Ten minutes later, the nurse calls for me. She’s a familiar blond woman, but I can’t remember her name. She props open the door to the triage area with her hand, but makes no move to help wheel me in. Nathan stands up, and I sigh, too tired to put up a fight. I want to have this taken care of so I can get home.
The triage area is a bay of eight beds, each sectioned off with a solid wall on three sides and a flimsy curtain in the front. The lights are too bright and the space smells too much like that waterless antibacterial hand soap. A headache forms from the overwhelming attack on my senses. The nurse leads us to the only open room and closes the curtain behind us.
“Climb up on the bed there, and I’ll get some vitals. My name is Annie.” She clicks around on her computer.
Using the arms of the wheelchair, I stand on my left leg. I achieve one good hop toward the bed before Nathan’s hand clamps around my upper arm.
“Let me help you.” His voice is low and near my ear.
Ignoring a tingle that may or may not have happened from his voice and proximity, I let him maneuver me to the bed. He props my foot up on a pillow by the time Annie turns back around.
“Nice splint you got there. Did you do that yourself?” She clamps a pulse oximeter on my index finger and winds a cuff around my bicep to take my blood pressure.
“He did.” I wave my hand in a gesture to Nathan. “We’re both paramedics. I thought I’d save myself the money on an ambulance ride and called him instead.”
She unwinds the stethoscope from her neck and separates the ear pieces. “How nice.” Her forced wide smile says she doesn’t give a shit.
I don’t let her demeanor bother me. Just looking at the full triage bay and waiting area made me tired. She’s in for a long night.
She records my vitals in the computer. “I’m going to let the doctor know you’re ready. She’ll be in as soon as possible.” The way she speaks implies it won’t be soon at all. The curtain swishes behind her before I can offer a thank you.
The silence in the tiny room stretches between us, but the noises from the triage bay are loud and clear. A child screams nearby, the sound high and terrified, while a frantic parent tries to shush him or her with the promise of ice cream later. Someone else coughs in a way that makes me want to avoid whatever germs they have at all costs. A cart squeaks by my alcove, probably carrying some medical equipment or supplies to run tests on some poor soul. I can see the wheels of the cart, and shoes of the person pushing it, beneath the bottom of the curtain.
“You don’t have to wait in here with me.”
“You should go out with me.”
My phone dings with a text.
All three happen simultaneously.
In my brain, they run together like a car crash and became a mass of jumbled words and sounds. My wide eyes swing to Nathan before I drop them to my lap and search my pocket for my phone. Option one: use the text as a distraction from Nathan’s question.
Law: Where are you?
I turn my phone on silent and jam it right back into my pocket where it belongs. Not dealing with that right now.
Since option one failed, I move onto the second. Unfortunately, it isn’t the ‘run-screaming-from-the-room’ option (that would be option three, not that I can get very far on one leg). Number two is let-him-down-gently-and-salvage-the-work-relationship.
Knowing what I need to do doesn’t make looking at him any easier. Nathan rounds the hospital bed to stand directly in front of me, forcing my attention to him. His broad body blocks the exit so effectively that I can’t even focus on the sounds outside anymore. My ears buzz in the silence. He completely obscures the world beyond the curtain, and how easily he commands my attention messes with my head.
“Janessa’s been gone a while now, and I didn’t die along with her.” The gentle tone is for my benefit more than his own. Given the topic, it seems insulting not to meet his steady gaze.
“We’ve known each other a long time. What I’ve seen in that amount of time, I like. A lot. Let me take you out after this.”
“It’s too late tonight. And my foot…” I let the lame excuse hang from my lips, lingering in the air like a foul smell. One Nathan brushes away without a thought and moves in closer. His torso looms over the end of the bed, and his face nears mine. I can see the striations of black through his irises, and when he blinks, the long lashes touch his cheeks.
“I didn’t mean tonight. Am I so bad you can’t imagine going out to dinner with me? I know this isn’t the most romantic place to ask you this, but it’s not the first time I’ve thought about asking you out. I’ve been attracted to you for a long time.” He cups my face with his firm hand, the fingertips reaching the back of my skull, and his thumb strokes my cheek. “The timing never felt right.”
Why should I fight this? Nathan is attractive by every definition of the word. He’s the only man I’ve let into my life in a personal capacity since I moved to Arrow Creek. He’s kind and selfless, shown not only by his reactions today but also how he conducts himself on the job. He has a sense of humor, a gorgeous smile, and apparently, he smells good too. As if to punctuate the point, I lean into his hand. The move brings my nose closer to his fleece jacket I still wear. The scent has faded some, but it’s still there—woodsy and warm.
“I don’t know what to say.”
His thumb slides from my cheek to my chin and applies pressure, tilting my head back. His eyes warm as they scan my face, and his voice comes out rough. “Maybe I can change your mind.”
His mouth touches mine in a gentle caress. His fingers stroke through my hair as his mouth works coaxingly against mine. His lips take my bottom lip between his teeth, giving a gentle tug. Not enough to hurt, but the soft nibble sends a tingle rushing between my thighs. I moan, and that’s all the confirmation he needs to dip his tongue into my mouth.
I don’t understand what’s happening. I’ve only kissed by two other people in my life. One I never think about, and the other, I wish I could forget. But in that moment, both memories obliterate from my mind with the soft warm press of Nathan’s lips.