Playing Doctor Ch. 02byWine_Maker©
Chapter Two: Deeper into uncertainty
Since I was trapped, I stepped back and put a smile on my face. Danny was going to pay, and pay big, for this later.
Keven came in smiling. At first, he looked genuinely surprised to see me, and my half-formed suspicions about Danny setting me up disappeared, but then a sly grin spread across Keven's face. Quickly stepping over to me, he took my hand and raised it to his lips just as he had done last night. Once again, the sensation of his breath warming my knuckles stirred the same chaotic emotions inside me and re-ignited the slow-burning heat from last night. His deep gaze over our hands made me shiver.
I broke away from his gaze before I lost my composure and behaved like a love-sick teenager, lost in his eyes. I didn't dare trust myself to look at Danny. He would ignore my smile and interpret the heat in my eyes as lust, and I was afraid that he might be right. With what little dignity I could still muster, I took back possession of my hand.
"Welcome to the Hammerstein Clinic." I gestured to Danny. "This is my boss, Doctor Danny Hammerstein. Now, if you'll excuse me, I'll leave you men to your business."
"Oh, I'd rather you wait for just a moment," Keven said smoothly with a glance at Danny. "If the good Doctor H. can spare a few minutes before we meet, I'd like to reschedule our coffee date, since we were so rudely interrupted last night."
The word "date" sent a shock through my system, though I know Keven didn't mean it as that kind of date. Or did he? I shored up the smile on my face and tried not to let him see me sweat.
"Why don't you have a seat, and I'll get you a cup of coffee." Danny suggested. "And if you would join us, Sandy, this business includes you, too. You can talk over last night while I go make some fresh coffee."
I gave him a deer-in-the-headlights look, but he only smiled and closed the door behind him on his way out. Then it occurred to me that he could have just used the coffee maker in his office. The bastard did this to me on purpose! My suspicions came roaring back.
"Please, have a seat," Keven said, taking one of the leather chairs for himself and gesturing to the other. I now knew how the fly felt when the spider said, 'Step into my parlor.' Still, I was limited in what options I had at the moment, given how Danny had choreographed this meeting like he did.
Taking my seat, I took a moment to marshal my thoughts and rein in my emotions. "I'm really sorry about last night."
Nonchalantly, he waved his hand. "I can't hold you accountable for what someone else did. However, when the ruckus finally cleared and I discovered you'd left, I was very disappointed." His dark eyes searched my soul again and I could almost feel the sparks between us. It occurred to me then that to rein in my emotions I first had to actually have my hands on them. At the moment, I felt I was simply hanging on for dear life. "I suppose I can't blame you for leaving, but I was going to track you down today. I find it telling that I didn't have to search long at all."
He said it in such a matter-of-fact manner that it sent a shiver up my spine, one I couldn't suppress. It was like a big-game hunter telling his prey that he would track her until he found her, no matter how long it took. Part of me started whispering "stalker." I tried to keep from wondering what the hunter would have done once he caught his prey. Then I remembered that I was his prey.
I considered telling him I had planned on calling him, but that would have been a lie, and he'd know it. "It was all moving a bit too fast for me," I said after a moment.
He nodded, not speaking but not looking disturbed by my revelation, either.
"We'd only just met," I continued, off-balance at his leaving the ball in my court. I'd always had a problem with wanting to fill silences. "I suddenly felt myself being overwhelmed and I guess I wasn't expecting it."
Keven smiled. "So I wasn't the only one that felt the pull. That's good to know. I wasn't sure if you felt it, too. I don't know if I've ever felt such a powerful attraction before, much less feeling bowled over by it so quickly."
I quietly cursed myself for letting that slip. What the hell was wrong with me? I was acting as bad as a teenager trying to keep someone from knowing I had a crush on them. When I was around him, my composure and experience just flew right out of my mind. I was a tongue-tied girl again. Danny was right, I realized. I had it bad.
"Look, don't get me wrong," I said, trying for some distance and perspective, "but we don't know each other at all. This is just a physical attraction."
He quirked an eyebrow. "So, you find me attractive?"
I closed my eyes. This conversation was going downhill fast. I just couldn't seem to stop myself from making it worse. Then I opened my eyes and, grudgingly, nodded.
