Two good friends, two thorny problems. Kurt needs a wife to convince a judge he can provide a stable home for his son. Shelly wants a baby to love.
She's had a crush on him for years. He's never thought of her as anything more than his best buddy. So when she offers him a solution to both their problems, he's not sure. But knowing she wants him changes everything, and pretty soon he can't keep his mind or his hands off her...
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November 13, 2009
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Excerpt from A Mutual Favor by Ann Jacobs
Hearing about his ex-wife's latest legal salvo topped off what had already been a disaster of a day.
Doctor Kurt Silverman shed his lab coat and sat for the first time since six o'clock this morning. Eyes closed, he leaned back in his desk chair and tried to clear his mind.
"Hey, Silverman, it's after hours. Couldn't you sleep better at home?"
Kurt opened one eye at the familiar sound of Shelly Ware's voice. "Shel. What's up?"
"Not much. I just finished Brad Gale's therapy. He has trouble getting here during regular hours."
Kurt recalled a fifty-ish financial analyst whose knee he'd repaired two months ago. "It's nice of you to stay late so he doesn't miss his rehab."
"I try to accommodate him when I can. His boss isn't very flexible about his working hours. I saw your light on and decided to come say hello on my way out."
She frowned. "What's wrong? You look as though you just lost your best friend."
"I'm okay. Long day, lots of problems."
"Want to unload some of them?"
Kurt shrugged, then grimaced at the pain that followed his sudden movement. "A rubdown would do me more good."
"Swivel that chair around and I'll see what I can do."
She laid her hands on his shoulders and began to knead, softly at first, then harder. Kurt closed his eyes and shut down his mind to everything except her touch, and the not-unpleasant smell of deep-heating rub that he associated with his pal Shelly.
The furnace blower kicked in, its sound a throaty, relaxing sort of purr. Shelly paused, as if distracted by the noise.
"Don't stop. Did anybody ever tell you you've got a magic touch?"
She laughed. "Nobody but you. You're the surgeon with the magic hands. I'm just an overworked, underpaid physical therapist. By the way, Mrs. Anderson was moving her leg better today."
"Thanks. Any good news is welcome on a day like this. Adrianna's pet shark has trumped up new excuses to drag me back into court. I swear the woman won't quit punishing me until I'm dead and she's picked my bones clean."
"Is there anything I can do to make things better?"
Kurt shrugged. "Not unless you know a hit man who specializes in ex-wives." He picked up the correspondence from his lawyer, then slapped it back onto the desk. "She wants to restrict my visits with Jason."
"Kurt, no!" Shelly resumed massaging his shoulders, her touch fiercer than before.
"I live in a pigsty, work all the time, and ignore my son when he's here. According to Adrianna, that is."
Kurt's muscles tightened, but Shelly soon had the knots worked out. When she stepped away, her warmth stayed with him.
Unshed tears made her eyes sparkle in the fluorescent glow from the ceiling lights. "I'm so sorry."
"Me, too. Sorry I married Adrianna. Hell, I wish I'd joined a monastery before I met her."
A grin lurked at the corners of her mouth. "Kurt, you're not even Catholic."
"I should have converted."
"And disappointed all the moms who had hopes of marrying their daughters off to Dr. Silverman?" Now a smile lit up her whole face.
Kurt returned her grin.
He couldn't stay depressed too long around Shelly. Unlike most women, she didn't set his defenses on alert. Besides, she had a way of making life's problems seem less pressing.
"Don't mind me. I'll survive somehow. Are we still on for Friday night to celebrate you growing another year older?"
"Just try to weasel out." She shot a playful look his way. "I'm assuming you won't get too decrepit by then to hoist your margarita."
He chuckled. "I'll manage. Hey, if you're not doing anything tonight, why don't we go over to your place? I'll spring for pizza with the works if you've got a couple of cold beers."
"Sorry. I have plans."
Kurt kept smiling, though the thought of his good pal Shelly getting tangled in the sheets with some sex-starved resident made him want to find the guy and strangle him.
A voice inside his head reminded him Shelly's sex life wasn't his concern. That who and when she fucked was none of his damn business.
As if she thought his question was a joke, she laughed. "Hardly a hot date. I told my sister and brother-in-law I'd entertain their kids so they can have a little time to themselves." She glanced at her watch. "Oh, no. They're going to drop Gretchen and Tommy at my apartment in half an hour. I've got to get a move on."
"Go, then. Hey, thanks for stopping by. You're better at lifting my spirits than a fistful of psych meds."
"Really? Pity I can't bottle myself up and sell me. Hey, chin up. Everything will come out okay. No judge in his right mind will say Jason shouldn't spend time with you."
With that, Shelly stood and brushed her lips across Kurt's cheek. Then, as suddenly as she'd appeared, she walked out.
A few minutes later, he left the building. A gust of cold wind chafed his skin and tousled his hair as he crossed the courtyard in front of the hospital.
When he opened the door to his apartment, silence greeted him. Silence and the tick-tock of the alarm clock on the floor beside his bed.
Kurt wished he weren't alone.
He'd really wanted Shelly's company tonight. He told himself he needed her to keep his mind off Adrianna and the new custody war she'd just declared.
* * * * *
Shelly choked back tears as she tucked Tommy and Gretchen into bed. She was still reeling with shock from her sister's news.
