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Doctor in the Desert by S.C. Wynne (1)

CHAPTER ONE

The kid was obviously out of his head and had no idea what he was doing. So I didn’t take it personally when he tried to stab me with a scalpel. His skinny, tattoo-covered body was shiny with sweat, and his eyes were dark and vacant.

“I said don’t touch me, and I fucking mean it,” he growled.

“We just want to help you. You’re bleeding.” I stayed a safe distance away now that it was apparent we weren’t going to be BFFs. I felt for the kid, but I was exhausted. I’d just finished two twelve-hour shifts in the ER back to back and was irritated he had to have his freak-out right as I was about to leave.

“No way.” He kicked over a chair and shoved his weapon toward me again.

Out of the corner of my eye, I could see one of the ER nurses making a call. Where the hell was the cop who’d brought him in? I was more than a little pissed they hadn’t stayed with him since the kid was obviously high as a kite.

Standing next to me was the oncoming physician, Dr. Snyder. I’d just signed out to her. She looked less than thrilled to be here, and I couldn’t blame her. It was nice when you could ease into the crazy that was ER, but she wasn’t going to be that lucky tonight. Let’s face it, I was stuck too. I couldn’t exactly just leave now that crazy scalpel kid was loose. I checked his chart and figured out his name was Sawyer.

Sawyer licked his lips, and his gaze darted toward the sliding glass exit. He waved his weapon toward the group of us but seemed to have second thoughts about leaving immediately.

“Where do you keep the Oxy?” Sawyer demanded.

Nobody answered. They all turned in unison to stare at me. Aw, how I loved my coworkers sometimes.

“You’re in charge, right?” He swallowed nervously and stepped up close to me. He smelled like sweat and fear. “Where do you keep it?”

“You know I can’t just hand you OxyContin, Sawyer.” I did my best to sound reasonable. From his nasty expression, I could only guess he didn’t appreciate my efforts.

“Listen, Doc.” He looked down at his blood-splattered shirt. “I’m already in a lot of trouble.”

“I can see that.”

“I don’t want to hurt you, but I will,” he panted.

“We just want to help you,” I said.

“Then get off your fucking high horse and give me something.”

Someone was coming up behind him, head down and shoulders set, closing the distance quickly. Luckily the kid was distracted glaring at me. I saw a flash of blue uniform, a badge, and blond hair, and the kid went down in a pile of arms and legs. The scalpel clattered to the floor, and I grabbed it as quickly as I could. Sawyer kicked and snarled, but he never had a chance against the cop who took him down. Another cop, who I did recognize as Officer White, joined the first, and they yanked the kid to his feet.

“Sorry, Logan. I had to use the can,” Officer White said sheepishly to the other cop.

“Timing is everything,” Logan panted, cuffing Sawyer. He caught me watching and acknowledged me with a quick nod. I hadn’t seen him before. We were a small town, and newcomers stood out, especially newcomers who looked like him. “You okay?” Officer Logan asked me.

I was struck by how blue his eyes were, but I assured myself my elevated pulse was because I’d almost been stabbed. “I’m fine.”

“Can you just look him over real quick and we’ll get him out of here?” Logan asked.

“You want to check him out, Dr. Snyder?” I turned to the oncoming physician, and she shrugged.

“Of course I’ll look him over.” She seemed as mesmerized as I was with Officer Logan, her eyes glued on him. But she managed to pull herself away to examine the kid.

“Thanks for tackling him. He caught me off guard,” I said to Officer Logan.

“You were great. Very calm.” He grinned, and his smile was amazing. White teeth and cornflower-blue eyes—it was like looking at the beautiful Arizona sky.

“That’s just a doctor thing.”

“Yeah, cops fake it too.” He laughed. “Besides, Officer White should never have left him alone with you.”

“I agree.” I gave White a hard stare. “I’m sure it won’t happen again, right?”

Officer White nodded and stared at his shoes.

“I don’t think I’ve seen you before,” I said, pretending to read whatever nonsense was on my clipboard. He was making me nervous, in a good way.

“I transferred in from Tucson PD. Name’s Logan Drury.”

I took the offered hand. “Dr. Bennett, or Trace if you prefer.” His hand felt callused as it warmed mine. “Tucson is nothing like this place. You like the small-town feel of Bisbee?”

He nodded. “So far it’s a relief.”

“Why Bisbee?” I asked, studying his perfect full lips but doing my best not to look like I was. We were the same height, but he was built for power. Wide shoulders, nice chest, and strong legs.

“I have my sister and her family here.”

“That’s handy.”

“Yeah, for her. Now she has a built-in babysitter.” He grinned.

“I didn’t think of that.”

He ran his hand over his close-cropped hair, still smiling. “She did. Now it’s very clear to me why she was so gung ho I move here.”

“Are you actually staying with her?”

