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Cards of Love: Page of Swords by Ainsley Booth, Sadie Haller (1)

1

Meadow

Every so often I forget where I am, who I am, and what’s appropriate to say at work. This is the only excuse I have for what I say in a moment of exhausted, unvarnished honesty at the end of an interdepartmental meeting, when the surgeon chairing it says something about having to plan around maternity leave. And then casts a judgemental eye in my direction.

“I’d have to have sex in order to get knocked up, so we’re safe there.”

In my defence, it’s under my breath, and the only person who really hears the whole thing is Max Donovan, a paediatrician with a decent sense of humour.

He manages to contain his chuckle behind a subtle smirk, and although the general surgeon across boardroom table gives me a weird look, the meeting wraps up and everyone hustles off to their morning rounds or into the OR for the first procedures of the day.

I have the day off, so I stay seated and try not to look mortified when Max lingers, too.

Once we’re alone, he laughs out loud.

“Shut up, you’re happily taking care of your wife all the time, aren’t you?”

He winks. “That’s between me and Violet.”

“That’s a yes, and I hate you both.” I groan. “I can’t believe I said that out loud.”

“You’re exhausted.” Now the look he gives me is pure concern, and I get it. We were both on call last night, and I had a difficult surgery in the middle of the night, repairing a bad haemorrhage in a new mom. Max was on hand for the birth, and made sure to come back after my patient woke up again to reassure her that her baby was just fine.

That was my third rough shift in a row. “I thought once I was done with residency, my life would return to normal. Somewhat.”

He shakes his head. “That’s a lie we tell new trainees to get them into the cult.”

“Accurate.” I sigh and roll my neck. “Okay, I’m going to the gym to work out my frustration—shut up again—and then I’m going home to sleep like the dead.”

He rubs his jaw. “I, uh, have a timely confession to make.”

“What?”

“I talked you up to a friend of mine—no names, just a general description—a few weeks ago. He asked for your number, and I said I’d give his to you if you might be interested.”

On the one hand, a blind date is the worst thing in the world.

On the other…I haven’t had sex in six months, and good sex in more than a year. Fuck it. Even though I know how this is going to go down, I’m game. “Gimme.”

“You don’t want to know anything about him?”

“Is he a serial killer?”

“No.”

“Misogynist?”

“He does his best not to be.” Max clears his throat when I give him a side-eye at that. “No. He’s pretty cool. He owns a bar in Metcalfe, but he’s always got something new on the go. A creative type.”

“Is that code for he works random hours and understands the life of an obstetrician?”

Max grins. “Something like that.”

“Gimme gimme.”

* * *

I go home and crawl into bed, but when I wake up, my first thought is this guy. Sebastian, Max wrote down on a card. “But everyone calls him Bas.” Good to know. Bas the bartender.

So I get up, have a shower, and drive into the country because who am I kidding?

If Max thinks this guy might be for me, I’m intrigued.

Metcalfe is an adorable hamlet, little more than a set of intersections. Sebastian’s bar, Duke & Main, is in fact at the intersection of Duke Street and Main Street.

How hipster.

And yet it works. The façade is real rustic, not hipster-out-of-the-box, and there’s an amazing looking coffee shop across the street. Tessa, it says in the window. Coffeebar and Bakery is written under the flowy name, all of it in a delicate script.

I stop there first, because coffee is courage.

There’s a tall brunette woman behind the counter who gives me a welcoming smile. “What can I get for you?”

“I’ll take a short espresso shot, please,” I say as I peruse the baked goods in the glass display. I want a muffin, but it’s probably rude to bring food to a blind-date ambush.

If it doesn’t go well, I’ll come back.

Who am I kidding? I’ll be back either way. “Just the shot for now.”

The big espresso machine behind the counter hisses to life and I turn around, peering out the window at Duke & Main.

“What brings you to Metcalfe?” the barista asks.

The real answer would be way oversharing. “I had the afternoon off and wanted to come for a drive,” I say absentmindedly.

“That’s how a lot of people find us. I’m Tessa, by the way.”

I point to the name on the glass window. “The Tessa?”

“Yep, that’s me.”

“Cool.”

I turn back and take the shot she pushes across the bar. “Thanks.”

It’s perfect, with a lovely layer of crema on top. I take a sip, enjoying the sweet acidity and the glorious bitterness, then I drink the rest quickly.

I have a man to find, so I leave Tessa to her adorable baking tasks or whatever and set across the street.

It’s not as dark inside the bar as I expected. The exposed brick walls are painted white, and there are pot lights glowing in the ceiling as well as hanging fixtures with the Edison bulbs promised by the hipster name of the bar.

I love it immediately.

And then the man behind the bar moves, catching my attention, and everything else fades.

He’s so tall it’s hard to fully take him in. Well over six feet. Closer to seven, with big hands and bigger forearms and shoulders as wide as a football field.

“I’m looking for Bas.” Please be Bas. The words shake as I say them, and wow, this is not going to go well. What was I thinking?

“You’ve found him.”

“I…” My voice falters as my heart rate picks up. Nerves and excitement wrestle for top spot in my chest.

Then he holds out one of those hands—big, so big—and my heart just plain stops. “Sebastian Absalom, at your service.”

I’m Meadow, I know I should say. I can hear it, a faint whisper. An offer. Would it be too soon to fall to my knees and ask him to spank me?

Yes. Too soon.

One thing at a time. I hold out my hand and he shakes it gently, like he thinks I might break.

Okay, next task is to find my voice and convince him I’m not fragile. “Hi.”

He smiles.

I nearly pass out.

Third task. Find more than a single syllable and introduce myself. I’m Meadow. Financially independent, sexually curious, and very open to booty calls in the middle of the—

Before I can say any of that, the bell above the door jangles again. Bas slides his gaze past me to the new arrival and his face lights up. Like, the smile he gave me before was nothing compared to this beaming welcome.

“Lovely,” he says, moving around me. “I didn’t know you were back in town.”

Just like that, my spanking fantasies die a miserable, pathetic death.

And now I need to come up with an excellent excuse for why I showed up here looking for him.

“Sorry about that,” he says from behind me. “Miss?”

I turn around, a falsely bright expression glued to my face. I can brass this out. No prob. “Yes?”

“Are you here for the apartment?”

My brain scrambles, latches on to the excuse, and instructs my head to nod agreeably. Yep. “I sure am. The apartment. Yes. That’s me.”

He tosses one of those big arms around his girlfriend—ugh, I hate her already, which is totally unfair—and gives her a gentle squeeze. “Hang tight here while I show the place?”

She murmurs her agreement and slinks her way onto a barstool. I viscerally and immediately dislike her, which is completely unreasonable. I’m sure she’s lovely.

But she has a boyfriend with massive hands and I am about to find myself with two apartments when I barely use one.

Great.

Just, great.

“How did you find about the listing? It just went up?”

I can’t tell him Max’s name. Max said he talked to Bas about me. Fuck, can I even give him my name? What am I doing? “Uh…I think I saw someone share it online?”

“Cool.”

Hardly. Don’t rent the apartment, Meadow.

Except I will. I can feel it. I’m a thirty-year-old woman. A surgeon. And I’m about to do something completely stupid because of insta-lust over a brilliant smile and a pair of hands that make me weak in the knees.

Meadow Pedersen, you’re a sucker.