“I’ve got him.”
Grace watched him head toward his house. He was a big guy. Bull-in-a-china-shop big. But he had a way of moving with surprising grace. He was very fit, and very easy on the eyes. She wasn’t often steered astray by bouts of lust, but she felt it stir within her now. No doubt he would be a very interesting item to add to her list of Fun Things to Do, but he was a doctor. Most would be attracted by that, but not Grace. She knew his world, knew the crazy hours, the life that wasn’t really his own, knew what it was like to compete for even a smidgeon of attention. Fair or not, the initials MD after his name would keep him off her list. “You said you’d kiss me if I lost Tank.”
The words popped out of her unbidden, and she covered her mouth. Too late. Turning back, Josh shoved the sunglasses to the top of his head and leveled her with a long, assessing look from dark brown eyes.
He looked exhausted. As if maybe he’d been working around the clock without sleep. “Ignore that,” she said. “Sometimes I have Tourette’s.”
Some of the tension went out of his shoulders, and for a beat, his features softened into what might have been amusement. “You want me to kiss you?”
Oh boy. “You were happy I’d lost your puppy?”
He was looking like he was still thinking about smiling as he glanced down at Tank, tucked under his arm. “No. That would make me an asshole.”
“And he’s not my puppy,” he said. “He belongs to my son, given to him by my evil sister, who I’m pretty sure bought him from the devil.”
They both looked at Tank, who soaked up the attention as his due. He managed to roll in Josh’s arms, over to his back, showing off his good parts with pride.
Such a guy. “If you don’t want him, couldn’t you just give him back?”
Josh laughed softly. “You don’t have any kids, I take it.”
Or dogs. “No.”
“Trust me,” Josh said. “I’m stuck with him.”
“Arf,” Tank said.
Josh shook his head, then started toward the house again, his wet scrubs clinging to those broad shoulders and very nice butt as his long legs churned up the distance with ease.
Apparently they were done here. “Uh, Dr. Scott?”
“Josh,” he corrected.
“Josh, then.” Since he hadn’t slowed or looked back, she cupped her hands around her mouth. “Should I come by your house at around the same time tomorrow, then?”
His laugh was either amused or horrified. Hard to tell. “No,” he said.
Grace paused, but really, there was no way to mistake the single-syllable word. No was…well, no.
Which meant she was fired. Again. One would think she’d be good at that by now, but nope, she didn’t feel good at it.
She felt like crap.
Happiness is sharing a candy bar. Even better is not having to share.
This is all your fault,” Josh told the wriggling puppy as he walked toward his house.
Tank didn’t give a shit. He’d caught sight of a butterfly and was growling ferociously, struggling maniacally to get free so he could attack.
Tank was the Antichrist.
“Look, we all know you think you’re a badass, but that butterfly could kick your ass with one wing tied behind its back,” Josh told him, tightening his grip as he used his other hand to reach into his pocket for his phone.
His wet phone, which—perfect—was fried. Seemed about right, given his day so far. “You could have kept running for the hills,” he said. “Or at least stayed ‘lost’ long enough to get me that kiss.”
Tank stretched his nonexistent neck and oversized pug head so he could lick Josh’s chin again.
“Yeah, yeah.” It didn’t matter. Grace Brooks was a beautiful woman, but he didn’t have time to sleep, much less time to give to a woman.
Although, the way she’d hiked her dress up her bare, toned legs had definitely been worth the price of admission…He let himself into his house, trailing sea water and sand with him. No doubt he’d get a dire text from Nina, his pissy housekeeper, but his phone was dead.
Toby had started kindergarten this week, so the house was void of the insanity of Zhu Zhu hamster pets and the whoosh, vrrmm-whoosh of Toby’s ever-present Jedi saber. Anna should be in class—should being the operative word. His sister had yet to consider junior college any more seriously than her choice of fingernail polish.
Moving toward the kitchen to dump Tank, Josh stopped short in surprise.
Grinding his teeth into powder, Josh lifted his shoe, studied the bottom of it, then dangled Tank at eye level. “Have you ever heard of mince meat?”
Tank tried to lick his nose.
“Not cool, dog.” Josh dealt with the mess. If he left it for Nina, she’d quit for sure since she’d already made it clear that nothing puppy related was on her plate. And that was all Josh needed, for yet another person to quit on him. It took a village to run his life, and his village was in mutiny.
