The analog clock ticked off another minute. That left ten minutes until Kensley could grab her purse and coat, lock up the clinic, and leave. Not that she couldn’t do so now. After all, she peered out into the empty waiting room, not like tonight was busy with snow piling up outside, or any night in the past few weeks. The New Year’s rush of party related injuries had ended a week ago. Now, the second week into January had left the town in a lull. She’d say she was also in a lull, but nothing new there when that was her permanent condition.
She pushed away from the desk and headed for the offices in the rear of the one-story building. With a flick of her wrist, she clicked off the lights in the doctor’s office and the private examination room for patients needing discretion. The rest were treated in the main clinical area behind a paper curtain where privacy was a notion, not a reality. What did it matter in a town the size of a postage stamp? Fifteen thousand residents and everyone knew the smell of each other’s fart. But it was all she knew. It was home.
At least for however long it took for her government clearance to come through. She’d been hired as a nurse for the Naval Hospital in Italy. She was semi-packed and ready to leave Sessory Corners in her rearview mirror, never to return. She had enough of small-town living and small-town minds. The only problem was the background check could take six months.
So much for leaving in a blaze of glory with her middle finger flashing everyone, especially after finding her fiancé naked in the backseat of his car with his ex-girlfriend of two years, six weeks ago.
Seemed he was still in love with her. He should’ve shared that tidbit before Kensley shelled out twenty grand for her half of the ceremony. She should’ve been upset, but she saw it for what it was, a blessing in disguise and one she was grateful for. The pitying glances from every single person in town, a small price to pay for the prison sentence she’d averted. The marriage, not an actual cell. She wasn’t a fashionista. For her, orange wasn’t the new black. She wasn’t even mad at her ex. Wishing him well with the town mattress was her version of paying it forward.
Kensley turned off the clinic lights, which also cut the lights to the neon sign outside, letting the town know they were on their own. Not quite, when Dr. Fitzroy took phone calls and did house calls.
Five minutes left on the clock. All she had to do was lock the front door.
Kensley retrieved her purse and coat from her locker. Twelve degrees outside, she pulled on her Shetland sweater, wound her scarf around her neck, then drew on her down coat. Heavy gloves and hat with the earflaps completed her regiment for surviving the five blocks to her home. If she had listened to the weather report, she would’ve driven to work instead of walking.
Her cell phone beeped. She fished it out of her purse to find a text from
MEET ME @ WAVE-RAVE!
Kensley sighed wearily. She didn’t have the energy to go home, change into something more attractive than her scrubs and trudge back into a snowstorm for flat beer and stale conversation from the few guys she’d already turned down, repeatedly. Especially on a weeknight and during a snowstorm.
NOT TONIGHT- Kensley texted back
Tori-I WANT 2 PARTY
Kensley-I WANT MY BED
Yes, at seven o’clock, she wanted a glass of wine and her bed, in that order. That was her reply.
“I know I’m only twenty-nine. I don’t need a reminder,” was her answer to Tori’s response after Kensley had turned her down. An old twenty-nine.
Tori-Ur birthday’s next week!
As if Kensley needed that reminder.
Tori- I’ll go with u to the cemetery.
Yeah, that’s precisely where Kensley would be at the cemetery spending her birthday with the only person she could, her brother with whom she shared that birthday, although six years apart.
Happy twenty-fifth birthday, Kevin.
A fresh tear in her heart. A fresh round of tears. Only three months had passed since she got the news.
K.I.A. Killed in action.
They wouldn’t tell her where. They wouldn’t tell her how.
The military funeral had been spectacular. Heavy on the pomp. Hollow on the circumstance. He died for his country, along with two of his friends.
That’s all they told her. But she needed more. She needed the whys, the hows, the where’s, the who’s, especially the who’s. Who did it and who was with him? Did he die alone—she’d lost countless nights wondering—or was someone there, holding him as his spirit separated from his body?
