Sutton sighed as she sat down for what felt like the first time in hours behind the front desk in the emergency room. It’d been a busy day in the ER and having to finalize two last-minute schedule swaps hadn’t lessened her load any. She loved her position as shift lead, but at times it could be overwhelming and exhausting. A few of the nurses asked her to head over to the local all-night diner like they always did, and per usual, she declined.
The only things on her mind were a glass of white wine, chocolate truffles, and a warm bubble bath in her garden tub. For her, home was a sanctuary, and tonight she needed a major dose of tranquility. After finalizing her paperwork, she turned to the nurse who stood to her right and gave her the run down.
“This should be everything you need, Mrs. Tracy. The rush has passed, and everyone’s all settled in. The people who are currently waiting have all filled out their paperwork.”
“Sutton, I never have to worry about something being wrong when I take over floor duty from you. That being said, you work too hard, child. Please tell me you have plans to go out tonight.”
Sutton smiled at the petite white-haired woman who held a special place in her heart. Despite being in her mid-fifties, Mrs. Tracey was gorgeous with clear skin the color of walnut, and an even, white, smile that never failed to put patients at ease.
With her take-charge attitude, wicked sense of humor, and penchant for meddling, she reminded Sutton of her mother. She’d lost count of how many nice boys Mrs. Tracey knew and wanted to introduce to her to. In retrospect, it was a good thing Mrs. Tracey, and her mom had never met. They’d double team her.
“I hate to disappoint you, but the only date I have tonight is with my bathtub. If it’s any consolation, there will be wine and chocolate.”
“Honey, you are too young and beautiful to be cooped up in that house of yours alone all the time. You need to get out there and play the field while you have the chance. When I was your age, you couldn’t tie me down. I was a firecracker.” Mrs. Tracey snapped her fingers. “To be honest, I was getting it in all over the place, and answering to no one.”
Sutton laughed at the woman’s sly smile. “Mrs. Tracey, you’re still a firecracker.”
“How do you think I keep the Mr. satisfied?” Mrs. Tracey asked with a wink. “I was far from ready to settle down. Then I met my Howard, and no other man seemed to be able to measure up.” She sighed, and her eyes turned dreamy. “That’s how you know you’ve met your match.”
“Howard must be one hell of a man to have caught you, Mrs.
“He is, and I have a son just like him. It’s too bad he’s married, or I’d have paired you two up and made you a member of my family by now.”
Sutton grinned. “I might’ve let you. Heaven help me if you ever meet my momma.” Sutton shook her head and placed a hand on her shoulder, and squeezed lightly. “Have a good shift. I’m getting out of here before they find a reason for me to stay.”
Sutton made her way around the desk, gave a quick wave, and booked it down to the locker rooms to change into her street clothes. She had the next two days off, and she planned on taking full advantage of them by doing as little as possible.
Now all she needed to do was get out of these scrubs. In her mind, she likened the removal of scrubs to hitting an off switch. It allowed her to go from RN extraordinaire to a civilian. She’d learned the behavior from watching her father use similar coping mechanism during his time in the Army. His uniform came off, and he swapped out his role of a soldier with that of father and a husband.
The moment she opened the door and entered the beige sandstone tiled room, lined with tan lockers she made a beeline for the back of the corner. Tension rolled off her shoulders as she stripped down to her skivvies, folded her light-blue scrubs, and placed them in her black book bag. The door swung open, and she heard the other nurses as they made their way into the room towards her.
“I don’t know why you waste your time asking Sutton to go out with us, Leigh. She never says yes. It’s like she’s got a major case of stick up her—” Sutton felt her face flush at the crude statement. She knew they thought she was too focused on her career, but there was no reason to get nasty.
“Hey! That’s my friend you’re talking about,” Leigh said. A smile flickered over Sutton’s lips. She could always count on her girl to have her back.
“All we’re saying is, Miss Priss, needs a good dick down, so she can loosen up and let her hair down a bit.”
Sutton clenched her jaw as anger replaced her embarrassment. How dare they talk about her behind her back! She went out of her way to make sure their work environment was the best it could be. Sutton paused in the middle of a mental rant to shake of her head. Jesus, listen to me. Even now what I’m upset about is the fact that they don’t appreciate my work ethics. They’re right. It’d been months since she’d gone on anything that resembled a date and much longer since she’d experienced an orgasm that wasn’t self-induced.
