I must’ve read the note over a hundred times. Sometimes I would laugh, sometimes I would ball it up and throw it across whatever room I was in, sometimes I would sit silently and…try to remember.
Now we don’t have to worry about setting a date. You’re welcome.
Your Husband, Nico
I’d missed my own wedding.
Three days had passed; and every time I called my husband he’d answer, pretend there was static on the line, and hang up after telling me he loved me. That was my reality.
But, damn it, I’d missed my own wedding! I’d missed Nico looking into my eyes and saying he loved me and vowing that we’d be together forever. I didn’t even know if I’d promised to obey him…. I hoped that I hadn’t because that was a promise I was incapable of keeping.
Regardless, any promises made while under the influence of Sandra’s Amsterdam Absinthe and Ashley’s moonshine—supplied by one of her brothers who, of course, was named Cletus—could hardly be considered binding.
Except that big one.
You know, that big promise where we were now married by Elvis and I was Mrs. Manganiello (despite the fact that I still couldn’t pronounce the name).
“When did that happen?”
I blinked twice, bringing Dr. Ken Miles into focus.
“You’re married?” he asked, his eyes moving between the rings on my finger and my face.
I glanced down at the completely ridiculous diamond ring and band, flexed my fingers, and cleared my throat before answering. “Ah, yes. Three days ago.”
I was an hour past the end of my shift, but I was in no hurry to go home to the empty penthouse. I missed Nico, and being in our home without him made my heart hurt. This was exacerbated by the fact that he wouldn’t call me back. I’d resorted to recording his show nightly and watching it two or three times daily.
Ken was chewing gum; he chewed it several times more, then asked, “Sorta fast, right? Didn’t you just get engaged?”
I squinted at Dr. Ken. “No. It wasn’t sorta fast. We’ve known each other since we were kids.”
“It’s the fame thing, right?” He said this as he leaned forward, resting his elbows on the nurses’ station countertop, his gaze traveling up then down my body, a smirk on his face. “You’re rushing things ’cause he’s famous.”
After a moment I nodded. “That’s right. It’s all about the fame for me—and also the great sex. Because, let me tell you, he’s a slow eater…” I winked, “If you know what I mean.”
“Thanks for that,” he said, his tone flat.
I ignored him, feeling like it was my God-given right to get on his nerves since he’d asked such an asinine question. “Our marriage has nothing to do with the fact that he’s the best person I know and the most amazing man on the face of the earth. And it has nothing to do with the fact that I love him more than I love Star Trek and need him more than oxygen. Furthermore, marrying Nico had absolutely nothing to do with the fact that I can’t imagine living a single day without hearing his voice and his laugh and touching him and-”
“Alright! I get it.” Dr. Ken held up his hands, rolling his big pretty blue eyes, then stiffening when his gaze caught on something over my shoulder. Then he rolled his eyes again. “I’ll leave you two to it then. Exam room seven is open. Don’t say I never did anything for you.”
I lifted my eyebrows in confusion as Ken picked up the two charts he’d been holding and walked past me.
The sound of Ken’s departing footsteps was accompanied by his saying, “She’s all yours,” to some unknown person.
I twisted over my shoulder to see to whom he was speaking and subsequently felt like I’d been poked with a bewilderment stick.
Standing behind me, right behind me, was Nico.
He wore a tailored black suit with a lavender shirt and dark purple tie, and he wore it exceptionally well. The violet of the tie brought out the deep green of his eyes, and I would have jumped him, except for the smirk.
He was smirking—with his mouth, with his twinkly eyes, with his entire face, with his whole being—as his gaze affixed itself to my stunned expression.
“Hello, wife,” he said with smirky swagger. “Did you miss me?”
“You…” I said, turning completely around, but nothing else emerged. My heart leapt, and warm girly euphoria filled my stomach and chest and made my limbs feel loose and rubbery. However, the gargantuan delight at finally seeing him was warring with extreme annoyance at finally seeing him. Who marries someone while they’re basically incapacitated, leaves a pathetically short note, then feigns static on phone calls for three days? Three days!
Who does that? My husband, that’s who.
My husband… I loved the way that sounded, even in my brain.
I tried again to speak; this time I managed to point at him and force some strength into my voice. “You!”
