Authors: Natalie Ann
Tags: #Romance, #Contemporary
Text Copyright 2014 Natalie Ann
All Rights Reserved
No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner without a written consent.
Dedication: To my husband. For always standing behind, beside, and in front of me— supporting me all the way. My true Hero.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, events and incidents are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Jack didn’t feel the wind rushing through his wavy brown hair. Or ripping at his jacket, sending the bottom flapping behind him like a cape. A storm was brewing, the skies growing dark, but he remained still, unmoving. The soft dirt recently overturned at his feet was like cement holding him in place. His head was thrown back to the angry clouds above. But he saw none of it. His eyes were closed, his arms rigid at his side.
Almost as in a trance—without thought of his actions or surroundings—he continuously curled his fingers into tight fists, released them and then curled them again. The urge to grip something beyond his reach.
He was alone in presence and soul. “I’m sorry. I should have known. I should have seen it.” But there was no one there to respond. “Why did you have to leave me?” he said, his anguished voice carried in the wind.
A loud howl, a lone cry through the air sounded. He didn’t realize it came from his own lips.
With jerky motions he brought his hands in front of his face, stared at them as they continued to flex uncontrollably. With a ragged sigh, he raked them through his hair, messing it up even more. Never feeling the pain while he tugged those waves straight.
He would never forgive himself. He had to live with it the rest of his life. He should have known better. He should have paid better attention. How could he have missed it?
Squatting down with his elbows on his knees, his head in his hands covering his face, silently weeping, he continued the same chant. “I’m so sorry. I should have known.”
Minutes passed—or maybe it was hours—he had lost all track of time. When the first drops of rain fell on the back of his neck, he lifted his head. Then wished he hadn’t while he stared at the words in front of him on the rose-colored tombstone. His life would never be the same.
October, two years later
Cori turned the corner in the parking garage, her head twisting back and forth looking for a parking spot. Her wheels squealed while she cut another corner. Slamming on the breaks, she just avoided hitting the big truck slowly trying to back into the tight spot.
The owner of the truck rolled his window down, his eyes widened and he said rather gruffly, “You need to slow down.” Then he neatly parked his oversized truck in one of the spots reserved for doctors.
Cori’s jaw dropped. She quickly closed her mouth, hit the gas and sped around the corner.
Oh my God.
That was Ryan’s friend Jack Reynolds. The man from Brooke’s party over the summer. She had no idea he was a doctor. Or that he worked at Albany Medical Center.
How could Brooke leave out something important like that
Ha, slow down. No way, she thought with a giggle, and neatly swung her little Mini Cooper into an open spot. Maybe he should speed up a bit, because he sure took his time backing in and out trying to park his truck just right.
As Jack was leaving the hospital at the end of the day, he passed by the little red Mini Cooper that had almost slammed right into him that morning. He knew it was the same one because he remembered seeing the smiley face sticker in the back window when she sped by.
At first he was annoyed when she came around the corner so fast. No one should be driving around the parking garage like that. Even if they were in a hurry. Someone could get hurt.
Then when he rolled his window down, and she did the same, he got his second shock. It was the little redhead from Ryan’s brother’s party over the summer. He couldn’t help but notice her then—any more than he could help but notice her this morning.
Actually, his eyes had been drawn right to her last summer when he arrived at the party. Her bright red hair pulled back in a ponytail, her eyes almost dancing with mischief—even from a distance it was hard to miss. She was…adorable, for lack of a better word.
And boy, when she came out of the house in a tiny pink bikini moments later, it was all he could do not to let on he was watching her. But he was. Watching her, that is. She had marched down to the lake full of confidence and hopped on one of the jet skis, then took off in a blur.
He hadn’t seen her again that day though, because he had put in his thirty minutes and left. Thirty minutes was all he had in him to mingle.
He hated going out and socializing. Detested it, to be honest. But he’d forced himself to go—like so many other times over the last two years. He needed to move on with his life, and he’d finally figured out the best way to do that. Alone. There were too many holes left in him right now, and he didn’t have the energy to fill them.
But boy, that little redhead sure had one hell of a body on her. And he remembered in detail, because he had dreamed about her often in the last several months.
He wondered if she was a visitor or an employee. There was no way to really tell since only the doctors had reserved spots. Then he shook his head. It didn’t matter, it’s not like he was looking for someone in his life anymore.
More than once Jack asked himself what he was doing here. He looked around the bar, noticing the growing crowd. The one Friday night this month he wasn’t on-call and he ended up in a downtown bar watching twenty-somethings mingle and dish out cheesy pickup lines.
Lifting his beer to his lips, he took a long drink, then set it back on the bar and glanced over at his best friend, Ryan Mathews. Ryan had to be the only person on the face of the earth who could have gotten Jack out tonight.
He still hadn’t figured out how it happened. Jack clearly remembered saying no to Ryan at least three times, yet here he sat. He supposed that was part of what made Ryan such a good lawyer—the ability to get people to do what he wanted without them realizing it. Ryan was good at having people believe anything he said.
Ryan was as close to him as a brother. They’d met fifteen years ago, in their freshman year of college at Duke, at another outing Jack had been dragged to despite his objections. Tracy, Jack’s girlfriend of four years at that time, had a sorority sister who had been dating Ryan. At a party they were all attending, Tracy had pulled her friend over to Jack and introduced them. Ryan happened to have his arm around the waist of the giggling blonde sorority sister. In the end, Ryan was the lifesaver that got Jack through that night. He stayed by Jack’s side while Tracy and her friend dashed around talking and laughing with everyone at once. An instant bond had formed between the two men.
