Chapter 2

Ugh…what the hell happened last night? I think I may have passed out around two in the morning. Jesus, what time is it? I need to get to work. My eyes slowly flutter open and I carefully lift my head off the pillow I’m resting on. The first thing I see are four beady brown eyes staring at me and hot breaths hitting my face.

That’s weird. I don’t remember adopting dogs, let alone such big ones. A beautiful German Sheppard and a sleek Rottweiler. Wait, I don’t have dogs. My body shoots upward and my eyes snap awake. Unfortunately for me, the two dogs take that as a sign to play. They both jump on the bed, panting and happily whining as they both lick my face with their wet, floppy tongues.

I try to get away from them, but my body is so tangled in the bed sheets that they think I’m playing with them. “Off!”

The dogs suddenly stop and jump off the bed. Shaking my head a bit, I find them sitting on the hardwood floor, their tails happily wagging. “Sorry about that. They really like having people over.”

That voice… Looking up, I find the smiling face of Cash looking down at me, a towel hanging loosely around his trim and narrow waist. “Cash?” I sleepily say.

“Morning, beautiful. You pretty much passed out after last night.”

He takes a seat on the edge of the bed, his eyes not looking away from me and the smile not going away. Now that I see him without a shirt on, I see that his sculpted torso has a few beautiful tattoos on it, one over his heart and another few decorate his upper arms and shoulders.

I rub my eyes open and give my cheeks a few light slaps to wake myself up a bit. “Cash, where am I? And why did those two-” I glance down at the dogs, who are still happily panting with their tongues hanging out of their mouths “-furballs give me a rude awakening?”

The dogs exchange a look, almost like they know I just called them furballs. “These are my dogs,” Cash says. “The German Sheppard is Saber and the Rottweiler is Midnight. Boys, this is Jax. He is not a chew toy.”

The dogs make slight pouting faces that makes it seem like they’re disappointed they don’t have a new chew toy. “Wait, am I in your apartment?” I ask.

“Yup. Welcome to my humble abode.”

Humble? This place is huge. Hell, this room is almost the size of half my apartment. And with a monotone color scheme of greys, blacks, whites, and steels, it looks incredible. Modern with a bit of a sci-fi movie feel to it. “Cash, what happened last night? Everything is a little fuzzy.”

Cash laughs a bit. “You had maybe a beer too many last night. Well, after you and I went to the dance floor, we had a few more drinks before we decided to head out. I told your friends I would take you home, but I didn’t know where you lived. Plus your friends had already left at that point, so I couldn’t ask anyone.

“So I decided to take you over to my place to spend the night. I brought you here and helped you get into bed with me. After that, things got pretty hot.”

“Wait, did I…have sex with you?”

Cash’s cheeks fill with color and he grins from ear to ear. “Best sex of my entire life. I didn’t know you were that big. My ass was really sore when I woke up this morning.”

It all slowly starts coming back to me. Jesus, I really did have sex with Cash, and it was…unbelievable. God, we fucked for the longest time, it was so intense. And feeling his body so close to me as we fell asleep felt just as good as the sex. A smile pulls at the corners of my lips. “It was really nice,” I admit.

He grins even brighter before and gives my leg a pat through the sheets. “Okay. I need to get some coffee in me and feed my little monsters.” Saber and Midnight both woof at that. “The shower’s available if you want it. I have some spare toiletries in the bathroom. And if you want to borrow some clothes, you and I are close to the same size, so you’re more than welcome to.”

He stands up and the towel falls from his waist. He makes no effort to pick it up and no shame in walking around naked, not that I’m complaining. I take full advantage of the situation to stare at Cash’s tight ass. Yup, I fucked that last night. There’s no way I could forget it. He walks over to the dresser and pulls out a pair of black briefs, pulling them up his legs and disappointing me as he pulls them over his butt.

He turns around to me and find me staring and a noticeable lump that has grown underneath the bed sheets. “Hmmm,” he says, a sly smile pulling at his lips. “Looks like someone didn’t get enough last night.”

My face lushes in a blush. “Well…you’re just really fucking hot. It’s not my fault.”

Cash laughs and walks over to the bed, bending down next to me and giving me a kiss that takes my breath away. As much as I want to pull him back into his bed, he ends the kiss as quickly as it started. “Thank you. Now get your sexy ass in the shower. I’ll make you breakfast after I finish getting dressed.”

Oh, he’s a tease. He did that getting dressed thing on purpose. I like teases. But two can play at that game. I push the covers off me and step out of bed, stretching my arms above my head and flexing every muscle I can before letting them fall. I look down at my semi-hard dick, grabbing it and giving it a few shakes.

I stifle a yawn and meet Cash’s wide eyes. “Guess I’ll go and take that shower…”

I turn around and bend down to stretch out my back, giving Cash a good view of my ass. “Oh, fuck you,” he says. “You did that on purpose.”

I look over my shoulder as I stand back up. “Pot calling the kettle black, much?”

He and I exchange a smile and I walk to the bathroom. It’s just as nice and spacious in here as it is in his bedroom. High ceiling, lots of granite and steel, black, white, and greys everywhere. Even the shower is amazing, with a glass door and stone tiles. Makes my apartment look like a cardboard box.

After taking my time in the shower and brushing my teeth and gelling my hair a bit (I doubt Cash will mind if I borrowed that), I step back into the bedroom and find a pair of jeans and a plain grey t-shirt. Grabbing my underwear and socks from yesterday, I throw on the clothing and my shoes.

With all my stuff, I step out of the bedroom and find Saber and Midnight sitting outside of the bedroom door, their mouths open and their tongues hanging out. “Uh…hi,” I stupidly say.

They both suddenly get up and take a few steps back before falling to the floor and rolling onto their backs, their faces looking up at me. Finding this way too freaking adorable, I fall to a knee and scratch both of their bellies. They squirm in joy under my touch. “Wow. They don’t normally open up to guests that fast.”

Looking toward the kitchen, I find Cash standing at the stove, wearing a very expensive looking business suit. Even with the apron draped over his chest, I can tell the suit fits him incredibly well. Cash whistles once and Saber and Midnight jump off the floor, running over to Cash and sliding to a stop in front of him.

Cash produces two strips of bacon and feeds them to the dogs. “Go lie down,” he says.

The dogs finish their bacon and walk to the living room, where I find two large dog beds sitting in front of a mounted TV. Saber and Midnight plop down on the beds, content. “They’re so well trained,” I say.

“You should’ve seen them when they were puppies. Peed on everything. I had to replace my couch twice before they were toilet trained.”

“How old are they?”

“They’re both a little over 3 years old. Love them to death. How do you like your eggs, by the way?”

Wow. A very attractive man had sex with me last night and is making me breakfast? Roman, I hope you hit me with one of your heels and knocked me into a coma, because if this is a dream I don’t want to wake up. “Uh, sunny side up,” I say.

“Perfect. And I hope you like bacon, because I made a lot of it. Go ahead and take a seat at the table. I’ll bring your food in a second.”

Walking to the table in question, I take a seat as my phone buzzes in my pocket. I pull it out to find a text from Liam on the screen.

‘Hey, you make it home okay?’

‘Um…not exactly…’

‘What do you mean? Did you wake up in a dumpster again?’

‘Okay, that only happened one time and it was back in college. And I mean I spent the night at Cash’s place.’

My phone buzzes, but with a call from Liam. “Hello?”

“Dude! You slept with Cash?! Nice!”

Well, there went my eardrum. “Jax! I heard Liam! You slept with Cash?!”

And there’s Rebecca. I glance over at Cash, who doesn’t seem to be paying attention. “Yes, I slept with Cash.”

“I demand details!” Rebecca says.

“But please keep it PG,” Liam backs up.

“Fine. After Cash and I left, he didn’t know where I lived, so he brought me back to his place, where we…kind of did it…”

Rebecca squeals. “Jax! I’m so happy for you! You haven’t gotten laid in months!”

“Yeah, I know. And frankly…it was the best fucking sex of my entire life.”

“Thank you. I do my best to please.”

Jumping at the voice, I find Cash standing next to me with two plates of food. “Oh uh…sorry,” I say.

“Nah, it’s cool. I like being complemented about my performance in the bedroom. Hi Liam, Rebecca.”

“Hi, Cash!” Rebecca yells through the phone.

“Hey, dude,” Liam says.

