thought of insects trapped in the strands he hadn’t cut in far too long.
A chuckle from behind the service counter made him glance up.
“They’re harmless.” A sweat-stained wifebeater strained to cover the beer gut of the man stationed behind the cash register. He leaned his elbows on the cracked countertop, tattoos shifting on his bulging biceps.
A little intimidating, but Josh had dealt with scarier, and the white beard and twinkling eyes made the guy look like a redneck Santa. “Is it always like this? So many insects because of the swamp?”
“That’s part of it, but this time of year is lovebug season, so it’s worse than usual. There’s windshield wash and scrapers by the pumps.” Redneck Santa scanned for Josh’s car out the window and gave a sharp nod. “Yep. You better take advantage. The bugs don’t much swarm at night, but it’s hard enough to see along Alligator Alley in the full dark even with a clean windshield.”
Alligator Alley. Appropriate name for the I-75 corridor through these South Florida swamps. He swallowed. “I will. Thanks.”
Josh filled the biggest cup they had with coffee so black it could have been mud. He grimaced. Tasted like it too, but it would do the trick. Dusk was fading into night, and he had another hour before he reached Naples. Finding his rented waterfront condo in the dark, in an unfamiliar city, might take longer than the whole drive, despite the help of the GPS in his phone.
Another sip of the harsh black liquid and he was back in the ER—the smells, the shouting and crying, the relentless activity of a night shift in a New York City hospital surrounding him. Strong coffee had often been the only thing to get him through those nights; that, and knowing his fellow doctors and the rest of his coworkers were all there for him. That they had each other’s backs.
Until they hadn’t.
Shaking off those memories, he paid for the coffee and then braved the great outdoors again.
After topping off his tank, he reached for the windshield wash. Scraping off the sticky insects was more of a chore than it should have been, every stroke pulling at the newly formed scar tissue along his ribs.
When he’d done the best he could, he resumed the drive. Full night had fallen, and there were few other cars on the road. Clumps of cypress and buttonwood broke up the low-lying landscape. As he neared the coast, the trees grew taller, and a few exits appeared.
Drumming his fingers on the wheel, he waited for his GPS to tell him where to turn off for the south side of Naples, hoping he wouldn’t have to drive through downtown in the middle of the night. His confidence in his driving skills was shaky at best, and he was fighting sleep despite the high-octane coffee. The last time he’d sat behind a wheel . . . He couldn’t remember the last time. Probably a short vacation in med school, to a friend’s house in Connecticut. Nine or ten years ago, at least.
He searched for an exit going south and west to head around the city, hoping to avoid downtown traffic and find an easy road to the beaches and his new home. The GPS would recalculate once he was heading in a different direction. At the next exit, he slowed and turned onto a narrow two-lane state road.
“Proceed to the route,” the phone protested and then fell ominously silent.
“Come on, Siri. We’ve got to be close.” The compass on the rearview mirror confirmed his direction as southwest. Good enough. “Ah, who needs you anyway.”
No streetlights brightened this narrow road, and the beams from other vehicles were few and far between. Taller trees lined the edges of the county highway, the pines closing in around him. His headlights cut a swath through the gloom. Dark clouds occasionally parted to let through the brightness of a huge moon. Despite his growing regret at taking this side road, he couldn’t help a smile at the sight of stars shining boldly instead of struggling to shed a few feeble rays through a sky full of ambient city light.
The clouds were a bit of a concern. In his haste to leave New York, he’d done little research on his new home, but even he knew it rained in Florida in the summer. A lot.
When the first scattered drops hit his windshield, he heaved a frustrated sigh and slowed. Then slowed some more, peering ahead, off to the left side of the lane. Beams of light flickered, but not that of other traffic. These were slanted into the woods.
A shadow loomed out of the blackness. He slammed the brakes, tires squealing as he pulled to the side, heart slamming against his ribs. A truck. He’d seen the outline of a truck, its headlights pointing crazily toward the sky and its front end crumpled against a thick tree trunk.
