It wouldn’t be fair to drag her into my life when my future is so uncertain. But I can’t resist her.
My name is Wyatt Blake. I’m a cardiothoracic surgeon in Phoenix. When I was 17, I had a heart transplant that saved me. That’s not something I tell just anyone, because I hate being defined by the illness that ruled the first half of my life. The average life expectancy for a transplant patient is 11 years. I’m 34, and in case math isn’t your thing, that puts me about six years past my expiration date when I spend a weekend at my buddy Jason’s wedding in Miami and meet the sexiest bridesmaid in the history of sexy bridesmaids. Dee Giordino is sweet, kind, loving and drop-dead gorgeous. I love every minute I spend with her.
We had so much fun together at the wedding, and when I invited her back to my room after, we had the best night I’ve ever had with anyone. And now I can’t stop thinking about her or texting her or wishing our one-night stand could somehow be more, even though “more” isn’t in my vocabulary.
When Jason tells me there’s an opening in my specialty at his hospital, I come running back to Miami to interview for the job. And to see Dee again, even though I know that’s completely unfair to her. Due to my situation, I’ve become the king of the one-night stand.
But Dee, she’s different from the beginning, and maybe, just maybe, I might have to break all my rules for her… Fair or not.
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How Much I Love
Miami Nights Series, Book 3
Is it possible to go into hiding when everyone knows where you are? Asking for a friend. Well, that’s not true, and we all know it. I’m asking for myself because I’m in a mess of my own making. There’s no other way to put it. I had revenge sex with one of the groomsmen at my cousin’s wedding, and for months he’s been texting cute little daily notes that I find myself looking forward to with far more excitement than I should have for a supposed one-night stand.
Wyatt is coming back to Miami to interview for a job here and wants to see me again. File that under things that weren’t supposed to happen when I decided to get busy with a man who doesn’t live here. Meanwhile, my ex—and the subject of the revenge sex he doesn’t know I had—is texting me, pleading for a chance to make things right.
Did you follow all that?
In case you’re wondering, I’m not that girl. I’m not the one who juggles the boys and giggles when she gets too much attention or has sex with men she isn’t in a relationship with. I. Am. Not. That. Girl. I assure you I’m not judging that girl. I’ve been envious of her in the past, how she could bed-hop, having all the sex without the stress of dealing with a “boyfriend.”
I’ve had one boyfriend, and once upon a time, before he lost his mind and married someone else, I expected to marry Marcus. Somehow, he ended up married to a woman we now refer to as “the skank.”
Too bad he didn’t see fit to break up with me before he got married.
I didn’t see any of this coming, and it flattened me. Marcus married someone else. My sister, cousin and I have no idea if his wife deserves the name we’ve given her, but what does it matter? She married my Marcus, and she’ll never be anything other than “the skank” to us.
For a long time after I heard he got married, I blamed myself. I was the one who desperately refused to move back to Miami after we both attended college there, and for a while, he was a good sport about it. But six months after he left New York, he said we needed to see other people. So that’s what we both did for a few years, not that I “saw” that many people.
About eighteen months ago, he reached out to tell me he’d made a big mistake letting me go and could we try again? Since I hadn’t met anyone I loved more than I loved him, I said okay, but I kept our reconciliation between us—and the cousin I lived with, who was the only one in my life who knew we were back together.
Marcus flew up to see me every other month, made sure we talked every day and said all the right things about supporting my dreams and loving me enough to let me spread my wings.
After he suddenly married someone else, though, I began to wonder if he got all that supportive shit from Hallmark cards at the local CVS.
My phone buzzes with a text. I make the mistake of glancing at it to find that Marcus is begging me—again—to call him.
Did I mention the skank dumped him, and he’s been telling people that the biggest mistake he ever made was letting me get away? I heard about that two days before Carmen’s wedding five months ago, now.
Thus, the revenge sex with one of her husband’s groomsmen, an incredibly sexy doctor from Phoenix who rocked my world in more ways than one.
I experienced actual rage when my sister, Maria, and cousin Carmen gently broke the news that Marcus was apparently in some sort of regret tailspin regarding me and how our relationship ended. Oh, and he’s still in love with me and never stopped loving me. Even then, I hadn’t told them that we’d recently reconciled, and as far as I knew, we’d still been together when he married someone else.
You got married, I’d scream if I returned one of his hundred calls over the last few weeks and months. What more is there to say? And yes, I know I should block him. I just haven’t gotten around to that yet. Stop judging me.
He has regrets. Whatever. How soon into his “marriage” did he regret leaving me after six on-again-off-again years without so much as a conversation? He let me hear through the formidable Miami-to-New York grapevine that my boyfriend got married. To someone else!
So yeah, call me crazy, but I’m not in any great rush to make him feel better by calling him and talking it out. He can screw himself. Was he thinking about me when he married her? When he had sex with her? When he let me hear about his “marriage” from other people?
And you wonder why I’m in hiding in my new apartment. A couple of months ago, I inherited the garage apartment at home owned by my aunt and uncle from my sister, Maria, who moved in with her fiancé, Austin. She managed to grab the golden ring with a great guy who came with a beautiful daughter named Everly, whose life Maria saved when she donated bone marrow to Everly.
Maria met Austin a year after the transplant, when they were finally allowed to talk to each other, and fell madly in love one email and text at a time. Austin is a star pitcher who’ll be playing for the Miami Marlins next season. He took a lesser deal than he could’ve gotten elsewhere so he could live in Maria’s town.
Now that’s a real man who steps up for the woman he loves, and I couldn’t be happier for them. They’re adorable together, and Everly is a sweetheart. Maria hit the jackpot, and I’m a nasty cow for being jealous that my sister and cousin have it all figured out while I hide out, hoping the whole world will just go away and leave me the hell alone.
Of course, with my mother battling breast cancer and me being back in Miami to help take care of her, I can’t hide out for long. My brothers Nico and Milo are in charge of dinner for my parents tonight, so I’m able to stay in my bunker for a while longer.
I watch mindless TV and try not to think about what I’m going to do about Marcus’s nonstop texts, or Wyatt, the one-night stand, trying to score a second night, or my mom’s illness, or anything other than which of the Property Brothers is going to win their latest Brother vs. Brother challenge.
I need a real job beyond waitressing at the family’s restaurant. At nearly twenty-eight, I’m living in an apartment owned by one aunt and uncle while working for another aunt and uncle. Not where I thought I’d be at this age, that’s for sure. I need to go to New York and get my stuff out of my cousin Domenic’s apartment. I need to get a freaking life. That’s the bottom line.
My phone buzzes again. I swear to God, I’m this close to blocking Marcus. But this text isn’t from him.
It’s the weirdest thing how I can’t stop thinking about what a great time I had at my buddy’s wedding. I never expected to meet the sweetest, sexiest bridesmaid in the history of sweet, sexy bridesmaids.
God, it’s from Wyatt, the first one-night stand of my life. At least, I intended it to be a one-night stand. He has other ideas.
Coming to Miami this weekend to hang with Jason and Carmen before my interview at Miami-Dade on Monday. Any chance I might run into you while I’m in town?
I have a systemwide meltdown as I read and reread his texts. Why had I given him my number, anyway? Oh, right, because I refused to leave with him from the wedding, so we exchanged numbers so I could sneak into his hotel like a dirty secret.