“Hope this doesn’t seem rude, but I was kind of hoping to have a quiet breakfast with Jax here.”

Rebecca squeals for the second time, loud enough for Saber and Midnight to perk their ears up. The phone suddenly hangs up and I’m left with Cash. “They seem like good friends,” Cash says.

“They are,” I say, taking a fork and starting to eat. “Rebecca is a bit loud and like a doting mother, but she’s awesome. And Liam and I have been best friends since we were in school together. He’s a plastic surgeon and runs his own private clinic.”

“He seems a bit older than you.”

“He is. He’s 27 while I’m 25. We both graduated medical school a bit early.”

Cash raises an eyebrow, a smirk spreading on his face. “Medical school takes years. How did you both get through so fast?”

I got through because my Dad puffed out his chest a bit. “We both were just really smart I guess.”

Cash laughs and takes a sip of his coffee. “So what kind of doctor are you?”

“I’m a trauma surgeon and I work on a few research products on the side. And before you ask, no, I’m not going to give you any details. They’re top secret.”

“Oh come on. Not even a hint?”

“Nope. I’ve been working on these projects since I was 22. And I want to keep them a secret from everyone until they’re finished.”

Cash takes a strip of bacon and takes a bite. “So how long until they’re finished then?”

I shake my head a bit. “There’s no way I can say. Working with this stuff takes a lot of time and patience and I need to make sure I’m 100% right.”

“Well, for what it’s worth, good luck.”

I smile. “Thanks. So what do you do for a job?”

“I work for my dad’s legal firm. One of the best lawyers in Manhattan.”

“Wow, nice. How many cases have you won?”

“Zero.” Uh…what? “I just recently passed the Bar Exam for the state of New York. I have my very first case today. I’m the head prosecutor in a case where a guy raped and killed a young prostitute. The case is in my favor though. There’s evidence through the roof that points to this guy.”

“Well, good luck.”

He gives me a grin. “Thanks.” He glances over at a clock on the wall. “Oh, I need to get going. I need to get to the ADA’s office. I’ll give you a ride to the hospital.”

Quickly finishing my food, I follow Cash into the kitchen and rise off my plate. Turning around, I find Saber and Midnight standing behind me, their mouths closed and looking at me with pleading eyes. “Um…sorry, I don’t have any food.”

Cash grabs a pair of keys off the counter. “No, they’re wondering if they’ll see you again. And…I was wondering the same thing…”

My body stops and I look over at Cash, who’s looking at me with hopefulness in his eyes. I walk over to him and stop just in front of him. Quickly, I grab the back of his neck and pull him into a hard kiss. God, I’ll never get tired of these. Pulling away, I give him a smile. “I’m free next Friday night. How about I take you out to dinner? A proper date. Not a drunk hookup.”

He returns my smile with his own, showing small dimples I didn’t notice before. “I’d like that. How does 6:30 work for you?”

“Works perfect. Can I text you the details of the date later?”

“Of course. Let me give you my number.” We quickly exchange numbers and take photos of each other for the ID. I stare at the picture of Cash, gazing at his handsome face. “I can’t wait for next Friday.”

“I’m already looking forward to it. C’mon. We should get going. We don’t want to be late.”

I bend down and give Saber and Midnight scratches behind their ears, earning my hands licks from both of them. “Hope I get to see you two again soon.”

They both bark and smile and I give them a few more scratches before heading out with Cash. “Do you drive or taxi around?” I ask.

“Drive, but I taxi when I’m too tired to drive. But I feel like driving today. That okay with you?”

“Of course. As long as you don’t mind the drive to Wright Memorial.”

He leads me to an underground garage where I find several very nice cars parked. Cash reaches into his pocket and pulls out a pair of keys. When he clicks it, a powerful engine rev echoes through the garage, scaring me a bit. Looking in the direction of the sound, I find a beautiful and sexy black BMW i9 sitting alone.

Is he serious? “Something wrong?” Cash asks me.

“Um…it’s not like something’s wrong, but…is that your car?”

“What? The BMW? Yeah, it’s mine.”

“Seriously? Dude, that’s like a quarter of a million dollar car.”

“Yeah, I got it as a gift from a really good friend. C’mon. We’re running late already.”

Must be a fucking best friend that would give you their heart if you needed it. Shaking my head, I follow Cash and climb into the black leather interior of the car. “Here’s my favorite part.”

Cash reaches forward and pushes a button on the dashboard. Another loud engine rev fills the garage and dozens of lights illuminate the interior. “Oh that’s fucking sweet,” I say.

Cash laughs and puts the car into first gear. We ease out of the garage and into the downtown Manhattan traffic. As I gaze out the window, I find people stopping and staring at the car as we drive by. “Does this happen a lot?” I ask.

“The staring? Every time I bring this car out. I haven’t had it for very long, but I’m used to people watching it already. Cops sometimes pull me over just because they wanted to get a better look at it. You said Wright Memorial, right?”

Nodding, Cash turns the car in the direction of the hospital. We pull up to the general entrance about fifteen minutes later. Cash puts the car into park and we sit in silence for a minute. “Well, I guess I’ll see you on Friday,” I say.

“Yeah. But um…can I call you later tonight? After we’re both done with work?”

God, he’s so sweet. I take my hand and rest it on top of his. “My schedule is really weird, so it’s pretty inconsistent. But if you call and I miss it, I’ll be sure to call you back as soon as I can.”

He flashes his beautiful smile at me and presses his lips to mine. “Thank you. Now go get that sexy ass of yours in there. I’ll call you later.”

Laughing, I unbuckle my seatbelt and climb out of the car. I give Cash a wave and shut the door and watch as his car drives away. “You got it bad, don’t you?”

Looking down, I find an old woman standing next to me, no more than five feet tall. “You have no idea,” I answer her.

She smiles and pats my arm. “From what I saw, you two are a very cute couple.”

Couple? That word is almost foreign to me. I’ve never dated anyone in my life. Hell, most of my life I’ve been a hookup kind of guy, getting sex when I wanted it and hiding who I really was out of fear of my family finding out. But now that it’s out, dating is a very real possibility for me.

Thanking the woman, I turn and walk into the hospital, greeting nurses and doctors as I pass them. As I turn a corner, I find Liam talking with a fellow doctor, who leaves a second later. Liam notices me and grins. He’s already dressed in his scrubs and lab coat. “Dude, I hope your head hurts as much as mine does,” he says as I walk up to him.

“Nah, I don’t really get hungover. Most I get is a small headache, and I don’t have one right now.”

“Damn you. My head is ringing right now. I would have taken a day off, but I’m a little behind on some of my notes. So I’m suffering through this shit.”

“You just need to learn to push through, Liam. And maybe you shouldn’t have taken that three week vacation with Rebecca. Then you wouldn’t be as behind.”

“Yeah, but it was so worth it. White beaches of Aruba and enough alcohol to last a month. It was awesome.”

“Aw, the poor baby’s vacation ended and now he has to get back to the real world…”

He rolls his eyes at me. “So what’re you up to today?” he asks.

“I’m just making rounds and seeing how my patients are doing. If something big comes in, I’ll need to take care of it. Plus I want to work on my side project.”

“Sounds good. Roman may come in later to take some statements, but other than that I think today might be a pretty chill day.”

“Well I need to go get changed. You go and take some aspirin and don’t stare at the nurses breasts’ too much today.”

“Hey, that only happened six times.”

“And Rebecca remembers every single time she dug the information out of you.”

He lightly punches my shoulder and we exchange a laugh before going our separate ways. I soon am changed into my scrubs and lab coat and find myself at the nurse’s station. “Good morning, Dr. Coleman,” Katie, a young nurse, says as I walk up.

“Good morning, Katie. How’re things?”

“Things are good. Anything new I need to know about?”

Katie reaches over and grabs a large folder full of charts on all my patients. “Hmmm, nothing so far. All the patients are resting comfortably with no complaints. I just did rounds for you about twenty minutes ago and made sure of everything. So far, it seems like today is a pretty good day.”

“Don’t jinx it now. I’d like to keep it that way. Well, seeing as everything is good, I think I’m going to go to the lab for a little while. I’ll have my pager with me so if anything comes up, just let me know and I’ll get here as soon as I can.”

“You got it, Dr. Coleman.”