His breath caught. What the hell? Urgently, he scanned the road, but it was deserted. Turning the wheel in precise movements, he made a U-turn and then parked close to the vehicle, leaving his headlights on and pointed at the wreck.
Grabbing his phone, he popped the trunk latch and jumped out, running to open his suitcase and retrieve the stethoscope and penlight that were as much a part of him as his fingers.
He hurried to the truck but delayed calling for emergency services. For all he knew, the vehicle had been abandoned, the driver walking away with no injuries. As he waded through the underbrush by the side of the road, it became clear that particular best-case scenario was unlikely. The hood was wedged into the tree, and the doors crumpled. At least the windshield was intact, so no one had gone through it.
Water ran down the back of his neck as the sprinkle turned into a soft, steady rain. The outsized wheels of the pickup truck were spinning slowly, so the accident must have been recent. He inhaled, smelling for gasoline, but only the pungent scent of torn greenery and plowed dirt filled the air.
No, there was another odor. He wrinkled his nose at the bitterness of alcohol.
“Hello?” he called. “Anyone hurt?”
The bed of the truck held something large and square: an animal cage—but he heard no dogs barking or whining. The passenger side was closest to him. That door hung open, the airbag twisted, white powder shimmering in the air illuminated by his headlights.
His momentary hope that the passenger had walked away was dashed when he nearly tripped over a body on the ground. The clarity and focus of seven years of emergency room shifts washed over him. He dropped to his knees beside the body—a woman—and ran his penlight over her in a quick but thorough assessment: midforties, overweight, her white face blotchy and reddened.
“I’m a doctor. Tell me your name.” His fingers flicked over the numbers on his phone even as he continued talking to her. “I’m Josh. What’s your name?”
No response from her and no response to his call either. He glowered down at the phone. No service—no wonder Siri had given up on him. One short bar flickered into life, and he tried again.
“Nine one one. What’s your emergency?”
“Car accident on Route Twenty-nine.” He spoke quickly. “Two injured. One is—” He stopped, feeling like he was talking into a void. “Hello? Can you hear me?”
The No Service message displayed again. His grip tightened on the useless phone, and he took a deep breath, battling rising frustration. Then he sent a follow-up text. Sometimes a text would go through when a voice call wouldn’t.
Using his sleeve, he wiped his face dry and then flicked on his penlight again, stuck the stethoscope into his ears, and leaned forward to listen to the woman’s heart and lungs. Pulse and breathing rapid, but regular. So why was she unconscious? His light’s narrow beam revealed a gashed forehead, perhaps caused by hitting the doorframe when she’d stumbled out of the truck cab. Not too deep though. The loss of consciousness might be related to alcohol rather than head injury.
Waving away curious mosquitos attracted to his light and tasty blood, he ran the penlight down the body one more time. No bleeding that he could see, but that arm . . . twisted in an unnatural way, but no bones punctured the skin. Just as well she was unconscious.
Stable enough for now. Thankfully, the rain was letting up, and the moon had come out from behind the clouds to help illuminate the scene when he left her to find the driver. He stood, his feet crunching shards of a broken bottle.
As he passed around the rear of the truck on his way to the driver’s side, a low growl sounded from within the cage—a growl unlike any he’d ever heard from a dog. He pointed the thin beam from his penlight into the cage and then froze when one small reptilian eye returned his stare.
One small eye in one long green-brown scaly body. The alligator’s tail thrashed half-heartedly. The beast appeared drugged or injured, but there was no apparent bleeding and the tail was moving smoothly. Fairly certain his Hippocratic oath didn’t extend to reptiles, he edged past, running his light over the cage. The lock seemed unbroken and the metal frame intact.
The driver’s-side door remained shut. He shined his light through the side window, and then let out a curse. A stout man similar in age to the woman was barely visible through the grayish-white cloud of airbag dust. He was slumped sideways, his head leaning against the side window and his eyes closed. The dash was in pieces and the airbag half-shredded.