“Yes. Me.” Nico stepped forward, slipping his hands into his pants’ pockets and backing me up against nurses’ station, my pointed finger pressing into his chest as he crowded my space. He leaned forward and brushed his lips against mine, stealing the barest of kisses and with it my breath.
His eyes lovingly caressed my face as he leaned just his head away. “You are so beautiful,” he said, his voice like velvet, his eyes starry and mesmerizing. The effect momentarily knocked me senseless.
“I’m mad at you,” I said, knowing I didn’t sound at all mad. Because I’m the queen of sending mixed signals, I slid my hands into his suit jacket and around his torso. Everything heterosexually feminine in me loved the hard muscled planes of his stomach and sides and back.
God…I wanted him naked.
He grinned, gave me another light kiss, then retreated. “Are you? Why?”
“For lots of reasons,” I sighed. He was just too dreamy for starters.
“Is it because I’m the best person you know, or because I’m the most amazing man on the face of the earth?”
Annoyance mixed with amusement made my mouth curve into a reluctant smile. “You’re a dirty eavesdropper. How long were you standing there?”
He pressed his lips to mine once more—making my heart beat faster—then reached around his back, extracting my hand and holding it in his. He nodded to a nurse who walked past, gave her a winning smile, then turned his attention back to me.
His acknowledgement of the nurse was an essential reminder of my surroundings and provided good dose of sobriety. I shouldn’t have been kissing him at the nurses’ station. It was highly unprofessional.
And I was mad at him. I was. I was mad.
“Where is this exam room seven that Dr. Prettyprincess referred to?” Nico scanned the hallway.
I linked my fingers with his and tugged, leading the way to the exam room. I moved the red flag outward to indicate that the room was occupied, then pulled him in, shutting the door behind us.
We were newlyweds. What we did now, how I let him treat me, how we dealt with problems and issues would set the tone for the rest of our marriage. I couldn’t have him run away, disappear for days, every time he thought I might be upset.
At the same time, I needed to control my temper. I needed to show him he didn’t need to disappear for days every time he thought I might be upset. I needed to be calm. I braced myself to confront him.
I turned, squaring my shoulders, my hands tights fists on my hips, and lifted my chin. I was ready for battle.
But as soon as I lifted my gaze to his, Nico stepped forward, his hands immediately slipping under the shirt of my scrubs, up my sides to my breasts. I opened my mouth to speak; instead I squeaked. He took advantage of my disorientation by covering and claiming my mouth with his.
My body—the traitor!—flooded with need. Automatically, I arched into his capable hands, moaned against his lips, and gripped the front of his jacket. I then pushed it off his shoulders. He pressed me to the door, his hips against mine, moving one of his hands down into my underwear and squeezing my bottom.
He tore his mouth from mine, kissed and nipped a path to my ear.
“Nico, we have to…ah…”
“Bella, mi sei mancata,” Nico massaged me through my bra and pinched the center of my breast, “e questo.”
“This is not fair; you’re manipulating me. You’re using your intense sexual prowess to overwhelm me.” I groaned, untucked his shirt; I needed to feel his skin. I burned for him.
He lifted his head and grinned, apparently supremely pleased with what he found, then lowered his mouth back to my ear. “Are you ready to go home?” Nico said in a rumbly whisper, sending lovely shivery spikes of sensation down my spine, tickling me.
“I’m upset with you,” I sighed, reflexively tilting my head to the side, giving him better access, my body clamoring for his touch. “We need to talk, and you want to skip straight to dessert.”
“Fine. Talk.” He bit my neck then soothed the spot with his tongue. “I love your voice.”
Despite how lovely he was making me feel, I gritted my teeth and pushed him away. I braced myself for his handsomeness and charisma assault, then lifted my chin to meet his gaze. Immediately I was glad I’d made mental preparations. I didn’t know how I was going to maintain my self-respect in this marriage when every time I looked at him I wanted to kiss his face off.
And I wavered, because I also wanted dessert first. “We-” I started but was interrupted by the intercom announcing a Code Triage.
I stiffened, my eyes growing wide, disappointment and a spike of sobering adrenaline turning my stomach cold.
“Damn it.” I rubbed my forehead.