“Ugh,” I say to the walls. “How can this be happening? Why can’t everyone just go away and leave me alone?” I like being alone. Being alone makes it so someone I expected to spend my life with, only to find out he didn’t picture his life with me at all, can’t hurt me.
I never again want to put myself in a situation where something like that can happen. By keeping to myself, I can avoid that kind of drama—and that kind of pain. Yes, I see that my sister and cousin have found great guys who make them deliriously happy, and I’m glad about that. They both deserve all the happiness they can find. Carmen went through hell after her first husband, Tony, a police officer, was shot and killed on the job when they were only twenty-four. It took a long time for her to come back from that and take a chance on love again with Jason.
And Maria… her ex cheated on her while they were living together, turning her life upside down. Then she met Austin, who lived in Baltimore when they were first together, and they did the impossible—made a long-distance relationship work until his baseball season ended. He came to Miami for the off-season, and now they’re engaged.
It’s all worked for Maria and Carmen. But I’m under no illusions that’s going to happen to me, too. My illusions, such as they are, were shattered when Marcus married her. There’s no coming back from that kind of betrayal, especially since he didn’t even have the decency to let me know it was over between us before he married her.
At first, I laughed at Domenic, the cousin who sat me down and very gently told me he heard Marcus got married. How could that be? I laughed at the foolishness coming from Dom. “Marcus is my boyfriend,” I said. “He wouldn’t marry someone else.” I angrily accused Domenic of spreading rumors that weren’t true. I told him I’d seen Marcus a month ago, and everything had been fine. There was no way in hell he got married.
But he did. And realizing the “rumor” was true was the single most devastating moment of my life until a few days later, when I miscarried the baby I hadn’t even known I was carrying. That was worse than what Marcus did, but not by much. After the miscarriage, I holed up in my room in the apartment Dom and I shared in the city and refused to come out, except to use the bathroom.
Domenic threatened to call my parents, which finally got me to come out, to eat something, to return to the land of the living. Still, I was a shell of my former self over the last year as I walked through life like a zombie while I tried not picturing the man I loved living and sleeping with another woman.
Naturally, I had to stalk them online, which is how I learned that the skank is a stunning blonde with big boobs. Why couldn’t she be a troll? At least then I could live with him marrying down. But from everything I’ve seen of them together, he married up, and that hurts worst of all. He threw me over for a stranger who’s prettier than me, not to mention her boobs are twice the size of mine.
Ugh, what am I doing reliving this shit? What’s the point?
Before I can answer my questions, the phone rings with a call from Marcus’s sister, Bianca. I decline the call. I don’t want to talk to her any more than I want to talk to him.
A minute later, Bianca texts me. Please take my call. It’s an emergency.
For crying out loud. Why can’t people just leave me alone?
The phone rings three times before I take the call.
“Dee?” Bianca sounds frantic. “I’ve been using Marcus’s phone to reach out to you, but you’re not responding. He… He’s in the hospital, Dee. He was found unresponsive this morning and is in the ICU.”
My heart drops into my stomach. I don’t want to talk to him, but I don’t want him to be sick. “What’s wrong with him?”
“They don’t know. The doctors think maybe he took something.”
“What’re you saying?”
“I don’t know, Dee! I just don’t know. He’s really sick. Can you come here?”
There was a time when the thought of him being sick or in need would’ve had me running out the door to get to him as fast as I possibly could. That time is in the past. “I’m sorry. I can’t.”
“Dee! He could die!”
Tears fill my eyes, but I battle through the emotional firestorm, determined to look out for myself even when everything in me still wants to go to him. “I’m sorry. I’ll pray for him, but I can’t come there. I just can’t.”
The phone goes dead.
Before I have a second to process that Bianca has hung up on me, someone is pounding on the door.
“Open up, Delores.” My sister calls me that only when she means business—or is spoiling for a fight.
I haul myself off the sofa and unlock the door for Maria, who comes barging in like she owns the place. Just because she lived here before me doesn’t give her barging rights.
“What the hell, Dee? Mommy called me at work today to ask me why she hasn’t seen you in days, and I told her I had no idea because you were supposed to take dinner to them this week.”
“Nico did it. We switched weeks.” I return to my spot on the sofa that used to belong to Maria until she moved into Austin’s mansion and didn’t need it anymore. I also inherited her bed, dresser, TV and coffee table.
“I went by the restaurant, but they said you weren’t working tonight. What’s going on with you?”
“Nothing and this is Sofia’s weekend. We alternate, as you know.”
“I can tell just by looking at you that something’s up. You always do this when the shit hits the fan.”
“What do I do?”
Maria sits next to me on the sofa. “Go into hiding.”
I fixate on the enormous diamond ring on her left hand. I feel like an asshole for being jealous of what she has with Austin—a beautiful man, a beautiful little girl, a beautiful home and a stunning engagement ring. She’s the best person I know and deserves every good thing. “I’m not hiding.”
My phone chimes with a new text. I’m almost afraid to look. It’s Marcus—or I should say, Bianca. I can’t believe how selfish you’re being.
Now I’m selfish? How rich is that? I should’ve asked her how long he’s been in the hospital so I’d know when he last texted me himself. They’re going to blame me for this somehow. I didn’t respond to his texts, so he did something stupid and dramatic. Did he do it to get my attention?
I’ve almost forgotten Maria is there. I glance at her, wishing I could keep this to myself. But that’s not how things work in my family, which is one reason I was so eager to move to New York in the first place.
“Marcus is in the hospital.”
“I don’t know. Bianca said he took something he shouldn’t have, and she’s trying to guilt me into going there. He was blowing up my phone, and I was ignoring him, so I guess now it’s my fault he’s in the hospital.”
“She said that?”
“She said I’m selfish for not going there.”
“No, you’re not. You owe him nothing.”
“You and I know that, but she sees it differently. If he dies, they’re going to blame me.”
“Let them. You know the truth of what he did to you.”
Maria doesn’t know the half of it. No one does. Then I’m sobbing. She moves closer and puts her arms around me. I’m furious because it shouldn’t hurt this much after all this time.
“I’m so sorry, Dee. He’s an asshole for doing this to you—and so is she.”
“There’s more to what happened than you know.” I wipe the tears from my face and decide to tell her the truth. Maybe if I say it out loud, I can finally get some peace.
“Tell me,” she says, giving me her full attention.
I realize it’s been a while since I had my sister’s full attention. Between her ass-kicking job as a nurse at the free clinic and her new life with Austin and Everly, I hardly see her.
“Six months before he got married, Marcus and I had gotten back together—or so I thought.”
“What? You guys were together when he got married? Are you kidding me?”
I shake my head. I wish I were kidding. “We were keeping it low-key and working on our issues. I’d just seen him a month before, and I thought he was coming back the following weekend.”
She stares at me, incredulous. “This is unbelievable.”
“I found out he’d gotten married on a Friday. The following Monday, I had a miscarriage.”
Now someone else knows, and I’m not sure how to feel about sharing something that’s been such a raw wound for more than a year.
“Oh God, Dee,” Maria says, her eyes filling with tears. “Why didn’t you call me? I would’ve come!”
“I didn’t want anyone to know. I didn’t want him to know.”
“He didn’t know you were pregnant?”
I shake my head. “I was going to tell him the next time we were together in a couple of weeks. But then… Everything fell apart. He got married, and I lost the baby. I lost them both within four days.”
