“Good job,” Ehlena said to him. “Now that you’re warmed up, let’s work on arms.”

“All right.”

There was some splashing, and then the nurse coached the male through various stretches and then some breaststrokes that crisscrossed the shallow end of the pool.

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Luchas’s concentration was complete, as if his life depended on his ability to follow directions and perform the movements—and certainly, if he stopped swimming, he would, in fact, sink. There was no fat on him.

Although she had seen him around the training center, she had never expected to have anything in common with him. But here they both were—except she was going to get better, and there was a chance he would be forever in this neither healthy nor dying netherworld: By tomorrow night, she was going to be walking normally, and in another twenty-four hours after that, she was going to be in the weight room, goddamn it. Luchas, on the other hand? It was hard to imagine him any different than he was now.

“I think I better head back,” Novo said as she plugged her cane in and got to her feet.

“I’m glad you stopped by to see us.” Ehlena lifted a hand. “Let me know if you need anything.”

“Thank you—and I’ll talk to you later, Luchas.” Novo offered a little wave. “Take care.”

“You as well,” came the gruff reply.

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The male didn’t look up, and she was glad to leave. It was hard to be around somebody as infirmed as that when you yourself were rocky. It made you wonder why you were the one who got picked to get well whereas they were on the Leave Behind list.

Considering how much it mattered, the randomness of such good fortune was the kind of thing that bent your brain.

As she reemerged into the corridor, she shivered in the relative cold, and by the time she came up to her hospital room, she was done. Like, just having run a marathon done.

Back at her bed, she hung the cane off the foot and dragged herself onto the mattress. As loneliness settled over her like a toxic cloud, she was too tired to fight it—

Her cell phone rang on the rolling table she took her meals on and she turned her head to the sound. The thing was facedown, and she had absolutely no interest in checking to see who it was. She already knew. Her mahmen and her sister were livid that the bachelorette party, or whatever the hell it was called, was happening the following evening and Novo hadn’t done shit with the preparations.

But come on. Thanks to Sophy, they had a reservation down at that place. What else did they need—oh, riiiiiiiiiiight, the goddamn sash, a crown and a scepter, feather boas.

The usual Instagrammable shit.

Yeah, ’cuz you aren’t really living life unless you can create “moments” to prove how sparkly fresh your existence is.

Throwing out a hand, she grabbed the phone and flipped it over—

Novo sat up as she accepted the call. “You again.”

Yet her tone was far from hostile. In fact, there was a plaintive quality in there that she really needed to kick in the ass.

Peyton’s voice was muffled. “Hi.”

In the background, there was all kinds of noise. He was at a club. Of course.

Except he was calling her. “What are you doing, big spender?” she drawled.

Better, she thought. Yes, that was how she wanted to sound. More like her old self—her regular self, she amended.

“Oh, you know, same night, same drill.”

“So why aren’t you fucking some random in the back room?”

“I had the option.”

“And you passed? Not feeling well, are we?”

“What are you doing?”

“Laps up and down the corridor. Then I’m going to play around with some particle physics, bench-press a Prius or two, and read the collective works of Shakespeare. So yeah, busy night for me.”

His laughter sounded good, so good. “You up for a visitor?”

“Depends.”

“On what?”

She looked around the mostly barren room. “I don’t know,” she said softly.

“I’m lonely.”

“You’re out with those guys, right? The matched set of douche canoes.”

He chuckled. “Yeah.”

She moved her phone to her other ear. “And you’re surrounded by human women, right? The hot ones who have throat muscles that go lax on command and enough silicon implanted in them that they could qualify as an inert molecule?”

“Pretty much.”

“So why are you on my phone?”

“Because I’d rather be with you.”

Novo closed her eyes. “That fight with your father really must run deep, huh.”

“This is not about him.”

“You sure about that? ’Cuz I’m not.”

“So what do you say. And this is not about sex.”

“Good. Because I’m walking with a cane and I feel about as sexy as a toaster oven.”

“Okay, quick side note on that. Toaster ovens are hot. I mean, that’s their purpose. That’s how you warm up pizza and how Hot Pockets get their name. Without toaster ovens, they’d be Room Temperature Pockets, and who needs that.”

Novo started laughing. “You’re a freak.”

“My point is, if you’re trying to say you’re not feeling sexy, go with a different metaphor. Like…I feel about as sexy as a bottle of Tums. Now, they put out heartburn so—”

“Shut the fuck up and call for the bus.”

As she hung up, she was smiling. And then, for absolutely, positively, no reason whatsoever…she went into the bathroom, brushed her teeth, washed her face, and re-braided her hair.

It took a good hour for Peyton to get to the training center, and when he finally got off the transport, he found himself nearly running down to Novo’s room. As he came up to her door, he smoothed his hair and made sure that his suit was properly buttoned.

Opening the way in, he stopped.

She was sound asleep, her head cocked to one side as if she had been trying to stay awake for him. The IV was out of her arm, he noted, and short of some wires on her chest that were hooked up to a tiny receiver thingy, all of the monitoring equipment was gone.

He let the door close silently on its own and kicked his loafers free so he made no sound at all in his socks. Halfway to the bed, he peeled off his jacket. Right next to her, he removed his belt, untucked the tails of his button-down, and popped out both cuff links.

“It’s me,” he said as he carefully lay down with her.

Novo muttered something in her sleep. Then she turned to him and nestled in close, her body fitting perfectly with his, her scent flooding his nose, a grand sense of peace settling in.

He willed the lights to dim and shut his eyes.

The quiet hum of the heating system overhead was the most perfect white noise on the planet. And the deep sigh of relaxation Novo let out made him feel a hundred feet tall and strong as an ox.

“You came,” she said into his chest.

“You’re awake.”

Novo lifted her head. Her eyes were so languid and sleepy, her thick lashes nearly on her cheekbones. And the flush on her cheeks was because she was warm from sleep.

“Yes, I came.” He brushed a strand of hair back. “You look amazing.”

“Are you kidding me.”

“No. Never.”

Later, he would have to wonder who kissed who first. Was it him, pressing his mouth to hers? Was it her, dropping her lips to his? Maybe they met in the middle.

That was probably it.

Slow, so very slow. Soft. Gentle.

“Come under the covers with me,” she whispered.

“With or without my clothes,” he asked.

There was a pause. “Without.”

His heart began to pound as he sat up, and before things went further, he willed the door lock into place. Then he pulled his shirt over his head and let it fall where it did. Peeled his socks. Hopped off the bed, released the waistband of his slacks, and unzipped them. His cock was fully erect, and he tucked it up onto his lower abdomen and held it in place as he turned back around.

Novo was letting her hospital johnny drop to the floor.

For a moment, all he could do was stare at her. She was amazing, her golden skin glowing against the white sheets and blankets, her taut, tight-nippled breasts, the curve of her waist and her stomach.

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