Stone rather felt as if he had decreased circulation to his brain himself.

Staying focused on what he was doing had been a mental chore requiring great effort and constant redirecting.


Because he couldn’t stop thinking about Carly.

About how she’d looked when she’d awakened him. Wide-eyed, flushed, annoyed, desperate.

She’d been in a panic. Desperate to get rid of him.

“Good afternoon, Dr. Parker,” Rosalyn greeted him when he walked onto the surgical floor. “My census shows you’ve been busy this morning.”

He nodded. “Too busy. Is Carly around?”

At his question, Rosalyn gave a knowing smile. “Our manager sent her on break. She’s in the staff room.”

Perfect. Hopefully, she was alone and they could talk while she ate.

Only, when Stone went into the break room, Carly wasn’t eating.

She was frowning at a laptop screen and typing as quickly as her fingers would go.

“Hey, Beautiful.”

She jumped at his comment, glanced up, saw him, then, looking perturbed that he’d interrupted, went back to typing. “Not now, please.”

Huh? He sat down across from her and watched her work. Her fingers had slowed and when she glanced up, she gave him a pointed look.

“Is there something you need?”

“No.”

“Good. Then, if you don’t mind, could you go somewhere else?”

“I definitely mind, so maybe you’d better explain this sudden predilection for telling me to leave? First this morning and then, again, now.”

Pushing the laptop back, she sighed. “Look, Stone, I don’t have time to deal with you right now.”

To deal with him? Clearly something was wrong.

“Can I help you?”

“No.” Her answer was immediate. Succinct.

“Why not?”

“Because you can’t help me. How many times do I have to say that?” Annoyance roughened her voice.

“I’m a man of many talents, Carly. Let me at least try.”

She pushed back from the table. “What I need is for you to leave me alone so I can help myself.”

Ouch.

“Are you upset I sat with your mother last night?”

“No. Yes.” She kept her gaze focused on the computer, but her fingers weren’t typing.

“If I did something wrong, I’m sorry.”

She took a deep breath, glanced up from the laptop screen. “I’m the one who did something wrong. Not you.”

“What do you want me to bring for dinner tonight?”

Her gaze darkened. “I don’t want you to bring dinner.”

“You want to go out? Can Joyce stay with your mother?”

“Don’t you get it?” Her annoyance thickened. “I don’t want to see you after work tonight, Stone.”

Stone’s stomach twisted into a knot. “Why not?”

“I’m busy.”

“Taking care of your mother?”

“Among other things.”

“Let me help you.”

“You can’t help. I work a second job, Stone. Only, I’ve not been working it, because I’ve been spending too much time with you.”

Carly worked a second job? On top of taking care of her mother and having a full-time position at the hospital?

“A second job I didn’t do last night and I had an email this morning reprimanding me due to my significantly decreased production over the past two weeks. My boss wanted to know if I was ill.” She pressed her fingertips into her temple, rubbing hard there, and lifted hollow eyes to him. “Please just go away and stay out of my life, before you ruin everything.”

Her words pierced into Stone. They said history repeated itself. Apparently so. Stephanie thought he’d ruined her life, too.

He stood, pushed his chair beneath the table, and stared at the bristling woman sitting there.

She meant what she was saying. She didn’t want his help. She wanted him out of her life.

“I won’t bother you again.”

* * *

Fighting back a dam full of emotion, Carly watched Stone leave for the second time that day. Only, as he walked out of the break room, there was no backward glance.

Good. She needed him to leave, needed to get her mind back onto managing her life and the insurance claims. She didn’t usually bring her laptop to work, but had today so she could work during whatever break she got.

She’d made a little headway, too. Right up until Stone showed and got her brain jumping every which way. Her pulse, too.

She dropped her forehead to the tabletop and rolled her head back and forth. Ugh.

Pushing Stone away was the right thing. Being with him had made a mess of everything.

So why didn’t she feel better?

Because she’d known better, but had dallied with him too long, and she was going to have to take her juggling act to new heights.

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