“Wait… Was this the week last winter when you weren’t answering anyone’s texts, and everyone was calling Dom to find out what was wrong with you?”
Nodding as I wipe away tears, I say, “I told him I had the flu.”
“Yes! That’s what he said. You had the flu. Why didn’t you tell me? You know I would’ve come. Carmen would have, too.”
“I couldn’t. I was… It was so awful, Maria. So awful. And when I came home for Carmen’s wedding, and you guys told me he was telling people he wanted me back…”
“That brought it all up again.”
“Yeah. He’s been relentlessly texting me. I was thinking about blocking him when Bianca called to tell me he’s in the hospital.”
“You should’ve blocked him. He has no right to do this to you. No right at all.”
“He said he’s sorry for what he did, that he fucked up and didn’t mean to hurt me.”
“He didn’t mean to hurt you? What the hell did he think would happen to you when he married someone else?”
“Especially when I had no idea he was even unhappy. The last time he came to New York, we had the best time. We went to Coney Island and saw a show, and…” A sob comes from the deepest part of me. “Everything was fine. I asked him to give me six more months in New York before I moved home, and he was okay with that. I don’t understand what happened, Maria. And I want to understand. I really do.”
“What will change if you know the why of it?”
“I don’t know. Maybe nothing, but I can’t figure out how we went from that great weekend to him married to someone else in the span of a few weeks. After I lost the baby, my doctor asked me if there was anyone she could call, like the baby’s father, and I just word-vomited the whole ugly story to her. That led her to test me for STDs, which was the ultimate humiliation.”
“It all came back negative, but still… It was horrible.”
“I’m so sorry you went through something like that alone.”
“There was nothing you could’ve done.” Thinking back to those unbearable four days makes me ache like it just happened when it was more than a year ago. “I’ve been kind of a mess ever since, and when I came home for Car’s wedding, and you guys told me what he was saying…” I shake my head, thinking about the conversation we had in the limo the night of Carmen’s bachelorette party. “I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.”
“From what Bianca told us, he’s legitimately remorseful.”
“I don’t care! Where was that remorse when he was marrying her? I hadn’t heard a single word from him in a year until you guys told me what Bianca said. What do I owe him?”
“Nothing,” Maria says firmly. “You owe him nothing at all.”
“I’ve been spinning for five months since the weekend of Car’s wedding.”
“Which was the same weekend we found out Mommy is sick.”
“Right.” Our mother was diagnosed with stage three breast cancer in October and had a double mastectomy with reconstruction in January. She’s undergoing treatment now, and the four of us, as well as our extended family, have rallied around her and my dad. I came home to Miami for the wedding and never went back to New York.
She pushes my hair back from my face. “I have an idea.”
“Come to my house for a few days. Hang out by the pool. Play with Everly. Drink wine with me. We’ll get you through this rough patch.”
“You don’t need my sad-sack self underfoot in your happily ever after.”
“Oh, hush. I’m inviting you. I want you to come. You’ll have your own room and bathroom, and you can hide out whenever you want to be alone. I can’t bear the thought of you sad and alone here. Come on. It’ll be fun.”
I’m tempted. Maria’s house is bonkers, the most amazing house any of us have ever been in, and since I don’t work again until Tuesday, I’ve got nothing better to do. “Are you sure you don’t mind? I’m not very good company right now.”
“I’m sure. I want you to come.”
“What about Austin? He has better things to do with his season starting than deal with a grumpy future sister-in-law.”
“He won’t mind, either. I promise. He loves you. You know that.”
I drop my head into my hands, so she won’t see how her kindness has wrecked me. I’ve been so alone with my feelings about Marcus and what he did and losing the baby for so long that it’s a relief she knows the whole story now.
She puts her arm around me. “It’s going to be okay, Dee.”
“Are you sure I shouldn’t go to the hospital?”
“I’m positive. I’ll call Bianca and tell her to leave you alone.”
“You don’t have to do that.”
“I know, but I’m going to anyway. Pack a bag, and let’s go to my place. We’ll order Mexican takeout and drink margaritas. It’ll be fun.”
My phone buzzes with another text, and before I can check it, Maria grabs it, probably preparing to run interference for me with Marcus’s family.
“Um, who’s Wyatt?”
I grab the phone from her, dying to know what he said this time. “Just a friend.” I take it with me into the bedroom and immediately check the text.
I just hope you’re ok. Write back to tell me you’re still out there. Hello? Dee? Come in.
I smile at his silly text and write back. Alive and well. Even if that’s not exactly the truth.
Go out with me when I’m in Miami this weekend. Say yes. Please? I can’t stop thinking about you.
I’m in absolutely no condition to be considering his invitation, but I find myself clinging to his offer like a lifeline. He can’t stop thinking about me. In truth, I can’t stop thinking about him, either, and maybe a night with a man who makes me feel good about myself is just what the doctor ordered—pun intended.
I reply before I can talk myself out of it. Yes.
He writes back right away. Tomorrow night?
Where should I pick you up?
I’ll meet you at Giordino’s parking lot at seven-thirty. We’ll figure out a plan from there.
See you then. Can’t wait.
I can’t wait, either. A sexy guy with a crush on me is just what my fragile ego needs to recover from what Marcus did to me. Maybe another hot night in Wyatt’s bed would help things, too. It took me days to recover from the first one. I had aches and pains in places I’d never ached before, which showed me something else—that Marcus wasn’t very good in bed. He’d certainly never tended to my needs the way Wyatt did. He discovered needs in me I hadn’t even known I had, and I walked around in a daze for weeks after the wedding.
And then he began texting me, continuing something that was supposed to have been one and done. As I pack a bag to hang out with my sister’s family for the weekend, I include my sexiest black dress and a pair of come-F-me heels I bought for the wedding festivities but didn’t end up wearing.
My life is a big fat mess at the moment, but Wyatt can’t wait to see me tomorrow night. That makes me feel a thousand times better than I did before I agreed to see him. Not that I’m putting any eggs in his basket. He’s a fling, and that’s all he’ll ever be.
In the other room, I hear Maria on the phone, her voice raised. “She doesn’t owe him a goddamned thing, Bianca. After dating her for years, he married someone else and didn’t even have the decency to tell her. He let her hear that from other people. We’re sorry he’s in the hospital, but you need to stop this guilt-trip shit with Dee right now, or you and I are going to have a problem.”
Yikes. Don’t screw with my big sister.
Thank God she’s taking care of that. I can’t bear to have Marcus’s family think this is my fault in some way. What did I ever do besides love him with my whole heart, which he crushed without a single look back until his “marriage” went bad? Then he was all about me again. To hell with that. To hell with him.
I’m moving on.
I’m an asshole. There’s no other word to describe someone in my situation looking for more from a woman who was supposed to be a one-night stand. If only that one night hadn’t been so freaking awesome, I would’ve moved on by now.
But memories of the incredible day and night I spent with Dee have plagued my waking hours and many of my sleeping hours, too. I wake up hard and horny and ready to go, realizing I’ve had yet another dream about my sexy bridesmaid. It’s not for nothing that I’m going back to Miami for the weekend after hearing from my friend Dr. Jason Northrup that the hospital where he works has an opening for a cardiothoracic surgeon.
Before I went to Jason’s wedding, I wasn’t thinking about changing jobs, but now that’s all I seem to think about when I’m not reliving the hottest night of my life.
