She smiled when he entered. “Hey, Doc. Tell me you’re here to give me a shift.”
“No. Don’t you have Dr. Wells today?”
“He ended up with an emergency in Seattle and can’t show.”
Shit. Josh eyed the filled waiting room. “Martin didn’t get you a replacement?”
Mallory shook her head. They both knew Martin Wells thought he was too good to give his time to the HSC, that he felt the ER was lucky to get him once a week on contract from Seattle. “I don’t know what I have waiting for me in the office,” Josh said. “But I’ll try to get back over here.”
“Thanks,” she said gratefully. “But if you’re not here to work, what can I do for you?”
“I need to locate Grace.”
Mallory arched a brow. “Grace?”
“I need her dog walking services again.”
“But you fired her yesterday.”
He grimaced. He’d been sort of hoping she wouldn’t know that. Mallory was an amazing nurse, the fiancée of one of his closest friends, and she was as fierce as a mother about the people she cared about—Grace being one of those people. “Yeah, I might have been hasty on that,” he said.
Mallory studied him. “She’s something, isn’t she?”
Yes. Yes, Grace was something all right. “So, do you have her number? My phone died in the ocean.”
“Yes, I have her number.”
He waited but she didn’t give it to him. He looked at his watch. “Mallory.”
“You have to promise to apologize for hurting her feelings yesterday.”
“I didn’t hurt her feelings.”
Mallory just gave him a long look. Jesus, he didn’t have time for this. Neither of them did. “Fine,” he said. “I’ll apologize for hurting her feelings. Just tell me where to find her.”
“I’m sorry, I can’t. It’s against the code.”
“Yeah, the code. Listen, if one of your friends had gotten hurt by a girl, and then that girl wanted his phone number from you, would you give it out?”
“Mal, you’re sleeping with one of my friends every night. Why would I give some girl Ty’s number?”
She sighed. “None of this matters right now anyway. Grace isn’t going to answer her phone. She’s working.”
“Walking more dogs into the ocean?”
“Okay, that was your crazy puppy’s fault, and no, it’s Wednesday morning, so she’s at Lucille’s art class at the gallery.”
“Thanks.” Josh moved to the door, then turned back. “Can you call my office and tell them I’m running half an hour behind, and see if someone picked me up a replacement phone yet?”
“It’ll cost you.”
“Let me guess,” Josh said. “Chocolate cake?”
She smiled sweetly. “From the B and B, please.”
Tara, the chef at the local B&B, made the best chocolate cake on the planet. “Noted.” Josh left HSC and drove through Lucky Harbor, past the pier to Lucille’s art gallery. The place was an old Victorian, possessing 150 years of charm and character, sitting comfortably on its foundation in its old age. When he stepped inside, a bell above his head chimed, and Lucille poked her head out of a room down the hall.
She was somewhere near eighty. She favored pink polyester tracksuits and matching lipstick and was the heart and soul of Lucky Harbor—not to mention the Central Station for all things gossip. “Dr. Scott!” she said, beaming in delight at the sight of him, patting her bun as if to make sure it was still stacked on top of her head. “Are you here to join our drawing class?”
“No, I need to speak to one of your students.”
“Uh-oh. Do you think Mrs. Tyler’s having another heart attack?”
Christ, he hoped not. “Not Mrs. Tyler.”
“Whew. Don’t tell me Mrs. B’s got hemorrhoids again. I keep suggesting that she eat more prunes, but she doesn’t listen. You need to tell her.”
Mrs. Burland was one of Josh’s patients. In fact, she refused to see any doctor other than Josh—but she didn’t listen to him any more than she did Lucille. “Not Mrs. B,” he said. “I’m looking for Grace Brooks.”
Lucille blinked in surprise. “Well, honey, why didn’t you say so? Sure, you can speak to her, but she’s not one of my students. She’s our model.”
“Yes, today we’re drawing the nude form.”
Not much surprised Josh. Actually, nothing surprised Josh. But this did. “Grace is the nude model?”
“Learning to sketch the nude human form is standard practice for a beginning drawing class,” she said. “We always hire a nude model. Last season I did it myself.”
