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I jumped up, expecting the other guy to take his place, but he held on to Candy, his hand on her ass, and I guess she decided something was better than nothing, as she quit trying to get away.

“We done here?” I asked the guy. “Because we’re about to have an official visitor.”

He grimaced and refused to acknowledge me, getting up painfully from the floor.

“Time’s a’wasting.” Mario pushed me to the door.

We were pulling out of the lot when we saw the lights flashing down the street.

“Hell, you could have fucked with him a whole extra minute,” Mario said. “You’re losing your edge.”

I stared out the window. If I was going to make any of this work with Corabelle, or with a kid, I had to do a major life overhaul.

24: Corabelle

The doctor leaned over me the next day, pressing the stethoscope in various positions on my chest. I’d cleared my parents out of the room, tired of their omnipresence, and snatching any excuse to get a little privacy.

He stood up. “I’ll wait on the X-rays to be sure, but you’re sounding pretty good.”

“So going home today?”

“Let’s look at those images first.”

“So not today.”

He patted my shoulder. “Probably not today.”

I flung myself back against the raised bed. “I haven’t even coughed in hours. The last suction came up pretty empty.”

“All good signs. But relapse is common when you’ve been as far down as you were. Let’s take some precautions.”

“I am never going swimming again.”

He laughed. “I hear you want to go to art therapy.”

“You going to let me out of the room?”

He tucked the tablet under his arm. “I’ll clear it. But if you do start expelling phlegm again, don’t go. For everyone’s safety. Deal?”

“Deal.”

The moment he left, my parents filed back in, resuming their positions.

“So,” Dad said. “Any ‘get out of jail free’ cards?”

“Not yet. They’re going to look at the X-ray.”

Mom pulled out her knitting again, something new, probably another endless throw.

“You know, you guys don’t have to stay here. I’m going to be fine. Dad, don’t you have to get back to work?”

“I’m allowed to take sick time for family.” He snapped open a newspaper. “This is better than work any day.”

I reached for my backpack even though I was caught up on all my reading. Gavin had brought the astronomy work home, but I had no idea what the assignments were for my lit classes. My e-mails to the profs had just gotten kind replies of “Get well.” I didn’t want to lose those credit hours, and I couldn’t even imagine the work that was piling up. I’d write them again today, tell them I was up for writing the papers, at least.

Yet another new nurse came in and introduced herself as Helen. “The good news is, you can take a shower today.”

I threw back the covers. “Really?”

She opened the bathroom door. “Don’t get chilled. Make sure the water is good and hot, and dry your hair immediately.”

I was already turning on the faucets. I didn’t even care about the industrial shampoos. I could do it again later with nicer stuff.

“Remember there’s a help cord if you need someone.”

I nodded and waited impatiently for her to leave.

I closed the door and stripped off the infernal cotton gown I was so sick of. The spray was delicious, pounding and hot. I washed my hair, then washed it again, finally starting to feel like the sand grit was really gone.

I wished for Gavin to be with me, pressing against my back, his arms around me. We’d only showered together once in this brief time we’d been back together, but it was seared into my memory. The water had gleamed on his arms, running in rivulets along the indentations of his biceps. I’d been mesmerized by their trailing paths, and turned in to him, to see all the other places the water would go.

He’d had droplets on his eyelashes, little diamonds that flew off when he shook his head. He’d taken my heavy wet hair in his hands and twisted it up, turning me around again so he could run a washcloth across my back.

His lips followed the path, skimming across my shoulders and coming up to my neck. He released my hair over the opposite shoulder so his hands could come around, kneading my breasts, slippery with soap.

I could feel him hot and hard against my back and pressed into his body. We had never gotten far in a shower when we were young, either afraid of being caught when I lived at home, or later, in our own apartment, refraining due to my girth from the baby, and my clumsiness. But this, I could see how it could work.

One of his hands slid along my belly and down below, toying with the folds. My knees started to waver, but his other arm came around my waist, holding me solidly against him. He found the little nub he was searching for, and began to work it in lazy circles. I reached out to steady myself against the tile wall as the world tilted.

The water splattered against my skin, heightening everything. He spread me wider, probing more deeply, and a mewling sound squeezed out of my throat. The steam rose off my body, and he moved faster, pressing his hips into my back with every stroke of his fingers. I felt a dam threatening to burst and leaned forward, wanting more of him, all of him.

I wasn’t sure what to do about the height difference when he lifted my thigh to prop one foot on the side of the tub. I understood now, bending over. He braced my other foot with his so I wouldn’t slip, then guided himself into me. He was shockingly hot, waiting on the edge as I wasn’t as slippery as he was used to, but then he was in, thick and throbbing.

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