The flight from Phoenix to Miami lands ten minutes early and taxis to the gate. I used the in-flight Wi-Fi to make plans with Dee, and ever since she said yes, I’ve been flying higher than thirty thousand feet.
Which brings me back to how I’m an asshole for wanting another night with her. I have my reasons for not getting involved with the women I date or sleep with, and I’m usually pretty disciplined about sticking to my own rules when it comes to these things. But everything about Dee is an exception to my rules. She’s smart, funny, gorgeous and sexy as all hell, and what’s best about that is she doesn’t even know how hot she is. I loved seeing her partying with her sister, brothers and cousins, and witnessing their close bond firsthand.
There’s a refreshing innocence to her, especially when she admitted to me that ours was her first one-night stand. How cute is she? I’ve had more one-night stands than I can count, but that’s by design. It wouldn’t be fair to drag someone else into my reality. I know that, and yet I’m elated that Dee has agreed to see me tomorrow night.
I’m definitely an asshole.
Another thought occurs to me, and I’m not sure if I need to check with her or not, but hey, any excuse to talk to her…
Do you care if Jason and Carmen know we’re going out tomorrow?
She doesn’t write back until I’m in an Uber on my way to Jason’s place in Brickell. It’s very difficult to keep anything private in my family, so I guess it’s okay if they know. I’d rather they NOT know we already spent time together if that’s all right.
No problem. I get it. Any chance we can eat at Giordino’s? That’s the other thing I haven’t stopped thinking about since the wedding weekend.
Sure, I can make that happen.
Something else to look forward to. Just landed in Miami. Can’t wait for a great weekend.
When is your interview?
Monday morning. What’re you doing tonight?
Hanging out with Maria and Austin at their place.
I’ll see what J&C are doing, but maybe we’ll connect later. Hope so.
She responds with a thumbs-up.
I hope that means she wants to see me as much as I want to see her. What is it about her that makes me feel like a teenager in the throes of a first crush? Maybe it’s because I never got to crush on anyone when I was a sick teenager. I barely left my house or hospital room. I’m making up for lost time with Dee.
I text Jason to let him know I’m on the way to his place. I wish I’d gotten a hotel now that I have plans with Dee tomorrow night, but Jay would’ve had a fit if I hadn’t stayed with him this weekend. He’s excited I’m interviewing for a job at the hospital where he and his wife work.
Jay responds right away. Can’t wait to see you!
I met him in medical school at Duke, which was the first time I ever lived away from home. When we weren’t studying, I was a bit wild during those years, and Jay assigned himself to be my wingman, making sure I didn’t do anything stupid or dangerous. I’ll never forget the freedom of those years, the fun, the laughs, the friends, the hard work. Those were the greatest years of my life, and Jay is one of the best friends I’ve ever had.
When he asked me to be in his wedding, I was thrilled and honored. After what he went through in New York with his crazy ex, I was so happy to hear he found someone great in Miami. And once I met Carmen, I was even happier for him. She’s awesome, and her family is, too. Their restaurant… Holy shit. Best food I’ve ever eaten in my life. I can’t wait to eat there again tomorrow.
I’ve almost forgotten I’m here for an interview. The job feels secondary to the other “attractions” in Miami. I call up the one photo I have of Dee, a candid from the wedding, taken by the official photographer. Jay sent it to me, not knowing anything about what happened between Dee and me after the wedding, and I’ve looked at it hundreds of times since then.
She was so incredibly sexy in that dress that I was hard for her from the first time I saw her coming toward us in the wedding party processional. When she took hold of my arm to walk down the aisle after the happy couple said, “I do,” her touch sending a charge through me, all I wanted was to get to know her. We had the best time that day, dancing, talking and laughing.
My phone chimes with a text from my mom. Saw you landed. Hope you’re safe.
For God’s sake. She kills me. I know how she worries and why she worries, but sometimes her hovering is just too much. I’m a thirty-four-year-old surgeon, and my mom still checks on me like she did when I was a sick teenager. Wait until she hears I’m thinking of relocating to Miami. She’ll lose her shit—and probably come with me. She’d live with me if I’d allow it. That is not going to happen.
Did you remember your meds?
Yes, Mother. Relax. All is well.
I want to remind her I’m a doctor who knows all too well what’ll happen if I don’t stay on top of my meds. But I don’t remind her of that. She went through hell with me and never left my side through the worst of it. I’d never say anything other than “thank you” to her, even when she’s driving me to drink with her hovering.
She tells me that someday I’ll understand when I have kids of my own, but that’s not going to happen. I’m not bringing kids into this world when I won’t be around to raise them. The thought of them losing me in some dramatic, traumatizing way makes me shudder. But that’s not something I’ve come right out and told my parents. I walk such a fine line where they’re concerned.
“Hey, man,” the Uber driver says. “We’re here.”
I realize I zoned out and had no idea the car had come to a stop. “Thanks so much.” I grab my bag from the seat next to me and get out of the vehicle. Standing on the curb, I text Jay. Here. What’s the secret to getting in there?
I’m waiting outside the main doors when I see Jay come off the elevator, smiling widely. He’s wearing basketball shorts and a tank top and looks nothing at all like a world-class neurosurgeon. After giving me a one-armed bro hug, he takes my bag as we head for the elevator.
I want to tell him he doesn’t have to carry my bag, but old habits die hard.
“Glad to see you, buddy,” Jay says. “I was so stoked when I heard a cardiothoracic spot is opening up at Miami-Dade. I said to Carmen, I’ve got to get Wyatt back here, stat.”
“Thanks for thinking of me.”
“Of course I thought of you. You’re the best of the best, and we’d love to have you here with us.”
“Well, you would, but Carmen might not be too happy if we get up to our old ways.”
“Ha! She knows I’m thoroughly domesticated these days.”
We get off on the seventh floor, and he leads the way to his place, where the door is propped open.
“Carmen, Wyatt’s here!”
Jason’s pretty wife comes out to hug me. “Great to see you.” She has the same dark hair and eyes, olive-toned skin and curvy body that Dee has. Dee is taller than Carmen but not as tall as her sister, Maria.
“You, too. Thanks for letting me crash on your sofa this weekend.”
“We’re happy to have you anytime. Can I get you a drink?”
“I got you some of that lemon seltzer you like,” Jay says. “I’ll get it for you.”
“We have stronger stuff than that,” Carmen says.
“Thank you, sweetheart, but I don’t drink.”
“Oh, okay. Sorry.”
“No worries.” I don’t drink. I don’t smoke. I don’t eat red meat. I don’t do caffeine or anything that might endanger my fragile health. The good news is I never got the chance to develop a taste for booze before my doctors put it on the list of forbidden substances.
Jay pours the seltzer for me, a glass of wine for Carmen and mixes a cocktail for himself. We take our drinks outside to their awesome patio that overlooks Biscayne Bay. The spring air is warm but not oppressive like it is in the summer, or so Jason told me.
Carmen goes back inside and comes out with a charcuterie platter that the three of us enjoy while we catch up. I stick to the cheese, crackers and fruit, while they enjoy the salami.
“How was the honeymoon?” I ask, even though I already know they had a blast in Turks and Caicos because I’m friends with them on Facebook.
“It was awful.” Jason grins at his wife. “We hated it.”
“Worst trip ever,” Carmen adds. “So bad we’re already planning to go back for our first anniversary.”
“You have to get to one of the all-inclusive resorts,” Jay says. “You’d love it.”