“What’s a code triage?”
“It’s the code for a catastrophic emergency, probably a shooting or a massive pile up…ten or more incoming, most fatal…” I shook my head, frustration choking my words. “I have to…I have stay. I have to help.”
He grew subdued, and he nodded once. “I understand.”
I reached for him before he could pick up his jacket. “When I call you, I need you to talk to me. I need…I need you.”
He nodded again, his eyes growing soft. “I will.”
“How long are you here for? In town?”
“I’m-” He started, but the intercom interrupted him again, announcing the first of the ambulance arrivals.
I tightened my hold on his shirt and took a deep breath. These events, treating multiple victims at once, deciding who would receive treatment first, prioritizing lives, making split-second decisions while short on sleep and high on adrenaline, I hated it. Someone was going to die, and I always went home feeling like a failure.
“Are you okay?” Nico took my face between his palms, tilting my chin up and kissing my lips quickly.
I nodded. “I just hate this.”
“What? What do you hate?”
“I hate that no matter what I do, I can’t save everyone.”
His mouth tugged to the side, and his eyes gave my face a cherishing sweep. “I love you.”
“I love you, too.” I turned my lips into his hand, kissed his palm. “I mean it, I do.”
His arms dropped to his sides, and he took a step back. “Go.” Nico indicated to the door with a lift of his chin.
I hesitated. “Will you be there when I get home?”
“Yes. I promise.”
I exhaled my relief and threw my arms around him. After a fast, tight hug and a quick kiss, I turned and bolted through the door just as the intercom announced the second of the ambulances. I needed to clear my mind for the grim hours that lay ahead.
Four hours later, I’d lost two and saved five.
When the ambulances stopped arriving, and because I’d been there the longest, I was told to go home. I didn’t. I had two families to talk to, two sets of parents to console. I stayed another three hours. I brought tissues, and I gave hugs liberally.
But I was fine.
I went to the locker room and showered; I changed into my street clothes; I grabbed my bag and checked my email on my phone. There was a note from Fiona about the shawl we were all knitting for Janie as a wedding present.
I was still fine.
I jogged to the train station; I jumped on the El; I walked the two blocks to our apartment and nodded to Frank, the concierge, as I crossed to the elevators.
I was just fine.
I exited the double doors when they slid open and dug for my keys. But I found that my hands were shaking and I couldn’t quite focus on the contents of my bag because I was crying and everything was blurry.
I was not fine.
I heaved a sob, covered my mouth with my hand, and shut my eyes. I pressed my forehead against the wall of the hallway and tried to take calming breaths through my nose.
I’m fine…I’m fine…I’m fine… everything is fine.
I glanced up from my position hugging the wall to find Dan, Dan the security man as Janie liked to call him, hovering about two feet away. His forehead was wrinkled, and he looked at me—aka, the crying woman—like I was a rattlesnake, with a dash of fear and a heavy dose of trepidation.
I sniffled and gave him a little wave. “Oh, hey, Dan.”
He was going to be Quinn’s best man at the wedding, and he’d been my guard for several months during the fancy stalker incident; therefore, I felt quite comfortable with him. We were a tad more than friendly acquaintances, and, if he were the type to hang out with girls, I totally would have hung out with him.
Alas, he was not the type to hang out with girls. Like Quinn, I doubted he had even one female friend. This was a strike against Quinn in my book but, for some reason, not a strike against Dan. Dan was too adorable for strikes. He deserved reprimands no harsher than a disappointed head shake followed by a hug.
But I digress…
Back to the hallway of crying.
Dan reached his hand out as though he were going to pat my back but then pulled it through his hair instead, sending the short brown spikes in all different directions.
“Elizabeth…are you okay? Did something happen?” His genuine concern initiated a new wave of melancholy, and my chin wobbled.
My voice tight with emotion, I nodded. “Yeah,” I choked then swallowed. “Yeah, I’m fine.”
I knew I sounded and looked not at all convincing, especially since new tears replaced those that had nearly dried; I felt the hot liquid emotion roll down my cheeks.
“Fuck…” he said, like he was just as distraught as I was, and pulled me into a big bear hug. We stood there for a bit—not long, but not super short—with him hugging me and me crying on his suit jacket. Then he added, speaking against my hair, “Sorry. Sorry for cursing.”
