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DR. NIKKIE JEAN NETORRE felt like the biggest fool when she walked into the Barratt County Hospital, her bloodied hand wrapped in a cartoon-owl-printed kitchen towel.  The towel had

been a housewarming gift from her friend Jillian when she’d bought her small house just inside the Barratt County line three months earlier.

Jillian had so helpfully pointed out that Nikkie Jean resembled that owl.

 

With the mud-brown hair, hazel eyes, and prism-laced glasses plus contacts, she couldn’t deny it. When she blinked, she probably did look like a cartoon owl.

Now she was just a bloody owl.  A bloody, stupid one. Had it not been her dominant hand that she had injured, Nikkie Jean could have set the stitches in her own wound. Stitching herself up would have been a wee bit difficult. She’d stopped before she’d compounded the stupidity.

Barratt County Gen was closer to her new home than FCGH, the hospital where she spent most of her days. She’d never been to this smaller hospital before.

No time like the present.

Nikkie Jean stepped up to the intake desk and said excuse me to the man bent over the desk, rifling through a drawer, muttering and cursing.

Well, Nikkie Jean said it to his back.

 

He spun. Glowered.

Nikkie Jean took a step back. She hadn’t expected this particular glowering giant. “Dr. Holden-Deane! I…”

Nikkie Jean looked closer at the behemoth of a man in front of her as the scowl deepened. Well.

She had just left Rafael Holden-Deane ninety minutes ago at FCGH, when he’d excused the surgery department from a meeting he’d called to address an upcoming surgical department audit. Every file, every report, every lab request, every bill, every supply request going back ten years. The COM was being thorough. No real surprise; people had died because of hospital lies lately. Rafe was now responsible for cleaning up those messes. He’d just need a really big broom for it.

The man glowered down at her. Not that surprising; Rafe was usually glowering at someone. She tried to stay out of his orbit when he looked just like this.

Nikkie Jean looked closer.

This man’s eyes were darker, harder, and even more terrifying. That made her take a step back.

Rafe was almost a big softie under his hot warrior exterior. She doubted she’d ever be able to say the same about this guy.

“You have me confused with someone else. May I help you?”

She blinked up at him—Dr. Rafe Holden-Deane was at least six-foot-six with three-feet-wide shoulders—and she was a ninety-eight-pound, barely five-foot small fry.

Dark hair, the eyes so brown they looked black, and the slightly olive skin tone. The muscular body of absolute perfection. Check, check, check, and check—this guy had all that, too.

That was kind of hard to miss. Nikkie Jean hadn’t missed admiring it at all a time or two with her own boss.

She might have a no-doctors policy for her personal life, but that didn’t mean she was blind. She pulled her glasses off her face and rubbed the rain off them as best she could one-handed. Just to make certain she wasn’t seeing something that just wasn’t there.

Nope.

She might be half-blind—at least without the glasses, anyway—but she wasn’t wrong. The hair was possibly a little longer. A little shaggier than her neat-as-a-pin boss. Wilder. Far more untamed.

This guy looked like…power. Strength. Threat.

He could ride a dragon easily. More than that, he’d tame one without breaking a sweat. The scar over his eye was definitely different. It was noticeable and gave him a sexy pirate look.

No, she wasn’t wrong completely. It wasn’t Rafe, but it sure looked like him.

Rafe didn’t have a dragon tattoo on one strong arm. And maybe, maybe Rafe’s arms weren’t quite as well defined.

The doctor standing in front of her was a dead ringer for the FCGH chief of medicine. Freaky. “I…I’m sorry, but you look just like my boss at FCGH. Dr. Holden-Deane. Enough to be his identical twin.”

Here fishy, fishy, fishy. She wanted information. She’d take it right back to Jillian—Rafe’s wife.

If possible, his expression darkened even more. Yeah, he really did resemble her cantankerous boss right down to—almost—the last eyelash. Except maybe his eyes were just a shade blacker. Which was impossible—they had to just be dark brown. Nikkie Jean was staring but well…she stared at Rafe sometimes, too.

The way one would a very handsome, very beautiful, very dangerous beast.

“Is that why you’ve come here today, Miss…”

“Dr. Nikkie Jean Netorre. And no—” He had her there. Most definitely not. Her hand was really starting to hurt, too. Time to get back down to business; Nikkie Jean had things to do tonight. “I came here because I have…this little problem here. And I need stitches. Barratt County is closer to my home than FCGH. I figured the sooner the better. And the less my people at FCGH get of me, probably the better. There was a tiny issue of one thousand containers of chocolate pudding being delivered today that I may or may not have been responsible for. I’m hiding from the head of surgery until he settles down. He’s doing a shift in the ER tonight to keep from getting rusty.”

