“What the fudge?” Emma Jackson sat up in bed and rubbed her eyes.
“Really, Emma? Fudge? Why can’t you just say ‘fuck’ like the rest of us normal human beings?”
Emma narrowed her eyes at one of her best friends and roommate, Brooklyn Smith. “I teach small children for a living, and I’m fairly certain their parents would appreciate my usage of the word ‘fudge.’” She put her feet on the floor and stood. “What did you wake me up for?”
“It’s December thirty-first.” Brooklyn grinned. “You know what that means!”
“Tonight’s party time!” Brooklyn shook her hips. “I’ve got the night off, everyone else has the night off, we are getting dressed up and heading to downtown!”
Emma laughed. “That doesn’t explain why you’re waking me up before noon on my day off.”
“Brunch.” Brooklyn narrowed her eyes, surprised Emma had forgotten. Her typically organized friend rarely forgot anything.
“I forgot about brunch.” Emma dropped back onto her bed. “I’m so tired.”
Brooklyn bounced on the edge of the bed, and Emma threw her pillow at her.
“Don’t be so dramatic Miss Jackson, you’ve been on vacation for over a week now.”
“Exactly, vacation, that means I should be allowed to sleep as late as I want.”
Brooklyn sniffled, and Emma looked up to see her showcasing fake sadness. “Fine, but brunch won’t be brunch without our Emma,” she said sadly and walked slowly to the door.
Emma threw her other pillow and hit her square in the back. “Fine, I’m getting up.”
“Yay!” Brooklyn slammed the door behind her, and Emma groaned before rolling out of bed.
After pulling on some leggings and a sweatshirt, Emma put on her black rimmed cat-eye glasses to avoid having to put contacts in. At least brunch with the girls is casual. She tossed her brown hair up into a messy bun and grabbed her cell phone and wallet.
“Ready,” Emma grumbled as she stepped from her bedroom into the tiny living room of the three-bedroom apartment she, Brooklyn, and one of their other friends, Bailey, shared.
Their other three friends, Lillian, Pam, and Ada, shared another three-bedroom just down the hall. They had been lucky enough to be looking for a place to live right as their complex was finishing construction and were able to grab apartments just across the hall from each other.
“You look tired,” Ada said with a grin.
“Easy for you to say. You always look like a model,” Emma said with a yawn. Even wearing jeans and a light sweatshirt, Ada Romano looked like a million bucks.
“Probably because she is one,” Lillian joked and stood. “I’m hungry. Can we go now?”
“Now that Sleeping Beauty’s awake.” Pam smirked.
“Always with the book jokes,” Bailey said sarcastically.
“Can’t help it,” Pam retorted and grabbed her coat.
The six girls had been best friends since elementary school. All had grown up in a tiny Texas town about an hour and a half from where they lived now.
They walked out of the building and into the frigid December air. This winter had been a surprisingly cold one compared to the last few years. Most of the time, Texans didn’t get the chance to experience a true winter.
Ice coated the streets, so they linked arms and walked down the sidewalk and into their favorite brunch restaurant, The Egg and I.
They were seated quickly, and everyone except Ada ordered coffee.
“I don’t understand how you survive on that stuff.” Bailey turned her nose up as Ada dipped one of the tea bags she carried everywhere into the hot water the waitress brought her.
“I don’t see how you drink coffee, so I suppose we’re even.” Ada took a sip of her tea, and to everyone’s amusement, made a slurping noise at Bailey, and then moaned as the hot liquid slid down her throat.
“Don’t go having an orgasm in here, Ada, I want to be invited back.” Bailey smarted off.
Ada stuck her tongue out and then flipped her perfectly wavy brown hair back over her shoulder. Her dad was Italian, her mother from Jersey originally, and Ada received the tan skin, dark hair, and brown eyes from her father, yet somehow managed to look almost exactly like her mother. The looks had gotten her plastered all over the cover of nearly every fashion magazine in Dallas, and that was after she turned down a job in New York, where she would have been working exclusively for one company.
They still wondered why she turned it down, but her answer was always the same: if she were here, she could work with multiple companies and be with her friends. If she went to New York, she would have been alone and only allowed to do one type of shoot.
“So, what’s the game plan tonight, ladies?” Pam asked after the waitress had taken their order.
