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       Jacked, p.5

           Tina Reber
 

  At least she let me roll up the sleeves for her until just the tips of her pretty little fingers were peeking out. Damn, she was a beautiful sight.

  I couldn’t help but smooth a long piece of her bangs out of her eyes and slip it back inside the hood. She flinched back a bit, looking up at me as if I’d done something wrong. Maybe she was still keyed up from working the accident? Whatever it was, it didn’t matter anymore; something in me needed to touch her.

  I just about lost it when she tucked her tiny nose inside my hoodie and let out a soft whimper. A brush of pride swelled into my chest.

  That’s it, baby, remember that. That’s all me. “You ready?”

  Those big blue eyes stared up at me, clenching my gut.

  “I am.”

  Me too, sweetheart. Me too.

  OFFICER TRENT WALKED me all the way to my front door, making me feel slightly uncomfortable having such a gorgeous man dressed in his tactical police gear this close to me. For the life of me I couldn’t remember the last time a guy walked me to my front door, and that was not from a lack of trying. But this wasn’t the first time in my life I’d had a police escort, and that recollection alone touching the fringes of my thoughts was extremely unnerving.

  He held the glass storm door open while I worked my key into the lock, hoping none of my neighbors were watching. The old ladies on this street just loved to gossip and seeing a cop at my door would give them plenty to chatter about.

  I pushed the door open slightly and glanced up at him. Instead of saying his goodbyes, he was frowning down at me again.

  “You have a security system?”

  The way he said it made me feel as though I should. Unfortunately¸ if it didn’t come with the little red brick salt-box house I was renting, I didn’t have it. Still… “Is that any of your business?”

  The muscle along his jaw twitched. “It’s a yes or no question, Doc.”

  Gah, he was insufferable. “No.”

  His frown turned into more of a scowl.

  “You should.”

  I’ll move that to the top of my list, right after I reinvent a new career. “I’ll take that under advisement.” I set my purse and keys on the small oak table next to the door and started to roll off his hoodie.

  He followed me inside. “What are you doing?”

  Certainly not stripping for you. “Giving back your sweatshirt.”

  He shook his head. “Keep it.”

  Part of me hesitated, hating to give up the warm, wonderful smelling reminder of him, but the other, saner part of me ordered the rest of my body to shed off all reminders of this hellacious night. I handed it back to him. “I don’t want it.”

  He actually looked wounded, scowling down at the jersey twisted in his hand. I was about to ask him if we were done here so I could slam my front door and then go cry myself to sleep, but those amazing chocolate eyes—filled with hints of hurtful regret—speared me, riveting me to the ground.

  Officer Trent cleared his throat, fumbling with the fabric. That muscle in his jaw ticked and flexed. “I’m going to fix this. I don’t want you to worry.”

  Okay, fine. Whatever. The damage was already done. I nodded once just to acknowledge him. “Okay, well, um, thanks for seeing me home safely, Officer.”

  “Adam,” he said.

  I met his gaze; those deep eyes wrapped in long lashes called to me on some primal level, tugging at my body to respond. I shoved my involuntary reaction back. “Adam?”

  He nodded. “Name’s Adam, Doc. Adam Trent.”

  Why is he telling me this? Like I’m supposed to believe I’m going to get a date or something out of this after that humiliating display and almost arrest? Get real. The fact that he was apparently trying to assuage his own guilt irritated me further. I held the door open, casting a glance toward the street.

  “All right then,” he muttered under his breath. “One more thing,” he said, his jaw tightening. “No driving your car until you get a new plate on it. You’ll need to come down to the station and get a copy of the police report. You’ll need that to get a new plate.”

  Wonderful. One more thing on the to-do list.

  “Got it?”

  I fought rolling my eyes at his gruff tone. “Got it.”

  His gaze softened but still measured me. He gripped the knob on the storm door, keeping half of his body in the doorframe. “You have someone who can drive you?”

  If I didn’t know better, I’d have sworn he actually cared. Problem was I didn’t know why. “I’ll figure something out.”

