She had the softest whisper, and he heard need in her voice. She wasn’t anxious anymore, or wary of the two of them being together. He knew Valerie—she wasn’t going to accept forever between them. It was just “right now,” and he was going to have to be satisfied with that, but he aimed to convince her that forever wasn’t such a bad idea.
He kissed her inner thigh, that sweet, sensitive part of her that was so tender, and smelled so damn good. He felt her tremble, and moved his mouth over her sex, licking along the crease of her pussy, just letting his tongue rest there. He liked feeling her body tremble against him, liked knowing he could coax that kind of reaction from her. And when he began to move his tongue against her—up and down—lazily licking her, she moaned and reached out to tangle her fingers in his hair, directing his movements. He liked that she told him, even without words, what she wanted. If there was one thing Valerie wasn’t, it was shy. Once he got her to admit the two of them were great in bed—or in the kitchen—she dove into sex like she’d been starved for it.
been starved for it. She rocked her pussy against him like his tongue was the magic key to heaven. And he was damn well going to take her there. He slid his tongue inside her, then rolled it over her clit.
“Mason. Oh, God, Mason.” She cried out as she came, held tight to his head as she shuddered out her orgasm. Goddamn, the woman made him crazy the way she responded. He didn’t give her time to come down off that high. He grabbed a condom and pulled her down, bending her over the counter.
He shunted her legs apart and slid inside her with one easy thrust. Valerie arched her back, pushed against him and growled as he drove deep, her passion as hot and intense as his. He gripped her hips, grinding against her, feeling his cock swell as her pussy tightened around him.
“Goddamn, Val,” he muttered, leaning back to watch his cock slide into her.
Her only reply was to buck back against him, bending over even more so he could power in deeper.
And he did, fucking her harder, faster, until he had her pinned between his body and the counter. He wrapped his arm around her waist so her belly wouldn’t hit the stainless steel counter, and then he pumped harder, hitting her deep.
She dug her nails into his arm and he felt her pussy tighten around him. He buried his face against her nape.
“You gonna come again for me?”
“Yes. Oh, Mason, yes.”
He stilled, wanting to feel her pulse around him while she climaxed. She squeezed his cock in a tight vise and that was all it took. He rocked against her a couple times, then let go, his orgasm hitting him so hard it felt like he was splitting in two.
They stayed there like that for a while, catching their breath, Mason still inside her and his arm wrapped around her. She still had a death grip on it.
“I might need more of your doctoring.”
“Why?” she asked.
“Your fingernails are embedded in my skin.”
“Oh. Sorry.” She laughed and smoothed her hands over his arm. “It’s your fault.”
They disengaged and cleaned up, got dressed and grabbed their long-forgotten beers. Mason leaned against the counter while Valerie sat in the chair and gathered her hair into a ponytail.
“Hope your muscles are a little more relaxed now,” he said, finishing off his beer.
“I probably won’t be able to walk out of here.”
He smiled at that.
“I feel good, Mason. Thank you.”
He didn’t know what to say to that, so instead, said, “What’s good is what you did for the folks in the community today.”
Valerie sighed. “I can’t believe there’s no doctor in town and hasn’t been for years. And from what I understand, these people normally won’t take the trip into Tulsa, which means they’re not being seen on a regular basis. That’s not good.”
“No, it’s not.”
“Especially our older folks. They need regular care.”
“Yes, they do. Since Doc Parmalee retired, and no one has stepped in to take his place, if someone gets sick, they either have to take the trip into Tulsa, or go without. Most go without.”
“Because it’s too far. People got used to a local doctor. Someone they could see in town. And Doc Parmalee made house calls. Tulsa is a big, foreign city to a lot of people out here. They don’t trust the doctors there.”
“That’s ridiculous. They can get quality care in the city.”
“They want a small town doctor. Hard to get a doctor to set down roots in a place like this.”
“Well I don’t see why not.” She crossed her arms.
Mason gave her a pointed look, and her eyes widened. She shook her head.
