Authors: Linda Winfree
Tags: #cops, #Linda Winfree, #younger hero, #friends to lovers, #doctor, #older woman younger man, #Hearts of the South, #Southern, #contemporary, #Mystery, #older heroine, #small town
Table of Contents
He’s nothing she wants…but everything she needs.
Hearts of the South
, Book 11
Two years after she buried the love of her life, ER physician Savannah Mills remains buried in her work and keeps her heart under lock and key. But if anyone could tempt her banked desires to come out and play, it’s her neighbor. A couple of casual interactions with the former police officer has her considering a friends-with-benefits arrangement.
Emmett Beck is forging a new career after an on-duty shooting nearly cost him everything. His love life has been in cold storage during his recuperation, but when Savannah proposes a no-strings relationship, his body warms to the idea. After all, it’s just sex. What could possibly go wrong?
Plenty—once Emmett realizes that hot kisses and steamy nights aren’t enough. And that he’s fallen in love with a woman who intends to never love anyone again.
Warning: Contains a younger man determined to be everything his woman needs, in bed and out, and an older woman unafraid to explore her wild side. Also features cops who talk like cops.
All I Need
Life is more than food, and the body is more than clothing.
Damn, he hurt tonight. The ache twisted and snarled in his thigh, as though an unseen hand tied the muscles themselves into knots. The incision line itself itched with sharp twinges of intermittent pain. The discomfort made him restless, and he retreated to the back patio to throw punches at the heavy bag until the injured leg refused to hold him any longer. Then he dragged himself to the shower and stood under cool water, rinsing away the sweat and wishing the pain and the memories could be washed away so easily.
Afterward, he knocked back a couple more ibuprofen—stomach damage be damned—and took a cold longneck out to the front stoop, to sit in the Adirondack chair by his front door and wait in vain for the pain to simply go away. At least weariness tugged at him, and maybe he’d be able to catch a decent night’s sleep.
Head tilted back, he spun the bottle in slow circles on the chair arm and eyed the moths bumping and jostling around the dim ceiling light. Muted laughter, maybe canned sitcom revelry, drifted from the apartment upstairs. In the distance, a siren wailed, and he tensed before he remembered that when the leg cramped like tonight, tightening the muscles only made things worse.
Headlights flashed across the complex, and a sporty Mercedes purred into the lot. Security lighting gleamed off black paint as the luxury car came to a stop in the parking spot next to his. The bottle made another slow revolution. Must be the new neighbor he’d heard coming and going the past couple of days.
This is what his life had become—a new neighbor with whom he’d never pass more than a couple of words was the major excitement of his days.
On a smile, he sipped at the beer. Maybe his buddies were right—he needed to get out more.
The interior light flashed when the car door opened, illuminating glossy brown hair in a messy knot. The brunette stepped from the car and slung a leather tote over her shoulder. Dark blue medical scrubs skimmed over her tall frame, broad-shouldered and curvy. The car door closed and alarm set, she turned toward the apartment block.
While unlocking her door, she flashed Emmett a smile. She was a looker—a full mouth set in a slightly square jaw, pert nose, big eyes. “Hi.”
Sultry voice, a little on the husky side. He lifted the bottle in response. “Hey.”
Her front door partially open, she crossed the yards between them to extend a hand. “Savannah Mills. It’s good to meet you.”
“Emmett Beck.” Her hand, nails short and clean of any polish, was cool against his.
She clutched her bag’s strap and waved her other hand toward downtown behind them. “I’m new here and don’t know a lot of people yet. I find it’s valuable to get to know my neighbors. We should grab a beer some time.”
He froze with the bottle halfway to his lips. Wow, she came out of the gate quick. Wasn’t like he wasn’t used to that, but it had been a while and he was a different guy now. He’d learned that lesson really well. He dredged up a facsimile of a smile and concentrated on keeping all the bitterness and anger out of his voice, on producing the most even tone he could muster. The fact his love life—or lack thereof—seemed to be a constant subject of local gossip wasn’t her fault.
“Sorry, honey, but I don’t get out much these days.”
“I understand.” Her friendly smile widened. “Let me know if that changes. Good night.”
She spun on her heel and disappeared inside her apartment. The door closed with a muted snick. He shook his head on a quiet snort and downed the rest of the lukewarm brew. Yeah, he’d blown that for sure. He should have said yes, asked her to join him maybe.
Obviously, his hermit status had caused him to lose his mind.
* * * * *
Out of habit, he rose early. He answered a couple of texts from his mama and worked through his daily exercises while coffee brewed, then took a mug and his Kouzes and Posner book out to the Adirondack. This morning, he needed the cane despite—or maybe because of—the exercises. The cane had been in his closet for weeks. His pride smarted a little over dragging it out, but he wasn’t stupid enough to jeopardize his progress. One day, he’d be back in uniform, probably behind a desk, but still—he’d be in uniform again. Maybe one day, he’d actually be back in a patrol car.
Pen at hand, he settled in and opened to the chapter on envisioning the future. Soft splashes drifted from the pool area, where Savannah cut through the water with easy strokes—lazy lap after lap after lap. He returned to reading, letting the quiet sounds—Savannah swimming, birds coming to life in the trees along the street, the occasional car puttering by—soothe him.