  “You sure? I can take—”

  I held up my hand to stop him. “I’m sure. Really. But thanks.” That seemed to stifle him and his misguided pity.

  “Okay.” He tipped the brim of his baseball hat slightly and then stepped off my front landing. “Thanks for saving a few more lives tonight. It was inspiring to watch you work. Have a good day, Doc.”

  I watched his incredibly nice ass and gorgeous build all clad in badass black stroll down my walkway and climb back into his SUV, easing his body behind the steering wheel with effortless command. There was no final wave goodbye, no final look in my direction, no nothing. He spun away from my curb without so much as a backward glance.

  I slammed my front door, ending the crushing insanity for one day. Suppressed anguish burned up my throat like acid on fire. It was hard to breathe, hard to think, suffocating under the tidal wave of emotions. I couldn’t stop my tears from falling. Calling my parents would have to wait a few more minutes.

  IT WAS ALREADY dark outside when I climbed into Sarah’s car, which was graciously waiting for me in my frosty driveway.

  “Hey.” I stuffed my backpack between my feet and reached for the seatbelt. “Thanks for giving me a ride. I appreciate it.”

  “No problem,” Sarah said. “How are you holding up?”

  Barely?

  “I’m okay.” A chill rippled over me. “I’ll be better once I warm up.”

  Sarah frowned and nudged me. “You know what I mean.”

  After four years, I did. “I know.”

  She turned the radio down. “Any news?”

  I was wondering why we weren’t moving when I realized she was waiting for me to give her an answer. A flash of seeing my uncle being wheeled in by the flight medics invaded my thoughts. “He made it through the initial surgery but he’s still in critical condition.”

  She gave my forearm a gentle squeeze with her mitten-covered hand. “He’s still with us.”

  Was he? A medically induced coma with a breathing tube shoved down his throat was far from being with anyone.

  I recalled the words Doctor Wilson had said to me when I’d lost my first patient, “You can’t save everyone, Erin. You have to realize that everything we do here, every patient we care for and treat, is doing nothing but stalling the inevitable.”

  “I can’t believe someone stole the plate off your car.”

  I figured the less Sarah knew the better so I went with the bare minimum disclosure when I had called her for a ride to work. “Me either.”

  She put her car in reverse, backing out of my drive. “Why the hell would somebody do that? People are so messed up. Oh this irritates me to no end. It’s freaking cold outside. What on earth would they need your license plate for?”

  After the whirlwind from my traumatic traffic stop this morning, I’d have to guess committing all sorts of heinous crimes would be on the top of their list. “I don’t know. I’ve stopped trying to figure out why people do half the crazy things they do. I’m just glad they didn’t steal my new car. I just have to get another plate.”

  Sarah shivered and turned the heater up. “You should have called me earlier. I could have taken you for one. I was awake.”

  She was such a good friend. I appreciated her offer but my conscience wouldn’t allow it, especially since she was sitting so close to the steering wheel, her growing belly was almost touching. I banished the horrible image that flashed from thinking abo
ut what would happen if we were in an accident. “You should have been sleeping.”

  She gave me a quick scan before turning back to the road. “No offense, but you sort of look like you could use some extra sleep, too.”

  I shrugged it off, having accepted long ago my constant state of perpetual exhaustion. “Yes, but you have a baby belly to care for. You don’t need to be running around unnecessarily. I’m just grateful you’re here now.”

  Sarah scoffed. “Yeah. That’s exactly what I need—more sitting on my ass. Perfect for growing these lovely cankles. My ankles are so swollen, I’m starting to look like my grandma. Would have been nice if someone would have warned me about this shit.” Her little rant turned into a private smile. “I felt the baby kick yesterday.”

  “Really?” I couldn’t imagine what that might feel like, nor would I ever, but her excitement about it told me it was one of the best feelings in the world.

  Sarah rubbed her stomach. “Yep. Little Brett Junior is getting quite active in there.”