And she didn’t want the people at her hospital hovering. Hovering was something she wasn’t exactly used to.

Cherise would practically coddle her, Wanda would make her cookies, and Lacy and Jillian would personally take care of the wound. She’d feel grateful and stupid and…weird. Embarrassed that such a fuss was being made. Nikkie Jean had survived thirty years without being hovered over. She wasn’t comfortable changing that now. She held the bloody owl up for him to see. “I could have dealt with it myself, but it’s my dominant. I can’t set the stitches. And…it’s really starting to hurt.”

She’d tried. But stopped. So here she was. At Barratt County.

FCGH’s country cousin.

Nikkie Jean took her first real look around.

Barratt County looked like the hospital she had just left. Only smaller. Even the wall decor was the same.

“It’s like FCGH in here, in miniature.” With the Holden-Deane clone in the middle of the intake desk glaring at her, it was like she’d entered the Twilight Zone. Freaky.

“I believe we share the same decorator.” He beckoned to a nurse. “Chloe, take Doctor—”

“Netor-uh. Pediatric surgical resident. I’d shake hands, but…well…” She did not want to touch him. Touch a tiger wrong and he’d bite off your hand.

“Take Dr. Netorre into exam room one. I’ll be with her shortly.”

“Sir?” the nurse shot him a questioning look. No kidding. The COM usually didn’t treat patients in the ER.

It must have been Nikkie Jean’s lucky day.

“I’m filling in for Curtis tonight.”

“Of course"

Nikkie Jean obediently followed the young nurse, surprised the Rafe clone hadn’t bitten the nurse’s head off yet for questioning him.

She thought about him to distract herself from the inevitable. Nikkie Jean hated the thought of metal instruments going through her skin. A weird hang-up for a surgeon to have, but she had it nonetheless. No problems with metal in other people’s skin, but her own? Nope.

Probably from when she’d been sixteen and an inept phlebotomist had left her with a three-quarter-inch scar across the back of her hand. That metal needle ripping through her flesh…Nikkie Jean shuddered mentally at that memory.

She was a big wimp. And she knew it. Another reason she’d chosen the neighboring hospital over her own.

So her friends didn’t see her turn into a big baby.

She’d been in exam rooms millions of times now. No big deal. She’d spent thousands of hours in exam rooms and hospital rooms—on both sides of the equations. She could deal.

She’d never like it from this side, though. Being vulnerable like that to other people. Nope. She’d never liked that. Far too many bad memories.

She distracted herself with thoughts of the man she’d just found—first chance she had, she was going to text Jillian about the pirate with Rafe’s face.

She’d always had a thing for pirates. Something about the rebel had always appealed to her.

Too bad she wasn’t into other doctors, though.

 

 

Dr. Caine Alvaro glared at the little feminine tornado as she followed Chloe into the exam room.

She hadn’t said anything he hadn’t heard before.

Eventually, he would have to address the source. He wasn’t an idiot. He’d seen photos of the man she had said he resembled. The man had been all over the news a few weeks ago.

Caine had known about his brother for seven years—a year before his father had thrown it in his face that he had a twin of his own out there. Before the old bastard had died six years ago from too many years of booze and stupidity. Known who he was, where he was, and what he was doing.

Caine could have found him at any time.

What he hadn’t known was what he was going to do about it. He’d spent six of those years in the military, paying for medical school the hard way. Six weeks ago, he’d taken the job in little Value, Texas, after spending a year in Abilene and a year in Amarillo. He needed the peace of a small town again. To see children running, shrieking with laughter.

To see his children making the roots he’d never had. In the cities, he’d been so busy with working, he’d had little time for his children. They’d spent more time with sitters and his uncle than they had with him. He hadn’t liked that.

Caine was hoping to change that in a smaller setting. A smaller hospital meant more of a life for him with the people who mattered most.

Caine wanted to spend more time with his family. The last two years since his wife’s death had gone by in too much of a blur for him. He wanted time with his children.

This woman wasn’t the first to mention his resemblance to the man now running FCGH. There were several physicians on staff at both hospitals, as well as several nurses who did part-time work at both locations.

