Private Practice Excerpt
Copyright © 2013 by Samanthe Beck. All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce, distribute, or transmit in any form or by any means. For information regarding subsidiary rights, please contact the Publisher.
“To be honest, I’m relieved Roger and I called off our engagement.”
The snippet of conversation from the booth behind her pulled Dr. Ellie Swann’s nose out of her medical journal. She blinked and stared at the large window beside her. Its reflection offered a view of the bustling interior of DeShay’s Diner, including the booth where Melody Merritt and Ginny Boca huddled over pie and coffee.
Ellie forced her attention back to her journal and held her breath, waiting for the conversation to resume. No, Melody’s broken engagement was none of her business, and yes, eavesdropping was wrong, wrong, wrong. But she couldn’t resist listening in, because the discussion involved Roger Reynolds, the object of her longstanding and completely secret adoration.
“Roger and I weren’t well suited. I know we looked like the perfect couple—high school sweethearts and all—but between college in Manhattan, and then law school and the clerkship in DC, he changed. He picked up big-city tastes in some, ahem, intimate areas.”
Goodness. Ellie used her napkin to blot the sweat from her upper lip. Like what?
“What do you mean?” Ginny asked, her voice pregnant with curiosity.
Ellie flipped the page in her journal and feigned deep interest in an article about a recent drug trial for a female libido enhancer, of all things.
“He wanted me to—” Melody paused. Ellie peeked in the window and watched the blonde’s reflection glance around the diner, scanning the area for prying eyes and ears. Wise move. Sleepy little Bluelick, Kentucky, might be a mere speck on the map, but it boasted a grapevine of staggering efficiency.
Ellie shamefully included herself in the prying eyes and ears category, but the real irony was Melody’s choice of confidant. If the local gossips elected a president, Ginny would win by a landslide.
Apparently satisfied she had no unwanted listeners, Melody leaned toward Ginny and whispered. Ginny’s mouth dropped open. Ellie strained to hear, but it was no use.
The statuesque blonde leaned back in her chair and shuddered delicately. “I am not that kind of girl. I just won’t do those things. I mean, I like sex as much as the next woman, but Roger’s looking for a nymphomaniac. His ideal woman has a whole lot of experience and very few boundaries.” She sighed and shook her head. “I’ll always love him, as a friend, but really, it’s for the best.”
Hours later Ellie stared at the moonlight slanting through the window of her cozy bedroom and reviewed the conversation she’d overheard at the diner. Her conscience cringed at the rudeness of eavesdropping, not to mention coveting another woman’s freshly cast-off fiancé. Either transgression might explain why she was still tossing and turning at one thirty in the morning.
Let it go for the night, she told herself, but her stubborn mind refused to obey. Shadows played across the ceiling while she obsessed over how to turn her most cherished secret wish into reality. She’d had the dream, in one form or another, for as long as she could remember: Roger fell in love with her. They married, moved to one of the stately old houses overlooking the river, and lived happily ever after, preferably with a passel of blue-eyed, honey-haired mini-Rogers. Roger III first—they’d call him Trey—and then Michael, or Elizabeth, if they had a girl…
The low rumble of a motorcycle tore through the quiet of the warm June night, distracting her from her family planning. Abruptly, the noise ceased and silence reigned again, everywhere except between her ears.
Melody had headed the cheer squad in high school. She was beautiful, limber, and full of…pep. If Melody couldn’t satisfy Roger in the sack, what chance did academic-minded, unathletic, and comparatively inexperienced Ellie Swann stand?
So close, and yet so far. On one hand, their paths seemed perfectly aligned. She’d recently moved back to Bluelick to open her general practice and keep tabs on her father, who was facing, or more accurately ignoring, a type 2 diabetes diagnosis—not that he seemed particularly thrilled with her weekly check-ins. Roger had returned home to join his family’s law firm. They were both single young professionals looking for love. On the other hand, unless she transformed into a sexually adventurous woman, fast, he’d never give her a second glance.
