Authors: Jill Shalvis
She took in his innocent gaze. “I mean ever. This isn't going to the bedroom, yours or mine,
“Well, now, that's just a crying shame, given how combustive we are just sitting here, much less kissing.”
Hearing him say it, in the Irish accent he didn't acknowledge, made her pulse quicken. “We need to forget that kiss.”
Now he laughed, the sound rich and easy.
“We do,” she protested.
“Much as I'd like to oblige you, darlin', I'm going to be around. A lot. We're going to run into each other. Nobody's going to be forgetting anything.”
“You've thought about this.”
“Hell yeah, I've thought about this.” His eyes were crystal-clear, and very intent on hers. “Last night I decided never to so much as look at you again.”
“What happened?” He shook his head, and as the waitress come back with their order he dug in with a gusto that forced her to do the same. “
Since she didn't intend to touch that statement with
a ten-foot pole, they ate in silence. Nicole had to admit, it felt good to fill her belly. How she managed to forget to eat so often was beyond her, but she liked this feeling ofâ¦satisfaction. Since she intended to deny herself any other kind of satisfactionâsay sex with Ty, with which she was quite certain he would have no trouble satisfying herâfood would have to do.
“So.” After inhaling enough food for an armyâwhere did he put it all in that long, hard body?âhe leaned back in his chair. “What's up for today, doc?”
“Surgeries. Meetings. More surgeries.”
“Are you good?”
He smiled. “I bet you are. Did you always know this is what you wanted?”
“From day one.” She wondered the same about him. “Were you always going to be an architect?”
Some of his good humor faded, just a little. So little, in fact, she thought maybe she'd imagined it. “Not always,” he said lightly.
When she just looked at him, he sighed. “Let's just say I didn't have the most auspicious of beginnings.”
She felt a smile tugging at her lips. “A troublemaker, were you?”
“Of the highest ranking.”
“I'm shocked. Were youâ”
“Oh, no. This is about you.” He lifted a brow. “Your mom is something.”
Nicole stared at him. “You met her, too?”
“Darlin', the way she stormed the building, everyone met her. What a dynamo.” He smiled. “You're like her.”
“I am not.”
His smile went to a full-fledged grin. “Are too.”
She set down her fork. “She has a bazillion kids, a husband, two bazillion grandchildren and runs her world like Attila the Hun.”
“Yeah, you share that last part. So what was it like, growing up with such a large family?”
He wasn't just idly asking, he'd leaned forward, his entire attention on her face. He really wanted to know. “Wellâ¦” She thought about it. “I never had my own bed. And I had to wait hours for the bathroom. Oh, and I wore a lot of hand-me-downs.” She hesitated, then admitted, “But there was always someone around when I needed them.” Always. And, she also had to admit, she hadn't thanked any of them enough for it. “What about you?”
He suddenly didn't look so open. “I already told you, I don't have a family.”
“What happened?” she asked quietly.
“Well, I never knew my father, and let's just say my mother is better off forgotten.” Expression closed, he reached for his iced tea. “Need a refill?”
“No, thank you.” Behind his nonchalance, she saw his regret, and a sadness she couldn't reach. But more than that, pain. “Tyâ”
“Don't,” he said softly. “Please, don't.”
Before she could respond, he tossed some money on the table and stood. “Let's get you to work.”
“And after that?”
His light-blue eyes gave nothing of himself away now. “What do you want to happen after that?”
“If I said nothing?”
“I'm not sure I'd believe it.”
“Look, Nicoleâ¦do we have to figure it out right now?” He touched her cheek, let out a smile that was short of his usual levity. “Do we really have to decide right this very minute?”
With a shake of her head, she took his offered hand, and shocking herself, tipped her face up when he leaned in for a sweet kiss. Or what
have been a sweet kiss, but was instead only an appetizer.
He pulled back, and she opened her eyes. There was a question in his, but she shook her head. “Work,” she said.
“Work, then.” And he took her outside.
Work would be good. At work she could bury her thoughts and concentrate on what mattered. Her job.
Not the man who had unexpected depths and a touch she couldn't seem to forget.
ND SHE DID MANAGE
to bury herself in work. The emergency department was overloaded due to a
strange and violent outbreak of a flu, which had severely dehydrated an older woman to the point that her kidneys failed. After that, they'd taken out an appendix from a hockey player, and then sewn a finger back on a carpenter who'd managed to cut it off with his table saw.
By the end of the shift she'd nearly managed to for get all about Ty. As she stood in front of a vending machine in the reception area of the hospital on her way out the door, her cell phone rang.
“Honey, I dropped off some food for you. Your nice landlady let me in, so I stuck it in your fridge.”
“Mom.” Nicole had to laugh. “I have food.”
