She usually took a lunch break about halfway through her shift. Ryan glanced at the clock and figured if he booked it through town, he could surprise her. She needed more surprises in her life. She needed a man to step up and be a man. She needed to see herself as a woman and not just as one of the guys.
* * *
When Ryan pulled into the lot where the paramedics usually parked, he didn’t see Piper’s truck anywhere, but he went inside anyway only to be told she’d taken a personal day off.
Heading back out to his truck, Ryan was really confused. Piper never took a day off work. Ever. The woman would crawl on her hands and knees to go to work to help save lives and make people comfortable.
He tried her cell again, but still no answer. Worry settled deep, especially with the whole Alex kidnapping still unsolved—at least Ryan assumed something illegal had transpired, especially since the state police investigator had been called in.
Ryan drove straight to her house where her shiny black truck was parked on the brick drive beside her little bungalow.
Ryan took the porch steps two at a time, rang her doorbell and opened her screen door himself when she didn’t answer soon enough to suit him. The main door was locked so he used the key on his ring. Yeah, they were that good of friends. When he’d moved back permanently she’d given him a key.
Worried at the sight he’d enter into, he moved cautiously. When he rounded the corner to the living room, he found Piper on the couch, stretched out and asleep...wearing the exact same thing as yesterday.
He moved closer, surprised for so many reasons. Piper never napped, never called off work and never wore the same clothes two days in a row.
Then he saw a cord sticking out from under her back and bent to inspect. Heating pad.
A bubble of fury started within him, but he suppressed it until he knew what exactly had happened. Other than the obvious that she’d been hurt, he decided to keep his mouth shut until he had more information.
“Hey, Red,” he said softly, tapping on her shoulder. “You’re sleeping the day away.”
She moaned, wincing as she tried to move. Her eyes opened and blinked several times as she tried to focus on him.
“Went by your work. They told me you took a personal day.”
Her hand went to her head and she nodded. “I did.”
“Care to tell me what happened?”
“Actually, I’d rather not,” she said around a yawn. “I’m not in the mood to hear ‘I told you so.’”
Ryan rested his hands on his hips. He could approach this one of two ways: he could be that sarcastic, snarky friend she probably expected or he could show some compassion and help her with whatever it was she needed. Being still a little sore from his accident, he understood her grouchy mood and not wanting to be chatty.
He eased down onto the coffee table and grabbed her hand. “I have officially deleted ‘I told you so’ from my vocabulary. Tell me what happened and where you’re hurt.”
Piper rested the back of her hand across her forehead and stared up at him. “I swear, if you say one word, I’ll take my tool belt and use each and every one of those tools on you in a very unpleasant way.”
“You’re stalling, so it must be pretty bad.”
Staring up at the ceiling, she sighed and closed her eyes. “This stupid house is only thirteen hundred square feet. I know exactly what I want it to look like and I know what to do to get it there. But when I have stupid screw-ups like this, I can’t freakin’ finish the project if I’m hurting myself.”
Her eyes met his. “Right after you were here yesterday I fell off the roof.”
“Damn it, Piper.” Fury bubbled within him. “And you’re just now telling me?”
“Actually, I called. I didn’t leave a voice mail because I assumed you’d just see my number. But I’m fine.” She turned her face to look at him and even offered a slight smile. “I’m a professional, remember?”
She started to sit up, winced and held on to his hand, a true sign she was hurt. But he didn’t say a word. No need in saying “told you so” when she knew perfectly well he’d been right.
But he’d take being wrong any day over seeing his friend hurt. And he wasn’t going anywhere until she was better. Best not to mention that to Little Miss Independent.
“Do you need to be seen?” he asked.
“No, no,” she assured him as she shook her head. “Nothing some heat and rest and Motrin won’t help. It’s just a nuisance.”