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Fourteen years later, July 2016
“All done,” Travis Dixon said, clasping the patient’s shoulder gently to rouse him as the anesthesiologist fitted the heart monitor onto the bed rail and tethered the IV to the pole.
Command Sergeant Major Reyes’s head lolled, the anesthesia wearing off. This patient, his former army sergeant, injured in another tour after Travis’s stint had ended, was another person helped in Boss’s honor. People like him were the reason Travis had switched horses in midstream—pun intended—from horses to humans. Funny how he might be back to horses, now, too, if he bit the bullet and contacted his little bro, Toby, about the therapeutic stable and clinic he was codirecting with Dr. Lopez. Lopez was circling like a wolf stalking prey, nagging him, “Unless you can think of a closer location, we’re gonna have to go with that land in Dallas. The hospital needs to put in an offer soon, so we can break ground on schedule.” Yeah, he had land at his fingertips for the state-of-the-art physical therapy clinic and stable just a couple hours away in Alpine, much closer than Dallas, if he could only call Toby to ask. Funny how something so simple as a phone call seemed so hard.
“You did great, man. No beer kegs or partyin’ now,” he grinned, tapping him with the back of his fingers. “I don’t wanna hear from those nurses that you’re giving ’em a hard time, y’ hear?”
“You know me, Dixon,” Reyes said, attempting to smile, his throat sounding thick and sore from the trach tube that had just been extracted. “Already ordered that keg.”
“Yeah, I got your number. Party animal,” Travis teased, then clasped him. “Rest, and I’ll see you in recovery to talk about that meniscus. ’Kay?”
Reyes nodded, more alert, as his slurred joking ebbed away. “My wife? My daughters?”
“On my way to see them right now. They love you and they’re anxious for an update. Keep an eye on Dr. James, y’ hear?” He winked at the anesthesiologist and flashed a grin. “She’s a crazy bed driver.”
Dr. James was cute. And he had it on account she thought the same thing about him. Except she was married—Of course. The ones with brains and beauty always are.
“You let him get away with that?” Reyes said to Dr. James, a sense of humor in spite of his groggy state.
“Oh, don’t worry, I’ll pay him back,” Dr. James said on a grin, flashing Travis what he knew was a smile behind her mask that pulled up her pretty green eyes into half-moons.
“Yeah, she will.” Travis soaked up the twinkle in her eye.
James pushed the bed into the corridor as the heart monitor bleeped steadily, undercutting the noise the scrub tech was making by clinking bloodied tools into the bin for sterilizing. Travis dropped his face shield and moved to the counter under the observation window to collect his phone, plugged into the sound system softly playing his internet radio playlist to help him concentrate. Oasis’s “Wonderwall” had just tapered off. A new song was starting, a country one? What the heck? He thought he’d disliked everything his internet radio tried to shuffle around until he had a nice, late-nineties-to-early-two-thousands grunge and alternative rock playlist.
It was a familiar song, though… Shit, he’d recognize that twangy guitar lead-in anywhere. The unmistakable melody and lively rhythm cut through his thoughts. He’d heard his pops play this Randy Travis bit for his momma time and again. He’d at one time, so long ago, played it for a girl he’d once loved.
…I’m gonna love you, forever and ever, forever and ever, amen…
Unzipping zipper in his ears. Skylar’s powdery dress slackening. Her sweet breath hitching, their song filtering into the starlit, nighttime air from his portable CD player. So in love with her as pulses raced like wild horses set loose upon the range, as he became her first…
He gave the song a thumbs down. The radio cut to a more predictable Soundgarden song. He ought to delete the old country tears-in-your-beers playlist he never listened to anyway, and maybe the program would stop trying to shuffle the different genres.
He X’d out of the app and snapped the cord from the stereo. And yet it reverberated through his mind, like a distant memory shimmering across a void he’d crossed a long time ago and never looked back upon to see how far he’d come.
Skylar Rivers, the one he’d let get away. He’d never be that savior who hauled her out the window to spirit her off into the night anymore, joyriding in his truck, Red Lightning; dancing it up; making out like frenzied animals atop Cerro Casas Grandes, the beautiful plateaued mountain on his ranch—no, Toby’s ranch now—unable to get enough of each other as the wind blew them in any direction it chose. The world had been their own big oyster. He’d once believed they could do anything, overcome everything, if they just had each other. He couldn’t think about those high school days and not think about her: the sunshine yin to his talkative yang, the high school yearbook had said.
