Home > Fractured Love (Off-Limits Romance #3)

Fractured Love (Off-Limits Romance #3)
Author: Ella James

PART ONE

PROLOGUE

LANDON

Monday, June 12, 2017

Denver, Colorado

She sits alone at a lime green booth, eating an avocado she sliced open with the hard edge of a spoon. I’m in my spot before she slides into her booth, and so I see her press the spoon against the dark green skin and split the avocado open, pull it apart. I know what she’ll do before she does it—or at least, I think I do.

Yep.

She goes for the pepper shaker first, taking it from where it stands next to the napkin holder. Pepper first, and then the salt. She stares into space as she chews and swallows, digs into the soft, ripe fruit, and then repeats. I’m some thirty feet away, behind a column painted to look like a tree.

I didn’t bother with the ruse of food.

I watch her push aside the finished shell of peel that held the first half of her snack. She scoops the seed out of the second half and sets it in the empty bowl of peel. Then she digs into the fruit with her spoon once again, at one point bringing her hand to her mouth and straightening a finger. I can’t see her clearly enough to know for sure, but I think she licked it. She should know better than that.

Her flaxen hair is pulled into a ponytail. Sleek, but nothing fancy. Up against the stark white of her coat, her skin looks deeply tanned. I’m too far away to see the freckles strewn across her nose and cheeks, but I assume they’re where they’ve always been.

Truth be told, she looks exactly like I thought she would, right down to the pink and gray sneakers I see underneath her table, and the small, square, multicolored, canvas purse she wears diagonally across her chest.

Once she’s finished with the avocado, she appears to lick her lips, and then she’s staring into space—or at the mom and children at a round table ten or fifteen feet in front of her. Her shoulders look relaxed. Her back is straight, her long legs crossed. She gives no clue she is getting up until she does. Rather than gather the fruit peel to her chest and then stand up, she stands first, lingering over the table for a moment before she reaches over to pick up her trash, as if it’s an afterthought. She confirms my hunch—that she’s distracted—a moment later, when she throws her stainless steel spoon away, along with the fruit peel and her napkin.

Her eyes widen.

Oops.

She hesitates a moment before turning, walking past a few restaurant-fronts, and disappearing into the sea of people in the vast lobby.

I don’t need to hurry after her—I know where she’s going—but I do. I grab my leather briefcase, toss my coat over one arm, and follow her with long strides.

The bustling lobby is busier than usual, because it’s Wednesday. The outpatient clinics are busiest mid-week. No one wants to come to the hospital Monday or Friday. Not for a planned appointment.

I pass the wide hallway that snakes around the hospital’s right, front quadrant, and head past benches, sculptures, and a long row of check-in and information desks that form a line down the center of the lobby.

The elevator banks are straight ahead, but I’m not going there. I hang a right, down a hall that leads toward the admin offices, and then take the first stairwell I see. My loafers rap softly against the cement stairs—quiet enough that I can hear her Nikes bounce against the stairs above.

I know it’s her.

I know her gait.

I look up into the sliver of space at the middle of the stairwell, and I can see her coat flap, see her ponytail fly, as she climbs. I’m still on the first flight when I hear a door open then shut.

Shortly thereafter, I push through the same third-floor door, coming out beside a water fountain and a large, fake, potted plant. I slip into my coat, pick my briefcase back up, and follow the route I remember from my interview: past the waiting room, the doors to the NCCU, and finally the neurosurgery inpatient check-in desk, using my new ID to get the doors to open.

Once I’m in the neurosurgery inpatient area, I walk past patient rooms, the nurse station—deserted, because they’re changing shifts in Conference Room 1—a restroom, and several patient rooms.

As I near the door to Conference Room 2, I see her dark gold hair, her slender shoulders. Then she’s through it, out of sight.

There’s this moment, as I step into the room behind her, when I feel light and weightless. Like I think a patient must feel during surgery, hovering somewhere near the ceiling. Then I see the face of one of our chief residents, Dr. Dorothy Eilert, and I’m back on solid ground.

She nods at me.

I nod back.

I stand near the back of the small room while a handful of residents from years two through six, plus two chief residents—the seventh years—greet the four of us newbies for orientation. I stand there, still and calm, while Dr. Eilert goes over some logistics, introduces each of us.

In med school, I learned how to bullshit with the best of them. The art of sounding sure when I don’t know shit. What kind of smile makes me look sincere and empathetic, even when I’ve got a killer headache. How to live off stale bagels and caffeinated gum, while sleeping an hour every other day on a cot sized for a nine-year-old. I can talk to patients with tact, swallow criticism with grace, and keep my ego in a little box I only open when I really need to push myself. Surgeons aren’t supposed to be human. We must be more than.

So I smile when Eilert introduces me. I stand four feet behind her, and while Eilert and the other chief speak, I keep my jaw relaxed, my face relaxed, so only I know that I want to strip her crisp, white coat off, push her up against the wall, grab her by the ponytail, and fuck her until she cries—for me. I want to hear her moan, whimper, and beg—for me.

She stands there, playing with her hair as she listens to Eilert, rubbing an itch near her collar, breathing, her heart beating, and the sight of it is so surreal. I can’t stop looking. Even when my gaze is pointed downward, my attention is aimed at her.

I tell myself my racing pulse is nothing but adrenaline, fired off because of what my senses process. My reaction to her is scientific. Predictable. Meaningless. There’s no such thing as serendipity. There’s no such thing as fate or soul mates. Everything I’ve learned in school—in life—has taught me that.

Evie is nothing but a memory, dancing out in front of me.

I can keep focused.

We four interns—otherwise known as first-year residents—get our marching orders for the first three months.

“Kim, inpatient. Prinz, critical care. Rutherford, neurosurgery. Jones, you’ll be our floater. What that really means—” Eilert winks at me, “is neurosurgery six days out of seven and inpatient the seventh. Our second years have us mostly covered in the NCCU.”

I can see the birthmark on the back of her neck. Will we be in surgery together, ever? Surely so.

The buzz of people talking ebbs and flows around me. I chat and smile and listen as my body riots from the inside out.

And then it’s over, people turning toward the door. I smile and shake a few hands. Everyone starts filing out. I turn to follow…but I can’t move.

I can feel the heat of her behind me, feel the tug of her.

I step toward the door as the last of our colleagues slips through it.

I watch it shut.

Then I turn and look into the past.

ONE

EVIE

September 4, 2006

Asheville, North Carolina

“But what if he doesn’t like Empire Strikes Back?” My sister Emmaline tilts her head up, looking at the poster we just hung. In her brand new, silky Princess Leia nightgown, she looks more like four than seven. She’s tiny for her age, and it’s late, so her little voice is wobbly with tiredness.

“Don’t worry, Em.” I smooth my palm over her blonde hair. “Everybody likes The Empire Strikes Back.”

“Not me.” She pokes her lower lip out. “I like A New Hope.”

“That’s just because you love the light sabers.”

She smiles, nodding, and I sift my fingers through her silky locks.

“I think he will want a light saber,” she says.

I smooth the poster down, then stick another push pin in the lower right corner. “Maybe so, but remember what Mom said. We’re going to feel it out before you give it to him. We don’t want him getting here and being overwhelmed the first day. He might be sad.”

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