“I’m sure I would,” I tell him, even though I have a lot of other things ahead of that on my bucket list. And yes, I have a list. You would, too, if your life expectancy was as shitty as mine is. I want to drive cross-country. I want to go to Paris. I want to spend a month in Italy and travel from north to south to see as much of it as possible. I want to spend a month each in London and Dublin. I want to go to Australia and New Zealand. I want to write a book about being a heart patient who becomes a cardiothoracic surgeon. I’m well aware I might not get to do any of it, but I do have a list.
Carmen’s phone chimes with a text. “Maria is asking what we’re up to and if we’d like to come over for drinks and takeout.”
“I’d be up for that if you are, Wyatt. You probably remember from the wedding that Carmen’s cousin Maria lives with Austin Jacobs, the pitcher who recently signed with the Marlins. Their house is sick.”
“Sicker than this?” I gesture to their stunning view.
“Way sicker than this,” Jay says.
Of course, I want to go. Dee will be there. But I try to play it cool. “I’d be down with it. Whatever you guys want to do is fine with me. I just need to grab a quick shower.”
“I’ll get you some towels,” Carmen says.
Thirty minutes later, we’re on our way in Carmen’s car to Austin and Maria’s place. I’m looking forward to seeing this so-called sick house, but more than anything, I can’t wait to see Dee. I think about texting her to tell her we’re coming, but I figure she knows by now.
I wish I knew how she really feels about seeing me again, if she’s anywhere near as excited about it as I am, and then I again feel like a complete and total jerk for being so excited to see her. I remind myself over and over again of the rules I’ve set for my life. There’s no reason for me to take someone else down with me when I go—and I will go sooner rather than later. That’s just my reality.
“Oh shit,” Carmen says, reading something from her phone while Jay drives.
“Maria texted me. Dee’s ex, Marcus, is in the hospital. They think it could be a possible suicide attempt.”
I sit up taller, tuning in for intel about Dee.
“Is that the guy who married someone else?” Jay asks.
“Yeah, he’s the only guy she’s ever dated. They were together—on and off—for years.”
And he married someone else? What the fuck? I want to know more. I want to know everything, but I bite my tongue so I won’t pepper Carmen with questions. Thankfully, Jay is curious, too.
“I never heard the full story, only that you guys recently got word that he broke up with the wife and wants Dee back.”
Oh, hell no. No fucking way is he getting her back. Easy, cowboy. The rules, remember? Fuck the rules.
“Yeah, Maria and I told Dee the night of my bachelorette that he was telling people he wanted her back. We waited until we could tell her in person. The news blindsided her, to say the least.”
Interesting. So, Dee found out her ex wanted her back two days before Carmen and Jason’s wedding. My stomach twists a bit at that news as it occurs to me I might’ve been some sort of revenge-rebound one-night stand. I don’t like the way that thought lands. Was she using me to get back at him? As disappointing as that might be, it makes a certain kind of sense, seeing as I was her first-ever one-night stand.
Carmen is texting up a storm with Maria. “Mari says that Marcus’s sister has been trying to get Dee to come to the hospital, but she won’t go.”
That’s my girl.
Whoa, rein it in, man. She’s not your girl. You had sex with her, which was probably revenge sex for her.
Whatever, it was the best I’ve ever had, and I want more of it and her—revenge or not.
“They’re making her feel seriously guilty, but Mari is telling her she has no reason to be guilty. Marcus up and married someone else just over a year ago, and Mari is telling me that she and Marcus were trying to put things back together, which I didn’t know. He got married a few weeks after he’d had a regular weekend visit with Dee in New York. He knew she was planning to move home in six months and apparently couldn’t wait. I remember how flattened Dee was after we heard he’d gotten married. It was awful being here when she was far away and so upset.”
My heart aches for her as I wonder how long they were together.
“How long had they been together?” Jay asks.
I want to kiss him for doing the heavy lifting for me.
“On and off for six years! After they went to college in New York, she wanted to stay, and he didn’t. He wanted to come home to Miami. He was our cousin Domenic’s friend in high school. That’s how he and Dee met. Anyway, they made it work for six months and then decided to see other people because the long-distance thing wasn’t working for them. But from what Mari tells me, they’d been back together for months when he got married. God, that makes it even worse than it already was!”
“That’s horrible,” Jay says.
I couldn’t agree more. Carmen will never know how thankful I am for this insight into Dee or how helpful it is as I try to understand this woman who has me so captivated.
“And when he married the skank, as we call her, he let Dee hear about it through the grapevine, which is just complete bullshit.”
“Is the wife a skank?” Jay asks.
Once again, I want to thank him. It’s like our brains have melded or something.
“Who knows? We’ve never met her. We just call her that because she married Dee’s boyfriend.”
“To be fair, he was the one with someone else, not her,” Jay says.
“Oh, we know that, but it doesn’t matter. To us, she’s the skank.”
I love these people and their loyalty to each other. It’s refreshing to be around a family that would, quite literally, take a bullet for each other. Not that my family wouldn’t, but we’re not tight like the Giordinos are. I chalk that up to the years I spent in the hospital while my brother and sister enjoyed a somewhat normal childhood, albeit as normal as it can be when one sibling is in and out of the hospital and often one step away from death.
A critically ill child tends to consume a family, forcing the parents to focus all their attention on the sick kid to the detriment of the other two. My brother ended up with drug issues that he’s since beaten, and my sister got pregnant as a teenager, but my parents don’t know that or how she had an abortion.
The impact of my illness on my family was enormous. I wonder all the time if I might be closer to my younger siblings if my struggles hadn’t dominated our lives for the better part of a decade.
We’re driving through a nice part of Miami, lots of palm trees, colorful flowers and lush landscaping that’s in contrast to the stark, desert topography in Phoenix. Usually, I’d be interested in the scenery, but all I can think about is Dee and what her ex put her through, what he continues to put her through.
“Why are they saying it was a suicide attempt?” Jay asks.
“I guess his blood indicated high levels of something.”
That’s called a tox screen, and it was probably the first thing they did when he arrived at the ER.
“Is he going to live?” Jay asks.
“Sounds like it. I texted my friend Angela, who’s close to Marcus’s sister, Bianca, and Ang says he’s awake and talking but not offering any insight into what happened or why. Ang says they think it was because he was trying to talk to Dee, and she was ignoring him.”
Good for her. I’m unreasonably proud of her for standing up for herself with this guy, even if it occurs to me once again that I have absolutely no business flirting with her, or whatever you want to call what I’m doing with her. She’s had more than enough heartbreak. She certainly doesn’t need more, and I’m a heartbreak waiting for a place to happen.
I sag into my seat, disappointed to realize I ought to do the right thing and step back from her before it gets messy. We had a great time after the wedding. That night was, truly, one of the best nights of my life. It’s going to take a lot to top how I felt being with Dee. I ought to tell Jay thanks for arranging the interview for me at Miami-Dade, but I’m going to keep my job in Phoenix.
Dee is better off with me on the other side of the country, far enough away that there’s no chance of me breaking her heart. The thought of taking that necessary step back is depressing as all hell. It’s been a very long time since anything excited me more than the idea of more time with Dee has. I had a “girlfriend” a long time ago, back when I was sick. We were twelve and met in the hospital. She ended up dying from our shared ailment. I mourned her for a long time while I continued to fight for my own life. I often wonder why she died and I got to live, even if I’m living with a ticking clock that makes me painfully aware that time is short and every minute counts.
