“Thank you!” I called after her, and turned back to Avery. “Seriously. What happened to the dream?”
“The dream?” she repeated with a confused stare.
“The dream!” Did she really not get it? “Going to college, finding the love of your life, dating, getting married, having kids, struggling with bills, camping trips because you can’t afford to go on vacation! What the hell is wrong with society? I just want to eat hot dogs with my future husband and watch Netflix!”
“I don’t think camping trips are really my thing. Not that kind of dreamer, and hot dogs?” Avery patted my knee.
I shoved her hand away. “But the point is this, somehow, along the way, it’s like men have decided that it’s okay to stick their prick wherever they want and not suffer the consequences. And I’m sick of it! I’m tired of dating someone, falling for him, and then having him leave me because I’m the problem!” I kicked the dirt with my shoe. “I’m the NORMAL one, Avery!”
“I mean not now. Now I’m angry, so you can’t count this against me.”
She stared at me for a minute, then gave me a single nod. “That’s fair.”
“He’s going to pay.” I thrust my hand into the air. “And I know just how I’m going to do it. He thinks a face rash that looks like herpes is bad? Well, by the time I’m done with him, he won’t forget the name Austin Rogers!”
“Good for you!” Avery stood and gave me a high five. “Just don’t kill him.”
“Hah, he should be so lucky.”
My face was on fire, and my entire office was still in an uproar over the award. News had already traveled about the big race I was supposedly doing with Troy and the mayor, which meant I somehow had to learn how to ride a bike between now and then or just sprain a muscle—any muscle—and bow out.
What should have been a simple practical joke spiraled out of control because, how amazing was it that I was a successful surgeon and also doing bike races? At least, that’s what the nurses kept saying every so often when I left the safety of my office. It didn’t matter that Troy had been racing for the past fifteen years. Troy wasn’t known as the Dr. McSteamy of the group. So help me God, if one more nurse asked me if I could stitch myself up like they saw on Grey’s Anatomy, I was going to lose my fucking mind.
My mouth still felt swollen. The only Benadryl in the office was in liquid form, and I chugged half the bottle. My allergic reaction was so severe that if I didn’t, I’d end up in the hospital.
I was able to collapse against the couch in my office before I face-planted against the door—my dreams were filled with a certain woman, only she tasted like Benadryl, and when I told her I was sorry, she told me to go die.
And then she started yelling at me in Chinese.
The next thing I knew, I was eating chicken fried rice and ordered extra soy sauce, only to yell at myself, “Don’t eat it! Don’t eat it! You’ll die!”
And that’s when it occurred to me.
She knew about my allergy.
I jolted awake.
Just like she knew about my inability to ride a bike.
And my irrational fear of frogs after being chased by one when I was seven.
“Holy shit!” I pounded my fist against the leather couch as streams of late-afternoon sunlight filtered into my office. “She tried to kill me!”
When I was actually able to form a more coherent sentence that didn’t include every curse word I knew, I called Lucas.
But the bastard son of a bitch didn’t answer.
Of course he didn’t answer! Because he’d probably already talked to Avery, who had clearly given all the shit she had on me to Austin.
A sense of dread washed over me. Just how drunk did he get to confess all my secrets—at least the ones that he knew about—to Avery? The bastard was on a friendship time-out—that was for damn sure!
“Dead,” I said to myself. “He’s dead.”
A knock sounded at my door.
I rubbed my eyes. “Yes?”
The door opened, revealing the man of the hour himself. Lucas winced when he looked at my face and then he pointed. “Are those hives?”
I hastily searched the area for a sharp or heavy object to throw at his mocking face and came up empty. “No,” I hissed, my voice dripping with sarcasm. “Adult acne.”
“I heard Proactiv’s what the kids use these days. It may help,” he said with a smirk before taking the seat farthest from the couch.
“I’m probably going to kill you,” I said cheerfully. “When I’m not high on Benadryl, and I can piss without passing out in the toilet.”
Lucas made a disgusted face.
“Are you here to apologize for helping Austin nearly commit homicide?”
His guilty look said it all. “It’s a soy allergy. It’s not like you sucked off a soybean!”
“No!” I stood. “You don’t get to be defensive! I almost died! And who the hell sucks off a soybean?”
“People who like soy?” Lucas shrugged. “How the hell do I know? And what do you mean you almost died?”
I took a deep breath and explained. “She kissed me—”
“She kissed you?”
I held up my hand. “Stay with me. She kissed me, and then my lips started swelling right along with my throat.”
“Son of a bitch,” Lucas muttered. “The kiss of death.” He shuddered. “Kind of has a whole new meaning now, yeah?”
The urge to slap him was strong.
My hand twitched.
He eyed my hand and then me. “Surgeon’s hands. You have surgeon’s hands, Thatch. You don’t want to punch me and be rendered incapable of performing. Besides, what would all those beautiful breasts do without you?” He stood. “They’d stay flat, and the world would cease to exist.” He made an exploding sound effect and threw his hands into the air in chaotic fashion.
“No.” I shook my head. “Just . . .” I sat back down, still dizzy from the damn Benadryl. “The breasts will survive. I, however, would lose my damn mind. You know I need to work to keep myself sane.”
I hated admitting weakness. And that was one of them. I was a certifiable workaholic. Yes, I loved my job, but it was more than that. I felt like I had to prove myself to my father. To the man who basically threatened to disown me for going into plastics. I worked my ass off for a reason. And money wasn’t it.
“One man’s work, another man’s play,” Lucas said in a speculative tone. I knew he was joking, but it still grated my nerves that his impression of my job was standing over a woman while I motorboated her new breasts.
“Alright.” I clapped my hands together and ignored the lingering anger at him, my father, the situation, myself. “Lay it on me, what did you tell her? Because as of
right now, my mind is going into some really dark places. Scary places. Places where people with soy allergies go to die.”
“Your mind’s in China?”
“I’m too drugged for this.” I squeezed my eyes shut, then opened them. “So?”
“Why did you break up with her?” His eyes narrowed, all traces of humor gone from his ugly mug. “The real reason. You know you can tell me, right?”
My mind went back there.
To that night.
To what happened that day.
To the opportunity Brooke had given me.
The out she gave me.
And the relief mixed with sadness I felt at Austin’s horror-struck expression.
The absolute torture it was, to end things, when all I wanted to do was hold her in my arms and apologize and tell her the truth.
All of it.
But my dad’s words haunted me.
And so I did the unthinkable.
“I was done with her. Besides, aren’t you calling the kettle black? You literally had your hand in every honey pot imaginable, dated multiple women at the same time, got away with it because of that damn cleft in your chin, and made no apologies. So I kissed another girl while dating Austin. It’s not like I slept with her!” By the time I was done talking, my chest was heaving, and Lucas was giving me an unreadable expression. And then his lips curled into a smile. “What? What’s that look? I don’t like that look.” I got up and paced.
“Everything,” he said in a smooth, confident voice. “Avery said I basically told her everything, but she did manage to write a few things down.” He pulled a folded piece of paper from his pocket and dangled it in front of me. “I almost didn’t give this to you . . .” His smile vanished. “But you just changed my mind.”
“Thank God.” I breathed out a sigh of relief and snatched the paper out of his hand, careful not to rip it as I unfolded it and straightened it against my desk, rolling out the heavy creases.