“I need you, Dell,” she murmured softly, her hands in his hair, her eyes on his. “Need me back.”

“I do.”

“No. No, I mean—”

He stroked a hand up her thigh, rasping his thumb over ground zero, and she sobbed out his name and arched into him. “Come,” he urged her, wanting to watch her fly before he did. “Come for me, Jade.”

And with a soft cry, she did.

He joined her, a kaleidoscope of colors bursting behind his eyes. For a moment he actually thought he was having a stroke, but it couldn’t possibly feel this good to stroke out.

From the dim recesses of his mind he realized that there was an odd ache in his chest that both hurt and felt right at the same time. He knew the reason, but it could wait until she was gone. Until he was alone again. Alone, which had always worked out so well for him.

Too bad he suddenly—or maybe not so suddenly at all—no longer really believed that.


Jade opened her eyes some time later. Dell had moved them to her bed and they’d fallen asleep. He was warm and she snuggled closer, kissing his shoulder, wishing . . .

That this was real. That she could figure out a way to make it real that worked for everyone.

Dell’s breathing changed, and she knew he was awake. “Hey,” he murmured, voice low and sleep rough. “What’s wrong?” When she said nothing, he ran his fingers over her skin, and finally she sighed. “I had a dream. About my family.”

“About going back?”

He never said home. Sunshine was home. For him, Sunshine had been the first place to ever feel like home. So she nodded again.

Brushing his mouth over her temple, he skimmed his way to her jaw. “You’re conflicted.”

It wasn’t a question, but she answered anyway. “Yes.”

“You have choices, Jade. You always have choices.” His mouth moved along her throat, making her shiver.

“Like?” she asked, clutching at him.

“Like staying.”

Her heart took a hard, hopeful leap. “If I took you up on that, you’d regret it,” she said, a little breathless. She needed to drop this conversation now, while she still could.

“You don’t know what I want.”

A truer statement had never been uttered. “So tell me.”

His tongue teased her skin, and she began to lose grip of her thoughts. “You,” he said. “I want you.”

Want, not need. She arched up against him as his hands ran over her body. “You have me, Dell.” Wrapping her legs around his hips, she pulled him to her, locking eyes with him. “All of me.”

“For now,” he said.

Confused, she opened her mouth, but he used that to his advantage, kissing her hungrily, pushing closer, his body covering hers. The sheet tangled between them, not hiding a thing, not that he was big and hard. Very hard.

Dell yanked the sheet away and then he was on her, warm skin in place of the cool cotton.

Her eyes slid shut as his lips moved over hers. She’d learned he loved to kiss, to explore, and she loved to let him. It made her feel . . . wanted. Cherished. Sexy. He’d seen it all before, of course, every inch of her, and yet each time he kissed the small scar on her knee from a long-ago childhood mishap, or ran his tongue over the curve of her breast or the length of her hip with such appreciation, it sent tingles through her. Like now. Her fingers tightened in his hair and brought his mouth back to hers. “Again?”

“Yes,” he breathed against her lips. “And then again. Because as it turns out, I don’t think I can get enough of you.”

“I have no self-discipline when it comes to you,” Jade said much later.

Dell didn’t open his eyes, but he did let out a low, rough sounding laugh.

“I’m not sure how that’s funny,” she said.

Dell lifted his head, his hair tousled from her fingers, his expression one hundred percent pure sated male. “You expect to be disciplined during sex?”


He laughed again and she elbowed him.

Ignoring that, he reached for her, but she shoved him. “No. Oh no. We’ve had enough.”

He was still laughing when he easily pulled her in close and nuzzled his face in her hair. “Speak for yourself. I’m not sure I could ever get enough.”

Running her hand down his beautiful back, she closed her eyes and wished she were brave enough to believe it.

When she woke up, Dell was gone. She ignored the little ping of disappointment and glanced at Beans.

“Mew,” Beans said, a knowing look in her sharp eyes. “No, I am not wishing he was still here. Sheesh, what do you take me for, a sex addict?”


With a sigh, Jade showered, dressed and grabbed Beans and got to the office at the same time as usual, but unlike the usual, she wasn’t the first one in.

On her desk sat a hot coffee and a bag from the bakery. An egg and turkey bacon croissant, which she dove into as if she’d spent all night running a marathon.

Or being made love to for hours on end . . .

The croissant was so good she moaned as she ate it. Forget ha**g s*x all night long. She wanted to have this croissant all night long.

“Mmm,” came Dell’s low, sexy voice in her ear as his arms encircled her from behind. He nipped at the side of her throat. “That sound you make. It drives me crazy, especially when I’m buried in you and—”

Her cell phone rang.

Drawing a shaky breath, she pushed Dell away and grabbed it.

“The first is Monday,” Sam said. “You on track to be here?”

Jade’s gaze met Dell’s. She knew he could hear Sam. “Yes. I’m leaving in two days.”

Sam’s relieved expulsion of air sounded in her ear. “I’ll fly out and drive back with you.”

“No. No, I want to do it alone,” she said, still holding Dell’s unwavering stare. “I’ll be okay.”

She hung up and sighed. “Dell—”

“I know. You . . . promised.”

He understood promises, he understood loyalty, and he was very good at hiding his thoughts when he wanted to. For a long moment, he continued to look at her as if he wanted to say something, but he didn’t. He simply nodded. “Do you need any help?”

She felt her heart crack right up the center. No matter what she needed, he was there for her, sometimes even before she knew what that might be. Yes, he was obstinate, way too sure of himself, couldn’t put real words to an emotion to save his life, and yet . . . and yet he had her back in a way no one ever had before. “I really wanted to train someone for you.”

“I’m not replacing you, Jade. No one could.”


“I’m going to be fine. Don’t worry about me.” And then he was gone, the door to his office shutting quietly.