  The notion of her actually growing a human being inside her body made me feel a sliver of envy. Our bodies were truly miracles of science. But also knowing firsthand how childbirth could make a completely sane woman do unspeakable things made the envious desire flee with its ass on fire. I swallowed the terrible memories of my youth, barely hiding the crack in my voice. “Is that what you’ve finally decided to name him? I thought Brett hated that idea.”

  Sarah shrugged, making a right hand turn at the stoplight. “He does but until he comes up with a better suggestion, I’m calling him Junior. It really pisses him off when I call him Doctor Junior. He says our boy should be his own unique person and not be forced to follow in his father’s footsteps, not that he didn’t follow his own father into dentistry.”

  For some reason I thought about Officer Trent, Adam, wondering if his children were following in their father’s footsteps, playing cops and robbers all over the house.

  Did Officer Hottie have a wedding ring on? Surely by now some prissy Barbie doll model has gotten her hooks into someone as gorgeous as him. Did he? I can’t remember. Wait, he was wearing gloves. That’s right, black leather gloves. Leather gloves that would probably feel like sinful heaven gliding over my skin. Was he wearing them when he followed me home? Shit, why can’t I remember? Oh yeah, I was mad. Pissed off, actually.

  I knew I should really be paying attention to Sarah’s ramblings about her husband’s child-rearing philosophies, but the neglected horny girl who lives in my head and hadn’t been laid in a very long time was fighting me for topics to concentrate on.

  I wondered how Adam’s wife would feel about him lending his sweatshirt to some random woman he almost arrested.

  If he were my husband, I’d probably be jealous about that. I should have kept it. It smelled wonderful—like man and manly body wash and several other flavors I’d like to roll my tongue over. But thoughts of having his integrity relentlessly questioned by an irate woman made me accept the fact that I made the right decision to give it back. He didn’t deserve that.

  As we waited for the light to change, a police car with the telltale blue and yellow-gold stripes of Philly’s finest pulled up next to us, preparing to turn right.

  Just being this close to a cop made me squirm down in my seat. Visions of being handcuffed, tossed in some god-forsaken hellhole to do time with other hardened criminals, half of which passed through our ER on their way to purgatory, sent shivers through me.

  I should have gone earlier to get a new license plate. I could have called a taxi. I knew Jen was working twelve to midnight from her text this morning and Sarah, she was on the go so much at the hospital I hated taking away from the time she needed to rest. I could only imagine how much being pregnant takes out of you.

  No. I made the right decision. She needed to rest and I needed to spend the late afternoon scouring the local news websites on my computer to see if my almost arrest made print rather than sleeping.

  Even now, being driven to work with the remote chance that my career could be in the balance was making me beyond anxious. So far none of the local channels had listed my name or the circumstances of them pulling me over but that really didn’t mean anything. The traffic accident made the local section of the news, but fortunately I didn’t see any mention of my name. Regardless, there were three camera crews filming everything so the likelihood of me getting seen, recognized, and then subsequently fired was pretty good.

  If Sarah and the girls caught wind of it, gossip would fly at Mach 5 throughout every corner of the hospital from the commotion they’d make.

  I wanted to be completely prepared for all of the possible scenarios that could hit me when I walked back into work. I knew that the grapevine was already sharing my family tragedy from last night because I had twenty unanswered texts and several voicemails on my phone when I woke up.

  My aunt and uncle’s accident was at the top of the broadcast news reports. Triple fatality on the Schuylkill. The guy who started it was apparently driving a stolen car. Twenty-four-year-old with a seventeen-year-old passenger—both killed at the scene. Senseless; the tragedies that snowballed from some guy’s bad decision.

  Sarah glanced over and tapped me in the arm. “Hey, you okay, Erin?”

  My body jerked. I’d completely missed part of her monologue. “Huh? Yeah, why?”

  “I asked you if you were able to get any sleep.”

