Everett touched her upper lip. Her body responded to his touch and scent: her breath quickened, her nerves tingled, her nipples tightened against the cloth covering them. He slid his fingertip along her lower lip. She wanted so much to thank him for lowering her prison bars and freeing her, but her eyelids and her throat and her voice were failing her. Then she couldn’t remember what she’d meant by prison bars and she had to narrow the focus of her willpower even more in order to utter the name of her desire.
She did so with terrific effort.
“I’m here. Go back to sleep,” she heard his gruff voice say. But was it real? Or was she dreaming?
She felt the weight of his head on the pillow next to her. He covered her breast softly with his hand, and she felt her nipple press against his warm palm. He was here.
He was real.
She relaxed, surrendering her struggle, and sank back into the dark, peaceful realm of sleep.
* * *
“What the hell do you think you’re doing?”
Everett started at the sound of the harsh female voice. His eyelids popped open. He stared at the blue-and-white print on the hospital gown Joy wore. He’d fallen asleep with his head on the pillow next to her. He immediately looked into her face, concerned, but Joy continued to sleep.
“Get your damn hand off that girl!” the scandalized voice said.
Everett blinked and gazed first at the large shadow looming on the other side of Joy’s bed. Edna Shanoy, he thought with a sense of dread, remembering what Nathan had called the fearsome eighth-floor night nurse. He glanced to where she was glaring with large, protuberant eyes. His hand lay on Joy’s breast.
He removed it hastily. “If you could just keep your voice down,” he said groggily. “I don’t want to wake her.”
“You know . . . I think that’s . . . I would swear that’s Everett—”
“I don’t care if it’s Everett Hughes!” Edna hissed, interrupting the soft, incredulous female voice. Her square jaw quivered with indignation. “No one sneaks onto my unit and paws at my patients.”
Everett clambered out of the bed, snatching his cap from where it’d fallen behind Joy’s pillow. Behind the boulder-like body of Edna Shanoy, he saw the slight figure of the young, auburn-haired nurse staring at him with wide eyes.
“All right, I’m going,” he said in a hushed tone, clapping his hat on his head. Edna bared her teeth at him menacingly as he rounded the bed. “I’m not some kind of degenerate,” he snapped. “I happen to be in love with her.”
“You can tell the officer about it,” Edna said, tilting her head smugly toward the hallway.
“But Miss Shanoy, I think it really is him. I saw that sketch next to the patient’s book when I was pouring her water earlier and I thought it looked like Everett Hughes,” the young nurse said breathlessly, “and now here he is—”
“Shut up, Cheryl,” Edna Shanoy growled.
Cheryl’s spine stiffened angrily, but she didn’t retort. Everett looked past both of them, hoping to see Nathan’s kindly face in the hallway. Instead, he saw a tall, burly outline dressed in black. His gaze skimmed the letters on the bulletproof vest.
Shit. Chicago PD.
“Our night duty officer from the ER, here to take care of you, pervert,” Edna said, giving him a beady, triumphant glance.
“Twisted cow,” he muttered. He ignored Edna’s snort of disbelieving fury and glanced back at Joy. Her eyes didn’t open, but her head moved on the pillow and her expression was anxious. He shot an annoyed glance at Edna and stalked out of the room. He didn’t want the woman shouting any more accusations and waking her. He rolled his eyes when the cop grabbed his elbow.
Could this night get any worse?
“You’re under arrest,” the police officer said.
Apparently, it could.
Joy entered her apartment on Tuesday evening feeling like she’d just gone a couple rounds in the ring with a prizefighter. Except for the soreness at her throat, her aches had nothing to do with the procedure. Her fever had flared again this morning, delaying her discharge and causing her muscles to throb in protest. She felt like an eighty-year-old woman as she entered her bathroom and removed her clothing, the Band-Aid that covered where the IV had been and the bandage on her neck.
She hesitated before she stepped into the steaming water. Part of her wanted nothing more than to wash off the clinging remnants of the hospital from her skin, yet there was that other fragrance that she caught sporadically when she tilted her head to the right—spicy and complex, male and delicious.