The automatic doors parted with a familiar swish and as I stepped through them I left the fast-paced life of patients, medical charts and beeping equipment for a world that was only just beginning to wake up. More often than not, leaving work as the dawn broke, the sky tinged with pinks and oranges, was something I enjoyed. I’d take a deep breath of crisp, clean air, having been inhaling dry air conditioning tinged with that weird medical smell that went hand in hand with a hospital, and feel sort of cleansed.
But then there were mornings like this one, where the night had been long and hard and even the dulcet tones of pretty little birdies couldn’t lift my spirits. My brain swirled with the shouts of doctors and the crying of family members. All I wanted to do was dive head-first into my bed and sleep for a few weeks.
Maybe devour a plateful of pancakes first.
And wash them down with a bottle of vodka.
“Penny for your thoughts, gorgeous?”
My heart flip-flopped at the familiar voice and I about broke my neck whipping my head around to look at him. There he was in all his Seth-Hamilton-esque glory, sprawled on the bench, just like he’d been that first time, so many years ago now, and just like he’d been so many times since, waiting for me to come back to him.
Emotion crept up my throat as he rose and closed the distance between us. Somehow he’d known this had been a killer shift. Either total coincidence, a stroke of luck, or sixth sense… Whatever it was, I wasn’t about to look a gift horse in the mouth.
“Hey,” I said as he wrapped his arms around me. “What are you doing here so early?”
Seth pulled me close to his body and I sank into his embrace, needing it more than I think he realized. “I ended up pulling an all-nighter. Things have been getting crazy now that summer is setting in. Figured I’d come see my girl.”
“And you couldn’t wait until I got home?” I smiled, already knowing how he would answer.
Seth snorted a laugh. “Since when have I been known for my patience?”
“Never. It’s just one of the hundred things I love about you.”
He pulled back a little and frowned at me. “A hundred? Is that it? There are a hundred things I love about your left kneecap alone.”
“Sorry.” I rolled my eyes. “I meant to say a hundred thousand. A hundred thousand million. A hundred gazillion spadillion bozillian. Better?”
He shrugged but didn’t look pacified. “It’ll do, I guess.”
“Your ego really needs fed today, huh?”
“Always.” He grinned. Seth dipped his head to press a brief kiss to my mouth. He slung his arm around my shoulder and steered me in the direction of the parking lot. “So, I’m going to take a wild guess here and say it was a hell of a night. Want to talk about it?”
Somehow he always seemed to know. As a rule, I tried to leave everything at the door. Home, work, family—everything had its time and place, and I couldn’t give a hundred percent if my head was somewhere else. I mean, there’d been times when I’d finished work and gone home and spilled my heart out to Seth, or times when I’d bitched him out to my co-workers because he’d riled me up to the point I’d thought my head would explode…but usually I left it where it belonged.
And yet, he always knew.
I leaned into him, breathing in the familiar smell of him, sinking into the familiar curve of his body, the familiar weight of his arm around me, holding me like I was the most precious thing in the world to him. “Not really. I’ll be okay. Nothing your pancakes and one hell of a nap can’t cure.”
“In that case, want to hear who was thrown out of my club last night?”
“Was it a Kardashian? Please tell me it was a Kardashian,” I said, tugging on his shirt. In the years since Hamilton’s had opened, its reputation had spread across the entire country. But Seth had stuck to his guns and refused to sell out, even when a few big boys had come sniffing around and offered to buy the place with a check so huge it would keep Seth—and four or five generations after him—ridiculously comfortable.
Seth had dreamt of a place for everyone. And he had accomplished that dream and then some. I loved hanging out in the basement bar, sharing a basket of fries with Seth, sipping cocktails in the lounge with Marley when she had the time, and listening to the latest it DJ in the club upstairs. Seth kept his prices reasonable and even though his father kept reminding him how much more money he could be making, Seth remained adamant that his baby would cater to the everyman, not just the filthy rich.
What he hadn’t predicted was that many of the said filthy rich, and numerous celebrities to boot, found this…refreshing. An average college student could find themselves rubbing shoulders with a Billboard chart-topper on a random Tuesday night.
But the absolute best thing about all this was that Seth took absolutely no bullshit. It didn’t matter to him if you were a contractor or that guy from that reality show that did that other reality show and now thinks he’s an actor—if they caused problems, they were gone.
Thus, my new favorite game had been born—guess who Seth tossed out on their ass.