“Only temporarily. There’s a house I’m going to be leasing, but the other tenants aren’t out until the end of the month.”

I was tempted to keep standing there, just so I could stare at his face, but I needed sleep. “I’d like to thank you for saving me from a scalpel in my throat. Maybe I can buy you a drink sometime?”

“There’s no need. I was just doing my job.” A hint of color swept his angular cheeks.

“Well, if you change your mind, you know where to find me.” I looked around at the drab white-and-yellow walls and grimaced.

“I do.” We shook hands and parted.

My hand was still tingling as I made my way to my office to change out of my white coat. I didn’t meet many guys who affected me the way Officer Logan had. It was kind of nice to know I wasn’t completely dead in that department. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d even been interested enough in someone to consider meeting up for drinks. Maybe hanging out with drug addicts and stabbing victims wasn’t conducive to a healthy social life after all.

 

* * * *

I had two days off in a row, and when I came in for my shift Monday morning, I felt almost human again. I’d had trouble shaking Logan out of my head. I secretly hoped I’d run into him again in the ER. I could use another glimpse of those beautiful soulful eyes, and Bisbee was a small enough town that you could easily bump into the same people. Not to mention lately it seemed like the cops were dragging in a lot more perps than usual.

I was pumping a girl’s stomach when I heard a commotion by the front area. I handed my patient off to the competent nurse at my side and went to check out what was going on. My heart skipped a happy beat when I saw Logan. He had his broad back to me, and he was restraining a big angry white guy with the help of his partner. But there was no mistaking it was him. His muscles rippled under his uniform shirt, and I shook myself to try to be more professional. Ogling the cops was no way to garner respect from my fellow doctors.

The prisoner eventually gave up, exhausted, and with a grunt sat glowering as we took his blood pressure and asked him the usual questions. He had a big, bloody gash on his forehead, but he barely moved as we cleaned and stitched it.

“Hello again, Doc.” Logan stood off to the side, his strong arms crossed. He met my eyes and smiled.

“You know the nicest people, Officer Logan,” I said.

“There do seem to be a lot of crazies lately.”

“Maybe it’s the full moon,” I said, dabbing at the patient’s wound with antiseptic.

“I wouldn’t doubt it.”

“I notice it every cycle,” I murmured, slapping a large bandage on the prisoner’s forehead.

“I guess we’ll be seeing more of each other, then.” He looked like he wanted to add something, but he didn’t.

It was the first time I’d ever been thankful for the uptick in criminal activity. I finished up with the prisoner and walked over to toss my gloves in the trash. I tried to sound casual as I asked, “So, you have any days off this week?”

His face was hard to read, and he hesitated before answering. “I do.”

“I was serious about wanting to buy you a drink to thank you.” I rustled up some courage and looked at him as I spoke. Yep. He was as gorgeous as I’d remembered. Smooth tan skin, high cheekbones, and full lips.

He raised one eyebrow. “You don’t have to do that, you know.”

“I know. But I would like to, and besides, you’re new in town. Consider it my way of welcoming you to Bisbee.”

“The only night I have off is Wednesday,” he said, glancing over at his handcuffed prisoner to make sure he was still behaving. It struck me Logan seemed a little nervous as his gaze returned to mine.

“Me too.” I pretended to nonchalantly study the charts a nurse handed me. Who was I kidding? I was nervous as hell too. It’d been a long time since I’d actually asked someone out. For all I knew he was straight. I thought I sensed an attraction between us, but I was rusty at reading the signs. I didn’t get a lot of practice honing my skills, since there weren’t any gay bars in Bisbee. Not that it would have mattered. I hated the bar scene.

“Sure. Okay, that sounds great.” He grinned suddenly and scribbled his number on the back of a card and handed it to me. “It’ll be great to spend my night off out of the house and away from my sister’s screaming kids.”

I studied his card, thrilled he’d agreed. “There’s this place called Beers of the Land. I know it sounds tremendously hokey, but they have a great selection of ales. Do you just want to meet there?”

“Sure. Is seven about right?”

“Seven o’clock on Wednesday it is.” I stamped down my urge to leap into the air and yell yippee. I hung my serious doctor face back on and returned to the nurse, who was watching us curiously. Logan hauled his prisoner away, and I went back to tending to Bisbee’s sick.

 

* * * *

Wednesday night arrived faster than I expected. I was excited but mostly nervous. The more I thought about it, the more I worried he was straight. What were the odds that a guy like him would wander into our town and actually be gay? It seemed farfetched. However, I decided either way it would be enjoyable to be in his company.

It was seven thirty, and I was sitting in one of the dark wooden booths at Beers of the Land, staring at a picture of Japanese cherry blossoms. All the booths had different décor and artwork based on all the countries of the beers the place offered. I’d apparently been searching subconsciously for serenity, because I grabbed the booth of Japan. I gave a deep sigh, trying to relax.

