Agreeing to wear the shoes was a mistake.
Although I worked as a cocktail waitress during my undergrad and wore heels for years, once I started my Masters degree and worked as a teaching assistant instead, I'd been dressing casual and was out of practice.
My best friend Dawn ignored my protests, insisting on choosing my outfit for the fundraiser my father was hosting for Doctors Without Borders, his favorite charity. I went to her apartment before the event so she could style me. After she did my makeup, she selected a dress from her collection instead of my own sorry closet, choosing a little black wrap dress that only made my already-slightly-too-ample chest more obvious. I even wore real nylons with a seam up the back and her garter belt instead of pantyhose because the only pair I had ripped as I pulled them on, a fingernail snagging them along the calf and all she had were nurse's white stockings.
"Use these," she said, pulling them out of a drawer. "They're Brenda's."
"I can't wear those," I said, making a face. Brenda was Dawn's sister, who moved out to get married a few months earlier, leaving Dawn with the clothes she no longer wanted.
"Why not? It's all women used to wear. I think they're pretty."
"What if I had to go to the ER and the nurses and doctors saw them?"
She laughed. "They'd think you were a sexy little thing. Listen," she said, handing them to me. "In the middle of a trauma, the last thing the ER doctors and nurses are thinking of is your clothes except how to cut them off as quickly as possible."
I sighed and put them on. They did look nice. I felt a bit like Greta Garbo as I turned back and forth in the mirror. Then, she fixed my hair, straightening it with a flatiron so that it hung long and straight down my back. But it was the shoes that did it.
Super high and sexy.
With four-inch stiletto heels and black leather straps, they were a tiny bit too big and I wobbled when I walked.
"I don't know about these," I said in meek protest as I walked across her hardwood floors, feeling like I was walking a tightrope. I looked at myself in the full-length mirror, adjusting the neckline. "I haven't worn high heels since I quit waitressing at O'Hanlan's."
"Doc Martens and lumberjack shirts won't get you and Nigel donations, Kate. Those shoes and that dress will."
I pulled down the hem of the dress, feeling like it could spring up at any moment and reveal my garters. "I'm not so sure I'm appropriately dressed for a charity fundraiser."
"Nonsense," she said and gave me the once-over, her head tilted to one side. "You look marvelous. I feel like Professor Higgins in My Fair Lady. The stuffed suits will want to donate money just to get next to you so it's all for a great cause."
I sighed, giving myself over to her as she did her best to transform me from an ordinary twenty-four year old woman into someone who belonged at a Manhattan fundraiser.
Going to a local pub before the fundraiser was another mistake. Located in the Upper East Side, it was a few blocks from NY Presbyterian and a lot of staff went after their shifts for a drink. Not too far from my father's brownstone on Park Avenue where the fundraiser was being held, it would be a quick cab ride once I was ready. I needed a drink or two before seeing my father. We'd been at odds because I changed focus for my Master's thesis from politics to pop-culture. We didn't argue openly but he had a way of letting his displeasure be known.
Since I'd changed my focus, I'd kept under his radar, being a good girl, not making waves. When he specifically invited me to the fundraiser, I couldn't say no. Going was my chance to mend fences. Dawn agreed to come to the pub with me and help me loosen up. Then, I'd face him and his crowd of philanthropic doctors and Wall Street money managers.
So add two strawberry daiquiris to overly-high-heels and you have a train wreck in the making.
On our second round of drinks, we scoped out the men in the pub, rating them, deciding which ones we'd hook up with, given the chance. Except of course, that we were both total geeks and didn't do that kind of thing. I had The Hangin' Judge as a dad and she was a mostly-good Catholic and had just spent six months in Calcutta volunteering for Mother Theresa's charity. But it was fun and a way to let off a bit of steam. With deadlines looming on several papers I was working on, and Dawn with nursing clinical exams coming up, we both needed some fun.
"He's trouble." Dawn leaned down to whisper in my ear, her frizzy blonde curls poking my face. "Stay away from him."