Thankfully she wasn’t still “Sparky” Swann, the sad little dork she’d been in high school. Back then the most curvaceous thing about her had been the thick round glasses she’d worn to correct nearsightedness. The intervening years had brought the final flourishes of puberty, LASIK surgery, and a much-needed fashion intervention by her college roommates. Nobody mistook her for a Victoria’s Secret model, but at least she didn’t still look like a refugee from science camp.
What did Roger look like now? Letting her heavy eyelids drift closed, she conjured up his golden perfection in her mind’s eye. She could picture him clear as day, seated in pew four at Bluelick Baptist with the rest of the Reynolds clan, all tall and square-jawed in his Sunday best. Would his eyes retain their stunning sky-blue clarity? Would he still have his star quarterback’s body and thick, gilt-blond waves? It didn’t matter. She adored Roger for more than his pretty container. Everything about him appealed to her, from his large, loving family to his sense of tradition and duty, confirmed by his decision to follow in the footsteps of his father and grandfather, joining them in their law practice.
In the seamless way of dreams, Roger turned to her and smiled his heart-stopping, almost blindingly white smile. The congregation launched into a booming rendition of “Rise Up, O Men of God.” He winked and leaned in close. Can I share a secret with you, Sparky? I’m—
Something crashed, and a low, distinctly un-Roger-like voice muttered, “Goddammit!”
She bolted upright in bed, heart pounding. Her eyes automatically sought the red glow of her bedside clock: 1:47 a.m. Had her subconscious sound editor missed a cue, or had a real-life noise jarred her out of what had been shaping up to be a very interesting dream? Holding her breath, she listened intently, and then nearly screamed when another crash sounded from her front porch. Another muffled curse followed.
Her feet hit the floor. Her hand swept across the surface of the bedside table, searching for her phone. The slow, steady crunch of gravel betrayed someone’s progress around her cute and, gulp, isolated cottage. When the footfalls stopped, her racing heart pole-vaulted into her throat. Someone lurked outside her bedroom window.
Your open bedroom window, her mind screamed. What had she been thinking, going to sleep without locking the window? Now nothing but a flimsy screen and a wispy white curtain separated her from some crazed rapist-murderer. Unless this guy had the body mass of a mosquito, she was screwed.
She snatched up her phone and ordered herself to calm down. Bluelick wasn’t exactly a hotbed for cold-blooded violence. Everybody knew everybody and a good percentage of them were related. If she braved a look outside, she’d probably find some kid pulling a dare, more scared than she was.
A deep, almost lazy “Hey, Doc?” broke into her weak attempt at self-soothing.
The voice didn’t sound like a kid, or the least bit scared. Her fingers fumbled over the phone, tripping up the simple 9-1-1. If he wanted to come in, he’d be through the window and choking the life out of her in less than a minute. Emergency responders would reach her in time to draw a chalk outline around her cold, dead body.
“I’ve got a gun!” she croaked, trying for Dirty Harry, but sounding more like Kermit the Frog.
“Well, that’s fine, Doc,” the oddly familiar voice drawled. “But you don’t need it. I’ve already been shot.”
Shot? Holy smokes, was he serious? She flicked on her bedside lamp, but before she could formulate a response, he went on. “C’mon Sparky, open up. I heard you moved back home to hang out your shingle. Congratulations, you’ve got your first patient.”
That he’d called her “Sparky” didn’t mean much. The entire town knew her by that godforsaken nickname, but her fear ebbed, because an unmistakable stitch of pain threaded her mystery visitor’s voice.
She crept to the window. “Who are you?”
“Tyler Longfoot. Remember me?”
What woman could forget Tyler Longfoot? Four years older than her, a whole lot wilder, and monumentally cooler, Bluelick’s very own badass rebel had always radiated dangerous charm. A vision of him floated through her mind: the devil’s mane of thick, black hair; flashing green eyes filled with careless challenge; sensual lips cocked with wicked intent.
