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(Previously titled Veiled Seduction)
Even the best-laid seductions can go awry.
Beneath Dr. Maira Khan’s reserved exterior, her heart beats triple-time for only one man: Sasha Karimi. For two years she’s waited patiently for the handsome police lieutenant to wake up and see her as more than a buddy. When he’s injured in the line of duty, though, she realizes time is too precious to waste. Ditching her scrubs—and her shyness—she cooks up her very first seduction.
Sasha’s had a hell of a week. Thanks to the national media, amorous women are pouring out of the woodwork, all wanting a piece of America’s newest “hero”. The biggest disappointment? Maira seems to have contracted the same case of mass hysteria. Betrayed, he pushes her away—but not before he samples a taste of her luscious mouth and body.
It works. Maira retreats, mortified and ashamed. And Sasha realizes he’s just driven away the perfect woman. Now all he needs is a foolproof plan to win her back, starting with a proper courtship—and restraining his lust. Except once Maira glimpses the man behind the uniform, she sets out to show him that pure need has its own ideas about what’s proper…
Warning: Contains a brilliant heroine who knows how to take matters into her own hands, a sexy hero who knows how to win his woman, an awesome full-body massage, a tender romance and sizzling bedroom (and kitchen) shenanigans.
Dr. Maira Khan had been called a lot of things: prodigy, weird, ice queen, robotic.
But no one said she wasn’t damn good at her job.
“What have we got?” Maira coolly surveyed the newest addition to their acute care unit.
“Adult male, thirties. Two gunshot wounds to the left chest. We found him at the scene with agonal respirations so we needled his left side. There was blood all over the place, Doc. We scooped and ran.” The medic who spoke was new. Not only was he young, but he had that slightly horrified look that took some first responders a year or two to overcome.
“Pressure is 60-over-palp, tachycardic to 120. Needle decompression at the scene, no IV access right now. Pressure’s in the 70s.” The nurse rattled off the stats in a no-nonsense tone.
“Is the suction ready, do we have an E.T. tube?” Maira asked.
“Then let’s go, on my count, one, two, three.” The medics transferred the patient to the bed, leaving the orange board behind.
One of the nurses, Cheri, a twenty-year veteran who Maira was always happy to have at her side, held the man’s arm and had the IV in on the first attempt.
“Push the rapid sequence intubation meds and let’s start some fluids, wide open.” She stood at the head of his bed and looked down at the man from upside down. His eyes were staring up at her, she noted dispassionately. She didn’t waste time to even register their color. She took off the collar around his neck and opened his mouth, not at all startled to find it pooled full of blood. “I need suction.” She cleared out his mouth with the skinny plastic vacuum-like tube and held out her other hand. The endotracheal tube and laryngoscope were almost immediately slapped into it.
She held the laryngoscope in her left hand and inserted the curved metal blade into the man’s mouth to make way for the breathing tube. She’d intubated people so many times, she knew exactly when the E.T. tube was properly inserted. She removed the laryngoscope.
“Stethoscope.” Donning the instrument, she listened carefully to both sides of the patient’s chest. “Decreased sounds on the left.” Fluid in the lungs was not good. Not good at all.
Cheri was already moving to the left side with the proper equipment for her. Maira joined her, took the chest tube and inserted it as if she’d been doing it since childhood, unfazed by the spray of blood that flew out of the external end.
Clamping the tube managed to turn off the faucet of red. Holding the plastic with one hand, she listened to the patient’s chest again. “I need a chest x-ray to confirm tube placement. And get Dr. Abrahms over here, if he’s not already on his way.” They needed the surgeon. She connected the tube she was holding to the pluravac. The machine started working, sucking more blood out of the man’s chest.
“Heart rate of 150, BP is 60/40.”
“Is the O Neg hanging?”
Her gaze fell on a medical student. “You.” He jumped, Adam’s apple bobbing. “Get over here. Squeeze the bag.” He rushed over, so eager to please he almost tripped over his overgrown feet, and took a hold of the bag of blood. Over the next three minutes, as they worked rapidly and two units of blood were essentially pushed back into the patient, the man’s heart rate slowed down, along with her own.
When his blood pressure steadied, no one high-fived or gave each other congratulatory looks. Maira only allowed herself a small mental sigh. The man was critical, but he was alive, for now at least. Sometimes that was all you could hope for.
As she was scrubbing her hands and arms, a voice came from the door. “Doctor? We need you in six, right away.”
She didn’t waste time with a response, only nodded and shook her hands. Hopefully her luck would continue to hold.
Four hours later, Maira walked down the slightly calmer hallway and ran her hand through her hair. She wanted nothing more than a shower and a stiff drink. In that order.