“No, you had a rotting head of lettuce and two sodas. Now you have food. Taylor is very beautiful, isn't she? Is she married? I didn't see a ring, butâ”
“Just say thank you, Nicole.”
“Thank you, Nicole.”
“Funny. Don't forget to come to dinner this Sunday.”
“Try harder than last Sunday. I'll even shamelessly bribe you. I'll make you brownies. Your favorite.”
Nicole had to laugh. No matter how long and bloody her day had been, her mother never failed to bully a smile out of her. With her mom, she always felt warm and loved, even when she wasn't warm and lovable at all.
And some people never had this in their life. Some people, like Ty. “I love you, Mom.”
“Well.” Her mother's voice got thick, and she sniffed. “I love you, too, baby. See you soon.”
“See you soon,” she promised, then sighed. She would have to make sure she did before her mother showed up at her place with more food she wouldn't eat.
Her eye on the chocolate caramel bar in the vending machine, she put a dollar in.
It ate the money and didn't spit out the candy.
“Why youâ” She kicked it. This had always worked in the past, but now the machine mocked her with silence.
“You have to have the right touch.” Dr. Lincoln Watts glided his body directly up behind hers, so close that she nearly choked on his expensive aftershave. His arms surrounded her as he reached past her to punch in the buttons on the machine.
The candy bar dropped.
Nicole stepped forward until she was practically kissing the machine before she turned in his arms.
“Thank you.” He had until the count of three before she used her fists.
“Now you owe me.” There was a little smile on his lips that she was certain he considered sexy, but it creeped her out. No wonder all the nurses hated him.
She'd already changed back into her own clothes, and his eyes were eating her up. “Do you have any interesting tattoos to go with all those earrings of yours?” he asked a little huskily.
She stared at him. “Is that an official question?”
“Go out with me tonight.”
“Linc,” he corrected gently, with a not-so-gentle look in his eye as he stroked her cheek.
She pushed his hand away, met his gaze to make sure he saw her anger, and spoke carefully so as to not confuse the idiot. “I don't go out with people from work. I don't mix work and my personal life. Ever.”
“I'm not âpeople.' I'm a doctor.”
“I don't care if you clean bedpans, my answer is the same.”
His jaw tightened. His eyes became distinctly not so friendly. “You're turning me down again?”
What was it with too-smart, too-good-looking men? “Yes. I'm turning you down. Again.”
“That's a bad plan, Nicole.”
He looked her over for a long moment, then stepped back, his eyes ice. “I can make your life hell here. You know that.”
“No, I can make
life hell.” God, she hoped that was true.
She was the youngest doctor on board, the newest, and she wasn't naive enough to forget there were hidden politics in force, or that Dr. Lincoln Watts had all the strings to pull and she had none.
Still, she kept her head up high as she walked past him and out the doors of the hospital. That she had just now remembered she didn't have her car made a perfectly bad ending to a perfectly bad day. Spoiling for a fight, with no one to go nose-to-nose with, she stalked over to a pay phone to look for the number of a cab company.
RAWING AND DESIGNING
were what Ty had been born to do. Envision and create, and then move on.
He was good at it, especially the moving on part. He could do it right now, just pack up and go. Hell, he didn't have anything he couldn't buy again. In fact, he had moving down to a science. He could pack up and get out of anywhere within a half hour if he had to.
But Taylor's building, while appearing to be a dump, had huge potential, and the job stirred his creative juices enough that he didn't feel like thinking about moving on, not yet.
At the moment he stood on the roof, staring down at the third-floor living-room windowâNicole's window to be exactâtrying to figure out a way to pop it out a little to fit the early-1900s traditional facade of the place. The challenge excited him, and he retrieved his notepad from his pocket and hunkered down, yanking the cap off his pen with his teeth so that he could write. He was a page into it when he heard the screech of tires.
Nicole slammed out of a cab, which reminded him he'd fixed her car for her. He took one look at the strut in her walk, at the fury pouring off her in waves, and wondered what had happened to make her look as though she was spoiling for a fight.
Though he still had measurements to take in the rafters, he told himself he could come back later, and shimmied down from the roof to the mock balcony in front of her living-room window. He'd just landed on his feet when he saw her clearly through the glass, stalking in her front door. Slamming it. She saw him immediately, he could tell by the slight narrowing of her eyesâah, how lovely to be so welcomed.
With a kick-ass attitude he couldn't miss, she headed toward him, opening the window so fast he thought for a moment she meant to push him down three stories to his death.
“What are you doing here?” she demanded.
“Just thought I'd drop in.”
“Funny,” she said without a smile. “You hang outside windows often?”
“Just yours.” He cocked his head at the unmistakable unhappiness in her gaze. “You going to invite me in?”
“What if I say please real nice?”
“Oh, fine.” She turned away. “Suit yourself, you're going to anyway.”