The reflection that greeted her in the four-by-four-inch mirror attached to her locker seemed to mock her with its spinster-like appearance. Her hair was pulled back in a severe bun, and her face was bare of make-up.
If she was honest, the first word that came to her mind was austere. Irritated, she removed the pins from her bun and ran her fingers through her shoulder length brown hair, mussing it with her fingers. Much better. She reached into her locker, pulled out her black cosmetics bag, and went to work.
Ten minutes later she was ready to go with a light coat of gold eye-shadow, vintage-style cat-eye liquid eyeliner, pink blush, brown lip gloss, and a dusting of bronzer. Tonight, she’d have a few drinks, share some laughs, and go home feeling less like a fifty-year-old matron and more like the thirty-one-year-old single woman she truly was. After the bitter end of her engagement to her college sweetheart, Sutton had thrown herself into her career. Life had been tough growing up as the eldest of five siblings with a widowed mother.
When her father passed away from a heart attack, she’d been the one who cooked meals and oversaw homework and nightly routines while her mother worked two jobs to provide from them.
When she’d seen the rock and the hard place her mother was placed in without a college degree, she’d vowed to make a career for herself before she ever considered settling down to have a family.
“Enough,” she whispered.
She had all of the things she’d initially worked hard to gain. A condo, a paid-off car, and a good position at a steady job. It was time to relax and enjoy her accomplishments. Sutton shimmied into a pair of fitted dark denim, pulled her black tank top over her head, and slipped into a pair of low-heeled black sandals. She grabbed her purse and walked over to the bathroom mirrors where the girls were putting the final touches on their appearances.
“If the offer’s still on the table I think I’ll join you, ladies.”
“Finally!” Leigh spun around and crushed her in an exuberant hug.
The impulsive move made Sutton laugh. She loved the free-spirited nature Leigh possessed. From the moment they met, the two had been the perfect balance of opposites. Leigh had an infectious aura of energy and joy that surrounded her. It was one of the reasons Sutton enjoyed being around the other woman so much. In the healthcare profession, burned out happened all the time. The constant negativity thrown your way could be drag you down if you allowed it.
She did her best to avoid nurses “on their way out” because their pessimism could spread like cancer through a crew. It was a phenomenon she’d seen one too many times.
“You picked the perfect timing. James is going to meet up with us later, and he’s bringing his best friend, Sidney.” Sutton arched an eyebrow when Leigh looked at her expectantly.
“Remember, he’s the human behavior professor I always mention.”
“Oh! Him, it’ll be nice to meet. You know I find everything to do with that subject fascinating.”
“I know. I’ve e been trying to get you two together for ages, but you always pull the hermit act.” Leigh nudged her with a playful elbow to the rib.
“I was read the riot act by Mrs. Tracey earlier.”
“Then I guess I’ll keep my mouth shut for once.” Leigh looped her arm through Sutton’s as they made their way out of Bethesda South and across the street to the all-night diner the staff often frequented.
Sutton wasn’t sure what she expected Sidney to look like. However, the dapper salt- and pepper-haired gentleman in fitted black dress slacks and a crisp white button-down was not it. He was tall and sinewy, but what really caught her attention was the almost regal air he carried himself with. He glanced down, catching her appraisal, and she flashed him a small smile as she fought to contain the heat she felt creep up in her cheeks.
It’d been ages since she’d reacted to anyone in such a visceral manner. Sidney possessed a swagger that pulled her towards him like a magnet. She lowered her lids and glanced over to Leigh, rolling her eyes at her friend’s smirk.
“Hush,” Sutton mouthed. She was unable to hide her smile as Leigh stood and embraced her husband.
“Hi, baby. Sutton and I are the only ones left. The other girls wanted to go dancing.”
“Hi, James, good to see you again,” Sutton said. She stood and leaned in to exchange a hug and a kiss on the cheek. She liked James. He might be twenty years older than Leigh, but they fit together well.
“I’m sure they’d be bored to death with a couple of old fogies like us,” Sidney said. His deep baritone sent a shiver down her spine.
