“Line two, Dr. Asher.”
Jogging up the hallway from the back, Xaya waved a hand in acknowledgment to her practice manager as she passed the woman’s room.
The morning had been crazy and she was trying to get to her office for a moment of rest and food. That was the main thing. The half a bagel she’d inhaled at the ass-crack of dawn this morning hadn’t been what she needed to keep up with the expenditure of energy she’d expelled so far today.
“We ordered out—there’s a sandwich on your desk because I know you didn’t bring anything in with you.”
“I love you, Mrs. Connie.” And it was true, she loved her staff.
“Yeah, yeah,” the manager teased back.
With the door closed behind her, she walked to her desk and sat with a groan. The hot roast beef sandwich tempted her and the smells rising from it had her stomach chiming in on its opinion of how this should go. Phone or food first?
She kicked off her shoes once she’d taken her seat, stole two bites just to make her mouth happy, then she picked up the phone.
“Xaya? It’s Avery.”
She frowned and shook her head before the smile overtook her. “Girl, what are you doing calling me on this line? I have a cell phone of which I’m fairly certain you have the number.”
“I wanted to give you a heads-up before I start hammering away at you on the cell.”
“I’m putting you on speaker so I can eat.” After doing just that, she took another big bite of her food and moaned in contentment.
“You sure you’re eating food and not getting dick?”
She snorted. “Positive. Now come on, tell me what this is all about. Why do I need a heads-up and what’s it going to cost me?”
“A plane ticket.”
Sucking gravy off her thumb, she scowled. “Everyone okay?”
A deep breath. “Yes. Lani’s getting married.”
“Oh my God!” Xaya clapped her hands. “This is incredible. She found someone we’re all okay with?”
“I miss you, Xaya. I love how you need to make sure you’re going to be okay with him as well, but yes. We do love him. His name is Sanders and no, not as in Colonel.”
She snorted because that was exactly where her mind had ventured. “Okay, so we approve of him, good. Why do I need a heads-up? I would love to come for the wedding. She’s like my own little sister. Where is it? Maui? Baja? Cabo? Paris? Italy? Bahamas?”
“You know Lani. It’s home.”
Her fork clattered to the desk, leaving behind a smear of mashed potatoes.
Was that her voice that squeaked when she asked that?
Xaya sighed. The denial built on her tongue. She wasn’t ready to head back to the small town she’d grown up in down south. Conception. School just hadn’t been a blast for her and to return was not something she wanted to do.
“I know,” Avery said quickly. “You didn’t have a lot of fun here, despite us having fun. It wasn’t easy for you but you did it. You survived. Lani wanted me to ask you and I’m willing to cash in any and all chips I have with you to get you here for her wedding. It’s all she wants, so what’s it going to take?”
“Nothing.” As soon as the word left her mouth she knew it was true. She would do anything for Avery, her best friend outside of her cousins, and Lani was also included in that.
“Text me the information and I’ll make the arrangements. You know there isn’t anything I wouldn’t do for Lani.” And that was true. She and Avery’s family had been fiercely protective of that particular Boyle sibling. “Still going to cost you, though.”
“What?” she demanded in false outrage. “Are you sure?”
“More and more so with each passing second. And you better make it worth my while.”
“Okay, how about this… I give you one hot—your words not mine—brother of mine, Colum Boyle.”
If she’d had any food in her mouth she would have spit it out. Or choked. Colum had been five years their senior and, good Lord, he’d starred in all of her fantasies. No one in school had been able to compare to him.
“Pretty sure you’re pimping out your brother and I’m not sure he’s going to be okay with that.”
“Doesn’t matter what he thinks. This is about me making sure we’re square.”
Xaya laughed. “You totally mean that, don’t you?”
“You can’t sell your brother to be my sex slave for the time I’m up there.”
“I never mentioned slavery. More like an escort.”
She dug back into her food, highly amused by the conversation. “How about we discuss payment that doesn’t include you selling off a family member for favors?”
“You’d take him.”
“Not even necessary to discuss this because we’re not using him as money.” Fuck yes, she’d take him. Especially if he’d only improved on what she remembered from the last time she’d seen him, right before he’d gone and joined the Marines.
“Dr. Asher. Hit and run inbound. They’ll be here in ten minutes.”
“Thanks, Melody.” She stole one last bite and took a drink. “Sorry to cut this short, Avery.”
“I know, I heard. I’ll text you the deets. And, Xaya?”
“Yeah?” She stood and readjusted her lab coat before swiping her cell and sticking it in her back pocket.
“Thanks for coming.”
“I meant what I said, Avery. I wouldn’t miss it for the world.” She hung up the phone and ran out of her office.
* * * *
Three weeks later she disembarked from the tiny puddle jumper that had carried her up to the small town of Conception. And for all the fucks in the world she didn’t want to be back here.
She had to admit there was something deep inside her that stirred before settling as her heeled boots hit the bumpy tarmac of the airport.
She looked around with a smile to the pilot, Amos Landry, who she swore didn’t look a day older than when she’d last been here, as he lifted down her bags. Other than her flight, the place was quiet.
There was a dented, rusted old beige pickup not too far from where she stood that she passed over with her gaze. I should have driven.
That would have taken far too long. She couldn’t be gone that long. A wind blew through the trees and an unbidden smile lifted her lips as she tipped her head back, welcoming the cool caress.
There was someone against the side of the truck now.
They didn’t make men like this in Gregory. Tight jeans that only reminded her how long it had been since a man had touched her in other than a work capacity. His white tee adhered to his upper body, proudly displaying tattoos and powerful arms, flat abs…and holy shit, if she continued with this perusal she was going to embarrass herself.
A black hat obscured his features but she could see a beard peeking out.
“Here you go, Xaya. Glad to see you back in town. This place could use a bit of spice.” Amos sent her a grin which she took as a warning.
“Do you know where Avery is?” She ignored the spice comment for the moment. “She was supposed to be here to meet me.”
“She’s not coming would be my guess. Your ride is there waiting, though.” He jerked his chin in the direction of her new forbidden fantasy. “Come carry her bags, boy. Don’t be making her realize how little manners we have.”
The man didn’t speak, just pushed away from the truck with a sexy rolling gait. Fuck, he was sinfully hot. He said no words until he stood before her.
“Xaya,” he rumbled.
She was locked in place by a pair of all-too-familiar brown eyes. A rich dark chocolate.
She was fucked.
“I should have taken her up on her offer,” she muttered as it hit her who was there.