“Jackson Strange,” the nurse read out, her eyes meeting his across the nearly empty waiting room. She checked something off on her clipboard. “The doctor will see you now.”
Jackson stood, trying not to put too much weight on his left leg—and trying not to look like he was limping. Too late; Aunt Bella Bitoni was as perceptive as she was competent—and blunt.
“Stop right there, mister,” the nurse told him. Her normally laughing black eyes were hard today, and focused completely on his leg. She pursed her lips and pushed a lock of silvering black hair out of her face. “Bobby, have you got the wheelchair in there?”
Aww, man. Jackson nearly groaned out loud. He hoped she wasn’t going to write to his mother. “Bella, I’m fine—”
But Bobby, the teenaged evenings-and-weekends receptionist, was already wheeling the damn thing into the backs of his legs. They collapsed, fire shooting up from the left knee. “Dammit, Bella! Ow!”
“Thanks, Bobby,” she said, ignoring him completely. The two other patients waiting snickered. “I’ve got it from here.”
Jackson gave old man Bender from the grocery store an unpleasant glare as Bella wheeled him into an examination room. “Dr. Dan busy today?” he asked, mostly to keep her from lecturing him for walking on his injured leg.
“Dr. Dan’s seeing about Star Hamilton’s girl. She’s due any day now.” Bella didn’t look up from filling in his chart. “We’ve got a new man in; he’ll look after you.” She put her pen down at last and scowled at him from behind her no-nonsense spectacles. “As for you, Jackson Strange, you should know better! No telling what damage you’ll do to yourself next. And you’ll break your mother’s heart. Are you trying to get yourself killed?”
Damn it; why did she always have to play the mom card? “No, Aunt Bella,” he mumbled. Did they teach guilt-tripping in nursing school nowadays or what?
Aunt Bella grabbed the chair at the computer desk across from him and peered around the monitor, spectacles obscuring her eyes. “What did you do to yourself this time?”
Jackson sighed. He would have to hope for doctor-patient confidentiality on this, or Bella’d be writing to Calgary in no time. “Some fool left his toolbox out. I tripped, cut my leg open on a raw girder.”
Bella winced, but she was typing away. Probably checking whether his tetanus was up to date. “By the way you were limping you’ve either let it get infected or it’s fresh and you’re gonna need stitches.”
“I’m not that stupid,” he protested. He’d only let an injury get infected once; that had been more than enough, thanks.
“Hmph. Depends on who you ask.” Bella finished her data entry and looked at him over the rim of her glasses. “You need a place to stay while you’re recovering, you call your Uncle John or me, you hear? Don’t let them send you back to work before you’re ready.”
He bit his tongue to refrain from pointing out that it was his own business—literally—to manage and he’d go back when he was damn well ready, which was usually right away. He didn’t like leaving someone else in charge. “Yes, Aunt Bella.”
Bella closed the door.
Jackson let out a breath he hadn’t realized he’d been holding. It had been a strain, hiding the pain from his aunt. God, he hadn’t needed to swear this badly since the Flames lost the Stanley Cup finals. He pressed his closed fist into his left thigh, grimacing and cursing under his breath.
The door opened, admitting a tall, slender man in a lab coat.
“Who the hell are you?” Jackson growled, not letting up the pressure. Detachedly, he noted a growing red stain above the knee of his jeans.
“I’m Dr. Piet,” the man said, not too sharply considering Jackson’s attitude. He consulted his chart. “You must be Jackson Strange.”
“I go by Jack,” he said through clenched teeth. “You'll forgive me for not standing up.”
“Bella didn’t give you anything for the pain?”
“She thinks I should suffer for being careless.”
“Hmm. We’ll have to agree to disagree.” He went to a cupboard and sorted through the various medications. “How bad’s the pain? On a scale of one to ten?”
Oh, thank God, Jack thought. Morphine. “I dunno. Seven? Worse than the dog bite to the calf, but not as bad as the time I accidentally set myself on fire in high school.”
He could hear the sadistic amusement in the doctor’s voice. “Are you accident prone?” Then, before he could even answer, the prick of a needle at the curve of his shoulder.
Almost immediately, he could feel the pain begin to dull. “Oh, Doc. I think I love you.”
“I’ll bet you say that to all the boys.”
Morphine-sedated, it was hard to tell what he meant by that. The sudden respite from pain also gave Jack a chance to look up at his lord and savior.
Dr. Piet—Julian, according to the name on the lab coat—hardly looked old enough to have a medical degree. He had no facial hair to speak of, and his skin was smooth and fair over sharp cheekbones. He had dark hair—sort of long and unruly, for a doctor—and darker eyes, which were definitely at least a little bit amused. “Are you stoned enough for me to look at the injury yet?”
Jack stared at him for a minute. “You want me to take off my pants?” He didn’t know if he could do it, even with the drugs to kill the pain.
“I could cut them off if you prefer, but it’d be easier if you stripped. More room to move around. And you won’t have to walk out of here naked.”
Jack blinked. “Am I harassing you, or the other way around?”
Dr. Piet gave a slight smile as he turned again. “How about I help you out and we call it even?”
The part of Jack’s mind that would normally have sensed a bad idea and found an alternate path had been more or less rendered comatose by the drugs. It hurt to be helped to his feet—but that was apparently as far as the good doctor was willing to go. Too bad. Now that he was standing Jack could see that the man had a truly exceptional ass.
Dr. Piet led him to a handgrip screwed into the wall. “You can use this to keep your balance. I’ll be back in a few minutes. I need to get a bigger needle.”
