Their Protector: An MC Outlaw Halloween Romance, page 43
I wish .
Harlow re-runs the two miles he’d just done, and this time he comes in even faster. I’m exhilarated for him all over again, but we don’t dare repeat our high-five-slash-handshake.
“Wow, that really is something,” Lance says, visibly impressed.
He shakes his head.
“I know, right? Dr. Davis is going to be so happy to hear how his star patient has turned out. Should I change the time to this lower number?” I ask.
“We’ll just keep it how you have it,” Lance says, “Since that was the official one.”
“Okay.” I shrug, and then begin taking Harlow through the remainder of the assessments.
He has to walk and then jog around the track while kicking up his knees. And then while kicking his feet up behind him, to where they touch his lovely ass.
He does everything perfectly, and midway through Harlow’s exercises, while he’s still out on the track, Lance says, “Well, good to see everything’s checking out well.”
“I told you he’s just fine,” I tell him. “Isn’t it strange?”
“Yeah, I don’t know what to make of it.”
Lance pauses for a second and then resumes.
“I have a patient myself now that I have to go see, but good job with Harlow. Just make sure…”
“I know. No fraternizing with the patients.”
I’m embarrassed, but I want to make it clear that I get it.
“I don’t even care about that,” says Lance. “Normally. I mean, yeah, you could lose your internship and that would suck. But I trust you know how to conduct a proper secret affair should you ever need to pull one off.”
We both laugh, although the words “could lose your internship” ring a little too loudly in my head still.
“It’s just… he’s obviously a player and I know you’re on the rebound,” Lance continues. “I don’t want you to get hurt.”
“Awww. Isn’t that sweet.”
I smile at him.
“I know you’re a big girl and you can take care of yourself,” Lance says. “There’s just something about this guy that doesn’t quite add up.”
“I kind of understand what you mean,” I tell him, making sure that Harlow— who is on the other side of the track and deep into his leg kicks— is well out of earshot.
“You know better than anyone that I was initially very dubious about Harlow,” I confide. “But after spending time with him and seeing how he acts, I really think he’s genuine. I mean, you saw him when he was talking to that patient I was working with in the physical therapy session room when we first met him. He was so nice, and helpful, and not even boastful like Dr. Davis comes across.”
Lance just says, “Hrmph,” but he nods as if maybe I have a point.
“I don’t know,” I tell Lance. “Maybe I was being too harsh on Dr. Davis, too, because I really thought something was up with him. I even thought they could be in on some kind of a… con … or something.”
I squint at Harlow and give him an enthusiastic wave, before I continue. Once he waves back, assuring me that he’s not listening in like I’m pretty sure he had done when I was talking to Tony, I continue.
“Like maybe they were pretending that Harlow was further advanced physically and mentally than he really is, or maybe it was all completely fake. But clearly the medical records show that this horrific thing happened, and it would be awfully hard for Harlow to pull off a sham about how far he’s come, on us . Maybe that’s why the military doubted Dr. Davis’ treatment, and want an independent professional to back him up?”
“Maybe,” says Lance.
He looks like he wants to say more, but he doesn’t.
“Well, gotta go. Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do.”
He heads back to the office just as Harlow’s rounding the bend, finishing his exercise in good time. I try to remain in good spirits, since, aside from Lance’s visit and strange comments, everything has been going so well so far. But I have a feeling that things are about to get very interesting, to say the least.
“How’d the meeting with the Boss go?” Harlow asks, with a playful smile on his face.
“I think it went well,” I reply, although I’m not really sure.
Usually I feel that I know Lance very well, but right now he was just… mysterious. I try not to let it ruin the joyful mood.
“That’s great,” Harlow says, beaming. His brown eyes sparkle and I can’t stop staring at him. “Do I have any more exercises to do today, to demonstrate my perfect fitness?”
He makes a fake muscle— which is still really hot— and I laugh.
“Nope, you’re all done,” I tell him, returning his smile. “And I will make an appointment to talk to Dr. Davis. I think he should know how well you’re doing, and maybe he’ll want your treatment team to meet again, to reassess.”
“Awesome!” He looks elated. “You mean I might get to have an even shorter treatment period than we originally planned?”
“Yes. No. I don’t know.”
I don’t want to speak out of turn.
“I’m not really in charge of these things,” I continue. “But I don’t think the normal plan will be very beneficial to you since you’re already…”
“ Abnormal? ” he guesses.
“Very funny. There are definitely things we can work on, so don’t get too big of a head.” He winks at me as I continue. “There are some exercises and stretches I’ll give you, that you can do at home and that we’ll be working on here during sessions, to further improve your strength and balance and flexibility.”
“Yeah, I used to be so much more flexible,” he says, frowning. “I know I’m not completely back to 100% yet.”
It’s touching how concerned he is about any setbacks. Yet he’s still leaps and bounds ahead of most of my patients, and most people in general for that matter.