"Oh, oh," I said, glancing over at the bar. "You know those are the wrong words to say to me." I checked out the man she pointed to. "Why is he trouble?"
"The OR nurses call him either Dr. Delish or Dr. Dangerous, depending on who you talk to. Look at him." Her brown eyes twinkled. She waved her cocktail towards him. "He's gorgeous with those blue eyes and dark hair. And that jaw…" She smacked her lips. "Definitely dangerous." She glanced at me and shot the rest of her drink down in one gulp. "He," she said and pointed her finger. "He's a lady killer and a bona fide bad boy."
"Who is he? How do you know him?"
"Some surgeon at NY Presbyterian. I saw him during orientation when I volunteered there. He was playing 60s Brit Invasion music in his O.R. during surgery. Can you believe it? The Yardbirds, Heart Full of Soul or something. The nurses say he's a bit of a controlling bastard."
I glanced at him. He was gorgeous. Dr. Gorgeous-but-Dangerous leaned against the bar facing the room, one arm outstretched as if he owned the place, a martini in his hand. Dressed in a very expensive suit, his tie loosened, his top button undone, he looked like an executive out for a drink during happy hour. Next to him, a man leaned forward against the bar, his back to us. He moved in close, speaking to Dr. Delish as if whatever he said was confidential.
Dr. Delish surveyed the bar crowd, nodding at what his drinking partner said.
"He's a doctor. How could he be dangerous?"
"I don't mean dangerous in the slit your throat in your sleep way, silly." Dawn rolled her eyes. "You read too many crime novels. I mean dangerous in the steal your heart and never give it back variety."
"Oh," I said, somewhat disappointed. "That's too bad. You know me. I love a good thriller."
"You are confirmed nuts. Didn’t flyboy convince you to lay off the bad boys?"
I thought he had. Kurt was a former Marine pilot who my father dubbed 'flyboy'. He only made me want a bad boy even more. Despite his desire for kink – or maybe because of it – he was exciting. Looking back on our disastrous relationship, I realized he actually made me feel something for a change – the first time I felt anything after my trip to Africa. Until Kurt, I'd been numb.
"I'm so over Kurt."
"You cried like a baby when you two broke up."
"Really over him," I said, as much to myself as to Dawn. "No more bad boys for me." Of course, I was so full of it, considering that I just got off the phone a few hours earlier with "Mistress Lara" – a Domme in Manhattan's BDSM community – about my upcoming meeting with a real Dominant. I told myself it was no big deal – just research for an investigative article I was thinking of writing for a journalism class but I couldn't lie to myself. I was so damn curious. I couldn't tell Dawn anything about it and it was killing me. Unlike me, she hated 'those books' and thought they were practically the product of the Devil's spawn. I knew she'd only freak and try to stop me from going through with the interview so I neglected to tell her on purpose.
That was another mistake.
I should have confessed everything so Dawn could keep me on the straight and narrow. She would have talked me out of doing the interview. Instead, I swallowed my urge to tell her and kept my mouth shut.
"I'll believe you're over him when you hook up with someone new. It's been almost a year, Kate, since Greg. You're allowed to date again. Give up Big and find someone real."
Greg was Dawn's antidote to Kurt. Mr. Master of Fine Arts in English Lit, Greg couldn't say fuck even when he was doing it. He was nice, but I had to make all the moves, and that made me so… insecure.
Big, as we called it, was the gag gift we all got at a friend's bachelorette party a year earlier. A dildo ten inches long and six inches in girth, Big was a monster. All of us joked about Big as if he were our collective boyfriend.
How's Big doing? Got any action from Big lately? Want to come out for a drink or are you busy with Big tonight?
"He is handsome, though," I said of Dr. Delish, trying to change the subject.
