He let me finish my soup before he retrieved my cell from the foot of the bed. Handing it over, he waited, arms crossed, until I found my doctor’s contact. I had to leave a message, but the call was returned quickly. An appointment was set up for tomorrow morning, and my heart was already pounding with the ugliness of it all.
“I’ll take you,” Jase announced after returning from the hall, where he’d disposed of the soup container.
“What?” I pushed myself up against the headboard.
He was matter-of-fact. “I’ll take you tomorrow. He’s at WVU, right?”
“Around there, but—”
“But you haven’t even told Cam yet or your mom, so how do you expect to get there? Hitch a ride?” His grin was full of arrogance. “I can miss my classes tomorrow. It won’t be a big deal. And if I didn’t want to do it, I wouldn’t offer. So don’t argue with me.”
“I know,” I said. “But why would you want to do that? Sitting in class is better than leaving at butt crack in the morning and driving for hours. I mean, I’d rather sit through music class.”
He laughed as he sat back down, placing one hand on the other side of my hip. “You must really hate the drive and the doctor to prefer sitting in that class. You missed it today. Your friend Calla’s head fell all the way back. She snored.”
I laughed. “She doesn’t snore. And I know because she sleeps through that class almost every time.”
His thick lashes lowered, shielding his startling eyes. “I want to be there for you. Let me.”
My mouth opened and the proverbial why formed on the tip of my tongue. Did the why matter? The way things were between Jase and me at this moment confused the ever-loving crap out of me. Something had changed Saturday night, shifted. He was doing the exact opposite of pushing me away and running. Was I that good at giving head? I almost laughed because that was just stupid.
“Okay,” I said finally.
Jase smiled, and suddenly, it felt like I’d agreed to much more than a ride.
I hated the whole atmosphere of doctors’ offices—the white paint, the tacky decorations, and the smell of disinfectant. It didn’t matter what kind of doctor you were seeing; the offices were all the same.
An x-ray had been done before I even saw the middle-aged doctor. My butt had been planted in the dreaded wheelchair, and I’d been rolled away, leaving Jase in the main waiting room. Once I was deposited in the room where the doctor would see me, I hobbled out of the chair and sat on one of the plastic ones. I was glaring at the wheelchair when the door opened, and one of the blushing front desk nurses ushered Jase inside.
“We thought you could use the company,” she said, smoothing a hand over her blond head.
Jase winked as he sauntered in. “She was probably beside herself without me.”
The nurse giggled and then hastily backed out of the room. I arched a brow at him. “How did you manage to get yourself back here considering you’re not family?”
He hopped up on the table I should’ve been sitting on. From there, he swung his long legs like a mischievous boy. “I have considerable charm, Tess.”
“That’s true.” I cracked a grin.
“And with said charm comes great responsibility to use it wisely,” he continued, eyes dancing. “I only break it out when necessary.”
“Good to hear.” I shifted my weight on the uncomfortable plastic. Having him back here was good because my nerves were stretched tight. “Thank you again. I really appreciate it.”
“No problem. Just remember your promise.”
I laughed as I shook my head. “How can I forget?”
“You’re going to love it.” He dipped his chin, and messy waves tumbled forward. “And you have nothing to fear. I’ll be right there with you.”
My stomach still lurched at the thought of being on a horse. Jase had spent the drive to the doctor’s convincing me to agree to doing a little more than a horsey meet and greet. As in getting on top of one. Jase would be with me, and I agreed because I trusted him. And because it gave me something other than my leg to fret over.
“Cam texted me earlier,” Jase announced.
I jerked my gaze to him. His expression was unreadable. “Did you tell him that you were with me?”
“Did you tell him?”
“No. He still thinks I’m sick.” I wrapped the edge of my ponytail around my fingers. “Did you?”
He shook his head. “I figured he’d ask why I was with you and not him. And then that would lead to other questions, and well, I figured they’d best be answered not over the phone.”
“You think answering some of the questions would be best face-to-face?” Doubt colored my tone. Considering what Jase would tell him, I easily foresaw that conversation ending with a fist to a face.
Jase laughed. “I’d have to deploy my charm again.”
“I don’t think that kind of charm will work on my brother.”
“Ye of little faith,” he said, and his lips hitched up on one side. The devilish look caused my heart to skip a beat.
I pressed my lips together, wondering what would even be said to Cam. Less would be better I supposed, no matter what happened between Jase and me going forward. My gaze glided over the near perfect contours of his face and then down, over his broad shoulders. When I looked up, he caught my gaze and he smiled reassuringly.
My breath caught on the realization that I could easily fall in love with him.
That was if I hadn’t already.
“What are you thinking about?” he asked, biting down on that delicious lower lip.
Tension coiled low in my stomach. Oh, I was so screwed. I looked away, feeling my cheeks flood with color. “Yeah, I’m not caring and sharing that.”
A deep, husky chuckle came from him. “That’s no fun.”
Thank God, the door opened and Dr. Morgan stepped into the room. At the moment, I’d rather focus on my knee than pay too much attention to what was going on inside my heart and head.
White lab coat swinging about his knees, Dr. Morgan had close-cut curls that were sprinkled with gray. He smiled as he walked in, eyeing where I was and where Jase was. “Do I have a new patient today?”
Trying not to get too hopeful over the smile, I cleared my throat. “That’s Jase. He’s, um . . . he’s my friend. He came with me.”