"I don't suppose we could just start over, could we?" I asked without any real hope.
His roguish grin raised the temperature in the room by at least ten degrees. I felt like Little Red Riding Hood looking at the Big Bad Wolf. The devil on my shoulder promptly made me regret the analogy by wondering if it would be better to break with tradition and let the wolf eat me after all.
"No, I don't think so. This is going much too well to start over." He rubbed his artfully stubbled chin and continued smiling at me. "Still, you're right about it being a mutual attraction. The moment I saw you in that green dress, I couldn't pull my eyes away, and I didn't want to. A little voice in my head told me that I needed to go introduce myself right away."
I chuckled. "You have one of those little internal devils, too? Mine mugged my little angel." There I went again! I was digging myself deeper and deeper. I needed to get out of here before I just invited him over to my place right now. That little tart of a devil promptly told me what a good idea that was and it took all my strength to keep from sticking my foot in my mouth once again.
"The only angel I've seen in years is sitting across from me right now," he said with that same panty-melting grin as before.
While I was still trying to figure out what to say to that, Danny came back in with fresh coffee for all of us.
"There you are! What took you so long," I almost snarled at him, having to force myself not to snap.
"Sorry it took me so long," Danny said insincerely. "I stopped to talk with Trina about some scheduling details. I hope you two were able to reschedule yourselves as well."
"Actually, not yet," Keven said. "How about we have dinner to talk about it in more detail, Sandy?"
"Well, I'd love to, but I have an early day tomorrow," I said as a reasonable way out presented itself. "I'll have to look and see when I have some free time." Even as I said the words, I knew that I wasn't really sure if I was grateful for my early day tomorrow or pissed off about it.
If anything, Keven looked more intrigued than he had before. I don't think he was used to having to chase skirts very far. I would have bet my Porsche that most of them came running right to him. That gave me pause. Was I turning myself into a challenge? Maybe I shouldn't have been so fast to duck out. The internal conflict was becoming harder to keep off my face, but I didn't know what I really wanted.
"To borrow a phrase," Danny interrupted smoothly, "it's all been taken care off. I was reloading the schedule with Trina so I could pick up your morning procedure."
I blinked at him, completely taken aback. "What? You're bumping me?" Then I felt my blood start to boil. "Why the hell are you bumping me?"
Danny leaned over and stage-whispered to Keven. "This is one of the features that comes standard with our fire-haired Sandy. We lovingly call her 'the flame-thrower.' Just go with it."
I glared at Danny and then speared Keven with a matching high-voltage stare. "I'm sure you both think this is very funny, but I am not amused. If either of you think I'm just going to roll over and go along with this, then you're very much..."
"Your boss?" Danny interposed. "Why, I do believe you're right. I am. So, that makes me the man that schedules all the surgeons and surgeries." His voice was light and his eyes gleamed with buried humor, but the message was there.
With a sigh, I crossed my arms and glared at Danny. "I don't like being your violin, but you play well, and I get the message."
I transferred the glare to Keven. "Seven PM sharp. I'll leave the finer details to you, but I like seafood."
"And since I'm so deeply in the doghouse, I'll be on time," he said with an unrepentant smirk. "Now Sandy, I just want you to remember that all I did was ask."
Reluctantly, I nodded and tamed my glare back. "I'm sorry. Like Danny said, I have a temper."
"The good thing is that it's not usually a long-term problem," Danny said. "It's usually a flash fire. She'll be her usual sunny self very quickly. Now, on to business."
"Do you still need me or can I go sulk in my office?" I asked Danny sweetly.
"I still need you, so no sulking. This really does concern you. I've decided that the partners all need to have portraits done, and that was why I sent you to spy on Keven's art show." Danny turned his gaze on Keven. "And I asked you to come over so we can work out the details over lunch. Sandy gave you a glowing review, by the way."
Keven nodded, smiling. "I'm always pleased to hear that the critics I care about give me good reviews. Since you're clearing our good Sandy's schedule, I'll do the same if we can come to a suitable agreement. However, I foresee that we might have some difficult negotiating ahead."
"Really?" Danny said, showing some surprise. "Should we go over them during lunch?"
