“Oh, honey.” Avery got up and quickly pulled me in for a hug. “You’re still sad, aren’t you? About Thatch?”
“I just don’t understand,” I sniffed. “And I hate that I’m this hung up on him, I’ve never been this girl!”
“Maybe it’s because he’s your first love.”
“Okay, so you know how we came up with this revenge plan, and it totally backfired and people still call him hero on the street?”
I burst out laughing through my tears. “Yeah.”
“So that wasn’t the best idea, but I think this one may cheer you up even more.”
I blinked and wiped another tear from my cheek. “Okay, hit me with it.”
“Short dresses,” I said dumbly. “That’s your plan?”
“No.” She grinned. “Keep up!” She jerked me to my feet. “It’s yours!”
“I’m in fucking hell.”
“Cheer up.” Lucas slapped me on the back. “It can’t be that bad.”
“That. Bad,” I growled. “Did you not hear what I just said? How the hell did you do this? Work with Avery without using whatever power you had as her boss to make her—”
Lucas grinned. “No, keep going. I’ll just beat the shit out of you rather than offer you whatever wisdom I was going to bestow.”
Groaning, I finished my burger and wiped my hands. “I’ve worked with her four days. It’s Thursday, Lucas, and I’m ready to lose my mind.”
“Don’t forget you still have to fake an injury or sickness so you don’t have to go riding with her dad tomorrow.”
“Helpful,” I said through clenched teeth. “I’m not sleeping, I’m constantly hard as a rock around her—yesterday, a middle-aged grandmother came in for Botox, Austin watched and kept sucking on her lower lip, and I literally had to excuse myself like I was ready to shit my pants—and go take care of business.”
Lucas burst out laughing and then stopped when I glared. “Sorry, it’s not funny.”
“She is shadowing me for two more weeks.” I groaned into my hands. “It’s a nightmare, a complete and total nightmare.”
“What if she shadows another doctor?”
“I sent her to Turner’s office, and that jackass checked her out so long that he’s lucky to still have all of his teeth, no chance in hell am I dangling her in front of the single partners.”
“Hmm.” Lucas grabbed his sunglasses and twirled them around in his hand. “So, let me get this straight. You’re going crazy because you want her, but you don’t want her, yet you don’t want anyone else to want her? Do I have that right?”
I opened my mouth, then shut it.
“Still feel like keeping silent on why you broke up with her after she was willing to forgive you for tonguing another woman?”
The silence was going to eat me alive.
Right along with the guilt.
And shame at why I did what I did.
But I’d prefer to have all of it and protect her rather than leave her exposed in the way her family already was.
Just thinking about it made me sick to my stomach.
“You look pale,” Lucas whispered.
“I gotta go.” I tossed my napkin down on my plate. “I guess I’ll just count down the days until she’s gone.”
“You could always make one of those Christmas chains,” Lucas said helpfully. “Or . . .”
I paused, my sunglasses halfway up to my face. “Or?”
“You could always just kiss her.”
My body leaped at the thought, my heart hammering so hard against my chest, I thought it was going to beat right out and go running down the street. “Yeah.” I laughed. “And hell could freeze over.”
I heard a sharp gasp.
Austin was standing right behind me with Avery.
I wasn’t sure how much they’d heard, but by the tears welling in Austin’s eyes, it had to be most of the last minute.
“Austin.” I swallowed back the lump in my throat.
“Uh, hi.” She waved at me even though she was a foot away. She was wearing a short black T-shirt dress, slouchy boots, and carrying her ever-present giant-ass purse.
“Sweetheart.” Lucas stood and kissed Avery on the mouth. “You’re twenty minutes early.”
“We went shopping, and I wanted to get your approval on Austin’s new wardrobe. I mean, we needed a guy’s opinion from someone who wouldn’t eye-screw her.” Her voice was strained.
I was such an idiot.