While life as an emergency department physician was rarely anything like a primetime show, occasionally they had a ripped-from-TV drama kinda day. Like today.
From snippets here and there, she’d picked up that there had been a shooting at one of the nearby elementary schools. Of course, she would have been able to figure that out without anyone telling her. Like any other trauma unit, they got their share of gunshot wounds, even child victims. But normally it was spread out, the gunshot victims interspersed with drug overdoses, ear infections, and heart and asthma attacks. From what she could surmise, upwards of half a dozen children had been rushed through their doors today.
She alone had treated two kids and two adults. All of her patients had pulled through, though three of them just barely. The man she had treated first was in the worst shape, quickly followed by a woman in her forties. That lady definitely had someone with a halo on her side. The bullet in her chest had traveled through skin, muscle and bone. Each layer must have successively slowed it down until it stopped right in front of her aorta as if confronted with a shield.
Amazing how much a fraction of an inch matters. Just a bit more and the woman, who probably had a loving husband, kids and dog who fetched her slippers, would have just been a bag of blood arriving in the E.R.
The boy she’d transferred to a nearby children’s hospital by chopper…he’d been the worst, though not in terms of prognosis. Maira grimaced. She hated working on kids, as a rule. With adults, it was far easier to operate with that shield of impartiality and distance in place. She’d had to work extra hard to keep all of her focus and attention on the small pair of lungs that had gotten in the way of the bullet. And work even harder to not respond to the fear and pain in a pair of big brown eyes, made larger by the fact that most of his face had been covered by the mask from the rebreather.
She walked to the nurses’ station and grabbed a chart to start writing her notes. She half-heartedly massaged her temples as she stared at the empty form. Patient condition too critical to obtain history. She checked off the box. She wrote efficiently, an emotionless rehearsal of the sequence of life-saving events. In the back of her mind, she couldn’t help but wonder what would happen if she just scrawled a giant red WTF right on top of the paper. Who would do something so horrible to a bunch of kids? And in their quiet little town? Lewiston was no Mayberry, but it wasn’t the rough urban city either.
“You look like you could use a Coke.”
She signed her name and glanced at Cheri, who had brought her wheeled chair over to rest next to her. “A Coke would be a nice start. What are we mixing it with?”
“Alas, the cafeteria has yet to put in that fountain of rum I suggested. Blast them.” She held up the red can in her hand. “For you.”
“Dr. Khan, are you old enough to drink yet anyway? We’d need to card you first,” Linda, another R.N., called out in a sing-song tone from her seat a few feet away.
Cheri, with her back to the other nurse, crossed her eyes. Maira bit her lip and concentrated on opening the can, gulping down a solid hit of the cold, caffeinated soda. At twenty-four, she was one of the youngest attending physicians a lot of people ever met. Since she’d dealt with it her whole life, cracks about her age generally flowed right off her back.
Besides, once they worked with her, Maira made sure no one was left with any questions about her competence and the skeptical looks dissipated. Linda was new. She’d learn.
“So, did being out on the roof with the chopper throw you back to your residency days when you would ride around with the heli-boys looking for drama?” Cheri asked, and wiggled her eyebrows.
She laughed, but sobered quickly. “No thanks. Drama isn’t my thing.”
“Please. If we didn’t all love a little adrenaline, we wouldn’t be here.”
“I think we can all agree today was enough excitement for everyone. Poor kid.”
“Poor kids,” Cheri replied, emphasizing the plural. “They didn’t deserve something so horrible.”
Maira tapped her fingers against the can. “School shooting, I heard.”
“Yeah, but this was no Columbine.”
“I wondered. The kids were so young.” Six or seven year olds, as far as she knew, didn’t really fit the age group for student-on-student violence. Adolescents would probably be more down with that sort of thing.
“This guy, Alfred Reid, walked up to the playground, pulled out a gun and started picking the kids right off the swing sets.”
Maira’s stomach roiled. “My God.”
Linda spoke. “You didn’t know?”
“No. Any fatalities so far?”
Cheri shook her head. “I don’t think so.” She swiveled in her chair and looked at Linda for confirmation.
“By some stroke of luck, not yet. The teacher and Reid, the guy who did it, are still in critical…but then, you know that, they were both yours.”
Ah, the first man she’d treated. She wondered briefly if she would have worked as hard to save him had she known what he had done. She’d like to think yes, she was that good of a physician she could distance herself from Satan himself to treat him, but…
Well, she was kind of glad she hadn’t been tested.
“The one you air-lifted, and then two more in critical here. Three got off relatively easy, have already been transferred out of acute, and then six more treated and discharged.” Linda shook her head. “Poor kids, indeed.”
“It could have been worse,” Cheri said with a meaningful air. “If that cop hadn’t acted so quickly, that entire class of twenty would be corpses.”
