In Twisters, dark-wood-and-burgundy-leather seats and bumpers, cushioned stools, and low light filtering through stained glass made the place comfortable. Three bartenders were already hustling, their tip jars filling. By the time Hunter greeted the women, one of the bartenders had poured his Maker’s Mark over ice and set it in place. A second drink joined the first soon after. His friends had already had a few rounds themselves. He made a note to keep an eye on Marisa, a lightweight when it came to alcohol consumption.
A nice bar to start the weekend, and he reveled in the fact he had two more weekends off before he had to take the next weekend rotation at the hospital. He sipped and scanned the crowd.
Pretty, brittle, blonde Toni broke into Hunter’s reverie. “Why aren’t you straight, damn it?”
He ignored her, his mind on the clubs and his hunger for male company tonight. He’d dressed to pull with an open-weave forest-green shirt that went well with his dark red hair and gray eyes. Tight black jeans emphasized the man bits, though his sartorial choices were lost on the mostly hetero male crowd in Twisters tonight.
“First lady to make a pass at Hunter pays for drinks, Toni,” Marisa reminded her, then licked a fleck of salt from her bright red lips.
Behind them, the door opened with a rush of cold wind.
“I am so over you anyway,” Toni said. “I want him
Hunter looked over his shoulder to where she pointed a French-tipped nail.
“Shit.” He finished the whiskey and signaled for another. He turned to Marisa. “You didn’t set this up, did you? Tell me you didn’t.”
She glanced toward the doorway and laughed. “No, it’s kismet, baby.”
Hunter sneaked another look over his shoulder as Shawn took off his jacket and hung it on the back of a chair at a tall bistro table. He wore a tight black T-shirt with a heavy-metal band on the front and a black button-down with rolled-up sleeves over that. He picked up the drinks menu, met Hunter’s eyes, and smiled, then frowned back down at the laminated card in his hand until the cocktail waitress approached him.
“Poor, poor Toni,” Hunter said with exaggerated pity. His gaze lingered on muscled forearms, thick black hair, and the breadth of chest and shoulders.
She looked over at Shawn again. “Really? Him too? That sucks. Poor me.”
Hunter scanned the bar. A couple of white-collar guys wearing suits and ties caught him looking and frowned.
“Breeders at three o’clock,” Hunter informed Toni.
She peered around him and raised her brows. “You have good taste.”
While Toni made preliminary eye contact with the suited men, Hunter turned to Marisa. “I don’t believe you.”
She shrugged. “I didn’t say nothing.” The tequila had eroded her English.
“What’s he drinking?” He wanted to turn around again but didn’t dare.
“Red wine. And he’s reading a book.” She winked. “He’s really not your type.”
“Ha.” Hunter gulped the whiskey.
“Take it easy, there.” She frowned at him. “Hunter. I’m sorry. I’m pushy. I’ll shut up.”
“I don’t have the right, even if I think I do, to tell you how to feel. I’m your friend, but I’m a mother too.” Her black eyes got all swimmy with emotion. “It hurts me to see you in so much pain.”
“It hurts me to see you in so much tequila,” he told her gently. “I’m calling your husband.”
Hunter called Chuck, saw Marisa off, and returned to the bar to say good night to Toni and Anna. They were happily chatting with the guys in suits and waved when he caught their attention. Hunter stopped at Shawn’s table. Shawn lifted his blue eyes to Hunter in surprise. It was a solid punch to the solar plexus.
“Hey, Hunter.” His voice was rich and deep and resonated in Hunter’s chest over the celebratory noise in the bar. “Marisa okay?”
“Yeah.” Hunter lingered, unable to drag his gaze from Shawn’s eyes. They were a luminous blue in the low lighting, and the flame in the lamp on the table flickered in them.
. Jerry’s voice, a memory, intruded on the present. You’re such a backwoods chickenshit.
Hunter must have made some kind of sound of distress, because Shawn put a hand on his arm. “Are you okay?”
Ignorant peckerhead woodbooger…
Pull your shit together.
“Would you like to go out some time?” Hunter’s voice, steady and strong, surprised him. He thought it would squeak like a teenager’s.
“I’m with someone.” Shawn removed his hand. “In fact, I’m waiting for him right now.” He gave Hunter an oddly kind look of concern. “I’m shocked. I thought you were a snob.”
Ouch. Double ouch.
Hunter tried for casual as he shrugged it off. “Fine.” He yanked his hat onto his head. “See ya.” And strode out the door.
Once on the snowy sidewalk, he heaved a sigh of relief—free once again. A small ache settled around his heart, but he ignored it and hailed a cab.
* * * *
On Monday, a little after seven in the morning, Hunter stood in the open ambulance bay as the cold wind between the buildings whipped bits of paper trash and new snow around. A hard blast slapped at his head and pushed a flap of hair into his eyes.
“Should shave my hair off,” Hunter said to Marisa.
His friend was smoking a cigarette despite constant harping from Hunter to stop. She smoked only one or two a day, she said, escaping her husband and kids to step out into their backyard to light up or, like now, at the end of her shift.
“Don’t you dare.” Marisa exhaled a final plume of smoke mixed with the pale steam of her breath. She dropped the butt and ground it out beneath her thick-soled shoe, then picked it up and flicked it unerringly into the bin at the hospital entrance with a smile. They weren’t supposed to smoke on hospital grounds, but it was too dangerous to go off campus and into the neighborhood.
A man pushed through the doors of the ER.
“Here’s our Shawn,” Marisa said in a low voice.
