“Hold still,” Sam said, and crouched in front of him as well, the two of them looking at his shoulder with twin frowns as Tanner peeled the shreds of the shirt away.
“Can you lift your arm?” Sam asked.
“Yeah,” Cole said. “Of course I can—”
The words caught in his throat as he tried to do just that and got halfway before the stab of pain nailed him again. “Oh, shit,” he said, starting to sweat.
“But you’re not hurt, right?” Tanner asked.
Tanner snorted. “No thanks. I’ve seen you naked and cold, too.” He rose and went to the freezer. A minute later he was back with an ice pack, which he tossed to Cole, smacking him in the face.
“Oh, sorry,” Tanner said. “Was that a stupid thing to do? As stupid as, say, hoisting a woman out of the water and onto the deck platform when you’ve been told by your doctor to knock that shit off if you want to avoid surgery for the rotator cuff tear? Jesus. You and your damn hero complex.”
This pissed Cole off because Tanner had a hero complex the size of his own big, fat head. The guy was currently playing hero to a long list of people who depended on him: his mother, his ex, his son…“So I should’ve what,” Cole asked, “let her drown?”
Tanner pulled a sling from the first-aid box and put it on Cole. “Look familiar?”
Cole stared at the thing he’d worn for months after the rig fire. “Shit.”
Tanner rose. “I’m going to go file today’s float plan,” he said, “which is changing. I’ll captain this one, and you—” He pointed at Cole. “You’re off duty.”
Cole ignored this. As a male, he was allowed selective deafness. “I’ve got the float plan done already.”
“Off. Duty,” Tanner repeated, and didn’t move a single inch when Cole rose to his feet, putting them nose to nose.
“He’s going to make this harder than it needs to be,” Tanner muttered to Sam.
“Fuck you,” Cole said.
Tanner lifted a hand, palm out, as if to say See?
“This is bullshit,” Cole said. “I’m fine.”
“You really think you can run this boat today, or even at any point for the rest of the week?” Tanner challenged.
“Watch me.” Cole rolled his shoulder, felt the wave of pain nearly steal his breath, and had no additional comment. He turned away, but Tanner ducked in front of him and forced eye contact.
“Yeah, hi,” Tanner said, waving at him like a prom queen. “I’m going to watch you all right. I’m going to watch you do jackshit for the next three to four days, minimum. Now repeat that back for me.”
Cole narrowed his eyes.
Tanner smiled. A badass, try-me smile. “Try again.”
Cole opened his mouth, most definitely not to try again and possibly to tell Tanner where to shove it, but Sam took over. He put his hand on Cole’s good shoulder, wisely stepping between them since they’d all at one time or another been known to swing first and ask questions later. “Look at it this way,” Sam said. “You get a few days to sit around and watch Oprah and eat bonbons while we have to work our asses off.”
“Oprah doesn’t have a show anymore,” Cole said. “And what the hell are bonbons, anyway?”
Sam shrugged. “Hell if I know.”
“A chocolate,” Tanner said. “Ladies used to eat them in the eighteen hundreds or some such shit.” He seemed to realize that both Sam and Cole were staring at him and he shrugged. “Hey,” he said defensively, “blame Cara.”
Cara was one of Cole’s three sisters, and she’d always had a thing for the bad boy, any bad boy. Saying Tanner qualified for that category was like saying the sun was a tad bit warm at its surface.
But Tanner took one look at Cole’s face and lifted his hands. “It’s not what you think,” he said. “It’s from the fancy fact-a-day calendar she gave me last Christmas. It was today’s fact.”
Cole shook his head and shoved past the two idiots he was tethered to by stupid loyalty.
“Where are you going?” Sam asked his back.
“If I’m off, I’m off,” he said.
“He’s butt-hurt,” Tanner said. “Needs a good pout.”
“I’m not butt-hurt,” Cole said. But shit. He totally was.
“Look,” Sam said, stopping him. “You’re injured, you’re off. It’s nothing personal. It could’ve just as easily been one of us.”
“I’m not that hurt.”
“You want to risk a client’s life on it?” Sam asked. “Come on, man. You know damn well you sometimes have unrealistic expectations of people, and this time it’s about yourself. You’re down for the count. Go home. Rest. That’s all. It’s easy enough, but if it’s not, we’ll be happy to hogtie you to your couch. Just say the word.”
Tanner smiled evilly, clearly on board with that.
Shoving free of them both, Cole headed up to the dock.
“You’re a jackass,” he heard Sam say to Tanner.
Ignoring them both, Cole kept going. He realized he was disproportionately pissed off, but it’d been that stupid, frustrating flashback.