Thanking Katie, I turn and head to the lab, greeting doctors, nurses, and a few patients as I pass by them. But I’m a man on a mission right now because I want to work on my project as much as possible. I need to finish this. I finally make it to the lab and am grateful to find it empty, nothing but petri dishes, test tubes, and microscopes to keep me company.

I wash my hands and quickly slip on a pair of gloves, goggles, and a face mask and cover my hair. With everything ready, I head for the virology shelves and find the container with my name on it and pull it off the shelf. I head for one of the private laboratories and place the container next to a microscope.

Pulling out a Plexiglas strip, I carefully set it underneath the microscope and take a breath. It’s been about two weeks since I’ve treated this blood sample and now I’m finally going to see how it turned out. I flip on the microscope and put my eye to the lens and adjust the focus.

Slowly, the blood comes into focus and I see what I was afraid of finding. It’s still there. Damn it. Another one bites the dust. I pull away from the microscope and sit back in my chair. That’s the forty-ninth specimen I’ve tried and failed this year so far. I need to get this done. I’m so fucking close to finding a cure I can feel it.

I’ve been working on this since I was 22 years old and it’s been the main focus of my career as a doctor. I proposed the project to my mentor while I was still in medical school and while she was incredible skeptical, she got me all the contacts I needed for this. But nearly four years later, and I’ve come up with nearly nothing.

I slip off my goggles and lower my mask. No sense in keeping it on now that I know there’s no point in keeping the sample safe. I reach into my pocket and pull out my cell phone. I know it goes against hospital policy, but I need to let Dr. Wilmore know about this development in the research.

Tapping the screen, I hold the phone to my ear. “Wilmore speaking,” says a female voice.

“Dr. Wilmore? It’s Jackson Coleman.”

“Ah! Jax! I was hoping I would hear from you soon. How’s the research coming along?”

“We’ve hit another snag, Dr. Wilmore. The attempted vaccine failed to so do any damage.”

Dr. Wilmore’s tongue clicks on the other end of the line. “I was afraid you would say that. What number does that make this one?”

“Number three hundred and forty-seven. Look, I know this has failed time ad time again, but things like this take time.”

“I understand that, Jax. But working by yourself to find a cure for HIV and AIDS is astronomical. Don’t you think you may be pushing yourself too far?”

“Not at all, Dr. Wilmore. I know I can do this. Please don’t pull the finding for this. I’m so close to finding a cure that it isn’t even funny.”

“Now, Jax. You know I support you one hundred percent on this. But the finding isn’t my decision. It’s the board’s. And frankly they aren’t too happy with how this research has gotten nowhere.”

Fucking board. Don’t they know how precious this research is to me? “I understand that. And I really appreciate you sticking out for me, Dr. Wilmore. But if the funding for this project is taken away, there will be four years of great research thrown away.”

“And you’ve done a great deal of help in contributing to HIV and AIDS research, Jax. But the board wants results. And so far, you haven’t given any.”

“Just six more months, please. That’s all I’m asking for. If I don’t find a cure within the next six months, the board can drop the funding for my research. Please, Dr. Wilmore.”

There’s a moment of silence on the other end of the line before she lets out a long breath. “I’ll talk to them, but don’t expect much, Jax. They’ve poured millions into your research. If they don’t get a result soon, your research is done.”

“Thank you, Dr. Wilmore. I’m going to need to order a few more samples of the virus to be shipped here so I can study them and try to develop a new formula.”

“I’ll see to it. You may be hearing from the board soon, Jax. But I’ll try to help you as best I can.”

“Thank you, Dr. Wilmore. I can’t thank you enough for all you’ve done in supporting my research.”

“Just see to it that you find a cure. I need to get back to work myself, Jax. Good luck.”

She hangs up and I slide my phone back into my pocket before taking my container and everything that came in it and throwing it into a biohazard disposal bucket. Washing my hands again, I leave the lab and head to my office, sending a page to Katie letting her know that I’ll be in there.

Walking into my office, I shut the door and turn and face my large white board, the whole surface covered in my notes and formulas. But these notes are of no use to me anymore. I take my eraser and wipe the board clean, watching all of my hard work fade away. With the board clean again, I take my dry erase marker and lean against my desk and stare at the board.

This is a process that I’ve been repeating since I started my research. Staring at the same white board I’ve had for years, thinking through the formulas and chemicals in my head in hopes of trying to figure out a cure. Yes, since I was 22, I’ve been working to find a cure for HIV and AIDS.

I know there have been studies and trials dedicated to this for years. But I want nothing more than to find a cure for the diseases that have scared humanity for decades. So I’ve taken it upon myself to work around the clock to try and discover this cure. I’ve developed countless vaccines and treatments that I’ve tried to eradicate the disease, but none have worked.

They’ve either been too weak to destroy the virus, or too powerful so they start attacking the host as well (rest in peace, my little rat test subjects. You gave your life to science and I’ll never forget any of you). But no matter the result, I need working to get this cure found.

There’s a sudden knock at the door and it breaks my concentration and startles me a bit. “Come in,” I say.

The door opens and I see Liam walking in with two brown bags. “Hey, I figured you’d be in here. I brought refreshments.”

“What for?” I ask, not looking away from the board.

“Uh…dude. It’s 1:00 in the afternoon. It’s time for lunch.”

What? I look up at the clock on my wall and see that Liam’s right. “Guess I got a little distracted.”

“You think? C’mon. Pull up a chair and let’s eat.”

Taking a seat, Liam hands me a brown bag and I smell a delicious smell hit my nose. “Oh, God. You got me pastrami on rye?”

“And that spicy mustard you like so much.”

Thank you, God, for giving me such a great friend. I pull out the sandwich and take a large bite of it. “This is just what I needed,” I say.

“Your research getting you down?”

I nod. “Another failed attempt at a vaccine and the board is breathing down my neck in hopes of getting a result. They’re threatening to pull the funding.”

Liam’s eyebrows rise and he sets down his sandwich. “Are you kidding? That’s fucking bullshit, dude. They don’t even know how much time and energy you’ve spent on your research.”

“Doesn’t matter. They want results, and I haven’t given them anything since I’ve started this study.”

“But you’ve tested dozens of potential vaccines for them and the World Organization of HIV and AIDS, haven’t you? That’s got to be something.”

“It isn’t enough. While we’re winning the fight against HIV and AIDS, a fight we’ve been waging for decades now, a vaccine is what we need to win the battle. But until then, we can only just advise people to be safe with sex and to get tested regularly.”

“Which is why I get tested every three months.”

Looking to the door, Liam and I see Roman standing in the doorway, a brown bag of his own in his hand. “Hey, Roman,” Liam says. “Grab a chair.”

Roman steps into the office and slides his chair over to us. “So what goes on?” he asks, unclipping his gun and setting it on my desk.

Roman is a police officer, and a damn good one. He’s been serving for about five years now and loves it every day, despite public opinion of the police still being not that great. “Jax’s research has gone down the toilet again,” Liam says. “And the board is threatening to can everything he’s done.”

Groaning, Roman takes a large bite of his sandwich. “Assholes. They don’t even know how dedicated you are to this stuff. And if you do find a cure, you’d be the doctor of the past century.”

“But scientists have been looking for a cure for the past three decades,” I say. “And they’ve had teams of dozens. I’m just a single guy working off a whim and a dream. What makes you think I’ll be able to find what they’ve been looking for?”

“We don’t,” Liam says. “But I know you’ll at least be able to make some kind of progress toward finding a cure. Just keep working toward it.”

Nodding a bit, I return to my sandwich. A knock from the door gets my attention and I swallow the food in my mouth. “Come in.”

The door opens and the Chief of Medicine, Dr. Daniel Waters, steps into my office. I set my sandwich down and stand up at seeing him. “Sir,” I say with a nod.

He returns the nod, but I see a bit of a dark look on his face. It’s not angry, but it looks…upset. “Dr. Coleman, may I please have a word with you?” he asks, glancing at Liam and Roman. “In private?”

I look at Liam and Roman, who both grab their food and step outside. Chief Waters closes the door and turns to me. “Would you like something to drink, sir?” I ask. “I have a few bottles of water in my fridge.”

“That won’t be necessary, Dr. Coleman. But I do ask that you take a seat. I have some news that…I’m afraid you won’t like to hear.”

Judging by his tone of voice, I can tell he isn’t kidding. Taking a seat behind my desk, he takes a seat across from me. “Sir, is everything okay?”

