Excerpt: You Drive Me Crazy
Book Two: The Blackwells of Crystal Lake
It was a true fact that the moment Arlene Moody pressed her foot against the gas pedal of her beat-up Chevy Malibu and sped out of the grocery store parking lot, she set in motion a series of events that would forever change the lives of two people. The two people in question, Wyatt Blackwell and Regan Thorne, weren’t exactly friends.
Case in point.
On that day, less than forty-eight hours after a Thanksgiving meal that had led to a near perfect turkey coma, Regan had done everything in her power to avoid running into hometown hero Wyatt. She knew he was being presented an award and that the ceremony was to take place downtown. With that in mind she’d purposefully taken the long way to the hospital and avoided any chance of running into the one man in Crystal Lake she disliked more than any other. She’d even managed, however briefly, not to think about him. Not even in passing. It was her day off and her only plan was to catch up on paperwork. She would hole up in her office for the afternoon before heading home under the cover of darkness, to curl up with her three-legged dog, Bella, and watch Love Actually.
Not exactly an exciting night for a woman of twenty-nine, but with limited options in a town the size of Crystal Lake it was all she had.
Of course, this was before Arlene had tossed an extra-large carton of eggs onto the passenger seat and driven off humming an old Hank William’s song. As she’d sang along to Jambalaya and approached the main intersection downtown, she’d taken the corner a little too fast and the eggs had gone flying. Instinctively she’d reached for them, but unfortunately as Arlene tried to rescue her eggs, she’d taken her eyes off the road and plowed into the back end of Wyatt Blackwell’s truck.
Less than twenty minutes later both Arlene and Wyatt were taken to the hospital. They’d both protested, heartily according to several witnesses, but the EMT who’d attended the scene insisted.
As Regan put up her feet and read over notes from a case she was working on, she got paged to cover Doctor McEachern’s shift in the ER. He’d just assessed two patients involved in a traffic accident, but had been called up to Maternity because his young wife of three years had been admitted four weeks early and was about to give birth to their first child.
Regan tossed her notes aside, scooped up her tablet and headed down to the ER. It was the moment both Regan and Wyatt’s life changed. Ironically, neither one of them knew it at the time, or sensed what was coming.
But for these particular individuals, that was probably a good thing.
He heard her voice before he saw her—low and raspy, with a hint of softness that curved around her words like warm water. It was a voice that belonged in the dark, riding the waves of late night radio—not here under the harsh glare of the ER lights. Wyatt shoved his cell phone back into his jeans and listened intently. There was something familiar about the voice and he frowned from his perch on the gurney, chewing on his lower lip as he tried to place it.
He didn’t realize he was holding his breath until the curtain was drawn back and he glanced up with a start.
“We’ll have you out of here in no time, Wyatt. I’m just waiting for the doctor to sign off on your release.”
The nurse, Lisa Booker, bustled into the small area as if she owned the place, sporting a big smile that crinkled the corners of her soft brown eyes. Her platinum hair shone, the loose pony tail swaying as she moved toward him. Wyatt had known the woman all his life, and while surprised she was still working, he’d been happy to see a familiar face.
“Thanks, Mrs. Booker.”
Her eyebrows shot up at that. “Mrs. Booker?” She shuddered. “I have been married for nearly thirty years and when someone calls me Mrs. Booker I look over my shoulder expecting to see my mother-in-law. Now, she was a lovely woman, God rest her soul, but we’re nothing alike.” She winked. “Lisa will do.”
“Okay,” Wyatt laughed, glad he couldn’t remember that far back. “I was just trying to be polite.”
“Oh shush now. Polite is for strangers. I recall wiping your butt when you were nothing more than an imp.”
That was something he didn’t need to know. “How’s Arlene doing?” The woman had been brought to the ER with him and was on the other side of the curtain.
“She just had a wee bit abdominal discomfort so the doctor has ordered her upstairs for some more tests. We just want to make sure there’s no internal bleeding.”
Concerned, Wyatt sat a little straighter. “Shoot. I hope it’s nothing serious. She seemed okay.”
“And I’m sure she will be.” Lisa offered a smile. “Don’t you worry about a thing.” Her eyes softened. “I hear your dad is doing much better.”
“He’s home. So, that’s something.” Wyatt glanced away. He hated talking about his father. Hated acting like everything was fine between them, especially when it had been bad for so long he couldn’t remember any of the good. He supposed at one time, back when his mother was still alive, there’d been memories worth remembering. But damn if he could recall them at the moment.