Yes, he was. And her stress drew him like a magnet. He threw a leg over the sill, climbed through and straightened, studying her stiff spine. Coming up behind her, he put his hands on her shoulders.
“Shh,” he said when she flinched, and gently began to knead at the knots she had in her neck. There was a virtual rock quarry there, not to mention the heat of the rage she was so carefully controlling. Given how much of the world she took on her shoulders on a daily basis, her stress level had to be off the charts. He ached for her.
But in spite of his genuine need to soothe and comfort, there was more. Beneath her white shirt he could see a hint of yellow lace bra, and he wondered if her panties matched. “How did you get so tense today, doc?”
“I tend to get that way when some asshole puts his hands on me uninvited.”
He went still.
“Not you,” she said.
Still, Ty suddenly felt very tense himself. “Who put his hands on you uninvited?”
She lifted a slim shoulder. “Just some jerk at work.”
“Your boss again?”
Another lift of her shoulder.
“Goddammit.” Now he was trying to control
temper, but he had to do it. She didn't want his anger,
and she sure as hell didn't want compassion, so what was he supposed to do with all this unexpected violence? Keeping his voice light took about all he had. “Do I need to go caveman for you and kick some serious butt?”
That startled a laugh out of her, a genuine one, and he relaxed slightly, keeping his hands working on her neck. If she'd been hurt, she wouldn't be laughing.
“I handled it,” she assured him.
“Yeah, well, I hope you kicked his balls into next week.”
“Nah, just his ego.”
She said this very proudly, and that made him smile. “Good girl.” He dug for more taut muscles, thinking she was so petite beneath his fingers, soâ¦perfect. “Sure I can't go reinforce it?”
“No way.” She was quiet a moment, biting her lip as he started on a kink at the base of her shoulder blade.
He didn't want her to bite her lip, he wanted her to let out the helpless moan, wanted her to give him a sign that he was making her feel good, that he was helping her let go of all the fury, but apparently he couldn't have everything he wanted.
“Ty?” she said softly after a moment.
“Thanks.” Turning to face him, her lips curved.
“You know, for having caveman tendencies and wanting to go bash in a head and all.”
The way she was looking at him made him want to beat his chest with his fists and howl at the moon. He'd meant to stay away from her. Why the hell hadn't he stayed away? “Nicole?”
While most of her anger had faded, she still had a good amount of wariness in those jaded eyes. “Yeah?”
“I'm going to put my hands on you.”
“You already have.”
“Why are you announcing this?”
“So you don't kick
balls or ego into next week, warrior princess.” Cupping her face, he tilted it up. Slowly. Giving her plenty of time to settle in.
Or back away.
She didn't back away, but neither did she settle in. Instead, she stiffened, just a little, just enough to break his heart. “No, don't get all tight again.” His lips whispered against hers. “I'm going to kiss you now. Say yes.”
“Yes or no, Nicole. I don't want you to mistake me for any other asshole doing this without permission.”
“IâI know who you are.”
“Yes or no.”
“Yes. Okay? Yes! Put your hands on me.” Her arms
snaked up around his neck. Fisted in his hair. “Kiss it all away, Ty. Can you do that?”
“Oh yeah.” His hands slid from her face to her hips and he pulled her close. “I can do that.”
She went up on her tiptoes to meet him halfway as he covered her mouth with his, cutting off anything else hanging between them, of which there was plenty. With a rough, appreciative groan, he invaded her mouth with one sure glide of his tongue, figuring she'd either kiss him back or belt him one.
She kissed him back. In fact, she mewled and arched her body to his like a cat in heat. His arms banded around her more tightly, lifting her off the ground as his mouth slashed across hers in a fiery kiss that only left him needing more, more, more. And when they finally broke apart, she staggered back, placed a hand over her heart and licked her wet lips. “What the hell was that?”
“Not sure.” He hauled her back against him. “Let's try it again and see if we can figure it out.”
“Hmm.” Then they were kissing again, tongues caressing and plundering, hands touching anywhere they could land as they ate each other up.
Ty had never felt anything as fast and as hot and as combustive as this. Her hands pushed up his shirt. He shoved up her light shirt. She kicked off her shoes, went up on her tiptoes and hooked a leg around his
hip, straining against the biggest erection he'd ever sported.
Never letting go of her mouth, he had his hands up her shirt and she had hers on his zipper when the
beep, beep, beep
of her pager nearly jerked his heart right out of his chest. “Don't listen,” he said against her lips, gripping her at the waist to hold her still.
With a soft little moan, she opened her eyes. “I have to.”
“I have to.” Stepping back, she licked her lips again, as if she needed that very last taste of him, and pulled down her shirt with fingers that trembled. She avoided his gaze as she went looking for the offending beeper. “I'm sorry. I shouldn't have let it go that far.”