He smiled wistfully and pocketed his cell in the breast pocket of his blue surgical scrubs. Wonder what Skylar’s up to? He hoped she’d gotten that family and mess of animals she’d always wanted. Her life had been hard, and his, in hindsight, so breezy, growing up as part of the wealthy Dixon Cattle Co. family that had dominated the beef industry since before the turn of the twentieth century, owning one of the largest, most beautiful ranches in western Texas, the Legacy. Silver spoons and anything he’d truly wanted had been his—until he’d gone down to that army recruitment office, bent himself over the proverbial table, and let his future get fucked hard.
“G’night,” he said to the nurse who was shutting down equipment for the weekend.
“G’night, Dr. Dixon. What are you up to this weekend? I’ve got a date,” the nurse replied with swagger in her hips and excitement threading her words.
“Aw, you ain’t gonna ask me out?” He grinned, winking, jutting his chin.
She was at least twenty years too old for him and happily married, given the sugary way in which she chatted about her hubs, but he had no idea how to talk to a woman without flirting. And he knew for a fact from the gossip that he wasn’t hurting for admirers.
She smacked his arm. He feigned dodging it as a laugh worked its way out of their throats.
“Don’t you go on making my husband jealous, Dixon,” she said. He grinned. “Morgan’s taking me to dinner and a movie. What about you? You got a date, Mister Single Doctor?” she countered, clicking the mouse and checking off items.
His smile inched down a notch. Thank God for masks to hide behind.
“Really?” She seemed intrigued. “Where are you taking the lucky lady?”
He smiled again. “Back to my place to cuddle on my futon—” She gasped, and he chuckled at her reaction—like he’d actually tell someone he was bringing home a booty call—and he winked again. “If you count my dog lying across my ankle while I zone to fantasy baseball as a hot date.”
The techs cleaning up the blood and chips of bone off the floor sniggered.
She groaned and rolled her eyes. “God, Travis, you had me going there for a sec.”
He grinned harder now—bravado—as the anesthesia techs attached new wires to the machine and dumped a handful of new trach tubes in the drawer.
The nurse shook her head. “Pathetic. A cute guy like you?”
That his futon mattress was flopped atop a slab of plywood on four cinderblocks, like a damned truck in primer gray, might’ve been too much for these normal people to handle. But why bother with furniture when it was just him and his mutt? He could take a girl out. He didn’t have to bring her home.
“You oughta be at the club on a Friday night with some cute girl,” she continued.
Yeah. Negative to club. Or the alcohol. Medicine had helped him reinvent himself. This was his playground now, not any barrel-riding competitions or desert escapades with the sexiest chick in the world tucked against his chest and thigh while he revved Red Lightning’s accelerator like a lead foot and kicked up dirt. The action of a trauma, the purpose behind his every surgery, this was the thrill he now chased, not the wind in his hair like he once had, and judging by Ashley down in the ED, he had a new, viable conquest on the radar.
He played off her remark with a lazy salute goodbye, but if he played his hand right, he’d soon have Ashley’s phone number.
He strode into the corridor, pushing the foot pedal down on the scrub station and checking the monitor on the wall to see what surgeries were still in progress, tucking into the sink as the water sluiced off his hands to make room for a bed being wheeled to recovery. The tech, some cute twenty-something, eyed him.
He gave her his hallmark “Dixon chin jut” and a grin that he knew dimpled his cheek, even though she couldn’t see it behind his mask. “Sup?”
The tech giggled to herself, her eyes twinkling, just like Dr. James’s eyes had—
“Dr. Dixon…physician’s lounge… Dr. Dixon…physician’s lounge…”
The paging system called mechanically through the overhead system. He patted his hands dry with a paper towel and plucked his hospital phone from his holstered pocket on his drawstring pants. Tapping the lounge’s extension, he tucked it against his ear.
“Dixon here,” he said as he breezed past the tech and patient bed without another glance, ignoring the muttered comment about “…hot…surgeon…Dixon…”
“Hey, man, Lopez just scrubbed into Room Eight, and I gotta volunteer in the clinic before the director gets pissed. I know you’re about to take off for the weekend, but can you catch a consult in ED?” Like middle schoolers, they shared a chuckle at the acronym. This medical gig could really warp a sense of humor. “Hate to do it to you on Friday at five, but they need a cowboy down there, and of course as the resident, they pinged me first.”
