“Nothing,” I said quickly.
“Bullshit.” Her blue eyes searched mine. “Thatch, you punched a complete stranger tonight, and your apartment looks like the police broke in to search for crack.”
I snorted. “What if I told you I wanted you to leave it alone, just for tonight?”
She licked her lips, her gaze traveling across the counter as she no doubt took in the mess. “I’d say you’ve probably left it alone too long, but it’s not my place, not anymore.” She turned toward the sink and flipped the faucet; water started pouring out.
I frowned, the motion hurting like hell. “What are you doing?”
“You should go lie down.”
“Austin, you don’t have to do my dishes.” Austin in my apartment was a bad idea, a horrible idea. It made me want things that I knew weren’t within my reach, not anymore.
“I want to do your dishes.” She started washing off plates and putting them in the dishwasher. “Now, talk dirty to me.”
I nearly tripped over my feet on the way to the couch. “What?”
She glanced over her right shoulder and smirked. “Tell me all the dirty details about liposuction. Ready. Go!”
I smiled, a real smile, and lay back against my leather couch. “That’s what you want to talk about? Fat sucking?”
“Can you really die from it, like Cher’s mom in Clueless?”
“Huh?” The hell was she talking about?
“Pop-culture reference, I’m disappointed in your lack of knowledge.”
I shrugged even though she couldn’t see me. “I didn’t really watch a lot of TV when I was little.” I was too busy trying to stay away from my parents, so I basically enrolled in every after-school program you could think of. Besides, when they weren’t home, it felt too lonely and empty in that big house.
A familiar pressure settled on my shoulders, spreading across my chest like a vise.
“Sorry, did you say something?”
“Yeah, but I like talking to myself. I do it all the time at my house. I swear I haven’t seen my parents in days.”
Yeah, I bet.
“Oh?” My skin prickled with both awareness and knowledge.
“Eh, it’s normal.”
I closed my eyes as the throbbing in my nose lessened.
“Hey.” Austin was suddenly next to me—I smelled her before I even opened my eyes. “Other than a good old nose job where you get to chip away at someone’s bone with a freaking hammer . . .”
“What’s your favorite surgery to perform?”
I frowned. “Nobody’s ever really asked me that.”
“Well, now that you have exactly”—she held up her fingers and checked her phone—“ten fans.” Austin shrugged. “You gotta give them what they want, and one of my commentators wants to know what type of surgery you prefer. I figure I can use that as my third blog post this week.”
I tilted my head and then patted the spot next to me on the couch. I had no idea why she was being so nice after I kept treating her like shit, but I’d take it.
She bounced onto the couch next to me and tugged her knees underneath her body, exposing a lot of leg.
Too much leg.
Yeah, being friends with Austin very well might kill me dead.
“Alright.” I cleared my throat. “So, I don’t know if I would call it my favorite, but I love a good tummy tuck.”
Austin’s wide-eyed expression was classic. “You like tucking people’s stomachs into their bodies and cutting out fat?”
“It’s a bit more complex than that, but I get a lot of middle-aged women who get tummy tucks after popping out multiple kids, and I always think to myself, ‘That’s the least I can do,’ you know? Help them get their pre-baby bodies back. Women come in after severe weight loss, and it’s just, I don’t know, I sound like an idiot probably, but it’s an honor to work on them.”
Austin’s smile couldn’t get any bigger. “Well, I’ll be damned, Thatch Holloway has a heart.”
“Hah-hah.” I shook my head. “Yeah, well, don’t tell anyone. Wouldn’t want to ruin my jackass reputation.”
She rolled her eyes. “Please, you just got one of the most prestigious awards a plastic surgeon can get, and at what? Thirty-two? I’d say you have a good reputation, Doctor.”
My entire body came alive when she called me that. She’d never in all the weeks I’d known her—even the entire month we’d dated—called me “Doctor.”
I think my dick liked it a little too much.
My body was literally straining in her direction. And the throbbing I had been feeling in my nose very conveniently went somewhere else.
