“Ah.” I gesture to my tablemate. “Have you both met Dr. Navarro? She’s the keynote speaker tonight.”
Natalie’s gaze jerks up from my knee, which Shannon’s hand is now absent from. “Oh, you’re Dr. Navarro?”
“Yes.” Shannon nods politely. “And what about you two? Do you both work at BHUMB?”
I answer for them. “Dr. Brooks is in our OB department, and Dr. Martin is a fellow in our burn program.”
Shannon’s brows arch as she studies Natalie. “Dr. Martin, as in…”
“Noah’s little sister,” I reply. “Yes.”
Shannon blinks as recognition dawns on her. “Of course. I see it now. I actually think I might have met you once a few years ago, back when I was a resident with your brother.”
Natalie’s responding smile doesn’t quite meet her eyes, and then she glances at Lindsey and nods down the sidewalk. “Well, it was a pleasure to meet you. We won’t keep you from your coffee date.”
She’s walking away from us before anyone can reply, leaving her friend behind. Lindsey grimaces and offers a gracious smile before hurrying to catch up to Natalie.
Shannon chuckles as we watch them walk away.
“Noah’s little sister, huh?”
“Oh nothing. I just think she might have a little crush on you. Be careful with that one.”
An hour later, I’m standing at the edge of the auditorium, leaning a shoulder against the wall, waiting.
The room is filling up quicker than I thought it would, and there’s a chance Natalie slipped in without me noticing. Residents and students and coworkers shuffle past, offering me deferential nods. I survey the stairs over their heads, trying to spot a familiar head of brown hair.
Shannon is up on stage working with IT, testing the mic pinned to the neck of her blouse. Her presentation is already loaded, the title page projected on the large screen behind her.
She’ll start soon, and it’d be rude if I were still standing here. Of course, it’d also be rude for Natalie to walk in late, which means she’s already in here, or she decided not to come at all. Overachiever that she is, I know it’s the former. I scowl as I scan the crowd, starting in the back, skimming over faces until I make it all the way to the front row. My gut clenches. She’s up there, dead center with Lindsey at her side. She must have arrived before me. All the seats around her are full, but that’s not an issue.
I push off the wall and head down the stairs. When I turn down the front row, Lindsey nudges Natalie’s arm and she glances up to look at me, frowns, and then immediately jerks her attention back up to the stage. So that was jealousy I saw back at the coffee shop. Good to know.
The boy sitting beside Natalie looks half my age. He doesn’t notice my approach because he’s too caught up in Natalie. He’s working open a pack of spearmint gum and holding it out for her. Charming.
I stop right in front of him and motion for him to stand up. “I need this seat.”
He’s flustered and doesn’t immediately shoot to his feet like I expect him to. Instead, he glances over at Natalie like she’s going to save him from me. Not likely.
“Move,” I say sternly, though not altogether unkindly. At least in my opinion.
That does the trick. He scrambles to his feet, knocking his backpack to the ground.
Natalie scowls at me as he walks away, casting quick glances over her shoulder to see how many people have witnessed this exchange. When she turns back around, she slumps lower in her seat, like she’s trying to disappear into thin air. Natalie, you’re the least invisible person in this room. Don’t you get that?
I claim the vacant seat and immediately feel her beside me. It’s her scent and her heat and her unsteady breaths. It’s an intoxicating combination that wins over my attention so easily.
She leans into me, her arm brushing mine, and whispers low and angry. “That was extremely rude. He was sitting there first.”
“It’s your fault,” I say, my tone light as air. “You should have saved me a seat.”
Her jaw clenches as she shifts away from me, trying to put distance between us. It’s futile. These seats were made for ants and I’m a big guy. My leg touches hers, my arm takes up most of the armrest between us. She tries to make herself small and angle herself toward Lindsey, but it doesn’t make any difference.
“You seem angry about something,” I murmur, quiet enough that we’re not overheard.
“Me?” she says with that tell-tale high-pitched tone. “Nope. I’m fine.”
I hum in disbelief, and that needles her.
“You know, actually, I just want to say I’d really appreciate if while you’re staying in the townhouse, you don’t bring home a parade of women. I’m sure my brother wouldn’t be comfortable with that.”