Travis snorted at the joke. Meyers loved taking offensive medical slang and appropriating it for his own glory. Cowboy meaning surgeon. And he took exceptional pride in calling Travis one, considering Travis was both a surgeon and had been born with a Stetson halo, a Stetson he no longer had a reason to wear.
“You’re probably ready to blow this joint,” Meyers added.
Naw, he loved his job. Loved that he’d found something to work toward and distinguish himself in after those dark months long ago, but he was also starving after missing lunch today.
“I’m hoping I can score a date, man,” Travis added, grinning.
More importantly, he needed to get home to Yoda, his dog. Women seemed to think his affection for the dog was cute, an adorable ploy to get them to talk to him. He might have milked that reaction a time or two.
“Sorry to cramp your style,” Meyers said.
Travis strode toward the sterile hallway’s exit, dropping his mask as he passed through it, letting it sag around his neck. “No prob. Gotta go update my knee’s family in the waiting room first, though. Is the patient stable?”
“Yeah, anterior dislocation, muscle spasms—pretty routine. But Lopez wants to know if your knee’s okay to keep standing on.”
“Why wouldn’t it be?”
Irritation bloomed, but he swallowed the bite out of his gruff response. He hated that Lopez had the entire staff twittering around him, trying to gauge if he was okay. What the hell about top of his class, summa cum laude, Ferguson Fellowship, multiple research grants, program codirector at the age of thirty-three said he wasn’t okay? Did Lopez think reminders about his leg were helpful?
“’Cause you’ve been on it for the past eight hours and are probably hungry?” Meyers said as if Travis was a dumbass who needed the reminder.
His stomach rumbled as if to drive the point home about that missed lunch, now tepid on his office desk, too.
“So?” Travis frowned. Don’t you dare treat me like a crippled SOB. More determined now, he dug his stubborn heel in.
“Okay, man, don’t bite the messenger.”
“Tell Lopez I’ll worry about my leg if he worries about drafting a decent pitcher for our fantasy baseball team. I got the consult.”
“Lifesaver, man.” Meyers chuckled.
Travis’s knotted-up chest relaxed an increment. That gruff edge to his voice had a way of surfacing and fringing his words with unintended sharpness when he least expected it, biting at people he cared about. It was one of the reasons he didn’t talk to his brothers often—they always asked how his leg was like a troop of mother hens, and it pissed him off, made him clam up.
He tapped off the phone, breezing his lab coat off a hanger and shrugging into the starched material. The protein bar in his coat pocket banged his thigh as he walked, and he plucked it out, tearing it open, ripping off a bite. Chewed. Swallowed. His stomach, teased by the insulting substitution for a meal, rumbled for more.
Finding the Reyes family in one of the private niches by the front windows, Ms. Reyes stood, two tween daughters rising beside her.
“There’s Dr. Dixon now,” she said as he stepped into the niche and closed the glass door behind him.
“Hey there,” Travis grinned, shaking Ms. Reyes’s hand and patting it with his other. His smile instantly brought smiles to their faces. “Your husband did fantastic. He’s in recovery. That scar tissue required a few workarounds, but I anticipate that with that ACL repaired, he’ll see big improvements in his range of motion, and we can focus on the meniscus now. Ain’t gonna be runnin’ bases, but he’s not gonna need those walking aids. Not anymore.”
“Oh, that’s promising,” Ms. Reyes said, exhaling and wrapping her arms around her girls, who hugged her in return.
“Can we see Daddy?” one of the girls asked.
Daddy. He was happy that Reyes got to claim that title. He’d always wanted to hear his own progeny call him that. But not all guys, it seemed, were destined to be procreators.
He nodded once. “He’ll be on his way to his inpatient room soon. Talk to the folks at the desk over there. They’ll tell you which floor to go to. I’ll stop by later to show you and him the post-op X-rays. Sound good?”
The family nodded, smiling.
“Good. Now no frettin’,” he added, then grinned sidelong at the children and thumbed toward the snack counter near the desk. “And let those girls of yours grab an ice cream from that chest over there.”
Ms. Reyes fished out her wallet for dollars.
“Nope—on the house.” His mouth tipped up in a one-sided smirk as he gestured toward it with a head nod and winked. “Go on, girls. I hear they got Snickers ice cream bars in there, and I’m hungry enough to eat ’em all if y’all don’t get to them first.”
Ms. Reyes took Travis’s hand as the girls yanked the door open, giggling, and raced each other to the freezer case. “You sure are good with kids.”
No comment. He forced the other side of his mouth up to make a smile.
“When are you going to settle down and get married? Don’t you want a family?”