Caine and his brother’s paths would cross eventually. Of that, he had no doubt. It was just a matter of time. Their paths would cross, but he wasn’t about to seek it out himself.

He had other problems to worry about. Like medical-billing fraud rumors going back years. Not to mention HIPAA—the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act—violations they were still investigating.

He wasn’t lost to the irony—he’d spent the last seven years avoiding even thinking about his mother’s family and the brother he knew was out there.

Only to end up less than forty minutes away, working the same damned position—for the same damned medical group.

Fate obviously had plans for him.

Caine had never let fate dictate his future. Far from it.

He hadn’t appreciated being stared at like he was a damned monkey in a circus, either. She had blinked up at him like he was a mirage she was trying to make certain was real. He scowled again and tossed the file he had been studying on the counter for JoLyn to put away.

He’d deal with this Dr. Netorre himself and then get her out of his hospital and on her way back to the larger, better, more wonderful world Finley Creek Gen.

And Dr. Rafael Holden-Deane.

Then he’d forget all about her and how she’d somehow brought the wind in with her.

He stalked into the exam room as the woman was giving Chloe her pertinent medical history. She spoke clearly, with the tiniest bit of an East Coast accent. Her hair was loose around her shoulders, long brown streaked with honey and stick straight. She wore dark-pink-rimmed glasses that made her hazel eyes look far too big for her face. There were Disney characters on the glasses. Caine looked closer to confirm it. Yes. Tinkerbell, to be exact.

It fit.

She moved. Constantly.

She barely came up to his shoulder. Maybe. She may have been even shorter than that. Five feet or so. Maybe one hundred pounds. He listened as she gave her birthdate again for their records.

Thirty. She’d just had her thirtieth birthday a few weeks ago.

She didn’t look it. He would have put her far younger, had she not said doctor earlier.

Dr. Netorre pushed the glasses up her small nose, and he was struck by how thick the left lens was. Most surgeons had near perfect eyesight. This one didn’t. “How well do you see?”

She turned toward him. He might have been mistaken, but he almost thought she rolled her eyes at him. He’d bet this resident was the trouble-making kind. He didn’t envy his brother working with this woman at all.

“Very well—with the glasses and contacts simultaneously. I’m not blind. Just half—in my left eye. The right one is just so lazy; it’s never bothered to keep up. I’ve scolded it and scolded it. It never learns. It works, but it’s only ever been a C student. How well do you see me?” She held her arms open, almost inviting him to study her, dressed as she was in candy pink scrubs.

She shot a smile filled with perfect teeth and dimples right at him. This woman was no pushover. He respected that.

He just grunted, then turned toward the injury. “So how did you hurt your hand, Dr. Netorre?”

“Tree branch went through the attic window. I cut my hand on the glass. It was wet and slippery. The glass, not the branch.”

“Let’s take a look. How long have you been at Finley Creek?” Caine asked the same type of questions he would have anyone. Sometimes the power of distraction was an effective tool.

“Eight months. I attended med school there, then went home to Pennsylvania for a few years. Now I’m back here. Studying under Allen Jacobson. He’s a wonderful surgeon and teacher. Hopefully, he’ll forgive me for the chocolate pudding order. But really, the cafeteria has no decent desserts. Rafe should really get around to fixing that. I was only trying to help.”

Caine bit back a laugh. If she’d pulled that stunt in his hospital, he’d have a problem. But FCGH wasn’t his circus. Barratt County was.

He took the edge of the dish towel wrapped around her hand and started pulling gently. She hissed out a small breath. He shot a quick look at her face.

She was cute, more than beautiful. Attractive, if a man went for wholesome, girl-next-door.

Caine never had.

She was unmarried, or so she’d told Chloe. Lived alone, didn’t smoke, or use alcohol to excess. She spoke easily about what had happened—even how she had tried to treat the injury herself, but stopped. She and Chloe fell into a discussion of shared acquaintances. She was apparently a chatterer. No doubt her patients all adored her.

Caine examined the three-inch gash across her palm. Any deeper and she could have had trouble performing surgery in the future. He didn’t tell her that. He suspected she knew. If she was a resident at FCGH, she had to have the skills to get herself there. FCGH didn’t take just anyone. It was highly competitive, especially the surgical department. FCU, the university the hospital was affiliated with, had a hefty price tag. “Three weeks. No using it for at least three weeks.”

“I think a week or so is more than appropriate, don’t you?”

