Dane frowned, sipping from his steaming coffee. It was 7:15, patients were already arriving in the lobby—and his admin was nowhere to be found. Again.
“Why don’t you just cut her loose? How many times is this now?”
Cathie, his nurse-assistant, may have been the soothing presence at the bedside, but Dane knew better. Just under the surface, she was pure steel. Her cobalt eyes and the pleasing willowy figure that her dark blue scrubs couldn’t quite hide were deceptive. More than once, he’d seen men foolishly take her for a weak-willed bimbo. The blond-haired tigress in nurse’s clothing had quickly set them straight.
If only those poor bastards knew what the woman really liked to do.
“We’ve been over this, Cathie.” Dane leaned back, his chair creaking. “I can’t just fire her.”
“You mean you don’t want to fire her.”
Dane glared at the blond woman across the staffroom table. “What’s that supposed to mean, Nurse Severin?”
She gave him a little wiggle of an eyebrow and sipped from her tea.
By all rights, Dane knew he should’ve fired Amity long ago. Despite the girl’s cheerful personality and a truly disarming sweetness, she never seemed to be present in whatever she was doing, her attention always slipping, flitting off elsewhere. It wasn’t as if her job was particularly demanding—as admin, she basically just directed traffic in Dane’s office—but it didn’t mean it wasn’t important. The girl was inattentive and chronically late, there was no doubt about that. He should’ve pushed her out ages ago, but it wasn’t that simple. It never was.
There were always complications when granting favors to the powerful.
Dane sighed, pushing his chair away from the table and standing. “You want to get Exam Two ready? I’ll go get the first patient and bring her back.”
“Doctor and secretary now?” Cathie tilted her head, grinning. “You need a raise, Dr. McKendrick. Or learn to delegate better.”
“Shut it.” But he couldn’t suppress a weary smile.
As he walked down the hallway toward the lobby, its clear glass walls shimmering with the early morning sunlight, Dane thought it over. Something had to be done, but what?
You could do it the old-fashioned way, tough guy.
Jesus, that was the last thing he needed. Sure, the thought of turning the girl over his knee and smacking some sense into that bottom of hers wasn’t entirely unpleasant—far from it—but he knew he had to keep trying with her. This was the price for favors. No good deed ever goes unpunished.
Oh, but bad deeds need to be punished too.
One more chance—then he’d have to consider the other options. Even the old-fashioned ones. He plastered on a bright smile and pushed open the door to the lobby.
“Good morning, Mrs. Fletcher. Ready for your check-up? Come on back.”
He let the heavily pregnant woman slip past him. As he turned to follow her, the smoked glass of the front entrance door opened, cool air flooding in.
It was Amity. Her dark hair was pulled back in a messy ponytail he suspected was frantically done in the rear-view mirror while she sat at red lights in traffic. The gray knit sweater, the snug fit and cleavage-revealing plunge of the neckline doing absolutely nothing to deemphasize the round, generous breasts, was buttoned haphazardly, one of the buttons actually undone, leaving a gap below the swell of her breasts that exposed pale skin. Even her skirt was wrinkled, along with being, as usual, a size smaller than it should’ve been—and way too short.
He stood in the doorway to the office hallway, watching her, his arms crossed over his chest. Her appearance didn’t help things at all, nor did the way her lush bare thighs moved as she scampered on her heels to find her chair behind the lobby’s desk.
You’re her boss, asshole.
“Do you know what time it is?”
“Work time, right?” She quickly donned her headset, giving him a brief glance. She was out of breath and he almost smiled, imagining her sprinting from the parking garage to the office doors, her high heels in her hands.
“Work time started a while ago, Amity.”
Her big brown eyes peered up at him, color deepening in her smooth cheeks. “I’m sorry. I know I’m late.”
“Again.” He let the door to the hallway shut behind him. He had a couple of minutes while Cathie weighed and measured Mrs. Fletcher. Fortunately, no other patients had arrived yet.
“Amity, I want to see you after I’m done with this first patient. I’ll call you when I’m ready. Cathie can watch the front while we talk.”
Her face paled, her big eyes getting bigger. “W-why? I know I was late, but it was just a few minutes.”
“I’m sorry, sir.” She swallowed hard, the delicate throat working. “I know—”
“We need to talk about a few things.” He inclined his head, locking his gaze with hers. “Things are going to change around here, one way or another. Now, get to work.”
As he strode down the hallway, he tried not to think about how much he liked the word ‘sir’ from her plump pink lips.
* * *
She needed to do something about this. It was the same every day and every night. How many times had she stayed up deep into the lonely darkness, staring into the night, dreaming of things she knew she could never have? Being someone she could never be. Wanting what was wrong.
Then she’d wake up in the morning, bleary-eyed, so tired she wanted to cry, and she’d scramble to get herself put together. Most days she’d stumble in just in time. The first few times she didn’t though, Dr. McKendrick had offered her that knowing smile of his, the one that made butterflies flutter in her belly. The smile that should’ve been almost fatherly coming from a man ten years older than her.
But that smile. That devastating bright smile. It was anything but fatherly.
Then, as she always did, pathologically unable to stop herself, she’d pushed it. She kept coming in late—and that smile soon faded away. Though she did miss it, she didn’t miss it enough to sacrifice a single minute of time spent with her friends and her nocturnal pursuits.