“The Blackwells are known for their strong constitution and I suppose your daddy is no different.”
Wyatt snuck a peek around Lisa, searching for the owner of the voice that was now a low murmur, coming from the nextdoor. But the curtain remained in place and all he could see was a pair of black running shoes and jean clad legs.
“You boys made quite a stir. Coming home for Thanksgiving. I can’t remember the last time all the Blackwell men were in Crystal Lake.”
“Uh Huh.” Pink laces on the black running shoes brought a slight smile to his face. And was that a…The feet in question turned slightly. Damn right it was. A small, pink, Hello Kitty was fastened to one of the laces on each shoe. The fact that he knew who Hello Kitty was must say something. But what that something was, Wyatt didn’t care to dwell on.
“And how wonderful that your brother Hudson is back to stay.”
“Yeah. It’s good.” Hello Kitty. It tugged at something inside him. Some memory he couldn’t seem to shake loose.
“Nash told me that he and Rebecca are back together.”
The black runners moved again and the curtain shook a bit. “Yep. They seemed to have worked things out.”
“You know my boy is back to stay as well.” Lisa stepped directly in front of him, blocking his view of the black runners and Hello Kitty. “Nash bought The Coach House and while I don’t think a bar is a good investment, he seems happy and well, I’m just glad he’s home.”
If only Lisa would move a bit maybe he could—“
“Yeah?” The curtain was fluttering big time and he could see that it was slowly being pulled back.
“Are you listening to me?”
In truth, he had no idea what the hell Lisa was going on about. Something Nash. Something Coach House. It was all Greek to him. He was focused, eyes and ears tuned to the curtain as it was tugged all the way back. But the shoes had moved on and Arlene offered him a wan smile from her bed as an orderly rolled her bed away.
Shit. Where’d she go?
Wyatt glanced to the end of his bed and spied the Hello Kitty runners on the other side of his curtain. He sat up straighter. Okay. Now he was getting somewhere. Anticipation curled in his gut as the curtain slowly moved aside.
Long legs. Denim. The kind of denim that was worn. The kind of denim that was meant for nicely rounded hips and though he couldn’t see her backside, he was going to assume her butt fit the hips. Wide brown leather belt. Black T-shirt. Willie Nelson gracing the front of said T-shirt. Not exactly what he expected a doctor to be sporting but he wasn’t complaining because, well, damn she filled it out the way a guy liked. His eyes moved upward.
Her head was bent, long dark hair waving over shoulders and obscuring most of her features, save for a mouth that matched the sexy as hell voice to a T. Of course, it did.
“All right, Mr. Black…” The words trailed off and Wyatt watched closely. She bit her bottom lip and was silent for a few moments, one finger trailing over the tablet in her hands.
The silence stretched on for so long that it became uncomfortable. There was weight to it. Wyatt had always been a guy to trust his instincts and he knew something was up. He kind of had a feeling that something wasn’t exactly a good thing. He frowned. What if he’d concussed? That wouldn’t be good. Not so close on the heels of his last one.
Concerned, he shot a look over to Lisa but the nurse stood quietly, hands shoved into the pockets of her pink and blue scrubs, head cocked to the side in expectation as she waited for the doctor to speak.
Doctor Hello Kitty cleared her throat and Wyatt was about to say something when her head jerked up and he was nailed by the greenest eyes he’d ever seen. Eyes that punched a hole straight through his gut.
Gold flecks. Thick dark lashes. And an expression he couldn’t quite read.
Those eyes narrowed, just for a second, and then she turned to Nurse Booker. “Thanks Lisa. I’ll take it from here.” Gone from her voice was the smoke and sex. This woman was all business.
Lisa answered with a smile. “Perfect timing. I’m heading for break.” She winked at Wyatt. “Give my best to your father.” She slid past the Doc and closed the curtain behind her.
Wyatt stared at the woman who was now almost directly in front of him. Her face was averted once more, and he angled his head for a better look. She was damn familiar. That voice. Those eyes.
“You can button your shirt.”
“Excuse me?” His eyebrow shot up.
She gave a curt nod, but didn’t make eye contact. “Your shirt. Tests are done. We don’t need the peep show.” She pursed her lips, eyes on her tablet, a small frown marring her forehead.
He glanced down. His shirt hung open, still undone from when the previous doctor had given a listen to his heart and lungs. His head felt a little thick, and maybe he was concussed, because he felt more than a little confused. He was definitely missing something. Doctor Hello Kitty didn’t like him one bit. That kind of irritated him.
