He cocked a brow and waited with a mock patience that had her temper hitting the boiling point. She no longer had things to prove, not to anyone, and certainly not to herself. “You know what?” she said. “Never mind. I’m done talking to you when you’re like this.”
“This?” he repeated.
“You. When you’re being all mule-headed and obstinate and—”
“Those are the same things, Grace.”
“Smug,” she added. “An overeducated, arrogant…doctor.” After this final insult, she inhaled a deep breath and then let it out again. “Okay, never mind the doctor part. That’s my own hang-up showing. I didn’t mean that part.”
“I thought you were done talking to me.”
“Argh!” She grabbed her purse and whirled to the door. She got all the way to it before she remembered she was still on the clock. She executed an about-face. “Are you going back to the hospital?”
“Fine. And you should know, I interviewed Sarah. Assuming you trust my passive-aggressive judgment, she’s perfect for you and could start immediately.”
“Handy, since you got the job you wanted.”
“Actually,” she said, “you have no idea what I want.”
“Then tell me.”
Yeah, Grace, tell him. But he was standing there, so big and sure of himself, shoulders stretched impossibly broad, strong enough to take on the weight of his entire world.
Which he’d done.
And what had she done? Exactly as he’d accused her—she’d blindly followed a path set out for her, not spending time second-guessing that path or even standing up for what her own hopes and dreams might be.
That shamed her. Embarrassed her to the bone. She had no idea how to tell him that what she wanted was to throw away the only thing she’d ever been good at and start over. That what she really wanted was to keep this little make-believe world she’d created for herself. So she said nothing at all and went into the kitchen. “How about making more cupcakes?” she asked Toby.
The front door shut, and Grace felt twinges of unidentifiable emotions.
And something else, something that left her stomach uneasy, because it felt like heartbreak.
Are you having fun now?
Chocolate is cheaper than therapy, and you don’t even need an appointment.
Fifteen minutes later, Josh was back in the ER, trying to keep his mind on his patients, which wasn’t easy. Why had he picked a fight with Grace? Because she’d integrated herself into his life so that he could no longer imagine it without her? Because she’d gotten a job he wasn’t even convinced she wanted and would be leaving? It made no sense. He’d always known she’d be leaving. And if she took the Seattle job, she wouldn’t be far.
But that wasn’t the point. The point was that it wouldn’t be the same.
All his own fucking fault. He called Riley and asked if she was free to watch Toby so that Grace could leave if she wanted to. Riley promised to head over to his house, no worries.
Josh spent the next five hours working, and at the end of his shift, all he wanted was to crash. Mallory caught up to him in the hallway. She was in pink scrubs, hair up, looking a little frazzled. “Got a minute?” she asked.
The ER had been a mess all day. There’d been a five-car pileup on the highway, the usual heart attacks and hangovers, and a mob of strep throat infections. She’d kept up with him every step of the way. “For you, always.”
She smiled. “Aw. Don’t make me tell Ty I’m marrying his good friend instead of him.”
“Tell him you realized you needed a real man.”
She laughed, but he couldn’t manage the same. She looked at him for a long beat; then her smile faded. “Oh, Josh. You didn’t.”
“You screwed it up?”
He shook his head. “What makes you think that I screwed it up?”
“Because you have a penis.”
Josh let out a breath. “Maybe there was nothing to screw up.”
“Oh my God. And how does a guy as smart as you get so dumb?”
“Yes, dumb! You fell for her, Josh, I know it. We all know it. It’s all over your face. It’s all over the way you act with her.”
“I don’t act any different with her than I do with everyone else,” he said.
“Really? So you pay all your babysitters a thousand dollars a day?”
“A week,” he muttered.
But she wasn’t listening. She was ranting on him some more. “I mean, I can’t understand how you can’t see it. Have you looked at yourself in that pic on Facebook? Or noticed how much more relaxed you are these past weeks?” She smacked him on the chest. “Relaxed, Josh. You! Hell, you even sold your practice so that you could have a private life. So wake up and smell the damn cupcakes—you’re crazy about her. You even let yourself depend on her. You, the King-of-Depending-on-No-One!”