“But other than that, I don’t feel that you need that much work,” I tell him. “We’ll see if Dr. Davis and the team agrees with me though. Please don’t forget, I’m just an intern. I’m the first step and then everything has to be cleared above my head.”
“That’s great, though, thank you,” he says, clearly excited.
He has an air of exuberance about him right now that’s absolutely contagious. I know he’s happy to hear that he’s that much closer to being back with his unit. And I have to admit I have my own reasons for being happy.
I finally dumped Tony, which I was beginning to think I could never do. I feel that things at this internship can only go well for me now that I’m working with Harlow. Sure, he’s the one putting forth the effort and the spectacular performance, but I’m the physical therapist assigned to train him.
I know that the exercises I’ve come up with will only help Harlow improve even more, for which I’m sure I’ll get some credit. Maybe this will lead to a good paying job immediately after graduation.
And even more than that… here I am standing face to face with the most handsome man I’ve ever seen. And he’s looking at me, smiling at me… no, absolutely beaming at me as if he’s just as happy to be standing here with me as I am to be with him. That doesn’t exactly happen to me every day.
“Let’s go celebrate,” Harlow says, out of nowhere. “Right now.”
“I’ve had a great day. You’ve had a great day. Life is looking up. This calls for happy hour. Or dinner. Or whatever. You pick.”
“I… have more work to do,” I tell him, which is true.
He’s my last patient of the day but I have to get my charts and notes done, and go over everything with Lance and perhaps some other supervisors.
“Fine,” he says, shrugging. “I’ll pick you up later. What time do you get off?”
“I…” I hesitate. “I don’t think it’s a good idea.”
He looks crestfallen, which is how I feel.
So, without giving myself time to change my mind, I continue, “for yo
“Oh. Of course. We’re probably not supposed to go out together. Even to celebrate your awesome physical therapy skills and my amazing progress, I mean.”
His face breaks into another smile: a devilish one, which is somehow even cuter than his exuberant one. I can’t help but smile back, even though I’m not really sure what the official policy is on… fraternizing, with patients. Lance had said he didn’t care, but he also said I could lose my internship.
I consider what this could mean. Did Lance mean just if I actually did it at work— such as making out with Harlow instead of counting his jumping jacks?, which does sound like a lot more fun— or did he mean if I even went for dinner with Harlow off the clock? Either way, it’s something I normally wouldn’t do no matter how hot the guy was, just to be safe.
But then again, I’m never around hot guys who are interested in me. So, it’s hard to know what I would do normally, except that right now, I know I just want to be near Harlow. And not in a physical therapy context.
“I can pick you up at your house,” he says. “Text me your address.”
I open my mouth, but he adds, “My phone number is in my file, I presume?”
Oh yes. Of course . I feel like an idiot.
“I could probably do five o’clock,” I tell him, mentally estimating the time it will take for me to finish my work and change into something much more attractive than my work uniform.
“Great, that gives us plenty of time before happy hour ends. But we can eat dinner too. Whatever you want.”
This time his smile is almost grateful, almost patient-like. Is this a date, or not? I can’t tell. And I can’t tell whether or not that’s a good or bad thing. I think it would be good for my mood— I’d love to go on a date with him— but really, really bad for my internship and the threat of losing it for “fraternizing” with patients.
“Okay, I’ll see you then,” I tell Harlow.
“Don’t forget to text me your address. Or else I’ll have to drive all around Albuquerque guessing what kind of place you might live in.”
“Don’t worry. I won’t forget.”
How could I?
He’s so damn hot. And he’s picking me up at five. I can’t even believe my luck.
I pull up to Whitney’s apartment, located in what locals jokingly refer to as the “student ghetto.” She is still a student, after all, I remind myself, although it’s easy to forget.
I don’t know as many students who have their act together as well as she does. I certainly didn’t when I was her age. I wasn’t even a college student. Studying books wasn’t really my thing. My thing was more like climbing up mountains and jumping out of planes and diving into water.
As soon as I knock on the door, Whitney comes right out, wearing a mini skirt with some leggings, and a tight- fitting blouse.
“Wow,” I say, and she says, “What?” with a cute, awkward little laugh.
“You look so different than you normally do.”
“Um, thanks?” she says, with another laugh.
“I mean. Wow. You look great.”
I feel like an idiot. She’s left me fucking speechless. Literally.
She looks into my eyes briefly and then heads for my truck. I can tell she’s not quite sure to approach this, and, clearly, neither am I.
It’s probably not exactly kosher to be hitting on my physical therapist and taking her out on a date, even though that’s not what either of us ever called it. But, I think, as I pass her to open the passenger door for her and look down at her ass on my way, who could blame me?
I take her to Apothecary Lounge, the rooftop bar on top of Hotel Parq Central. It’s not usually my kind of scene, but I want to impress her. The weather’s nice and the view of the city is beautiful.
“Wow, gorgeous,” she says, as she walks to the edge and looks down. “I’ve been wanting to come here since it opened, but…”
She trails off, and I imagine it has something to do with it not being her ex’s type of place.