Keven shook his head. "No, I think we should negotiate the basic terms now. If we can agree, then we can talk over the details during lunch." He smiled at Danny and then looked at me in a way that made me almost shrink back in the chair, it was so intense.
I felt like a mouse being drooled over by a hawk. My mouth promptly went dry. "Name it and we'll see if it's possible," Danny said agreeably.
"I don't want money for the work," Keven said, his eyes locking with mine. "I'd like for Sandy to model for some other paintings as compensation."
I licked my lips and glanced at Danny, my feelings warring inside me.
"No," Danny said firmly before I could figure out how to respond. "Sandy is my friend and a partner here. If she wants to model for you, that's her business, but I can't and won't urge her to do so on behalf of the partnership. She's not a bauble, to be bartered for some nicer bauble."
"If I model for you, how much would it save the partnership," I asked, trying to keep the internal tremble I was feeling out of my voice. It was mildly satisfying to see the surprise on Danny's face. "And what kind of modeling, exactly, are we talking about?"
Keven leaned back and crossed his leg casually. At least, I realized it was meant to look casual. I could see an almost palatable aura of tenseness around him. "I would never ask a lady to model in anything other than what she feels comfortable with, so you don't need to worry about being asked to take your clothes off." One corner of his mouth quirked in a smile, and I just knew there was something he just couldn't resist saying. "Unless, of course, you'd like to take your clothes off for me."
The heat crawling up my neck and face told me that my Irish heritage had betrayed me again and I was blushing furiously. The accompanying twinge in my belly told me that at least part of me was not opposed to the idea in principle. Then again, when had a sexual organ ever had principles?
"I think it's a bit premature to be talking about taking my clothes off," I said, "and you didn't answer part of my question. How much modeling verses how much savings for the partnership?"
Rubbing his chin with his fingers, he considered that for a moment. "Well, that depends on a number of factors that haven't been decided yet. Size, quality and other variables that Doctor H. and I need to discuss. A ballpark figure would be one hundred and eighty thousand for the two portraits Doctor H. mentioned earlier. One of Danny and Holly, and another of you."
As a partner, I knew the approximate cash flow and net worth of the partnership. We could easily afford it, though it was still a significant chunk of change. "Is that your usual rate? How much was the painting of the kids on the bicycles, the painting at the front of the gallery last night?"
Something must have bled through when I was talking about that painting because he abruptly straightened and leaned forward. "The racing one? You like it? It was a very fun painting to do. My brother's children are so full of life."
I nodded. "I do like it, but right now we're just talking purchase price. If I wanted to buy it today, how much would it be?"
"If I were selling it, it would go for fifty-five thousand. But it's not for sale," he said.
I masked my disappointment. "Why not? And why so much? I can buy a lot of paintings for a much less than that."
Keven grinned at me. "True, but how much is it really worth? Simple economics and opportunity cost. I put in my time as a starving artist and now my paintings draw that amount, and more, as my fame grows. I'm not trying to blow my own horn here, but that's the way prices in the art world are. In a few years, if my career stays on track, that one painting would be worth many thousands more than someone paid for it now. So, you see, you're not just buying the painting, but the name that goes along with it."
"I see. I guess I never understood that about art before," I admitted. "Is it not for sale so that it can go to your brother's family?"
A cloud came over his face. "No. It's not for sale because it's set aside for someone as a gift. My brother and I had a falling out when we were younger, and we no longer speak to each other. I talk with his wife and my niece and nephew regularly, though, and visit them when he is away. That's when I saw them racing."
Taking a deep breath, I nodded. "You two discuss details, and I'll model for you, but I decide if the particulars are acceptable. How many paintings do I need to model for?"
Keven smiled like he had just won the lottery. "Six. We don't have to do them all at once, and we can work out the details of each project beforehand. For example, we can discuss the first one over dinner tonight."
I nodded and stood up. "Then I'll leave you two to talk. I need to go check on a patient, and I think I'm just distracting you both from your business now. Danny can give you my address and I'll see you at seven."
Keven rose smoothly to his feet and again took my hand and brought it to his lips. "The remainder of the day will be an eternity. Until then."