“You’re not old, Sidney,” Leigh said. She moved away from her husband to place a kiss on his cheek.
“Sidney, this is my friend Sutton whom I’ve been trying to coerce into coming out with us for ages. Sutton, this is Sidney, the
Human Behavior Professor whose brain you’ve wanted to pick.”
“It’s nice to meet you, Sutton,” Sidney said. They exchanged a hand-shake, and she admired the long, elegant fingers that wrapped around her own. As a nurse she was a firm believer in the power of touch, so hands were one of the first things she noticed about a man.
“You have an interest in the study of human behavior?” Sidney asked. He took the empty seat beside her at the table.
“Oh, I’m always interested in figuring out why people do what they do,” she admitted. She turned her body to face him. “Even if they rarely seem to stop and examine that for themselves.”
“I dare say, if everyone had such a vested interest in their actions, the world would be a better place,” Sidney said. His tone was dry as sarcasm spilled from every pore.
She chuckled, impressed by his wit.
“Is that an English accent you have?” she asked.
“Close, my family is from Wales. So, we’re neighbors.”
“How did you end up in America?”
“Some days I ask myself the same thing. I did an exchange program at the University of Texas and fell in love with Austin. From that point on I knew when I went for my Ph.D. it would be here.”
“Do you ever miss Wales?”
“Often, but I get back once or twice a year, so it’s not too bad.”
“I’ve always wanted to travel to Europe, but school and then the start of my career has kept me so busy I couldn’t even think the word vacation.”
“Perhaps you’re due for a trip?”
“Sidney, you just met the girl. Are you’re really trying to whisk her away for a vacation overseas?” Leigh asked. Sidney rolled his eyes and snorted.
“That’s what happens when you eavesdrop, Leigh, my dear, you only get half the story, and even then, it’s skewed.”
His tone was short but infused with subtle humor that made them all laugh. Why have I never come out with them before? Sutton wondered. The other girls she could take or leave. Their conversations about fashion, men, and dancing had bored her. Yet, she wouldn’t mind being a part of this small group of intelligent, charming people a couple of times a week.
Sutton studied Sidney from under her lashes as the night wore on. She admired the fluent motions of his hands, the velvet smoothness of his voice, and the quickness of his mind. It was embarrassing to admit, but she had developed a crush. It was all too easy to imagine the havoc those lean hands could work on her body.
Sutton crossed her legs in an attempt to stave off the arousal building between her legs. She cleared her throat and grabbed her water, hoping she looked a lot calmer than she felt. The man hadn’t shown any interest in her, and she was ready to turn into female goo.
“I think one last round of drinks is needed,” James said a while later.
They all voiced their agreement, and Sutton was surprised when Sidney turned to her.
“What would you like?” he asked.
“A rum and cola please.” He nodded, and she watched, impressed by his manners, when he waved the waiter over after she was finished with James, and ordered drinks for the both of them.
“A lady should never have to order her own drinks.” He gave her a wink, and she fought the urge to read too much into things. Is he flirting with her, or just being a gentleman? She didn’t know him well enough to tell the difference.
“Careful, Professor Rothman, if you keep saying all the right things I may just have to keep you.” She’d chosen her words carefully. The playful wording could go be humorous or hold a veiled meaning. She studied his face as she tested the waters.
“What would a beautiful, young woman like yourself want with me?”
“Plenty. I like older men.” The arch of his eyebrows told her she’d stunned him as well as herself. It wasn’t in her nature to be so bold, but she had promised herself to live a little tonight. He was the first man she’d been attracted to in eons. She’d kick herself repeatedly later if she didn’t at least show him she was interested.
“Well, that’s an important piece of information to have.” He smiled. “How much older?”
“It depends.” She shrugged. “How old are you?”
“Didn’t anyone ever teach you it’s impolite to ask someone their age?” His voice was light and playful as he chuckled. “I’m fifty.”
“What a coincidence, that’s the age I like.” She gave him a saucy wink and relished in the laughter she caused, despite the heat that infused her face. It was times like these she was damn glad her skin was dark, so no one could see her blush.
She gasped when he traced the tiny tattooed heart on her wrist a moment later.