What the hell? The front end must have crumbled like an accordion and then bounced back, the cheap material shattering under the stress. Impossible to tell from this angle whether the airbag had done its job.
He tapped the glass. “Hello. I’m a doctor. Can you hear me?”
The airbag might have prevented the driver from crashing his head into the dashboard, but spinal injuries and crushed ribs were a real possibility. Josh needed a closer look at him. He tugged at the handle, but the door didn’t yield. Peering through the window to the passenger side told him that side wasn’t an option.
Although he didn’t want to move the man, he couldn’t assess his injuries through a closed door, so he jerked the handle more forcefully. The door gave way with a screech of tortured metal, and the man collapsed right on top of him, bringing with him the burnt chemical smell of the airbag propellant.
Cursing, he half dropped, half eased the man to the ground, a substantial belly hampering his efforts. He’d be willing to bet that gut was why the idiot hadn’t been wearing a seat belt. If his spine had been injured by the whiplash, those injuries had just been aggravated. Josh’s breath came in harsh pants as he struggled to straighten the heavy man out on the rough ground cover.
Gently, he pushed the shirt up. A pass with his stethoscope along the man’s chest and neck revealed shallow, rapid respirations, and a fast and thready pulse. His skin felt unnaturally cool in the drenching humidity. Josh listened again, noting a decrease in left lung sounds.
Okay then. With a light touch, he felt along the man’s sides, searching for anything . . . like that. “Crap.” A misshapen lump where the rib should have been, the area around it swollen and warm.
If that broken rib had punctured a lung, that would explain the rapid breathing, but there could be other explanations as well, such as blood loss elsewhere. A further exam with the light exposed a dark-red stain on the man’s right thigh, the blood almost black in the dim glow of his headlights. A gash right through the quadriceps.
There had to be something in the truck. Some clothes, or . . . The compartment behind the seats held a thin, shabby blanket. When he pulled it out, an empty whiskey bottle thumped down onto the ground. “Oh, lovely.”
A gleam of metal, unveiled by the removal of the blanket, caught his eye. Not just one, but a whole assortment of knives in various shapes and sizes lay on the floor behind the seat.
“Lovely,” he said again, meaning it this time as he grabbed one long thin blade.
After slicing several strips of blanket, he cut the denim of the man’s jeans away from the laceration and then used a corner of the cloth to wipe the blood so he could examine the torn flesh. A steady flow of blood, but no pumping, no spurting, so thank God for that—the artery appeared undamaged. Josh wrapped the cloth strips around the wound, applying pressure. Stabilizing his patient’s neck with the rest of the blanket, Josh finished cutting away the dirty T-shirt and then listened with the stethoscope. Rapid, shallow breaths. A pneumothorax, for sure. The rib had punctured the lung, and air was slowly leaking into the pleural cavity.
He flinched at the thought of trying to play MacGyver here on this deserted road in the middle of the night. Nevertheless, he hunted in the truck for a pen or something else he could use as a tube to drain the air from the man’s chest to ease his breathing.
A dozen knives and not a single pen. He ran back to his car. As he opened the trunk to search his bag, he stopped, head going up as he heard it—the wail of sirens in the distance, coming closer. Then the flash of red lights appeared down the road.
He’d never seen anything more beautiful.
Ian jumped into the truck ahead of Tommy and Dave. “Get your asses in gear,” he snapped back at his EMT and his driver. “We ain’t gonna be last on-site.”
Dave ran for the front of the truck, slammed in, and revved the engine before peeling out the instant Ian secured the door behind his panting partner.
“Christ.” Tommy collapsed on the bench running along one wall. “We’re off in twenty!”
“That means we’re off in twenty. Not now.” Ian had taken the jump seat behind the driver, facing the rear. He leaned forward to get a better view out the back window and grinned. Yes! First out. Three units and two engines were answering this call, because that was what they had available, and because there was no good intel on the situation. Two down in a front-end—that was all they’d heard and the phone call had been dropped, so no current info.