Much like Ryan, Tracy had had a way of taking Jack out of his comfort zone and convincing him to go and expand his horizons. Though getting drunk and listening to loud music didn’t seem like much of an expansion to Jack back then. Not when he could have been back in his room studying. But the one good thing that came out of that night fifteen years ago was meeting Ryan.
Jack was a loner, though. And he liked it that way. He still hadn’t really figured out how to talk to people. Everything he said always seemed to come off stiff or boring. Especially when he was talking to women. Then he would get all flustered and embarrassed, wishing he had kept his mouth closed. Again, making him wonder what he was doing sitting here right now.
Ryan looked at Jack’s disgruntled face and sighed. “You need to relax. Loosen up a bit and enjoy yourself a little. Look around.” He gestured with his own glass around the bar. “You could have your pick of anyone here if you at least smiled once in a while.” He paused, then nodded to Jack’s clothing. “I can’t believe you’re wearing that right now. How can you be a doctor?” he said with a snicker.
“What? You’re wearing jeans too.” Jack studied Ryan’s dark-washed denim, most likely designer, unlike Jack’s worn Levi’s. Then he looked more closely at Ryan’s tailored white-on-white striped shirt opened at the collar with the sleeves rolled up to his elbows showcasing the Rolex at his wrist. No comparison to Jack’s old blue sweater and athletic watch.
They were as opposite as they could possibly be. Not only in their wardrobe, but their looks as well. Ryan was blessed with same blond hair and blue eyes as his father and brother, Lucas. Golden boys came to mind when Jack looked at the Mathews men. Nothing like Jack’s brown hair that was in desperate need of a trim, curling around his neck and ears.
His chocolate brown eyes surveyed the crowd as a pair of giggling blondes stepped up to Ryan, leaning against the bar talking to him. The women always came to Ryan. Jack couldn’t remember him ever having to make a move. Ryan could stand anywhere in a room and the women would drift to him as if he had some special pheromone calling them over.
Unlike Jack. If he looked at a woman and they smiled at him, he froze and ended up looking the other way—then feeling like a fool. So, he continued to brood into his beer while Ryan chatted the two girls up next to him.
Ryan had thought Jack needed a night out. He was probably right, but Jack would never admit it. Even though he had been living in Albany for a few months now, Jack hadn’t been out of his house for anything other than work, the store, or a walk around the neighborhood. That also meant he hadn’t had any female companionship in as long. He was missing it, but not enough to venture into a bar to find it. Or work up the courage to start a conversation with a stranger.
After Tracy’s death two years ago, Jack swore off relationships. He’d made a few lame attempts at dating, but he just didn’t know what to do, what to say, or even where he went wrong half the time.
He could never figure out what a woman wanted. They always wanted him to guess, like he was supposed to read their minds. Even with Tracy, he’d guessed wrong most of the time, then ended up feeling guilty for never knowing the right thing to say or do to make it right.
He didn’t want to put himself out there anymore, or lose any more of himself in the process. Frankly, he wasn’t sure there was enough left of him to lose at this point.
When his body needed a release, he was able to find a willing woman for the night. And then he would go on his merry way. No phone numbers exchanged, no demands, and no commitments. He was always upfront so they knew what to expect. So far it had worked well for him. And the few times a year he ventured out seemed to be enough. The stress of a conversation or commitment was taken out of the equation, making the evening easier for him.
Glancing around the bar again, he thought maybe it wouldn’t hurt to find someone for the night. He was here anyway.
Then he caught sight of a redhead in the corner, conjuring up memories of a tiny pink bikini. He hadn’t seen the girl from the parking garage again, or her car—not that he had been looking for the last week. So he assumed she was only visiting that day. Which was just as well. He hadn’t been very friendly when he told her to slow down. Again, he should have just kept his mouth shut.
Before he could work up the courage to single someone out, Ryan was talking to him. “Jack, this is Nikki and her friend Debi,” he said, gesturing toward the blondes dressed in miniskirts that were barely long enough to be considered decent in public. His surgeon’s eye noticed both girls seemed overly endowed in a much too perfected way. They definitely got their money’s worth.
Jack nodded at both girls. Since Ryan had his arm around Nikki, he assumed Debi was left for him. Ryan confirmed Jack’s assumption. “Nikki is an old friend of mine and has invited me back to her place. And since she’s Debi’s ride, we thought maybe you could give Debi a lift home?” he said with a suggestive grin.
Jack realized that Ryan had made his work easier tonight. “Sure.”
Ryan turned toward Debi and introduced them better. “Debi, this is Jack. Did I mention that he’s a surgeon? You will be in good hands.” He smirked, then slapped Jack on the back and left him at the bar with Debi, his work done for the night.
Hating himself like he always did afterwards, Jack let himself in his front door. He told himself tonight was a normal part of life. He was a doctor and knew the body’s needs. Only that didn’t make him feel any better about the last few hours. He felt cheap.
Debi knew what she was getting into. She never offered her last name and he didn’t either when she led him into her apartment. No phone numbers exchanged. A good time, that was all she promised and she lived up to it. Now he had to live with himself.
Since he decided relationships were off- limits, he would have to learn to accept nights like this. It was one-night stands, friends with benefits—or abstinence, but he was too young and enjoyed sex too much for that.
Locking the door behind him, he climbed the stairs to his bedroom, then made his way to the adjoining bath. There he shed his clothes and washed away the scent of the night that lingered on him.