“Hell of a job today, Dr. Rainer.”
Paris smiled even before she turned to see who had spoken to her. Korbin Malone fell into step beside her as she made her way down the ER hallway from the operating rooms. “Thank you, doctor. Since I can say the same to you, I will.”
Korbin had been her backup during the firefighter’s surgery as well as a few others since her shift had begun the day before. He shot her a grin that had probably wooed half of the women in Cherish into his bed at one time or another and turned her words around on her with a little added alteration of his own.
“Thank you, doctor. How about we celebrate the shift’s success over a late lunch?”
Paris’s step faltered on its own accord. She recovered quickly, but she doubted she managed it fast enough that he didn’t notice. The way his grin dimmed in its seductive wattage gave her the first clue that he’d seen it.
“Thanks, but I have bowl of tuna salad and a bottle of wine waiting for me in my fridge. After that, I’m thinking about the nice, warm, empty bed that’s calling my name.” Maybe she shouldn’t have added the “empty” part to the bed, but she saw he got her point easily enough.
He nodded once and gave her a friendly pat on the back of her shoulder. “Enjoy your tuna salad. See you next shift.”
“See you next shift,” Paris echoed as his steps picked up pace and he disappeared down the hall.
Paris followed, but at a much slower speed, her steps faltering again when she passed the ER waiting room. Movement had caught her attention out of the corner of her eye and she back-stepped. She stopped in the doorway, poked her head inside, and then leaned a shoulder against the frame when she was the room was occupied by only one man.
“You keep pacing like that and I’m going to have to call maintenance to replace the tiles.”
Tate Shaw stopped in his tracks, turned on a booted heel, and locked his chocolate brown gaze on her.
Holy hormones! She’d noticed it hours ago when she’d come to the waiting room to give the firefighters a report on Ethan Crawford. It had been all she could do not to let show the intense reaction that had ping-ponged off every erogenous zone in her body. Being the object of this man’s attention made her imagination soar. Ecstasy, hot and intoxicating, pumped off him in waves. She wondered if he realized it, if he somehow did it on purpose.
No, she decided as he stared at her for a long moment without speaking. He didn’t realize it or do it on purpose. He didn’t have a clue. It was the haunted look deep in his chocolate brown eyes that told her that. The man was damaged. He’d been through some kind of hell.
And he’s going through another kind of hell now.
“I thought I told you to go home, Mr. Shaw.”
He ran his fingers through his dark brown hair. From the disarray of the short strands, it was obviously a move he’d been making regularly in the last few hours. “Yeah, see, I’ve never been good at following a doctor’s orders.”
Paris wasn’t surprised. Something about this man told her he wasn’t good at following anyone’s orders aside from his captain and lieutenant. “And Mr. Crawford? Is he better at it or should I take this as a warning that he will have to be more carefully observed?”
“He’ll do whatever you tell him to do if it means you’ll clear him to return to the firehouse.”
“Doing what I, and his primary care physician, tell him to do is the only chance he’ll have of making that happen.”
“But it will happen?”
The mix of hope and fear etched all over Tate Shaw’s handsome face tore at her heart.
God, she hated answering questions like that, especially so soon after a surgery. Every bit of her training, experience, and instincts told her that, yes, Ethan Crawford would return to his job in due time. But a punctured lung could be a tricky thing. Ethan was fortunate the lung hadn’t collapsed and, so far, the lung appeared to be functioning properly, but what if that changed?
“As I told you and the others this morning, your friend will have a long recovery period.” Six weeks really wasn’t all that long, but Paris knew to a firefighter out of the action, it would seem like a lifetime. Thankfully, Tate didn’t push her for a more direct answer to his question. Instead, he asked another one that was far easier to answer.
“Has there been any change in his condition since your last update?”
Paris shook her head. “His vitals are still good and he’s still sleeping soundly. It really would be okay for you to go home, grab a shower, and get some rest.”
As cream-inspiringly handsome as the man was still dressed in his fire boots, bunker pants, suspenders, and Cherish F.D.T-shirt with smudges of soot and grime on his hands and face, it was clear that he was worn out, exhausted, and in need of some serious downtime.
Tate looked at his hands before raking them down his face. “I’ll clean up a little in the restroom. When can I see him?”
“He’ll be moved to a private room once the anesthesia wears off. You’ll be able to see him then.”
Tate slowly nodded. “Thanks.”
Paris watched as he pivoted on his heel once again and went back to pacing the waiting room floor. She narrowed her gaze on his back, taking in the way his T-shirt stretched across his broad shoulders and the tension set in the corded muscles in his back as his long strides put distance between them. That, “Thanks,” had been a dismissal. She knew she should take it and leave. So why did her feet seem to be planted in their spot in the doorway as if they’d grown roots there?
“When is the last time you had something to eat?”
His step faltered, but the only part of him that turned to face her was his head. One brow cocked up as he met her gaze over his shoulder. A dart of shock shot through his eyes. “Hell, I don’t know. Dinner at the firehouse last night. Why?”
Why? Wasn’t that the million dollar question of the hour?
Paris couldn’t say what had possessed her to ask him that any more than she could explain why she couldn’t seem to make herself leave him be. The man had visible wounds she suspected ran really deep, but they weren’t injuries her surgical skills could fix.
She considered saying, “I was just wondering,” or “The hospital cafeteria is up one floor and down the hall to the right.” Neither of those things were what came out of her mouth.
“You should eat. You need to keep up your strength.”
