Piper Dawson has spent a lifetime living by other people’s rules.
She’s worked hard to get what she wants—a residency at her first choice hospital—and no one will ever tie her down again, not even her severe yet incredibly sexy supervisor, Dr. Alexander “Ace” Lennox.
Ace is done with love. He’s had his heart shattered, and he never wants to go there again. But when he’s inexplicably enticed by the sexy, tattooed woman with blue streaks in her hair and a perpetual smile on her lips, he figures that maybe he can keep it to just sex.
The problem? He thrives on control, and Piper dances just around the edges of it.
But when they're together, control is the first thing to go...
Each book in the Pulse series is a standalone story that can be enjoyed out of order.
Book #1 Engaging the Bachelor
Book #2 Seducing the Boss
Book #3 Claiming the Enemy
Book #4 Shocking the Medic
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Read an Excerpt
Claiming the Enemy
A Pulse Novel
By Lauren Hawkeye, Candace Havens
Entangled Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2016 Lauren Hawkeye
All rights reserved.
The large fishbowl full of alcohol sitting on the table in front of Piper Dawson was big enough to soak her head in. She didn't think she was quite that stressed out — not yet, anyway — but if she didn't slam back half of its contents in the next five minutes or so, she figured she'd get to that point.
Scowling down at the electric-blue liquid, she lowered her lips to the electric-blue straw and took a large gulp. Yeah. That was the stuff.
Piper liked to think that she was pretty easygoing, but this week in the ER at Hampton General had driven her to drink.
Eyeing the fishbowl, she plucked out the little yellow umbrella that sat jauntily on the edge, then took another large sip through the straw, savoring the resultant buzz. Yep, the drink was definitely soothing her frayed nerves, but drinking a gallon of something called a Kinky Kutie after every shift was probably not the best habit for a doctor. Or for anyone, for that matter.
But for today ...
"I deserve it." Piper raised her eyebrows at her drink. It didn't reply. "What? I totally do. Don't judge me."
She picked up the little paper umbrella and toyed with the tiny mechanism that allowed it to open and shut. On the third pass under her agitated fingers, the fragile pick splintered.
It had just been that kind of week. And she laid the blame squarely on him.
Piper sucked in a deep breath, then let it out slowly as she rolled her neck from side to side, stretching out her stiff muscles. Yes, it was definitely all his fault. His anal-retentive, obsessive compulsive, overly conservative fault.
She just wanted to get along with everyone. Just wanted to heal people. It was the only thing she'd ever really been good at.
Her supervisor? He seemed to make a habit of pushing others away. Including Piper. Like that afternoon when she'd tried to soothe his bad mood by bringing him an icy bottle of cola after lunch, the drink he practically mainlined most days.
He'd told her that if she hadn't bothered to get him the drink, she wouldn't have been two minutes late. She'd retorted that he must have missed the day of kindergarten where they learned to say thank you.
Yeah, she'd stepped over the line. Again. That was the story of her life, at least when it came to this man. She wedged her foot right into her mouth every time she talked to him, because she couldn't keep her opinions on his cranky nature to herself.
Knowing she should forget it, that she should just accept that they'd never get along, she stirred the straw around in her drink. Still, she couldn't stop obsessing over this, just the latest in a chain of altercations with him that had started her very first day at the hospital months earlier. Worrying over the incident was like a tongue probing at a loose tooth — it was uncomfortable, but she couldn't stop.
"There. I think I see a booth in the front there." The voice cut through the low rumble of voices in Score, the sports bar across the street from the hospital. The hour or so after any shift change at the hospital meant the place was busy, full of off-duty doctors and nurses who, like Piper, were looking for a way to wind down a bit after work.
No. Just no. What were the odds? Squeezing her eyes shut, she contemplated that head dunk into the fishbowl again.
That voice ... there was no mistaking that rough whiskey over steel tone. It had her snapping the remains of the umbrella handle in half, the rough wood jabbing into the tender skin of her fingers. And despite the Kinky Kutie now warming her insides, Piper ground her teeth together. Spine poker straight, she twisted in her seat and scanned the crowd. Not there, not there — ahh. Yep, she'd heard correctly.
Dr. Alexander "Ace" Lennox, her residency supervisor, aka the biggest pain in the ass to have ever lived, had just walked into Score with a woman at his side. Of course there was a woman — the hospital rumor mill churned out almost daily reports on his love life. Not that she cared.
The relaxation she'd been seeking evaporated like cool water under the desert sun as he made his way to a booth near her.
All she wanted right now was to drink her giant fishbowl, have a nice walk home in the salty sea air, then soak for an hour in a steaming hot bath before she and her cat had a nice long Netflix binge.
The nine seasons of Friends never got old.
Piper turned back around just as Ace slid into the booth, his back to hers. Just knowing he was there was enough to ruin her Zen. No way could she just return to her Kutie, not with Ace's overbearing, stick-inthe-mud vibe directly behind her, invading her space.
The memory of that bottle of cola, her peace offering, made her glower.
