I smirk and she nudges her elbow hard against mine, reclaiming the armrest in a show of annoyance.

Then, with my gaze locked on hers, my words impossible to misinterpret, I say, “If you think I want to sleep with her, you haven’t been paying attention.”

Her eyes widen and her jaw drops open as Shannon’s voice booms over the speakers in the auditorium, welcoming us all to the lecture. Her mic is a smidge too loud and a high-pitched ring causes a few groans. She laughs and adjusts the volume.

“There. Is that better?”

While the crowd offers up a chorus of yeses, Natalie and I have a silent standoff, eyes locked, breaths caught.

She’s the first to look away, breaking eye contact so she can tip her chin up and pin her gaze on Shannon. The presentation starts, Shannon introduces herself, and I’ll have to shut up soon, but I still have things I need to say first.

I lean into Natalie, my gaze on the stage as I shield my mouth with my hand.

“You’re overthinking this, ruining a good thing before it even starts.”

She bristles and leans into me so she can hiss low and I’ll still hear it. “You seemed pretty comfortable with her hand on your leg.” Then she groans. “Now, shh…you’ll get me in trouble.”

There’s an idea—getting Natalie into trouble, dragging her down with me.

“Forget about her,” I whisper urgently. “I want you, Natalie.”

The sweet blush that creeps up her neck makes me want to grab her hand and lead her out of this damn auditorium.

“My brother is—” she says nervously.

“Gone. So make your decision.”

Chapter Nine

Natalie

I suffer through Dr. Navarro’s lecture. With Lindsey on one side of me and Connor on the other side, I feel caged in. I’m aware of every breath, every minute movement, every beat of my heart in my chest. Everything feels too loud and too obvious. Look at me! Barely containing myself! I could puke at any moment!

The way Connor spoke to me just now in front of everyone…the conviction in his voice, the absolute confidence—it feels like he plunged a dagger coated with poison straight into my gut. His words have seeped into my bloodstream and now he’s infected me, a permanent torture.

I’m infuriated, actually, incensed by his audacity, by the arrogance of walking to the front of an auditorium filled with our peers and pulling a stunt like that. I don’t need my name in the gossip mill. I’ve kept my hands clean and my nose to the grindstone since the first day I walked into BHUMB, and now he’s jeopardizing that with his whispers.

On top of all that, I actually want to listen to Dr. Navarro’s lecture. She’s a pioneering force in our field, and when she wraps up her presentation, I realize I barely managed to retain half of what she said. I’ve completely wasted the last hour fixating on Connor instead of paying attention to a very important PowerPoint. How dare he?!

As everyone applauds, I shoot to my feet to leave the room. Most people are lingering, taking their sweet time exiting the auditorium, and I have to battle through bodies to make it to the exit. There are refreshments set up in the lobby. We’re meant to mingle, but I’m about to start my overnight call in the BICU and it’s the perfect excuse to bolt. I text Lindsey and apologize for ditching her, again, and she replies right away.

Lindsey: Okay, what the hell is going on with you and Connor? Are you guys hooking up?

My stomach plummets.

Natalie: NO.

Lindsey: Oh…bummer. Have you ever considered the fact that you should be? Might ease some of that tension. I mean, Jesus. I needed to fan myself during that lecture with the way you guys were going at it. What were you whispering about anyway?

Natalie: Nothing. You didn’t hear anything, right?

Lindsey: Believe me, I tried to. Leaned in and everything, but no. Care to spill the details? Be a good friend. Throw me a bone.

Natalie: I will once I get my head wrapped around everything. I’m about to start 24 hours on call and I need to concentrate.

Lindsey: Ha. Good luck with that.

Turns out I don’t need her luck because the BICU is the slowest I’ve ever seen it. A few hours in, after the initial bustle dies down, I stroll down the hallway, peering past the sliding glass doors into each of our patient rooms. Only half of them are filled tonight, and the patients inside are stable and sleeping at the moment. Still, I review their charts, checking medications, dosages, and notes left by residents. When that’s done, I hover near the nurses’ station, looking for work. Drag my finger along the counter, dawdling, trying to blend in. When one of them shoots me a look that could kill, I head down to the emergency room to see if they’re swamped and could use an extra pair of hands. Again, I’m disappointed. I’m not saying I want people to rush in with severed arms and stuff, but c’mon, this place is never empty. Tonight there’s one lady in here with a barely sprained ankle. Where’s all the action?!


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