On a long sip of strong coffee, he underlined a couple of sentences about defining vision and purpose. The background noise shifted around him, the quiet splashing replaced by the hushed slap of flip-flops on pavement. Keys jingled a merry tune, and chlorine tickled his nose.
He glanced up as the footfalls grew nearer. She was a looker like this, too. Her simple black one-piece hugged generous curves, and her brown eyes sparkled in a face bare of makeup. Although her dark hair was caught up in a loose bun, a few wet strands fell free to frame features flushed from exercise and lit up with a smile. A white towel draped around her neck caught a few stray droplets of water from her skin and hair. The women he was used to dressed for an audience at the pool or the beach and never let their too-cute bikinis get wet, pairing those swimsuits with perfect hair and makeup. Nothing wrong with that, but he liked Savannah’s authenticity and the distinct impression she dressed for herself alone.
He rested the book spine-up on his belly and saluted her with his mug. “Hey.”
“Good morning.” She pushed wet bangs out of her eyes. “A little light reading there?”
“Required for a class I’m taking.” He glanced at the cover and let a grin lift one corner of his mouth. “Actually, it’s not that bad.”
“Grad school?” Her gaze skittered from the book to the cane to his eyes.
“Yeah.” He kept his voice bland and even.
“Well, I’m going to go and let you read.” She gestured toward her door with both hands. “You’ll let me know if anything changes about that beer, right?”
“Sure.” He picked the book up once more. “Have a great day.”
“You too.” With a cheeky grin—and man, that was one cheeky sashay she had as well—she disappeared into her apartment.
Aware he was smiling, he finished the chapter and his coffee. He leaned heavily on the cane and made his way inside. By the time he showered, dressed, and walked out to his truck, the Mercedes was gone. He made a trip to the library to drop off his borrowed books and check out two more biographies, then pulled into the parking lot at his physical therapist’s office and took the spot farthest from the door. Someone needed to be closer more than he did.
In the waiting room, he read a chapter or so about FDR’s early life before Holli called him back. She patted his shoulder as they walked down the hall. “How’s your mama and daddy?”
Somehow he kept a grimace off his face at the mention of his father. “They’re good. Yours?”
“Mama’s doing okay. Daddy’s blood pressure is acting up again.” Holli glanced sideways at him. “I see we’ve got the cane out.”
“First time in weeks.” He rubbed at the muscle above the surgical incision. “The muscles were cramping last night, and the leg felt a little shaky after my morning routine. Didn’t want to chance falling.”
“Smart guy.” Holli graced him with a thousand-watt smile. “I love it when patients follow directions. Come on and let me torture you a while.”
The session proved to be just short of torture—exhausting and painful. Even so, the leg was getting better.
was getting better. Only not the same. That idea took some getting used to, but he was getting there too. He was on his way to letting go the idea of being the same as he’d been.
As he’d expected, Clark Dempsey waited for him in the parking lot. True to his words to Savannah, he didn’t get out much these days, but Troy Lee and Clark forced him to go to lunch with them on his PT days. They’d fallen into an easy routine—Clark had his EMS partner drop him off, he drove them to lunch, then Emmett drove himself home. Today, immense gratitude filled him. He hurt like hell, and letting Clark drive would give him time for the ibuprofen to kick in, time to get over the pain and exertion. Besides, he could be totally real with Clark, who already knew all his weaknesses.
He tossed his keys to Clark. “So what’s on the menu today?”
Clark’s eyes crinkled with his wide smile. “BBQ.”
In the passenger seat, Emmett clicked on his seat belt, closed his eyes, and melted into the seat. Clark let him decompress in silence broken only by Mat Kearney on the radio and the hum of tires on pavement. Minutes later, Clark jockeyed the truck into a shady spot outside the Hickory House. Emmett stretched out his leg, testing the muscles gingerly.
“You good?” Clark asked, hand on the ignition.
A relieved grin pulled at Emmett’s mouth. “Yeah. Let’s go.”
He chose safety and his recovery over pride and took the cane with him. He spotted Troy Lee’s grayish-blue patrol unit in the sea of cars. The line to order stretched to the door, normal for the midday lunch rush. He and Clark chatted with a few acquaintances while they waited. After they ordered, Gail, the restaurant’s proprietor and contender for the county’s biggest gossip, pointed toward the rear of the long, low building.
“Troy Lee got y’all a table in the back room.” She laid a hand on Emmett’s on the counter, a too-sweet smile on her face. “How’s Lacey doing, sweetheart?”
Hell. Like she didn’t know Lacey had bailed on him before he’d even gotten the first set of surgical staples out of his leg. Or that Lacey had started dating one of the service guys over at the Ford place within a couple of weeks of telling Emmett they were done. Not that he could really blame her. They’d only been dating a couple of months when he’d been shot, and back then, all the prognoses had been grimmer than grim. He liked to think he’d have hung in for her in the same circumstances, but he couldn’t be sure. He’d been a heck of a lot shallower then.
He made damn sure his face remained stoic. Anything he said or did was going to make the gossip rounds before two o’clock. He didn’t need anybody calling his mama and getting her upset. “You probably know more than I do, Mrs. Gail. We haven’t seen each other in a while.”