Pushing the curtain aside, she stared out. Sure enough, he stood there, a tall, rangy figure illuminated by the meager light from her bedside lamp. He wore his hair shorter now, but still a little untamed. It fell like a raven’s wing over his forehead. Otherwise, ten years hadn’t changed him much—or dimmed his bad-boy appeal.
“What the hell are you doing, slinking around my house at two in the morning?”
“Bleeding to death,” he said, not bothering to keep his voice down. Why would he? He’d already woken up the only other person around. “I’m not kidding, Doc. I need your help.” He leaned forward until the light fanned across his face, revealing pain-filled eyes.
“Why didn’t you ring the bell like a normal person?”
“Because after setting off every damn booby trap on your minefield of a front porch, I figured I had about fifteen seconds to get ’round here and let you know who it was before you called the cops or put another bullet in me.”
Her fingers automatically tensed on her phone. Okay, maybe his strategy wasn’t completely incomprehensible. Letting her gaze drift down, she tried to spot evidence of an injury. “You’re walking and talking pretty well for a man who’s supposedly been shot.”
“It’s a flesh wound, but it hurts like a mother—”
“All right. Go around. I’ll meet you at the front door.” He nodded and turned to go back the way he’d come. She grabbed her robe, shrugged it over her white nightie, and went to meet him. Along the way, her mind took an unscheduled trip back to sixth grade.
Even at twelve, she’d recognized that Tyler Longfoot oozed sex—hot, no-holds-barred sex—although at the time she wouldn’t have used those words. She’d gotten an eyeful of Tyler kissing Melody’s older sister, Melinda, behind the bleachers during a Bluelick Buffalos home game and had thought he looked like one of the rogues gracing the covers of the paperback novels for sale at Dalton’s Drugs. He’d certainly seemed to kiss like one. He’d bracketed Melinda’s slim waist with a lean, muscular arm, holding her close while the power of the kiss actually bent her backward. Ellie had felt light-headed and tingly just watching.
From the time she’d been old enough to daydream about happily ever after, she’d cast Roger in the role of Prince Charming, but seeing Tyler kiss had made her wonder what happened once the enchanted couple rode off into the sunset.
She flicked the porch light on and looked down. The garbage bags she’d placed by the front door in preparation to haul them to the end of the driveway tomorrow morning—well, later today—were toppled and the contents scattered. Into the mess stepped a pair of scuffed black work boots. They jutted from the fraying hems of well-worn jeans. Her eyes traveled up long, muscular legs, absently noticing worn-to-white stress points at the knees, along the creases near the front pockets…the fly. A picture of eager female fingers tugging those buttons invaded her mind.
Shoving the unhelpful image away, she continued her inspection. A white T-shirt stretched across the hard expanse of his chest and hinted at chiseled abs. A smear of something that looked suspiciously like pink lipstick decorated the collar, and some lighter imprints shimmered on the bronze skin of his neck.
When she reached his striking green eyes, she found them staring back at her, filled with equal parts pain and amusement. “Where’s your gun, Sparky?”
“I go by Dr. Swann nowadays.”
“Where’s your gun, Doc?” A grin teased his lips.
She brought her hand from her robe pocket and stuck it out at him, index finger extended from her fist, thumb cocked. “Bang.”
He staggered back playfully and then winced for real. “You got me.”
“Where?” She still saw no trace of an injury.
By way of answer, he strode past her into the hallway. She turned to follow and immediately spotted the dark stain spreading over his hip pocket.
It wasn’t a ton of blood, but enough to bring a twinge of apprehension. “Tyler…”
He stopped halfway down the hall. “Where do you want me?”
“In my office downtown.”
She caught up to him and put a hand on his arm. His muscle bunched beneath her fingers. “I’m not joking. Better yet, how about the ER in Lexington?”
“No, no. Let’s keep this between you and me. We go running into town, someone’s going to see us. At the ER, they’ll file a report of the shooting with the authorities.”