“Tell me, Sutton, what else do you like in a man?” His voice dropped an octave and took on a husky tone as he pinned her in place with his dark eyes. Damn, he was intense.
“Intelligence, wit, manners, and humor, to name a few things.”
“I see, what about control?” He all but purred as he wove a dark, sensual spell.
“C-control?” she asked, unable to concentrate when his finger traced tiny circles against her skin.
“Do you like it when a man is in control? When he tells you what to do?”
“I- I don’t know.” She licked her suddenly dry lips as she lowered her gaze, unable to understand the emotions this man caused with just a few questions and an innocent caress.
“Ahh, but you’d like to find out, wouldn’t you?”
“Yes.” Her admission made her feel of the arousal and interest he’d piqued.
To everyone else, they were having a casual conversation, but the liberties he was taking were anything but. His arm had crept around the back of her chair, and he trailed a delicious path over the small of her back with his fingers. Just light enough to tease without giving true pleasure. She could have told him to stop, but she found she didn’t want to. His knee brushed up against hers, and it was all she could do not to whimper. What kind of black magic did this man possess? Did he know what he was doing?
She peered up at him from beneath her lashes and grimaced when he caught her and smirked. The bastard knew exactly what he was doing, and she’d be damned if she didn’t find it sexy as all get out. He kept her on edge for the rest of the night with his light caresses and intimate questions. It left her unsure of where she stood. She should be insulted, by his forwardness. Instead, she longed to experience more. When the check arrived at the table, she didn’t know if she was relieved or saddened.
He held out his hand to help her up from her seat, and they lagged behind James and Leigh to say a semi-private goodbye outside of the restaurant.
“Did you enjoy my company tonight?” he asked. He tilted his head to the side slightly, almost as if he was studying her.
He paused and opened his mouth as if to say something, before shaking his head.
“I feel the same. We’ll see each other soon I’m sure.”
He placed a gentle kiss on her hand before he walked away leaving her flabbergasted. Did that mean he wasn’t interested, or he was leaving the ball in her court?
Sutton could feel the questions in Leigh’s gaze as she walked away from James, who was saying his goodbyes to Sidney.
“I’m just going to walk Sutton to her car, honey,” Leigh said. She looped her arms through Sutton’s and leaned in to whisper into her ear as they headed towards her car.
“So, what did you think of Sidney?”
“He’s a nice guy.”
“Come on, Sutton, you were practically drooling.”
“I was not! His conversation was...stimulating.”
“Do you really expect me to think your brain was the only thing he stimulated?”
“He’s an attractive man, with a killer accent. I’d have to be dead not to notice, even if he’s like twenty years older than me.”
“Eighteen, but who’s counting?” Leigh giggled.
“Why not? He’s single. You’re single, and I’d have to be blind not to see you enjoyed one another’s company.”
“You’re not going to let this go, are you?” Sutton asked. She hit the keyless remote as they reached her car and turned to face her friend.
“No, because I really think there was a spark there. I know
Sidney. He doesn’t take to people like he did with you.”
“What do you mean take to me? All he did was converse.”
“Believe me. He had the charm dialed up.”
A smile crept over her lips at the thought of the distinguished professor putting effort into making a good impression on her.
Maybe the attraction wasn’t one-sided after all.
“See what, Leigh?” Sutton asked.
“That smirk and the glimmer and shine in your eyes.”
“My eyes are not glitter.”
“Whatever you say,” Leigh said. She flashed her a wink as she stepped back to allow her to enter the car, and rolled down the window.
“Just trust me, Sutton. I know what I’m doing. I got my man
“I’m going to regret humoring you, but what do you mean?”
“I don’t think I ever told you how I met James. He was my professor.”
“Why does that not surprise me? You little Lolita.”
“Soon you’ll be benefiting from all of my tricks. So, keep your little comments to yourself. The key is to make them think everything you’re getting them to do is their idea.” She stepped away from the car with a smirk that made Sutton’s stomach do flips.
“You’ll thank me later,” Leigh said. She gave a final wave of her hand before she sauntered off with an extra sway in her gait.
“Cocky wench,” Sutton whispered. A giggle bubbled up into her throat as she started her car, and backed out of the parking lot. Regardless of Leigh’s meddling, she had a great time. It was the reprieve she needed.