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       Jacked, p.38

           Tina Reber

  She shifted, trying to sit up, but I had her pinned. “You serious?”

  She looked at me like I was cracked. Maybe I was.

  “What is it you think we’re doing here, Doc?”

  “I don’t know. Dating? Getting to know one another?”

  “And how do you figure we’ll do that? What? You just want to fuck and keep it at that?”

  “No, but isn’t that what all men want?”

  I wiped a hand down my face. “Christ, Erin.”

  “We just started dating. I wasn’t sure we were ready for things. I mean you met my entire family at my aunt and uncle’s viewing tonight. Any normal guy would have—”

  I tipped her chin back up when she quit talking. “Would have what?”

  “Just forget it,” she muttered contritely.

  Now she was just testing my sanity. Her sharp inhale told me she was reading me correctly.

  “Would have bolted by now.”

  “I told you I’m not running, sweetheart.”

  “It’s only been a week.”

  “You know it’s been longer than that. You make it sound like we just hooked up last night.”

  “I know, but—”

  “But what?”

  “Maybe I’m not ready to mess up a good thing.”

  “Don’t what if it, Doc.”

  “I can’t help it. Let’s just say I’ve learned my lesson the hard way. And we’re just getting to know each other’s moods. Like for instance, do you realize both times you’ve restrained me you were mad at me?”

  I concentrated on my breathing while the reality of my actions slowly came into focus. She had me again. Is that the way she’s seen it from her end? “As much as I like that you call me out on my bullshit, I may have restrained you twice, but your safety has always been my top priority. And it was for both of our benefits. Besides, it beats the alternative.”

  Her brow tipped up. “Which is?”

  I untangled the thin, gold necklace pinched around her neck, slipping it away from her throat. “Not giving a shit. Would you rather have it that way?”

  Her chin dipped. “No.”

  “Good, ’cause I dealt with that crap before and I want no part of it. Not with you.” I leaned into her hand when she cupped my face. “Both times it effectively sorted our shit right out and—”

  “And built trust?”

  “You’re catching on.” I smiled.

  “It’s not something I’m quick to give.”

  “Me neither. But know this. When I want answers, I get them anyway I can. You challenge me. I challenge you. You’ll piss me off, and I’ll aggravate the shit out of you. I’m pretty sure that’s how this all works.”

  I felt her soft giggle settle my worry; her smile warmed me right into my bones. I looked into her beautifully expressive eyes.

  “Erin, I’ve never used Shibari quite like this before. But I know its power… ability… to enable your mind and your emotions to open up. This wasn’t just for you; it was for both of us. I want that with you.”

  I kissed her arm when she reached to run her fingers through my hair. It was then, when she was gazing at me with all those things unsaid, enjoying the comfort and reassurance of her affection, when I realized how easy it was to breathe.

  “I want that, too.” Her eyes searched mine. “But I don’t know how things are supposed to work.”

  “Guess we’ll just have to figure that out as we go.”

  “I take it you like me then.”

  The way her breath hitched around her nervous laugh was adorable. I had to remind myself that this was new to both of us, but for now, I couldn’t keep my lips off her. Just the sweet scent of her hair alone had become something I craved. Her neck was equally as enticing.

  “I think you already know the answer to that.”

  Her fingers wove into my hair. “It’s still nice to hear.”

  The way her eyes lit up and sparkled when I looked at her made showing my hand worth it, though I still enjoyed toying with her. “I’d rather show you.”

  She smiled back at me. “Just sayin’?”

  I’d have to save telling her I’d already fallen for another day. “Just sayin’.”

  GRAY SKIES HOVERED above us from the moment we woke, setting the tone for a very heavy, somber day. My shoulder pulled a little from the weight when we lifted the casket containing Erin’s uncle and the cremated remains of her aunt, but I bore it.