Still, just knowing the crash was a front-end gave them some idea of what to expect: chest trauma and crushed femurs. Ian surveyed their equipment. The team took pride in their readiness. Nothing to do but hang on while Dave raced them to the scene.
After what seemed like an hour, but was closer to fifteen minutes, the truck slowed. Their station at the edge of the city responded to calls in the more rural areas, and this certainly qualified. They were way the hell out on a state road with few other cars in sight at this late hour.
Ian had the door open before they’d come to a full stop behind a sedan with headlights pointed at the scene.
A man waited for them, presumably the Good Samaritan who’d seen the accident and called it in. Ian let Tommy and Dave take charge of unloading the equipment, and jumped out ahead of them.
The guy started talking before Ian had a chance to ask a question, his hands waving for emphasis. “I’m a doctor. We’ve got two vics, most critical is a closed pneumothorax. Rib went into the left lung. Needs to be aspirated now.” A couple of inches shorter than Ian, the blond guy was bouncing up to his toes to look over Ian’s shoulder as if searching for tubing. He seemed ready to climb into the truck to find it.
Ian held up a hand. “Hang on, Doc. I got it.”
Pulling out supplies took only a second, but Blondie was already waving him to follow as he ran back to the driver’s side.
“Another vic by the passenger door,” the man called to the second unit. “Broken humerus and scalp lacerations, possible concussion.” He dropped to his knees beside the driver. “Damn it, I can’t see well enough—”
“What’s he doing on the ground?” Ian demanded. “Did you move him?”
Blondie glared back. “He fell on me when I opened the door. Don’t you think I know better than to jar his spine?”
“If he’s cracked a disc—”
Then Tommy and Dave were there to place the cervical collar and oxygen while Harry and Elaine from the second unit recorded vitals.
And Blondie was still hot because Ian had yelled at him. “Idiot wasn’t wearing a seat belt,” he insisted.
“Okay, okay. Jeez.” Ian stuck the stethoscope in his ears so he wouldn’t have to listen to that strident voice, and examined the patient. “Decrease in left lung capacity.”
“That’s what I said.” Blondie rolled his eyes and then squeezed them shut with a gasp as the floodlights set up by the firemen clicked on, turning the dark night into day.
Ian heard Tommy’s startled curse even with his ears plugged. He snatched out the earpieces and followed Tommy’s stare to an eight-footer thrashing in the cage fastened to the truck bed. “Huh. Nice one.”
He squinted back at the screechy guy to see how he liked the gator, but having been in the dark longer than him, Blondie was still blinking as his sight adjusted. When they opened, stormy gray eyes as expressive as his hands snapped back to Ian with an expression that said Get a move on.
He’d probably already come across the gator. Most likely he’d assessed it and dismissed it with that sharp professionalism that could only come from years of experience dealing with emergency situations.
“You an ER doc?” Ian asked.
“Yep,” Blondie confirmed with an annoyed look at Tommy, who was trying to nudge him out of the way. He pointed to the thigh gash. Deep, but no arterial laceration. “You can wrap his leg,” the doc said to Tommy and then turned his glare on Ian. “And you’re wasting time.” He frowned at the decompression needle Ian was unwrapping. “I can place a tube.”
“I’m sure you can.” Ian swabbed the area.
“You may be a doc, but this is my show, and we don’t place chest tubes in the field.” He glanced at his partner. “Steady him.”
When Tommy had the man in position, Ian popped in the needle. Aspirating the pleural cavity drew air from places where it shouldn’t be, confirming the pneumothorax and relieving some of the pressure on the lungs. He listened again, noting the deeper breaths. Elaine called out the O2 sat. Already increasing, thank God.
An unfamiliar stethoscope joined his, pressing against the man’s chest. Doc Blondie leaned forward, his arm brushing against Ian’s, his skin warm and damp. He seemed unaware of the contact as he squinted at the rise and fall of their patient’s rib cage, his eyes intent. The frown of concentration on that so-serious mouth was . . . well, cute. Cute, and annoying. He was annoying.
Blondie sat back, looping the stethoscope around his neck. “He’s stable enough to transport.”