“I say we go home and take a nap.” Emma lifted her coffee cup to her lips again.
“All right, now that we have your bad idea out of the way, I say we do some shopping, hit the salon for mani-pedis, and then go back to the apartments, get ready, and be out the door by eight.” Bailey, the always organized interior designer, pulled out her planner and started jotting down notes about different shops they should check out.
“Bales, that’s not necessary. We know what stores to go to,” Brooklyn told her.
“I like lists,” she insisted and continued until Ada stole her pen. “Hey!” Bailey called out and shot Ada a glare.
“No lists today.”
“Fine. Can I have my pen back?”
Ada handed Bailey back her pen, and Bailey shoved it and the planner into her purse.
“I may have to take some calls today. I don’t have to go in unless it’s an emergency, but it’s possible I’ll need to offer some help to the vet tech on call.”
“Lillian, can’t you take one day off?”
“Since I’m the only vet on staff, and we’re an animal hospital available to clients twenty-four-seven, that means no.”
“Lame!” Ada said with a laugh, but she offered Lillian a half-hug. “We still love you.”
“Good to know.” Lillian smiled.
“Food!” Ada called out excitedly when the waitress headed their way with a tray.
They watched patiently as the woman unloaded the plates, placing the food in front of them.
“How do you eat that and still stay so thin?” Brooklyn asked Ada as she began to cut up the buttery waffle she had ordered.
“Good genes,” she said around a mouthful.
The girls laughed and continued to eat. None of them messed around when it came to food. The second it was on the table, silence ensued.
Once brunch was eaten, and checks were paid, the girls made their way outside, where they linked arms again and headed down the street to the spa they frequented. It was shaping up to be an incredibly relaxing day, and the night could only get better.
“Are you sure this isn’t too tight?” Emma asked as she did a little turn in front of the full-length mirror in the bathroom.
“You look hot, love!” Bailey smacked Emma on the butt, and Brooklyn let out a whistle.
“It’s so small.” Emma pulled up the top of the strapless dress and did another check in the mirror. “Although, I suppose it does look nice.”
“Honey, it looks more than nice.” Bailey winked. “Tonight is going to be amazing!” Bailey did a spin once she had slipped into her peep-toe heels and then headed into the kitchen. “Who wants to do pre-shots?”
“Emma does!” Brooklyn offered from her bedroom.
“What? No! You guys know I’m a lightweight. If I get started now, I probably won’t make it to the club.”
Brooklyn and Bailey both laughed. “Live a little, Emma!” Bailey said as she poured some vodka into a shot glass.
“Ugh, we’re starting with vodka? That stuff tastes like rubbing alcohol smells.”
“But it’s what we’ll be drinking for most of the night, so this way we aren’t mixing liquor! Besides, it’s birthday-cake flavored.”
“Those labels lie,” Emma said, but downed the shot anyway. “Sheeeeesssshhhh, that is rough.”
“Whoohoo!” Bailey slammed her shot glass down. “That’s the stuff! I am so ready for tonight, you guys! It’s been a long damn year.”
“An amazing and long damn year,” Ada said as she, Pam, and Lillian breezed into the apartment. “Uber will be here in five.”
“Very true,” Bailey agreed. “Shots?”
“Bring it on,” Ada said and took a seat on one of the bar stools. “Emma, you look hot!”
“That’s what we’ve been telling her,” Bailey insisted.
“It’s so unlike what I normally wear”—Emma let out a nervous laugh— “but who knows? Maybe I’ll attract a man while we’re out.”
“Oh honey, you’re going to attract men, as in plural, while we’re out, and you’re wearing that thing,” Ada said with a wink.
“All right, what do y’all think?” Brooklyn stepped from her bedroom wearing a short, black tank dress. Her stilettos were black with gold straps that matched the zipper running up the front of the dress.
“Daammmnnn,” Lillian offered. “You look gorgeous.”
“Definitely better than scrubs, huh?”
“Oh yeah. So tell me, is Doctor Douche going to be at this club tonight?” Pam asked and made her eyebrows do a little dance.
Brooklyn laughed. “Probably not. I imagine he will be spending his New Year’s wrapped up with his girlfriend.”
“You are so much better than her. I can’t believe he asked her out after y’all slept together.”