He was late. I had his number, but I didn’t want to seem overly anxious and call the guy just because he was running a little behind. I took a long pull off my glass just as Logan shot past my table, obviously in a huge hurry. He must have caught me out of the corner of his eye, because he slammed on the brakes. A petite blonde following close behind him smashed into his back, and her husky laugh rang out.

“Jesus, Logan, warn a girl when you’re gonna take your foot off the accelerator.” I met her curious gaze and knew immediately she must be related. She had the same sky-blue eyes and corn-blonde hair.

Logan, for his part, looked frazzled. Gorgeous but rattled. “Shit, Doc. I’m so sorry I’m late.”

“It’s my fault. I freely admit it.” The blonde girl threw her hands in the air as if surrendering. “My husband’s truck broke down, and Logan was good enough to stay with the kids while I went and picked up my better half at the garage. Of course that kind of threw a wrench in Logan’s plans for the evening.”

She said it all without taking a breath. Very impressive lungs. I met Logan’s apologetic gaze, and my breath caught in my throat. God, he was even attractive when he was stressed out of his mind. His eyes were even brighter than usual against his flushed cheeks.

“It’s fine. I haven’t been here that long.” I tried to pacify him. “Sit down and let the tranquility of Japan soothe you.”

He let out a huge sigh and plopped onto the booth next to me. “I need a drink.”

I signaled to the waitress, and she nodded and went off to grab Logan a cold beer.

“I’m Jo, short for Josephine.” Logan’s sister stuck out her small hand. “I’m so glad Logan’s got a friend in town. He tends to be a loner.”

Logan’s brow had a deep crease as he frowned at his sister. “Jo, could you please let the mystery that is me unfold naturally?”

I laughed and paid the waitress when she brought Logan’s drink. “Would you like anything, Jo?” I asked.

She shook her head vigorously. “I would love one, but I can’t. Got to get back to the family.” Even though she declined the drink, she sat opposite us in the booth and leaned in toward me. “So, you’re a doctor, huh?”

“I am. I have the certificate on my wall back at the office if you’d like to see it.”

She grinned. “Oh no, I believe you. But do you mind if I just make a quick copy of your social security card and driver’s license?”

I couldn’t help but laugh. “I’ll send you certified copies in the morning.”

“You’re mighty cute for a doctor,” she said, resting her chin on her hand.

“Jeez, Jo. Leave the guy alone.” Logan squirmed in his seat.

“Thank you, I guess?” I was positive I was red-faced, since my cheeks felt like they were on fire.

“What? If I said he was ugly, I could see the problem, but it’s not often a doctor is tall, dark, and delicious. It deserves acknowledging.”

“Sorry, Doc. She’s a tad blunt sometimes.”

“He needs to ask a favor, but he’s worried he’ll be putting you out,” she said, gesturing toward her brother.

“Seriously, Jo. I can handle this.” He turned to me. “I’ll need a ride home, if that’s okay? Jo needs my car.” Logan looked tense, like he actually thought I might object.

“It’s no problem,” I said.

Jo grabbed my hand affectionately. “I’m so happy. You don’t know how guilty it would make me to ruin Logan’s night. He’s been looking forward to this so much.”

Logan shot her another one of those looks. “I’ll see you later, sis,” he said meaningfully. “Frank and the kids will be wondering where you got off to.”

She just laughed and jumped up, squeezing his shoulder before moving toward the door. “You boys behave, now, you hear? It’s so great meeting you, Trace.” She breezed out of the door with cheerful confidence.

Logan relaxed visibly once she disappeared out of the door. He let loose a huge sigh and took a sip of beer, wiping the creamy foam from his lips.

“Feeling better now?” I said. “She’s quite the whirlwind.”

“I love her to death, but I’m counting the days till my place is ready.”

“Well, sure, loners always want to be alone,” I ribbed him.

His eyes sparked, and he grumbled, “I don’t know where she gets that. I’m no more a loner than anyone else. Probably no more than you are.”

“Oh, I’m a total loner. I verge on shut-in.”

He was swallowing and almost choked on his drink. “As many hours as you seem to work, you aren’t home enough to be a shut-in.”

I smiled and changed the subject. “You don’t need to worry. I don’t mind giving you a lift home at all.”

“Thanks. I feel like I’m in high school and my mom and dad dropped me off at the prom.” He squinted at me. “Do you have sisters or brothers?”

“I have two brothers. They live in California. My parents are gone four years now.”

“I’m sorry about your parents. Do you get along with your brothers?” He was rubbing his hands across the smooth wooden tabletop absentmindedly. I shivered as the vision of his warm hands running over my body popped into my head.

I nodded, still distracted by my lusty thoughts. “We’re really different from each other, but we love one another,” I said softly. “I miss being able to see them on holidays. It’s not that far, but it’s just far enough to make it difficult.”

