It has nothing to do with the surgery I just successfully performed, but rather the fact I’m meeting Elena in approximately three hours at The Wicked Horse.

It’s been five days since I last saw her and my need for her has grown exponentially as each day has passed. When I made my offer of the thirty-day club membership and exclusivity between us, I had imagined having her every single night. This week turned into a cluster fuck between our two schedules. Both of us work long days, which extend into early evenings. One night, Elena had a family function she had to attend. Two nights, I had to fill in for Brandon on call as he was sick. Another night, Elena had a flat tire and it was too far to drive into Vegas from Henderson on the spare.

I’m exhausted right now, and I know she wouldn’t hold it against me if I canceled. But my need for her has grown to an almost painful one, and I don’t care if I have to crawl to the club… I’m going to have her tonight to make up for the days we missed—more than once I’m sure.

“Great job in there,” Melissa Corbin says as she comes out of the operating room. She was the anesthetist for my surgery today.

Lifting my chin in acknowledgment, I give her a short smile. Her eyebrows raise in surprise at the sight. I haven’t bestowed many smiles over the past year, and it bothers me that it shocks her.

Turning to my left, I toss the used paper towels in the garbage and head out of the scrub room, nabbing my cane, which I’d left by the door since I don’t need it in the surgical room with me. Sometimes, I perform standing, other times sitting on a stool, but always with the ability to lean against something.

I barely make it through the scrub room door before I come up short, face to face with my partner Brandon. His face is grim. “We need to talk.”

“About what?” I ask defensively, because let’s face it… lately any time Brandon has tried to talk to me, it’s been because I’ve fucked up.

“Peter Harlan’s family has sued you and the medical practice, which includes me.”

“Fuck,” I mutter, scrubbing my beard with worry.

“Let’s go to my office,” Brandon suggests, and I have no choice but to follow him. Medical malpractice isn’t a discussion to have in the open hallways.

We maneuver through the hospital, then into an underground tunnel that leads to an office building next door. It houses several medical practices, but I head to the fourth floor where our neurosurgery offices are located. The entire journey, which takes almost five minutes, is completed in silence. I don’t use the time to figure out how to defend myself, but rather think about Elena and how I’ll get to forget about this when I’m inside of her later tonight.

Images of her in that harness flash before me. My mouth waters as I remember her taste. My groin tightens as I remember the soft feel of her around me, and I experience an almost unmitigated sense of jubilation over seeing her tonight by the time we make it to Brandon’s office.

He motions to the guest chairs and I take one, putting my cane across my thighs. Brandon doesn’t move behind his desk. He just leans against it with his arms crossed.

“I didn’t do anything wrong during that surgery,” I say adamantly, because it’s obvious he wants me to defend my actions. “You saw the records. The test results. That man’s brain was beyond saving, and I’m not going to pay for something that wasn’t my fault.”

Brandon bends forward slightly to bring his face a bit closer to mine. “It is your fault, Benjamin. You treated that family poorly, and it pissed them off. That’s why they sued. It’s your fault we’re in this predicament, no matter how the surgery turned out.”

His defense of them infuriates me. He’s not taking my side as a partner and best friend should, which pisses me off even more.

I rise from my chair, lowering the end of the cane to the floor to lean against it. “No, they sued us because they feel guilty they couldn’t control that drunk son of a bitch. They knew what he was. Sat by while he got DWI after DWI. They enabled him. It’s as much his family’s fault as anyone’s.”

The anger leaves Brandon’s face, and he gives a long sigh of resignation. “You don’t know that,” he murmurs.

“Don’t I? You should know just how true that can be.”

Brandon shakes his head. “Not everyone is like Marcus Pettigrew. You’ve got to learn to put that aside. Stop judging everyone—”

“Or what?” I demand.

Brandon stands up, his height equal to mine and we are now eye to eye. “Or we can’t practice together anymore. You’re putting my family and me at risk, Benjamin. And I just can’t allow that.”

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