“It was only once, and it’s whatever. I can do better too.” Anyone else listening would have believed she had moved on, but her friends knew her better than that. The dickhead doctor had used Brooklyn for a lay and then gone on to ask out one of the other nurses the next day.
“Well, if he is there, he’s going to eat his ‘let’s just be friends’ words,” Emma offered, anger in her voice. Her friend had deserved so much better.
“A shot for Brooklyn!” Ada called, and Lillian and Pam pulled Brooklyn into the kitchen, where Bailey handed her a shot.
Bailey then proceeded to pour six more and passed them out to all the friends. “To a wonderful 2017, and the hope that 2018 will bring us more happiness, and some great lays.”
The girls let out a laugh and clinked glasses before pouring them into their mouths. “Now, let’s go party!” Ada yelled, and they rushed around, grabbing up their clutches and phones.
They made their way downstairs, where a white sedan was waiting. “You here for us?” Ada asked the driver.
“Hell yeah,” the man behind the wheel said as he grinned at them. “As long as you’re the ones who called the Uber.”
“That’s us!” Lillian said cheerfully as they all climbed in.
“Where are you ladies headed?”
“LiveWire, downtown,” Ada answered as she rechecked her makeup in the mirror.
“You got it,” he said as he pulled away from the curb, and they made the ten-minute drive downtown to Dallas’s most popular nightclub. The line outside would have discouraged them if Ada hadn’t known the bouncer personally.
“Listen, take my card and call me when you guys are ready to go home.” The driver handed Ada his card, and she looked down to read his name.
“Thanks, Adam.” She offered him a smile, and they climbed out. “All right ladies, let’s do this!” she said, and they walked to the front of the line.
“Oh, come on man!” two men complained when the bouncer opened the door to let them inside. Ada being Ada couldn’t let it pass unnoticed and winked at them before disappearing inside.
The club was packed, and Ada led them to the back VIP section, where they had a table already waiting. Ada was a resident celebrity here since on top of doing some modeling for the club, she also sang most Friday nights.
“What can I get you to drink?” the waitress called over the sound of the music blaring out from the DJ.
“Appletinis all around!” Ada shouted with a smile, and the woman disappeared to the back.
“We going to order some champagne for the toast?” Bailey wondered, and Ada nodded.
They sat and listened to the music while they scoped out those who were sitting at the bar or on the dance floor. The waitress brought the drinks over, and Lillian held up her glass.
“To the best friends I could ever ask for!” she yelled and then let out a “whoop” before taking a drink.
“Well, I say we go and do some dancing!” Emma cried out loudly and got to her feet. The buzz of the alcohol was making its way through her system already, and she was ready to make the most of tonight.
“Let’s do it!” Ada agreed.
They stood and made their way to the crowded dance floor. Imagine Dragons’ “Believer” was playing through the speakers, and the girls started moving. That was their favorite part of the club—they played just about every genre of music.
The heat from inside the club made them completely forget about the cold and ice outside, and they lost themselves in the music. A group of men made their way over and tried to push into their circle, but Ada shot them a glare, and they backed off. The music faded, and everyone’s attention turned to the stage where Daphne, the owner of the club, was heading for the DJ stand.
She grabbed the mic and then turned back to the crowd. “Good evening! Is everyone having a good time?” she yelled and pointed the mic out at the crowd, who screamed, “Yes!”
“Good! We have about thirty minutes until midnight, and it has come to my attention that one of our own is out there in the crowd! Ada, darling, you there?”
The spotlight turned to Ada and her friends, who stepped back so only Ada stood waving.
“Come on up here! Sing us a song!” Daphne began to chant her name, and the entire crowd followed suit until Ada made her way to the stage.
“Thanks, Daph.” Ada smiled and hugged Daphne.
“You know I love ya girl.”
“Hey everyone.” Ada’s slightly raspy voice filled the club as everyone greeted her. She turned to walk back to the DJ to request her song, and after a moment, music filled the air.
“This one's for my girls. Love you guys.” She blew them a kiss and then started singing Alicia Key’s “Girl On Fire.”
“So, that’s your friend up there?” Emma turned to see a man standing next to her.
She offered him a smile and a nod. Wearing jogging pants and a gold chain around his neck, she had no interest in anything else.
Again Emma offered him a smile.
“You’re hot too.”
Getting annoyed, Emma tried to turn away from him, but he pushed his way up against her and tried to dance.
