Page 5

Author: Jill Shalvis

That’s when it’d started to snow like a mother.

He’d gotten nearly to the door when his memory abruptly ended. Damn. He hated that. He tried to sit up but six hands pushed him back down. Christ. That’d teach him to wish for a dream about triplets.

Someone’s phone lit up, giving them some light, and Ty ordered himself to focus through the hammering in his skull. It wasn’t easy, but he found that if he squinted he could see past the cobweb vision. Sort of.

Leaning over the back of the driver’s seat was the waitress from the diner, though she was looking a little bit like a drowned rat at the moment. The woman riding shotgun next to her was a willowy blonde and unfamiliar to him.

As was the woman whose breasts were his pillow. “Thanks,” he said to her. “For saving my ass.”

“So…would you say you owe her?” the waitress asked.

“Amy,” his nurse said in a warning tone. Then she shot Ty a weak smile. “You’ve had quite a night.”

And so had she. She didn’t say so—she didn’t have to—it was all there in her doe-like brown eyes.

“The ambulance will be here soon,” she said.

“Don’t need one.”

She didn’t bother to point out that he was flat on his back and obviously pretty damn helpless. She kept her hands on him, her gaze now made of steel, signaling that in spite of those soft eyes, she was no pushover. “We’ll get you patched up,” she said. “And some meds for your pain.”

“No.” Fuck, no.

“Look, it’s obvious you’re hurting, so—”

“No narcotics,” he growled, then had to grip his head to keep it on his shoulders, grinding his teeth as he rode out the latest wave of pain. Stars danced around in front of his eyes, shrinking to pinpoints as the darkness took him again.

“They passed us up,” Grace said worriedly, twisting to follow the flashing blue and red ambulance lights moving slowly through the lot and back out again.

“Did you tell them that we were inside my car, and to look for us here?” Mallory asked.

“No. Dammit.” Grace grabbed Mallory’s phone again. “Sorry. I’ll call them back right now.”

Mallory looked down at her patient. Dark, silky hair. Square scruffy jaw. An old scar along his temple, a new one forming right this very minute on his eyebrow. His eyes were still closed, his face white and clammy, but she could tell he was awake again. “Easy,” she said, figuring she’d be lucky if he held off getting sick until they got him out of here.

“What happened?” he said, jaw tight, eyes still closed, his big body a solid weight against her.

It was not uncommon after a head trauma to keep forgetting what had happened, so she gave him the recap. “Tree on the head.”

“And then Nurse Nightingale here came to your rescue,” Amy told him. “And you said you owed her.”

“Amy,” Mallory said.

“She needs a date this weekend,” Amy told him.

“Ignore her.” Over his head, Mallory gave Amy the universal finger-slicing-at-the-throat signal for Shut It.

Amy ignored her. “If you go with her to the charity auction on Saturday night at the Vets’ Hall, you’d save her from merciless ridicule. She can’t get her own date, you see.”

Mallory sighed. “Thanks, Amy. Appreciate that. But I can so get my own—”

Unbelievably, her patient interrupted her with what sounded like a murmured ascent.

But Amy grinned and bumped fists with Grace. “Five bucks says Mr. Wrong will rock her world.”

Grace looked down at the prone man in Mallory’s lap with clear doubt. “You’re on,” she whispered back.

Mallory gave up trying to control Amy and eyed her patient. Even flat on his back, he was lethally gorgeous. She could only imagine what he’d be like dressed to the nines and on his feet.

“She’ll meet you at the event, of course,” Amy said to him. “Because even though this is Lucky Harbor, we’re not giving you her address. You might be a serial killer. Or worse, just be a completely Mr. Right.”

Another sound of ascent from Mysterious Cute Guy. Which, actually, might have been more of a moan of disbelief that he’d agreed to this craziness.

Right there with you, Mr. Wrong. Right there with you.

Chapter 3

By age thirty-five, women have only a few taste buds left: one for alcohol, one for cheese,

and one for chocolate.

One week later, Mallory was walking around in a cloud of anticipation in spite of herself. The auction was tonight, and although she knew damn well Mysterious Cute Guy wasn’t going to show up, she could admit a tiny part of her wanted to be proven wrong.

Not that she’d actually choose to date a man like him, with the guarded eyes and edgy ’tude. She didn’t even know his name. Not to mention she’d chucked a phone at his face.

Mr. Wrong, aka Mysterious Cute Guy…

Truthfully, that whole stormy night at the diner was still pretty much a blur to her. The ambulance had eventually found them and loaded up her patient. The snow had stopped, and Mallory had been able to drive home, after a solemn pinky-swear vow with both Amy and Grace to meet weekly, at least for as long as Grace stayed in town.