Chief Waters takes off his glasses and rubs his eyes. “No, Dr. Coleman. Everything isn’t okay. I just got a call from the New York State Board. And…and I’m afraid the call wasn’t good.”

“Are you okay, sir?”

“It doesn’t involve me, Jackson.” Hearing him call me by my first name tells me that this is dead serious. “It’s a matter that concerns you. More specifically, it involves your medical license.”

I feel goose bumps break out all over my skin. “W-What do you mean, sir?”

“Jackson, the board told me that your license has been revoked for unknown reasons.”

What? My license is…gone? “Sir…?” I breathe out.

“I’m just as confused as you are, son. There’s never been a reason for you to lose your license. You’ve done everything by the book since you’ve come here, you’re a brilliant surgeon with a 100% success rate, and dammit you’ve helped this hospital become one of the best in the country since we hired you three years ago.

“I tried to get the board to tell me why, I really did. But they wouldn’t give me a reason. They just said your license is defunct and you can’t practice medicine in the state of New York anymore.”

This isn’t happening. This can’t fucking be happening. I-I must be asleep. Why the fuck am I not waking up?! “I’m so sorry, son,” Chief Waters says. “But…I can’t have a doctor performing surgery without a license. The hospital would go down the shithole if people were to get word of that.

“So…I’m sorry to have to tell you, Jackson, but I’m going to have to let you go…”

Let me go? “Y-You’re firing me?”

“I have no choice, son. If anyone knows the tricks of the trade, it’s you. And you know that if I kept you here on my staff, the board would have mine and everyone else’s asses. But you’re too damn good of a surgeon to lose, so I’m going to get to the bottom of this. I know the board didn’t make this decision on their own. Someone on the outside got in and forced them to make that decision.”

Someone on the outside. I only know one person who could have that much influence over the board. And it’s the very same person who got me through medical school so quickly. My fist tightens at the thought. “Jackson?”

Chief Waters’ voice gets my attention and I look up at him. “I know you’re probably upset. I know I’d be furious. But…I’m sorry I’m the one who has to say this to you…but I’m going to have to ask you to pack up your belongings.”

No…please no. “I’ll give you to the end of the day to leave. For what it’s worth, Jackson, you were the best damn surgeon I’ve every seen in my life. If you get your license back, we’ll always have a position open for a man of your caliber. I wish you the best, son.”

He gives my shoulder a soft pat before turning and walking toward the door. He steps out and I’m left staring at my desk, my head in my hands. “Jax? What’s going on?”

Glancing up a bit, I find Liam and Roman back in the room. I try to open my mouth to answer, but no words come out. “Jax, just calm down a bit,” Liam says, stepping over to me. “Breathe. What the hell did Chief Waters tell you?”

Liam helps me sit up, but my eyes are still focused on what used to be my desk. “I…I just lost my license…” I barely say.

I hear Liam suck in a sharp breath. “You lost your driver’s license?” Roman innocently asks. “Dude, don’t worry about that. I can help you file an appeal to…”

“No, Roman,” Liam interrupts. “He lost his fucking medical license. Without a medical license, a doctor can’t work. Jax is saying he just lost his job.”

Roman’s mouth drops open. “How in the fuck did he lose his license?!” Roman’s voice roars. “He’s the best fucking surgeon on the East Coast!”

I push my seat back and walk over to my bookcase and I start taking my stuff off the shelves. “I need to pack up my stuff,” I say, not looking over at my friends. “I need to get all my stuff out of here by the end of the day.”

“Jax, you can’t be serious,” Liam says. “You’re not even going to put up a fight for this? You love your job!”

“I know I do. But there’s nothing I can do.”

“You can file an appeal!” Liam says. “They can’t fucking do this without a reason!”

“What about all your research?” Roman says. “That’s all going to go to waste if you let this happen.”

God, all those years of working in the lab, trying to find a cure for something I’m passionate about. All down the fucking toilet. I have my notes and I can give them to other scientists and doctors who are trying to find a cure too. But who the hell would take notes from a 25 year old doctor who just lost his medical license?

I set my books filled with my notes on the desk. Hell, they were pretty much the only thing in this office that was really mine. With all my books in a pile, I slip off my lab coat and gaze at the name stitched in it. Dr. Jackson Coleman, M.D. Taking the lab coat, I drape it over the chair and grab my books.

Tucking the books under my arm, I turn and head for the door. “Jax, you can’t let this happen,” Liam says. “There’s got to be something for you to do.”

“What you come up with something, could you do me a favor and let me know? If either of you need me, you know where to find me.”

Before either of them say anything, I turn and walk out the door, letting it close behind me. I turn and head for the elevator, riding down to the ground floor and walking out the front door. Walking to the street, I quickly hail a cab and climb in the back seat. “Walsh Apartments on 67th Street,” I tell the cabbie.

We drive through the midday traffic and I watch the streets go by me. So I’ve lost my job, the only job I’ve ever had. What the hell am I going to do now? Being a doctor is the only professional job I’ve ever learned how to do. And now…nothing. “Sir? We’ve arrived.”

Looking out the window, I find my apartment building staring down at me. Reaching for my wallet, I pay the driver and hop out and walk in my building. Riding up to my floor, I get to my apartment and step inside. I immediately find Shadow sitting on my kitchen table, eating the plant that’s sitting in the middle of the table.

He hears me walk in and looks over at me, a leaf from the plant still in his mouth. “I knew you were eating my plant!” I say, tossing my books on the couch and rushing for the table.

I shoo Shadow off the table and check my plant. It isn’t too bad, but I find bites on a few different leaves. “You don’t feel guilty about this at all, do you?” I ask.

He just stares at me from the floor. Figures. I bent down and scoop him up with a meow and cradle him in my arm, waving my finger in front of his face. He playfully swats at it before grabbing it and putting it in his mouth, nibbling on it. “Well, it looks like I lost my job today,” I say to no one in particular.

I take Shadow and walk to my bedroom, climbing onto my bed and laying Shadow on my chest, my finger still in his mouth. “Don’t worry, buddy. I’ve got enough money saved up to last us a little. But…I don’t know what to do…”

I stare up at my ceiling, thoughts racing through my head. Does Dad really hate me enough to take one of the things that meant the most from me? But after what happened a few days ago, I wouldn’t put it past him. I just have to face it: I’m unemployed, and it’s all because of my dad.


The sound of my front door pounding rouses me from my nap. Slowly opening my eyes, I find Shadow still asleep on my chest and my finger coated in cat spit (gross). I pick him up and set him down, him not waking up in the slightest, and I rub the sleep from my eyes. The pounding continues as I stand up.

Jesus Christ, there better be a fucking dead body in the hallway and somebody needs help. I step out of my bedroom and walk to the front door. I don’t even bother to look out the peephole as I unlock the door and pull it open. Standing out in the hallway with his suit jacket draped over his arm and a worried look on his face, is Cash.

What the hell? “Cash?”

He doesn’t respond as he grabs me and pulls me into a hug. Even though I just met the guy yesterday, the feeling of being pulled into his chest is soothing. “I got really worried when I tried calling you and you didn’t pick up,” he says, gripping me a little tighter. “Then I got a call from Liam at work and…”

I manage to wiggle out of his arms. “Wait, Liam called you? How did he get your number?”

“He called my father’s law firm and I was there at the time so I managed to get in touch with him. He told me what happened, gave me your address, and I came here as soon as I could. Jesus, I’m just glad you’re okay…”

He really came all the way here just for me? I always told myself that if there was a guy that would come to me when I was feeling upset, grab that man and never let go of him. And that’s just what I do. I grip Cash by the arms and pull him into a kiss, feeling the wonderful sensation of his lips against mine.

Pulling him into the apartment, I kick the door closed and hug Cash tightly before ending the kiss. “I’m really glad you’re here,” I quietly say.

Cash gives me a smile and traces his thumb over my cheek. “For you, I would have run here.”


Looking down, I find Shadow sitting next to my leg, staring up at Cash with suspicious eyes. “Oh, it looks like you’ve woken up,” I say to him before grabbing him and resting him on my shoulder. “Cash, this is my cat Shadow. Shadow, this is Cash. He’s my…uh…right now let’s call him my friend that I had sex with last night.”

Cash laughs and looks down at Shadow. “He’s a beautiful cat. How does he have red eyes?”

