Jackson & Nick

an excerpt



Chapter One

The minute the automatic doors slid open and Jackson Kain stepped through them, he was transported to another world. The air smelled like alcohol, disinfectant, and a faint acidic odor most people couldn't pinpoint. Jackson knew it was the mixed aromas of stomach acid and blood. It always seemed to linger in the halls no matter what time of day it was. He had long ago mentally labeled it 'ode de emergence'. Some might be turned off by it but, to him, and every New York firefighter, it was the scent of help, healing, and hope. Lives were saved here every minute of every day.

Under the sickly, luminescent whiteness of fluorescent lighting, pale gray walls stood in stark contrast to the flashes of bright colored scrubs and white lab coats of the ER staff. They hustled between lines of stretchers parked against the walls or pushed into curtained cubicles, accessing, monitoring, and calming patients according to their degree of need.

Portable X-ray machines trolled by, lumbering ogres that had only one very slow speed. Instrument carts seemed to block Jackson's way every dozen feet or so. With practiced ease, he headed toward the center of the storm. He weaved in and out of the obstacle course, his six foot four frame and broad muscled body exhibiting a grace most people wouldn't guess at. It didn't hurt any that people naturally stepped aside to let him by, most responding to his charming smile and chiseled good looks as much as his size.

He couldn't count the number of times he'd been down these halls over the last ten years for one reason or another, most of them bad. Smoke inhalation, burns, injuries from falling debris, or just checking up on a victim or co-worker. Emergency Rooms were a fact of life for a fireman, especially in a large city. He'd come to think of them as a necessary but unhappy extension of his workplace.

Though as of late, his reasons for visiting made him look forward to the controlled chaos happening around him. The 'reason' was at the center of the chaos, he was sure. The same reason was at the center of his own personal chaos as well.

Self-conscious, he pulled at his right earlobe and ran his hand over his moderately short, black hair, letting the waves of noise roll over him with practiced ease, soaking it in, letting it fuel his determination. Handsome could only get you so far in a relationship, then substance and effort were the key to winning over a new boyfriend. For the first time in his life, Jackson wanted this budding relationship to last and grow into something permanent. And that was challenging as hell. Five alarm fires had nothing on the scorching power of love! He tugged at his earlobe again, but never broke his stride down the hallway.

Rhythmic, beeping machines were occasionally replaced with the anxious buzzing of insistent alarms. Multiple conversations at various levels of volume and intensity hammered at him from all sides with the intermittent groan or cry of pain. All of it was underscored by the thudding, sticky sound of gurney wheels on old linoleum. His pulse matched the rhythmic undercurrent.

Heart pounding in his chest, Jackson felt the familiar adrenaline rush building. He'd been out of the field for six weeks recuperating from a work injury and it was beginning to show. He was ready to get back into action soon. He missed his job.

Soon, but not just yet. He had two more weeks off and he knew what he wanted to do with them.

Jackson pushed the clamor into a subdued murmur surrounding him, just like he did with the roar and heat of a fire. Control your response to the environment and you control the situation. That motto had saved his life too many times to count and now he hoped it would help get his future on track.

Taking a deep breath, Jackson concentrated on slowing his adrenaline response and turned his impressive frame around the next corner, heading toward the central nurse's station. Passing the first cubicle, he was blindsided by a petite, blonde whirlwind. Christie Carlyse, ER nurse and confident to most of the unit staff. He had to grab her by the arms to keep her from falling over after she bounced off his side.

"Hey, there, crazy lady!" He gave her his best grin and winked as he set her on her feet. Christie laughed, squeezed his hand then pushed a strand of blonde hair that had escaped its ponytail back behind her ear. A purple stethoscope hung from her neck, tangled in her name tag lanyard, bright against her navy scrubs. Christie's husband, Jim, was one of Jackson's fellow firefighters and a close friend.

"I knew we would see you tonight." She arched her eyebrows suggestively. A gurney rushed by them and she darted to one side to evade the wheels. "He hasn't taken a break all shift. You are just the thing he needs to steal him away for a few minutes." Her turquoise-blue eyes grew serious. "Twenty minutes, no less. We're getting hammered tonight and he's getting the worst of it." She spun off down the hall then turned back, still speed-walking backward. "And get him to eat something! Find him some of whatever you eat, Mountain Man! He's too thin." Pausing, she leaned forward, lowering her voice just enough to still be heard over the din of the hallway, "If you two ever get to third base, he'll snap like kindling wood!" Her fingers wiggled in the air in his direction then she ducked into the cubicle to her right, disappearing behind a curtain.

Stifling a snicker, Jackson nodded a hello to a passing, eavesdropping orderly. The man's tired face lit up. Jackson was used to having that effect on people and he tried to be mindful of it. Now thirty-two, he'd been blessed with good looks and a towering, muscled body since his teenage years. Most of the time it was a positive attribute but, sometimes, like in matters of the heart, it worked against him. Some people, people who mattered, couldn't believe attractive equaled trustworthy. It was a situation he needed to gain control of and tonight was the start of his plan to do just that.

If he could weave his way through all these bodies.

He moved to one side to let two police officers lead a man in handcuffs to a bench against the far wall. The faint smell of pepper spray trailed after them. He nodded hello to both officers. They each acknowledged him with a jut of the chin or a nod. Emergency services were a small world. Cops, firemen, EMTs, hospital staff, they all inhabited the same world.

Jackson knew all of the staff working tonight. He was friendly with most and socialized with a few of them. Good people. One of the new nurses, Vicky, around twenty-one he guessed, gave him a shy wave from behind a med cart. He rewarded her with a wink that made her blush, giggle, and turn away.

He'd always thought this ER had a higher than normal percentage of pretty nurses. Some good-looking male staff, too. Still, there was only one person he made visits to the ER on his time off to see and it wasn't a nurse, an orderly, or a tech.

He needed to find himself a doctor.

A thirty-two-year-old, dark-haired, deep blue-eyed, outrageously gorgeous, brilliant, dedicated, compassionate, OCD but relationship gun-shy, doctor named Nick Kirby. Just thinking about Nick kicked Jackson's adrenaline response back into high gear. His pulse throbbed in his neck and...a few other places. What could he say? He was a man of action.