“Back the fuck off,” Bailey said and pulled Emma away.
“We’re just having some fun.”
“The only one of you having ‘fun’ is you. Now back off before I have to make you.”
The man laughed and looked her up and down. “You’re hot too.”
“This guy bothering you?” Jasper, the club’s head of security, yelled over the sound of the music.
“Yeah,” Bailey said and crossed her arms over her chest. “He won’t back off Emma.”
Jasper’s bright blue eyes landed on her, and Emma blushed while nodding. She hated altercations of any kind.
“Let’s go,” Jasper said, stepping between them.
“You can’t make me leave. We’re just dancing.”
“I said, let’s go. You can walk out like a man, or I can drag you out. Your choice.” He folded arms over his broad chest and stared the much shorter man down.
“This is bullshit,” the man muttered before heading toward the door.
“Thank you,” Bailey said to Jasper, and he nodded, then continued to follow the douchebag out of the club.
The song switched to Ed Sheeran’s “Shape Of You,” and Bailey cursed. “Dickhead made us miss Ada’s song.”
“Sorry,” Emma said.
“I should have said something.”
“Emma.” Bailey laughed. “We back each other up. It’s what we’ve always done. Now, stop apologizing for stupid crap. Haven’t we talked about this?”
Emma smiled. “I suppose so.”
“What’d I miss?” Ada asked as she approached.
“Some jackass rubbing up on Emma. Jasper took care of it.”
She nodded. “Drinks?”
“Yes!” she called out, and they all made their way through the crowd back to their table.
“This has been so fun!” Lillian called out as she continued to dance in her chair. They all sipped on their drinks and went back to watching the dance floor.
“Do you guys remember last New Year’s?” Pam asked with a laugh.
“Oh my gosh, yes! Bailey tripped and spilled her flaming Dr. Pepper all over that snooty business guy.” Brooklyn pointed at Bailey accusingly, and Bailey’s cheeks flushed.
“It was an accident.”
“Too bad he turned out to be your boss’s dad.”
“Don’t remind me.” She covered her face with her hands.
“And Pam hooked up with that lawyer,” Lillian offered, keeping the conversation on last New Year’s Eve.
“I did not!” Pam insisted. “We just, you know, made out a little.” She blushed, and the girls laughed.
“Yeah, in the middle of the dance floor.” Emma snorted mid-laugh. “We thought we were going to have to rip you off of him.”
“He was cute,” she defended, and Emma waved her hand in surrender.
“He was smoking hot in a button-up, probably doesn’t vary from missionary kind of way,” Brooklyn added.
“What’s wrong with missionary?” Emma asked.
“Absolutely nothing, of course, it’s just nice to have the option for other positions.”
Emma snorted out a laugh, and Lillian patted her on the back. “You good?”
She nodded, still laughing.
“It’s been a hell of a year, huh?” Ada asked.
Emma looked around at her best friends in the entire world—the five people who were closer to her than her own family in most ways—and nodded.
“It definitely has. I say we cheers to another.” Brooklyn lifted her glass. “May we all find limitless happiness in 2018, and may he have abs of steel.”
The girls let out a laugh but lifted their glasses. “And a beard,” Emma said with a giggle. “I love beards.”
“And dimples!” Pam added.
“And a nice, firm butt,” Bailey said with a wink.
“And may he love animals.” Lillian smiled.
“And may he be an animal in the sack.” Ada rounded them off, and they clinked glasses with a laugh. “I love you ladies, you all know that.”
They all reached in toward the center of the table in a big hug. “This is going to be our year,” Lillian said. “I feel it.”
“Me too,” Brooklyn added.
“Well, here it comes, so I hope so!” Pam said.
Five . . . Four . . . Three . . . Two . . . One . . . “HAPPY NEW YEAR!”
PART 2: Valentine’s Day
Brooklyn walked into the locker room of the hospital with a scowl on her face. Valentine’s Day was two weeks away, and the hospital looked as if somebody had vomited the damn holiday everywhere.
It wasn’t even like it was a real holiday, not like Christmas or Thanksgiving. Hell, even Labor Day was more of a holiday than Valentine’s Day. Of course, she knew the real reason she was upset, and he was currently playing googly eyes with his flavor of the week.
