Between family nightmares and a series of lousy men, nurse Roxie Morano's life is a disaster zone. But enigmatic (and gorgeous!) new colleague Ryan "Fig" Figelstein is ignoring her hazard warningsinstead, he's signaling his attraction! Now Roxie's bulletproof heart is at risk but dare she dream Fig will stick around when he discovers all her secrets?
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"It's not Roxie," 5E head nurse Victoria Forley insisted. The tiny brunette slammed the file in her hand onto her old metal desk. "She's one of my best nurses, and a dear friend. I trust her implicitly. This is absolutely ridiculous."
"Calm down, honey," her fiance, Dr. Kyle Kar-linsky, said as he wrapped his large arm around her narrow shoulders. "We'll figure it out."
Ryan "Fig" Figelstein leaned against the door frame of Victoria's fifth-floor office, watching the cozy scene. An observer. An outsider in his best friend's new life.
Kyle shot over the look that more often than not got Fig into some kind of trouble and added, "And Fig will help us."
"Ooohhh, no." Fig held up both hands. "Come see where I work, you said, just for a few minutes." Kyle knew how much Fig hated hospitals. The smells. The sounds. The isolation and deprivation. He staved off a shudder.
"You okay?" Kyle asked, studying him, able to read Fig better than anyone.
"Yeah." Fig pushed off the door frame and took a step into the tiny office. "So what's your idea?" he asked to get the focus off of him.
"You're here another week, right?" Kyle asked.
"That's the plan."
"It's perfect." Kyle rubbed his hands together.
Perfect would be them leaving the hospital. Now. Perfect would be an end to his mother's constant telephone calls and ploys for his attention. Perfect would be some sense of normalcy in a life that was feeling increasingly out of his control.
"You hire on here. As the unit clerk."
"Are you ?"
Before he could get out the word crazy Kyle added, "Just hear me out." His voice took on that placating tone he used every time he set out to convince Fig to do something he didn't want to do. Kyle removed his arm from Victoria and set his full attention on Fig. "You answer the phone, respond to the call bells, direct visitors."
"It takes more than that.." Victoria started.
"And he watches Roxie and the narcotic cabinet," Kyle added to silence her. "Each time she or someone else accesses it he'll call you."
"You're brilliant," Victoria said to Kyle with a big grin. Then she turned to Fig. "You have to take the job," she pleaded. "Each day I have a different temp circulating through. I need a person I can trust to keep an eye on Roxie. Something's going on. She's been forgetful and distracted. She doesn't have her normal spunk."
Signs of drug abuse. Fig glanced at Kyle.
Victoria caught him. "She's not on drugs. Please," she said, looking up at Fig in that way women do when they have no intention of accepting no for an answer.
"I work with computers." And he was damn good at it. In demand even. "I have a job."
"But you can work anywhere," Kyle pointed out, oh, so helpfully.
"I'm not a big fan of sick people," he admitted. Some deep-seated fears were not easy to get past. "And I know nothing about being a unit clerk in a hospital." Frankly, the thought of spending twelve captive hours in one left him cold and clammy.
"You're not expected to have any physical contact with the patients. And I'll train you myself," Victoria said. "I'll help out as much as I can and I'll tell my nurses to pitch in, too. The narcotic cabinet is in a locked room right behind the desk where you'll be sitting. All you need to do is report any suspicious behavior and I'll check the Demerol count."
"I've got an idea," Fig said. "If you're so certain Roxie had nothing to do with the missing drugs, why don't you tell her what's up and ask her if she knows anything?" Fig preferred the straightforward approach, hated when people danced around an issue.
"Normally I would, and as her friend I want to." Victoria looked torn. "But my job requires I remain objective and investigate the matter fully. Which is what I'm trying to do. Please say you'll help me."
"We can spend more time together." Kyle smiled. "And you'll be earning nine dollars an hour to boot."
Like Fig needed the money. "Seriously," Kyle said. "This means a lot to Victoria so it means a lot to me. You're here. You're impartial. You have no vested interest in Roxie's guilt or innocence."
