She was falling asleep. Again. These graveyard shifts pulling overtime were brutal. Sofie was beginning to question if earning that extra pay was worth it when her eyelids were drooping on the freeway as she headed home to her too-tiny, one-bedroom apartment. She really wanted to save for a decent down payment on a house, but at what cost? Fortunately, or unfortunately, depending on how you looked at it, the hospital was short on ER nurses. To help keep any nurse working longer hours, they’d converted a larger room into sleeping quarters, with a few bunk beds, and provided a shower for them to access. Tomorrow, she’d bring an overnight bag. After all, she was single with no pets, and no roommate to worry about her—she should just spend the night every now and then at the hospital.
“Did you see the one wheeling the teenager with the concussion in? You know, the brunette?” A hushed voice filtered through her hazy mind in the darkened room.
“Which one? So many are brunettes. It’s Friday and we get a lot of teenagers. You need to be more specific.” A second voice. Aware now that she was no longer alone in the nurses’ room. There were two unknown men with her. Sofie felt safe at work and knew she could hold her own, but what were these guys doing here? She knew the male nurses who worked the ER and these voices didn’t match any of them. She had been asleep on a top bunk, tucked furthest from the door. She tried to limit her movement to avoid alerting these strangers to her presence. At least she could take solace in the fact they weren’t talking about her. She was a redhead. Had the matching freckles, and fiery personality to go with it. She knew she wasn’t a classic beauty and that was perfectly fine with her.
Subtly, she tapped her phone to check the time. She had another hour before her alarm would vibrate and she needed to grab a bite from the cafeteria to start her next shift. Sofie had already showered before she climbed up for a catnap of six hours.
“The one with the tat on her arm. Did you see her?”
“Oh, you mean Linda. Yeah, I saw her. Why?”
“She was the one I was in here with last night. I can introduce you to a lot of the ladies if you’d like since you’re new here.” Sofie could hear some rustling around. The way this conversation was going, she was glad she didn’t recognize the voices. Their conversation was just disgusting.
The other man answered. “Nah, I’m good. I may be new to the ER, but I’ll get to know everyone eventually.” Point for the new guy.
Sofie heard a heavy scraping on the floor and a proud declaration of, “Found it. My ID badge fell behind this bed. If you change your mind, Doc, I can give you the lowdown on who’s willing to take some of your stress away, if you catch my drift. Well, I know a few anyway.” Who was this guy? A doctor? A nurse? A technician? Sofie didn’t recognize either voice, but then they’d been in hushed tones and those were harder to decipher.
She caught the first part of the doctor’s response on their way out of the room. “Let’s get back to work, I have another hour on my shift. Then I can head home to…” and they were gone. The door closed behind them and she was once again alone.
She lay with her thoughts while one more hour of slumbering bliss eluded her. This doctor had more respect for women than the other. Were people really getting together in that way? At work? Sofie didn’t exactly grow up under a rock, but she was naïve in the respect she felt people should keep work and personal activities separate. Or at least not intermingle the two at work. She sat up and dangled her legs off the top bunk and hopped off. She did a few stretches and made herself presentable. She’d slept in clean, pale green scrub pants and a tank top. All she needed was her top to look the part of the devoted ER nurse, and she’d scarf down her cafeteria breakfast. At least there was a Starbucks on-site, providing her decent coffee to start the day.
Owen was exhausted. It was all he could do to drag himself into his new apartment after his shift, which of course extended another hour to finish up with a car accident victim who’d come in. This apartment was closer to his new job but he was quickly learning he hated moving. As he surveyed the contents of his living room, he began to wonder why he had so much “stuff”. Boxes still filled two corners of his small living room, with a few more in the kitchen. He left his take-out in the kitchen and headed straight for a shower, then he’d eat in front of whatever documentary caught his interest on Netflix. Tomorrow was his day off. He’d deal with more unpacking then.
Oh. My. God. Sofie was dead tired. She had her backpack slung over her shoulder, and two bags of groceries in her hands as she struggled with her key to unlock her door. “Need any help?” She turned toward the unfamiliar voice. Before her stood a very good-looking, fit man. Tall, black hair, and the greenest eyes she’d ever seen. More verdant than her own. Everything she was physically attracted to in a man. And he was smiling at her.
“Thanks, but I got it. Before I hand over my keys to a stranger, I’ll manage on my own.” She didn’t want to come off rude, but she was tired and just wanted to relax, and in all likelihood, fall asleep in front of her TV.
“I just moved into the apartment next door. My name is Owen. Now, we’re not strangers. I’m just a neighbor coming in from taking my trash out. Dare I ask again, need help?”