Later, I was so busy in college and med school and catching up on all the fun I never got to have as a kid that I sort of skipped the “relationship” phase of the maturity process.
I’ve been more about the touch-and-go, emphasis on the touch, followed quickly by the go. That’s how it was supposed to have happened with Dee, but here I am back in Miami, interviewing for a new job. All because of a one-night stand that knocked the cover off the ball.
Speaking of knocking covers off a ball, Austin’s place is as insane as Jay said it was, and I can’t wait to see the inside of it. I follow them in, trying to play it cool when I feel anything but. They’re obviously regulars here, know the lay of the land and where to find the residents.
“Hey,” Austin Jacobs says, giving Jason a bro hug as they clasp hands.
I met him at the wedding, but I’m still a bit starstruck to be in the presence of a Cy Young Award-winning pitcher of his stature.
“You remember my friend Wyatt from the wedding, right?” Jason says.
“Sure do. Good to see you again, Wyatt.”
I shake his hand. “Likewise. Congrats on signing with the Marlins.”
“Thanks. It’s good to have it settled.”
I read about him signing for eighty million for four years so he could stay in Miami with Maria, when he could’ve gotten much more from another team. I have to give him credit for having his priorities straight when most people would’ve followed the money, no matter what.
A little girl comes running into the massive family room, her hair wet and her feet bare. She’s wearing a pink nightgown, and her cheeks are rosy. “Dada! Don’t wanna go to bed!”
Austin scoops her up into his arms and kisses her cheek. “You never want to go to bed. If it was up to you, you’d never sleep.”
“Wyatt, I think you met my daughter, Everly, when you were here for the wedding. Ev, this is Uncle Jason’s friend Wyatt.”
When I waggle my fingers at her, Everly gives me a shy smile before burrowing into her daddy’s chest.
Maria comes into the family room with Carmen and Dee. Maria’s shirt is wet, probably from giving the little one a bath. My gaze is immediately drawn to Dee, and the first thing I notice is that she looks pale and tired. Is that because her ex is harassing her and staging a suicide attempt to try to get her back?
I don’t joke about suicide. I’ve seen far too much of it in my career for it to be anything other than tragic. I heard just enough about her ex in the car to suspect he staged the attempt as a desperate cry for her attention. I want to tell her to stay strong, to not give in by going to see him, but if I did that, I’d have to confess that I know about him and what he’s put her through.
I’d rather she tell me that herself.
Wait, what happened to five minutes ago in the car when we were going to take a step back because she’s already had enough heartache?
That was then and this is now. Dee is in the same room with me, and it takes every ounce of willpower I can muster not to go to her, put my arms around her and tell her she has no reason to feel guilty about what her ex did. I force myself to stand still, even when her dark-eyed gaze connects with mine, and I feel like I’ve been hit with defibrillation paddles. And yes, I know what that feels like, and this is just like that—a shock to my entire system.
“Good to see you again, Wyatt,” Maria says.
“You, too. Hey, Dee.”
“Drinks,” Austin says. “We need drinks.”
“I’ll do that while you tuck in the monkey,” Maria says, kissing Everly.
The little girl’s head is resting on her dad’s shoulder, where I suspect she makes herself at home quite often. Everly appears to be a perfectly healthy three- or four-year-old, which must be a relief to her dad and everyone who loves her after the ordeal of her illness. I love how Maria met Austin after donating the bone marrow that saved Everly’s life. What an amazing story that is.
After Austin takes Everly off to bed, Maria whispers something to Dee as she looks at me.
Dee shrugs in response to whatever her sister said. “Maybe. Maybe not.”
The sisters share an intense look before Maria goes to make the drinks. We take them outside to a huge patio that has a fenced-off pool and hot tub surrounded by palm trees, flowering bushes, potted plants and subtle lighting. What a setup they’ve got right on the Intracoastal Waterway.
“This is beautiful,” I tell Maria when she joins us, bringing chips, salsa and guacamole.
“I wish we could take credit, but it was like this when Austin bought it.”
I’m happy to see the fence around the pool. I’ll never forget the child who drowned in a backyard pool during my ER rotation, how hard we tried to save him and his parents’ anguish when we were unsuccessful. I still think about that child and his parents.
“Where’d you go, Wyatt?” Jay asks, grinning at me as I realize all eyes are on me.
“I’m thinking about pool fences and how wise it is to have one with a child in the house.”
“That was nonnegotiable for us,” Maria says.
“I was also thinking about a child we were unable to save during my ER rotation. You never forget those cases.”
“I had one of those, too,” Jay says, frowning. “A two-year-old girl. Dreadful.”
“You hear about it far too often around here,” Maria says.
“In Phoenix, too.” I notice Dee is looking at me, which makes me feel like a fifth-grade boy about to kiss the girl he likes during a game of spin the bottle. Yeah, seriously. I’m in major crush mode where she’s concerned. She’s wearing a black shirt with the shoulders cut out, tight jeans that hug her delicious curves and high-heeled wedge sandals that show off a coral-colored pedicure.
She’s wearing her shiny, curly dark hair down around her shoulders, and her brown eyes are fringed with extravagant lashes. I remember thinking at the wedding that her eyes were stunning, but tonight, they convey sadness and stress. Probably because of what her ex did and the guilt that has to be eating her up, even if it’s not her fault.
I wish so badly I could tell her that, but I abide by her wishes to keep our secrets from the others. If I say something, I’ll give away that we know each other better than we’ve let on. We were paired up at the wedding, but that wasn’t any big deal. Until it was.
We talk about Mexican takeout, and when Carmen and Jason go with Maria to get more drinks and use the bathroom, I take advantage of the moment alone with Dee. “It’s so good to see you.”
“You, too,” she says with a shy smile.
She wasn’t shy after the wedding. Not even a little bit. Is she embarrassed by that now? I really hope not.
“Are you okay? You’re quiet.”
“I’ve had a rough day.”
“I’m sorry to hear that.” I want to tell her I know what happened, but more than that, I want her to tell me about it herself. “Anything I can do?”
“No, but thank you for asking.”
“You want to hang out later?”
“I, um, I’m not sure I can do that. I’m staying here.”
I cock a brow at her. “Do you have a curfew?”
“No,” she says, smiling.
“Come pick me up at Jason’s. We’ll go for a ride.”
She glances toward the window, where we can see the others inside, gathered around Maria.
“Live dangerously.” I send her a goofy smile that I hope she’ll find charming or adorable or maybe both. “Pick me up.”
“Text me when you get back to their place.”
The words are no sooner out of her mouth than Maria returns with Austin and her phone, which she passes to Dee to pick what she wants from the restaurant. “Their enchiladas are to die for.”
“Sold,” I say when Dee has the phone. “Will you add chicken enchiladas for me?”
“Yep.” She orders for both of us and then hands the phone back to her sister.
“What’d you get?” I ask her.
“Same thing. Their enchiladas are so good.”
“Everything I’ve eaten in Miami is so good.”
Her face turns bright red, and oh shit. I realize she thinks that means her, too. Well, it does. Of course it does, but I didn’t actually mean that when I said it. I start to laugh, and I can’t stop no matter how hard I try.
Before I know it, she’s laughing, too, and everyone else is looking at the two of us like we’re crazy. Maybe we are. All I know is I like being with her, and I want more of her.