Kensley scrubbed her arm across her cheeks. Enough. Kevin died doing what he loved, what he always wanted to be. A Marine. I just have to get through this birthday. The next one would be easier, had to because it couldn’t be worse than this one. Maybe, in time, her questions would be answered, and if they weren’t, she’d have to live with the disappointment.
She typed a promise to hang out soon. Tori partied hard, well, as hard as the two a.m. curfew allowed in Sessory Corners, a town bordering Lake Erie and Buffalo in northern New York, and Kensley wasn’t up to it, not this coming weekend.
Promise accepted, Kensley closed her locker, clicked off the lights, and headed for the exit.
And halted when she rounded to corner separating the examination rooms from the waiting area. Why? Because Noah Kirby sat in one of the blue plastic chairs.
Good Lord, seeing him was an affront on her senses, had been since he’d come back to town seven weeks ago, apparently to stay. The man was hard to miss. He was a giant and at six feet, four inches, and she wasn’t a small woman. Head and shoulders taller than her with broad shoulders and a no-nonsense stride in a tight pair of jeans that had all the women in town trying to peel them off him which hadn’t changed since Varsity football. Oh, he didn’t play, but he did knock out Jonas Michaels, the star quarterback in the cafeteria over a plate of French fries.
Now, he had that smoking lumberjack thing nailed. His black hair appeared inky against his pale skin. He kept it long, definitely not regulation marine length. His brows were dark, thick, and slightly arched as if always asking a question. His nose had a hump, indicating it had been broken and not properly set at some time. Hollow cheeks, his full beard failed to hide his angular jaw and a full sexy mouth.
The rumor was no one had succeeded in getting in his pants, which started a different set of rumors. None of which she believed. Girls loved bad boys. That fact hadn’t changed in the decade between high school and present day. You know who else loved bad boys? The police. It all caught up with him one night after a game at the boathouse on the lake. A fire and a lot of damaged property, and Noah’s sudden enlistment in the marines with the approval of Mayor Walter Jacobs Jr., her father, and Judge Walter Jacobs Sr., her grandfather was the result.
And now he was back, wounded in action, a hero to everyone in Sessory Corners… Except Kensley.
“Can I help you?” She failed to keep the anger out of her voice.
The chair groaned in relief as he stood and limped forward, clearly favoring one leg. Still, he carried himself a certain way, on edge, as if prepared for shit to go bad. And they had gone bad, epically, in Afghanistan.
Her gaze lowered to the red droplets on the white tiles leading from the front door to his blood-soaked jeans.
“You’re hurt.” A gash peeking through his slashed jeans high on the upper thigh of his left leg. Judging by the tight grimace, he was also in pain.
Kensley tossed her purse on to the counter. She shrugged out of her coat and the rest of her outerwear by the time he reached her.
“Yeah. I’m bleeding all over your clean floor.” His voice was low and held a gravelly tone he didn’t have in high school. It set her nerves on edge and not because it was downright sexy.
A few times, they’d run into each other in the parking lot of Hanniford and Home Depot. Fortunately, she’d seen him in time to cut in a different direction.
“Sorry about startling you.”
“You didn’t startle me.” She reeled in her animosity. Keep it professional, Kensley. Now wasn’t the time. Regardless of her feelings, Noah was a patient. She took an oath when she graduated from nursing school. It wasn’t the Hippocratic oath, but it was no less important.
“I thought I was alone. I’d only been gone a minute to turn off the lights, get my stuff. Couple more minutes and the clinic would’ve been closed.” Stop babbling. “I’m Kensley Jacobs, the RN on duty. What happened?” Her pre-recorded script she used for each patient poured out.
He limped past her and entered the clinic area. The hint of alcohol trailed behind him. Great. Well, it could be worse. He could be in handcuffs with officer Mick waiting for a blood sample.
“I know who you are, Kensley.”
And she knew who he was, which was not a hero. Without meeting his eyes, she said, “I asked you what happened.”
