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Going without sex wasn't Colin McKenna's idea of a good time. Which meant he'd had a pretty lousy time of it for the past three months.
His athletic shoes clapped against the cement walkway paralleling the Maumee River, his cadence even, the sound of his breathing filling his ears. To his right, the sun was just beginning to break the horizon causing the temperature to rise on the clear June day. He'd run this route along the river ever since buying his downtown penthouse condo last year. But in the past three months the route had lengthened and lengthened along with his rising level of sexual frustration.
Another man might take things into hand, literally.
Colin preferred running.
His lungs began burning, protesting the pressure he was putting on them. He grudgingly slowed his paced then came to a stop, panting as he turned toward the sun's rays and squinted out over the river to the East Side and International Park. He'd grown up here in Toledo, Ohio, though a long way from downtown in the suburb of Sylvania. But he hadn't hesitated when a block of newly renovated condos had gone up for sale in an old department store building, putting him in the heart of the midsize city that was an intriguing mix of old and new.
He took several deep breaths, each slower than the one before, as he brought his pulse rate under control. As a psychiatrist, he knew the power of mind over body. It was of some interest, then, that his body was increasingly overruling his mind's need for control.
He'd never paid much attention to the importance of sex in his life until he'd been falsely accused of indecent behavior by one of his patients three months ago. That was when his attorney had suggested he go without until the case was either dropped or settled in order to create a picture of himself as a model, upstanding citizen. Not that he hadn't been that before, but he realized he had been a serial dater.
The case was also the reason why he no longer counseled patients one-on-one but rather took only group and couples sessions.
Three hours, a shower and two such therapy sessions later, Colin sat back in his office chair, listening as the married couple before him bickered about the price of their last meal out. Actually it didn't matter what the topic was, the couple would argue about it. How they'd managed to keep from killing each other much less stay married for the past ten years was beyond him.
Give up and head for divorce court now, he wanted to say, but didn't.
He glanced at his watch. Only five more minutes in the session to go.
Colin didn't think he'd last two.
He absently rubbed the back of his neck. There were times when being a couples therapist was just as bad as going without sex, if only because his experiences over the past ninety days seriously undermined his belief in the institution of marriage. There were two types of couples—married and unmarried—that came to counseling. With the first type, the union was beyond repair and they were looking for him to work miracles on it and with the second type the participants were genuinely interested in putting their individual needs aside for the greater good of the union.
More often than not he saw the former. And the extent of his job was to play referee. One of his three partners at the Sylvania Mental Wellness Clinic had offered to get him scorecards for sessions like the one he was currently in the middle of or, better yet, a scoreboard and a buzzer to indicate when one of the spouses had entered foul territory.
In the case of the Hansens he would have ruled a TKO three sessions ago. Significant, considering this was their fourth session.
"Jocelyn," Colin said quietly, watching as the woman's face grew redder and spittle formed at the corners of her mouth. Normally an attractive woman, she looked like evil incarnate as she lit into her husband with all the finesse of a pro.
"…and if you think I'm just going to roll over and play patsy, you've got another think coming. I already have three kids. I don't need another. I work a full-time job, same as you, and if I'm too tired for sex every now and again…"
"Jocelyn," Colin said again, never having had to raise his voice during a session before but afraid this time might prove the exception.
Her husband, Larry, was shaking his head, his own color growing darker. "Shut up, Jos."
The room fell silent.
Colin blinked. It was the first time Larry had said something of that nature before. Normally quiet, he nodded and probably didn't pay attention to half of what was being said by either his wife or Colin. Not that Colin could blame him. Jocelyn didn't so much as speak with you as she spoke at you.
Colin took in Jocelyn's shocked appearance, spotting all the signs of a major outburst on the rise. He rubbed his thumb and forefinger against his closed eyelids. That was it. He was never getting married.
A brief knock on the door, then it opened. Colin frowned. The temporary receptionist that an employment agency had provided to fill in for their regular receptionist was not the brightest bulb in the string.
He squinted at the female figure that had come to a halt just inside his door. Definitely not the mousy temp he'd expected to see. Long, long legs encased in sheer black stockings. A short, short skirt that hugged her curvy hips in all the right places. A tight, tight white tank top that looked small enough to fit a six-year-old. Flame-red hair fell to the middle of her back and would no doubt tickle the dimples at the curve of her bottom when she was stripped down to her bare, creamy skin.
Mary Magdalene and the Virgin Mary all wrapped up in one provocative package.
His body was making it all too clear it didn't like his self-imposed temporary celibacy.
His mind told him to hold up on the decision never to marry.
"Ooops. Sorry," the walking advertisement for everything a man ever wanted in a woman said, then twisted her full lips. "Wrong room."