“The vet told me he has a rare birth defect and that’s made his eyes red. But it doesn’t affect his vision at all. Now, Shadow, be nice to Cash. He’s a guest.”

Shadow stares at Cash, his eyes not moving off him and not blinking. But Cash returns Shadow’s gaze, not looking away from my cat. Shadow ends the staring game by blinking three times and looking away. “He’s cute,” Cash says.

“He’s a dick sometimes, but I love him.” I set Shadow down and he walks over to the couch, climbing up and curling into a ball. “You want something to drink? I have water, soda, a couple beers, iced tea…”

“A water would be nice. I’d have a beer, but I drove over here.”

“Got it. Make yourself at home.”

I walk into the kitchen and grab two bottles of water from the fridge and head back to Cash, who’s taken a seat next to a now asleep Shadow. I plop down next to him and hand him his water. “So how’d your case go today?” I ask.

“Jesus, I thought I was going to crap myself when I stood in front of the jury. But I think it went good. I presented my case against the defendant and drilled a few witnesses. How it’s going so far, I’m sure the jury will have a verdict by the end of next week. How was your work?”

I had almost pushed all of that to the back of my head. “I lost my job today.”

He looks at me with a raised eyebrow. “What?”

“The board of medicine revoked my medical license, so now I can’t be a doctor until I get it back.”

“Well, you don’t seem too broken up about it.”

“Trust me, I was devastated when I got the new from my chief. That research project I told you about? Everything I’ve worked so hard for is gone. All I have left are my notes, not that it matters.”

I let out a breath and feel Cash wrap his arm around my neck and bringing my head onto his shoulder, running his fingers through my hair. “I’m sorry, Jax. I may have only met you yesterday, but I could tell you really love your job.”

The gesture is soft and comforting and I settle into his shoulder. “Thanks. But now I guess I’ve got to find another job.”

A sudden ring fills the room and I find it coming from my pants. Looking down, I find my hospital pager still attached to my belt. “Ah shit. I forgot to give my pager back when I left today.”

“Hey, I can bring you back to the hospital so you can drop it off.”

“No, I can’t bother with something like this.”

“Trust me, I don’t mind. Plus…I kind of parked next to a red curb, so I need to move my car. Plus I saw how you looked at my car this morning. I know you want to take another ride in it.”

Is it that obvious? I try to keep a straight face, but the look on Cash’s face causes me to laugh. “There’s the Jax I know,” he says. “Go on and grab a jacket and we’ll head over there.”

Heading to my bedroom, I grab one of my jackets from my closet and slip it on. As I’m about to walk back into the living room, I spy a metal box sitting underneath my nightstand. Even though I know I should just turn and walk away from the box, something pulls me toward it.

Kneeling in front of the box, I pull the key I always carry with me out of my pocket and unlock the box. I slowly open it and find Misery sitting in the box, along with her twin brother, Agony, both of them custom made .50 Desert Eagles. I’ve had these guns since I was 21, and I’ve made sure they stay in pristine condition. And they have.

Not a scratch or mark on them, ‘Misery’ and ‘Agony’ beautifully carved into the barrels. I’ve only fired them a handful of times at gun ranges. Just something about these two has made me feel better, even though I’m not really a fan of guns. Which makes me wonder why I had them made in the first place.

I’m about to close the box when something stops me. A small voice in my ear almost whispers ‘take them.’ But…why would I need to take them? I’ve never once wanted to take these things out of my apartment and not to a gun range. So…why now?

Reaching forward, I grip the handles of Misery and Agony and pull them out of their case, the cold metal sending a chill down my spine. But I feel my heart race as I feel them in my hands. I don’t think I get a sense of power from them, but rather a sense of security.

Against my better judgment, I slide both guns into my waistband and grab a jacket, concealing both guns behind me. Walking back out of my bedroom, I find Cash standing in the living room, having a staring contest with Shadow. “Did I miss something important?” I ask.

“Not really,” Cash says, not looking away from my cat. “Just spending some quality time with Shadow.” He breaks eye contact and walks over to me. “Ready to go?”

Nodding, we turn and head out. We get to the ground floor to find a small crowd of people mulling around Cash’s car. Cash stops us and reaches into his pocket, pulling out his keys. “I always love doing this,” he says.

He presses a button on the remote and the car roars to life, causing everyone around it to jump. I can’t help but chuckle at the sight. Stepping past the crowd, we climb into the car and head off to the hospital. For a few minutes, we sit in silence, listening only to the soft music coming from the radio.

A soft breath escapes Cash. “So you’re really not upset that you lost your job?”

I gaze out the window and watch the streets go by. “Being a doctor is all I really know how to do and it’s all I’ve ever wanted to do. And now that I can’t even do that, I don’t know what I feel right now.”

Cash doesn’t say another thing as we continue to drive. And I don’t blame him. There’s nothing really to say at this point. We eventually get to the hospital and Cash quickly finds a parking spot out front. Climbing out, he follows behind me as we walk inside.

I spy Katie at the front desk working on a few notes as I walk in. Hearing me, she looks over and I see her eyes widen. “Dr. Coleman,” she says, standing up. “What’re you doing here?”

“Hi, Katie.” Reaching for my belt, I unhook my pager. “I forgot to leave my pager behind when I left earlier. I just wanted to return it to the chief.”


I can hear the disappointment in her voice. I’ve worked with her for nearly two years now and she’s always been a great help. “He’s in his office,” she says. “Do you want me to take it to him?”

“If it’s alright with you, I’d like to take it to him myself. It’ll give me the opportunity to say goodbye.”

“Well, it’ll break hospital procedure, but I’ll look the other way this time as a favor. But your…” She looks over at Cash and her eyes widen even more than before. “Oh my…”

“Same reaction I had when I saw him the first time. Katie, this is Cash. He and I are…kind of going out now.”

She shakes her head out and extends her hand to Cash. “N-Nice to meet you.” Cash smiles and shakes her hand. “Goddamn, Dr. Coleman. How’d you find such a fine specimen?”

I laugh a bit. “He’s the one that found me actually. How about you talk while I go and drop off my pager?”

But Katie’s already lost interest in me and is ogling Cash, who is just smiling. I turn and walk away from the two of them and quickly get to the elevators. Riding up to the fifth floor, I step out of the elevator and head in the direction of Chief Wasters’ office.

As I approach the door, I hear the sounds of muffled yelling from the other side? Is that Chief Waters? Stopping in front of the door, I can’t clearly make out what he’s saying. But the sound of something slamming down makes me jump bit. Then silence. Taking a moment to collect myself, I rap my knuckles against the door.

After another moment of silence. “What?”

Taking the handle, I slowly open the door and find Chief Waters sitting at his desk, papers strewn everywhere, not even close to it’s usual pristine condition. And Waters isn’t much better. His hair is mused and his shirt and tie are out of sorts. “Um…Chief?” I slowly say.

He looks up to find me standing there. “The timing could not be worse, Jackson,” he tiredly says.

“Sorry. I…just came back to drop my pager off. I forgot to leave it behind earlier.”

He remains still for a few beats before nodding. Walking to the desk, I set my pager down and shift self-consciously. “Well, if that’s…” I start.

“You heard some of that phone call, didn’t you?”

Crap. “Um…yes, sir.”

He lets out a deep breath before standing up. “I was on the phone with the board. I was demanding they give me at least an explanation as to why they revoked your license. But I couldn’t get shit out of any of them.”

“Sir, it’s okay.”

He slams a fist down on his desk. “It’s not fucking okay, Jackson! That fucking board cost me one of the best damn doctors in the country and I’m not letting you go without a fight!”

I don’t think I’ve ever seen Chief this angry before. “Sir, please just calm down,” I say, holding my hands up. “I’m just as disappointed as you are, sir. But right now, there’s nothing we can do. We just have to settle for what it is right now. I plan on filing an appeal to try and get my license back, but it’ll take some time for that to process.

“So for now, I just need to find another job and hope this all sorts itself out.”

Chief runs his hands over his face in exasperation. “I really wish I could do more for you, Jackson. You’re too damn good of a doctor to let go. I sweat to you I’ll get to the bottom of this no matter what.”

Hearing how much this man cares about me brings a smile to my face. “Thank you, sir.”

He walks around the desk and pats my shoulder. “Thanks for bringing back your pager. I’ll walk you back down.”