A few minutes earlier and Austin would have known that I didn’t mean it the way it sounded. A few minutes earlier and she’d have known just what type of pull she had on me, and how damn difficult it was to keep her at arm’s length.
Instead, I’d hurt her.
Her normally cheerful face was pale, her lower lip trembling as she stepped completely around me and stood in front of Lucas. “So, will you help?”
Rejection hit me hard and fast.
Right along with irritation.
What the hell?
“I’m a man.” I felt the need to point this out as the entire group turned to look at me. Yeah, I was a total idiot.
“A man who’s late for his one thirty,” Austin said in a low voice.
Damn her for knowing my schedule.
“Aren’t you coming?” I challenged in a haughty voice I didn’t recognize. “You know, I am doing you the favor, right? If you’re not going to shadow me when I have the interesting cases, you won’t have enough information for your posts, and you’ll fail your class.” God, stop talking!
Lucas shot me a “really, man?” look while Avery’s eyes narrowed.
Austin glared at me. “Well, I would hate to fail, or upset you by taking advantage of your . . .” She tilted her head. “Kindness.”
I was so turned on by the way her long legs looked in that dress that I was having a hard time seeing straight.
Yeah, I was being kind.
Or just an out-of-control idiot who had no choice but to keep it in his pants until she was out of my life forever.
“Let’s go,” I barked.
“Lead the way, boss,” Austin said under her breath. I knew she meant it as an insult; she was mocking me, whatever. It still made it painful to walk. I really needed to go out on a date or something—completely push her out of my system by way of another woman, but my body totally rejected the idea.
Kissing someone else had about as much appeal as buying a frog as a pet.
My office was two blocks from where Lucas and I had met for lunch.
It might as well have been miles.
A tense silence stood between us, making me feel so far from her that I wanted to scream.
I opened my mouth to apologize about a million times, only to close it and keep silent. Maybe that was my problem—I was too good at not saying anything, because sometimes, it was silence that saved people, not words. I knew that better than anyone.
The elevator dinged.
We walked side by side down the hall.
“Dr. Holloway.” Mia nodded at me and winked at Austin. “Your one thirty is in exam room number four.”
“Thanks.” I grabbed the outstretched clipboard and motioned for Austin to follow me into the room.
“Justin.” I opened the door. “Hi, I’m Dr. Holloway, I have a”—I glanced at Austin—“student researching plastic surgery. She’s just going to sit in on our consult, if that’s alright with you? She’s signed a confidentiality agreement, so rest assured everything about your patient profile will be kept private.”
“Fine with me.” He peered around me at Austin and smiled. “So, a student, are you studying to be a doctor?”
“No, I’m getting an MBA,” Austin’s happy voice responded, and I don’t know why, but I hated that she was talking to him. “I’m just here doing some research for one of my final projects.”
He was younger than me.
Why the hell was he here again?
I glanced down at the sheet and almost groaned out loud. “So, let’s talk about the calf-implant procedure, shall we?”
Justin nodded. “Man, I’ve been working on my calves for years.” Impossible, he was a child. “And no matter what I do, they never get bigger, so I thought, ‘Hell, why not, I have the money. I mean, women get breast implants, why not get calf implants?’” He winked at Austin.
It was tempting—the idea of plucking those eyelashes out one by one.
Clearing my throat, I began asking him all the usual medical questions as I quickly went through his paperwork.
“Well, you’re the perfect candidate, why don’t I take a look?”
He was wearing shorts, which made it easy. “You have lean calf muscles.” I touched his calf and pressed the skin in. “Why don’t we go over a few pictures of implants I’ve done on men your size and shape and go from there?”
When he didn’t answer, I looked up.
Of course he didn’t answer, he was currently checking out Austin like she was available—and poor Austin was taking down notes like she usually did.
“Hey.” I snapped my fingers. “If you’re serious about this, I need your full attention, alright? Elective surgery is still surgery.”
“Sorry.” His cheeks went pink as he lowered his voice. “But she’s hot, I mean, how can you work around that and not get distracted?”