Hazel eyes met his. He scowled. He did not like to be second guessed. Especially by little surgeons in training like this one. He’d seen hundreds of residents come and go. He was reserving judgment on this one for the time being, FCGH or not.

“I am being cautious, Dr. Netorre. You’ve injured yourself more than I think you realize. Three weeks, not a moment before. Are you certain you removed all the glass?”

“It was just the one piece, but I flushed it thoroughly. I just couldn’t suture it myself.”

It didn’t surprise him that she’d tried. Not in the least. He’d bet she was the type to try everything at least once, to think she could do it all herself. This woman was no doubt a handful of trouble waiting to happen. “No. You couldn’t.”

It took him fifteen minutes to get a row of tiny stitches across the delicate flesh of her palm. Luckily, the injury was to the outer edge of her hand. That would make it easier for her to regain full range of function. Her skin was pale, delicate, her hand small beneath his. She shouldn’t scar too badly, at least. And she’d be able to use it for the delicate work surgery required.

Although he couldn’t see this little tornado standing still for more than five minutes. Definitely not for the hours that surgery could require.

When he looked up, she was staring at him. “What?”

“I’m sorry. You really do look like Rafe. Same scowl, too. Although you look far more like a pirate than he does. I think it’s the hair, and your pet dragon there. You’re definitely more of a dragon. Rafe’s like a tiger. Beautiful and deadly before he pounces. I’ve seen him pounce before. Does he have a name? The dragon. Not Rafe.”

Rafe. Caine’s scowl deepened. “You always call your boss by his first name?”

“He’s a friend, so I do when off the clock. Well, he’s married to a good friend of mine. And his sister Ariella is a friend, too. I handled the guest book at Rafe’s wedding recently.” She said it softly, her face not that far from his. “I studied genetics. Rafe has a smaller scar on his forehead. Your hair is a lot longer. That’s about it.”

“My scars aren’t all visible. And there’s plenty of damned differences between us.”

“So you know him?”

He waved Chloe out of the room. Nothing got under his skin faster than someone butting into his personal life.

Someone needed to put her in her place. Even as he thought it, he chased that thought up with the knowledge that she’d just pop back out of that place in the next instant. Then go about doing whatever she wanted to satisfy her curiosity—nonstop. “I’ll finish up here.”

When his nurse was gone, he turned back to the woman in front of him. And glowered. “I don’t want to know him. I have no need.”

“Why?”

“I’ve known about him for years. And it’s none of your business. I don’t choose to know him. Or any sister he may have.”

“Well, I kind of figured that. Although that’s your loss; I certainly understand about estranged families. Mine’s as estranged as it gets, too.” She shot him an absolutely perfect smile, complete with dimples. “But the two of you would make an interesting case study for a nature-vs-nurture debate.”

Caine bit back a surprised laugh. There was something so guileless in her eyes, her smile. He hadn’t been expecting that.

All traces of his earlier irritation with a staff member who’d called off disappeared. Even the irritation with her interference lessened. He covered the stitches with a bandage and motioned toward the curtain.

“Get out of here, Dr. Netorre. May you never grace my ER again.”

“That sounds like a plan to me. Catch you later, Alvaro. See you around sometime. Want me to say hi to your brother for you? Just to see what happens?”

“Go.”

 

 

 

Chapter 2

 

 

 

 

 

 

“HE LOOKED JUST LIKE him, Lace. only crankier.” Nikkie Jean’s stitches came out easier than they’d gone in. One week to the date after the incident, she stood patiently in the midst of one of the now-empty ER exam rooms while her friend and surgical colleague, Lacy Deane, snipped the silk. Lacy had had questions. Nikkie Jean was doing her best to answer them.

“Is that even possible?”

Dr. Holden-Deane was her brother-in-law, and Lacy was fiercely protective over the man—but no one was blind to the truth. Dr. Holden-Deane had been very snarly when he first came to FCGH. Now that he had met and married Jillian, it was a slightly different ballgame.

He was still snarly, but only about half as much as he used to be. Jillian had definitely tamed that particular tiger.

Jillian was a brave, brave girl. Far braver than Nikkie Jean would ever be. Nikkie Jean was allergic to tigers—and male doctors.

At first, Rafe had terrified Nikkie Jean. She wasn’t too wimpy to admit it. But he’d terrified everybody then. He’d been hurting, Jillian had told her privately, from horrors he’d seen in his relief work in Africa.