“Nope.” Baby feet and puppy paws running amok through his house was no longer the dream. “But I love ’em.”
Her voice dropped. “Thank you, Travis, for everything. My husband speaks so highly of you. You’ve given him his life back. He was so debilitated, and it was weighing down his spirit. I almost didn’t recognize him anymore.”
Wistfulness surged in his chest again. The rush he got from the OR was chased with this wistfulness every damn time. “Just give him his life back! God, oh God, just bring him back! C’mon, Boss, you can’t die…” He nodded once, letting the echo of memories past recede. Reyes’s wife was talking, and he wasn’t hearing her.
He patted her shoulder—
“Anyway, as always, thank you for your service,” she said.
Oh man, this old song and dance? Thanking him for his service? Yeah, thanks for not dying when you were a dumbass kid with barely two boots on the ground overseas and a giant fucking chip on your shoulder.
He forced himself to nod. The smile on her face was so sincere, he didn’t have it in him to project his bitterness outward. But he’d always felt like more of an imposter with that Purple Heart. What had he done to earn it? Patting her hand once more, he breezed out of the waiting room, fished his earbuds out of his lab coat pocket, hit play on Soundgarden, and checked his email. Chewing another bite off his protein bar, he opened Lopez’s email at the top of his inbox about their new physical therapy initiative: a therapeutic riding center.
Check out All Creatures Great and Small Veterinary. The vet’s top in her field. My golden retrievers are patients of hers, but she’s got a rep as an equine cancer researcher, horse rehabilitation through her rescue, and has a stable full for therapeutic riding. The price tag we’re gonna offer her for horses and contract for veterinary care might be enough for her to consider traveling to Dallas, too. Can’t use her ranch here, sadly. She rents it from Tyson Beef, and he’s not selling.”
Eugene Lopez, DO, MD
Director of Orthopedic Surgery and Research
V-Tech Memorial Medical Center
Travis stepped unevenly down a stairwell and out into the emergency department lobby. He jammed the unfinished protein bar into his pocket as he approached the nurse’s station and squirted a poof of sanitizer from the wall pump into his palm, rubbing it around. Horse rehabilitation. Like, equine therapy? Or therapy for riders?
That old, forgotten voice, the boy who’d dreamed big dreams about a horse sanctuary only for his daddy to stomp his boot upon it and grind it into dust, whispered in the depths of his mind.
“Hey, Ash.” He smiled at the nurse, pulling the earbuds out again and dropping them upon his lapel once more. His mouth pulled up into a grin and grinned even harder when it elicited the response he’d wanted from her. Coy stare and kissable smile. “Ortho consult?”
“Hey, Dixon,” she replied, a divot in her cheek and chin, wide brown eyes as she handed him a chart, her gaze trailing over his physique as a pair of police officers sauntered from the triage unit, their walkie-talkies muttering statically at their shoulders. “I was hoping they’d send you.”
Yeah, her number was all his. Once he scored it, he’d ask her out and end his dry spell.
Ashley smirked playfully up at him. He popped his dimple at her and gave her a stiff head nod to say hello as he flipped the chart over and scanned the notes.
Ashley’s fingertips brushed against his—on purpose, judging by the divot in her cheek never “undivoting”—as she pointed to a couple things in the chart and began giving him the lowdown. His pulse raced at the contact, eager to get his hands on her once the time was right. His dick twitched as her fingers feathered against his skin, as her eyes flashed with heat, as if trying to get a read on him. Yeah, missing leg or not, he was still a guy and his equipment got all hot and bothered at the mere thought of a gorgeous woman naked beneath him.
With her, there’d be no strings attached. No expectations of girlfriend status. Sex. Hot sex. It was all he needed and all she wanted.
“Kid arrived by ambulance an hour ago. Left dislocated shoulder, no fractures. Brandon Bridges, fourteen, stable, got the Versed-Propofol duo for pain management.”
Huh. Boss’s given name had been Brandon. Little untimely coincidences like this one popped up once in a while, too, just as they’d done with the song up in the OR, reminding him of simpler, happier times—
“Dr. Glasser can’t get muscle spasms to relax. Truck sideswiped his mom’s vehicle, and she collided with a fence post.”
“Is the mom okay?” he asked as his eyes perused the kid’s diagnosis, music emanating faintly from the loose earphones.
No damage to the circumflex nerve. Anterior impact—the kid braced the dashboard when the impact occurred and the airbag deployed. Damn.