"Well, isn't this ... nice?" The woman with him spoke. Piper had gotten a quick glance when they first walked in. The woman was older. Brunette. Beautiful, if you were into that cool, slick, cougar kind of thing. Piper's lips curved into a derisive smirk.
It figured that would be Ace's deal. He was so very proper that a sophisticated older woman just fit.
Not that she cared.
"Mom, I told you." Hold up. Mom? Piper's fingers slipped on her glass as she leaned back, drawn into the conversation even though she knew better.
"I don't have much of a break today, so it's this or the hospital cafeteria for lunch. That's why I told you to come tomorrow."
"Alexander. Don't speak to me like that." The woman's voice was smooth and cultured, but there was just the faintest edge to it — one Piper recognized.
"Goes both ways, Mom." Piper heard Ace shift in his seat. He sighed. "Sorry. It's been a long day. It's good to see you. I'm looking forward to dinner tonight."
"I am, too. And I'm not judging, Alexander." Piper mouthed the word but as the woman spoke it. "But I worry about you. I want to know that you're taking care of yourself. And taking me to a pub for lunch doesn't exactly inspire confidence. Is this where you usually eat? Greasy food doesn't have much nutrition."
He just told you why he brought you here! Piper felt her spine straighten. It was one thing for her to poke at Ace. It was quite another thing when someone else did it. Even if that someone was his mother.
"Remember that whole thing where I'm an adult and a medical doctor?" Ace's voice was low, but Piper knew that stiffness in his tone. "I'm well aware of how to fuel my body."
Blood rushed to Piper's cheeks at hearing the word body on Ace's lips. Why it did, she couldn't have said.
They focused on the human form all day long. This shouldn't have been any different.
She blamed it on the alcohol. It certainly wasn't because she harbored any kind of crush on him. There wouldn't have been a point — he was her supervisor. Hospital policy said that there could never be anything between them.
Not that I want there to be. Jeez. What is wrong with me? He's an asshole, and I don't do assholes.
"I know." Ace's mother — finally — seemed like she was backing down. Exhaling, Piper leaned forward for another sip of her drink.
She wound up jabbing herself in the cheek with her straw when the beep of a text message cut through the noise of the bar.
There was a pause, and then the woman spoke again. "Our dinner reservation is at La Mer at seven, yes?"
Unable to stop herself, Piper took a quick peek over her shoulder. Ace's mom was tapping away at her phone, returning a text. Ace was staring out across the bar, affording her a view of his profile. It was easy viewing — grumpy or not, the man's angular face, stormy eyes, and habitual five o'clock shadow were not hard to look at.
But there was tension in that finely honed jaw, frustration in the set of his head. She fought against it, but that expression on the face of her normally stoic supervisor poked at her heart, a bit.
He was always in control. Always had the answer. Seeing him looking ill at ease was just ... wrong.
"It is." As he spoke, Ace turned, just a fraction, but in that moment his eyes met Piper's, noticing her presence for the first time. Something flickered across his face, not vivid enough to really count as an emotion, but Piper still felt quite clearly that he wasn't thrilled to see her there.
She wasn't sure why, but it hurt. Just a tiny bit.
Then he turned away. Facing her own table, Piper shook her head to clear it.
Clearly the alcohol was affecting her if she was feeling mushy toward a man who treated her like dirt. Looking around for Gemma, the waitress, she picked up the laminated menu. She'd order a little something to soak up the booze before she went home.
Oh, no. Not today.
Lounging against the long wooden bar was a man still dressed in his hospital scrubs. The back of his dark-haired head was to her, but the way he puffed his chest as he overtly flirted with Gemma set alarm bells ringing.
Piper had dated Estevan Alvarado for a few weeks, back when she'd first started at Hampton General. Finally finished with umpteen years of schooling, she'd let herself be carried away by him.
Too bad he'd thought that a nice face made up for an unbelievably chauvinistic personality. Even in the short time they'd been together, he'd made it clear that he had one nasty set of double standards. She'd broken things off after she caught him cozying up to one of the maternity nurses in a supply closet — oh yes, the cliché — but since he hadn't been the one to end it, he liked to make her as uncomfortable as possible every time they ran into one another.
Thankfully, that wasn't often, since he was up in the cardiac ward and she was down in the ER. Still, she couldn't avoid seeing him once in a while — like now, at Score after shift change.
Don't look at me. Don't look at me.
Her thoughts might as well have been broadcast via bullhorn, because as soon as Gemma slid Estevan's beer toward him, he swiveled on his stool and turned in her direction, though he hadn't seen her yet.
Piper's stomach sank. If he saw her — he'd proposition her, then when she refused he'd bully her with subtle put-downs. Despite knowing better, she'd leave the encounter feeling unworthy of, well, anything, and that was a mental state she'd worked long and hard to overcome.
Before she could think it through, she'd risen to her feet, drink in hand. She had no idea what she was going to do with it — dump it down his pants, maybe — but her fingers curled around the stem of the glass so tightly they hurt.