“Gee, thanks, Doc. I couldn’t have figured that out.”
“You didn’t seem to be able to, no.”
Because he’d been distracted. Ian shook his head and gestured to Tommy, but Elaine and Harry pulled up their stretcher from the second team’s truck; Elaine moving just as fast as her partner despite a slight limp.
“We’ll take him,” she said.
“No. I placed the needle, I should—”
“You’re already on overtime, and you know how the captain feels about that.”
Ian started to protest. That was his patient, damn it.
“You think we can’t handle any complications?” Elaine raised a brow at him. Ian snapped his mouth shut. She’d been at this longer than him.
“Come on,” Tommy broke in. “It’s the twins’ birthday tomorrow. I need sleep before I can deal with a dozen five-year-olds.”
Ian helped lift the man onto the stretcher and then roll him onto the truck. Tempted to climb in after his patient, he hesitated a moment too long and had to dodge backward when Elaine pointedly slammed the doors in his face.
Standing on the shoulder of the road with his arms crossed, he stared unhappily after the unit as it pulled out, siren screaming. The doctor stood beside him, hands on his hips, scowling at the departing truck. Maybe he thought that was his patient headed down the road and felt just as annoyed at being left behind.
Tommy looked back and forth between them.
“What?” Ian demanded.
Tommy shook his head. “I’m going to pick up the equipment. You join me whenever you’re ready, partner.”
He turned away, and Ian blew out a breath, the adrenaline leaving him, allowing weariness to settle like a lead blanket across his shoulders.
The firemen had finished their examination of the vehicle and were wandering around snapping pictures and taking notes, so apparently no one was going to die in a fiery explosion anytime soon. Several deputies from the sheriff’s office had arrived and were securing the scene. Recognizing one standing by his car and talking on the radio, Ian waved at Bob Jensen. Bob returned the wave and then tilted his head to indicate the doctor with a silent but clear request: Don’t let him leave until I talk to him.
Ian gave him a nod, and Bob went back to talking on the radio. Judging by the way he stared at the gator the whole time, he was arranging for Fish and Wildlife to come pick up the beast.
The doc followed his gaze, evidently coming to the same conclusion. “What the hell were they doing with a live gator anyway? Why not kill it for meat or hide or whatever?”
“It’s illegal, so maybe they wanted to be someplace secure before they killed it. Maybe they had some kind of weird fight ring. Who the hell can figure?” Ian shrugged, the movement brushing his bare arm against the doc’s and sparking a wave of heat along his skin. “Sorry.” He made no move to back away, but the doc did.
“No problem. I’m drenched.” He brushed his hair aside with one hand, leaving a smudge on his forehead. “And dirty.”
And irritating. Don’t forget that one. Not to mention overconfident and impatient. In other words, a lot like every other ER doc Ian had ever met. He’d probably strangle Blondie if they ever had to spend more than ten minutes together.
He couldn’t keep calling the man Blondie. Ian stuck out his hand. “Ian Manolas.”
“Dr. Joshua Parker.”
Ian felt a low undercurrent of static electricity between their palms before he let go of the warm, damp hand. “What are you doing out here, Dr. Parker?”
“Josh,” he corrected. “I’m on my way to the south side of Naples. I thought I could cut around the city to avoid the traffic.”
“That’s quite a detour you took, but these guys are lucky you did.”
He narrowed his eyes. “I wasn’t sure you thought so.”
Ian winced. “I didn’t mean to yell at you. I was worried when I saw him on the ground.”
The doc nodded, apparently mollified.
“And you know why I didn’t let you place the chest tube.”
“It’s not usual field practice, but—”
Ian raised an eyebrow.
“Liability.” Josh sighed. “My actions before you got here are covered by Good Samaritan laws, but after you got here? Not so much.”
“I didn’t want you to think it was because I doubted your competence. I can see you know what you’re doing.”
That earned Ian a tentative smile, the first he’d seen from him, and didn’t that just light up the pretty gray eyes in a way that hadn’t seemed possible five minutes ago.