He caught sight of the forty bucks still on the kitchen table. Hell. Grace hadn’t taken the money. And she needed it, too, which he knew because this was Lucky Harbor. You could drop a pot of gold on the pier and a perfect stranger would hand it back to you, but you couldn’t keep a secret to save your life.
Josh stripped out of his wet scrubs in the laundry room and slid Tank a long look. Unconcerned, Tank was snuffling around in his bed, turning his fat, little puppy body in three tight circles before plopping down with a snort and closing his eyes. Apparently he was satisfied with the destruction he’d left in his wake.
Definitely the Antichrist.
The house phone was ringing, probably because his cell was no longer working. Josh grabbed a set of fresh scrubs from the freshly delivered stack that he kept in the basket on the dryer and headed for the door. Later. He’d deal with it all later.
This is how he survived the daily insanity of his life, using his unique ability to prioritize and organize according to importance. Taking care of his family—important. Incoming phone call to inform him he was late—redundant, and therefore not critical.
Josh worked two shifts a week in the ER and four shifts at his dad’s practice. His dad had been gone five years and Josh still didn’t think of the practice as his own, but it was, complete with all the responsibilities of running it. When he could, Josh also donated a shift to the local Health Services Center. All the work made for a great stock portfolio, but it was hell on his home life.
Hell on Toby.
Something had to give, and soon. Probably Josh’s own sanity, but for now, he headed back to the hospital only to be called into a board meeting.
He wasn’t surprised by the topic at hand. The board wanted him to sell the practice, incorporating it into the hospital as many of the other local medical practitioners had done. The deal was they’d buy Josh out, pay him to stay on board, and also hire on another doctor to help him with the workload. Plus they’d guarantee the practice the hospital’s internal referrals.
It was a dangling carrot.
Except Josh hated carrots.
This wasn’t the first time the board had made the offer. They’d been after him all year to sell, each offer getting progressively more aggressive. But Josh didn’t like being strong-armed, and he didn’t like thinking about how his dad would feel if Josh let his hard-earned practice slip out of his control.
It was eight-thirty by the time he got home that night—half an hour past Toby’s bedtime. Last night, the five-year-old had been in bed at this time, asleep on his belly, legs curled under him, butt in the air, his chubby baby face smashed into his pillow. He’d clearly gone to bed directly from the bath because his dark hair had been sticking up in tufts, the same way Josh’s always did when he didn’t comb it.
Toby’s pj’s had been—big surprise—Star Wars, and Josh had kneeled by the kid’s bed to stroke back the perpetually unruly hair. Toby had stirred, and then…
He’d been barking ever since Anna had brought Tank home. It was a passing phase.
Or so Josh desperately hoped.
Toby was the spitting image of Josh, but he had his mother’s imagination and her temperament to boot. Josh could read that temperament in every line of his son’s carefree body as he slept with wild abandonment. He wondered if Ally would be able to see it. But of course she wouldn’t, because to see it, she’d have to actually see Toby, something she hadn’t attempted in years.
Hoping the Bean was still up and using actual words tonight, Josh walked in the front door and stopped in his tracks.
Devon Weller, Anna’s latest and hopefully soon-to-be-ex-boyfriend, was sitting on the half wall between the dining room and living room, eyeballing his cell phone.
Anna came into sight, arms whipping as she sped her wheelchair around the corner on two wheels. Hard to believe someone so tiny could move so fast, but Josh knew better than to underestimate his twenty-one-year-old sister.
She’d created a figure-eight racecourse between the two couches and the dining room table and was getting some serious speed. In her lap, squealing with sheer joy and possibly also terror, was Josh’s mini-me—not asleep, nowhere close. With his eyes lit with excitement, cheeks ruddy from exertion, Toby was smiling from ear to ear.
Tank was right on their heels—or wheels in this case—barking with wild abandoned delight, following as fast as his short little legs would take him.
For a brief second, Josh stood there rooted to the spot by a deep, undefined ache in his chest, which vanished in an instant as Anna took a corner far too tight, wobbled, and tipped over, sending her and Toby flying.
“Damn,” Devon said, and clicked something on his phone with his thumb.
The idiot had been timing the event.
Josh rushed past him to the crumpled heap of limbs. “Don’t move,” he ordered Anna, pulling Toby off her. He turned Toby in his arms and took in the face that was so like his own, except free of the exhaustion and cynicism that dogged Josh’s every breath.