Author: Jill Shalvis


The morning went so smoothly that Josh got an actual lunch break. He met Ty and Matt at the Love Shack, Lucky Harbor’s bar and grill. They’d beaten him there and were seated at a table hunched over Cosmo magazine.


“It was on the table when I got here,” Matt said in his defense.


Josh eyed the open magazine. “You don’t already know how to satisfy your boyfriends in bed?”


Matt ignored this. “Did either of you know there’s ninety-nine ways to give a blow job? That’s ninety-nine nights of blow jobs.”


“Look at you with the math skills,” Josh said.


Matt flipped him off while Ty flipped the page. “‘How to Give Your Hoo-Ha a Spa Day.’ Huh,” he said. “I didn’t know a woman’s hoo-ha needed a spa day.”


Ford came out from behind the bar to take their order. “Saw you on FB,” he said to Josh.


“Ty was a part of the rescue too.”


“I meant with the pretty babysitter at your son’s Back-to-School night.” Ford laughed. “Caught by Lucille, huh? Gotta be stealth, man. Geriatric stealth.”


Josh didn’t bother to sigh. “Like you didn’t get on Facebook all last year when you started seeing Tara.”


At this, Ford let out an unabashed grin, because they all knew it was true. While dating Tara, he’d found himself in the middle of an all-out whose-dick-is-bigger contest with her ex, which had been splashed across the entire town like it’d been first-line news. Ford was a world-class sailing pro and had a gold medal and buckets of money, but to this day, he was most famous for that abs contest, which had been legendary. As had the fallout, which had involved Ford breaking his leg climbing an apple tree to impress the girl.


“At least I didn’t end up in my ER getting my leg set in a cast,” Josh said.


Ford laughed good-naturedly and took their order. When he was gone, Matt looked at Josh. “So how’s it going with your Grace anyway? Still having fun playing house?”


He’d been working at not replaying every detail of last night in his head over and over again. Working, and failing. Last night had been…incredible. “Says the guy who just put a rock on his girlfriend’s finger.”


Matt shrugged. “Turns out I like commitment. Who knew?”


“Yeah? And what’s your excuse?” Josh asked Ty.


Ty’s lips curved. “I took a page from your book.”


“Mine?”


“I like the idea of the whole family thing, like you have with Toby and Anna. I want that. I want that with Mallory.”


Their food came, and while Josh ate his chicken sandwich, he thought of his “whole family thing.” He had his sister, who missed their mom and dad like she missed her own legs and was dating a first-class asshole. His son, who had spent far too many nights going to bed without any parent at all. The family unit everyone thought he had wasn’t what it was supposed to be, and that killed him.


He’d made the first step—selling the practice. He only hoped he’d done it in time to repair his relationships. It wasn’t something he could write a prescription for. He couldn’t order a scan and diagnose a solution. “I’ve fucked it up.”


“Yeah?” Ty asked. “With the hot nanny?”


“No.” Yes. “Never mind.”


“That’s the first sign of losing it,” Ty said. “Disagreeing with yourself. And trust me, I should know.”


Josh managed a brief smile at the memory of Ty coming apart at the seams not so long ago but Matt kept his eyes on Josh. Concerned.


“Stop,” Josh said to him. “I’m not losing it.”


“Maybe you should.”


“Huh?”


“You’re wrapped pretty tight,” Matt said. “You should get in the ring with one of us. Release some tension.”


“I’ve seen you two in the ring,” Josh said. “It’s like Extreme Cagefighting. On steroids. I like being able to walk out of the gym after a workout.”


“One time,” Ty said. “I only needed help one time. And it’s because he sucker punched me.”


Matt smiled smugly. “That’s what happens when you stop to take a call from your fiancée when you’re still in the ring.”


“I’m not getting in the ring,” Josh said, and stood. He dropped cash on the table. “I’ve got to get back.”


His waiting room was calm and quiet. The front desk was calm and quiet. Everything was calm and quiet.


“There’s no one waiting for me?” he asked Michelle.


“Tessa’s got it moving along pretty good.”


He eyed the schedule. “What about Mrs. B?”


“Oh, she’s already been seen. She had some arthritic flare-up.”


Josh was stunned. Mrs. B. had never been willing to see anyone else before. “And Lisa Boyles? She was bringing in her three kids for sports physicals.”