“Oh, no. Oh, hell no.”
valerie avoided mason all the next day. whenever
he came into a room, she made up a valid excuse to leave. She even went so far as to hide, like she was right now. Mason had come in for supper. She was going to feign being busy with patient . . . stuff, so she hid behind the thick wood column. As soon as he passed, she was going to hightail it into what everyone now called the medical office. They’d moved a sturdy folding bed in there so her patients could lie down, and Valerie had ordered instruments and medical supplies she needed for them. Or
patients. Not her patients. She wasn’t staying. This wasn’t a regular thing. It was temporary. She was temporary.
“What the hell are you doing?”
She nearly jumped out of her boots as Jolene caught her in the hall. She whipped around, pushing Jolene into the office and closing the door.
“Don’t ever do that to me again.”
Jolene held her hands up. “I’m not the one skulking around my own house.”
“I’m not skulking. I’m . . . avoiding.”
Jolene crossed her arms. “I know what you’re doing. You’re avoiding Mason. Why?”
“I just don’t want to talk to him right now.”
“Then what is it?”
It was petty and stupid, but ever since Mason had planted the suggestion that she would make a good country doctor, Valerie had done her best to avoid him. First he had to remind her how great the two of them were together. And now this? It was all so . . . comfortable, convenient. It made sense in her head and in her heart. And she wasn’t going to have any of it. She was just addled by great sex and being in the comfort of her own home, around her family. His suggestion was ludicrous, and avoiding him was logical. She would not have him talk her into staying when that wasn’t at all what she wanted.
“Nothing I want you to know about.”
Jolene slid her butt onto a chair. “Come on, Val. Spill it.”
She skirted past Jolene and went to wash instruments. “I’m not going to talk about this with you.”
“I’m not leaving until you do.”
“Fine. Then I’ll leave.” She pulled open the door and nearly shrieked as Lila was there, hand poised as if to knock.
Was everyone out to scare her to death today?
“Sorry, didn’t mean to bother you. You seeing Jolene as a patient?”
Jolene snorted behind her.
“Um, no. We were just talking,” Valerie said.
“Good. Supper’s on the table.”
“I’m not hungry.”
Lila grabbed her by the wrist. “You’ve avoided having meals with your family for too long now. Enough is enough. You will eat with us tonight.”
Valerie knew her stubborn refusal to see Mason was only going to last so long, at least where Lila was concerned. “Yes, ma’am.”
Valerie walked in behind Lila, refusing to even look at Mason. But she knew he was there, sitting at the table. Jolene sauntered in behind her and took one of the two remaining chairs, which left Valerie stuck in the middle between Jolene and Mason since the rest of the seats were occupied.
Jolene leaned toward her, looking entirely too smug.
“Oh, man, I hate to get all childish and little sister on you, Val. But . . . neener neener.”
“Bitch,” she whispered back.
Brea cocked a brow from across the table. “Now isn’t this reminiscent of us as kids. You two bickering at each other.”
Jolene reached for a roll. “And you clear across the table, avoiding.”
Brea lifted her chin, but didn’t offer up a retort.
“Brea, that outfit you’re wearing is spectacular, by the way.”
Valerie felt bad that she hadn’t made enough of a fuss over how awesome her sister looked after Jolene had taken her into the city for a makeover. Her hair was cut shorter, her bangs swept to the side, and gone were the hideous outfits she’d been wearing, replaced instead by jeans and shirts that hugged her curvy figure.
Brea blushed and skirted her glance down the table, then back at Valerie. “Thanks.”
Valerie followed Brea’s gaze. She had stolen a glance at Gage, who cast a very smoldering look in Brea’s direction, which only made Brea’s cheeks pinken further.
Interesting. Very interesting. She’d like to know what that was all about. Maybe she’d ask Brea later.
Right now she intended to concentrate on getting through supper as fast as possible so she could get away from Mason. She stole glances in his direction during the meal, and even though every time she looked, his gaze wasn’t directed at her, she couldn’t help but feel he was watching her. Judging her. Expecting her to . . . what?
