“Going to be?” Bill shook his head wryly. “Listen, Mallory, I believe in what you’re trying to do, and I want to be on your side. But let’s face the truth here—your proposed programs will bring a certain…demographic to Lucky Harbor, a demographic we typically try to divert away to other parts of the county. The town isn’t really behind this.”
“The town can be persuaded. People are in need, and HSC can meet that need.”
Bill was quiet a moment, and Mallory did her best not to fidget. She was only moderately successful.
“I’ll make you a deal,” Bill finally said. “At this week’s town meeting, I’ll give everyone a formal spiel, then ask for thoughts.”
People went to town meetings like they went to the grocery store or got gas. It was simply what everyone did. If Bill asked for opinions, he’d get them, in droves.
“If we get a positive response, I’ll consider a one-month trial run for HSC. One month, Mallory,” he said when she smiled. “Then we’ll reevaluate on the condition of the actual costs and the bottom line at that time. If you’ve got the budget for the rest of the year after that month, and if there’ve been no problems, you’re on. If not, you drop this.” He gave her a long look. “Is that acceptable to you?”
There was only one answer here. “Yes, sir,” she said with carefully tempered excitement.
“Oh, and that budget of yours better not include paying you to go to the pharmacy and pick up meds for our patients and then delivering them.”
He was referring to how she’d picked up Mrs. Burland’s meds for her just that morning and brought them to the woman’s home. How he’d found out wasn’t too much of a mystery. Lucky Harbor had one pharmacy. It was located in the grocery store, and everyone in town was in and out of that store often. Anyone from the pharmacist, to the clerk, to any of the customers could have seen her, and she hadn’t made a secret of what she was doing.
Nor had Mrs. Burland made a mystery out of how she’d felt about Mallory delivering her meds.
“Do you expect a tip?” she’d asked. “Because here it is. Put on some makeup and do something with your hair or you’ll never catch a man.”
At the memory, Mallory felt an eye twitch coming on but she didn’t let it dampen her relief. She was closer to opening the HSC than she’d ever been. “I did that on my own time.”
Bill nodded. “And if by some miracle, the town meeting goes well, how long would you need to get up and running?”
She’d had volunteer professionals from all over the county on standby all year. “I would open immediately with limited services, adding more as quickly as I can get supplies and staff scheduled.”
“See that ‘immediately’ is actually immediately,” Bill said. “And I’ll expect to see numbers weekly.”
An hour later, Mallory was on the ER floor, still doing the happy dance. Finally she had something other than sexy Ty to think about, because hoping for town approval and actually getting it were two very different things.
Not that she had time to think about that either, thanks to a crazy shift. She had a stroke victim, a diabetic in the midst of losing his toes, a gangbanger who’d been shot up in Seattle and made it all the way to Lucky Harbor before deciding he was dying, two drunks, a stomach-ache, and a partridge in a pear tree.
In between patients, she worked the phones like mad, preparing for a very tentative Health Clinic opening the following week.
The west wing in the hospital had once been the emergency department before the new wing had been built three years ago. It was perfectly set up for the clinic, easily accessible with its own parking lot. It needed to be cleaned and stocked. And she needed staff on standby. The list of what she needed and what she had to do went on and on.
When she yawned for the tenth time, Mallory went in search of coffee. As she stood there mainlining it, waiting for it to kick in—her mind danced off to revisit a certain storage room…big, warm hands, both rough and gentle at the same time, stroking her—
“Mallory, my goodness. Where are you at in that pretty little head, Disneyland?”
Mallory blinked and the daydream faded, replaced by the sight of her mother, who stood in front of her smiling with bafflement. “I called your name three times. And the same thing happened in the board meeting. Honey, what in the world are you thinking about today?”
She’d been thinking about the sound Ty had made when he’d come, a low, inherently male sound that gave her a tingle even now. “Dessert,” she said faintly. “I’m thinking about dessert.”
“Hmmm.” Ella looked doubtful but didn’t call her on it. “You’ve seen the paper.”
“You mean the local gossip rag masquerading as legit news?” They’d labeled Ty her boyfriend. Who’d run the fact check for that tidbit? “Yeah, I saw it.” Every person she’d come across had made sure of it.
“Honey, I just don’t think it’s a good idea to risk so much on a man you know nothing about.”