“Ugh,” she grunted and tossed her backpack into her locker. It was bad enough she’d drunk one too many glasses of vino last night and was paying for it in the form of a headache. But now she had to deal with him and her during the same shift!
They rubbed it in her face every single damn day. As if the fact that he had tossed her aside like a piece of garbage hadn’t been enough.
“Suck it up, Brooklyn.” She regarded herself in the mirror. Her dark hair pulled up in a pony, and she wore blue scrubs that made the dark of her eyes pop. Screw them both—she was a catch.
Feeling better after her mini pep talk, Brooklyn headed out onto the floor—and into chaos. A stomach virus was going around, and it seemed like half of Dallas’s population had come down with it.
Groans, whines, and the occasional gagging filled her ears as she made her way to the nurses’ station.
“Still being an anti-Valentine?” Mary, the sixty-year-old charge nurse, lifted her eyebrows.
“You can’t tell me that you think Valentine’s Day is a legitimate holiday, Mary. Candy companies literally—”
“Created it. Yeah, I know,” Mary snorted. “And still my husband makes a big fuss each year, and I love every single candy-heart-filled moment of it.”
“That’s because you scored in the hubs department.”
“Oh, hush.” Mary blushed and waved her hand. “You could find someone, too, you know. Pretty thing like you probably has men crawling all over her.”
“That’s because you put off this ‘come near me and I’ll relieve you of that thing that hangs between your legs’ vibe.” Jackie Johnson—better known as JJ—offered her two cents as she approached the stand.
“Jackie.” Mary clicked her tongue, but Brooklyn could see she was doing her best to stifle a laugh.
“What? She really does!”
“I do not. I just haven’t found the right guy yet.”
“Please, you may hate him, but we all know you still have your eye on Doctor Douche.”
“Definitely not. It’s just hard to find time to date when I’m always here.”
“Now you’re adding lying to it? I’m friends with you on Facebook. You are always out on the town.”
“When did this turn into ‘let’s mess with Brooklyn’ day?” Brooklyn threw her hands up in irritation.
“All right, ladies. Brooklyn, there’s a woman in room four with a nasty case of that stomach flu.” Mary handed Brooklyn a chart, and Brooklyn sighed.
Time to get to work.
Brooklyn was just getting ready to take her lunch when she heard yelling. She turned to see him walking next to a gurney with a man lying on his back. She could see from where she was, and by the group of men running next to him, that the man was one of Dallas’s finest.
Shit, it didn’t matter that she had been ready for some alone time and a day-old ham sandwich. When a boy in blue was wheeled in, she was the first to offer help. Her dad and two brothers were cops, her dad having retired just last year, and a part of her always worried it would be one of them on that gurney.
They wheeled him into a room near the nurses’ station, and Brooklyn followed to see if she could help.
“What do we have?” she asked her nemesis.
“Hit and run accident. Looking like a broken arm and maybe some bruised ribs, but other than that, he appears fine.”
“Speak for yourself, doc, this fucking hurts.”
Brooklyn looked down at where the voice came from and locked on to the most gorgeous green eyes she had ever seen.
“Shit,” she whispered, and even though she imagined he hurt like hell, he cocked his head to the side to smirk at her. Brooklyn felt her legs turn to jelly as she continued to stare at him.
“Damn, do I look that bad? Come on, guys, why didn’t you tell me?” he scolded the other officers in the room, who let out a laugh.
“We thought it was just your face.”
“Nurse, how about you do something instead of just standing there staring at him?” Doctor Douche glared at her, and she blushed, before leaving the room quickly.
“What the fuck just happened?” she asked herself as she leaned against the door.
JJ stopped in front of her. “Aren’t you on lunch?”
She did her best to shake off the after-effects the eye contact with the officer had caused. “Yeah, heading down now. Want anything?”
“No, thanks. I’d rather not get food poisoning today.”
Unamused and still thinking about those gorgeous eyes, Brooklyn made her way down to the cafeteria. She had just ordered her lunch and was sitting down to eat when Doctor Douche himself sat across from her.
“Want to tell me what the hell that was?”
Her back straightened, and she set her sandwich down. She was simmering and ready to spew molten anger all over him; it was only a matter of time.
“Just what are you referring to?”