There were five bars in town if you counted the VFW post on Jefferson. No one under sixty crossed that threshold. “At Rocky’s?” The local biker hangout.
“No, it was at Avalanche.” He didn’t wait for an invitation to plop his butt onto the nearest stretcher. With a slight grimace, he propped his leg up on the bed. She flicked on the lights and got her first good look. The wound was high on his thigh, near his joint, and not cleanly exposed. Doc Fitzroy would have to cut his pants away to see the area. She picked up the landline on the opposite wall and dialed his number.
“Can’t you do this on your own?”
She could. “I have to let the doctor know you’re here.”
He snorted as if no big deal. “It’s just a cut. I can sew it up myself,” he grumbled.
She didn’t appreciate the attitude. He came here for help, not the other way around. Hand on her hip, she glared over her shoulder at him. “Fine. I’ll hand you the suture kit and you can have at it.”
His mouth twisted in a mockery of a grin, the same grin that got every girl in high school wet. Including her, once upon a time. However, that was in the past. She wasn’t that dopey eyed junior with a bad boy fantasy, and he wasn’t the guy with a cool edge and a Harley. “Hello,” shouted into her ear.
Startled, she gave Noah her back. “Doc, I have a patient here. He has a wound on his upper left thigh. I haven’t checked his vitals, but he’s alert and orientated.” And pissy. But so was she. She was pissy with access to a scalpel.
His relief came through the phone. “You need to handle it. I’m at the Carpenters. Cynthia’s gone into labor at thirty-five weeks. I’ve called for a medical evac. If I leave her, she may lose the baby.” He didn’t need to go into further details. This was Cynthia’s third pregnancy and the first to nearly make it to term.
“All right. I can handle everything on this end. I’ll call you if anything changes.” She hung up and went to the supply cabinet.
“Nothing will change. Just stitch me up, and I’ll get going,” Noah demanded.
She’d dealt with difficult patients, it came with the territory, but Noah with his bossy attitude was pushing it. He needed her, not the other way around, and frankly, he was the last damn person she wanted to see—ever.
Suture kit, sterile gauze, gloves, Lidocaine, syringes, two needles, and Penicillin, she retrieved the supplies and placed them on a cart.
Rolling everything to his stretcher, she asked, “Turn onto your side, please.”
He shifted and turned on his side, facing her. She should’ve specified, too late now without seeming petty. Anyway, she got a better look at the area. It wasn’t a slash, but a puncture. Someone had stabbed him. And instead of calling an ambulance, he brought himself here. She snapped on a pair of gloves and picked up a pair of scissors.
“Not gonna remove my pants?” his voice husky.
Just what she needed, that image stuck in her head. Noah Kirby semi-naked.
Naked from the waist down. Hell, any part of him naked. The thought should’ve revolted her—and it did, really it did.
And she didn’t appreciate the innuendo. Not from him.
Carefully, she cut his jeans away from the area. Keep it light. “So, drunken brawl at Avalanche?” Not surprising. The drinks were cheap, and the women were easy. She cut away another strip of his jeans.
“Not a brawl. I dragged the asshat outside.”
Not hard to imagine him doing exactly what he described. “I’m sure Pete appreciated that. You saved his bar from a fight. The City Council threatened to petition the state to pull his license if he had another one. Did you win?” Keeping her patient’s talking helped distract them, and her from causing him bodily harm.
“You should see the other guy,” said proudly.
She glanced at his bruised knuckles, not impressed. “Does that mean I should expect another wounded barstool warrior to stumble in for after-hours care?”
He shook his head. “He’s in one piece. So is the bastard who snuck into my blind spot.”
Blind spot? I guess a man would have to sneak into his blind spot to get the best of Noah. Wonder who did it? And should I buy him a round of drinks?