“Of course! I heard you moving around, shuffling boxes here and there a couple of weeks ago.” She handed him her keys. “I warn you though, I’ve not spent a lot of time at home so no judgment on the state of my place.”
Owen just laughed. “No problem. My own place still has the aforementioned boxes. How I accumulated so much, I’ll never know,” he chuckled then unlocked her door and pushed it open for her. She headed inside and invited him in, if only to her kitchen where she deposited her groceries.
“Obviously I just got home and can’t offer too much beyond what’s in these two bags. I did however buy some juice and a pack of blueberry muffins. Could I offer you any of those?” She headed to the other side of the kitchen’s bar, overlooking what passed as her living room, and let her backpack fall to the floor with a decisive thud.
“Thanks, but no. I’ll take a rain check though.” He winked at her. Winked at her! “This is a rare day off for me and I need to get my ass in gear to finally get rid of my boxes. Or at least unpack a few more. I almost found my plates so I could actually cook. But trust me, I’d love to procrastinate and spend time sharing a muffin with you.” Disappointment poured over her with his impending departure, which was ridiculous since she just met the man. She couldn’t pull her eyes away from his though. He had a certain allure that made her want to know him more. Sofie couldn’t even remember the last time she was this drawn to a man. If ever.
“Well, okay then. I guess I’ll see you around. Thanks again for your help.” She walked him to her door and closed it behind him. She leaned back against the door after she locked it and released a breath she didn’t know she was holding. Owen. It fits him. It occurred to her she didn’t tell him her name and he hadn’t asked for it.
Well. So much for that. She put the remaining groceries away and headed for her shower. The hot water would wash away the horror she’d seen in the ER that afternoon. The sick children, the injured, the drug overdoses. She was assigned to a car accident victim who was near death, but Dr. Carson had acted fast and saved him. Was this Dr. Carson the ‘new doctor’ she’d heard talking before her shift yesterday? She’d never met the man since they were never assigned the same shift. Or maybe they were and she just never paid attention. Unlike the first voice she’d heard talking, she wasn’t at work to find a bedmate. She was there to help comfort and save people.
She shrugged it off, made a PBJ, and settled in on her couch. Within an hour, her paper plate was on her coffee table with her crumbs and crumpled napkin. Sofie was asleep with her damp hair still piled up atop her head.
Owen made it a point to unpack his kitchen first. After meeting his neighbor, he was compelled to cook her dinner. She looked exhausted and if her green scrubs were any indication of the work she did, she was in the medical field in some capacity. He knew that mental exhaustion. Every mannerism, along with her apartment, told him she was single. Like him.
She intrigued him and he was calling himself tens kinds of stupid for not asking her name. She smelled like roses and anesthetic. He’d smelled that scent before, but couldn’t place where. He’d never met her before today, but she was familiar. Racking his brain, thinking of her pretty green eyes—eyes that drew him in—her sprinkling of freckles across her face, and her messy ponytail—a clear indication of a busy day—he got to work prepping a decent dinner for them both. Owen wanted—no, needed to get to know her better.
Owen was sitting next to her on the couch, arm around her. She’d nestled against his protective male form, taking comfort with him after another long shift. He’d leaned his head down to kiss her, gently at first. Gradually, their hands had found each other, hungry for each other’s touch, and their kiss became more possessive, heated. The knock on the door woke her from a dream she wasn’t ready to wake from. She refused to open her eyes, not ready to lose this personal indulgence of her sexy neighbor’s image. Pure torture, she knew, but it’d been so long since she’d been with anyone. Another knock. More insistent this time. “I’m coming, keep your pants on!” She called. Who would visit her? Her brother had the code to enter the building and all deliveries were left downstairs.
She threw open the door to find the very co-star of her dream before her. Had she manifested him? “Owen! I wasn’t expecting you. Is everything okay?”
He held up two plates of food. The aroma of the chicken charged her senses, alerting her stomach real food was on the way. “Right as rain. And don’t worry, I kept my pants on.” He gave her a crooked smile.
She groaned and motioned him to come in. “I see you found your plates.”
“I did. Made it a point to cook you dinner since you looked exhausted and had a slim selection of food here.”
This man was from heaven, no doubt. “I am, was. I caught a nap on the couch.” She looked down and realized she was in her pajamas. He caught this move and reassured her.
“Don’t worry, you’re cute in your pajamas.”
She felt her face flush at the compliment. “Oh, well, then let’s eat. I haven’t had a decent meal in a while. I’m Sofie by the way.” They settled on her couch and ate together.
They fell into an immediate rapport just talking and getting to know one another. She liked him. A lot. The more they talked, the more she was falling for him. At twenty-nine, that’s not such a bad thing. And he was clearly enjoying her company. After all, he came back with sustenance for her. What man did that?