“I pay her to be dependable.”
“Yes, well, you’ve paid me on occasion to work in your practice when you were short an RN,” she reminded him. “Does that mean we’re doing it by your pool like a pair of teenagers?”
“She told you?” he asked in disbelief.
“No, actually. Anna did,” she admitted. “And then both Amy and I pounced all over Grace for details—which she wouldn’t give, by the way. You know why that is, Josh?”
He wasn’t afraid of much, but even he knew to be afraid of Mallory when her eyes were crazy like they were now, so he said nothing.
“It’s because you don’t give details when you’re falling.” She drew a deep breath and studied him, hands on hips.
He held his ground in case she decided to hit him again, because for a little thing, she hit hard.
“Let me just say this. I love you, but if you hurt Grace in any way, I’m going to—” She huffed a minute. “Well, I don’t know what. Depends on what you did.”
Again with the assumption it was him.
Because it was, you dumbass…He pinched the bridge of his nose. “Look, it’s late. I’m tired. You’re tired. Did you need a minute to tell me something important or just to yell at me?”
She sighed. “I almost forgot. I wanted to know if you could pick up a shift at HSC this week.”
“Depends on when Grace leaves and if I have someone to cover Toby.”
“Oh, yeah. Right.” Mallory sighed and got quiet, very quiet. “I keep telling myself she’s not going to really go, you know?”
He did know. He knew because he’d been doing the same thing. The thought of Grace heading off to Seattle gave him a gut ache.
And a heartache.
Which proved Mallory’s point, of course. He was crazy about Grace, and he really had absolutely no idea how she felt. In the beginning, he’d mistakenly believed she needed him. That he was the one doing her the favor.
He’d been wrong. Very wrong.
Grace didn’t need a man to be the center of her universe. She wasn’t dependent on anyone. She would never be one more thing on any man’s plate to take care of. What had he been thinking to assume that? Especially since the truth was that she’d been taking care of him since day one. “I’m going home now,” he said. “Unless you want to hit me again.”
“Do I need to?” she asked.
She studied him for a long beat, then surprised him by sighing and stepping in to hug him tight. “It’s okay to be stupid in love,” she assured him, patting him like he was a little boy instead of a full-grown man who was a head and a half taller than her. “Once,” she said, this last word spoken in a definite warning tone. Then she stepped back and out the door before he could tell her that he’d already used his allotment of stupid in love.
Just over five years ago.
Except hindsight was always twenty-twenty. And he knew now that what he’d had with Ally hadn’t been so much love as lust. As for what he had with Grace, he wasn’t sure. It felt more like heartburn than anything else.
On the way home, he called Anna. She still didn’t pick up, but two minutes later he got a text from her that said he should leave her the hell alone, that she was with friends, that she was fine, and she’d come talk to him when she was “grown up” enough not to want to kill him.
He figured that might be a while. He drove by Devon’s place to make sure she wasn’t with him, but it was dark and no one answered the door. Relieved, he headed home.
His house was dark, too, just one small lamp in the living room. When he walked in, Grace stood up from the couch. “Toby’s asleep,” she said, and handed him his mail. Actually, she slapped it to his chest. “We had spaghetti. There’s leftovers, if you’re able to stomach canned sauce.” She headed to the door.
“You stayed,” he said.
She whipped around to glare at him.
Yeah. Admittedly, it wasn’t his finest opening. But he was dizzy with exhaustion and worry, and completely out of his element. Never a good combo. “I meant that I expected Riley—”
“I told her I had Toby,” she said. “Because I did. Did you really think I wouldn’t? That I’d just walk away?”
Whatever she saw in his face made her come close and stab him in the chest with her finger.
Ouch. Jesus, the women in his life were scary.
“You did,” she said in disbelief. “You thought the going had gotten tough, so I’d get going. Well, bite me, Dr. Scott. This job might have started out as a favor—for you I might add—but it’s not just a simple floral delivery or bookkeeping job.” She stabbed at him again. “This isn’t about the bottom line, or what balances and what doesn’t. It’s about a dog, and a kid, and a girl, and a man, all of whom needed me—or so I thought.”