  It wasn’t a burden, it was my atonement; my way of making some sort of amends for this senseless tragedy. So was enduring the cold bite of metal on my right hand from the lifting bars on the gleaming black casket. I considered wearing gloves but decided against anything that might give me comfort while I served my penance.

  Erin and her parents had been surprised at first, but when the funeral director asked for pallbearers this morning I immediately volunteered. It was the least that I could do, not just for Erin, but for me, too. I needed to do this.

  I would rather have been holding on to Erin, but each time I carried her uncle’s remains, I couldn’t even look at her. I’d allow myself glimpses to know her condition and to assure myself that she was okay, but I couldn’t meet her eyes. The once vibrant blue that gazed into mine last night when I held her in my arms were now red and sullen from sadness. While I was doing my duty, Erin was consoling her sister, Kate, and her mother, Christine.

  No one from my unit was here, not that I would expect any of them to show. A sliver of angered disappointment rippled through me. None of the men that screwed up that night and caused these two innocent and greatly loved people to meet an early death were here to say they were sorry.

  I’d carry that weight, too.

  I wasn’t directly responsible. I didn’t cause this, but I was part of a series of actions and events that made it happen, and for that, I needed reparation. I had held Erin’s hand during the entire church service, seeking my own forgiveness.

  As far as I could tell, none of the family knew the full circumstances of the night of the fatal wreck. We had ended our pursuit of the stolen vehicle because of the dangers and rising risk to civilians. Our field supervisor called all units to stand down.

  Despite our efforts, our worst fear happened anyway.

  As I helped carry the casket to its final resting place at the cemetery, I resolved that the truth would be a secret I’d take to my own grave. Not only could it put my unit in a compromising position legally, it would drive an iron wedge between Erin and me and I couldn’t let that happen. Whenever I held her, whenever I felt her lips on mine, I could see her being a part of my future and my inner selfishness coveted that.

  The sun had finally broken free from its cloud cover, warming the dismal gray and muddled piles of leftover snow with its golden rays. I’d been raised to believe in God and Heaven and maybe it was just me, but I was taking the shining sun as a sign. We walked in step down a pathway that had been cut through the snow; the remaining ice crunching under our feet the only sounds breaking the solemn silence.

  Erin’s mother let out a sob when we set the casket on the straps that would lower it into the ground, causing my chest to ache all over again. She was sitting in one of the folding chairs graveside next to Erin’s cousins.

  I felt their pain.

  I put my arms around Erin the first chance I got. She’d been stoic all morning—a rock for her mother, a pillar of strength for her distraught father. I was proud and worried at the same time.

  Erin’s arms slid around my waist and her face rested on my chest while the priest and the words of his final sermon about Heaven and greener pastures made the entire moment almost unbearable.

  I placed a kiss on Erin’s head, wishing my growing love for her could ease the turmoil I knew was brewing in her mind and heart. I could sense it, feel it in the way her hands were curling into my clothes.

  Her body trembled, her breaths ragged and hitched.

  I held her tighter.

  I would be her rock.

  “HIS LIVER IS lacerated. You can see it clearly here. Shit.” Bile threatened to erupt as I scanned the next picture.

  “Ribs four and five are also fractured. A fragment punctured the lung. Blood is pooling in his abdomen,” Doctor Ben Parata said, pointing at his screen with the tip of his pen.

  “These fractures on his ribs here are already mending. Jesus. I wonder how long he’s been going through this?”

  We tore our eyes away from evaluating the MRI results and numerous X-rays to stare at each other, both of us at a complete loss of words. There was no restraint to the level of abuse this child had endured. That much was evident.

  Ben blew out a deep, forlorned breath, echoing my own sentiments. “This kid is six?”

  I nodded.

  “He’s a baby for Christ’s sake. How? This is just… Unbelievable. This is the worst case of child abuse I have ever seen. I hope the person who did this goes to jail for a very long time.”

  I couldn’t agree more. “Child Protective services have been notified. How could a parent do something like this?” The plethora of life-threatening injuries peppering this little boy was incomprehensible.

