Author: Jill Shalvis


“She went willingly,” Grace said, sounding amused. “And said she could have done better than half the girls on the field.”


An odd emotion blossomed in Josh’s chest. “I owe you,” he said softly.


“Actually, at the moment, I owe you.”


Surrounded by hell, his life completely not his own, he found himself smiling for the first time in days. “I’m open to a deal.”


“Sounds promising, Dr. Scott. Talk to you later.”


Josh was still smiling when he headed into the ER. The shift was a little crazy, but that was the nature of the beast in any hospital. There was a purpose to all of it, to every orchestrated movement, and unlike everywhere else, here he thrived on chaos.


You thrive on the chaos that is Grace Brooks as well…


Grace might think she was winging life at the moment, but everything she did, everyone she helped along the way, everything she said or felt, came from the bottom of her heart.


He loved that.


It was 1:00 a.m. before he left the ER. He had a few hours to get home and sleep before the madness started again.


He was halfway to his car when he got the call.


Mrs. Porter had just come in, DOA.


Josh ran back into the hospital, but of course, there was no rush. Not for the dead. He grabbed the chart. There’d be no official cause of death until the autopsy, but all signs pointed to an aneurysm.


Josh stared down at Mrs. Porter’s body in disbelief. The possibility of an aneurysm had never been on his radar. It was a silent killer. So of course he hadn’t seen any signs of any impending illness, and it certainly hadn’t been in her patient history, which he knew by heart. Over the years, he’d probably spent a total of months talking to her. He knew she liked her margaritas frozen, her music soft and jazzy, and was a secret office supply ho. She didn’t have much family or any pets, she’d always said she was allergic to both, and she’d never missed a single episode of Amazing Race. She’d planned on someday being the oldest winner.


Soon as she could get over her fear of flying.


And now she was dead.


It wasn’t his fault. Logically, he knew this, but he felt guilty as hell, and sick. Sick that he hadn’t moved his patients along faster earlier in the day so that she’d have waited for him. Because if he’d seen her, maybe there’d have been signs, maybe he’d have somehow known that today was different, that she’d really needed medical care and not just a little TLC.


“I’m sorry,” he said, touching her hand, tucking it under the blanket alongside her body. “So damned sorry.”


Only utter silence greeted him. Devastated him. Still in his scrubs, he drove home in a fog and found Grace asleep on his living room couch. She sat up, sleepy, rumpled, an apologetic smile on her face. “Didn’t mean to fall asleep,” she said.


He helped her to her feet, then pulled his hands back from her warm body and shoved them into his pockets, not trusting himself to touch her right now. He felt her curiosity but managed to walk her to the guesthouse without a word.


“Josh?” Standing at her door, bathed in the moonlight, she touched his face. “Bad night?”


Her eyes were fathomless, and as always, he knew that if he looked into them for too long, he’d drown.


But he was already drowning.


She shifted closer and brushed her willowy body against his. Soft. Warm. He could bury himself in her right now and find some desperately needed oblivion.


But taking his grief out on her would be an asshole thing to do. “I’m fine.” Still numb, he waited until she went inside to go back to the house.


Not to bed, though. No, that wasn’t the kind of oblivion he planned to settle for. He went to the cabinet above the fridge for the Scotch, and then to the couch where Grace had fallen asleep waiting for him. It was still warm beneath the blanket from her body heat. And it smelled like her.


He inhaled deep and poured himself a few fingers.


He’d lost track of the number of shots he’d drunk by the time someone knocked softly on the glass slider. When he didn’t move, Grace let herself in.


Josh wasn’t drunk but he was close as he eyed her approach. She was wearing a camisole and cropped leggings. No shoes. Her hair was down. No makeup. He wanted to tear off her clothes, toss her down to the couch, and bury himself so deep that he couldn’t think.


Couldn’t feel.


He watched her cross the room, and some of his thoughts must have been obvious because she stopped just short of his reach and gave him a long, assessing look.


“Saw that the lights were on,” she said. “You can’t sleep.”


He shrugged and tossed back another shot.


“I’m sorry about Mrs. Porter.”


He went still, swiveling only his gaze in her direction.