We leave his office and get to the elevator. “So what’re you going to do now?” he asks me as he presses the button for the ground floor.

“I’m not really sure at this moment, sir. I’m going to need a job to pay my rent and eat. I just don’t know where I can get one.”

“You never know, Jackson. Sometimes opportunities fall right out of the sky.”

Yeah right. We reach the ground floor and the elevator door opens. Walking down the hallway, we find a scene in the main lobby that I never expected to see. Standing in the middle of the lobby is a man in his late 30’s who looks like he’s seen better days. Most likely homeless and addicted to some form of drug.

Wrapped around his arm is Katie, who looks like she’s terrified beyond belief. And for good reason. In the man’s hand is a very sharp knife, resting close to Katie’s neck. Cash and everyone else in the lobby are kneeling on the floor, probably at the orders of the man.

Facing the other direction, the man doesn’t seem to have noticed either me or Chief. I grab Chief and quickly push him and myself behind a corner and out of any line of sight of the man. “Oh my God, oh my God,” Chief nervously whispers.

“Sir, please just calm down.”

“Jackson! There’s a deranged lunatic that’s holding one of my nurses hostage! How can I calm down?!”

“Sir, please just go and call the police. That’s the best thing we can do now.”

Chief looks past and gets another look at the man before ducking behind cover again. “But what’re you going to do?” he quietly asks me.

Leaning against the wall, I feel something in the back of my pants press against my lower back. Reaching behind me, I feel the handles of Misery and Agony. Taking a breath, I grab one of them and pull it out of my pants. Chief sucks a breath at seeing Misery in my hand. “J-Jackson, why do you have that?”

“I forget I left my guns in my pants. Now, sir? Go to a back room and send out a page to everyone in this hospital to let them know of the situation. Then call the police. I’ll handle this.”

“But, Jackson…”

I shoot him a look and he stops right there. Nodding a bit, he turns and quickly and quietly rushes down the hall, ducking into a room. I look around the corner again and quickly assess the situation. About two dozen people in the waiting room. The crazy guy, Katie, Cash, a handful of doctors and nurses and a little over a dozen others.

I take a deep breath and look down at Misery. “I know I’ve never used you before in a situation like this,” I quietly say to her. “But there are people I care about out there that may get hurt if we don’t do something. All I ask is that you help me with this. I don’t want anyone to die. I just want this to end.”

Switching off Misery’s safety, I slide her back into my pants and hold my hands above my head. What the fucking fuck am I doing? I slowly step out from behind the corner and the man hears me. “Who the fuck are you?!” he slurs, saliva flying out of his mouth.

“Sir, please just calm down. My name is Jackson Coleman. I’m a former doctor here. The woman you’re holding is a dear friend of mine, Katie.”

The man glances down at the shaking Katie before looking back at me. “Look here, I just want to get some pain meds. I don’t want to hurt nobody. But I swear to God, if any of you try anything, I’ll cut this girl’s throat open!”

Katie makes a strangled noise and I can tell she’s terrified. In the distance, I can hear faint sirens. And unfortunately, the man does too. “Who the fuck called the cops?! Christ, this wasn’t supposed to happen!”

Shit, he’s getting more agitated. This is going to make the situation much worse. Out the front door, I see police cruisers coming to a stop and officers piling out, guns drawn. The man turns toward the doors, gripping Katie even tighter. “Goddamn it!”

The man pulls Katie further away from the front door. I have to do something before someone gets hurt. “This is the police!” a booming voice says from outside. “We don’t want to hurt you! Come out with your hands up!”

“Fuck you! I ain’t leaving!”

Foam pools at the corner of the man’s mouth and his eyes are even crazier than they were a minute ago. This lunatic will kill someone before the police can even do a thing. I look back at him and Katie, Katie looking like she’s struggling to get free. Then it hits me. “Katie? Katie, look at me.”

She opens her eyes after a moment and I see complete fear in them. “Katie, I need to you to calm down for a moment.”

“Hey, shut the fuck up!” the man snarls at me. “This bitch is my leverage!”

Katie quietly shrieks. “Katie, do you remember what you and I were talking about last week? That young girl who came in here after she jumped off a swing and landed wrong?”

She takes a few frantic breaths. “H-Hyperextension of the…”

I see the light bulb light up above her head. With her knowing what I’m taking about and me knowing that she’s recently been taking self-defense classes, I just hope this goes off without a hitch. Taking a glance at the man, I wait for just the right moment.

The man look back toward the door and I see the knife in his hand loosen in the slightest. “Now!”

Katie brings up her foot and rams it behind her. It connects with the man’s knee, pushing it backward. The man yells in pain and his grip loosens on Katie. With little effort, she writhes out of his arm. But the man doesn’t go down as I had planned. Shit! Whatever drug he’s on must have dulled his pain receptors.

The man’s teeth grind together and he brings his knife up. Not willing to take another chance, I reach behind me and grab Misery. I move even before I know it and don’t even feel myself take aim at the man. My finger squeezes the trigger and an ear-shattering boom echoes through the waiting room.

A small trail of gun smoke eases out of Misery’s barrel and I take a look at the man. Right in the middle of his shoulder is a hole the size of a half-dollar. And even from a good fifteen feet away, I can see through the man’s shoulder. There’s dead silence for about half a second before the man falls to the ground.

The knife skitters across the linoleum floor and I see the first signs of blood pour out of the man’s shoulders. Reacting out of instinct, I rush to the man and pull off my jacket. Pressing it to his shoulder, I see the man slowly regain consciousness. “T-That’s some gun you have…”

“Just be glad I didn’t aim for your head or you wouldn’t be saying those words.”

The doors burst open and I see SWAT officers storm into the waiting room. They start pulling people out of the hospital before securing the man. “Who shot this man?” one of the officers asks.

“I did,” I say. “He was about to stab a nurse and I took a shot at him.”

“Where’s the gun you shot the man with?”

Reaching behind me, I pull Misery out of my pants and hand it to the officer, whose eyes widen at the sight of her. “Jesus, a .50 Desert Eagle. Is it licensed in your name?”

“Along with her twin.”

I pull Agony out as well and hand it to the officer. “You’re packing, man. Damn, I don’t think I’ve ever even seen handguns like this.”

“They’re custom made. And I like to take care of them.”

“Obviously. But I’m going to need a copy of the licenses for both of these guns.”

Nodding in understanding, the officer leads me outside, where two paramedics take me over to an awaiting ambulance. “I’m really fine,” I say.

“It’s just a precaution, sir,” one of them says. “To make sure you don’t have any injuries. Don’t worry, it shouldn’t take more than five minutes.”

They quickly check my blood pressure and pulse and let me go on my way. As I step out of the ambulance, I find several news crews already reporting on the story and a lot of police officers. “Jax!”

Liam pushes past a couple people and runs up to me, white as a sheet. “What the fuck happened? I was in my office when I heard a gunshot and the fucking SWAT team busted down my door a few minutes later.”

“Some fucked up homeless guy came into the hospital looking for drugs and took Katie hostage for a bit. I forgot I left my guns in my pants and shot him when he tried to grab Katie again.”

“Is he…?”

“No, I shot him in the shoulder. He should be fine.”

Liam lets out a breath. As we stand in silence, I see Cash looking around frantically. “Cash!”

Hearing me, he turns and rushes to me, coming to a stop just a few feet away. “Are you…?” I start to ask.

My question is cut off by a firm hug. “I want to scream at you for doing that fucking stupid,” Cash breathes into my neck. “But I’m too happy seeing you okay to do that.”

I reach around him and press my fingertips into his strong shoulders, feeling myself shake as I do so. “I…I’ve never shot someone before,” I admit. “It’s not like in the movies where it’s one shot and done. You feel yourself shooting someone even after you do it. But…it felt…almost natural.”

Cash slowly pulls away from me and holds me by the shoulders. “What do you mean?”

“Pulling the trigger on that man. I didn’t hesitate to do it. I just…did it. Maybe it was because I knew I had to do it or someone would’ve gotten hurt, I don’t know.”

Cash stares intently at me for a moment, his golden eyes not blinking. He suddenly reaches down and grabs my wrist. “Come with me,” he says, not asking.

He leads me away from the crowd. “Cash, I need to give my statement!” I say as I protest.

“Don’t worry. I have some people that will take care of it.”