  Ben shook his head. “I have no idea.”

  My God, the unfathomable injustice. Do all women mentally snap after childbirth? The thought petrified me.

  “What do we got?” Doctor Nate Tomic from Pediatrics stood beside me, resting his hands on his hips.

  I reviewed the patient’s injuries with him, quickly forming a game plan for emergency surgery. “We have him stable but he’s on borrowed time. We’ll need Orthopedics to handle the clavicle fracture.”

  “Agreed,” Doctor Tomic said, wasting no time to schedule an O.R. “Is the family here?”

  “I’ll check.” I glanced at my pager, but it had been my cell that had vibrated my pocket. Adam’s latest text would have to wait.

  Ben was fuming. “Whoever did this to this child should suffer the same treatment.”

  He needed to chill. “I’ll speak to them.”

  Ben shot me a fleeting look, silently laced with encouragement and appreciation. I knew if he stumbled upon the abuser, he just might put them through the waiting room wall. Ben’s daughters were close in age to the patient.

  I checked in on my patient one more time before addressing the family, assuring myself that he was still stable. His blood pressure was concerning me. So was the discoloration of his fingertips and the bluish tint to his lips. I checked his arms and legs, even down to the bottoms of his feet, looking for something I might have missed. I checked his pupils. “Oh, little man, hang in there. We’re going to fix you, sweetheart. I promise.”

  This wasn’t right. No. No. I’d missed something. My gut was telling me that there was something else happening here. I scrolled through his chart on screen.

  I snagged the R.N. who assisted when this little boy first arrived. “Kimberly, did we get the tox screen results back?”

  “I don’t think we ordered it.”

  My frustration spiked, but that didn’t mean I had the right to take it out on her. “I ordered it when we started working on him. Check, please. We need a tox screen on him, stat.”

  “For?” she asked.

  I checked his lips and mouth around the tape holding the intubation tube. “Heroin is my guess right now. A beating like this? He got into something he shouldn’t have.”

  Her face blanched.

  I was hoping my hunch was wrong, but instinct was telling me otherwise.

  ADAM HAD BEEN texting me all night. He was just what the doctor ordered, cheering me up without even realizing it. How a parent could purposely beat their child to within inches of death was weighing heavily on my mind, like a torrent of unfettered rage waiting to be unleashed. After reviewing the test results, my hunch that the trauma was a result of him getting into somebody’s drug stash had been confirmed.

  Each of Adam’s messages were growing more and more suggestive, and the note I was reading on my phone right now was making me blush in several places.

  I grabbed my dinner out of my backpack and shoved my stuff haphazardly into my locker, grinning for the first time all night. I needed his brand of healing as I typed:

  Ten seconds later:

  It was impossible to hide my happiness.

  The truth of “dirty scrubs” with God-knows-what decorating them seemed too disgusting.

  I couldn’t type “OK” fast enough.

  He’d been working at his headquarters for the last few nights instead of being out on patrol while investigating his case, which, in all honesty, after dealing with a gunshot wound yesterday, made me a bit more relaxed. I could tell he was itching to get out on the streets, as sitting on his ass at a desk was clearly not his thing. Two days ago he informed me that he had to go to Manhattan to sign a new television appearance contract and then had suggested (and then persuasively insisted) I switch schedules so I could go with him.

  He promised me that he’d give me some peace so I could study in the car on the ride up, which had been the only thing really concerning me. “I know your fellowship is important to you,” he had said after he’d made love to me. We were in his bed, wrapped around each other, enjoying a moment when the outside world wasn’t demanding anything of us. Just the simple fact that he was making concessions to assure I was happy was enough to make my heart swell.

  Regardless, the constant hounding from the network that produced his television show was adding to his frustration. Unfortunately that was just part of my worries.

  Jen was grinning at me while bouncing in her chair in our break room. “You look like you’re in love.”