She touched the area around the wound. His flesh reacted with a flinch, but he didn’t. Propped on his elbow, he watched with a bored expression, which kind of lead her to believe he wasn’t wrong when he said he could do this himself. A mirror propped on a low shelf, needle, and thread. Isn’t that what they taught him in the Marines? Just sow themselves up and keep fighting. Hoorah and all that crap. Kevin had bragged about all the shit they could do more times than she could count.
If that were the case, why was Noah here?
He lived ten miles outside of town in the old Morretti cabin by the lake. Walking would be impossible in the cold with this wound. Riding in his truck wouldn’t be a picnic either, neither would the cleanup of his upholstery the next day. See, nothing nefarious, and if he had something to say to her, he had plenty of opportunities to do as she concentrated on the task at hand. She couldn’t run away now, and neither could he.
The wound seemed clean, free of debris. Four stitches should suffice, plus a shot of Penicillin. “When was your last tetanus shot?” He shrugged. “Well, that earned you another shot. Penicillin to kill any potential infection, some Lido to numb you while I sew you up, and tetanus, so you don’t get lockjaw.”
Another stoic look which she guessed was his permission to proceed. She cleaned the area with a betadine swab and started with Lidocaine. He gritted his teeth when she sunk the needle deep into his flesh. Initially, Lido burned when injected. It took a few seconds to take effect. She used that time to open the suture kit.
“It was a beer bottle,” he said. “I don’t think there’s any glass remaining.”
Now he volunteered the information. She hid her irritation behind her professional smile as she drew up more Lido. “Did he empty the beer bottle on you before he got in your blind spot?”
“Nah. That happened in the bar.”
She waited for more, but his attention shifted to the needle in her hand.
“This is gonna hurt, even with the drugs.”
The corner of his mouth twisted in contempt or challenge? She wasn’t sure which. “Do your worst.”
Interesting choice of words. “Shouldn’t that be do your best?”
He shrugged one shoulder as his expression turned flat. “Only the end product will show the results.”
Arrogance wasn’t a trait she found attractive in anyone, especially him. She should jab the needle into his body and watch how long his bored expression lasted.
The malicious and unprofessional thought wasn’t like her and on a certain level, disturbed her. Gently, she gave him another dose of Lido and grabbed a hemostat to separate his flesh, allowing a peek inside the wound.
“Approximately two inches deep.” She mopped up the blood pooling in the opening. “I don’t see any broken pieces.” Quickly, she gave him four stitches inside the wound and three outside. She completed the process with an alcohol swab to clean the surface, gauze, and a waterproof bandage.
He studied her handiwork. “You’re good at this.”
She took issue at the surprise in his voice. “I’m not the janitor. I’m a registered nurse.” It wasn’t entirely true. When necessary, she grabbed a mop and did the floors. This was an all hands-on deck job.
Kensley jabbed the penicillin deep into his upper thigh. He winced. She enjoyed it and immediately felt guilty. “I’ll be back.” She disposed of the kit and all the instruments and returned with the tetanus shot.
Noah was sitting up, his bum leg stretched out at an angle while he leaned to the side, looking like he owned the world. She hated men like that; the super confident, my shit never stunk, in fact, he never needed to shit, fart, piss, pick a booger out of his nose.
She held up the needle and syringe. “One last shot and you’re on your way. I need your shoulder.” She grabbed an alcohol swab while he shrugged one arm out of his coat and sweater. He had on a sleeveless tee-shirt which did nothing to hide defined pecs and brick abs and the Marine Corp logo tattooed on his deltoid or the scar circling his shoulder. Rotator cuff surgery, she guessed. Fairly recent by the condition of the scar.
Just give him the shot. She swiped the swab across his deltoid. Out of respect, she pierced his skin below the tatt and pressed the plunger. The sharps were tossed into the red container. All he needed was a band-aid. To be spiteful, she slapped a Sponge Bob band-aid on his arm. He glanced at it and surprised her by humming a few bars of the theme song.
“I caught some shrapnel in Afghanistan.” He volunteered.
Back to her patient, Kensley froze. All her muscles locked except for her lips. They thinned from the effort to keep her sharp response inside.