Nikkie Jean could definitely understand that. She’d had her own share of horrors to heal from. Nikkie Jean wasn’t certain she ever would fully. Trauma could do that to a girl. Or boy. Or anything, really.

Lacy finished with the stitches and then looked at Nikkie Jean. “Rafe doesn’t want to meet him yet. Neither do the rest of his brothers and sisters. They did contact Dr. Alvaro, but he sent a not-so-polite reply back. Not all that different than Rafe’s original reply, but Rafe doesn’t like to hear that. Dr. Alvaro has no interest in reunification. He made that bluntly clear. And Rafe and the others don’t want to push. But…just like him?”

“Just like him. Even the same scowl. Longer hair and looks like a pirate. He has a scar from here, to here. More muscly and perfect, if that’s possible. Harder. Still, a very pretty man.”

“Weird. Two Rafes in the world. Hard to believe it.”

“I know, right?” She shot Lacy a grin. “I’m not sure Texas is big enough for two.”

“Neither am I. Neither am I.”

 

 

He was on her mind as she trekked across the parking garage toward her car after Lacy finished removing the stitches. The garage was reasonably better lit than it used to be, but after everything that had happened in the parking garage in recent months—a woman had been murdered just outside the door, Cherise had been mugged by a drugged out mugger, Dr. Lanning had committed suicide and almost killed Lacy, and a few other things she didn’t want to think about—Nikkie Jean was always going to be leery back there.

Even if she wasn’t a card-carrying member of the Cowards’ Club.

Usually, she walked out with someone, but her usual crowd was still on the clock. Everyone else had left while she was having Lacy remove the stitches.

She had two choices—wait until the next person left and walk with them, or ask the security guard, Creepy Ray, to walk with her.

Neither option held much appeal.

Ray freaked her out. She’d caught him staring at her before; in ways that definitely didn’t make her feel safe and secure. Far from it. Nikkie Jean always followed her instincts when it came to matters of her own personal safety.

The second door opened, and Dr. Henedy stepped out. He smiled when he saw her, revealing a handsome if somewhat insincere smile. But at least he was better than Ray. Her fingers tightened on her phone, just in case. Predators wore all different disguises—including lab coats. Nikkie Jean knew that to the bottom of her toes.

“Dr. Netorre, beautiful evening, isn’t it?”

“For now. Storms are supposed to be coming.”

“Where are you off to so late?”

She fell in next to him, careful to keep some distance between them. She didn’t know him well, but he was a real human being. That mattered. Nikkie Jean wasn’t stupid—she looked like an easy victim. Her lack of height, slighter build, glasses, the fact that she was a woman—they all added up to a great big bullseye.

She’d already been assaulted once.

That more than doubled the likelihood it would happen again. Even though she was triply safety conscious. A woman had to be careful. She made that very clear to every support group and trauma talk she gave at the women’s charity across the street.

“Annie Gaines is organizing a protest on Boethe Street at six. I’m joining her there to help.”

“Annie is? Surprising. It must be a cause dear to her heart.”

“It is. The mayor’s Clean Up Boethe Street initiative. It’s evicting Annie and thirty of her neighbors soon. She’s organizing the neighborhood into a protest to stop it. But she’ll need help.” Lots of it. This deal was being touted as the way to solve all of the city’s worst problems.

Annie was fighting a definite uphill battle.

Annie wasn’t much of a fighter, either.

Boethe Street was directly behind the hospital, and it was the worst neighborhood in the city of around fifty thousand people. A smart woman didn’t walk down that street alone. Nikkie Jean had driven Annie home many times and it still made her shudder. She wasn’t about to let Annie walk home or ride the bus. Not if she could help it.

“Interesting. My nephew and wife own several properties in that area. I’m not sure if the initiative affects them or not. Well, I wish you and Annie good luck.” He stopped near his Lincoln, then hesitated. “I would love to meet with you and discuss the results of Annie’s protest. Perhaps over coffee, or dinner, sometime?”

Nikkie Jean just blinked. She might not know the man well, but she did know one thing.

He was married to a city councilwoman. A very prominent, very publicity-driven, prettily coifed councilwoman.

His invitation hadn’t been platonic. Nikkie Jean wasn’t stupid.

“I…don’t think that will be a good idea. I don’t have much time for socializing, outside of work. Perhaps I can meet you and your wife some other time? I could bring Annie with me; she would love your wife’s help with this.”