“He’s not ours,” Hunter said blithely. “He’s someone else’s.”
“I did, after you left. He turned me down and told me he was with someone.”
Shawn had dressed for the February weather in a gray hoodie under a black denim jacket and a Red Sox cap. He had a long, loping stride and stood about an inch taller than Hunter. He tipped his face up from under the bill of the cap, caught Hunter’s eye, and smiled.
“The hell he is,” Marisa muttered.
“Hey.” Hunter smiled back because he couldn’t help it. He’d avoided Shawn most of the night shift and planned on going back to an earlier dinner time for the rest of his life. Yet he missed seeing Shawn. The hookup he’d taken to his bed last Friday night and who’d spent the weekend hadn’t made him feel like this. They’d had some laughs, yet Hunter had been relieved when the guy left. Hunter’s heart skipped a beat when Shawn stopped and said hello to Marisa, then turned to him. Something fizzy and sweet bubbled in his veins, tingling under his skin. His heart stopped its aching as if a morphine drip were in that smile.
“You’re angry at me?” Shawn’s pale brows shot up into his forehead.
“Not at all.”
His blue eyes kindled with relief. “You didn’t have dinner break at your usual time.”
“No, I didn’t. I—” Hunter turned to Marisa, but she only smiled, I told you so
in her eyes. He made himself look back at Shawn. “I’ll be there tomorrow.”
Shawn’s smile widened. “Okay, good.” He looked up at the sky and the gathering clouds. “Feels like spring will never get here. February must be the longest month of the year.”
“Aren’t you cold? You don’t have a winter jacket?” Marisa scolded.
“Nah, I’m fine.”
Hunter and Marisa watched Shawn walk down K Street. He put his hand on top of his cap to keep the wind from taking it and pushed the other hand into his pocket. As he turned at the corner and out of sight, he left Hunter with the impression he was lonely and cold.
“Chuck’s late. He’s usually waiting for you,” Hunter commented.
Hunter didn’t like to leave until Marisa’s husband arrived with their two small girls to pick her up. She opened her mouth to answer, but three gunshots blasted out into the low hum of traffic.
“Shit,” Hunter said. The shots had come from the same direction Shawn had gone.
Screaming and shouting erupted, muted by the buildings that stood between the shots and them. The notorious neighborhood drug corner, open for business day and night, lay in that direction. It sounded like they got who they came for.
Two more shots and the screech of tires followed as a big black SUV came around the corner and passed them. It barely missed Chuck as he pulled into the parking lot with the girls. Chuck leaned hard on the horn.
Marisa dialed 911 as Hunter began the run down K Street, but halfway there, Shawn turned the corner with a young black man dressed in baggy gangsta fashion. He leaned heavily on Shawn, who had an arm slung around him. Hunter recognized the guy as one of the street-corner drug thugs, as Marisa called them. He bled from a wound to his leg, his eyes wild with pain and panic as he limped along.
“Anyone else hurt?” Hunter flung the guy’s other arm around him. Damn if he didn’t hear the screech of that SUV’s tires behind them as it came around again.
“No, just him. Faster,” Shawn urged the wounded man. “They’re coming back.”
“Hurts like a motherfucker. I’m gonna kill those motherfuckers. Motherfucker!”
Marisa ran for the ER, shooing her husband and kids inside, as the big black car turned the corner again. The boom of the bass increased as they lowered the window to take another shot at their prey. Marisa returned with a determined expression and a first-aid bag under her arm.
“Shit! Marisa! Stay back!” Hunter yelled.
“Mommy!” her daughter shrieked from the doorway of the ER. That stopped her cold.
“We’ve got him. Get to cover!” Hunter shouted at her. She turned back, and when she got to the ER doors, Chuck ran out and yanked her quickly inside.
“Fuck it if it hurts. Run for it!” Shawn pulled at the wounded man.
They ran, and gunfire followed, shattering one of the glass doors before it shut behind them. Sirens wailed in the distance, and Hunter hoped it was for them. Some doctors ran up to them and pushed the bleeding man, still cursing and griping, onto a gurney, then wheeled him down the hall to one of the exam rooms.
Shawn stood beside Hunter, watching them go. Hunter grabbed Shawn’s shoulder, shoved aside his open jacket, and found a few small spots of blood.
“Shawn, are you hurt?”
Shawn turned empty eyes on Hunter. He shook his head as if to clear it before looking away again.
“Sure you’re all right?” Hunter persisted.
“Just reaction.” Shawn held up a trembling hand.
Hunter winced. “You did good, kept your head. Saved the guy’s life. Let’s get you something clean to wear.” Hunter patted him, reassuring himself.
Behind the nurses’ station, Hunter opened a drawer full of scrubs and found a shirt for Shawn, who slipped into the men’s room to change. When he came out again, Hunter dropped the hoodie and T-shirt into the biohazard bin.
Shawn flashed an incredibly sexy grin as he shrugged into his jacket, aimed that beautiful blue gaze directly into Hunter’s, and held him there for a heartbeat before turning to leave. “Thanks.”
As Shawn walked away, he raised a hand to Marisa and Chuck arguing in fierce whispers by the nurses’ station. One of their kids waved back, and he nodded. Just before the entrance to the ER, he stopped, and Hunter thought he meant to button his jacket. Then Hunter saw it too.
The big black SUV had been driven up onto the sidewalk in front of the ER. The first police car screeched into the parking lot as two men got out of the SUV—white, older than the wounded drug dealer, heavier and harder looking, with guns already drawn. With the SUV in front of the doors, no one was getting in. And no one was getting out.