“Okay.” Austin cracked her knuckles. “So, show me. I’m your patient, where do you cut?”
“Slice.” She made a quick motion with the side of her hand. “You know, where do you cut the person open? How many incisions? How deep? Are you really tucking?”
“Whoa, that’s a lot of questions.”
“Give the readers what they want.”
“So,” I said, then licked my lips and leaned forward. We were inches apart as my pointer finger grazed her hipbone and moved inward. “Typically,” I said, my hands shaking, “I ask a patient where they wear their swimsuit bottoms or underwear, as most incisions are made too high.”
She gulped, “Oh.”
“So”—yeah, I was going to do it—“since you wear a lot of bikini-style underwear with the occasional boyshorts—”
“You remember my underwear?”
I didn’t dare look at her. “How could I not? One pair said ‘Slap me’ on the ass.”
She grinned at me, and I tried to fight the smile, but I couldn’t, not when it was Austin, not when I was touching her, when we were that close.
“What’s next?” Was it just me, or was her voice a bit breathless?
“Next”—I cleared my throat, keeping my hands pressed to her stomach—“I make the incision based on what I think garments will cover up.” I noticed her breathing pick up. “The central point of the incision has to be at least seven to nine centimeters above the top point of the . . . vulva.”
Her breath hitched as my hand moved from her stomach lower toward the juncture of her thighs.
“That’s very . . .” She gave me a once-over. “Technical.”
“Surgery usually is,” I answered. My hand hadn’t moved, but I wanted it to; I wanted to dip lower, to feel her heat, to kiss her senseless and forget about all the shit that was keeping us apart and just love her.
“I should go.” She didn’t move.
“You probably should, but . . .”
We were both silent; her eyes searched mine. “But?”
“You don’t have to.”
“I think I know what happens when I stay, and I don’t think I can stand your telling me that you only want to get laid when you meet me. So”—she put her feet on the ground—“I think I will go.”
My heart sank.
“Look on the bright side, you won’t have to ride with my dad tomorrow, since you have an injury.” She pointed at my nose, and I stood to walk her to the door, every step heavy with dread.
It was my fault.
And there was no way out of it.
“Honestly, I’d forgotten all about the bike ride,” I admitted. I’d been too focused on all things Austin and seeing my dad in the hospital.
She reached up and kissed me on the cheek and backed away, but not before I pressed my lips to her forehead.
“Bastard,” she grumbled.
“What?” Confused, I watched her grimace and then make a face of complete disgust.
“You!” Austin rammed her finger into my chest. Hard. “You aren’t allowed to do that anymore! It means something to me, the forehead kiss, okay? So don’t do it! Don’t, because it’s mean, and you’re mean, and it
makes me forget that you broke my heart and stomped all over it and for some sick reason think that it’s super fun to repeat the process on a daily basis, and I really need to pass this class and get through these next few weeks without waking up in the middle of the night with a stupid ache in my chest that refuses to go away whenever I think about what happened between us—what broke, and why I wasn’t able to fix it.”
Completely stunned, I reached behind her, locked the door to my apartment, grabbed her hand, and led her away from the one and only exit.
“Thatch, what are you doing?”
I didn’t answer.
I was too angry at myself to answer, angry at the situation—pissed at my parents, and ridiculously enraged with hers.
When we reached my room, I shut that door too and drank her in. “If I told you I wanted to make love to you today and forget about it tomorrow, what would you say?”
“I’d say you were an asshole.”
I smiled at that. “But?”
“There’s always a ‘but’ with you,” she grumbled. “The small part of my heart that you still refuse to give back would probably jump with joy and make my life a living hell if I didn’t at least think about it.”
“You choose to focus on that part rather than the thinking-about-sex part?”
“The heart matters more than sex.”
“Says the guy who said he just wanted to get laid.”
“I lied,” I admitted. “You know me better than that.”
“Words hurt regardless of whether you mean them, Thatch.”
“Stay.” I reached for her.
She jerked away. “And tomorrow?”
“Tomorrow, you can try to teach me how to ride a bike again.”