I cannot believe he said that! He’s laughing so hard, he can’t breathe, and he’s taken me down with him. The sheer outrageousness of the comment broke the tension that has filled me since I heard about Marcus being in the hospital.
“Um, what’d we miss?” Carmen asks, her shrewd gaze darting from me to him and then back to me again.
“Do not repeat that,” I say to Wyatt.
He wipes tears off his face as he sends me a dirty grin. How can one man be so incredibly gorgeous? He reminds me of Patrick Dempsey at the height of his Doctor McDreamy-ness, with wavy dark hair, blue eyes and a smile that lights up his face. And, apparently, a filthy mind. Although I sort of already knew that…
I can’t believe I slept with this man, had dirty sex with this man—three times—and no one knows that but the two of us. It’s not like me to keep something like that from Maria and Carmen, but for some reason, I just never got around to telling them. Now, he’s back and asking me to go for a ride with him later tonight and see him tomorrow night, and there’s no way I’m going to be able to keep whatever this is with him hidden from them for much longer.
We were raised by mothers and grandmothers who are experts at extracting information from unwilling parties. Any of us can sniff out a scoop with the tenacity of a bloodhound, and judging by the way the two of them are watching us as we enjoy our inside joke, they’re on the scent. Maria has already asked me if he’s the Wyatt who was texting me earlier.
It’s not that I’d care if they know, but for some reason, I want to keep him to myself for a bit longer. I try not to pay too much attention to him as we eat the delicious enchiladas that Austin insisted on treating us to and sip margaritas. I only have one, because apparently, I have to drive later.
Wyatt sticks to seltzer like he did at the wedding. I’m not sure why he doesn’t drink. We never talked about it, but now I wonder.
My phone chimes with a text from Bianca. He’s conscious. Not that you care.
I’m relieved to hear Marcus is awake and hopefully going to be all right. I respond to her. I do care that he’s all right, but I’m not coming there, and I’m not going to see him. If you can make him understand that, you’d be helping him move on.
“Everything all right?” Maria asks.
“Marcus is awake.”
“That’s good news.”
“I told Bianca to let him know I’m not coming there, and she needs to tell him that.”
“Good for you. That’s the right thing to do.”
I can feel Wyatt watching me, probably wondering what we’re talking about. “A friend of mine is in the hospital.”
“Sorry to hear that.”
“We, um, we might’ve talked about it on the way over here,” Carmen says. “Wyatt knows what’s going on.”
“Ah, okay, then you know he’s my ex, and he might’ve staged a suicide attempt to get my attention.”
“I do know that, and I’m sorry he put you in that position.”
“Did they also tell you how he married someone else when he was supposedly still with me?”
“They might’ve mentioned that.”
So he knows my entire deal. That’s just great.
“He’s a fool.”
The way he says that, not to mention how he looks at me as he says it, means so much to me. “Thank you.”
“He’s the biggest fool,” Maria says. “He had Dee. What the hell was he thinking marryingthat skank?”
“I’m sorry that happened to you, Dee,” Austin says. “It was his loss.”
I already love my future brother-in-law, but now I love him even more. “Thanks. It’s in the past now. I’m sorry he’s in a bad place, but I keep telling myself it’s not my fault. He made his choices.”
“He made the wrong choice,” Carmen says. “He was lucky you ever gave him the time of day.”
“You guys are good for my dented ego.”
“Your ego shouldn’t be dented,” Wyatt says.
He may as well have just told them we’ve already slept together.
Maria and Carmen are intrigued by the vibes he’s putting out.
“How long are you here, Wyatt?” Maria asks.
“Just until Monday night this time. I’m interviewing at Miami-Dade on Monday.”
“What kind of doctor are you?” Austin asks.
“I’m a cardiothoracic surgeon.”
“I don’t even know what that means,” Austin says, laughing.
“Don’t worry,” Wyatt says. “I don’t have much of a fastball.”
I love the way he downplays his skills by complimenting Austin. That earns him big points with me, not that he needs them. He’s already batting a thousand. Haha, good baseball analogy.
“I specialize in heart and lung surgery as well as other thoracic, or chest, organs,” Wyatt says.
“And my head just exploded,” Austin says.
“Jason can fix that,” Wyatt says, grinning.
He’s adorable, funny, smart as hell and sexier than any man has a right to be. The more time I spend with him, the more I like him. And I already liked him a lot before tonight.
“So you’ve been thinking about relocating to Miami?” Maria asks.
“I hadn’t been, but after I was here for the wedding, I started thinking about a change of scenery.” He glances at me, but I pretend not to notice.
Maria and Carmen most definitely notice.
“Then Jay mentioned the opening at Miami-Dade, and here I am. Miami is looking better to me all the time.”
“I love it here.” Jason smiles at Carmen. “It’s the best place I’ve ever lived.”
“I love it, too,” Austin says with a goofy grin for Maria. “My favorite place in the whole world.”
“The scenery is rather spectacular,” Wyatt says.
And we’re fooling no one. My face is so hot that I wonder how my skin doesn’t blister.
“Dee, how would you feel about showing me around while I’m here?” Wyatt says. “I’ve only ever been to Miami for the wedding. I didn’t get to see much on that trip.”
“That’s a fantastic idea,” Carmen says. “Dee knows Miami inside and out. She’d be the best tour guide you could ever have.”
“And it would give Dee something to do besides stew over what’s happening with what’s-his-name,” Maria adds. “I love this idea.”
“We can take you to see the ballpark sometime if you’re interested,” Austin says.
“I’d love that,” Wyatt says. “Thanks.”
“Sure. Let me know when you’d like to do it.”
“I’ll leave that up to my tour guide,” he says, giving me a side-eye, probably to determine whether I’m angry with him for recruiting me to show him around.
I’m not angry. I’m thrilled that he asked and gave me cover with my sister and cousin. I can’t stand having everyone up in my business, which is the number one reason why I stayed in New York for so long. Long before I left for college, I’d gotten tired of my family knowing my every move before I even made it.
I can’t wait to show him my city. Maria is right that I know this town, and I love every wonderful, diverse corner of it. That I get to spend extra time with him is a bonus. I like him a lot, which is an interesting development, seeing as I thought I’d never see him again after the one night we spent together.
But now he’s back, and he came because of me, which is a rather lovely lift for a girl with a dented ego. I need to be careful, though. He’s only here for the weekend, and who knows if he’ll get the job or even actually move if he does? It would be too easy to get caught up in a sweet guy who looks like a dream and is a god in bed, too.
“You want to go now? We could check out some of the clubs in Little Havana you told me about last time I was here.”
I snap out of my memories of what it was like to be in bed with him to realize he’s just asked me out right in front of the others and is waiting for me to reply.
“Sure, that sounds fun.” It sounds like more fun than I’ve had since the night I spent with him five months ago. I glance at Maria, who’s watching me intently, looking for the rest of the story. If only she knew… “As long as I’m going back to Little Havana, I may as well stay at my place tonight.”
“Whatever works,” Maria says, her eyes glittering the way they do when something excites her.
If I didn’t know better, I’d think my sister is giving me a firm push into bed with the dreamy doctor.
“Will Everly be upset if I’m not here when she wakes up?” I’ve developed a fun aunt-niece bond with Maria’s future stepdaughter, and I’d hate to disappoint her.