She removed her hand and stepped around so she faced him. “That’s going to happen anyway. I’m required to report any gunshot injuries to local law enforcement. If I don’t, I put my license in jeopardy.”
Without warning, he swayed and slumped against the wall. She grabbed him around the waist.
“Tyler! Tyler, do not pass out. You hold on to me, okay?” His arm around her shoulders felt reassuringly strong, and thankfully, his legs seemed able to support his weight. “Let’s go to my kitchen, so I can take a look and see exactly what we’re dealing with. Then I can decide where best to treat you.”
She doubted he was lucid enough to follow her suggestion, so he took her by surprise when he guided them down the hall to the kitchen and hit the lights.
Her eyes took a minute to adjust to the sudden brightness. Once they did, she focused on her patient. His color was just fine and his pupils fully responsive. “Funny, I don’t remember seeing you at the housewarming party.”
A smile tugged at one corner of his mouth. “I built this house. I know the layout well enough.”
“Oh.” That rang a bell. Maybe her father or, more likely, one of the handful of former classmates she’d run into had mentioned something about Tyler starting a construction company several years back.
He stood in the middle of her tidy kitchen, looking incongruous and extremely masculine next to her lemon-yellow curtains and matching dish towels. Heavens, he was…something. The mature, logical voice in her head momentarily regressed to high school and squealed, Oh. My. God. Hell-raising, cherry-popping Tyler Longfoot is standing in your kitchen, about to drop his pants. Then she remembered why. Shaking off the disturbing mental lapse, she inched toward the door. “Let me get some supplies. I’ll be right back.”
Get a grip, Ellie. He’s the one who should be feeling light-headed, not you. She hurried to the hall closet to retrieve her medical bag.
Slightly winded, she skidded into the kitchen and saw him standing with his jeans undone and hanging low on his hips, hands propped on her solid, butcher-block table.
“This work for you, Doc?”
Depending on the caliber of the bullet and where, exactly, he’d been hit, she could have a comparatively easy extract-and-stitch job, or something requiring sedation, an MRI, and a couple hours of intricate surgery. Better to keep him upright and theoretically mobile until she determined the severity of his injury.
“Yes, that’s good,” she replied in her best calm doctor voice. After scrubbing her hands in her deep farmhouse sink, she took a pair of rubber gloves from her bag.
She snapped them on, moved a chair into position behind him with her foot, and sat. Then she dug around in her bag and placed supplies on the table. When she had everything organized, she said, “Okay, I’m going to lower your jeans and shorts as gently as I can, but you might feel some tugging if any fabric adhered to the wound.”
“Well, Doc, I’m behind on my laundry, so it’s just jeans tonight. Hopefully that simplifies things.” He twisted to look at her as he spoke, causing the jeans to sink lower. A heartbeat later she heard his quick intake of air as she pulled one side down to give her better access to the wound.
“Sorry. This could be painful. We should probably stop right here, slap a pressure compress on and call an ambulance.”
“I’m fine, Ellie,” he insisted through a clenched jaw. “Just do what you gotta do.”
“Okaaay. Face front and be still.” He turned around, and she concentrated on the matter at hand. Within a moment, she’d carefully probed the thin, fairly shallow line of the wound and located the…bullet? Pellet? She was no munitions expert. It was a small metal projectile, embedded about a quarter-inch deep in the spectacularly carved indentation of his buttock, between the gluteus medius and the gluteus minimus. But when she gently separated the margins of the wound for a better look, her patient sucked in a harsh breath.
“Son of a— Are you amputating half my ass back there?”
“Not yet. Don’t distract me.”
“Take your time.” His clenched jaw didn’t quite muffle the sarcasm.
She loaded a syringe with local anesthetic. “Can you count to three for me?”
“Sure. One, two—”
Ellie jammed the needle in and depressed the plunger.
Tyler swayed like a palm tree in a high wind. “Jesus effing Christ! What happened to three?”