Okay. Good. He was going to be fine. And if he wasn’t . . . well, no one would ever know because that’s how he operated.

That’s how they both operated.

On Jade’s last day, Belle Haven had a record number of patients. This was due more to people wanting to see Jade before she left than any of Dell’s skills, and he knew it.

But he couldn’t blame anyone. He felt the same. He wanted as many last looks at her as he could get.

They met at Crystal’s that night, he, Adam, Brady, Lilah.

And Jade.

They shared two pitchers of beer and stories. Lilah brought a cake. “Not homemade,” she said. “Because we all know I can’t cook worth shit.” She hugged Jade hard. “Dammit, I’m testing this waterproof mascara tonight.” She sniffed. “I’m really going to miss watching you keep Dell off balance.”

Dell would have argued, but it was hard to argue the truth. Jade had been keeping him on his toes since the day she’d walked into his life.

They all walked out to the parking lot together and Lilah hugged her again. And then again, until Brady pried her loose. “She’s coming back to visit,” he assured Lilah, and looked at Jade. “Right?”

Jade, eyes shimmering brilliantly with unshed tears, nodded. Brady pulled her in close, whispered something Dell couldn’t catch, and when he pulled back, Adam moved in. He didn’t speak, just hugged her, then tugged lightly on her hair, his eyes solemn but affectionate.

Dell waited until everyone pulled out and it was just him and Jade in the parking lot.

“It’s late,” she said, voice thick. “And I want to leave before dawn.”

He nodded. She didn’t want him to follow her home. Message received. “Jade—”

“I don’t know how to do this,” she whispered. “I don’t know how to say good-bye to you.”

“So don’t.”


He put a finger to her lips. “I just mean that I’ll come see you.”

She closed her eyes, then nodded. Then she stepped into him and hugged him hard, eyes fierce. “Make sure that you do.”

He stood in the lot and watched her drive away. He got into his truck and turned toward home.

Except he went right instead of left, and let his heart steer him to where it thought home was.


She opened the door, eyes and nose red. “This is a bad idea,” she said shakily.

“Spectacularly,” he agreed, and shut the door behind him. Then he found himself pushed up against it and she kissed him, all hot, confusing desperation, which unleashed his own.

“We shouldn’t do this,” she said against his mouth when they came up for air.

“No.” Look at him, all agreeable, as if his heart weren’t breaking in f**king two. Her body heat was seeping into him, warming the core of him with the very essence of her. Then she made a sound in the back of her throat and cuddled in, soft and pliant and willing. God, so willing.

They dove at each other. Apparently, they were doing this.

Lacing his fingers into her hair, Dell took her mouth in a drugging kiss, holding her face in one hand, sliding his other down her back to cup her ass, squeezing until she moaned. He worked his way down her body, divesting her of clothing as he went. She moaned again when he flicked his tongue over her puckered nipple and arched into him with a gasp when he dropped to his knees, pinned her h*ps to the door and kissed his way lower. By the time he made his way to her center she was writhing beneath his hands, the little whimpers coming from her the sexiest sounds he’d ever heard.

“Dell,” she panted. “Now. God, please. Now.”

Her face was upturned, lips parted, her eyes closed, her fingers digging into his shoulders. He’d never seen anything hotter. “Come first,” he said. “I love to watch you come.”

“Oh God. I . . . Don’t stop. Don’t ever stop.”

She came on his fingers, and then on his tongue, and then again when he surged upright, magically produced a condom and entered her right there, taking her against the door.

“Oh,” she cried, her fingers digging into his back. “We need to—”

“Yes.” They needed to do this. Now. He did his best to move slow, to build up the pressure for her, trying to show her a patience he didn’t feel. But she bit his neck and then sucked a patch of skin into her mouth, flicking her tongue over it, and slow went out the window. “Jade—” He wanted to tell her to relax, that this was it, their final time and he wanted—needed—to make it last.

But she wasn’t feeling the same need. She grinded against him and he closed his eyes. No, that made it even worse.

Or better . . .

Her hands were everywhere, grasping ahold of anything she could brace herself with, and though he tried to keep the pace steady, she wasn’t helping, moaning his name, arching against him, trying to climb inside his body. He felt her body tighten around him as she burst and he opened his eyes to watch, but that proved to be his undoing and he came with her, hard. When his knees gave out, he slid to the floor, barely managing to keep a grip on her. Not that she noticed. She was limp, content, and clearly sated, and for once he felt the same. Breathing hard, he braced them against the wall and held her close.

“Gonna miss that,” she said hoarsely against his chest.

Yeah. Big-time.

“Are we going to get up?”

No. He wanted to stay here, right here, still inside her body, in her life. “I’m not ready to let go of you.”

With a soft little hum of agreement, she cuddled in tight.


Nearly a week later, Dell shut himself in his office after a long day and sank exhausted to his chair. He’d caved and called the temp agency (emphasis on temp) on the second day. He’d told Jade he wasn’t going to replace her and he wasn’t. The agency had sent a perfectly nice twenty-two-year-old receptionist from Boise, who was interested in wintering in Sunshine to ski on the weekends.

That was the same excuse Jade had given him when she’d come to Sunshine and it hadn’t escaped him, and as he thought of her, as he had for five straight days now, he felt a stab of pain in his chest.

Of course that might just be the fresh scratch from pec to pec, courtesy of one pissed-off feline from an earlier patient visit.

His day had sucked.

His life sucked.

Leaning back in his chair, he closed his eyes, wanting to snap at whoever had just opened his door and let themselves in. “It’s called a knock.”

Ignoring his scowl, Lilah sat on the corner of his desk. “You okay?”

As if he were too busy to talk, he stared at his computer—which wasn’t even booted up. “Yeah.”