“Did you get a lot done with unpacking?” She wiped away the last juices from the chicken. She decided he was far superior with cooking talents than she was. He could bring her food anytime. “This was amazing by the way!”
“I did. Knocked out all my kitchen boxes. I’m glad you liked it. Cooking relaxes me. When I saw you so tired, obviously from work, I knew instantly I wanted to cook for you. Your food supply here was…let’s say lacking.” He was smiling at her again with his perfect smile. At that moment she wanted to kiss him. She’d never felt that urge to just kiss a man she’d just met. Until Owen. “Do you work tomorrow?”
“Yes, ten-hour shift,” she replied.
He stood up and gave her a quick kiss on her forehead. “I’ll be right back.” Did he really just give her a kiss? On her forehead? She’d wanted a kiss on her mouth. She wanted to taste the chicken on his tongue. As she was lost in her own thoughts, he came back holding an insulated container. “I packed you lunch for tomorrow.”
“You…what? You barely know me.” She was confused. No man was ever this sweet.
“Correction. I barely knew you. I know you a lot more now.” He took the liberty of heading to her kitchen and putting her lunch in the fridge. “Keep the container. Return it when you want another lunch.” He winked at her again.
She had questions. She wanted answers. “Owen, why are you doing all this? Why did you kiss me…on my forehead?”
He sat next to her on her couch. He put his arm around her as he had in her dream. Would they start kissing like they had in her dream? “Easy answers to both. I’m doing this because I see a beautiful woman, tired, and in need of good nutrition. She’s an absolutely lovely person, who I’d like to get to know more. That answer your questions?”
“Some. Why my forehead?”
“Because we just met, and I was testing your reaction to me.” He arched an eyebrow. “Why?”
Sofie leaned in closer to him, and whispered, “because I wanted you to kiss me, but not on my forehead.” He leaned his forehead to hers. She breathed him in. Sofie placed her hands on his chest; he felt solid. As if sensing her need, Owen tipped her chin up and placed a soft kiss on her waiting lips. It shot a new sensation down to her toes. Need. She barely knew the man, but she needed him.
“Did you want a kiss like that?” His voice was low, husky. And familiar.
“What did you just say?” She pulled back.
Owen looked alarmed. “What did I do wrong? I thought...”
She shook her head, trying to make sense of who this man was. “Are you a doctor at Washington Memorial? In the ER?”
He was hesitant to answer. “Yes…how did you know that? I’ve only been there a few weeks. Were you a patient?” She noted the exact time realization dawned on him. The scrubs. “You’re a nurse there, aren’t you?”
“Yes. ER, pulling extra shifts. You must be the new doctor. Dr. Carson. You saved that man from the car accident yesterday.”
“I’m glad he made it.”
“I was his primary nurse. You’re a hero.” She needed to know more about him before she allowed herself to fall for him. Okay. Reality check. Before she allowed herself to fall harder for the man than she already had. “Shortly before you saved him, you were in the nurses’ sleeping room.”
Owen didn’t deny it. “Dave brought me. How did you know I was there?”
“I heard you two talking. Dave?”
“X-Ray tech.” Owen was searching her face, looking for answers. “Wait, were you in the room?”
She was never one to play games. “Between shifts, pulling extra graveyard. I was top bunk, back corner. I need to know…” Sofie was already dreaming of the man but she had to know.
“You need to know if I’d ever bring a nightly tryst there?” He took her hands in his and kissed them both when she nodded. “No. Dave is an ass who only sees women as a hobby.” Owen moved closer to her. “I, however, actually respect women and would never ‘hook-up’ for a one-night stand. Besides, I’m partial to redheads with freckles, now.” He smiled at her and she breathed a sigh of relief. “Have you ever… never mind. It’s not my business. I just met you.”
“Never. Silly me, I just thought people sleep in those beds between shifts.” She was smiling again, and even started to laugh.
He claimed her mouth, slowly, and she was enjoying every moment of it. In his bedroom voice, he said, “Good. We may have something yet, but true to both of us, let’s keep our personal activities between us. My shift starts at six in the morning. Yours?”
“I’m back on at eight. You think we may have something here?” She had to know if he felt it too.
Owen deepened his kiss. “Absolutely.” He reluctantly broke the kiss, stood up, and cleared the dishes from the tiny living room. He filled the whole space, both in her apartment and her heart. “I’ll head back. We both need our rest. Let’s try to meet for a picnic lunch.” He gave her his number so they could coordinate their schedules. “And Sofie, I’m not a one-night-stand guy.” He kissed her one more time and closed the door behind him. Tomorrow’s shift definitely held promise and a new beginning.