Now, that wasn't entirely true. In the few hours he'd spent with her at last week's Employee of the Month dinner to honor Kyle, Fig found Roxie to be a total hoot. He liked her. Really liked her. And would rather not participate in any activity that may turn out to be detrimental to her well-being. Not to mention after pulling a no-show for their date Friday night, Fig was not looking forward to Roxie setting eyes on his alive self. The woman had a sharp wit and, per her own admission, an even sharper temper.
But then Kyle added, "I trust you, my closest friend, to help prove Roxie's innocence."
And Fig was sunk. Over the past eight yearssince rooming with Kyle at the physical rehab after his "accident"Kyle had been like a brother, building Fig's confidence and helping him through the most difficult time in his life. How could he say no to the man who'd improved his quality of life to the point it felt worth living?
"I know I'm going to regret this," Fig conceded.
"So you'll do it?" Victoria asked, cautiously optimistic.
"I'll call Human Resources." She picked up the phone. "You can start tomorrow."
Terrific. For the next week Fig was stuck in the Podunk town of Madrin Falls in upstate New Yorkwhere he couldn't even get a decent cup of coffeefilling in for the unit clerk on a busy medical-surgical floor at Madrin Memorial Hospital. What did he know about being a clerk? Nothing. But he'd seen enough of them in action to have a pretty good idea of what he'd need to do. And honestly, he was a college-educated professional. How hard could it be?
The next morning at the God-awful hour of way the hell too early, Fig set his two cups of cafeteria "coffee" on the table in the 5E nursing lounge and caught a glimpse of his reflection in the huge window. Obviously the hospital didn't have many six-foot-four-inch unit clerks on staff, because the drab tan uniform jacket they expected him to wear fit like a bolero jacket with three-quarter sleeves.
He peeled it off and tossed it onto a chair. He jogged in place to work off some of his jitters. "You are not a patient," he started his pep talk. "At the end of the day you get to go home." He jumped three times and stretched out each shoulder. "You can do this."
"Well, lookey here. All alone and talking to yourself. Psych ward's on the fourth floor."
He recognized the voice instantly. Roxie Morano. He turned to face her, so as not to leave his back open to attack. Purely precautionary.
"Jeez, woman." He held his arm up to shield his eyes. "You're an assault to early-morning vision." While she wore the lavender scrubs that identified her as 5E nursing staff, she'd chosen a long-sleeve white turtleneck covered in small multicolored stars to go underneath her top. About a dozen colorful cartoon character pins adorned her left breast pocketwhich covered an appealing, rounded breast. Red rectangular-framed glasses hung from a purple chain around her neck that tangled with the lime-green cord from which her chunky yellow pen hung. A bright red scrub jacket with bold pink, yellow and blue hearts lay draped over her arm. Farther down she had on red clogs that clashed with a few inches of exposed orange, green and yellow striped socks. Up on her head her kinky cream soda curls were pulled back in a thick, bright orange hair band.
Beyond the distraction of color, Fig took a moment to absorb the beauty of her smooth, tan skin, her warm brown eyesthat looked heavy with exhaustion rather than light with laughter like they'd been on the night they'd metand the lusciousness of her perfect-for-him body.
"If it isn't Ryanmy friends call me Fig Figelstein." She walked toward him. "I thought the deal was if you survived the week we'd head out to dinner to celebrate, Ryan'"
Okay. He got the emphasis she placed on Ryan. Point received. He'd have to work to earn back her favor. An effort well worth the anticipated payoff. Her. Naked. In his bed. Which, based on the heated attraction zipping and zapping between them last week, was where they'd been headed. If only someone else had been available to babysit Victoria's son after the dinner. If only he hadn't missed their date.
"When you didn't come," she continued, "I said a prayer, just like I'd promised. I even contemplated attending church on Sunday, and what a ruckus that would have caused." She stalked toward him. "And here you are." She looked him up and down. "Fit as a fiddle."
Her cell phone rang. She looked at the number, let out a frustrated breath and turned away. "What?" she snapped into the device. "I told you no. My answer won't change." She listened. "Fine.
