Chapter 1 – Man Cave





I’d been at the job three hours and I was already having second thoughts. Not about Hunter Valley. The town was cool as shit. I’d visited before since Maverick pretty much moved his ass up here because of a work project… then a woman project. And Dex, who had a Hunter Valley woman project of his own but was settled in Denver with her.

There wasn’t a woman messing with my life.

I’d done that all by myself. Maybe I should have visited Family Health Services before I quit being a trauma surgeon and accepted the role as family physician. Over the phone. It was like buying a boat sight unseen only to arrive at the marina and discover it was barely afloat.

The medical practice wasn’t sinking. I was.

Over the weekend, I’d switched from an eighty-hour a week trauma surgeon to Monday through Friday, plus every other Saturday morning general practitioner. It wasn’t the extra free time that was an adjustment, although that was something to get used to. It was the patients. So far this morning I’d treated a man for chlamydia, handing him not only a prescription for antibiotics but some condom samples. After that, I pulled an eraser out of a six-year-old’s ear and performed a newborn baby well-check.

“Doing okay?” Verna Jeffries asked, holding out a mug filled with steaming coffee over the check in counter as I walked by.

I slung my stethoscope around my neck and eagerly snagged it, mentally blessing her practical nature.

I scanned the waiting area–which was currently empty–as I took a sip. The practice was in a converted old house in the historic downtown area. The entry was the original family room, fireplace and all. The bedrooms had been converted into exam rooms. My office, which I shared with Dr. Jeffries–Verna’s husband–was the old den.

This place was a long way from the hospital’s clinical interior.

“Good coffee,” I said, pleasantly surprised. The brew at the hospital in Denver was mostly a HAZMAT situation except for the ICU break room, which I frequented–used to–way more than a surgeon based in the ER should.

“I get the beans from Steaming Hotties.”

I knew the place because Mav wore its damned pink t-shirt often enough.

“To answer your question, yes. Doing okay. So far, so good,” I replied, inwardly sighing. No one had died anyway, which was a distinct possibility of my old job.

But was treating sexually transmitted diseases the escape I really wanted?

I had enough money. I could quit entirely. Buy a boat that floated and sail the seven seas.

She laughed. Her dark eyes were filled with humor, although I expected it was at my expense. From what she told me this morning when she handed me the first batch of insurance paperwork, that she was a grandmother of three, liked to snowshoe and had the best sourdough starter in town.

I had no idea what the last meant, so I’d only nodded when she’d overshared. Or maybe she regular-shared and I was used to non-sharing. My previous co-workers didn’t have lives outside of the hospital, like me, so we didn’t have much to talk about besides tricky cases.

“It’ll take some getting used to,” I added diplomatically.

“Getting used to what?” she wondered. “Seeing this many patients in a day?”

On the computerized schedule I had twelve patients plus a one-hour window for call-in urgent visits like kids with unplanned ear infections.

I shook my head. “Having patients be conscious.”

Because patients sedated and prepped for surgery didn’t tell me their quirks and talents. If they did have chlamydia, it was the least of their worries.

With a head cock, she eyed me, as if giving me some kind of her own swift assessment, just like I gave to every patient when entering an exam room.

“I think you’re going to find all your patients awake. Except for the babies. Those you might want asleep.”

I considered the one I’d just seen, who’d been blissfully asleep except when he got an immunization and nodded. “Wise words.”

Her head tipped the other way, down the hall. “Your eleven o’clock is in room one. Annual. London’s probably done with vitals.”

Verna held out her hand and I gave the coffee back, eyeing it wistfully.

“I’ll take care of it,” she said, as if I was dropping a child off at the first day of kindergarten instead of being separated from caffeine for thirty minutes.

London, the efficient and knowledgeable nurse, came out of the exam room. She handed me the open laptop. “She’s ready for you. Since it’s her annual, I have everything set out ready to go. Just stick your head out when you’re ready to do the exam and I’ll come back.”

Annual. Annual.

Gynecologic annual. Not a cardiology annual or sports physical annual.

The newborn I saw earlier was… different for me. I hadn’t held a baby in years. Couldn’t remember the last time.

A woman’s breasts and vagina I was well acquainted with, in a personal setting, not a professional one. Not since my OB/GYN rotation during residency and that had been for only a few weeks.

I was a doctor. I saw bodies all the time. This was clinical. Completely clinical. The woman wasn’t imminently dying from a car accident or fall. Easy. Get in, get out. Literally.

I knocked on the door, opened it and entered, glancing at the name on the patient record on the laptop screen.

Mallory Mornay.

“Miss Mornay, I’m Dr. James and I understand you’re here for your–”

My words dropped off when I finally lifted my gaze to the woman who sat on the exam table.

Mallory Mornay. I said the name aloud, but I didn’t put it together until now.

Not Mallory Mornay, the random woman who was here for a woman’s annual reproductive health screening.

This was Mallory. Mallory.

Bridget’s best friend Mallory, who was outgoing, vivacious, and extroverted. Sexy and bold. Hot as hell and the woman I dreamed about fucking ever since I first met her in July. She was a goodie-goodie first grade teacher and I always wanted to dirty her up. Do filthy things to her. With her.

And she was sitting here in a paper gown, ready to part her legs nice and wide.

And not in the way I’d been imagining in the shower as I rubbed one out. Fuck. FUCK!








Vanessa Vale