  I took a deep breath, trying to master my emotions. “Some.” Not nearly enough, though. “My parents have been at the hospital all day. I called the ICU before I took my shower. The CT scans showed subdural hematomas. It’s only a matter of time now before he goes into organ failure.” I held back the burn rolling back up my throat. “My parents are going to be devastated.”

  “Oh man,” Sarah groaned.

  “My dad was going to pick me up on their way in but I had something I needed to do first.” I looked at my cell still clutched in my hand in case I got the call. “The, ah, priest from their church came by to see the family.”

  I felt her hand slide over mine, comforting me. “You need anything, you let me know.”

  I nodded, knowing she truly meant it. Little did she know that just being in the same car with her was what I needed. Sarah was a true friend through and through.

  The moment we walked into the ER the familiar scents of the hospital hit me, making the pit of my stomach twist. The plethora of smells of antiseptic, bodily fluids, even down to the chemicals used to scrub the floors, blended into the blur of rushing bodies, rhythmic tones of medical monitors, and hurried orders being called out between colleagues.

  I felt as if I were a silent witness, viewing the everyday pulse of the ER as if I wasn’t really there. Things seemed to happen around me without need for my intervention.

  Two uniformed EMTs pushing an empty stretcher passed by me. One of our RNs rushed into Room Seven. Death happening to the left; miracles of resuscitation happening to the right.

  “Erin.”

  I blinked from the severity of the tone.

  “Earth to Doctor Novak.”

  A large hand clasped around my shoulder, surprising me back into reality. I looked up at the handsome face that’d been the bane of my existence for at least three of the last four years.

  Doctor Randy Mason.

  Tall, lean, wind-blown light brown hair, short-cropped goatee, studious wire-rimmed glasses, and the owner of the most incredible ass to grace our halls in a pair of scrub pants. He shocked me with one of his killer smiles that, unfortunately, quickly dissipated.

  His deep hazel eyes narrowed, assessing me as if I were nothing more than a patient. To think that I once thought I saw my entire future in those eyes when he was between my thighs making love to me.

  “You okay? Mandy told me your uncle made it through the first twelve hours. Were you up in ICU?”

  Hearing that name leave his lips was like a harsh slap to the face and a knife in the back at the same time,
instantly knocking me out of my stupor. Being reminded of how my last love had gutted me so effectively with that tramp from Radiology was the last thing I needed while privately suffering through my family tragedy.

  Randy and Mandy—what a joke.

  An icy chill ran through my bones recalling that final fight, the seething anger and agonizing disappointment, the way I dumped dresser drawers and threw his clothing out of my bedroom and out of my life.

  What he ever saw in her, I’d never know. Perhaps if she had some redeeming qualities I might understand the attraction and why he chose to cheat on me with her, but she wasn’t even a nice person. She was the term bitch personified, always snipping at everyone like an overindulged spoiled brat and committing my number one pet peeve by talking about people behind their backs incessantly.

  I nodded my answer and wrapped my stethoscope around my neck, confused by his close proximity and the gentle rubbing he was doing on my arm. To think how much I used to crave that touch or any semblance of emotional nurturing from him.

  “Yeah, thanks. It’s been… rough.” I pulled my arm away from him before my body caved into the attention. It had taken me months and lots of tears to resolve that the love I thought I had felt for him was totally one-sided and definitely unrequited.

  Randy hesitantly reached for me again but I moved farther away. He lost the privilege of touching me a long time ago. “So I, um, I have to get to work, but thanks.”

  “I’m worried about you. Despite what you might think, I still care. If you need anything, you know, well—”

  My hand shot out. “Save it. Just save it.” Self-preservation had me darting away from him as quickly as my feet would carry me. The last thing I needed was his pity. I headed toward our automated white-board to check our caseload instead, replaying the subtle nuances of our one-minute interlude, hating the part of me that still craved him. My mind was barraged with fragmented memories: his smile, his kiss, the feel of his hands roaming my body. How I tried so hard and failed so miserably. How the little he did give me just wasn’t enough.

 
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