“Since you were doing your impression of the typical tall, dark, and annoyingly silent male,” she said, “I went to the source. Facebook.” She paused. “Mrs. Porter was very sweet. And I know she adored you. You’re a good man, Josh. A good doctor. Don’t blame yourself for her death.”


Too late.


“It wasn’t your fault.”


Maybe not. But plenty of other shit was his fault. Anna, still floundering in her new life. Toby thinking he had to be a Jedi warrior to warrant his mother’s return. His dad’s practice getting too big for its britches and losing the personal attention each patient deserved…


And Grace—the last lethal shot to his mental stability that had come out of nowhere.


She stood there, his own personal, gorgeous goddess, running his world in her own way along with her huge heart. She looked so soft and beautiful in the ambient light. So…his. His heart revved at just the sight of her, so he closed his eyes and let his head fall back to the couch. “You need to go.”


“Can’t.”


He didn’t ask why not, but she told him anyway. “I think maybe that’s the problem,” she said softly, and he could feel her leg brush his now.


She was getting braver.


“People go away in your life, don’t they, Josh?” she asked. “You get left, abandoned, whether by choice or through no fault of anyone.”


He heard more movement; then she tugged off one of his shoes. She was kneeling at his side, a position that brought dark erotic thoughts to mind. “I don’t want to talk about it,” he said.


“I know.” Having gotten his shoes off, she rose up on her knees. “But you aren’t okay. And I’m not leaving you.”


He stared at her, ashamed to feel his throat tighten. “Grace. Just go.”


“No.” She lay her head down on his thigh and stroked his other with a gentle hand. “Tell me what to do to help you.”


She could start by moving her mouth about two inches to the right.


She didn’t. What she did do was take the shot glass dangling from his fingers and set it on the coffee table. Then she stood and pulled him up with her, hugging him.


His throat tightened beyond use as he buried his face in her hair and held on to her hard.


“You’re going to be okay,” she whispered.


No. No, he wasn’t. But rather than admit that, he took a deep breath. He didn’t want her concern.


She pulled back, and keeping a hold of his hand, led him down the hall to his bedroom.


Bad idea.


The worst sort of bad idea.


Stop her…


He had her by a good foot and at least seventy pounds. It wouldn’t be difficult to free himself, but instead he followed along after her like a lost little puppy.


She turned off the lights, and darkness settled over them. Over him. In him. He was just about as on edge as it got.


And he wanted her.


Needed her.


But he’d never been very good at asking. Not that she was making him ask…


She pulled him into his bedroom, nudging the door shut with her foot. “Come here.”


“You’re shaking,” he said, wrapping his arms around her trembling body.


Her hands glided up his chest to cup his face. “Not me,” she said very gently, eyes shadowed. “You. You’re shaking.”


Well, hell. He tried to pull back, but she gripped him tight and refused to budge. “Josh—”


“I need to go—”


“Honey, this is your place.” Her fingers slid into his hair, gentle and soothing. Tender. So were her eyes when she tilted his face down to hers to see it in the dim light. “No one’s going anywhere,” she said. “You’re already right where you need to be.” Then she locked the door and gave him a push that had him falling onto his bed.


Shit, he was pretty fucking far gone if she could catch him off guard like that. He came up on his elbows, and there she stood in that shimmery top and leggings, looking like everything sweet and warm and caring. Too caring. He didn’t want that. He wanted her naked and sweaty and screaming his name. “I want to be alone,” he said.


“You don’t need to be alone tonight.”


“You don’t know what I need.”


She stared down at the hard-on he was sporting, the one straining the front of his scrubs. “I think I have a pretty good idea.” She let the straps of her camisole slip to her elbows, and the whole thing fell to her waist. She urged it past her hips with a little wriggle, and it hit the floor. “You sure you don’t want to talk about it?”


Sitting up, he settled his hands on her rib cage, fingers spread wide.


“It might help if you did,” she said.


He took in her pretty pink bra. It was one of those half-cup things that gave him tantalizing peek-a-boo hints of nipples, which were already hard. They puckered up even tighter, and his mouth watered.


“Josh?”


“Sorry. I haven’t heard a word since you took off your top.” He closed his eyes. “You shouldn’t be here.”


“Give me one good reason why not.”


He didn’t have any logic skills in that moment. None. He searched for words. “I’m temporarily unavailable.”

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