He got one glorious hour of sleep before he was woken by a puking Anna. Not the flu, but a hangover. Good times.
When he finally got to his office, he found he’d been double booked, but that was nothing new either. First up was Mrs. Dawson, who was experiencing hot flashes and other signs of perimenopause. She’d been coming in once a week or so for months, bringing him casseroles along with her list of gripes and symptoms. At the end of each appointment, she asked him out. Each time, he politely turned her down, saying he never mixed business with pleasure. Today when he gave her the standard line, she pulled out her phone and showed him the Facebook pic of him and Grace kissing.
“Looks like a pretty definite mixing of church and state,” she said.
Josh stared at the picture, a little surprised to find that his and Grace’s crazy chemistry had absolutely translated to the screen for the world to see. “She’s not my patient.”
“She’s an employee. You pay her to walk your dog.”
There was no use in getting annoyed that she knew Grace was his dog walker. Everyone knew it. This was Lucky Harbor, after all. He rose, pulled off his gloves, and tossed them into the trash bin. “See you next week, Mrs. Dawson.”
“Humph,” Mrs. Dawson said.
Josh walked to the next patient room and pulled the chart from the door holder. Mr. Saunders was dealing with kidney stones. Josh entered the room and pulled on yet another set of gloves. He’d once wondered how many hours a year he spent pulling on and tearing off gloves and figured he didn’t really want to know. “How are you doing today, Mr. Saunders?”
“Actually, you’re not,” Josh said. “It’s kidney stones. Once you pass them, you’ll feel better.”
“You sure?” Mr. Saunders asked.
“Sure sure?” Mr. Saunders asked. “Because it doesn’t feel like kidney stones. Last night, I felt like I was having the most painful orgasm of my life. I guess I was probably just passing one of the stones, huh?”
Josh had to keep his head buried in the file as he nodded because how the hell do you confuse passing a kidney stone and an orgasm?
And so his day went, leaving him to wonder if everyone was crazy or if it was just him. By noon, his head was going to blow right off his shoulders, and he knew he couldn’t go on like this. He either had to start turning patients away or give up the ER shifts.
“It’s a no-brainer,” Matt said. He’d brought five-inch-thick deli club sandwiches for lunch. They were spread out in Josh’s office as the men watched ESPN highlights on the computer. “Sell the practice to the hospital. Let them bring in another doc, and all your problems go away. You work the hours you want. Simple.”
Nothing was ever that simple, but the appeal was growing, and Josh had been thinking about little else for months. It meant giving up his dad’s dream, which he hated, but the truth was that Josh couldn’t do the dream justice. He’d tried.
When Matt had gone back to work, Josh brought up the contract offer, which he’d read a hundred times. A thousand. He’d had his attorney go over it with a fine-tooth comb. All he had to do was accept the offer with an electronic signature and hit SEND.
His finger hovered over the ENTER key, but then he set his head down on his desk to think about it for a minute. The next thing he knew, Dee, his nurse-practitioner, was calling his name.
“Hey,” she grumbled from the doorway, “if you get to nap, so do I.” She was in her fifties and resembled Lucy from the Peanuts comic strip. She was that perfect mix of no-nonsense and sweet empathy with his patients, though she rarely felt the need to impart any of that sweet empathy on him.
“Need you to get your cute ass out here,” she said. “You’ve got Nancy Kessler in room one with a bladder infection that she wants cleared up before she goes to Vegas this weekend with her new boyfriend. Randy Lyons is in room two. He nail-gunned his thumb to the roof again. And Mrs. Munson’s in three, saying the high pollen count is going to kill her dead.”
“You take the allergies,” he said. “I’ll get the other two.”
“Three. You’ve got thirteen-year-old Ben Seaver in four. He stuck his ding-dong into the Jacuzzi vent.”
“Christ,” Josh muttered. “Again?”
“Here.” Dee handed him her coffee. “You probably need it more than I do.”
“Thanks.” It had far too much sugar and milk in it, but she was right. He needed it bad.
“Your father was never this busy,” Dee said.
“Because we’ve doubled his practice.”
“You doubled his practice,” she said, and gave him a rare pat on the arm. “He’d be proud, but he wouldn’t want this for you. Just sign the damn contract, Doctor. Before you burn out.”
“I’m not going to burn out.”