“True. Although having family superclose is a mixed bag.”

“I think your opinion is too biased at the moment.” I laughed.

“You’re probably right.”

“It’s more that I miss being able to call them up and go hiking or grab some food on our days off together. Just spontaneous things like that.”

“Hey, I hike. Would you want to go sometime?” He seemed excited at the idea.

“I would love to. There’s a trail called Mule Mountain. It’s the kind of hike you can make as easy or as hard as you like. Are you up for that?”

“Hellz, yeah,” Logan said grinning. “I’ve wanted to explore this area. Get out into the fresh air and climb through some brush and rocks. Maybe leave behind screeching nephews and fucking drug addicts for a while.”

“Sounds fun.” Our eyes met, and I felt that little sizzle run through me again. “Maybe next week, if our days off coincide.”

“It’s a date.” His cheeks colored when he said those words, and he lowered his gaze.

I still couldn’t get a bead on whether he was straight or not. It was getting frustrating. “Why’d you become a cop?”

He twisted his lips, thinking. “I like things to be orderly.”

“Wow, then you must be having the time of your life living at your sister’s.”

He buried his head in his arms. “I might lose my mind. I keep hoping I’ll get a call saying the house is ready for me sooner than the end of the month.” He groaned.

“Before you know it, you’ll be picking out a sofa, don’t worry.”

“Please, Lord. Let that be true.”

“This police department must be completely different from the one in Tucson. Is it better or worse?”

“In some ways it’s almost more stressful.”

“Seriously?” I said, surprised.

“The department is smaller, so I feel more responsibility to perform. There are less of us, and everything we do has to count.”

“I guess that would be true. Do you like the guys you work with?”

“I’m the new kid on the block, so they’re pretty much giving me hell twenty-four seven.” He screwed up his face in a frown. “I can’t wait until another transfer comes in. Maybe then they’ll lay off me.”

“Officer White seemed to like and respect you the other day at the hospital.”

“Yeah, they all like me. But you know that means nothing when it’s time to pick on the new guy.”

“You sound frustrated.”

“I am.” He swallowed nervously. “But it’s not really fair to blame it on just the job.”

The beer was going to my head, but I wasn’t sure if it was my place to pry. “Is something else bothering you?”

“I don’t know. Life is weird.” He pinned me with his blue stare, and my stomach jangled at the uncertainty I saw there. “What about you? Are you happy? Is your life turning out as planned?”

“Do you mean my job?”

He tilted his head thoughtfully. “Are you happy in general?”

I bit my lip. “I’m okay.”

“Maybe you could hold down your enthusiasm a little, fella.” He smiled.

“No, I mean I guess I’m happy enough.” I stroked my chin as I formed my words. “I have a good job. I make good money. I have a nice house.”

“Yeah, I know that should be enough, right?”

“My financial needs are met. I’m respected at work.” I stopped short. “Is it just me, or do I sound really pathetic?”

“You don’t sound pathetic at all. You’re doing well, moneywise. That’s a large part of happiness.”

“Yes. Wouldn’t it be lovely if that was all I wanted… or needed?” I felt heat in my cheeks, and I snuck a peek at him. He was watching me intently. His eyes were bright and focused.

“We see so much ugliness in both our jobs. Do you ever feel guilty that you don’t feel thankful enough?” he asked.

“All the time.” He met my gaze, and there was a definite connection, an understanding of what we each felt.

“I mean, the stuff I see—why can’t I just be happy that I don’t have those problems?” he said.

“Money can’t buy happiness.” I shrugged.

“That’s what I keep telling the Johns I arrest. But they disagree,” he said sarcastically.

“Okay, let me rephrase. Money can’t buy permanent happiness.” I wiggled my brows.

We sat in silence for a moment, sipping our drinks. I was trying to work up the nerve to ask him if he was seeing anyone. Hoping I could discern from his answer if he was straight or not. But I didn’t get the chance, because he asked me first.

“Are you seeing anyone in town?” he asked tentatively.

Being caught off guard, I ended up tongue-tied. “Umm… I… no. Not in town.”

“You’re seeing someone out of town?” he asked, puzzled.

“Not really.” What the hell kind of answer was that?

He touched the back of his neck. “Not really?” he asked in an uncertain tone.

I grimaced. “Sorry, it’s complicated.”

“It seemed like such a simple question when I first asked.” He laughed. “But if you’d rather not say, that’s cool.”

I was aware I was coming off far more mysterious than intended. “I am not seeing anyone in town, but I do have a… friend who comes through once in a great while, and we… see each other… if you know what I mean.”

He cleared his throat. “Wow. That’s rare. She doesn’t mind just hooking up without all the usual romantic gestures?”

Crap. Here it was. The moment of truth. “You know what? You’re right. Next time we fuck, I’ll ask Scott if he wants me to buy him dinner first.”

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