Colin lifted his pencil and pointed over his shoulder. "Rest rooms are the next door up."
She seemed to take her time as she sized him up, then smiled. "Thanks."
Such a simple word.
Such an unexpected reaction as his groin and his throat tightened farther.
The door closed and Colin reluctantly returned his attention to Jocelyn and Larry. Only Larry was still looking at the closed door, his tongue nearly lolling out of the side of his mouth. Meanwhile Jocelyn looked an inch away from smacking her hand against his chin and shearing his tongue in half with the help of his own teeth.
"My, look at that," Colin said before round ten of the Hansens' weekly boxing match could begin. "Our time is up."
He rose to his feet and put his notepad on the chair behind him. "I think we've made some good progress today," he lied. "Same time next week?"
Jocelyn was still glaring at her husband while Larry shook Colin's hand and thanked him. Before they were even through the exit door on the other side of the office, Jocelyn had already begun her next verbal attack. Colin closed the door, hoping they didn't get into an accident on the way home. Not that he was particularly concerned about their well-being. Rather he was more worried about the unsuspecting drivers around them. Never mind the three children that waited at home.
As an only child of older parents, his upbringing differed greatly from what he guessed the Hansen children endured. Discussions at the McKenna dinner table had tended to evolve around page three of The Wall Street Journal or a novel one of them had recently read rather than whether his father's inappropriate appreciation of a woman's physical assets had been a shade beyond decent.
He edged around his desk and sat down. He wasn't cut out for this couples-counseling gig. He fared a little better at group therapy sessions—like the addictive personality disorder one that was on tap next, and the monthly sessions he sat in on at a local runaway shelter—but still he preferred the one-on-one approach that allowed him to make significant progress in a patient's psychological development.
He made notes on the Hansens, put the file aside, then pulled the five other files for the group he was due to meet in ten minutes. He fingered through them. He was familiar with four of the members, but the fifth was new. He opened the file on one Lucky Clayborn and sat back in his chair. Court-ordered therapy for two D.U.I.'s in a year and a half.
He pinched the bridge of his nose, silently praying that Lucky Clayborn wasn't the woman who had walked in during his previous session.
Unfortunately, the way his luck was running he fully expected that the sexpot and the drunk driver were one and the same.
Few things were hotter than a gorgeous guy who had no idea how appealing he was.
Lucky Clayborn sat back in the soft leather chair, her gaze focused on sexy Dr. Colin McKenna while he listened to one of the other group members.
As accidental as it may have appeared, her walking into his office during his previous session had been anything but. After getting no farther than Step Two in the Twelve Step Program on three previous occasions, she'd been curious as to what the court-approved Dr. Colin McKenna was all about. She wasn't an alcoholic, her court-appointed attorney had pointed out to the court during her last time in front of the judge. And while her word against the arresting officer's the second time around hadn't held much sway, she hadn't been drinking when she'd been charged with the last count—she'd been on cold medication. But it seemed ever since the lowering of the legal intoxication limit, a generous tablespoon of cold medicine before you got behind the wheel was enough to set off the Breathalyzer.
And if every now and again she liked to blur the edges of her life with alcohol, that was between her and the vodka bottle.
The problem was she hadn't gotten through the Twelve Step Program because she had, admittedly, been uncooperative. So the judge had restricted her driving privileges for six months and ordered her to six weeks of counseling (as an aside she'd also suggested Lucky stay away from any cold medications that contained alcohol).
So Lucky had wanted to get a look at the guy who had the power to have her license taken away altogether.
And she'd liked what she'd seen.
She slowly recrossed her legs, watching the sexy doc's gaze slide to watch the movement even as he focused on the other patient's progress report.
"Miss Clayborn?" he said a moment later, startling her. "Would you like to go next?"
Go where? She almost asked.
Then she realized she was being asked to introduce herself.
She glanced over the four other group members—two men and two women—who had all shared their stories. Two admitted alcohol was their stimulent of choice while the other two claimed prescription drugs were to blame for their addictions.
She quietly cleared her throat then crossed her legs again. "I'm Lucky Clayborn and I'm here to get help for my habit of taking cold medication when I'm sick then getting behind the wheel of a car and going to work."
There was a heartbeat of silence, then one of the women laughed, the other three members smiled and Dr. Colin merely continued gazing at her with those rich dark-brown eyes without blinking.
"Cold medication was to blame for both counts?" he asked without consulting notes or a file or even looking away from her.
For the first time in a long time, Lucky broke a challenging gaze. "You've done your homework," she said quietly. "I'm impressed."
"And you're avoiding my question."
She folded her hands in her lap, trying to ignore how damp her palms were. "No. No, cold medication wasn't to blame for both counts."
She looked for something else to focus on rather than his face and found his hands an intriguing substitute.