"You told me to warn you off the next time you even thought about someone who wouldn't be good for you. So here's me, warning you off. Stick with Big. That man is trouble. Just look at him." She leaned over to me. "He's examining the women in the bar as if we're all his to take and he's just deciding which one he wants. I think he's found his next target, by the way he's staring so intently at her."
I watched him from over the top of my glass as I took a sip. He surveyed the bar crowd as if judging, but his eyes continually returned to someone he watched very closely. I craned my neck to see which woman he'd chosen.
The television – a weather report on the Nor'easter brewing off in the Atlantic.
"He's watching the weather channel, you nut."
Dawn glanced back to the television in the corner.
"Oh," she said, only somewhat chastised. "Well, he looks dangerous."
"For all we know, he might be the sweetest man." I examined Mr. Not-So-Dangerous-After-All. Suddenly, he wasn't quite as titillating as he had been only moments before when I thought he was really looking for his next victim. "I'd still go out with him," I said.
"You and practically every woman who lays eyes on him. Just think of the power. He has to be a dick because of it."
"That's prejudiced," I said, frowning.
"But probably true. Take my word for it."
I put down my drink and picked up my bag, needing to visit the restroom. "I'll be right back. Gotta hit the head, as my father calls it."
Dawn nodded and turned her focus back to her own drink.
As I made my way through the cluster of tables to the back where the restrooms were located, I thought of my father. A former Marine who fought in Vietnam during the last two years of the war, he still wore his gray hair in whitewalls, almost shaved on the sides of his head, brush cut on top. At fifty-nine, he was a current Justice of the Supreme Court of New York. Defense lawyers referred to him as 'The Hangin' Judge' even though we didn't have a death penalty in the state. After the war ended and he returned Stateside, he finished his law degree and began his career, following a long line of lawyers in our family stretching back to the 19th Century.
Now, he was seriously considering a run at the House seat coming vacant due to the incumbent's illness. Growing up, my brother and I called him The Drill Sergeant in secret, Father in public. I still called him Daddy when I was in his good books, which I wasn't currently.
After washing up, I pushed the door open and knocked into Dr. Delish himself as he was walking past to the men's room.
When I bumped into him, my ankles almost turned in completely like a kid on ice skates for the first time. I fought to stand up, grasping onto him to prevent myself from falling.
"Whoa," he said, catching me by the arms, pulling me close. "Steady…"
"Oh, so sorry," I said as I grabbed onto his shoulders and glanced up into his eyes.
Oh. My. God.
He was gorgeous. He smelled like heaven.
His glanced at my feet and the ridiculously high heels on which I tottered like a child learning to walk.
"I'm not really used to these."
"Trying to defy the laws of physics?" he said and smiled as he helped steady me, his gaze moving slowly down my body to my feet again. "Nice shoes though. Love the leather straps…"
"Thank you," I said, my cheeks heating. I straightened up with his help and smiled, then I turned back to the tables, my heart racing just a bit.
When I got back, I took a huge sip of my drink.
"I just bumped into Dr. Delish."
Dawn raised her eyebrows. "What's he like?"
"He smells as good as he looks."
I watched Dr. Delish return to his place at the bar. He spoke to his drinking partner for a moment, finished his martini and then checked his cell. After he buttoned his top shirt button and tightened his tie, he threaded his way through the tables. When he left, he glanced my way, catching my eye briefly, a quick smile on his face when he recognized me. What a smile it was. I felt a little thrill go through me and smiled back.
"There goes trouble," I said, wistfully. "Maybe you're right after all. My spidey-senses are tingling."
"And that," Dawn said, leaning in closer, "is why you're stuck with Big. You, my dear BFF, are a bona fide dork. Spidey-senses..."
I grinned at that. "Well then, we're nerd central." We smiled at each other. While Dawn didn't like bad boys, I couldn't help but wish I was the natural companion to Doctor Dangerous instead of the techies at Columbia's IT department.
After finishing my drink, I checked my cell. There was a message from Nigel, wondering where I was.
Get your sweet little self over here. I couldn't bring Brian tonight, given the company your father keeps, so don't leave me all alone with these stuffed suits!