I nodded at Danny and managed to maintain my composure until I was safely in the hall. Then I slumped against the wall and covered my face in my hands, letting loose the emotions inside me, allowing them to chase each other around the center of my being. What in the world was I doing?
Then, with a deep breath, I pulled myself together and started down the hall toward the recovery room. The last thing I needed was someone to see me like this. I shook my head. I was a professional, a doctor. I had too many irons in the fire to let this man, any man, turn me inside out like this. That prompted a flashing vision of him on top of me, his body touching mine and his lips caressing the soft underside of my chin. Involuntarily, my body arched just like it did in the sudden daydream, the sudden wet heat flooding me. Oh God, I did have it bad!
I staggered into the janitorial closet and closed the door behind me. Sagging into the chair inside, I slumped over the small table. I couldn't go on like this. My body was betraying me. It wanted to do things to him that were illegal in a few states. Hell, it wanted him to do things to it that were illegal in even more.
One ragged breath followed another as I forced the vision out of my head and fought for distance and calm. I had thought everything was fine in my sex life, but I'd quite obviously been deluding myself. I had to admit the problem before I could deal with it. I craved his touch. I wanted to give in to it. Part of me needed it in a primal way that I had never felt before. And there was no way I was just going to throw myself at him and be another notch on his bedpost. No matter how much one part of me might want exactly that result.
Bit by bit, I more firmly grabbed the reins, wrested control of my emotions and took command of my body. Once I felt that I could be professional, and stay professional, I stepped back out of the closet. Ben was just coming down the hall and cocked his head at me.
"There you are. Mrs. Henderson is awake and ready for you. Um, what were you doing in the broom closet?"
"I don't want to talk about it," I said primly. "Let's just say I had some thinking to do and wanted the privacy."
I smiled at him and patted his shoulder. "Nothing to worry about. These aren't the droids you're looking for. Move along."
His eyes crinkled as he laughed. "Whatever you say, Obi Wan. I'm no match for your Jedi mind tricks."
With a grin I went to check on Helen. She was awake and looking good. I reassured her that everything went perfectly and then left her in the capable hands of the recovery nurse.
A glance at my watch told me that lunchtime was looming, and I needed to get out of here. Perhaps I could kill two birds with one stone. I flipped open my Rolodex and found the number for Trina's boyfriend and dialed it on my cell. If he was ducking her calls, he'd duck the office number, too.
Two rings and he picked up. "Hello?"
"Just the man I was looking for," I said in a pleasant tone. "We need to talk, Steve-O. If you have any lunch plans, change them."
He sighed. "I should have known she'd go crying to you. You women talk about everything."
"That's right," I agreed. "We tell each other everything. I know more about your sex life than you wish I did, too. Now that we've established that I'm clued in, I want to meet you for lunch. Right now. It's important."
"Look, I'd really rather not fight about this again, Sandy."
"Then don't," I said reasonably. "I'm not going to argue with you, but I need to make sure that you and Trina understand where each of you is sitting. Don't make me come down there, pal."
"Fine," he said, giving in. "I'll meet you at Coronado's in forty-five minutes. I have to wrap up what I'm doing, and if you're going to read me the riot act, at least I can have enchiladas."
"Thank you. I'll get a table on the patio. See you then," I said before hanging up. I locked my door, stripped off the scrubs and put my street clothes back on. Then I headed for the front door, searching through the numbers in my cell phone.
By the time I was getting in my car, I had secured a patio table through shameless use of my womanly charms. I smiled smugly at myself in the mirror. Who wasn't in control?
I was just ordering my tea when Steve arrived. He added another tea to the order and sat down.
"I'll be having the enchilada plate," he told the server. "No rice, double beans. And no onions."
"Same here," I chimed in. "Except I want two sets of rice and pile the onions on. Oh, and add in a bowl of chili cheese and chips."
After the server departed, I fixed my eyes on Steve. I could definitely see what Trina saw in him. Big, ruggedly handsome and usually a nice guy. "Let me start out by telling you something important, something that you need to hear and need to remember. Trina loves you."
He shook his head. "I know she does, but dammit..."
I raised a hand and cut him off. "What I'm not going to do is tell you that she's right or tell her you're right. I'm not here to settle your disagreement. I'm just here to make sure you don't lose track of the big picture while you're pissed off."