“Tessa finished early and offered to see them, and Lisa took her up on it. That’s who she’s with right now.”


“Okay…” He felt a little off center. “I’ll go get some charting done.”


“Sure.”


But when he got to his office and sat down, the charting didn’t appeal. Where was a fast-paced ER emergency when he needed one? Anderson couldn’t fall off the pier now?


He saw patients that afternoon but it remained quiet and sedate. Not at all what he was used to.


But what you wanted…


Except suddenly he wasn’t keeping the world going around. It was going around without him, all on its own.


And he didn’t know if he liked it.


That night for the first time in months, Josh got home in time for dinner. He walked into his house and blinked. His living room had been turned into a fort. Blankets and sheets had been stretched across the couches, tucked into the entertainment center, into shelves, anywhere and everywhere. He crouched down, and yep, it was filled with what appeared to be every single toy Toby owned.


He entered the kitchen to find Toby and Grace sitting on the counter, eating chocolate cupcakes. Josh met Grace’s gaze, and the air did that unique crackle thing while her slow smile brought back memories of the night before.


Slow hands. Deep, wet, unending kisses. Bodies hot and damp and meshed together. Heady, erotic pleasures…


“Daddy, cupcakes!” Toby said.


“I’m sorry.” Josh pretended to scrub out his ear. “Was that English?”


Toby grinned.


Josh pulled him up for a hug and came away a little sticky. “You’re supposed to eat the dessert, not bathe in it.”


This earned him another grin. “Try it!” Toby demanded, holding out his cupcake.


Josh took a bite, and he had to admit that the soft, spongy chocolate cupcake was pretty damn amazing. He took another bite, pretending to go for Toby’s fingers, earning him a belly laugh.


Best sound ever. He started laughing as well when he turned and found Grace watching them with a smile. “Hope you don’t mind,” she said. “It’s a backward dinner.”


“We love backward dinners!” Toby said.


They’d never had a backward dinner.


Tank was sitting on the floor at Toby’s feet. He let out a loud “arf!” followed by a pathetically sad whine.


“He’s sad ’cause Grace said he can’t have chocolate,” Toby said. “Chocolate’s bad for dogs. They go like this…” He mimed choking on his own tongue, complete with bugging-out eyes and the sound effects to go with it, before dramatically falling off the stool to the floor. There he kicked once, twice, and then “died.”


“Nice,” Josh said.


Toby smiled proudly and sat back up as Tank climbed into his lap, licking his face.


“We don’t feel sorry for Tank,” Grace told Josh. “He got his dessert.”


“He ate a bag of powdered sugar,” Toby said.


Josh looked at the tiny Tank. “When you say bag of powdered sugar…”


“The entire bag, including the paper.” Grace shook her head. “He has an eating disorder.”


They all looked at Tank, who snorted, then burped, emitting a little puff of white.


“You gonna eat with us, Daddy?” Toby asked. “We’re having mac and cheese!”


“My favorite,” Josh said dryly.


Toby grinned. “No, it’s my favorite.”


Josh thought about the nutritional content of the unopened box of mac and cheese on the counter, which probably was about as healthy as eating the actual box, and grimaced. “Where’s Nina?”


“On a date!” Toby said.


Now that Toby had regained his mastery of the English language, apparently he felt the need to speak in exclamation points.


“You should join us,” Grace said, her voice sounding a little husky now, reminding him of how she sounded the night before, when he’d been buried deep. Oh, please, Josh, she’d said in that same voice. Pretty sure he had pleased, he cleared his throat and looked at the box again.


“Afraid?” she asked.


“Yes. For my arteries.”


She pointed to the counter and the half-empty bag of baby carrots there. “We’re combating it with veggies.”


“Toby doesn’t eat carrots.”


“I do so!” Toby claimed, and shocked Josh to the core by picking up a carrot. Of course he dipped it in a bowl of what looked like salad dressing until there was no carrot to be seen before jamming it into his mouth, dripping dressing everywhere.


Josh let out a breath.


Grace was looking at him, amused. “It’s nonfat vanilla yogurt.”


Josh shuddered at that combination but had to admit he couldn’t object. “Where’s Anna?”


Grace’s smile faded some. “Out. Not sure where. How was work?”


In the past, the answer to this question would have been “crazy.” But that didn’t apply today. “Manageable.”

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