Damn it. It wasn't fair.
Donna was only a year older than she, with years of living to look forward to. She had a husband who loved her and these two precious kids.
She couldn't have cancer.
But she did. In two days, Donna would check into the hospital for a hysterectomy.
They caught it early. I'll be okay.
Donna had sounded brave, but Shelly imagined she was scared to death. Shelly was terrified, not only for her sister but for herself.
The same thing might happen to her. Fate might shut off her biological clock before its time.
She'd recently begun to hear that clock's gentle ticking in her head. Now it sounded like a metronome gone berserk.
Suddenly dizzy, Shelly bent and kissed the children. Then she stumbled out of the small guest room. Tears streamed from her eyes.
She wanted kids. At least one, maybe more. Suddenly she felt compelled to begin having them. Now.
She laughed through her tears. This was one compulsion she couldn't act out on her own, and she had no hot daddy prospect in mind.
Hot? Ha! She had no daddy prospect, hot or cold.
It was her own fault for being so particular. She shouldn't have blown off perfectly acceptable marriage candidates who'd done nothing wrong except for failing to set off the bells she foolishly expected to hear when she found Mr. Right.
She'd heard those bells. Recognized the symptoms they set off inside her. Unfortunately those bells had been ringing for two years, for one man. As unlikely a lover as she could have found if she'd gone out looking.
She had lost her head and hormones to a man who was terminally over love. He put out warning signals as loud as fire alarms to any woman who tried to breach the walls around his heart. If he ever thought about her as a woman and not a pal, he'd run away from her as fast as he could.
Kurt Silverman was the epitome of Mr. Wrong.
Damn him anyway. Damn his silky dark hair and his brooding, slate-gray eyes. Curse the killer smile that drew women like honey drew flies.
To hell with the gorgeous doctor and the chip his ex-wife had left on his shoulder as a souvenir of their marriage.
Part of Shelly wished she'd never met him.
Why had Kurt come to San Antonio to lick his wounds following a bitter divorce? And why had he joined the trauma surgery practice where she worked as a rehabilitative services specialist?
Worse, why had she not kept her distance? She'd known from the start that the man sported raw emotional scars.
Her getting the hots for Doctor Silverman had been a nasty twist of fate.
Not as nasty a twist as Donna getting cancer, of course. And she had no business mooning over Kurt or worrying about her own future when her thoughts should have been on her sister.
As she sat on the couch and stared at the blank TV screen, though, Shelly couldn't help trying to recall what kinds of cancer ran in families.
Cervical cancer? She didn't think so, but couldn't recall for sure. But she figured that if she wanted to hold her own babies in her arms, it was past time for her to get busy having them.
An icy wave of fear washed over her.
That metronome inside her head ticked away, sending shards of pain to her temples.
She got up and took two ibuprofen tablets before stumbling off to bed. When the throbbing subsided, she scolded herself for worrying about her own trivial problems when it was Donna who deserved her concern.
* * * * *
"We can postpone celebrating if you want," Kurt said on Friday when Shelly mentioned that her sister had come out of surgery an hour earlier.
Shelly shook her head. His concern warmed her, but there was nothing she could do for Donna now. She'd sleep away the day and night, mercifully sedated.
"Not on your life. I'm going to need that margarita."
"Me, too." When he grinned, fine lines accentuated his eyes. "Scrubs?"
They did their celebrating in OR garb. Shelly recalled the start of that tradition and their friendship almost two years ago, when they had run into each other outside surgery and decided to grab a bite together at a restaurant on the nearby Riverwalk.
"Scrubs it is. Seven o'clock?"
"Let's make it six. I'm finished in surgery for the day, barring any major emergencies. Unless that's too early."
"No. Six is fine."
"Good. What sort of memento would you like to mark the passing of yet another year?"
Shelly didn't know. She'd given Kurt a floppy-eared basset hound stuffed toy not long ago when he turned thirty-six because he'd made a passing comment that he'd like someday to have a pet, and last week he'd brought her a huge scarlet teddy bear toting a pound of Valentine candy. She'd had to keep reminding herself the card around Teddy's neck read "To my good pal Shelly"...not "To My Valentine".
"Surprise me with another pet for my menagerie." Suddenly an idea surfaced. "On second thought, I'd like to ask a very special favor."
"Name it. It's yours."
She smiled, but her stomach felt as if she'd tied it up in knots. "Don't make promises unless you know what it is that you're agreeing to. I'll tell you what I want, tonight."
That is, she'd tell him if she didn't come to her senses before then.
"Okay." He glanced at the clock on the wall and shrugged. "I have to run. Patients will be stacked up in the waiting room three deep if I don't get a move on. If you're doing Mrs. Anderson's therapy, tell her I'll come in and check her progress tomorrow."
She shooed him down the hall, then watched until he grabbed a patient chart from its holder and disappeared into one of the examining rooms.
Later that day, between patients, Shelly leaned back in her desk chair, closed her eyes and let her imagination transport her. What if Kurt said yes?
What if...What would his hands feel like on her naked skin? He'd be gentle, caring--of that much she was certain. His beard stubble would tickle her neck...her breasts.
He'd take his time, arouse her. Then...they'd make love and nine months later she'd have a dark-haired, silvery-eyed miniature of him...