I pulled away and looked up at him, confused.
He cleared his throat and shrugged. “I mean, sorry for saying fuck. And, I guess, sorry for saying fuck again—just then—when I was explaining why I was sorry. So, sorry for all the times I just said fuck, including this time, while we’ve been standing in the hall.”
I couldn’t help it. I laughed. I laughed loud and long and let my head fall to his shoulder and laughed against his shoulder.
Tangentially, I heard the sound of a door open. I wouldn’t have noticed it, as I was too busy laughing like a crazy woman, but Dan became suddenly rigid, and he cleared his throat again.
“Uh, hey, Nico.”
I glanced up from my laughing spot on Dan’s shoulder and looked over mine to find Nico standing just inside the door wearing gray pajama pants and a white T-shirt. His eyes narrowed as they moved between me and Dan. Then they widened abruptly as his gaze moved over my face, and he stepped forward, reaching for me.
“Elizabeth, are you okay? Why are you crying?” He pulled me from Dan’s suit and placed me against the thin material of his shirt. He smelled like Nico. He smelled like home.
I snuggled against him and said, “It’s been a long day.” My voice was watery again. I was a mess.
“What happened?” Nico addressed this question to Dan.
“I don’t know, I swear. I came out of Quinn’s place and found her against the wall, crying.”
“But then she was laughing?” Nico stroked my hair.
“It’s because he said a curse word then apologized for saying a curse word.” I pressed closer to my husband…my husband…mmm…mine.
“That’s why you’re crying?” Nico asked, his hand pausing mid-hair stroke.
“No, that’s why she was laughing,” Dan supplied, sounding tired. “I have no idea why she is crying.”
I sniffled again, then told them, “I lost two.”
A slight paused followed, then Nico asked, “Lost two what?”
“Children. I lost two. It was a bus crash…a school bus.” I felt a new wave of tears; I tried my best to swallow them down, but I couldn’t.
“Fuck…” Nico exhaled the word, his arms tightened just before he released me and bent to scoop me into his arms. “I’ve got you…” He kissed my temple and carried me into our apartment, shutting the door with his foot and presumably leaving Dan in the hallway.
I would have to send Dan a thank-you card, something to express my gratitude for being such a nice person and taking pity on his strange, crying neighbor.
Nico carried me into the master bedroom, set me on a large leather chair, and covered me with a blanket.
“I’ll be right back.” He tilted my head back, cupping my jaw, and kissed my closed eyelids; but he waited for me to open them and acknowledge him before he stood and crossed to the bathroom. Peripherally I heard him turn on the bathtub.
I should have been fine. I should have been able to pick myself up and dust myself off. I knew I couldn’t save every person. Times like these were typically good examples of when my stubbornness was actually a gift.
But that was before Nico, before I stopped being so stubborn.
Before Nico, I would stubbornly ignore my feelings, go home, and get various shades of intoxicated then go to sleep; not the healthiest coping strategy, but it worked for me, and it didn’t happen very often. Or, if Janie were around, I’d stubbornly ignore my feelings, have her over, and we’d cuddle while watching old Star Trek Voyager episodes.
This wasn’t the first time I’d experienced a breakdown after losing a patient, but this was the first time I hadn’t been able to hold it together long enough to get inside my apartment.
I was rubbing my eyes, willing the tears to stop, when I heard music drift over the speakers. I wiped my nose with my sleeve, tried to bring the room into focus, and found Nico crossing to me. Without preamble, he picked me up and carried me into the bathroom, all the while showering my face with feather-light kisses.
“Is that Frank Sinatra?” My nose was clogged and my throat still tight, so the question sounded strangled and nasally.
“What song is this? It sounds familiar.”
“Fly Me to the Moon.”
“Ah.” I nodded, sniffling again. “I guess the opening line should have tipped me off.”
He grinned and set me down by the tub. The lights were off in the bathroom, but he’d placed candles everywhere. Their soft illumination embraced me, casting the obscenely large space in gently flickering shadows, softening reality somehow, and making Nico’s olive skin glow bronze.