“So Valerie,” Brea said. “You’ve been busy.”
“Treating a lot of people from the community,” Lila said, beaming from her spot at the end of the table. “She’s a fine doctor.”
“Thank you.” She scooped up a few peas on her fork and slid them into her mouth.
And then it started, and moved around the table. One comment after another.
“The town needs a good doctor.”
“It’s been three years since Doc Parmalee retired. Poor folks around here don’t have decent medical care.”
“Most won’t take the trip into Tulsa. Injuries, illnesses, even well baby care. It’s a shame, really.”
“Hard to get a doctor to want to live in a small community like this unless they’re from the area.”
With every word Valerie sank farther into her chair, hoping she’d become invisible.
“Valerie, what do you think about all this?”
She lifted her gaze to Lila. “About what?”
“About the sad state of our community having no doctor.”
She grabbed her glass of milk and took several gulps. “I think it sucks.”
“You could fix that, you know.”
Her shoulders tightened at Mason’s words. She snapped her gaze to his. “I’m not the solution to the problem.”
Mason didn’t seem at all bothered by her glare; instead he slung his arm over the back of his chair and stretched out his legs. “You could be, if you just thought about it. What it would mean to you, to your family and to your community.”
“You’d make an incredible doctor for the people of this area, Valerie,” Lila said with a giant smile.
“It’s what Mom and Dad would have wanted for you,” Jolene said, nodding.
Valerie shot up out of her chair, pushing it back with her legs. “No. Absolutely not. Look. I have a life. A carefully orchestrated plan that’s about to see pay dirt. I worked my butt off in school to get to this point. Besides, I have a brand-new job. I’m committed. In Dallas. I’ve agreed to a partnership with a great group of doctors. I’m going to make incredible money.”
Even as she said it, the words sounded hollow, narcissistic, selfish. Her stomach hurt.
But dammit, she wouldn’t be deterred.
“I’m not a ranch doctor. I’m not a small town doctor. I know what I want to do with my life, where I’m going.” She looked at Mason. “It’s not here.”
It’s not with you.
Mason just continued to give her that smile, the one that made her want to march over to his chair, kick it out from under him and then pummel him until her frustration with him—with this entire situation—went away.
“Everything you need is here, Valerie,” he said.
Emotion welled up and she didn’t know whether she wanted to crumple in his arms or punch his lights out. Her voice wavered as she stuttered out the words. “I can’t do this, Mason. I can’t be who you want me to be. I can’t lo . . .”
She’d almost said that she couldn’t love him, but stopped before she embarrassed herself further in front of everyone.
“I just can’t.” She turned to Lila. “Excuse me, Lila.” She turned and left the room, hightailing it two steps at a time up the stairs. She shut the door to her room and sat on the bed, her heart pounding so hard she felt light-headed. She bent over, folded her hands together and willed the shakes away.
Coming home had been an epic mistake. She’d known it, and yet she’d stupidly done it anyway. She had known something bad would happen. It always did whenever she came home. This place was filled with nothing but bad memories and failures. Her parents’ death, the failure of her marriage, and now her inability to help the people of her community.
She hadn’t been able to save her parents or her marriage. Now she couldn’t save the people of her town.
But dammit, she’d enjoyed tending to the people, enjoyed seeing the smile on the craggy faces of the elderly folks, enjoyed wiping off toddlers’ sticky fingers, enjoyed listening to the fetal heartbeats and excited faces of expectant parents. The thought of any of them not getting appropriate medical care . . .
She wrapped her arms around her middle, as if the very act could squeeze the ache away.
It wasn’t her responsibility. None of it. She didn’t have the capacity to love all those people.
She’d loved her parents so much, and that love hadn’t been able to keep them with her. She’d loved Mason, too.
She still loved Mason. And oh, God, it hurt to love him. She could never be what he wanted her to be. She refused to stay here and he’d never be happy in Dallas. She couldn’t live in this house, in this town, with its choking memories of love and loss.