Ellie pulled the needle out and placed it on the table. While waiting for the anesthesia to take effect, she explained, “Three is where you tense up and a little shot ends up feeling like a knuckleball hitting your muscle at ninety miles per hour.”
“Oh, well, thank you very much. That felt like eighty-five miles per hour, tops.”
“You’re welcome.” Using gauze, she dabbed blood away from the injury. “Let’s give it a minute to work, and then I’ll remove the bullet and you’ll be as good as new in no time.”
A skeptical grunt served as his reply.
She selected a long, slender pair of tweezers from the table and lightly touched the wound. No reaction from the patient. “Want to tell me how this happened?”
“Would you believe, self-inflicted?”
She laughed. “Not a chance. Nor will I believe your dog, cat, bird, or iguana accidently discharged your gun. Nor, at this hour, will I believe it was a hunting accident.”
“Worth a try.”
“Try the truth,” she recommended, enjoying a moment of triumph as she snagged the small metal round between the tweezers and extracted it. She flushed the wound and pressed more gauze to the site.
He sighed. “I was down at Rawley’s Pub, having a drink and, um, let’s say chatting with Lou Ann Doubletree.”
Lou Ann had been a year ahead of Ellie in school, but she remembered the tall, sandy-haired blonde well enough. The older girl boasted two particularly unforgettable features. “Lou Ann Double D?”
“For a girl who’s not fond of her own nickname, you’re awful quick to toss out someone else’s.”
“She liked hers. She was proud of the body parts inspiring it.”
“They are inspirational, you gotta admit.”
“So I’m told,” she said, doing a mental eye roll. What was it with men and mammary glands? She tied off the thread on a surgical needle and prepared to start stitching. “So, you were at Rawley’s, chatting with Lou Ann, and…”
“She’s on-again-off-again with Junior Tillman. Remember him?”
The name sounded familiar. Her memory called up a wide, burly guy with a booming voice and a proclivity for smashing empty beer cans on his forehead whenever the Buffalos scored a touchdown. She completed the first stitch. “Beefy guy. Your year. Had a voice like a bullhorn?”
“That’s him. Anyway, according to Lou Ann, they’re currently off, but Junior showed up tonight with his drink most definitely on, and a slightly different recollection of where they’d left things.”
“So he shot you? I can’t believe you haven’t already called the cops.” Despite her agitation, she added another small, tidy stitch to the meticulous line. It would be a travesty to scar such perfection.
“No need to get all worked up. He went after me with the coon chaser he keeps in the gun rack of his pickup. He wasn’t aiming to kill me, just stake his claim.”
“Stake his… Oh my God, you’re all hopeless.” She tied off the final suture, cut the thread, and tossed the scissors on the table.
“Not my way of thinking, Doc. I’m just trying to explain what was going through Junior’s half-rocked mind. He’s going to feel real bad about this once he sleeps off the booze.”
“He can sleep it off in a cell,” she said firmly.
Tyler made a negative sound. “Junior’s a damn good builder, plus he’s got a four-year-old boy with a baby mama over in Ashland. If he’s in jail, it’s going to be real tough for him to make child-support payments. Then the kid suffers for Junior’s bourbon-fueled bad judgment.”
“He shot you. I’m obligated to notify the authorities. It’s nonnegotiable.” Considering the matter settled, she affixed a bandage over the stitches. “You’re done.”
He craned his neck to look at his bandaged cheek, then hauled up his jeans and turned around. Those hypnotic green eyes captured hers. His lips curved up in a slow, simmering smile. “Everything’s negotiable.”
Melody’s words from the diner floated through Ellie’s mind. Roger’s ideal woman has a whole lot of experience and very few boundaries.
Practicing medicine wasn’t a gig for the easily shocked, so she didn’t see boundaries as an issue. But experience? That was another matter. Maybe the answer stood before her, in the form of a walking, talking wealth of sexual know-how? Medically speaking, he also qualified as a walking, talking female libido enhancer.
“C’mon Doc, what would I have to do to persuade you to keep this between us?”