“Okay, then sign the damn contract before I burn out.” With that, Dee nabbed back her coffee and left.
Josh’s other office staff members consisted of two front office clerks, Michelle and Stacy, and an LPN named Cece. An hour later, Michelle poked her head into the exam room. “Mrs. Porter on line two. Needs to see you today. Says she’s dying.”
Mrs. Porter wasn’t dying; she was lonely. Her kids lived on the East Coast, so she came in at least once a week for attention. Last week she’d had an eye twitch and had self-diagnosed a brain cancer. “Tell her we can get her in tomorrow,” he said to Michelle.
“She says she’ll be dead tomorrow.”
“All right, fine. Squeeze her in today, then.”
An hour later, the waiting room was still full. Dee gave Josh the stink eye when he slipped into his office to take an incoming call. It was Toby’s school.
Toby hadn’t been picked up by Katy, his nanny.
Josh immediately headed for the door, giving a pissed-off Dee an apologetic wave. He got into his car while dialing Katy. She was the sister of one of the nurses at the hospital and had come highly recommended. Problem was, she was only a temporary fix because, soon as her husband’s transfer came through, they were moving to Atlanta.
Before Katy, they’d had Trina, who’d quit because of complications. Those complications being Anna. And Suzie, the nanny before Trina, had also left unexpectedly.
Josh was sensing a pattern, and he didn’t have time for it.
Katy picked up and immediately said, “Don’t hate me but I’m getting on a plane.”
Josh let out a breath. “No notice?”
“I couldn’t get a hold of you yesterday. I talked to Anna.”
Josh considered thunking his head against his steering wheel. “A day’s notice, then?”
“I’m sorry, Josh,” she said with real regret. “But I think my replacement should be two nannies. And maybe an enforcer.”
Josh called Anna next. She didn’t pick up. Shock. He pictured Toby waiting at school with no one there and his stomach cramped. He sped up while mentally thumbing through the contacts on his phone, slowing at Grace’s name.
Don’t do it, man. She was smart as hell but she was also a really, really bad dog walker. No way should he burden her with his kid too. Except she’d already handled Toby yesterday for an hour, and everyone had lived to tell the tale.
She’d come through for him, twice now. Which really begged the question—exactly who was helping whom here?
The truth was, she’d already proven more reliable than half the people in his life. And damn if there wasn’t something in her eyes that pulled him in like the tide, something extremely unforgettable. He knew she was a little lost, searching for something. He had no idea what but he wanted to help. Which was a very bad idea. He needed another person on his plate like he needed a hole in his head, but he couldn’t turn back now. He was drawn to her.
She answered on the third and a half ring with a question in her “hello,” as if maybe she’d been playing chicken with her voice mail.
“So,” he said. “Daughter of a rocket scientist?”
“I don’t want to talk about it.”
He laughed. “You busy?”
“Not anymore. Just got back from an interview in Seattle.”
This drained his amusement real quick, and his gut tightened—both in relief for her and regret for how he’d feel when she left Lucky Harbor. “How did it go?”
“Good. I think. I just got back and already walked Tank for you. And there were no accidents and no near drownings. No incidents at all, actually. Oh, and whatever your neighbor says about me isn’t true. Mostly.”
“Well…Tank sort of defiled Mrs. Perry’s petunias. Twice.”
Mrs. Perry was dead serious about her petunias. A few months back, when Josh had been teaching Toby to ride his bike, Toby had ridden through the flower bed.
Mrs. Perry had called the police, claiming vandalism.
Sheriff Sawyer Thompson had shown up on Josh’s doorstep doing his damnedest to hide his smile, suggesting that Josh might want to think about teaching Toby to ride in a deserted parking lot instead of making potpourri out of Mrs. Perry’s petunias.
The following week, Anna had brought the Antichrist home, and Toby had given up riding his bike, preferring instead to run with the puppy.
“Forget Mrs. Perry,” Josh said. “I’ve another job for you.”
He hesitated, not wanting her to say no. “It’s a one-time temp position.”
“My specialty,” she said. “Do I get a hint?”
“I need a babysitter for Toby. Just for an hour or two.”
She fell quiet, and Josh didn’t want to rush her, but he had patients waiting, a sister to strangle later, and Toby, who was hopefully not waiting alone at the curb at the school that Josh was still five blocks from.
“Was I your last choice?” she finally asked.