While he was adjusting to the horror of that, Lucille went on. “The female form is the most beautiful form on earth. Very natural.” She pushed the studio door open, revealing Grace on a pedestal, a robe pooled at her feet, her body twisted into some ballerina pose. Her blond hair was loose, wavy to her shoulders, shining like silk, her limbs bare and toned.
She wasn’t nude. At least not completely. She was wearing one of those long gimmick T-shirts so common in beach shops, with the form of a very curvaceous woman on it in a skimpy string bikini.
Lucille grinned at him. “She was feeling a little shy.”
Holding her pose, Grace narrowed her eyes on Josh. “What are you doing here?”
“He came to see you,” Lucille said.
Grace’s eyes narrowed a little bit more. “You draw?”
“Not even a little bit,” Josh said. She should have looked ridiculous. She had a knockout body, but it was completely covered up, from chin to shin, in that oversized shirt. Her feet were bare, her toenails painted a bright pink.
She didn’t look ridiculous at all. She looked the opposite of ridiculous. In fact, she looked good enough to gobble up with a spoon. Without a spoon. He was thinking his tongue would work…
“Why are you here?” she asked.
“My dog needs a dog walker today.”
Not saying a word or moving a single muscle, she managed to say no. It was all in the eyes.
She had amazing eyes.
“You’re a dog walker?” Lucille asked Grace in surprise.
“No,” she said.
This was news to Josh. “Your flyer said you were an ‘experienced dog walker.’”
Grace winced at this, then bit her lower lip as she looked away.
“Hold still, dear,” one of the budding artists said.
“Sorry.” Grace cleared her expression and got back into her pose. “The flyer wasn’t mine,” she admitted to Josh. “You called the wrong number.”
“I called the wrong number.” He absorbed this a minute. “And yet you were willing to go work for a perfect stranger who needed his dog walked?”
“Hey, don’t blame me. You were the one willing to hire a perfect stranger.”
Unbelievable. “You had references on that flyer!”
“Did you actually call any of them?” she asked.
Suddenly, he needed Advil. “So you’d go work for anyone who called?” He hated that she needed work that badly. “Jesus, Grace, I could have been a psycho.”
“Or mean,” she pointed out.
“I wasn’t mean.”
Her expression said she thought otherwise. And then there was another thing. The T-shirt. It was hard to get past the huge cartoon breasts, stuffed into that cartoon itty-bitty bikini. And he couldn’t help but wonder.
What was she wearing beneath the T-shirt?
“Honey, you’re looking a little tense,” Lucille said to Grace. “We haven’t studied tense yet. Can you go back to serene?”
Grace did just that, and Josh dipped his head and studied his shoes for a long moment, until the desire to strangle Lucille had passed. “Fine,” he said, looking up at Grace again. “I’m sorry I didn’t keep you on as my dog walker.”
“And yet you’re not sorry for being mean.”
It wasn’t often that he didn’t know what to do. But he honest to God had no idea what to do with her.
“Look,” she said, still holding her pose. “I nearly lost your dog. You had to come into the ocean to save me, and I got you all wet. I was a mess and a terrible dog walker. I get it.”
“You weren’t that terrible.”
“Are you just saying that so I’ll come back?”
Well, yes. But even he knew that was a trick question. With a minefield all around it. “Please,” he said.
Everyone in the room was following this conversation like they were at Wimbledon in the final match, but all eyes had landed on Grace now, waiting breathlessly for her answer.
“You weren’t exactly friendly,” she finally said, noncommittal.
In unison, the heads swiveled back to Josh, eyes narrowed in censure.
He drew a breath, remembering what Mallory had told him, that he’d hurt Grace’s feelings. He hadn’t meant to, of course, but even he knew enough about women to understand that didn’t mean shit. Once feelings were hurt, it took an act of congress to reinstate status quo. Since he wasn’t used to apologizing for his actions, he kept it simple. “You’re right. I wasn’t friendly. I was overworked, stressed, and in a hurry. I’m sorry.”
“Sorry, or desperate?”
Desperate? Hell no. She was the desperate one. But if he said so, he’d lose the tentative ground he’d just made. So he pulled out his ace in the hole. “I’ll double the pay.”
This got her attention enough to make her break the pose. Hell, it got everyone’s attention.
Even Lucille set down her pencil. “What do you think, ladies?” she asked the room. “Should Grace give Dr. Scott another shot?”