Jack watched the door close behind him and wondered if that would have sounded as erotic if he were sober. Now, how to get his jeans off? Left leg first, maybe? He undid his belt and popped the buttons open, but there wasn’t really anywhere for the denim to go; his jeans were glued to the bandage wrapped around his leg. He was just going to have to peel them off.
Wiggling the jeans down past his ass didn’t present too many problems. Once he got them halfway down his thighs, however, there was a renewed surge of angry protest from his injured leg. Carefully, he sat again—on the examination table this time—and more or less kicked the jeans off his right leg. It made peeling them down the other much easier.
Just in time, too. Just as he’d balled up his jeans and tossed them in the corner, there was a knock at the door.
Dr. Piet came in rolling his eyes, took one look at the makeshift bandage around Jack’s leg, and made a face. “This was the best you could do?”
“It stopped the bleeding,” Jack said defensively. “Well, for a while, anyway.” He’d probably torn it open again walking in the waiting room.
The doctor pulled on a set of surgical gloves. “Let’s have a look, then.” He took a pair of plastic-wrapped surgical shears from a drawer and ripped the package open. The metal was cold against Jack’s skin as he cut away the cloth and gently pulled it away from the injury. He held up the offending material. “What cowboy patched you up? Please tell me no one ever actually wore this.”
“Johnson did it,” Jack told him. “And what’s wrong with my shirt?”
“Was it clean?” the doctor asked, going back for the bottle of alcohol. Damn, this was going to sting. “I mean, ever?”
“I’m an engineer! I do field testing!”
“So, what, hygienic considerations don’t apply?” Dr. Piet grabbed a cotton swab and started sterilizing the wound.
Jackson was momentarily distracted from their banter by the fire in his leg. “Should that still hurt with the morphine?”
“Man of your size with the dose I gave you?” Dr. Piet looked him up and down speculatively, and Jackson did his level best to keep from reacting. “Yep.”
“Just checking.” Jack’s stomach made an uncomfortably loud noise and he stopped watching the doctor’s hands.
“You’re going to need stitches,” Dr. Piet announced, dropping the cotton swab in the hazmat trash can. “Surprise!” He held up two spools. “Would you like the pink thread, or the blue?”
“You’re kidding, right?”
“Mostly; I don’t think I have enough of the blue. How’s the pain? Need another hit before I start sewing?”
Jack shook his head. “I’ve had stitches before. I’ll be okay.”
“That’s what I love about cowboys. So macho.” The doctor threaded the needle. “Out of curiosity, when was your last tetanus shot?”
Jackson watched the needle disappear into his flesh, then emerge on the other side. “Uh,” his stomach twinged, and he turned away. “I’m not sure. A couple of years ago?”
“I’ll check your records, but you’ll probably need another, just to be safe. It was metal you cut yourself on, right?”
Jack nodded. “Gotta kick Harrison’s ass for leaving his toolbox out like that.”
“Or you could start watching where you’re going,” Dr. Piet quipped, slipping the needle through another few layers of skin.
Jack scowled. “They pay you to be funny?”
“It probably won’t make the itemized list I send Blue Cross Alberta, no.” He tied off a knot in the thread and surveyed the damage. “Mama would be so proud. It’s hardly even going to scar.”
Jackson had to admit, the pink stitches were not nearly as gruesome as the blue ones he’d had last time. “Thanks, Doc.”
Dr. Piet was busy consulting his medical records. “That’s my job.” He pulled a small notepad out of his pocket. “I'm prescribing some antibiotics to prevent infection. Twice a day every day, with food, until they’re gone. Any unusual side effects and you call me or Dr. Dan.” He tore off the top sheet and handed it over. “I’ve got to grab the tetanus booster; they’re in the supply room. Only had morphine in here out of sheer luck; last patient almost hacked his finger off chopping wood. It’s supposed to be kept in back under lock and key. Damn fool should’ve gone straight to the ER in an ambulance, though. Be right back!”
Great, Jackson thought. Injury, Aunt Bella, stitches, booster shot. Good thing the doctor was hot or this’d be one hell of a day.
Easy, cowboy. This town was small enough already. No reason to risk shrinking it any smaller by giving the gossips something to talk about. Besides, the evidence that the good doctor might swing his way was circumstantial at best.
Anyway, his leg would put him out of commission for at least a few days.
Jackson heard the warning bells go off in his head, but he figured he could probably afford to ignore them—at least until he was no longer drugged to the eyeballs with opiates.
“Okay, where do you want it?”
Jackson looked up to see that the doctor had returned—and was holding up a giant syringe. “What?”
“Left or right?” the doctor asked. Was Jack just imagining that teasing glint in those eyes? “Arm.”
“Oh,” Jackson said, hoping to God he wasn’t blushing. On second thought, he probably didn’t have enough extra blood to blush. Please God, do not let me get an erection in the next ten minutes. It was not a prayer he had ever thought he’d need in his entire life. Then again, he’d never been half-stoned and half-naked with a hot doctor he couldn’t seem to stop picturing naked. “Left, I guess,” he said, rolling up his sleeve.
“Just a little prick,” Dr. Piet promised. Oh, he was so doing it on purpose, that little tease.
Jackson watched the needle pierce his skin distractedly. It was more of a pinch than anything else, really. Why were the edges of his vision going black? “Hardly felt a thing,” he said woozily, having the sudden urge to just…close his eyes.
“You’re not going to faint, are you?” the doctor asked.
Jackson’s eyes rolled back. His head tipped forward. The last thing he knew as he passed out was Julian Piet’s concerned touch, keeping him from sliding off the table.