But I was afraid to ask questions.
Because the whole situation felt—oddly holy.
Like he’d just done more than give her breasts—like he’d just given her back her femininity.
Tears welled in my eyes for a second time as Nancy and another nurse rolled the bed out of the OR.
When Thatch turned around, his eyes narrowed. “Austin? Are you sick? What’s wrong?” He tugged off his apron thing and gloves, then his mask. “Austin?”
I shook my head. “I need to go.”
“I’ll see you later. I just . . .”
I didn’t finish.
I had to get out of there.
I had to find my hate for that man somewhere.
And it wasn’t going to be in an OR where he gave women something precious back.
And it wouldn’t be where I watched his magical hands perform a surgery that he could most likely do in his sleep.
“Austin.” His voice had me paralyzed. I froze, but didn’t turn around. “You owe me a bike ride, remember? I’m supposed to ride with your dad and one of my partners on Friday morning.”
“Tell them you’re sick.”
“Fine,” I barked. “My house, seven.”
And then, like a loser, I ran out of the room, away from the man who still held my heart and refused to give it back.
Away from the only man I’d ever wanted.
I’d been on edge ever since Austin ran away from me like zombies were chasing her and threatening to eat her brains if she stopped.
So I said the only thing I knew I could say in order to see her again, because I was a sick man, or maybe because I knew that my addiction for her was getting worse, and like a true addict, I told myself, just one more taste and I’d quit.
One more look at her body and I’d leave her for good.
One more taste of her lips and I’d really delete her phone number.
Just one more.
By the time I made it back to my apartment to shower and get dressed, I was in a really shitty mood. What the hell had caused her to panic like that?
She survived a tarantula bite without passing out—so why was she so pale after watching a breast augmentation? There were literally fewer stitches for that than most surgeries, it wasn’t like I was chipping away on someone’s nose and doing some reshaping or a tummy tuck.
I shoved my key in the door lock and froze. “Dad.”
“Son.” He came out of his apartment and crossed his arms. “We should get something to eat like old times, maybe have a few beers.”
I wasn’t in the mood for his shit.
Besides, he already sounded drunk.
“I’m busy.” I pushed my door open.
Naturally, he followed.
“With that little whore?” He chuckled darkly. “Thought you broke up with her?”
I clenched my teeth and made a fist. I would not hit him.
“I did.” I exhaled through my teeth. “Remember, you basically witnessed the whole thing since you live across the hall and don’t understand the meaning of the word ‘privacy’?”
“She was sexy, I’ll give you that.”
I closed my eyes and leaned against the countertop. “What do you want?”
His smile was cold. “What I always want, to hang out with my only son!”
“You’re thirty-two years too late. Now, leave. I had a long day.”
He threw his head back and laughed. “Oh, a long day, huh? What? Touching women’s tits? I bet it was hard, still can’t believe you’d go into plastics when you could have been a real surgeon, like me! Like your grandfather, well, he was up for the Nobel Prize in Medicine—”
“Yes, I know. You’ve told me about a million times.” At least I was bigger than he, able to use my weight to get him toward the door. I put my hands on his shoulders and shoved him in the direction of the open hallway. “Leave. I think you’ve done enough parenting to last a lifetime, don’t you?”
“Get your hands off me!” He jerked away from me and sneered. “She’s no good, just like your mother! You hear me? She’s a slut and a whore and a—”
I punched him in the nose hard enough to both feel and hear a crack the minute my knuckles made contact.
“Damn it! You broke my nose!”
“And you’re probably going to have to find another silly plastic surgeon to fix it.” I slammed the door in his bloody face and leaned my head against it.
Anger surged to the surface.
God, how was it possible to be raised by such an asshole?
Then again, it wasn’t like he or my mother did much raising. More like I’d spent time with my grandparents and the housekeeper.
It was getting harder and harder to keep the anger away. Especially when I looked into Austin’s eyes and saw someone who truly wanted to help.
Someone who’d so often asked me if I was okay, if I wanted to talk about my childhood. She’d single-handedly shown me in less than a month what it would be like to share pain with someone right along with love.
And I’d rejected her.
Rejected all of it.
Because sometimes, you reach a point where you know your pain is too ugly to share and that sharing it destroys what you love the most.
And yet, I had wanted to share that part of myself with her more than anything—until it was no longer in my power to do so.
It was better she not know the truth.
A chill washed over me at the thought of her finding out.
No. He’d promised.
And as much as I hated my father, I knew he would at least keep his promise when it came to that.
Otherwise, he wouldn’t get any more money.
And since a drunken retired surgeon wasn’t fit for work, I was his only meal ticket until the divorce went through and he was given his half of the fortune my mother had inherited from my grandparents.
All of my father’s problems could have been erased had he not lived like a celebrity billionaire and screwed everyone other than my mom.
With a curse, I jerked away from the closed door and made my way into my bedroom. I needed a fresh change of clothes and a shower.
And a giant swig of beer, if I was going to make it through the evening with Austin.
I needed my body under control—especially since my heart was already dangerously close to just bursting whenever she looked at me with tears in her eyes.
God, what had set her off today?
Well, I was going to find out.
Even if it was a horrible idea.
The last thing I needed was her tears.
I’d rather have her anger.
Anger you got over.
I would know.
I’d been sad a very long time.
“I don’t think so.” I crossed my arms. “Hell. No.”
Austin laughed and grabbed my arm, which was a bad idea, because it caused a tingling sensation that spread through my chest and made a beeline south. “You said you needed to learn!”
“On a bike!” I jerked away from her and pointed. “Not on whatever the hell that is!”
“Dora the Explorer.” She nodded triumphantly. “With pink streamers and a badass basket that you can put all your cool toys in!”
“Austin.” I ground my teeth together.
“Thatch.” She moved her eyebrows so she was making a grumpy face like I was being a poor sport or something. “Come on, if you can rock a man bun, you can rock a Dora bike! Just find your inner explorer!” She just had to honk the horn.
Of course, because what child’s bike would be complete without a horn.
“Or”—Austin shrugged—“you can teach yourself and just admit to Daddy and your partner that you lied . . .”
“I hate you so
much right now,” I grumbled. “Okay, so how do I get on it?”
Austin gave me a blank stare and then pulled the bike out in front of her. “Well, Thatch, it’s a lot like putting on pants, one foot goes over and, voilà, you’re riding a bike.”
“It has training wheels!”
“So you don’t get a boo-boo.” She winked. “Now, your turn. Just put one leg over the side, become one with the pedals, and fly!”
It was stupid.
My fear of riding bikes.
And sure, I’d told Lucas it came from almost getting hit by an ice cream truck, but that was a half-truth.
The whole truth?