“One cop?” Impressive. She’d worked with enough first responders to know that one against one wasn’t always the best odds.
“Yeah. One of the people inside the school building shot a cell phone video of the whole thing. It’s gone viral.”
“We caught it on my iPhone just a little while ago.” Cheri gave a wry smile. “Crazy how fast the world is. Cop charged in without even waiting for backup, single-handedly took the shooter down.”
“He didn’t get hurt?”
Cheri snorted. “Oh, he did. He’s admitted too. Get this, we have a connection. He’s Dr. Barrett’s brother-in-law.”
All of the air sucked right out of Maira’s lungs. She stared at Cheri, distantly noting the concern on her friend’s face. The nurse’s lips were moving, but Maira couldn’t hear.
She was standing. Her leg was damp. She looked down to note the full can of soda had slipped from her fingers to fall against the white tile floor. The cola had splashed and soaked through her scrubs, creating a dark stain over the light blue.
“Where is he?” Maira whispered.
“Are you okay…?”
“Where is he?” Surely, that high-pitched, almost yelling voice was not hers. Other doctors might yell; she never did. She was calm. Collected.
Right. And if this woman didn’t give her an answer, she was going to strangle her.
“Room eleven. He’s fi—”
Maira didn’t just run, she sprinted away, the cold wetness of her cola-drenched pant hem slapping at her leg. Behind her, she heard Cheri murmur to Linda, “I forgot she was friends with Dr. Barrett’s family.”
Maira wanted to laugh, more than a little hysterically. Friends?
Yeah. She was friends with Sasha Karimi.
Her sensible sneakers squeaked as she came to a halt in front of the slightly ajar door. Her heart thudded in her ears as she pushed it open.
Though she knew what she would see, a small cry escaped her lips when she caught sight of the still form lying in the bed.
She’d run a half-marathon once, before she realized that she absolutely despised running and exercise in general. That was what she felt like now. Like her chest was too tight and aching. Each breath she took came in a rasping gasp.
Metal bit into her hands as she wrapped them around the side rail of the bed. He hadn’t gotten that haircut, she thought inanely. When they’d met for a quick lunch last week he’d kept raking the too-long curls away from his face until she’d teased him that he was starting to look like a girl.
Teasing because Sasha was the most masculine man she’d ever met. His body was pure steel. His features were all bold lines and stubborn strength, from his straight aquiline nose to his square jaw. When he kept his hair short, he looked tough and capable.
When he grew it long, though, the black curls, along with his melted chocolate eyes and thickly fringed eyelashes, made him look almost poetically beautiful.
Now, he looked neither. A bandage was taped high on his forehead. The harsh contrast of his hair against the stark white of the pillow emphasized the hardness of his tanned features. He wasn’t her animated and fun-loving Sasha. Slight lines were etched around his mouth and on his forehead. He appeared older, tired.
She didn’t realize she was touching him until she felt the warmth of his cheek against her fingers. “Sasha,” she murmured and leaned over his face until the slight gust of his breath wafted against her lips. “Oh God, what happened to you?”
Go get his chart and find out, numb nuts.
Still she couldn’t move. She stroked her fingers over his lips and followed them quickly with her lips, kissing him, light caressing touches of her mouth. His mouth trembled below hers right before she felt the brush of flesh against her face.
Startled, she lifted her lashes and pulled back. Sasha stared at her with unfocused eyes. His hand rested against her cheek. Her wet cheek, she realized. It was as if the consciousness of her tears brought more; they poured out of her eyes. A sob caught in her throat. “Sash, God, I love you so much.”
For two years, she’d kept those words bottled in, and she hadn’t intended to let them out now. But she couldn’t stop once she said it, and she kept repeating the three-word phrase, following it with more frantic kisses, against his nose, his cheeks, his forehead, his lips.
In the deepest, darkest depths of her heart where she kept all her dreams locked up in a pink journal decorated with ponies and unicorns, she’d fantasized about declaring her love for Sasha Karimi for two years. In those scenarios, he generally fell to his knees in thrilled delight before he reciprocated the feelings and then they got married and had lots of babies and maybe a pet iguana and lived happily ever after.
Instead, she felt his hand fall from her face. When she looked at him, his eyes were closed again, his lashes making crescent moons against his cheeks.
The whisper-soft word floated from the door. She glanced up sharply. The tall blond man in the doorway was blurry. “Mason…”
Mason Barrett was a fellow E.D. physician. He was also married to Sasha’s sister. If anyone would know what Sasha’s condition was, it would be him. If only she could speak past the hard lump in her throat.
He didn’t bother to wait for her to sort out her vocal cords. He approached on soundless feet and placed a hand on her arm. “Come on. Let’s talk outside.”