"Guess it's time for me to go to my father's," I said and finished the last of my drink. "Nigel's texting me. Will you be ok until Jill gets here?"
"She just texted me. She'll be here any minute. Have fun!"
"Have fun? Have you ever been to one of these fundraisers? It's all fake smiles and shaking hands. Besides, my father will be there."
"Nigel too," she said, reminding me.
Nigel – Sir Nigel Benson, recently knighted by Her Majesty for his humanitarian service. Host of Travel with Nigel, his popular TV show on PBS. He was active in Doctors Without Borders and spent time with me in Africa when I was there doing volunteer work, writing an investigative piece for my Honors project in Journalism at Columbia. He quickly became part big brother, favorite uncle and best friend to me. We'd been through so much together in Africa, and he'd seen me at my absolute worst but still stood by me. I felt as if he knew me almost better than I knew myself.
"Thank God for Nigel."
I pulled on my coat and left the bar, hailing a cab to take me to my father's apartment on Park Avenue. I decided to enter through the rear door to the building. I did not want to go into the front door where I knew everyone would be standing around with drinks in their hand, and all eyes would turn to me. My fourth mistake was thinking I could maneuver the back alley in the dark in those heels with two drinks in me. I was no match for the terrible cement with its cracks and loose gravel…
I fell just outside the door to the building, my ankle twisting, me going down on one side, my ankle, knees and the palms of my hands bearing the brunt of the fall. The only saving grace was that I was alone so no one witnessed my awkward tumble. My knees were cut by rough stones, my palms scuffed, and my ankle was killing me. My pride hurt almost as much as my other wounds.
By the looks of the cuts, I'd have a few more scars to add to the others I'd received over the years from trying to do things I shouldn't. As a young tomboy fighting to keep up with my brother, who was older by four years, I'd received a fair number of scars. My knees had first been christened when I tried to pogo stick after he did and fell ingloriously. Then, there were the stilts… My bottom lip still bore a faint scar where my teeth went through it.
After I removed my shoes, one of the heels having broken when my ankle went over, I had to struggle up to my feet. I limped in stocking feet into the rear of the building, gasping each time I put pressure on my injured foot, using the pass code to get inside. I took the service elevator up to the top floor to my father's apartment. I entered what was once-upon-a-time the servant's entrance, hoping to sneak into the bathroom and tend my wounds, find a pair of my stepmother's shoes before facing the financial elite and asking for handouts for Nigel's charity.
I hopped down the hall to the bathroom only to find that Dr. Delish himself was there, on his way out. Dr. Dangerous is at my father's fundraiser? Doctors Without Borders – made sense but I did not want someone that good looking to be witness to my ineptitude.
He spied me before I could turn and hop away, my nylons torn, palms, ankle and knees bloody.
"You're hurt," he said and frowned, coming right to my side, glancing at the heels I held in one hand. "Those shoes again?"
"Yes." Of all people to see me, he had to be the one... "I fell outside in the alley. The heel of my shoe broke."
Up close, he was devastatingly handsome, and when our eyes met, I swear heat rose in my face like mercury in a thermometer. I had this instant response that my conscious mind had no control over, as if my body was screaming Mate with this one. He's got the goods.
My response was purely animalistic.
Absolutely gorgeous, he was tall but not too tall, about six feet compared to my five foot three. Up close and in good lighting instead of that in the pub, his hair was almost black, his brows and eyelashes as well, and his eyes were that blue which reminded me of the Aegean off the coast of Corfu. Fair skin. A thin layer of whiskers covered his chin and jaw. A face of such symmetry, it was geometric, all planes and angles but his mouth – his mouth was soft, his lips full. I could imagine that mouth on mine, or moving over my skin…
All of this registered in the merest of seconds while he adjusted his slate grey silk suit jacket, which was open to reveal a crisp white linen shirt and grey tie, the fabrics all the best quality. He had good taste in clothes, and the money to feed it.