Seth chuckled and opened the passenger door for me. “What is it with you and those guys? Seriously—every time.”
At his look, I grinned. “You know reality shows are my ultimate guilty pleasure. It’s like peeking through someone’s windows. Without the whole creep factor. Can I have another guess?”
“So long as it isn’t Bieber.”
“Spoilsport. Who was it then?”
Seth dipped his head to whisper in my ear the name of an actress on a popular TV show.
A laugh rose in my throat. “Nice. I knew she wasn’t the little darling she makes herself out to be.”
We climbed into the car and Seth started the engine. “You feel like going out for breakfast? Or you want to head straight home?”
“Home,” I said after a few moments. “I just need to sleep this off.”
Seth nodded and maneuvered the car out of the parking lot. He didn’t fill the silence with small talk but he did hold my hand, lacing our fingers together and resting them on top of his thigh. He stroked his thumb across the back of my hand, keeping me grounded. Keeping me there with him, instead of letting me disappear inside my head.
At home, I went straight into the bathroom to shower. The water was almost painfully hot, turning me lobster-pink. If only rinsing away the troubles and heaviness of the night was as simple as rinsing out my conditioner.
When I emerged from the bathroom, I grabbed one of Seth’s holey T-shirts and slipped it on. The smell of bacon wafted in from the kitchen and my stomach growled in response.
Seth was at the stove with his back to me when I padded into the kitchen, the muscles in his back and shoulders visible through his threadbare UNLV T-shirt. The man could afford to shop in the most expensive boutique on the Strip, but he still wore things that defied the laws of physics by remaining somewhat intact despite their age and wear.
It was just another of the hundred, gazillion, spadillion bozillian things that I loved about him.
I wrapped my arms around his waist and pressed my cheek to his back. As I inhaled a deep breath, the heady scent of pure Seth hit me. Clean soap, laundry detergent and coffee.
“I hope you’re hungry,” he said.
“I wasn’t until I smelled that bacon.”
“Well you’re getting bacon, eggs, pancakes and the good syrup.”
“The good syrup? We have good syrup? Have we ever had bad syrup?” I asked. I held on to him for another few moments before releasing my death grip and moving around to sit at the counter.
Seth poured me a mug of coffee—I didn’t have to check to know it would be would be decaf—and shot me a look. I couldn’t help the grin that spread across my face. His expression was one I’d seen countless times when I was shooting my mouth off.
A few minutes later, Seth plated up the food for us both and sat beside me.
“You’re right,” I said after swallowing a mouthful of his fluffy pancakes. Seriously, no one made pancakes like my man. “This is good syrup.”
“Shut up and eat your breakfast,” he grumbled, reaching over to squeeze my bare thigh.
Shutting up wasn’t a problem. I was too busy stuffing my face to make any more conversation. Seth was a genius in the kitchen, and if he wasn’t so well suited to running a successful nightlife business, he could have had a career as a chef. Despite him constantly complimenting me, I had worried about the size of my ass pretty much since the first night he had cooked for me. A girl could pile on serious poundage being fed by Seth Hamilton.
Luckily for me, he had a great way to work off the calories.
“What are you doing today?” I asked as Seth cleared away the breakfast things.
“I told Blake I’d swing by. I think he wants to try and talk me into manning the grill for their party.”
“You mean you haven’t agreed yet?” I finished off the rest of my coffee.
“Nah, I like to make him sweat.”
I folded my arms on top of the counter and rested my head on them. “You’re pretty mean.”
Seth chuckled. “And you’re pretty exhausted.”
“Hmm. I can’t wait for my vacation,” I mumbled.
“Come on, beautiful. Let’s take that sexy ass to bed.”
“No. I’m too comfortable here.”
He sighed and a moment later swung me into his arms. By the time I let out a startled shriek, Seth was already on his way out of the kitchen and heading for our bedroom.
He placed me on the edge of the bed then moved around to close the drapes, blocking all light in the room.
I curled up on top of the comforter, too tired to even consider pulling the sheets back. Seth slid in behind me, wrapping his arm around my waist and drawing me closer to him. He burrowed his face into the crook of my neck.
“Don’t me let sleep long, okay?” he said, his breath tickling my skin.
“Sure thing. I’m only going to rest my eyes for ten or twelve hours.”
“Cool. See you when I wake up. Try to dream about me, okay?”
“I’ll do my best.”