“So.” Deliberately, Ian crossed his arms, making the blue uniform shirt tighten across his broad chest and the short sleeves strain against the bulging, tattooed biceps he worked on in the station’s gym during his downtime.
All that hard work paid off the instant Josh’s eyes widened, and a slight flush darkened his cheekbones.
“So,” Josh repeated faintly and looked away.
Ian suppressed a smile. “So you’re new in town.”
“Oh . . .” Josh glanced back at him. “I didn’t say that.”
Ian’s mouth twitched. “If you were from around here, you’d know there was no need to avoid the city in the middle of the night. They roll up the sidewalk, at least in the areas away from the beach.”
“I’m headed to the beach. My condo is on the waterfront.” Josh waved a hand vaguely. “Somewhere.”
“‘Somewhere’? You mean you don’t know?”
“I just drove over from Miami, after flying in from New York today. I start a new job tomorrow.”
“Sheriff’s deputies will want to talk to you in a few.”
“Oh God.” He pressed the heels of his hands against his eyes, then let them drop. “How long is that going to take?”
“Shouldn’t take long. You going to be all right to drive after that?”
“I’ll be okay, but I’m not going to make much of an impression on my first day at work.”
“Tell them what happened. I’m sure they’ll understand.”
He looked doubtful.
“If it’s at Bayside General, I can let Doc Aguto know. You must have interviewed with her.”
“Not Bayside?” Ian repeated, puzzled. “There aren’t many other ERs around. Trauma is up in Lee County.”
“It’s not—” Josh started, and then took a breath.
Ian’s brow knit.
“It’s with an office.”
His jaw dropped. “You’re kidding.”
“What’s wrong with that?” The doc’s voice was taking on that strident tone again.
“But . . . You’re leaving trauma to go into general practice? That’s a damn waste.”
Josh stiffened, outrage flaring in his eyes. “You don’t even know me.”
“I know that not many have the guts and experience to work an emergency room, but there are plenty of docs to see kids with colds and arthritic old ladies.”
“Langdon and Burke is not just any GP office.”
Oh, better and better. Ian straightened, dropping his arms. “No. They’re not just any GPs. They’re a bunch of suck-ups, catering to the rich to line their own pockets.”
Josh stared at him. “That’s a little harsh, don’t you think?”
“No. I don’t think,” Ian retorted. “Concierge doctors care about one thing, and that’s an easy gig with a high payout. Bootlicking sycophants, all of them.”
Josh flung up his hands. “God, you’re so quick to criticize.”
“How can you—”
“Excuse me.” The deputy walked up to them and nodded at Josh. “I’ll take your statement now, sir. I mean, if you’re ready.”
“Oh, I’m more than ready.” Josh turned his back on Ian and strode away.
Bob cast Ian an amused glance before following after Josh.
Now that’s a damn shame. A doctor with his experience selling out to cater to the rich when there were so many who needed his services. Ian trudged to his truck, kicking at every pine cone in his path. He looked up to see Tommy leaning against the side, arms folded.
“That went well.” Tommy snickered. “You get his number?”
“Shut up.” Ian took a swipe at him.
Tommy dodged it easily, laughing.
“Anyway, we don’t even know he’s gay,” Ian pointed out.
“You’re shittin’ me. I got zero gaydar, and even I could tell.” Tommy fluttered his hands in the air.
“Cut it out.” Ian smacked him again, this time connecting to the back of Tommy’s head.
“Hey!” Tommy rubbed his scalp.
“You can’t tell by that, you dumbass. He might have some Italian in him. Or Greek, like Papa. If Papa couldn’t use his hands, he couldn’t talk at all.”
Having said all that, Ian was quite sure he and the doc played for the same team. Didn’t matter though. They didn’t have enough in common to think about a long-term thing, and Ian wasn’t out to score a one-nighter so close to home. He saved those for the occasional weekend in Miami, hitting the clubs at South Beach.
