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It’s been a long time since I’ve had anyone in this car besides me, a longer time since it was someone I found as interesting as I find Bailey Jennings. I try to study her surreptitiously. She seems smaller now when she’s sitting still. I could fit two of her on that seat. I look down and smirk when I see there’s no phone in her lap. Doesn’t she need to text Cooper and let him know about her day? She ought to tell him she’s currently in hell being driven home by her crotchety boss—the boss who made her cry.
I loosen my tie, uncomfortable with how tight it feels all of sudden.
We’re a few miles away from the hospital by the time she finally works up the courage to speak. “Not including what happened today, have I done something to offend you?” Oh good, deep conversation. “You’ve seemed annoyed with me over the last few weeks and I haven’t been able to work out why.”
“You know, actually, I was hoping we could just sit in amiable silence for the entire trip.” Her gaze tries to bore through my skull, so I relent. “Have you considered that it has nothing to do with you?”
“Yes,” she replies right away, “but that doesn’t make sense because you seem to only get snappy and aggravated with me. It’s not like you’re shouting at Kendra when she takes more than one second to get you something in the OR. You practically snarl when you look at me.”
Truly, that can’t be the case. If it is, I haven’t noticed.
“I have a few things going on right now,” I admit, giving her an inch.
“Work related?” she presses.
“Some of it is, yes. I’m supposed to have heard back about a grant proposal but the committee is delayed.”
“Patricia mentioned something about it.”
“It’s been stressful, not to mention I’ve taken on more cases recently. With more cases comes more consults, paperwork, pre-ops, post-ops.”
“I get it, you’re a busy guy—but that still doesn’t quite explain why you seem to want to take your stress and anger out on me. Can’t you go to the gym or something? Punch a beanbag?”
I smile. “I think you mean a punching bag.”
“That’s what I said. Now, what else? You said some of your stress is work related. Is the other stuff personal?”
I put my blinker on and change lanes, not sure I want to go down this path with her. A part of me wants to admit I’m annoyed she’s texting and flirting with my brother, except she doesn’t know Cooper’s my brother. I asked him about it the other day and he said it hasn’t come up organically in conversation. What the hell does that mean? I told him to work it into conversation artificially. Simple as that. He said he’d do it soon but didn’t want to scare her off. Like being my sibling means he’s tainted by association. Honestly, his logic made absolutely no sense to me, but I’ve kept my word not to bring it up with Bailey. Besides, there’s never been a chance to talk about it. I only ever see her in the operating room.
Until now. Until I put her in the passenger seat of my car and pretended like it was normal. I can smell her perfume. I notice every time she shifts in her seat, trying to get comfortable—or is she trying to get as far away from me as possible?
Her cheek is about to be squashed against the window.
It shouldn’t bother me that they’re texting, so I tell myself it doesn’t, as if I’ll change my stance on the subject by sheer willpower alone.
Cooper can do whatever the hell he wants and I’ll carry on with my life as normal. That’s been my plan, except I guess it hasn’t really been working. Apparently, I’ve been a real asshole to work with. Imagine that.
“Let’s change the subject,” I say, reaching forward and turning on the radio as if that will help matters. This is nothing today’s top hits can’t solve.
She swats my hand away and turns it down. “No, we’re going to get down to the real reason you hate me.”
I scowl. “I don’t hate you.”
“Oh, okay, I’m sorry, you just don’t like me. What’s the difference?”
I don’t say anything and the car is filled with tense silence. I change lanes and exit the freeway as the song ends and another one starts up. She crosses her arms on a heavy sigh.
“I think I should just quit. This isn’t working out.”
It feels like someone just sucker-punched me.
“What? Why?” I flick quick glances in her direction while also trying to keep my eyes on the road. I don’t want to miss my turn. “Because of what happened in the OR today?”
“Yes—well, no. I mean, it’s part of it. I just feel like your presence in the operating room is too intimidating. My every move is magnified and judged. You make me feel like I’m not quick enough or smart enough to keep up with you.” She throws up her hands in defeat. “Maybe we just aren’t a good match. I thought I could handle pressure, but I realize now that working with Dr. Lopez was nothing compared to being on your team. Dr. Lopez was sunshine and rainbows and playlists filled with The Beach Boys, and you’re…”
“I’m what?” I demand.
I think she whispers, “Scary,” but I’m not sure I hear her right.
I take a left then pull into a lot and now we’re outside my tailor’s shop. I need to get out, but it’s still storming and I can’t just leave her in here after that speech. I put the car in park and turn to face her.
She’s staring straight ahead though I know she can’t see a thing with the rain beating down on the windshield.
“Okay. All right.” I clear my throat. “It’s come to my attention that I might be the problem.”
She throws her head back and laughs and laughs and laughs. Her blonde hair spills down her back. Her long dark lashes fan out across her pronounced cheekbones. I sit perfectly still watching her, hands clenched because for some inane reason, I have the urge to reach out and touch her, to brush the freckles across the bridge of her nose, to run the pad of my finger along her bottom lip—the one currently stretched into a smile at my expense.
Jesus, the power she wields.
Finally, she gathers herself and turns to me, tears of laughter collected along the bottom rows of her lashes. “‘I might be the problem.’ Uh, ya think?” Her words drip with sarcasm.
I shake my head and force myself to look away. Damn the rain. I need to get out of this car.
“Wait here. I won’t be long.”
I don’t bother with an umbrella as I dart outside and into the shop. I have my suit in hand a few minutes later, glad the tailor took the time to wrap the garment bag in plastic to ensure it stayed dry. I, however, did not. I’m a wet dog when I slam my door and turn to hang the suit up in my back seat.
“You’re soaked,” Bailey says, stating the obvious.
She must have composed herself while I was inside because there’s no hint of laughter in her eyes anymore. Her golden brown gaze skims across me quickly and I glance in the rearview mirror to see what she sees. Soaked hair falling across my forehead, annoyed scowl paired with a grimace—I look like an emotional vampire. With a grunt, I shrug out of my suit jacket and toss it in the back before rolling my sleeves up to my elbows. My white button-up is just as wet as my jacket, but with the heat blasting in the car, it should dry out soon enough.
“What’s your address?” I ask bluntly.
“I’d like to finish our conversation.”
“No. You see, I picked up my suit and now I’m going to take you home. That’s how this works.”
Her hand reaches out to touch my forearm, and it’s delicate and warm and porcelain white. I stare down at it, half-expecting her to jerk it away, but she doesn’t.
“I shouldn’t have laughed when you admitted you might be the problem.”
Oh, I get it. She thinks she wounded my pride, like I’m a fragile, temperamental creature.
I hate that I might be.
“If you want me to continue working for you, you’re going to have to talk to me.”