“How about the fact that you just eye-fucked my patient? He’s a patient, Brooklyn. That means he’s off-limits.” His eyebrow cocked, and it took all she had not to reach over and slap the condescending, arrogant smile off his stupid face.
So instead, she offered him a forced smile. “I wasn’t aware the hospital had any such policy, Andrew. You are currently pushing into my lunch break, and I’d rather not spend it with a vaginal cleanser.”
“Leave,” she rephrased and took a bite of her food.
“Not until you agree to stay out of his room.”
Forgetting her manners, she grinned around a mouthful of ham and cheese. He was jealous! She could never have missed that tone in his voice or the way his cheeks were flushed. Well, well, this could prove to be quite useful. Here, dick, have a taste of your own medicine.
“Well, there’s the problem, isn’t it? See, I’m a nurse, and he’s injured. So, it’s my duty to make sure he has every little thing he could ever need. In fact”—she put her sandwich down and rewrapped it in the cellophane—“I think I’ll head up there right now and check on him.”
She stood, leaving Andrew staring after her. Of course, she wasn’t really going up there. She had no reason to go back in that room. He wasn’t on her patient roster for the day, and she sure as hell wasn’t looking for a man.
Especially not around freaking Valentine’s Day, of all holidays. Brooklyn had absolutely zero interest in looking like some desperate woman seeking out a date just because it was the holiday of love. She rolled her eyes.
It didn’t even matter that each one of her friends—except Lillian, who would be working—had dates. No, Brooklyn was perfectly content spending the night lounging on her couch in her leggings and fuzzy boots while she watched reruns of Scrubs.
Now that sounded like the perfect evening.
She made her way back up to the fourth-floor nurses’ station, and JJ waved her over to the vending machine.
“Did you see that cop in there? I mean, he could put cuffs on me any day.” She peeked around the corner into his room.
“Keep it in your pants, JJ.” But Brooklyn let out a laugh. “You are engaged, after all.”
“Doesn’t mean a girl can’t fantasize. By the way, Doctor Douche headed your way a little bit ago looking pissed off.”
“Yeah, he found me in the cafeteria.”
“What did he want?”
“To tell me to stay away from his patient.”
“You going to listen?”
Brooklyn snorted. “When have I ever?”
Brooklyn looked in on the cop now sleeping alone in his room. She couldn’t deny there was something about him that drew her in. Still, she had no interest in getting involved with anyone. She forced herself to look away and headed to check on her patients.
“UGH! Long damn day.” Brooklyn collapsed on the couch next to one of her five best friends, Emma.
“Bad long day? Or good long day?”
“Bad, with a little bit of good, I suppose. I was able to sort of tell Doctor Douche off.”
“Really?” Emma put the book she was reading down on the coffee table and turned her full attention to her friend. “What did you say? What did he say?”
Brooklyn laughed. “Excited, huh?”
“It has been a long time coming.”
“What’s been a long time coming?” Ada, another of Brooklyn’s best friends who lived down the hall, asked as she came into the apartment.
“Brooklyn told Doctor Douche off!” Emma exclaimed entirely too excited.
“You guys, it wasn’t exactly a ‘tell off.’ He just tried to bully me, and I didn’t let him.”
“What happened?” Ada took a seat, and she and Emma listened intently as Brooklyn recounted the story from the moment the cop was wheeled onto her floor.
“He sounds hot,” Ada commented, and Emma nodded in agreement.
“Are you going to see him again?” Emma asked.
Brooklyn laughed. “You guys, it wasn’t like he asked me out or anything. It’s been a while since I’ve dated anyone. He was attractive, and I had a brief moment where I thought about climbing him like a tree. End of story.” She stood and poured herself a glass of Cabernet Sauvignon
“Okay, let’s think about this for a moment.” Ada stood and followed her. “Hot guy comes into the hospital. He’s a cop, which somehow makes him even hotter, he obviously is attracted to you, Doctor Douche hates the fact that you were attracted to him, and you are still going to walk away? Are you insane?”
“He never said he was attracted to me.”
“Hello!” Emma joined in. “You said his eyes locked on to you, too, and he made a comment to his co-workers about not telling him he looked terrible.”
“You guys are reading way too much into this.” Brooklyn took a large drink. “Besides, I have zero interest in dating right now. Especially with it being so close to Valentine’s Day.” She took her wine and disappeared into her bedroom for some peace and quiet.