“Do you know this used to be a mental institution?” she asks, changing the subject and gesturing towards the hotel as a whole.
“I’ve heard that,” I tell her, with a wink. “So, I figured it was only fitting for two crazy people to come have drinks here.”
She laughs and I take her arm, leading her to lounge-type chairs and a fancy-looking coffee table in a private alcove of the bar. I like that she doesn’t back away and instead she holds on quite steadily.
The waiter approaches with an expensive drink menu and Whitney orders a fancy martini I’ve never heard of.
“I’ll have the same,” I tell him. “And we’ll look over the tapas menu.”
“Very nice taste,” she says.
“I don’t think they serve my standard drink,” I tell her. “Jack and Coke.”
“I meant your taste in food. Tapas? Really?”
“I’m a world traveler!” I protest, although I’ve only been to combat zones that most people would prefer to avoid rather than travel to.
I leave that part out. I begin to realize that we’ve lived very different lives, and have little in common.
But who cares? I remind myself. It’s not like we’re on The Bachelor . I don’t want to marry her, or marry anyone at all for that matter. I just want to fuck her, give her that orgasm old Tony boy wasn’t ever able to give her. And maybe relax and have some fun for once.
“So, what made you want to join the SEALs?” she asks, as we look over the menu.
“I wanted to get the fuck out of Dodge,” I answer. “I mean, Duke City,” I give Albuquerque’s nickname as a pun.
She laughs, but I’m surprised at myself because it’s the most honest answer I’ve ever given.
I usually try to impress women with tales of valor and heroism, but, even though we just met not too long ago, it feels to me as if Whitney already knows me. She’s seen me at my lowest— hell, she saw the video where I couldn’t even write my name, and the photos of me with half of my face burnt off— and thanks to our physical therapy sessions, she also knows how strong and invincible I can be when I set my mind to it.
There’s just really not much left to try to convince her of. I think the fact that she’s here with me—when it could undoubtedly get her into trouble at work—shows that she’s pretty into me despite knowing everything that she does about me.
Well, she doesn’t know everything about me , I remind myself. My crazy mom, my simultaneously strong yet weak, now deceased, father.
“You don’t like Albuquerque?” she asks, looking a bit disappointed.
“Oh, I like it a lot, now. And I don’t think it was ever Albuquerque I was running from. More like, my folks, my environment… even myself, really.”
“It was that bad, huh?”
Guess she’s about to find out , I think.
I take a deep breath. I usually make it a policy not to get into heavy conversations about my past with my dates. It never turns into anything serious anyway. But this “date” feels different.
“Yeah. I don’t know where it all went wrong. With my mom, I guess.”
She looks at me intently, waiting for me to continue.
“My dad was a respectable guy, a local politician who got along with everyone. We were, like, the picture perfect family. Then my mom ran off with some guy that was fun to drink or do drugs with.”
“My dad didn’t really help matters. He always clung to this fantasy that we’d be a family again.”
As I talk, I feel sentimental about my father’s hopes and dreams, which were never able to come to fruition.
“Every time some loser guy ditched my mom, my dad would take her back, and support her financially and emotionally,” I explain. “They say everyone has to hit her rock bottom, but sometimes I wonder what happens if they don’t. Because she never really has.”
I had never said that out loud before, since this subject is one I try not to talk about, but now that it’s hanging out there in the open, I realize how true it is.
“Mom just used Dad when she needed him and then ran off to the next guy. Over and over. I guess that’s why they say when you enable someone, you don’t allow for things to get bad enough for them to want to change. At the same time, it’s hard to watch someone you love suffer.”
“Of course,” she agrees, nodding vehemently. “You want to help those you love, not let them flail around in their suffering, no matter how self-induced.”
“Exactly,” I tell her, so glad she understands. “And finally, he just couldn’t handle it any more. He died, suddenly and far too young, of undiagnosed pulmonary hypertension. Basically, the stress of it got to his heart. Love literally killed him.”
“That’s so sad. I’m sorry.”
Whitney looks shocked, and I worry that I opened up about too much too soon. She’s right that it’s certainly a sad story, although I’ve had to live with it and accept it as best as I can.
“It’s okay,” I assure her— assure myself. “I just had to get out of that environment. I’ve always been close with my brothers, but they were older and able to leave before I was. Jensen actually stuck around longer than he had to, to look out for me. But we both knew we wanted to join the Navy, become a SEAL just like Ramsey. I just took some detours along the way.”
I pause, realize I’m getting into some heavy shit. But what the hell. It feels good to get it out there, to tell someone.
“I was pretty bad in high school,” I continue. “Everyone including me was pretty surprised that I graduated. But I had to, to get into the SEALs. To escape.”
I sigh, reminiscing.
“I used to think I needed to get away from my mom, from this town, from my dad’s memory. But really, I was just trying to get away from myself. It wasn’t until I realized what I have in the SEALs— and what I came very close to losing— that I was able to put it all together.”