His smile hardened. She finally understood what that expression meant.

That didn’t exactly make her feel secure.

Her car was just in the distance. Nikkie Jean was never happier to see it.

 

 

She was still irritated long after the protest had fizzled—very few people had actually shown up to help Annie. Nikkie Jean was trying not to grumble over him as she drove home.

The highway was long and straight between Value and Finley Creek, and her turn off was just north of the small town of less than a thousand people. The road wound through the countryside for another seven miles before she made it to her house. It was a long, solitary drive, and she usually used it to think.

She normally didn’t mind the drive, but tonight was different. Tonight she felt more vulnerable than she had in a long, long while.

Dr. Henedy brought back far too many memories she had battled long and hard to forget. What a giant piece of middle-aged man-scum.

Not going to happen. It was because of men like him she’d instituted her no-doctors rule in the first place.

 

 

 

 

Chapter 3

 

 

 

 

 

 

NIKKIE JEAN ALMOST missed the man waving her down from the middle of the road. He was large and strong and angry. The exact opposite of what Nikkie Jean liked.

Her breath hitched. Alone, deserted street, sun beginning to set. Small, single woman. Big, strong, angry man.

Yep, this was a recipe for disaster.

Or a bad horror novel.

But if someone needed medical assistance—she had to step up to the plate.

She slowed until she got close enough to see who it was. Some of her tension lessened. Just some.

The dragon tattoo told her which doctor twin it was glowering at her in the rain. “Oh, goody. Another man doctor! Just my luck.”

Basic human decency meant she couldn’t just keep going. Not now. That was Jillian’s brother-in-law out there, after all.

She instructed her phone to send quick voice texts to both Izzie and Jillian—telling them to call her in half an hour for a safety check, that she was giving someone she didn’t know well a ride somewhere.

Nikkie Jean wasn’t stupid, after all. Helpful, but not stupid.

She’d just texted Jillian exactly who she was picking up alongside the highway.

She rolled down the passenger window. “Out for an evening constitutional, Alvaro?”

Dr. Alvaro had a cross look on his face that was extremely familiar. She’d been on the wrong end of his twin’s ire once. Her own fault, but not an experience she wanted to repeat. His resemblance to Rafe had some of the tension leaving her.

Some. Not all. Rafe would never hurt anyone. But she had no idea if this man would.

Thunder echoed over them, and Nikkie Jean tried not to jump. She’d always hated storms. “Get in. I’m going your way. I think.”

“Thanks. A fan broke on my truck, and I don’t have the parts to fix it.”

With the approaching storm, he wouldn’t be able to do much good with it anyway. She heard the frustration and irritation. No doubt everything always went the way he wanted it in his world. He’d command just that.

And he was very angry about that, no doubt. “Sorry. Well, you’re lucky I had to do my part in civil disobedience tonight. No one else will come down this road for hours.” It was one of the things she liked about living out there. Solitude.

Sometimes that was all she longed for. Solitude, quiet, freedom—behind her five deadbolt locks.

“Probably not.” He climbed into her little Jeep, dwarfing it. The doctor twins were some seriously well-put-together men. Snarly, but so nice to look at. “You always pick up men you don’t know on the side of the highway, Dr. Netorre?”

“Nope.” She pointed to her phone just as a photo of Jillian popped up on the screen, and the phone vibrated. “That’s your new sister-in-law Jillian texting. Isn’t she so pretty? Your twin brother just adores her. He even jumped out a window to save her when a bad guy tried to kill her. I helped put him back together again afterward. I texted her and another friend to let them know I was picking you up. Jillian knows exactly where to find you if you cause me any trouble. She’d cause you trouble in return—and would enjoy it. She did not like the letter you sent her husband and your sister Ariella last month. Jillian’s very protective, and Ariella is her best friend. That letter came at a really bad time, you know?”

Jillian had told Nikkie Jean all about it when she’d asked her about Dr. Alvaro. The picture Jillian had painted in confidence had not been super pretty.

Nikkie Jean had imagined she could understand some of his hurt. Families were just so complicated sometimes. Hers certainly had been.

He just grunted as she sent a quick voice text back to Jillian telling her she was fine and would call back as soon as she was finished with Rafe’s doppelganger.

“See, I’m a helpful neighbor, but I’m not stupid. I’m going to trust you, Dr. Alvaro, not to be a homicidal maniac, ok? I really need you not to be one of those, ok?”

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