“It’s not about taking risks, mom.” And it wasn’t. Mallory had risked nothing, not really. Well, maybe she’d risked getting caught having wild sex in a public place, but she’d felt safe enough or she’d never have done it. No, for her it’d been about being selfish for the first time in recent memory, taking what she wanted. And yeah, maybe that was going to wreak some havoc on her personal life. But since when was worrying about what people thought a life requirement?
Since a long time ago. Since she’d got it in her head that she had to be good to be loved.
“Mallory, honestly,” Ella murmured, her tone full of worry. “This is so unlike you, seeing a man you don’t even know.”
Yes, Mallory, the shock. The horror. The good girl actually wanting something for herself. How dare she? “We’re not seeing each other,” she said. At least not how Ella meant.
“But the newspaper said—”
“We’re not,” Mallory repeated. Ty hadn’t said so in words, not a single one in fact, but he couldn’t have been more clear as he’d vanished.
“So you’re telling me that I’m worrying about nothing?” Ella asked.
“Unless you enjoy having to wash that gray out of your hair every three weeks, yes. You’re worrying about nothing.”
Her mother patted her brunette bob self-consciously. “Four weeks and counting. Do I need a touch-up?”
Just then, Camilla came running through, looking breathless. Camilla was a fellow nurse, twenty-two years old and so fresh out of nursing school she still squeaked when she walked. She was a trainee, and as such, got all the crap jobs. Such as signing in new patients. “He’s here,” she whispered dramatically, practically quivering with the news. “In the waiting room.”
“He?” Mallory asked.
Camilla nodded vigorously. “He.”
“Does ‘he’ have a name?” Ella asked dryly.
“Mysterious Cute Guy!”
Her mother slid Mallory a look. But Mallory was too busy having a coronary to respond. Why was he here? “Is he hurt or sick?”
“He asked for Dr. Scott,” Camilla said in a rush. “But Dr. Scott’s been called away.”
Mallory moved around Camilla. “I’ll take him.”
“Are you sure?” Camilla asked. “Because I’d be happy to—”
“I’m sure.” Heart pounding, Mallory headed down the hallway toward the ER waiting room, taking quick mental stock. She had nothing gross or unidentifiable on her scrubs, always a bonus. But she couldn’t remember if she was wearing mascara. And she really wished she’d redone her hair at break.
Ty was indeed in the waiting room. There was no noticeable injury. He was seated, head back, eyes closed, one leg stretched out in front of him. He wore faded Levi’s and a black T-shirt, and looked like the poster boy for Tall, Dark, and Dangerous. Pretty much anyone looking at him would assume he was relaxed, maybe even asleep, but Mallory sensed he was about as relaxed as a coiled rattler.
He opened his eyes and looked at her.
Inexplicably nervous, she glanced at the TV mounted high in a corner, which was tuned to a soap opera. On the screen was a beautiful, dark-haired woman getting it on with a guy half her age in a hot tub. She was panting and screaming out, “Oh, Brad. Oh, please, Brad!”
Oh, good. Because this wasn’t awkward enough. She hastily looked around for the remote but it was MIA. Naturally.
Ty’s brows went up but he said nothing; he didn’t need to. The last time she’d seen him, he’d been pouring on the charm and getting into her panties with shocking ease.
Okay, maybe not so much on the charm. Nope, he’d drawn her in with something far more devastatingly effective—that piercing, fierce gaze, which had turned her on like she’d never been turned on before.
Apparently nothing much had changed in that regard. She’d just handled three emergencies in a row without an elevation in her heart rate, but her heart was pumping now, thudding in her chest and bouncing off her rib cage at stroke levels.
He’d walked away from her, she reminded herself, clearly not intending to further their relationship—if that’s what one called a quickie these days.
The woman on the TV was still screaming like she was auditioning for a porno. “Oh God, oh Brad, yes!”
The air conditioning was on, which in no way explained why she was in the throes of a sudden hot flash. Whirling around, she continued to search in desperation for the remote, finally locating it sitting innocuously on a corner chair. It still took her a horrifyingly long time to find the mute button, but when she hit it, the ensuing silence seemed more deafening than the “Oh Brad, please!” had been.
She could feel Ty looking at her, and she bit her lower lip because all she could think about was that he’d made her cry out like that too.