People? Cash leads me to his car and we both climb in. He pulls away from the curb, driving over the sidewalk before taking off down the street. “Cash, please tell me where we’re going!” I say as I grab onto the oh-shit bar for dear life.

“I’m taking you to my parents’ house,” he says, not taking his eyes off the road. “There’s something I need to show you.”

His parents? I think my stomach just fell out of the car. And it’s not because Cash is driving like a bat out of hell. How the hell is no one pulling him over? We’ve driven through at least three red lights and I’m pretty sure he’s doing at least fifty in the city. And yet he’s driving expertly, not even clipping another car.

I remain silent at Cash drives us out of the city and drive onto I-95N. Time slowly passes as Cash drives north. After a while, we pass the Connecticut border and we pull into a quiet and peaceful town. “Welcome to Greenwich, Connecticut,” Cash says.

And I thought Scarsdale was upscale. This place screams affluence. Small businesses line the clean and paved streets, looking historic and new at the same time. Cash turns his car down a private road, coming to a stop at a large stone and metal gate. Two people step out of the security booth, both of them holding…M16’s?

One of the guys taps on Cash’s window. “Sir, this is private property. Please state your business.”

Cash rolls down his window and stares at the man, who bristles at the sight of Cash and stands upright. “I-I apologize, sir,” he stammers. “I didn’t recognize your new car, which is very nice by the way.”

“It’s fine, Oscar,” Cash says. “I have a guest with me today. Could you please open the gate? I have some business I need to attend to.”

“Yes sir!”

Oscar salutes and he and his friend rush into the booth and the gate slowly starts to open. “Cash, what’s going on?”

“You’ll see in a second.”

And sure enough, Cash leads his car along a cobblestone pathway to a very large mansion. Tan stone, dozens of windows, and a fountain cherry on top. Cash pulls his car around the fountain the parks it in front of the large wooden front door and stone steps.

Shutting off the car, Cash climbs out and I follow behind him. “Oh here.” Cash reaches behind him and pulls out two guns. It’s takes me a second before I realize it’s Misery and Agony. “I managed to get them from the police before we left.”

“How?” I ask, taking back my guns and welcoming the feeling of having them back with me. “I thought they needed to analyze them.”

“They wrote down the serial numbers and took some pictures of them when I asked them to. It’s good to have connections. Now come on. Dinner should be on the table soon.”

Dinner? Cash leads me up the front steps and opens the front door. “Anybody home?” Cash calls out.

“Is that you, Cashel?” a female voice calls back.

Footsteps echo and at the end of the long entranceway, a woman comes out from behind a corner. She beams when she sees us standing there. “Cashel! I thought you said you weren’t going to be here until tomorrow.”

She walks over to us and Cash bends down and gives the woman a hug. “Sorry for no notice, Mom. Some things came up.”

So this is Cash’s mother. She looks to be in her early fifties with a bit of plump on her and a healthy glow around her face. But the thing I notice is that she has Cash’s smile. “Oh who’s this?” she says, looking up at me. “A friend from work?”

“No, Mom. This is Jackson Coleman. He’s…my boyfriend.”

After a moment, Cash’s mother lets out a squeal and pulls me into a hug with strength I didn’t know was possible from a woman of her size. “Oh, it’s so nice to finally meet one of Cashel’s boyfriends! And a very handsome one at that!”

She lets go of me and I finally get some air back into my lungs. “Oh, where are my manners? I’m Cashel’s mother, but you can call me Lisa.”

“Um…nice to meet you, Lisa…” I say.

She smiles at me. “I bet you two are hungry after the drive from New York. Come and take a seat. Dinner will be ready in about thirty minutes.”

She turns and we follow her further into the mansion. As we round the corner where she came from, the smell of cooking meat fills my nose. “Pork loin?” I think out loud.

“Why yes,” Lisa says. “You have quite the nose. My kids and husband couldn’t tell beef from chicken if it bit them in the ass.”

Cash rolls his eyes. “My mother loves cooking,” I say. “I spent a lot of my free time with her in the kitchen when I was younger and I just developed a nose for food.”

We walk into the kitchen and I see about half a dozen chefs hustling and bustling around. “Sorry about the noise,” Lisa says. “They always focus so much on cooking that they don’t realize how much noise they’re making.”

Lisa leads us to a table and sits us down. “So how long has this been going on?” she asks, her eyes almost sparkling in eagerness.

“Um…” Cash glances over to me. “Two days.”

Lisa’s perfectly maintained eyebrows perk up a bit. “Let me guess. You two had a drunken night together?”

My face feels a lot warmer than it did a minute ago. Cash and I immediately find our laps a lot more exciting than the conversation we’re having. “Cashel, there’s nothing wrong with that,” Lisa says. “That’s how your aunt and uncle met twenty-four years ago.”

“Please don’t make me think of Uncle Paul and Aunt Jennie having a drunk hookup, Mom,” Cash groans.

“Either way, as long as you two are happy.”

“Mom, I’m home!” a voice echoes through the house. Mansion. I don’t know what to call it.

“In the kitchen!” Lisa calls back.

Looking to where the voice came from, I see a young woman in her early twenties walk around the corner. She looks to be a couple of years younger than me with bright brown hair, a slim and athletic figure, and she looks…exhausted. “Long day, princess?” Lisa says as she stands up.

“Long week is more like it. I’m just glad to have a couple of days off from school.” The young woman hugs Lisa and looks over to me and Cash, tilting her head slightly at the sight of us. “I didn’t know we were having a guest.”

“Amy, this is Jackson,” Lisa says sweetly. “He’s Cashel’s boyfriend.”

Amy gazes at me before walking over to the table and taking a seat next to me, still staring intently at me. “So tell me one thing,” she says. “How did my brother manage to snag such a hot piece of ass like you?”

Cash sucks in a sharp breath from behind me while Lisa lets out a small giggle. “Amy!” Cash snaps.

“Ignore him,” Amy says. “I always do.”

Cash reaches past me and flicks Amy’s short light brown hair. “Be nice, you two,” Lisa says. “We have a guest.”

“Yes ma’am,” the siblings obediently say.

“I’m Jackson,” I say to Amy. “But everyone calls me Jax.”

“Oh a gentleman,” Amy says. “I like you. Still don’t know what you saw in my older brother though.”

Cash mutters something behind me that sounds something like a curse. The sound of the front door closing gets our attention and out from behind the corner walk two men, one in his late twenties, the other looking to be in his early fifties, both dressed in very expensive looking suits.

The younger of the two looks very similar to Lisa with the same blonde hair and green eyes. But the older man looks like an older version of Cash, with greying light brown hair and the same gold eyes. Both have very fit builds, the older man the stockier of the two. “Hi, honey,” Lisa says as she turns around.

The older man smiles and walks up to Lisa, bending down and giving her a kiss on the cheek. Lisa moves to the younger man, who gives her a hug. “How was your day?” Lisa asks.

“Tiring,” the younger man says as he unbuttons his suit jacket. “I was buried up to my neck in case files.”

“At least you weren’t dealing with meetings all day,” the older man says. “That is the last time I work on a Saturday again.”

Lisa leads the two to the table and both take notice of me. “I didn’t know we were having a guest,” the older man says, giving me a smile.

“Dad, Victor, this is Jackson,” Cash says. “He’s my boyfriend.”

I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of hearing him say that. Cash’s father and the younger man, Victor, both give me wide smiles. “And I thought Amy brought home another guy to piss off Dad again,” Victor says. He walks around the table and extends his hand to me. “I’m Victor, Cash’s older brother. And I’m surprised you managed to charm my brother. He’s not the easiest guy to date.”

I give Victor’s hand a firm shake and feel Cash glaring at him behind me. “You’re lucky I don’t have one of my knifes on me or I would’ve thrown it at you by now.”

Wait, knives? “No knife throwing in the house,” Lisa says. “I don’t want to get another wall redone.”

Cash and Victor share a laugh while Cash’s father rounds the table, extending his hand in a similar fashion to Victor. “I’m Cash’s father, but you can call me Kent.”

His voice is deep and foreboding, but has a small hint of welcome to it. I take his hand and he gives me a very firm shake. “Is dinner almost ready?” Victor asks.

“It should be ready soon,” Lisa says. “I asked the chefs that once everyone was in the oven or cooling on the counter to head on home. You all go get changed while I check on everything. Jackson, please make yourself at home.”