Maybe she could slip out of here without him seeing her. But ... no. As though she'd screamed out his name, he tilted his head, eyes locking in on her. The smile that crossed his face screamed target acquired! Fire at will!
Not today. She just couldn't. Her body strained from the tension. As Estevan crossed the bar, homing in on her like a shark to his prey, there was only one way she could think of to get out of this situation.
She and Ace didn't like each other, but he seemed like a stand-up kind of guy — if a cranky one. And right now she needed his help.
Without the Kutie, she might not have been brave enough, but before she could think it through, Piper slid smoothly into his booth. As she wiggled against him to get him to move over, his expression made her simultaneously blanche and want to howl with laughter.
If she'd smacked him upside the head with that damn bottle of cola, he couldn't have looked more surprised. His eyes were wide as she set her drink down on the scarred wooden table and smiled brightly up at him. His mouth fell open, just a bit, as she finally succeeded in moving him over enough to make room for her.
She was intimately familiar with the expression on his face — the one that asked what the fuck she was doing. Ignoring his mother sitting across the table, she leaned in and whispered in his ear.
"Please. Please just play along. I need your help."
"What are you doing, Dawson?" Ace's storm gray eyes narrowed dangerously, and he grimaced as though he'd swallowed a mouthful of sour lemonade. Piper winced, pleading with wide eyes.
"Alexander. What is happening?" The woman on the other side of the table pinned her son with a Look with a capital L before shifting her attention.
From the corner of her eye Piper saw the tall, swarthy figure of Estevan approaching the table. She sucked in a deep breath, preparing herself for the incoming storm.
And then she felt Ace's arm, slowly, cautiously curling around her shoulders. Relief was an icy stream of water on a steaming hot day as she sagged against him.
Ace's mother inhaled sharply, no doubt wondering what the hell was going on, and then Estevan was there. He stopped beside the booth, that toothy smile shining brightly, but Piper could see the laser sharp focus in his eyes, taking in the situation, trying to twist it to his advantage.
"Piper Dawson." He cocked his head, studying the way she sat snugly against Ace's body. "It's been a while."
"Yep." Not long enough. She tried to smile, she really did, but she knew the expression was tight. She wouldn't put it past him to hit on her even though she was obviously — supposedly — here with another man.
Tapping his fingers against his beer bottle, he cocked an eyebrow, and Piper braced herself for it.
Beside her, Ace sat up straighter. A quick glance had her blinking with shock — he was posturing like the leader of a wolf pack, chest puffed out, spine straight, face twisted in a glare.
"May I help you?" Despite his tough exterior, Ace's voice was calm — amused, even. As though the thought of someone trying to steal his woman was ludicrous, because any woman with him would be far too satisfied to look elsewhere, even for a minute.
To her complete astonishment, Estevan simply nodded. At Ace, of course — it wasn't like she had a mind of her own or anything.
"Just saying hi to an old friend." The ridiculousness of that made Piper snort out loud, which had all three looking at her strangely.
Foot, mouth. Though, this time she supposed it was actually nose.
To her utter disbelief and absolute delight, Estevan continued walking. Hell, she could handle a little male chauvinism if it meant that he left her alone.
"Phew." She exhaled noisily. The lean plane of heat pressed against her side shifted, drawing her attention back to her current predicament.
The woman across the table — Ace's mother — seemed utterly confused by the entire situation. And when Piper dared a glance up at her unlikely hero?
His expression was inscrutable. Though, if she looked really hard — and she did — she thought that she could maybe, just maybe, discern the slightest twinkle of amusement in those iron-gray eyes.
That amusement evaporated when his mother cleared her throat and pinned her son with that capital L Look before shifting her attention to Piper. The once-over that the woman gave her was quick — Piper doubted that Ace, being a man, even noticed it.
But she sure did. And though she rarely cared what other people thought of her, for some reason the cool granite stare of this woman had her feeling ... less than.
"Alexander, you didn't tell me that you were dating anyone." His mother's smile was tight.
Beside her, Ace choked on a sip of his cola. Piper looked up at him from beneath her eyelashes, waiting for him to make the next move. She fully expected him to deny it — that was the truth, after all, and there was no reason to continue the charade.
It was her turn to be stunned when he instead tightened the arm around her.
"It's ... new." He smiled, and if he hadn't had his arm around her, she might have just fallen over. "Mom, this is Piper Dawson. Piper, this is my mother, Rosemary Lennox."
Rosemary smiled tightly, though, to her credit, she probably thought she had concealed most of the strain. Piper's momentary triumph wilted under the scrutiny. "Alexander has never mentioned you."
The elder Lennox didn't have to say much to convey her disapproval. Piper stiffened beneath the watchful eyes that told her in no uncertain terms that she didn't approve. A quick once-over of her own made it easy to see why.
Excerpted from Claiming the Enemy by Lauren Hawkeye, Candace Havens. Copyright © 2016 Lauren Hawkeye. Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
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