And so it went, and now she knew what the talk would be about. The process would begin. She knew it well from other jobs she’d crashed and burned in. First, a warning—then worse.
“Not the good kind, either,” she murmured to herself, thanking God that nobody was in the lobby to hear it.
Stop being an idiot. That’s not happening.
Amity organized the files in the database, the ticking of the analog clock high on the wall an annoying reminder to her of what had her ass in hot water. She checked the online schedule, hoping she hadn’t forgotten to add anyone. She’d done that more than once too, but that last time wasn’t her fault. She’d had to help her friend Kaitlyn with her boyfriend, had to help her see the man was right for her. How his strength would be good for her.
It had been hypocritical advice, no matter how true, coming from a woman like Amity. The same woman who made the world think she knew it all, yet inside knew what the terrible truth really was. That she was lost, and too defiant—or stupid—to ever let anyone know.
She’d forgotten to add Sandra Hendricks into the schedule that day because of the drama-by-text, and the following week, eight-months-pregnant Mrs. Hendricks had let Amity know just how much she didn’t appreciate waiting in the lobby for twenty minutes for an appointment Amity had entirely forgotten to schedule.
Amity looked down the long hallway again toward the exam rooms, and tried to block out how good he’d looked standing in that doorway. He didn’t like the lab coats. Instead, he favored button-down shirts that showed just how lean he was, how muscular those shoulders were.
For God’s sake, stop it. He’s your boss.
And one she knew was probably going to fire her—if not today, then very soon. Amity dreaded the phone call she’d have to make to her dad. Asking him for help just that one more time. Telling him she’d do this one right, if she got just one last chance—and knowing in her heart, she’d probably fuck the next job up too.
She supposedly had her whole life in front of her—if she listened to what her father told her—but in reality she was a girl who was merely existing. Someone who let life happen to her. Drifting. Not knowing where the unpredictable winds of fate might take her next. There was supposed to be a reason for this, right? A purpose. But she’d never found it, and with each passing year, each squandered job, each boyfriend won, then discarded because he couldn’t give her what she really needed, Amity feared more and more that she’d live her entire life without ever discovering that purpose.
Of course, she’d never admit that to anyone. Certainly not her friends, all of whom believed she lived the charmed life. To them, she was Amity Derrington, the rich girl with the powerful family, the connections. She cultivated that image too, that air of elitism, that facade of assertiveness. And she didn’t even know why anymore.
If only they really knew.
It was her third job in a year, and this time father had warned her that this was a favor—a big one. And she’d better not screw it up.
Amity wasn’t known for listening to him—or anyone, for that matter—but part of her, deep down inside, knew he meant business this time.
Why do you have to fuck everything up?
Amity looked out the big plate-glass windows of the lobby, the leaves on the slender maples outside just now beginning to turn color, the hints of red heralding the coming fall. A young man in dark blue warm-ups and a snug white t-shirt strolled by on the sidewalk outside the window. A petite redhead was by his side, her small hand swallowed in his big one. The woman looked up at him, stars and love in her gaze, and he pressed a soft kiss to her temple, her eyes closing, a goofy smile curving her lips.
If only. But life didn’t work out the way Amity had planned, the way she thought she deserved.
Her headset rang and she pressed the call button, her suddenly trembling finger making her long painted nail slide off and hit the button for another line instead, a dial tone blaring in her ear.
“Shit. Dammit!” She finally managed to connect it on the third ring, the thought of accidentally hanging up on Dr. McKendrick making her heart seize in a brief moment of terror.
“Staff conference room, Amity. Cathie’s on her way out.”
“Oh… okay. Doctor, maybe we could just—”
The line went dead.
She stood, dropping the headset on the desk, willing her leaden legs to move. Pushing open the door to the hallway, she locked gazes with Cathie, Dr. McKendrick’s nursing assistant. As usual, there was nothing but ice in that woman’s eyes as she passed Amity by, not even deigning to speak a word to her. She knew the woman hated her—it was obvious—but Amity never understood why. She’d always tried to be nice to Cathie. Always tried to help when asked. Sometimes that wasn’t enough though. With the exception of her immediate friends, Amity didn’t really know how to navigate relationships with other women. She could work men all day long, in her sleep. They were easy. But the women… mystified her.
It didn’t help that Cathie was a svelte, blond dynamo either, her scrubs nicely showing off a considerable bosom despite the fact the fearsome nurse didn’t seem to have an ounce of fat on her.
Amity knew her own more rounded—to be charitable—figure paled in comparison to the super fit ice queen now leaning a hip casually against the lobby desk. Amity knew she needed to lose another ten pounds, the same ten that always seemed to cling to her hips and thighs no matter what she tried.
Maybe if you partied less than seven days a week you could do that, genius.
Her friends, of course, despite most of them obviously being more slender of build than Amity’s curvy frame, always insisted she didn’t need to lose an ounce, she was gorgeous, she should be proud. But she didn’t believe any of it. She knew her skirts were a little too tight, how ill-fitting her old bras had become, her breasts practically spilling out of them now. Getting new ones required money though—money she didn’t have due to the aforementioned partying. But she could tough it out for a while longer. Maybe she’d even finally lose those ten pounds and it wouldn’t matter anymore?