Love Lies Beneath(3)

By: Jen Talty

Taking a deep breath, she pushed open the door, the bar not totally packed, but full enough. She raised up on tiptoe. Even at five foot nine, she couldn’t see over some of the crowd standing at the front bar. Maybe he was in the back, or at a table.

Maybe she should just leave.

No sooner did she turn toward the door than she spied Mitch sitting at the far end of the bar, with a glass of red wine raised in one hand, the other pointing to an empty seat. His grin was one of triumph.

She let out a puff of air and slowly made her way across the room, not rushing. God forbid, he thought she was eager to have that drink.

“Hello, Ashley.” He placed his hand on her upper arm, curling his fingers gently as he boldly leaned in and pressed his soft lips to her cheek. “I got you a nice Cab, since I remember you once told me it was your favorite blend.”

“You already ordered it?” She slid up on the stool, taking the glass he offered.

“I did.” He clanked his wine against hers with a wink.

“Here’s to overly confident men,” she mused, remembering how her father told the story about snagging the most popular girl in his high school. Her dad always told her confidence was half the battle to be successful at anything.

That and being smart.

Her father was the smartest man she’d ever met.

“Shall I be completely honest?” he asked, resting his arms on the bar, his biceps flexing, showing off a seal, the animal, on his skin. She found that amusing, considering he was a SEAL.

“By all means?”

“Happy hour, two for one and it ended five minutes ago, so I figured I’d get two, save a few bucks.”

Now she wasn’t sure if she should be insulted or not. “I like a frugal man,” she said, eyeing the room. She grew up an Army brat, living near one base after the other while her A-Team Commander father led missions in undisclosed areas. It had been a tough life on her and her siblings. Her mother never once complained, and her parents had a great relationship.

But they weren’t the norm.

Either way, it wasn’t a life Ashley wanted to pursue when it came to having a husband and kids.

He leaned in, his arm brushing against hers in a nonchalant move. “I was hoping though.”

“Of all my clients, you’ve been the hardest working and the least grumpy.”

“I’m sure you see some pretty tough cases.”

She nodded, remembering a few. Her job wasn’t just to help them heal their physical wounds, but the emotional wounds as well. “Truthfully, I don’t normally take injuries like yours. I specialize in major trauma. I usually spend months with my patients which is another reason I don’t ever date them, but my boss asked me to take yours.”

“I asked specifically for you. I did what I could to make sure that happened.”

She arched a brow. A slight flutter of her pulse hit her throat, wondering why he’d do that, because it sounded creepy stalkerish. “Why? How would you know me?”

“You worked with a buddy of mine last year. He said he would have put a gun to his head in a heartbeat if it hadn’t been for you. He had nothing but great things to say and considering how bad his wounds were, I figured if you could do wonders with him, I’d be a cakewalk.”

She pursed her lips. “You pulled strings to get me?”

He shook his head. “No. I asked if it was possible. My sister works in the billing office for the hospital, and I believe she asked you. I’m sorry if that bothers you.”

“Who is your sister?”

“Maddy Lichner.”

“Ah, yes, now I remember.” Ashley blew out a puff of air, relieved. Maddy had come to her before her brother’s surgery, wanting to know if Ashley would do her a personal favor. Since she’d had a break in her schedule, she said yes. She didn’t know Maddy, other than to say hello in passing, since their jobs never really crossed paths, but it had been nice to do an easier case for a change of pace.

“She told me it was no problem. I hope I didn’t make one?”

“Not at all,” Ashley said, sipping her wine, smelling the chicken and cheese quesadilla that had just been served to the person sitting to her left. The aroma made her stomach growl. But she’d wait to make dinner at home. Her nice, peaceful home on Doctor’s Lake, just south of the base. Nothing better than eating a nice meal, with her favorite wine, staring at the water. It didn’t t matter that she’d be alone.