The One Real Thing Page 42

At that moment I found myself completely lost in the blue of his eyes.

Physically this man was the most masculine, rugged man I’d ever been around. He was the complete opposite of the slim, athletic, perfectly coifed Andrew.

In more ways than one.

Andrew would fire that girl without even thinking about the consequences for her. I’d seen him make both male and female interns cry at the hospital.

Cooper didn’t want to fire a girl who was hurting his business in case it hurt her.

God, I liked this man. I really liked this man.

I didn’t think I kept a very good job of keeping the admiration off my face, because Cooper’s eyebrows suddenly shot up in question.

I pulled back a little, clearing my throat, as I tried to regain focus. “How many times has she been late?”

“Every shift for the past two weeks.”

“And she was never late before that?”

He thought about it. “Not continually like this.”

“Okay, then something may have changed in her personal life. Figure out what that is and then make a decision from there.”

He contemplated this. “How so?”

“Well, if she’s late because she has . . . say . . . a new boyfriend or girlfriend that is distracting her, then you may have to fire her or issue a warning that she’s going to get fired if she doesn’t clean up her act. If there’s something more serious going on—an illness in the family—then you help her work something out. It’s all about context.”

Cooper stared at me a moment too long . . . so long I felt myself growing warm all over. The warmth in his eyes didn’t help. In fact, it was the cause of the flip low, low in my belly. “Right you are, Doc,” he said, his words coming out a little thicker, a little deeper.

Quite abruptly, inexplicably, sexual tension hung in the air as we stared at one another, and I wanted to wrench myself out of the sudden spell but couldn’t.

“Can I get you anything else?” Iris suddenly appeared at the booth, shattering the moment.

I breathed a deep sigh of relief and gave her a shaky, grateful grin. “All good here.”

“The check, please, Iris,” Cooper said.

“I’m paying,” I said, reminding him.

“I know, Doc.” He grinned. “Don’t get your panties in a twist.”

I flushed at the mention of the word “panties.”

He grinned knowingly and I threw him a dirty look that only made him laugh harder.

Not five minutes later we were back on the boardwalk.

He grabbed my hand before I could stop him and the slide of his callused palm against my softer one sent a rush of images through my brain.

Those hands skimming my bare arms, fingertips tickling my spine, thumbs brushing my nipples . . .

“Let’s take a walk, Doc, before I have to get you back,” he said, either oblivious to what he was doing to me or deliberately prolonging my torture.

I was struck dumb by my intense sexual awareness of him, realizing the physical attraction was only growing stronger the more time I spent with him and the more I got to know him.

While I was freaking out, Cooper seemed just as at ease in our silence as always.

And then he brushed his thumb over the top of my hand and I involuntarily squeezed his in return. He looked down at me in question.

We stared at each other in silence for a few steps and I saw the heat start to darken the blue of his gaze.

His grip tightened and he bent his head closer to mine. “What’s life like back in Wilmington? You got a nice place? Friends?”

“Yeah,” I said. “Nice apartment. Good colleagues. Long hours, though.” I looked out at the beach where people were just starting to pack up. I smiled, watching them. “It must be so nice to work all week and then head to the beach on your day off, or even head to the beach for a walk after work. Unwind.”

“Yeah. I run on the beach every morning. It’s a nice way to start the day,” he agreed.

A pithy comment about it being a nice way to pick up women, too, trembled on my tongue, but I swallowed it, not wanting him to tease me again for being jealous.

“And then there’s Emery’s,” I said instead. “Now that is a place to unwind.”

“Emery’s?” He looked surprised. “The bookstore and coffee place next to mine?”

“Yup.”

“Unwind . . . there?”

I laughed at his confusion. “Yes. Emery is a very soothing person. I’ve been going there a lot to curl up and read and drink her amazing coffee.”

“Does she talk to you?”

“Yes.”

“Really?”

“You sound as surprised as Bailey.”

“I am. Emery Saunders is so shy it’s painful to be around her.”

I noted his discomfort at even just the mention of her name. It surprised me. He seemed like the kind of man who was just cocky enough to be comfortable around all women. “She just takes a little time to come around. But her place is wonderful.”

“Her coffee is definitely good, I’ll give you that.”

“Her coffee, Antonio’s hot dogs, Bailey’s view, and your Long Islands.” I tallied them.

“What’s that?” He grinned curiously.

“My favorite things in Hartwell so far.”

“Not the people?” he teased, squeezing my hands.

I laughed because I liked how he teased me, even if it did complicate my feelings, and I teased back by not giving him an answer.

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