The bathtub was full of bubbles, the faint scent of my jasmine bodywash in the air, humid and warm.
“In other words…” Nico sang quietly, reaching for the hem of my shirt and tugging it over my head, “I love you…” He undressed me methodically, all of his touches chaste and cherishing. I blinked twice, two new tears falling. He kissed my cheeks, like he could kiss the sadness away, and smoothed his hands down my bare back, a gesture meant to soothe.
Once I was naked, I took a step toward the tub; but he scooped me up once again, and I let him. He placed me in the hot water, in the center of the thick bed of bubbles, just as the song changed.
It was another Frank Sinatra tune.
“What’s this one called?”
“Misty,” Nico said, straightening. As he did so he whipped off his shirt and tossed it in a corner; then he swiftly depanted and climbed into the tub behind me.
“Hard to imagine Frank Sinatra as helpless as a kitten up a tree,” I said as he positioned me between his legs, my back against his chest, his strong arms around my torso, holding me.
“I think any man in love is as helpless as a kitten up a tree,” he whispered close to my ear, then asked, “Do you want to talk about it?”
I knew he meant my day, not Frank Sinatra in love and feeling misty.
I shook my head, then turned my cheek so I could listen to him breathe, the beat of his heart. “No. I really don’t.”
“Okay.” He hugged me tighter, resting his chin on the top of my head. “You should cry. Let it out.”
“I don’t want to cry.”
“Just know that you can.” He brought bubbles to my shoulder, then wiped them away with his large hand. “You can cry, you can scream, you can be your feelings, and I will love you just the same.”
We were silent for a long moment as I considered his words, listening to the bubbles fizz and pop.
“I missed our wedding,” I blurted suddenly, feeling overwhelmingly sad. My chin wobbled as I spoke, “Life is the sum total of our memories, and I missed that one…with you.”
“I’m…” He sighed, his hand finding my thigh and squeezing it. “I’m not sorry, Bella. I’m not. It was beautiful and…horrible.” He laughed, his chest rumbling, “It was also weird…and wonderful, and I wouldn’t change a thing about it—other than that, part of me wishes you could remember it, but another part of me is glad you can’t.”
“Then you left.” I turned in the tub so I could see him, so he could see me. “You left right after we were married. And you faked phone static every time I called. Not cool, Nico.”
“Yes,” he nodded, his voice rising, “I did. I knew that I’d be home in three days. We needed to talk about it but not on the phone. Definitely not on the phone.”
“Why?” My hands came down, and bits of soapy water and bubbles splashed against his chin and neck.
“Elizabeth, I’m famous for two things: my apple fritters and my temper.”
I screwed my face up, not wanting to smile and almost succeeding. “I thought you were famous for your alphabet soup recipe and wordy math problems.”
“I’m famous for three things: my alphabet soup, my apple fritters, and my temper. I knew that if we spoke over the phone, one of us—likely both of us—were going to say something we’d later regret.”
“You could have just told me that!”
He lifted a single eyebrow and gave me a look like he knew better. “Really? You wouldn’t have insisted we argue over the phone?”
I twisted my lips to the side, narrowed my eyes on him. A new song, again Frank Sinatra, filtered in through the door; it was one of my favorites, The Way You Look Tonight.
I hated that he was right.
“Fine.” I twisted back to my original position and settled against him. “I’m still angry.”
“That’s fine…” He unwound my hair from its braid, massaged his fingers through it. “We can have angry sex later.” As though to illustrate the superiority of this idea, he tugged on my hair.
“Stop pulling my hair.” I said halfheartedly because I liked it, but I was still upset about missing the ceremony.
Nico released the strands and wrapped his arms around me again. “We can have as many weddings as we want. We can have another Vegas wedding or something with our families there, more traditional.”
“I know.” I sighed, the anger dissipating and disappointment taking its place. “There’s nothing I can do about it, I know that. I’m just still…I love you. I wanted to be lucid for it.”
“Then I am sorry,” he said quietly, sincerely, and I knew he meant it. “Do you forgive me?”
“Yes…but we’re still having angry sex later.”
“Deal.” I felt his smile against my shoulder.
“And I’m going to bite you and smack your ass.”
“Promises, promises…” He nipped my shoulder, his teeth feeling delightfully sharp.