“Do I know you?” he asked, slowly buttoning his shirt, eyes on her once more.
“You’ve got to be kidding me.” Her head whipped around and this time there was no mistaking the dislike. It was black. Hot. Full. Her cheeks flushed and disbelief hung between them.
And then it clicked. Nice and simple like, as if it had been there all along. For several moments he stared at her in silence, sorting through the pictures that flooded his mind.
Balloons. Blue, purple, and white.
Pale pink dress.
Mud splatter along the skirt and a tear along the neckline.
Tear tracks down cheeks.
I hate you. Her words echoed in his head. Angry. Hurt. So damned hurt that even now they made his throat tighten uncomfortably.
His stomach turned over like a stone, heavy with guilt and a bunch of other stuff he hadn’t thought about it years. She looked different. And yet the same. He was an idiot not to know who she was.
Her chin lifted. “It’s Doctor Thorne to you.”
Shit. She wasn’t going to make this easy and he supposed she shouldn’t. After what he’d pulled that night, he deserved her scorn and dislike. But the fact that night had happened over ten years ago should count for something. Hell, he wasn’t a self-absorbed eighteen-year-old who only cared about himself anymore. The kind of kid who would ask a girl to prom on a dare. He was an adult and so was Regan. Things didn’t have to be like this. And though he was pretty sure some of the women in his life would dispute that claim, at the moment he decided to do what he did best. Charm his way out of a sticky situation and make her see he wasn’t the same guy.
“Doctor.” He offered up a killer smile, though it did nothing to penetrate the frost in her eyes. “I’m impressed.”
“Are you.” She glanced back at the tablet and swiped her fingers across it.
“If I remember right, you were the smartest girl in school.”
“For such a smart girl I didn’t always make the right choices now, did I?” The dig was unmistakable, her tone dismissive, but Wyatt wasn’t the sort to give up. Character flaw? Maybe.
“Captain of the debate team,” he said, smile still in place.
She pursed her lips. “Yes.”
She nodded but didn’t look up. “That to.”
“You ran the Helping Hand program.”
She set the tablet down onto the table beside the bed, dislike still in her eyes. “I did.” She shrugged. “I’m surprised you remember that.”
Okay. This was encouraging. “I signed up to help out with the food drive.”
“You signed up to get into Lana Larson’s pants.”
“True.” A slow smile curved his mouth, as the memories returned. “But I didn’t have a chance, now did I? Not with you ordering me around like a sergeant. Christ, I barely had time to scratch my—“
“Let’s not do this.” Her mouth was firm, those green eyes of hers hard.
“Do what?” He slowly slid from the bed and stood, forcing Regan to look up at him.
“This.” She gestured wildly. “Whatever it is. I’m not interested in walking down memory lane with you.” She took a step back. “Not in the least.”
There was silence for a few moments as the two of them stared at each other. And curiously, Wyatt felt something stir inside him. Something wicked. His eyes fell to her mouth. To the generous curve of that sexy as hell bottom lip. To the pink tongue he could just see.
Suddenly he was thinking things he had no right to think. Mainly, how would she taste if he dipped his head and kissed her?
“Regan,” he said slowly. “Let’s grab a coffee or something so I can apologize properly for being such an asshole on prom night.”
“Coffee?” She looked surprised as hell and that was a good thing. Meant he’d knocked out off balance.
He searched her face, saw the confusion and he got it. She hated him and had every right to. But still, if he could make things right then he could leave Crystal Lake without a guilty conscience. Maybe that was selfish of him, but at the moment he was going with it.
Just then the curtain was yanked back and Daisy Miller, the pretty EMT who’d brought him into the Emergency room appeared. Her blonde hair was no longer slicked back into a bun, but hung loose, and her wide blue eyes smiled up at him. Uniform gone, she looked at him expectantly.
“You ready?” she asked.
“Um…” Maybe he was concussed because in that moment Wyatt had no idea what Daisy was talking about.
“You’re clear to go.” Regan scooped up the tablet from the table and took a step back. “Cognitive tests were normal and your bloodwork is good.”
“Regan.” He sure as hell didn’t want to leave things like this.
But he was dismissed. She nodded to Daisy and without another word stepped past them. Wyatt watched Regan Thorne leave the emergency room, his eyes moving over her as she pushed her way through the double doors.
The Hello Kittys attached to her running shoes lit up when she walked. They were the last things he saw. It was that one image he’d think about many times over the next few months because as it turned out, life was about to throw him a curveball he hadn’t seen coming.
A curveball that would give Wyatt Blackwell lots of time to think.