She dumbly allowed him to lead her outside, and he slid the glass door of the room closed. “Mason…”
“Shh. Come on now.”
Part of her wanted to run far away; another part wanted nothing more than to shrug off Mason’s arm, march right back into that room, and strip Sasha of his thin cotton green hospital gown so she could inspect him all over.
Mason’s face suddenly appeared before hers and she inhaled. He was on his haunches in front of her, holding her cold hands in his. When had she sat down? She looked around, noting the deserted doctor’s lounge with some confusion. How had she gotten all the way over here?
“Mo, breathe, honey.”
Breathe? She was breathing just fine. Wasn’t she?
The world tilted upside down when Mason slipped his hand around her neck and gently pressed her head down until she was staring at the floor.
“Take a deep breath. And exhale. He’s fine, do you hear me? He’s just fine.”
It was only then that she realized her breaths were coming in half pants. That was…unusual. She did not hyperventilate.
She was calm. She was collected. She…she really could not breathe.
She sucked in a deep breath, but it caught on the sob in her throat and she ended up choking. Mason rubbed her back lightly as she swallowed and tried again.
It took a few minutes to get her air back. She concentrated on dispersing that tight, achy feeling in her chest. With every second that passed by, a little more panic set in. God, what had Mason seen or heard? What was he thinking?
That this is a hell of a reaction from someone who’s a buddy, that’s what.
When she could easily inhale and exhale without feeling like a gorilla was sitting on her chest, she sat back up. Her body felt rigid and easily breakable. “I—I apologize. I don’t know what came over me.”
“Don’t apologize. Probably the same thing that came over me when I saw him wheeled in.”
At some point during her little attack, he’d moved to sit next to her on the couch. She turned to look at him. Up close, she could see the lines of strain and fatigue all over his face, and a pang of remorse drowned out any lingering embarrassment. Mason was married to Sasha’s older sister, but more than that, the two men were closer than most other in-laws. They shared a friendship that went back years, to their childhood.
“Is he…?” She couldn’t finish the question.
Mason spoke quickly, bless his heart. “He’s fine. Straight clean gunshot through the muscle of his thigh. No major vessels, no broken bones. Barring any other problems, he’ll be out in a few days. Lucky bastard.”
Her eyes wouldn’t stop leaking. He turned away from her to grab a handful of tissues from the box on the end table and handed them to her. There was no way to hide her tears or her actions, so she didn’t bother, simply wiping away the evidence of her distraught state. “His head?”
“Slight graze. He has a nasty bruise on his chest where his vest protected him. That’s all, I swear.”
A shudder worked its way through her body. “He was the cop who saved those kids?”
“So I hear.”
“My God. He could have died.”
Silence. She looked up to find Mason staring at his hands resting on his knees. He flexed his fingers slowly and then looked back at her, his eyes diamond bright. “He didn’t. Thank God.”
She’d do that tonight, copiously. Lucky didn’t begin to cover it. She knew exactly what kind of damage a bullet could do to a person, the deadly little pieces of metal capable of wreaking a vicious trajectory through the body. Just one artery. That was all that needed to be nicked for a fragile human being to bleed out.
“I know he looks like he’s in rough shape, but you’ll see differently when he wakes up. He took some pain pills, and medications always hit him harder than most people.”
When he woke up? She thought of what she’d say to him, how she’d walk into his room and pretend like her world hadn’t tilted on its axis. True panic set in. “I can’t see him. Not yet.”
She hated to see judgment in the expression of a man she admired, not just as a colleague, but as a good friend. However, there was nothing but understanding in Mason’s expression. “I think that’s fine. Don’t worry about it. Your shift is up, why don’t you go on home?”
“I have some paperwork…”
“Look at your hands.”
She looked down at her lap, where she’d shredded the tissue into tiny pieces. A visible tremor ran through her fingers.
She glanced back up, a crawling sensation in her chest. She felt…desperately out of control, like everything was unraveling around her.
It horrified her. She couldn’t have been more mortified if she’d stripped her clothes and danced around Mason naked. She looked him dead in the eyes. He didn’t even try to glance away.
He knew, damn it. She didn’t know if her over-the-top performance just now had given her away, or if he’d known all along. “Don’t tell.” Her voice was high, plaintive. She could feel the slight burn of tears rising again.
His soothing, light touch on her shoulder kept her from making a complete fool of herself. “Never.”
She didn’t know why, but she believed him. Mason was a good man, a good friend.
“Go on home. I’ll call you with updates.”
Yes, home, where she could crawl into her small cave and work on rebuilding the wall of defenses that had kept her true feelings concealed from the man she’d loved from the moment she’d met him. Tomorrow, everything would be back to normal.