“I didn’t tell her you were sleeping over. I figured we could surprise her in the morning.”
“We’ll do it again soon.” To Wyatt, I say, “I’ll just grab my stuff.”
“Take your time. I’m not going anywhere.”
Ignoring the inquiring gazes of the others, I go into the guest room to gather my belongings. I’m not at all surprised when Maria and Carmen follow me.
“Holy shit, he’s totally into you,” Carmen says. “He hasn’t taken his eyes off you all night.”
“Don’t make it into something. It’s just fun.” I toss the few things I unpacked into the turquoise Vera Bradley bag Carmen gave me last Christmas and zip it closed.
“I told Jason that something was up with you two at the wedding,” Carmen says.
“There wasn’t. That was also fun. We had a good time together.”
Maria takes me by the face. “Tell me the truth. Is that all it was? Fun?”
“Yes,” I tell her as I roll my eyes. It was fun. That’s the truth.
“Jason was surprised that Wyatt’s interested in the Miami-Dade job,” Carmen says. “Now it’s starting to make sense to me.”
“You’re jumping to conclusions,” I tell her.
Carmen lets out a happy squeal. “How exciting would it be if you met someone because of my wedding?”
“You guys, please. Don’t do this. I’m still dealing with everything with Marcus.”
“No, you’re not,” Maria says emphatically. “You have nothing to do with what’s going on with him.”
“He tried to kill himself because I wouldn’t take his call.”
“That’s not why he did it,” Maria says. “He did it because he’s messed up his life all on his own, and now that it’s blown up in his face, he’s sorry for what he did to you. Where’s the big apology been for all this time? He never once said a word to you until the skank left him. He doesn’t get to come back after the fact with regrets. What happened today had nothing to do with you.”
“She’s right, Dee,” Carmen says. “You can’t take that on. He fucked up, and he knows it. This is about him, not you.”
“Still… It was shocking, and I’m reeling over it. I’m not in a place for this to be anything more than a fun weekend with a new friend. Please don’t go crazy over it or tell the family.”
“We won’t say anything,” Carmen says, “but you should bring him to Sunday brunch. He loved the food at the restaurant.”
“I’ll see what happens.”
Carmen hugs me. “Have fun. Go crazy. Let your hair down.”
“My hair is already down,” I say, laughing.
“You know what she means,” Maria says. “You were in a long relationship that ended badly. If anyone needs a fun rebound, it’s you. Go for it.”
“I’ll take that under advisement. Can I go now, ladies?”
“Do you need condoms?” Maria asks with dead seriousness.
“I’m going now. Bye!”
I walk out of the bedroom toward the foyer, where the three men are engaged in animated conversation while they wait for us. Jason and Austin have become great friends. They golf and fish together and hang out every chance they get. Naturally, Carmen and Maria are thrilled about that, and I’ll confess to having felt, more than once, like a fifth wheel around the four of them. They get together often and always include me, which I appreciate. But this is the first time I haven’t felt like an extra among their happy foursome.
Wyatt evens things out, and when he directs a warm smile my way, the flutters in my belly are a sign that the excitement of the others is having an impact on me.
Slow your roll, girl.
“Ready?” Wyatt asks.
“Yep.” I hug Austin and Maria. “Thank you for dinner.”
Wyatt shakes hands with Austin and hugs Maria. “Thank you. The enchiladas were awesome.”
“Did you give him a curfew, Jason?” Carmen asks, delighted with her joke.
“No later than midnight, young man,” Jason says sternly.
“Don’t wait up, Dad,” Wyatt says as he follows me out of the house. “Phew, tough crowd. Are they watching us?”
“Probably, but I’m not looking.”
“I see what you mean about not being able to do much without your whole family involved.”
“There was that one night…”
“Ah, yes, that one night.” His hand finds my lower back in an innocent gesture that makes my entire system go haywire. “Want me to drive?”
“You’re the guest. You don’t have to.”
“I don’t mind.”
I hand him the keys and stash my overnight bag in the back seat.
He gets in and adjusts the driver’s seat to fit his much longer legs.
I direct him on how to get out of the neighborhood and onto the highway that will take us back to Little Havana. “What do you feel like doing?”
“Whatever you want.”
“We could take a walk, get a drink or hit a club.”
“All that sounds good to me.” When we’re on the highway, he looks over at me. “Was it okay for me to ask you out in front of everyone?”
“It was fine.”
“Did your sister and cousin pump you for info when they went after you?”
“What do you think?”
Smiling, he says, “What’d you tell them?”
“Not to overreact. Nothing to see here.”
“Nothing at all?” he asks, crooking an eyebrow.
“Nothing they need to know about.”
He moves his hand from the shifter to my thigh. “Do you know how hard it was to pretend like I barely know you in front of your family?”
The heat of his hand may as well be a branding iron as it sets off a systemwide reaction that has my most essential parts tingling in awareness of him. “How hard was it?”
Suddenly, we’re no longer talking about pretending in front of my family.
“I’ve thought about you and that night so much since the wedding,” he says. “Have you?”
“Here and there.”
“Are you lying?”
“Maybe a little.” I don’t want to talk about Marcus, especially not with Wyatt, but I want him to know how messed up I’ve been lately. “It’s been a rough couple of months.”
“Because of your ex?”
“That and my mom has been receiving treatment for breast cancer. She had a double mastectomy in January, and now she’s having chemo.”
“I wondered why you ended up staying in Miami after the wedding.”
“How did you know I did that?”
“Ah… so you’ve been stalking me?”
“Following. That’s different from stalking.”
I like knowing he thought of me so much after the night we spent together that he cared enough to find me online and wondered why I didn’t go back to New York after the wedding.
“So are you staying here, then?”
“That’s the plan. At some point, I have to go to New York and get the rest of my stuff. My cousin, who I lived with there, is going to sublet my room. I can’t go back there as long as my mom is sick.”
“How’s your mom doing?”
“The chemo is kicking her ass. It’s been rough. It’s hard to watch her suffer.”
“I’m sorry she’s going through that and that you are, too.”
“She’s a trouper.”
“She’s lucky to have her family supporting her. Are you bummed about New York?”
“Not really. I was planning to move home this year anyway. I just moved up the timeline a little. What about you? What’s up with applying for a job here?”
“I liked Miami when I was here for the wedding. I’ve lived in Phoenix most of my life, and I’m ready for a change. When Jay mentioned the opening at Miami-Dade, I figured why not?”
“Can I ask you something, and will you tell me the truth?”
“You’re not applying because of me, are you?”
Smiling, he says, “Not specifically because of you, but knowing you live here definitely makes me more interested in the job than I would be if you weren’t part of the equation.”
“I’m not really in a good place for, well, anything.”
“Neither am I.” He sounds sad for some reason.
“Oh, well. Okay, then. I know why I’m in a bad place, but why are you?”
“Things are just weird right now with the possibility of changing jobs, moving cross-country. I’m not sure what’s going to happen.”
“You’ll get the job.”
“How do you know that?”
“They’d be crazy not to hire you. Aren’t you board certified in your specialty?”
“I am, but how do you know that?”
“You’re not the only one who did some stalking.”
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Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.
~ Calvin Coolidge
Marie Force, Gansett Island, A First Family Novel, A Miami Nights Novel, A Green Mountain Romance, Quantum Series, Fatal Series and Butler, VT are registered trademarks with the United States Patent & Trademark Office.