Chocoholics—CA for short—was their name, chocolate cake was their game.

Mallory had then spent the rest of the week alternating between long shifts in the ER and working on the auction. A portion of the evening’s take would go to her own pet project, the Health Services Clinic she planned to open in conjunction with the County Hospital Foundation. HSC would be a place for anyone in the county to get community recovery resources, teen services, crisis counseling, and a whole host of other programs she’d been trying to get going for several years. She still needed hospital board approval, and hopefully the money from the auction would ensure that. It’s what should have been foremost in her mind.

Instead that honor went to one Mysterious Cute Guy. For the first time that day, Mallory walked by the nurses’ station and eyed the computer. Thanks to HIPPA, a very strict privacy act, she couldn’t access a patient’s records unless she’d actually worked on the patient that day. This meant that if she wanted to know his name, she’d have to ask the nurse who’d seen him in the ER that night. Unfortunately, her own mother had been his nurse, so she decided against that option.

Luckily, she had six patients to keep her occupied. The problem was that her counterpart, Alyssa, was very busy flirting with the new resident, doing none of her duties. This made for a long morning, made even longer by the fact that one of Mallory’s patients was Mrs. Louisa Burland. Mrs. Burland was suffering from arrhythmia complicated by vasovagal syncope, a condition that was a common cause of dizziness, light-headedness, and fainting in the elderly. She was also suffering from a condition called Meanness. “I brought you the juice you asked for,” Mallory said, entering Mrs. B’s room.

“I asked for that three hours ago. What’s wrong with you? You’re slower than molasses.”

Mallory ignored this complaint because it’d been five minutes, not three hours. And because Mrs. B was so bitter that even the volunteer hospital visitors skipped her room. Before retiring, the woman had been a first grade teacher who had at one time or another terrorized most of town with a single bony finger that she liked to waggle in people’s faces. She was so difficult that even her daughter, who lived up the road in Seattle, refused to call or visit.

“I remember you, you know,” Mrs. Burland said. “You peed yourself in front of your entire class.”

Mallory was surprised to find that she could still burn with shame at the memory. “Because you wouldn’t let me go to the bathroom.”

“Recess was only five minutes away.”

“Well, obviously, I couldn’t wait.”

“And now you make me wait. You’re a terrible nurse, letting your treatment of me be clouded by our past interactions.”

Mallory ignored this too. She set the juice, complete with straw, on Mrs. Burland’s bedside tray.

“I wanted apple juice,” Mrs. B said.

“You asked for cranberry.”

Mrs. Burland’s hand lashed out and the juice went flying, spilling across the bedding, the floor, the IV pole, and Mallory as well. Juice dripping off her nose, Mallory sighed. Perfect. It took twenty minutes to clean up the mess. Ten more to get Mrs. Burland back into her now fresh bed, which had Mallory huffing a little with the effort.

Mrs. B tsked. “Out of shape, or just gaining some weight?”

Mallory sucked in her belly and tried not to feel guilty about the cinnamon roll she’d inhaled on a quick break two hours ago. She reminded herself that she helped save lives, not take them, and walked out of the room, purposely not glancing at herself in the small mirror over the sink as she went.

Paramedics were just bringing in a new patient, a two-year-old with a laceration requiring stitches. Mallory got him all cleaned up and prepped the area for the doctor. She drew the lidocaine, got a suture kit, 4x4s and some suture material, and then assisted in the closing of the wound.

And so it went.

At her first break, she made her way to the nurses’ break room and grabbed her soft-sided lunch box out of the fridge. Her older sister Tammy was there and Mallory sidled up to her. Once upon a time, Tammy had been wild. For that matter, so had Mallory’s younger brother Joe. And Tammy’s twin, Karen. All three of them, as out of control as they came.

Not Mallory. She’d always been the good one, attempting to distract her parents from the stress of raising wild, out-of-control kids.

Then Karen had died.

Tammy and Joe had carried on for Karen in the same vein, but for Mallory, everything had pretty much skidded to a halt. Blaming herself, she’d fallen into a pit of desperate grief. She’d always walked the straight and narrow path, but she’d taken it to a new extreme, terrified to do anything wrong, to screw a single thing up and make things worse for her parents. Once during that terrible time, she’d accidentally forgotten to pay for a lip balm and had turned herself in as a thief. The clerk of the store had refused to press charges, instead calling Mallory’s mother to come get her.