“Nice to meet you.” The good doc walked over and shook his hand. When Jase started to get up, Dr. Morgan waved him off. “No need to move. We’re all good this way.” Sitting in one of the rolling chairs, he dropped the file with my x-rays on the counter. He toed his way to me, grabbed ahold of another chair, and slid it around. Gently, he lifted my leg up and placed it on the chair. “Let’s get a look at this.”
I rolled up the hem of my jeans, wincing as it revealed my oversized knee. Sexy.
He drew in a low whistle. “You know the drill.”
I did. Closing my eyes, I clapped my hands together and pressed them against my stomach. Dr. Morgan’s fingers were cool as they pressed against my knee. The touch didn’t hurt. Not yet. He applied a little more pressure, checking the stabilization. Pain flared, and I gritted my teeth.
“Pain on a one to ten scale?” he asked quietly.
“Um.” I sucked at these things. Like who knew the pain scale? I needed one of those funny stick people pictures to use as a guide. “Six?”
“Okay.” He pushed a little harder, and I jumped. “How about now?”
“Seven?” I squeaked.
He continued to torture me, and my eyes snapped open when I felt a hand wrap around mine. I hadn’t even heard him move. Jase was kneeling beside me, and the moment my eyes locked with his gray ones, I couldn’t look away.
“And this?” Dr. Morgan asked. At the sound of my harsh hiss, he removed his hands. “No need to answer.” He smiled gently as he rolled my pants leg down. “Okay. You iced and elevated?”
I nodded, still looking at Jase. “Yeah.”
“But it didn’t help?”
“No.” I wet my lips, and Jase smiled. Tearing my gaze away from him so I didn’t look like too much of a doofus, I faced the doctor. As I spoke, Jase managed to ease my hands apart and thread his fingers through my left hand. “It’s not as painful as the first time, and I didn’t hear any pops, but I’m afraid I really screwed it up.”
“I need to know exactly what you were doing when you hurt your knee Sunday,” he said, dropping his hands on his knees. “Were you walking? Did you lose your balance?”
My gaze dropped to the doctor’s long fingers. They were slender, but the knuckles were surprisingly big and round. My throat closed off.
“She said she just lost her balance,” Jase said, and my free hand closed into a fist.
“Were you walking when it happened? Getting out of bed or off a chair?” Dr. Morgan paused. “It’s really important to know exactly what you were doing.”
Blood pounded in my ears as I slowly lifted my gaze. The truth. Damnit, the truth was always a pesky, nosy bitch. I shook my head as I bit down on my lip. “I . . . I was in my dorm room and my roommate’s boyfriend had a bag in his hand. Like a weekender bag. Anyway, I was standing too close when he swung it around. It hit my hip and I stumbled back, putting my weight on my right leg.”
Jase’s fingers tightened until I could feel the bones in my hand starting to grind, and then he eased off, slipping his hand free. I couldn’t look at him, but I could feel him staring.
“So it was an unplanned action. Not a major misstep. That gives me a really clear picture of what’s going on.” Dr. Morgan reached for my file, flipping it open. “Well, bad or good news first?”
My heart jumped, and I glanced at Jase. His eyes were sharp, expression stony. “Good? I guess?”
“The good news is that the x-rays do not show any additional tears,” he said, and my shoulders immediately relaxed. “I know that was your biggest fear. The original tear is healing.”
I took a deep breath. “So what’s the bad news?”
Dr. Morgan smiled tightly. “What this injury shows is a destabilization of the ACL. And with the kind of tear you suffered, there was a forty to sixty percent chance of reinjury. Now, like I said, the tear doesn’t appear to be reinjured. So no surgery, and I really do think this will heal if you go back to the brace and use the crutches over the next couple of days.”
Instead of feeling better, the walls started to close in around me. “But?”
“But . . .” He smiled, but I tensed. The smile didn’t reach his dark eyes. It was the kind of smiles doctors made when they were about to deliver a death blow. “This injury shows that there is a destabilization there and that is what concerns me, Teresa. When you first injured your ACL, we talked about the possibility—although slim at that time—of continuous destabilization and . . .”
My brain cut him off right there, but I nodded and I stared at him, barely aware of the way Jase was stiffening with every word spoken. I even smiled when Dr. Morgan patted my hand and told me it was going to be okay. I agreed. Everything would be f**king perfect. And then I said nothing when the nurse came in, and the dreaded blue brace was returned to my knee. I took the crutches with grace. And I kept breathing. In. Out. In. Out.
Somehow I ended up outside, in Jase’s Jeep, staring out the windshield.
“Tess . . .”
I looked over at him, and he shook his head as our gazes locked. His face was pale. “I’m so f**king sorry.”
Drawing in a deep breath, I shuddered as it got stuck. The destabilization was a bad, bad thing. It was worse than having surgery because it meant one thing. My knee would always be wicked weak. I would always have problems with it, even after the tear was completely healed. The chance of getting arthritis in the knee earlier than most had nearly doubled.
Professional dancing was out of the picture. No more. Done. There was no returning to the studio, no more lessons or recitals or competitions. I’d be stupid to even attempt it. And my instructors wouldn’t allow it. Neither would the Joffrey School.
College was no longer temporary. Teaching was no longer plan B. It was the only plan.
Oh my God.
I shook my head, opened my mouth, but there were no words.
Jase cursed, and I . . . I cracked wide open. Like a well deep inside me had burst.
The tears came, spilling down my cheeks, and once they started, there was no stopping them. The interior blurred—Jase disappeared in the haze.
A deep sound came from him, and then his arms were around me. One second I was sitting there by myself, my world crumbling apart, and the next moment, he was holding me against him—holding me together.