“Mom’s bruised from her airbag, but she seems okay. Lucid enough to refuse treatment and stubborn AF about it. She just wants us to worry about her kid. She’s pretty shaken. Refused to lie on the bed, like just touching it upset her.”
“Twelve.” Ashley practically batted her eyes.
He grinned, enjoying the way her plump lips, shimmery with lip gloss, pulled upward into a tantalizing smile that did nothing but make him picture what they looked like when she was on her knees, gazing up his navel at him as she—A delighted gleam flickered in her eyes.
He nodded his thanks as she slid a folded sticky note across the counter and into his fingers. He glanced at it. Her number. Ego boosted. He winked, jutted his chin at her. Score a point for team Dixon. He began walking to Bay Twelve, tapping off his music on his cell, as Ashley swiveled away to answer the beeping phone, slapping a stack of charts in front of her.
His eyes scanned the chart as he approached the drawn curtain, grabbing hold of the hem to yank it back—He froze midsentence.
All lackadaisical excitement about Ashley dissipated. All tingling excitement below the waist was doused, like water on a campfire, as his eyes landed on a name that might have been churned up in his memories because of that stupid song in the OR but he hadn’t actually read in a long time. His chest tightened in such a strange way. He reread the name again. Again.
His hand dropped from the curtain. Is this for real?
A new course of tingling erupted on his skin, pebbling it painfully with goose bumps. A pair of beat-up women’s ropers paced beneath Bay Twelve’s curtain, the soft, higher-pitched voice he would know to this day, now that he was listening, in spite of fourteen years separating them as she spoke in muted tones. Heat infused his body like an endorphin rush. But this time, it had nothing to do with Ashley teasing him. It was dusty, unabashed attraction with a twist of concern like he was still that kid who wanted to be her hero.
A stupid pinch of alacrity to both see her and hightail it fast in the other direction tightened in his chest.
He shook his lab coat off his shoulders, sweat breaking upon his temples as he draped it over his arm. Cleared his throat. A rush of dubiety flooded the pit of his stomach as he fought that old-yet-familiar need to rush to her rescue infusing his blood with adrenaline.
It couldn’t be her. Here. All the way out in middle-of-nowhere, Texas. Was she okay? He’d never intended on seeing this ghost from his past ever again. He’d let her go. And when he’d finally quelled that need to try and find her, convincing himself it was all for the best, she had to resurface here? Now? Where he’d settled to start a new life that had no more room for backward glances at a past that would never be his future?
Get your shit together—her kid is injured.
Did she still ride horses? He could almost feel that wind in his hair once more and her arms cinched around his waist, Cimarron’s motion beneath them. Great, and now she’d made him think of Cimarron. This was why he’d let her go. He couldn’t have the life they’d spent four years of high school dreaming about. He couldn’t bring home the same parts of himself he’d left in Afghanistan. Those bits of his soul had died in that hellhole and no amount of therapy or recovery would revive them. Skylar had always deserved the stars and moon, not another drunk like her old man. She’d always deserved the life he’d promised her.
What did she look like now? Had the years been good to her? Or aged her prematurely?
His thoughts flitted around like startled barnyard chickens.
You’re a professional. A surgeon. You stopped pining for her long ago. Sure he had. Bedside f-ing manner, man.
He fixed a semblance of a pleasant expression on his face and grasped the curtain. Here went nothing. Dragging it back, the metal loops rattled upon the rod while the soft cell conversation continued. More goose bumps pebbled his scarred skin at the softness of her voice vibrating in his ears like distant memories and the sight of a pile of blond hair tied up in a massive knot, her back, a lab coat of her own. Old. New. Intertwined in a heady sensation on his every nerve ending.
“Yeah…the ER nurse got the consent you signed…just came off the fax machine… Thanks for being so prompt, Anita… Yeah… I’ll keep you updated—but it wasn’t my fault. The police report’s already been filed.” A soft, almost imperceptible “OMG,” whispered from her lips. “Anita, why would you do that to him? I understand, but I feel like rehoming him would be a mistake…”
He fixed his eyes on the kid, her kid, stabilized and groggy on the bed, a sheet drawn up to his chest and his arm immobilized, his clothes in a clear plastic bag beside him in the chair indicating a Texas Rangers T-shirt.
“Hey, man. Looks like they got you on the good drugs.” He chuckled, grasping at that confidence that normally came so naturally but eluded him now because, like an idiot, he was searching the boy’s face for traces of Skylar, and mystified, he saw zero family resemblance.