"Here," he said and put his arm under mine and then he actually picked me up.
"Whoa," I said, trying to resist, hating to be carried by anyone. "You don’t have to pick me up."
"Don't worry. You're light as a feather. You've probably sprained your ankle."
My hands went around his neck and I was two inches from his face, my own face hot with embarrassment. He found my parent's bedroom at the rear of the apartment and placed me on the bed, sitting across from me. My dress had hiked up, the tops of my sheer black nylons and black lace garters on display for him to see.
He raised his eyebrows, his eyes widening. I quickly drew down my dress to cover them.
"Oh, I'm sorry…"
"Don't worry," he said, smiling just a bit. He placed my injured foot on his lap so he could examine it. "I'm a doctor."
I took off my coat, warm from it and his gaze. "Still, you shouldn't have to see that."
"Oh, I don't mind." He grinned without meeting my eye as he moved my ankle back and forth. "I don't mind at all."
"Ouch!" I said when he moved my ankle a bit too far in one direction.
He glanced up at my face. "That hurts?"
"What about this way?" He twisted it the other way, gently this time.
"Not as much."
He felt around, prodding my foot, my ankle and the bone above it in my calf.
"Don't think it's broken. You might as well take off those nylons. I'll have to treat those lacerations."
"Oh, yeah," I said, and hesitated. I waited, and he watched me expectantly.
"Oh." He glanced away, smiling a bit sheepishly.
I quickly unhooked the garter clasps to one leg and rolled down the nylon. Then, the bastard peeked while I was busy undoing the garters to the other leg.
I cleared my throat. "Excuse me?"
"Sorry," he said and turned his head away again, grinning widely. "Just don’t get to see real garters very often."
"My best friend made me wear them. Now she'll be pissed that I ruined her nylons."
"It's a shame they were destroyed," he said softly, a hint of humor in his voice. "I especially like the ones with the seam up the back. Really retro."
Once my nylons were off and I readjusted everything, he started to examine my calves, running his hand up my leg on the injured side, checking the bone. I had to spread my thighs a bit so he could examine my knees, and blushed profusely when I had to jam my dress between them to cover my crotch.
"Calves and knees look great," he said, a faint smile on his face.
He left me on the bed and went to the en-suite bathroom. I heard him opening and closing cabinet doors and drawers. Finally, he emerged with a bottle of peroxide and some cotton balls, some gauze and bandages. He also had a wet washcloth. He then tended my wounds, wiping the dirt off my knees and ankle.
"What kind of doctor are you?"
"So you cut up brains?"
"Something like that," he said, a half-smile on his lips. "I don’t cut them up as much as fix them. Robotically-assisted electrophysiology is my specialty. Using electrodes to treat disorders like Parkinson's and epilepsy. You're thinking pathologist. But don’t worry," he said as he washed the dirt off my knees. "We also learned to look after superficial wounds. And I have a truckload of insurance, just in case you're wondering…"
He daubed the cuts and scrapes with the peroxide-soaked cotton balls. It stung a bit, but not too badly. All the while he was tending my injuries, I got the chance to see him up close. Man, was he beautiful. His black hair was a bit longish and wild as if he was just caught in the wind. Dark arched brows. Blue blue eyes fringed with thick black lashes. A bit of scruff on his face, and a jaw that screamed perfection.
He was perhaps the hottest man I'd ever seen.
"You'll be fine. Don't need stitches. Just a bit of antibiotic ointment and a few bandages. But you should rest your ankle. Are you going to stay or do you need a ride home?"
"I better stay. Do you know who Elaine is? Can you ask her to come and speak to me?"
He nodded. "Sure. If that ankle doesn't get markedly better in a couple of days, you might want to get an x-ray. Can't do anything for a broken bone in your foot but rest it. You could probably use some crutches."
He smiled at me and left me on the bed.
I'd just met Doctor Delish. It took me a few moments to recover.