“Seriously, man.” Tommy poked him in the chest. “If you can’t tell Lucia you’re seeing someone, she’s gonna set you up again.”
“Jeez, don’t let her do that. Last time was . . .” Ian shuddered. The guy his sister knew from her part-time job at the hospital hadn’t been in a medical field—he was a lawyer, for God’s sake. Ian had been prepared to overlook that because the guy was handsome enough on the surface, but after a few minutes he’d realized that underneath that attractive veneer beat the heart of a shark. In it only for what he could get out of it . . . Much like Dr. Joshua Parker.
“Yeah,” Tommy agreed. “I gotcha, bro, but it’s slim pickin’s around here for you guys.”
“Don’t I know it.”
“So?” Tommy persisted. “He’s new in town, right? He could be looking for somebody.” He grinned. “Even if he is outta your league.”
Ian’s face warmed. He looked away, fingering the two-year medallion he wore under his shirt.
With no warning, Tommy slapped him on the side of the head.
“Ouch, damn it! What was that for?”
“Now you cut it out. You know I was just fuckin’ with you.”
Most of the time, Ian loved having his easygoing brother-in-law for a partner. Other times, it was a pain in the ass. Ian swung into the back and called for Dave to rev it up, before turning back to Tommy. “Don’t matter anyway. He ain’t my type.”
The alarm on Josh’s phone went off at a god-awful hour the next morning. He stared at the ceiling, trying to hold on to jumbled images from a rapidly fading dream. Flashes of dark eyes, tattoos . . . “Oh hell no.” His already sour mood took a nosedive. He forced himself out of bed and staggered toward the kitchen. “Not that judgmental bastard. God, I’m hard up.”
When was the last time anyone had touched him in more than a clinical manner? Months. No wonder the first cute guy to come along had aroused a libido that had lain dormant far too long. It didn’t mean anything.
His mood soured further when he stumbled into the pristine white kitchen and stared blearily around for the coffee—then remembered he didn’t have any. And he now scarcely had time for a shower, never mind finding a Starbucks on the way to the office.
Even late as he was, he had to pause to open the drapes hiding the balcony. The last thing he’d been interested in when he’d finally found the place the previous night had been the view, but it should look out on the water.
“Oh, wow.” Sunlight sparkled along the blue-green bay. From his two-bedroom condo on the fourteenth floor, the boats heading out for the day appeared smallish, their hulls shining white; some with sails unfurled to catch the early-morning breeze. More boats of all sizes rocked gently in their moorings at the marina below him. Or was he supposed to call them yachts? Were those the bigger ones?
Shaking his head, he let the drapes fall closed again, and then headed through the high-ceilinged living room, his bare feet making little noise on the tiled floor. Smooth white tiles throughout the condo no doubt kept it cooler, but he felt like he was back doing a rotation in Surgery.
Or a hotel. That was what it felt like. A resort hotel—the kind of place in the Hamptons Marcus had booked them into for a long weekend whenever they’d been able to get away. Marcus had loved dressing in the latest Givenchy for summer, and he’d looked damn fine in it too, although God forbid he should ever actually get in the water. Of course, they’d barely left the hotel room during the first couple of trips. He caught the reluctant smile that tried to curve his lips and squashed it before it could do more than twitch at the corner of his mouth. Those days were gone, and he had other things to think about.
Maybe the place would feel more like home after he unpacked and made a trip to the grocery store. At least it was furnished, and Josh had thought to bring a few sheets and towels, but as far as dishes and the other stuff that made up a household . . . he’d left all that behind, and felt little enthusiasm about replacing it. The effort needed to turn this sterile space into a home seemed overwhelming. But he’d only signed a six-month lease, so he could find something else if the condo didn’t grow on him.
Everything he owned filled the two large suitcases now heaped next to the bed. At thirty-four years old, should his whole life fit so neatly into two suitcases?
“Pity party for one,” he murmured.
Word Count: 62,000
Page Count: ~236
Cover By: L.C. Chase
Release Date: 04/08/2019
Release Date: 04/08/2019