  I rolled my eyes and shoved my cell in my pocket. After reviewing the child abuse case, my spirit was still withered and broken, but Adam’s messages were helping me cope. “Hello to you, too.”

  “You are,” Jen teased, nudging me with her elbow when I sat down next to her. “Finally. I’ve gotta tell ya, it’s nice to see you smile again. I’ve missed it.”

  “Thanks.” I shoved a spoon into my yogurt. Blueberry was my favorite.

  Sherry raised her hand in solidarity. “I agree. You have that rosy, post-orgasm glow in your cheeks, Erin. It’s lovely.”

  It took effort not to crawl under the table from their remarks about my resuscitated sex life.

  Sherry clutched at her heart. “I want to give Officer Hottie a hug for giving us our Erin back.”

  I studied her face. “Officer Hottie?”

  She wasn’t the least bit remorseful. “I’m serious. You’d better warn him that I’m gonna hug the shit out of him the next time I see him. I don’t want him to accidentally shoot me or something. That would suck.”

  “He won’t shoot you,” Jen chided. “Just don’t call him that to his face or he just might.”

  Sherry surrendered. “Hey, I didn’t make up the name. That’s what they call him on Facebook.” She took a drink of her water. “I can’t believe he’s got like forty-seven thousand fans on there. It’s crazy.”

  Forty thousand what???

  “I wonder how many likes that other hot cop from San Francisco has,” Sherry mused, painting one of her French fries with mustard. “I saw a post on him yesterday. He’s cute, too.”

  My gut sank. Her use of condiments wasn’t helping. “Are you serious?”

  Sherry nodded. “I thought you knew that. You’ve been dating him for weeks and you haven’t cyber-stalked him yet?”

  Dread was pounding my nervous system. “No. I barely have time to study and sleep—”

  “And have sex,” Sherry added.

  I smiled at her while chewing the last bit of granola topping. “And have sex. No, I haven’t stalked him—at all.”

  Jen eyed me over. “Nothing? No Internet searches or anything?”

  Their expectations were ridiculous. “No. Why? Is that what all the crazy women are doing these days?”

  “Not crazy women, well-informed women.” Jen pointed a baby carrot at me
. “Knowledge is empowerment. You know that. I thought you’d at least be curious about the television star you’re dating. See what you’re getting into.”

  Now I was worried. “Why? What am I getting into?”

  Jen shrugged. “Beyond him being a local celebrity? I don’t know. You should see some of the comments they make on his fan page. I know you don’t do social media much but some of the stuff they say, well it’s sort of scary. I guess that means you’ve never watched his television show either. Did he show you any clips yet?”

  “No.” I opened my bottle of mineral water and took a sip. “It’s not a subject he likes to discuss. Ever.”

  Jen finished chewing. “Well, you can always watch a few of them on YouTube. There are about twenty of them, right Sherry?”

  It bothered me that they knew more about the guy I was dating than I did. “You two watched them?”

  Sherry shrugged it off and decorated another French fry.

  “Without me?” I added.

  “We thought you might be uncomfortable or something so…,” Jen said. “I’m sorry. We should have asked.”

  Sherry reached for her pocket, retrieving her cell phone. “You want to watch one now?”

  My head was swimming. Did I? “Not right now.”

  “Maybe some other time then,” Jen said. “Does he know he’s all over Facebook?”

  Images of my last patient—that little boy—unconscious, battered and bruised from head to toe, was dominating, drowning everything else out. “I honestly don’t know.”

  “Is this bothering you? Maybe we shouldn’t talk about it. We’ll change the subject,” Jen said. “Let’s change the subject.”

  Sarah waddled in through the doorway. The second our eyes connected, heavy-hearted sympathy flowed between us.

  “Hey,” she said to the table. “Oh Erin.” She hugged me. “That was awful. Are you okay?”

  I rubbed the forearm she had across my chest. “Yeah.”

  “What’s going on?” Jen asked, scanning us for answers.

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