His second brow rose to join the first as he turned fully to face her again. “Is that an order, doctor?”
“Why would I waste my breath giving you another order I know you won’t follow?” Paris swore the corner of his too-kissable lips twitched at that. “I’ll buy you lunch.”
She would? What was she thinking?
He seemed to be wondering the same thing because his gaze dropped from hers and he gave her a slow once-over that had her blood warming to the temperature of molten lava. “I don’t need a doctor, Paris.”
Christ! The way her name rolled from his lips in that low, sexy voice had those wicked needs spreading to parts she’d thought had gone dormant long ago. “No, but you do need a break. One hour, Tate.” Since he’d dared to use her first name, she figured it safe to do the same. “By the time you get back, your friend should be in a private room where you can join him.”
His gaze met hers again, held for a long moment, and she could all but see the wheels turning in his mind. She fully expected him to refuse. He didn’t.
“Point me in the direction of the nearest men’s room.”
Paris pushed herself off the doorframe and, what do you know, her feet could suddenly move again. “There’s one on our way out. You can wash up in there and meet me out front.”
He closed that step of distance he’d put between them in a single stride that brought the hard wall of his body pressed against her front. “You’re babbling.”
Paris gasped, partly from the return of the electricity zinging through her system and partly because she knew she wasn’t doing anything of the sort. “I’m not babbling. You asked questions and I’m—”
“Babbling,” he cut her off again, his voice low and rusty as he gazed down at her. “Apparently, I’m going to have to kiss you to make you stop.”
Paris blinked at him. No, he wasn’t because, oh, holy shit, whatever else she had been about to say evaporated from her mind at that. Somewhere in her scrambled brain, one question managed to form and make it past her lips. “Why would you do that?”
“Because I want to.”
He said it so simply, in such a matter-of-fact tone that she blinked at him again. “Ethan, you don’t want me.”
Hadn’t he told Tate he was going solo? Hadn’t he just told her that Tate was a grown man and could do whoever he wanted? Both statements had made it clear to her that he wasn’t interested, despite the tricks her imagination kept playing on her every time they touched.
One ash brown brow lifted over a green eye that danced with intrigue. “Really? If the hard-on I had for you in the hospital didn’t tell you different, this one should.” He angled his lower body, pressing it more firmly against her, and yes, his cock was definitely hard as rock.
Paris didn’t know what to say. She licked her lips and tried to latch onto that part of her brain that knew she should tell him to back off. Instead, the words that left her mouth couldn’t have been any more different. “Then maybe you should kiss me.”
What was she doing? She had just given herself to Tate, more than once in fact, and was telling Ethan to kiss her now! She had left Tate sleeping in his bed. What would he do if he walked into the kitchen and found her kissing Ethan? What would he think? How would he react?
The questions sailed from her mind when Ethan kissed her. It was a soft kiss, slightly hesitant at first, as if he feared she might pull away or as if he was deciding if he should be the one to stop instead. She didn’t pull away and he didn’t stop. He licked his way into her mouth and coaxed her tongue into a hungry dance that had her mind reeling even as her clit started to throb. Her nipples beaded to hardened points. There was no way he couldn’t feel the darts of them pressing against his chest. Juices leaked from between her pussy lips to soak the cotton lining of her panties.
Was she really going to do this?
She had found one of Tate’s shirts draped over a chair in the corner of his bedroom this morning and had thrown it on in lieu of her own clothes when she had come to the kitchen to get more water. Ethan fisted the material of that shirt now, the backs of his fingers grazing her flesh as he pulled it up and broke the kiss only long enough to tug it over her head. Then her pulsing nipples were pressing into the bare flesh of his chest and, God, yes, she was really going to do this.
She moaned into his mouth, her lower body bucking on its own accord, and her hips swaying, grinding her center against the hard line of his cock still clad in his jogging pants. She already knew how enormously long and thick his cock was and her pussy convulsed to feel it inside her.
The sound he made was more animal than man as he licked his way out of her mouth, danced his tongue down her throat, and dipped his head to take one of her breasts between his lips.
Paris cupped his nape with one hand, fisted the strands of his hair with the other, and let her head fall back as the sweet sensation of his licking and sucking on her breast drove her straight to near madness.
“Ethan.” She wasn’t sure if she said his name aloud or only in her head. It didn’t matter. Either way, he didn’t stop the delicious things he was doing to her breast with his mouth. Instead, he shifted to her other breast, taking great care to give it the same attention as the first.
“Oh, God.” Lightning bolts of pleasure shot down her body, igniting the fire already building in her pussy to an inferno she knew only this firefighter taking control of her body could put out. Apparently, Tate had done a good job of teaching her how to beg last night because it came way too easily to her now. “Ethan, please.”
He lifted his head, met her gaze, and the look in his eyes only added more fuel to the fire inside her. “I do want you, Paris. I’ve tried to resist that. If you hadn’t still been here this morning, I would’ve been able to pull it off. But you’re here and I can’t. Let me have you.”
Unable to speak around the emotions clogging her throat, Paris nodded. There was no way she could’ve missed the party that exploded in his eyes at her answer. It was so shocking to see that excitement unfold that she nearly laughed, but he chose that moment to shove a hand between their lower bodies and cover her pussy through the thin lining of her panties.
“Damn, sweetheart, you’re wet. Tell me it’s because you really want me as badly as I want you.”
Her hand was still in his hair and she toyed with the strands as she gazed at him. “Yes, Ethan. I want you.”