“The last mission,” he continued.
Trembling, she spun and said in a steady voice. “Though the stitches will melt away as you heal, the doctor will need to see you tomorrow before closing time to check my handiwork.” She turned away as he adjusted his tee-shirt and sweater.
Good, they both knew how to play, ‘Let’s pretend.’ “Do you have any Tylenol at home?”
He shook his head. She pulled a few samples out of a nearby cabinet.
“Here’s a few to get you through the night.” He shoved them in his coat pocket, and she had serious doubts he’d take them even if he needed them.
Not her business. She did all she could, and now, she was done. “I should’ve got your insurance information earlier, but…” He distracted her. “I forgot. Do you have insurance?”
He pulled his wallet out of his back pocket and placed five crisp one hundred-dollar bills into her palm. The town wasn’t rich. The only industry was in timber, an industry he didn’t work in. As far as she knew, Noah didn’t have any job. So, where did he get five hundred dollars, and why was it no big deal to hand it over. Again, not her business.
She took two crisp hundred dollar bills out of the pile and handed the rest back to him. “Let me get your discharge papers and change. I’ll be right back.” She went to the front desk and had to reboot the computer. The ancient thing took eight minutes. She used that time to mop up the blood trailing from the front door to the desk. The discharge papers took another few minutes. “Okay, you’re all set,” she said as she rounded the corner to the clinical area and halted as Noah tossed a wad of bloody Clorox wipes into the trash. He’d cleaned up the mess he made when she took care of him.
“You didn’t have to do that.” And was annoyed that he did because that meant she had to thank him. Good manners dictated that she do so. “But thank you.”
“Least I could do since I stopped you from leaving.” He shoved his hands into his pockets, trying to appear harmless, she guessed. On someone else that might’ve worked. Noah was too big, too muscular, too…everything. There was nothing harmless about Noah Kirby. Never was and never would be.
She handed him the papers. “You’re free to go.”
Favoring his injured leg, he limped past her but stopped. “Get your stuff. I’m walking you out.” He didn’t wait for her to tell him he didn’t have to. He limped to the exit.
When a man wants to be a gentleman, let him. The words of her grandmother rang in her head. These days so few men understand what the word means. They didn’t have anyone to teach ‘em.
“I don’t need you to be a gentleman. I’m perfectly fine taking myself home as I’ve been doing since I was allowed to walk home by myself.”
His nostrils flared, and he held up his hands as if in surrender, but she wasn’t done. All professionalism went out the window. This opportunity had landed in her lap, and she’d be damned if she didn’t take it, especially when it may never come again. Everything she wanted to say and had buried for three long months clawed its way to the surface.
“This isn’t you being a good guy, a gentleman. This is you being guilty, guilty about Kevin. I don’t want your guilt. Your guilt won’t bring my brother back from Afghanistan. Your guilt won’t make his death easier.” The rage in her heart had her stepping closer, getting in his face. She ignored the sadness in his eyes, and the wave of remorse tainting the air between them. She wouldn’t accept it, couldn’t, not if it meant releasing her righteous fury. Her brother was dead, and she was the only one that cared. The only one. “You can limp your sorry self out of here with your guilt shoved it up your ass.”
Noah Kirby, the bad boy hero of Sessory Corners has returned. Tall, dark, and sexy with chestnut colored eyes, broad shoulders, with an eight pack that lead to an Adonis Belt. Every woman in town wants him between their thighs for a rough ride. Except Kensley.
Everyone treats the former Marine like he’s a hero. So what he got shot and came back with a bum shoulder and PTSD. She lost a lot more than he did in Afghanistan and he’s responsible for it all. They were friends, but now he stays clear of her, thank god, until one night, a snowstorm and a broken window leads to a passion neither expected nor can contain. Will it be enough to overcome the hurt or will new betrayals derail the best thing they’ve ever had?
NOVEMBER 13th on AMAZON!!!