Do what you have to do." She slipped the phone back into her breast pocket and turned to him. "So, Ryan. I can't begin to imagine what's transpired to make a self-proclaimed computer genius, such as yourself, stoop to the role of hospital clerical worker."
"Anything to get close to you," he said. "So I could apologize for missing our date. Please, we're friends. Call me Fig." Only his mother called him Ryan, because she flat out refused to call him anything else. Ryan represented his old self. The child homeschooled because of his medical conditions, brainwashed to fear the world around him, the tentative, lonely teenager who lacked confidence and had no real friends. Figthe nickname chosen by Kylefit his new and improved self. A man of character who chose to embrace life rather than hide from it, to experience life rather than watch others have all the fun.
With raised eyebrows and a taunting head tilt Roxie asked, "You think we're friends, Ryan? I beg to differ." She walked past him to a row of lockers and set to working the combination dial of the one on the end.
Fig took a step back so he could see inside, but she blocked the contents with her body.
He hated the position Victoria had put him in. While he liked watching Roxieher butt, for example, which filled out the back of her scrub pants in all of its pleasing roundness, with not one panty linewatching her for anything other than his own personal enjoyment felt sneaky and underhanded. Two things Fig was not.
"You see, Ryan, my friends don't lie to me or leave me waiting without so much as a telephone call to say that something came up or they'd received a better offer."
"I didn't " No way she'd understand what having a mother like his was like. He didn't want to talk about that night, just wanted to put it behind him. "I'm sorry."
"Yes, Ryan. You are. Because you missed out on a good time."
No doubt he had. For sure he would have much rather been with her than where he'd wound up.
"Such a pity." After pushing her huge purple purse and a lunch sack into her locker, she pulled out a hot-pink stethoscope, popped a piece of gum into her mouth and closed the door. The next thing he knew she had her chest pressed to his and was leaning in close to his ear to whisper, "I'd put on my crotchless panties and peekaboo bra especially for you."
He pulled her bottom half close. Could not stop himself. "I sure wish I'd been there to see them." And enjoy them. He drew in her sensual scent. God help him he wanted her. While Kyle liked his women small, Fig liked 'em tall and thin. Just like Roxie. He went for full body contactskin to skin from head to toe.
At first she stood rigid, looking away from him. He slid his hands up her sides, teased the outer curve of each breast. She reacted, an infinitesimal softening, a barely noticeable exhalation, both of which he may have missed if he wasn't so attuned to her. "You want me," he observed.
"To move your hands," she replied.
He did. To her upper back where he proceeded to hug her close. Her cell phone rang.
Dag-nab-it. He released her.
She took a step backstill not looking at himset her stethoscope on the table and pulled out her phone to check the screen.
Fig forced himself to stop thinking about how good she'd felt pressed against him, how much he wanted to see her beautifully formed body in nothing but some sexy, barely there undergarments, and resumed focus on his missionto determine if Roxie was the one responsible for 5E's missing Demerol. While his brain made a smooth transition, his body was not so easily redirected.
Roxie returned the phone to her pocket without answering it, and, with a deep breath, she turned and headed for the door like she'd forgotten all about him. "Hey," he called after her, holding up her stethoscope.
Seeing it, she snapped two fingers. "Right. I'll be needing that."
When she grabbed it he held on and waited for her to look him in the eye, making note that hers were bloodshotdamn. "I'm sorry you had to sit home on a Friday night because of me."
She laughed. "Don't kid yourself, Ryan. There are plenty of men who enjoy my company." She stared him down. "Really enjoy it. And just because you weren't up for a good time doesn't mean I didn't have one." She yanked the stethoscope from his hand. Over her shoulder she said, "For the record, I never sit home on Friday or Saturday nights. Ever."
Her phone buzzed.
She retrieved it and looked at the screen. "I hate men." She glared at him. "I'm done with the lot of you. Every single one. So tell your kind to stay the hell away from me if they value their man-parts." Then she slammed out the door.
Fig waited, wanting a little distance between Roxie and his man-parts. At least for now. He smiled, taking her words as more of a challenge than a warning.