Bundled in his arms, in the hot bubbly bath, in the comfort of shared silence and unobtrusive lights and Frank Sinatra’s velvet crooning, I relaxed. Every so often Nico would place a kiss on my neck or fondle my breast but escalate the touching no further. I sensed he was enjoying the peace and calm and being together just as much as I was.
Abruptly, he chuckled again and squeezed me. “Honestly, I’m just happy this is what you’re upset about.”
“What do you mean?”
“I wondered…” He began haltingly then nuzzled my neck. “Never mind.”
“No, say it. What did you wonder?” I fished his left hand out of the tub and fit mine over it. I compared our rings, they were a perfect match. I felt my mouth hitch to the side; I liked how they looked together, our hands. I liked the contrasts, the big and the small, the dark and the light. I loved how the rings he’d chosen reflected the differences between us, but they complemented each other. They belonged together.
I felt his chest expand with a large breath before he said on a rush, “I wondered if you would be angrier about us getting married so quickly, not about missing it.”
I grunted. “Um…no.” I thought about this statement then continued, “Actually, hell no! I woke up that morning, after you left, and I was…” I paused, not wanting to admit that I was panicked because I thought I’d married some faceless stranger. Instead, I opted to say, “I was angry about missing our vows, missing you, but when I saw your note and the marriage certificate, I was so relieved that it was done. Watching and helping Janie and Marie plan this marriage monstrosity has been more than enough wedding planning for a lifetime.”
“I thought you might have been dragging your feet about setting a date for a different reason.”
“I don’t know. All I knew was that I wanted you to be my wife as soon as possible, and you didn’t seem to be in a hurry.”
I shook my head, lacing my fingers through his; I tsked, “Oh, Nico, if you thought these things, why didn’t you ask me?”
“Trusting you with my heart is new. I saw my chance and I took it and I’m not sorry I did. I’m as helpless as a kitten in a tree, you know.” He said this last part quietly.
I felt like he’d knocked the wind from my lungs; my chest hurt, and my stomach plummeted. I turned in the tub and straddled his hips, gripped his face between my palms, and pressed a fast, urgent kiss to his lips.
Before I spoke I made sure his eyes were on mine. “Nico, you understand that I am also as helpless as a kitten in a tree with you?” My voice betrayed the desperation I felt.
He turned his lips into my palm. “Yes. And your heart is safe with me.”
“Good.” My gaze moved between his, and I kissed him again, fiercely, and said against his mouth, “Your heart is safe with me, too. I promise.”
He nodded, “I know,” brushing his nose against mine, and his hands moved from my hips to my bottom. “Your other body parts, however…”
I laughed lightly and rolled my eyes but then quickly gasped as the fingers of his right hand moved to my front.
He nipped my chin. “Sei deliziosa, ti mangerei di baci… iniziando da qui.”
He didn’t have to speak in Italian to get me hot, not at all; nevertheless, I wasn’t about to volunteer that fact any time soon.
If you enjoyed this exclusive content, sign-up for Penny’s newsletter where you will receive more exclusive shorts! Don’t miss the release of the next book in the Knitting in the City series, Marriage of Inconvenience:
There are three things you need to know about Kat Tanner (aka Kathleen Tyson. . . and yes, she is *that* Kathleen Tyson): 1) She’s determined to make good decisions, 2) She must get married ASAP, and 3) She knows how to knit.
Being a billionaire heiress isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. In fact, it sucks. Determined to live a quiet life, Kat Tanner changed her identity years ago and eschewed her family’s legacy. But now, Kat’s silver spoon past has finally caught up with her, and so have her youthful mistakes. To avoid imminent disaster, she must marry immediately; it is essential that the person she chooses have no romantic feelings for her whatsoever and be completely trustworthy.
Fortunately, she knows exactly who to ask. Dan O’Malley checks all the boxes: single, romantically indifferent to her, completely trustworthy. Sure, she might have a wee little crush on Dan the Security Man, but with clear rules, expectations, and a legally binding contract, Kat is certain she can make it through this debacle with her sanity—and heart—all in one piece.
Except, what happens when Dan O’Malley isn’t as indifferent—or as trustworthy—as she thought?