“There were two of us inhaling each other.”
“Still, I should haveâ” She looked down at the pager.
“Let me guess. You have to go.”
“Yeah.” He backed away, shoving his hands in his pockets to keep them off her. “Goodbye, Nicole.”
“Me, too.” And he left before she could count off each and every reason why they should never have let anything like this happen.
He already knew every single one of them.
He just couldn't remember why they mattered.
OMETIME IN THE MIDDLE
of the night Ty gave up staring at the ceiling and went into his office. Not one to waste precious hours, he sat at his desk and decided he'd work off the restlessness.
He should have kept his hands and mouth to himself. Should have, would have, could have.
Regrets? Is that what he felt, when he'd promised himself to never have them? Never to look back?
Live life to its fullest,
he'd always told himself.
Get everything you want, and smile all the way to the bank as you do it.
It turned out it was no easier to work with a hard-on than it had been to sleep with one. So he turned on his computer, where he found another e-mail from his friendly stranger.
Dear Ty Patrick O'Grady of Dublin,
You asked who I am. Of course you want to know! I'm Margaret Mary Mulligan of Dublin. I'm twenty-four years of age, and I'm also the daughter of Anne Mary Mulligan.
Which makes me your half sister.
Actually, I'm not sure about the half part because I don't know who my father is. Our mother, as you probably know, is dead.
You're my only family. I want to know you. Please write back.
Ty stared at the e-mail for so long the words leaped and jumped in front of him. A sister? He had a sister?
Was it even possible?
He thought of his mother, professional trouble-seeker, professional man-screwer, and knew it was entirely possible. With a sigh, he hit Reply.
Dear Margaret Maryâ¦
Ty sat there, fingers poised over the keys, and couldn't figure out what he wanted to say.
How are you?
What do you want from me?
Nah, too defensive.
Dear Margaret Mary. Of Dublin.
He stopped to laugh. So formal, this mystery half sister. But then his smile faded. This could only bring trouble and rotten memories, neither of which he wanted. Thinking that, he typed:
Why now? Why me?
Besides, there could be a dozen of us for all I know.
Maybe you should try one of them.
Ty Patrick O'Grady
He hit Send, then sat there staring at nothing for who knew how long, until his computer beeped, indicating an incoming e-mail.
“So you can't sleep either,” he murmured and leaned forward.
I'm so glad you wrote. You have questions, questions are good.
But there is no one else. She told me herself before she died. Not that her word ever meant anything, but on this, I want to believe her.
It's just you and me.
Aren't you even curious?
Curious? Hell, no. He'd rather not think about his past at all. He'd rather look around him and see where he was right this moment. How far he'd come. And he'd come pretty damn far.
It's just you and me.
Damn her for that, for putting it into words so simply. So strongly. Clearly she didn't relish being alone, as he did.
She was young, very young, and probably had ide
alistic hopes about a family around her, hopes he'd never entertained for himself.
Ah, hell. He hit Reply.
If you're looking for family to be a comfort, forget it. I didn't get the comfort gene. If you're looking for a handout, you'd have better luck with our mum herself, dead or otherwise.
Best leave it alone.
Ty Patrick O'Grady
He hit Send. It was the right thing to do, he'd been on his own so long he didn't have any business opening his life to another person.
a loner, through and through. No family, no long-term lover. And if he gave a fleeting thought to what it might be like to be different, to let Margaret Mary in, to let Nicole in, he let it go.
Not his thing. Besides, he didn't know how to let anyone in.
Since he couldn't seem to sleep or entertain himself, he figured he might as well start his day. That meant pulling out the plans he was working up for Taylor's building.
It was the attic that was concerning him today, as Taylor had fond hopes of a place to store all the antiques she couldn't seem to stop collecting. The last
time he'd been there, he'd gotten distracted by Nicole.
Seeing as Nicole was no doubt killing herself at work, he decided the crack of dawn was a perfectly fine time to crawl around in the attic to his heart's content without disturbing a soul.
And he did just that, getting filthy in the process as he crawled through spiderwebs the size of his car. Straddling a beam, he pulled out his pad, and was happily making notes when he heard a door open. The sound came so close, he looked around, baffled, until he realized it was the apartment door directly beneath him.
Because of the way the building was builtâon a slight inclineâthe roof was really on two different tiers. On the higher level was the attic. Right next to that, but a full level below, was the loft apartment. There were two ways into the attic, the way he'd come in, through the third-floor hallway, or through a trap door at the far corner of Nicole's living room.
Due to a vicious storm only a few months ago, when a tree had fallen through the bedroom area of the loft, much of that part of the roof had been redone. But not the attic portion, which was still incredibly rickety. Reaching down, he opened the trap door.