Forever and a Day(8)

By: Jill Shalvis



Tank stretched his nonexistent neck and oversized pug head so he could lick Josh’s chin again.

“Yeah, yeah.” It didn’t matter. Grace Brooks was a beautiful woman, but he didn’t have time to sleep, much less time to give to a woman.

Although, the way she’d hiked her dress up her bare, toned legs had definitely been worth the price of admission…He let himself into his house, trailing sea water and sand with him. No doubt he’d get a dire text from Nina, his pissy housekeeper, but his phone was dead.

Silver lining.

Toby had started kindergarten this week, so the house was void of the insanity of Zhu Zhu hamster pets and the whoosh, vrrmm-whoosh of Toby’s ever-present Jedi saber. Anna should be in class—should being the operative word. His sister had yet to consider junior college any more seriously than her choice of fingernail polish.

Moving toward the kitchen to dump Tank, Josh stopped short in surprise.

Shit.

Literally.

Grinding his teeth into powder, Josh lifted his shoe, studied the bottom of it, then dangled Tank at eye level. “Have you ever heard of mince meat?”

Tank tried to lick his nose.

“Not cool, dog.” Josh dealt with the mess. If he left it for Nina, she’d quit for sure since she’d already made it clear that nothing puppy related was on her plate. And that was all Josh needed, for yet another person to quit on him. It took a village to run his life, and his village was in mutiny.

He caught sight of the forty bucks still on the kitchen table. Hell. Grace hadn’t taken the money. And she needed it, too, which he knew because this was Lucky Harbor. You could drop a pot of gold on the pier and a perfect stranger would hand it back to you, but you couldn’t keep a secret to save your life.

Josh stripped out of his wet scrubs in the laundry room and slid Tank a long look. Unconcerned, Tank was snuffling around in his bed, turning his fat, little puppy body in three tight circles before plopping down with a snort and closing his eyes. Apparently he was satisfied with the destruction he’d left in his wake.

Definitely the Antichrist.

The house phone was ringing, probably because his cell was no longer working. Josh grabbed a set of fresh scrubs from the freshly delivered stack that he kept in the basket on the dryer and headed for the door. Later. He’d deal with it all later.

This is how he survived the daily insanity of his life, using his unique ability to prioritize and organize according to importance. Taking care of his family—important. Incoming phone call to inform him he was late—redundant, and therefore not critical.

Josh worked two shifts a week in the ER and four shifts at his dad’s practice. His dad had been gone five years and Josh still didn’t think of the practice as his own, but it was, complete with all the responsibilities of running it. When he could, Josh also donated a shift to the local Health Services Center. All the work made for a great stock portfolio, but it was hell on his home life.

Hell on Toby.

Something had to give, and soon. Probably Josh’s own sanity, but for now, he headed back to the hospital only to be called into a board meeting.

He wasn’t surprised by the topic at hand. The board wanted him to sell the practice, incorporating it into the hospital as many of the other local medical practitioners had done. The deal was they’d buy Josh out, pay him to stay on board, and also hire on another doctor to help him with the workload. Plus they’d guarantee the practice the hospital’s internal referrals.

It was a dangling carrot.

Except Josh hated carrots.

This wasn’t the first time the board had made the offer. They’d been after him all year to sell, each offer getting progressively more aggressive. But Josh didn’t like being strong-armed, and he didn’t like thinking about how his dad would feel if Josh let his hard-earned practice slip out of his control.

It was eight-thirty by the time he got home that night—half an hour past Toby’s bedtime. Last night, the five-year-old had been in bed at this time, asleep on his belly, legs curled under him, butt in the air, his chubby baby face smashed into his pillow. He’d clearly gone to bed directly from the bath because his dark hair had been sticking up in tufts, the same way Josh’s always did when he didn’t comb it.

Toby’s pj’s had been—big surprise—Star Wars, and Josh had kneeled by the kid’s bed to stroke back the perpetually unruly hair. Toby had stirred, and then…

Barked.

He’d been barking ever since Anna had brought Tank home. It was a passing phase.

Or so Josh desperately hoped.

Toby was the spitting image of Josh, but he had his mother’s imagination and her temperament to boot. Josh could read that temperament in every line of his son’s carefree body as he slept with wild abandonment. He wondered if Ally would be able to see it. But of course she wouldn’t, because to see it, she’d have to actually see Toby, something she hadn’t attempted in years.

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