The kid smirked in the ubiquitous way of a sullen teen deigning to smile. Travis would take it as a win considering the kid was probably still in pain despite his meds.
“I’m Dr. Dixon—” The woman whipped around in his periphery, her voice tapering off. He kept his eyes focused on the kid. “Let’s see if we can pop that sucker back into place and send you home. Sound good?” he drawled and eyed the shirt again. “Then in a month or so, you can start catching those hard hitters again. I used to play baseball. What position you play?”
The kid scowled and looked away, like Travis had just prodded a sore spot. Teens. Probably mad because a dislocated shoulder stymied his game for a while.
He strode to the computer to view the kid’s radiographs, saw no fractures. He glanced down at Brandon, who was eyeing him again, so attuned to the woman at his back who had fallen silent and stopped pacing. But he couldn’t turn to look. He had a job to do. He couldn’t. Guilt. He’d let her go without any explanation, and like a coward, he’d never thought he’d have to face her again. His heart knocked against his sternum like a shitty engine that turned over but wouldn’t catch. After all these years? Still, his skin tingled just being in proximity to her—
“Tr-Travis?” she whispered.
She was leaning forward, trying to catch a glance of his profile. A shiver racked his frame at the sound of her angelic voice, denied him for so long; he’d forgotten its musical nuances, the way it vibrated on his eardrums and sent tremors of heat through his limbs, the way her eyes on him seemed like a tangible sensation, like a promise, a reminder.
What a mindfuck. No longer able to resist, he glanced at her as he enlarged the radiograph, his eyes acting on their own volition, as if desperate for either a feast or punishment. And God… Mark him down for a feast. And a punishment. He nearly groaned.
Eyes, so wide and blue like the Texas sky; slender, mile-long legs in worn denim; and rolling hips lost beneath the hem of her own lab coat. He’d always been able to get himself off just imagining her legs. Stomach so flat, breasts—jeezus—so perfect. He forgot how to talk. For four years, from freshman to senior year, this girl—now woman—had been his other half…
He was staring.
To say the years had been kind was an understatement. That shitty engine turned over and caught, began idling, desire swirling with utter humiliation that she should see him now, riddled in scars. The woman who he’d made love to with carefree abandon, who’d made him the envy of every guy in high school, who he’d given his body to as his first in the truck bed of Red Lightning as they’d gazed up at the stars dotting the sky over Cerro Casas Grandes that stood sentinel over the desert, listening to the nighttime insects, building those big dreams, was gazing back at him now, a wide-eyed, long-legged goddess… He couldn’t let that tried-and-true chemistry for Skylar that always stiffened his dick and clouded his judgment take control of the reins, but holy hell…
Gangrene, necrotic flesh, stomach bile. He willed his mind to think about all things nasty to shrink the twinges of thickening that threatened to tent up the front of his scrubs. She stared at him. Why was he acting like such an idiot? He clenched the chart hard enough that his knuckles whitened, as if it offered his hands something stable to which to cling.
His voice sounded gruff in his ears, so he forced that smile he’d given Ashley onto his lips once more, but he knew it didn’t meet his eyes. The superficial flirting that worked so well on everyone else would never fool the Sky he’d once known—
His gaze narrowed on a shadow marring her cheek and nose. A bruise, and shit! That anger at her daddy surfaced like molten lava from within him, a dormant volcano, and rushed through his blood. This wasn’t the first time he’d seen her face bruised, and he hated it just as much now as he had then, even if this time it was an airbag that had hit her.
Her gaze narrowed on his tight lips, then the blood drained so swiftly from her face, it was as if she was seeing phantoms.
Get your head out of your ass, man!
Skylar had been in this truck accident, too. Had she been assessed for injury before she’d refused care? The woozy, dizzy sway to her body… He’d seen it on Boss’s face as his BP had tanked out in that hellhole. He’d felt it himself. Hold on! Dammit, you bastard! Don’t you dare die! Don’t you dare!
Skylar’s blood pressure was dropping.
“Ash!” he barked, flipping that switch. “Crash cart stat! Mom’s tanking!”
He lunged to catch Skylar as she folded like cooked spaghetti, catching her before she hit the floor as his coat slipped off his arm and the metal chart clip clattered on the tiles. Skylar crumpled into him. In his grip, where she’d always belonged, brought with it a swell of memories, rushing back and bowling him over like a tidal wave. Planets, out of orbit, fell back into alignment.
End of Excerpt