Lisa heads into the kitchen while Kent, Victor, and Amy go and get changed. “I’ll be back in a few minutes,” Cash says to me. “Then I’ll explain why I brought you here.”

He kisses the side of my head and goes off to change. Feeling a buzz in my pocket, I pull out my phone to find a text from Roman on the screen.

‘Where the hell are you? I came by the hospital after what happened and Liam told me you were nowhere to be found.’

I quickly type out a reply.

‘Sorry. I’m in Connecticut with Cash. He brought me to meet his family for some reason.’

There’s no reply for a minute.

‘Jax, didn’t you just meet Cash yesterday? And he’s already bringing you to meet his family? I mean he seems like a great guy, but things are moving pretty fast in my opinion.’

‘I’ve thought that a few times too. But whenever I see him, my knees go weak and he makes me feel like I’m the most important guy in the world.’

‘Hmmm. Sounds like how I was when I first met Zach. Well, you’re a grown man, so I can’t tell you what to do. All I can do is root for you and tell you to be careful.’

‘Thanks, Roman. I think I’ll be back either tomorrow or Monday. I’ll keep you informed. And could you do me a favor and tell everyone else that I’m okay?’

‘Sure thing. Good luck with the ‘rents.’

Sliding my phone back into my pocket, I jump back a bit when I find Lisa sitting across from me, her head perched on top of her hands. “Sorry about that,” I say. “My friend was texting me wondering where I was.”

“Oh it’s okay. I just sat down. Shouldn’t you let your parents know where you are? They may be worried.”

A sinking feeling fills my stomach and I try my best to not let it show, but my body fails me. “It’s not like they’ll care,” I admit. “My father practically disowned me a few days ago when I told them I was gay and my brothers called me disgusting and accused me of molesting my nephew.”

I let out a small sad sigh at remembering a few nights ago. Lisa reaches across the table and rests her hand on my arm, giving it a small squeeze. “No one should ever treat his or her child or sibling like that,” she says. “I’m sorry to hear about what you went through.”

“It’s okay.”

“No it isn’t.”

Looking up, I find Cash walking into the room in a clean t-shit and some jeans. He walks over to the table and takes a seat next to me. “Being honest here, Jax, what your family did was stupid. And it’s their loss.”

He leans over and kisses my cheek, making me blush and a smile to split my face. “Thanks, Cash,” I say.

“Aw, aren’t you two sweet,” Lisa says. She looks over to a clock on the wall and stands up. “Dinner should be just about ready. Jackson, will you be staying for dinner?”

Looking over to Cash, he gives me a smile. “I’d like that if it isn’t too much trouble.”

“Nonsense! We love having guests! I’ll just set up an extra place for you at the table.”

Cash stands up to help his mother set the table. Cash’s siblings and father reenter the room after a few minutes, taking seats at the table as Lisa and Cash set down steaming plates of food before sitting themselves. “So,” I awkwardly say, “do you guys often have family dinners?”

“Every week,” Amy says. “I come down from Yale to spend the weekend at home and Victor and Cash come up from Manhattan. Even if it’s just for the night, we enjoy it.”

“So what do you do, Victor?”

“I’m a prosecutor for our dad’s law firm,” he says. “Well, technically I’m a partner with the firm, but I could never stay away from the court room. It’s always so much fun in there. But now that Cash has passed his Bar, I can hand the reins over to him so I can start to learn how to run the firm.”

“Don’t get your hopes up quite yet, son,” Kent says, taking a large bite of pork with a smirk on his face. “I’ve still got a lot of kick left in me, so don’t expect me to step down quite yet.”

Victor rolls his eyes, but smiles. “Yes, sir.”

“So Jackson,” Kent says. “What do you do for a living?”

“I’m a trauma surgeon at Wright Memorial Hospital.”

“Oh I heard about that hospital on my drive here,” Amy says. “Something about a guy taking people hostage?”

“Something like that,” I say. “I wasn’t really anywhere near it.”

Before Cash can say anything, I shoot him a look. He stares at me for a moment before going back to his food. “A trauma surgeon,” Kent says. “You seem pretty young to be one.”

“I finished medical school in less than two years and wasn’t required to go through the internship program because I was called better than most veteran doctors.”

“Impressive. But do you enjoy what you do? I figure something like a trauma surgeon would leave you with a few stories.”

“There have been a few. But…right now I’m out of a job.” Silence falls over the table as everyone looks at me. “The New York Board of Medicine suspended my medical license without any explanation.”

“It’s total bullshit,” Cash says. “I know Jax is a great doctor and I don’t even know why anyone would suspend him from practicing medicine. And did you have some big project you were working on?”

“Yeah. Almost four years of work down the drain in the span of five minutes.”

“What kind of work?” Lisa asks.

“I was working in the field of virology, but that’s all I’d like to say about it. What I was working on is top secret. I still have my notes and test files, but I have nowhere to work and I can’t work even if I wanted to. So I’m going to need to find a new job somewhere until I can get my license reinstated.”

Looking up, I find Cash staring intently at his father, who is staring right back. The two seem to be locked in silent conversation. Kent looks away after a minute and stares at me. As he opens his mouth to say something, the back door suddenly explodes into a shower of glass.

My heart leaps to my throat as I see four armed men, decked out in all black with machine guns in their hands. “Get your fucking hands up!” one of them yells.

As I’m about to comply, I find no one at the table has even moved an inch. “This is really good, Mom,” Victor says, nodding to the food. “Did you do something different?”

“I just added a bit of garlic powder to the seasoning,” Lisa sweetly says. “But I must say it I think I’ll keep it.”

“Did you not fucking hear me?!” the same man yells. “Get your hands up or we’ll blow your brains out!”

The three other men circle the table, guns raised. I’m sweating freaking bullets while the rest of the table is still enjoying dinner! As I’m about to scream in agony from the situation, Kent quietly sets down his fork and knife. “Kids,” he evenly says. “I’ll handle the big one. You three each take one.”

“Yes, sir,” Victor, Cash, and Amy all say.

When it looks like the man in charge is about to say another thing, I see Amy grab her knife and swiftly adjust it in her hand before driving it behind her. The knife buries itself in the chest of the man between her and Kent and the man doesn’t make a sound as he slumps to the ground.

A quick shuffle across from me grabs my attention as I see Victor hold his hand under another man’s chin and a quiet pop fills the room, the man’s head exploding a split second later. Before he’s even on the ground, Cash takes his knife and hurls it toward the third man. The knife imbeds itself in the man’s throat. But as he raises his gun to shoot, Lisa reaches behind her and slices through the man’s neck.

That took a grand total of less than five seconds, and three men are dead. The head guy stares in disbelief at his three fallen counterparts, too shocked to even move. Kent slowly stands up and reaches behind him, pulling out a sleek and deadly Smith and Wesson Model 500 handgun and pointing it at the man.

Kent cocks the gun. “Don’t mess with my family.”

What sounds like a cannon fills the room and the head guy falls to the ground, dead before his head even hits the tile floor. Kent places the gun back behind him. “Nice work, kids. Cashel, you missed the windpipe by about half a centimeter. It’s a good thing your mother was there otherwise something may have happened.”

“Sorry, Dad. I wanted to make sure Jax wasn’t hurt before I threw it.”

“Understandable.” Kent sits down to eat his food, but stops when he finds droplets of blood coating his pork, like mine and everyone else’s. “Damn, I was really looking forward to pork chops. Guess it’s time to order a pizza.”

I push up from my chair, it falling back and hitting the floor. “How the hell are you all so freaking calm?! Four men just broke into your home and tried to kill you and you all just took care of it like they were flies that needed swatting!”

The table is silent before Lisa lets out an annoyed breath. “Cashel, you didn’t tell him did you?”

“Um…no, not yet. I was hoping I could wait until after dinner before I did.”

The rest of the table groans. “Allow me to explain,” Kent says, standing up once again and looking at me. “Jackson, what you just saw was probably very shocking. But I have a very good explanation for it.”

“What, are you all the mob or something?”

Kent glances at the table in silence for a moment. “Actually…yes, we are,” he admits.

I think my heart stops for a second at hearing that. “E-Excuse me?”

“Jackson,” Cash says, “my family and I are the heads of the Dragonis Group. We’re one of the most powerful crime families in the United States.”



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