Kiss My Boots(10)

By: Harper Sloan

A dry laugh escapes me as I study my reflection in the window. I embody completely the “starch” Quinn and I used to poke fun of. The high-society image that my parents pressed upon me since my boyhood has taken over, when all I ever wanted was nothing more than to pull on some old jeans and get my hands dirty. I’ve become everything I always resented in my parents growing up, and I might as well be a world away from the only place—and person—that ever made me feel at home.

I wonder how I ever let it get this fucking far. I reckon I was denying my mind a trip down this path for so long, I didn’t even realize how bad things had become. Only difference this time is that I don’t have anything standing in my way. My mind is focused on all the things I can fight for now that the worst thing that could happen is rejection. All that’s left here in Georgia is a few loose ends to tidy up before I pack up the last eight-plus years and head back to Texas. Like my job.

And Ella.

My eyes roll involuntarily as I think of the situation with Ella and how out of control it’s gotten. We aren’t even dating. Hell, we were never dating. It was purely two busy people blowing off steam. Two doctors who used each other’s bodies instead of going home alone. She said she didn’t want anything more and I said I would never want anything more. She caught me each time when I had been letting that lingering loneliness choke me and it worked.

Until it didn’t.

Even if I wasn’t going back to Pine Oak—finally—this conversation would be happening. I probably would have put it off a few weeks, but once I knew I was going back to Texas an overwhelming sense of urgency hit. The reason I never wanted a relationship since I settled in Georgia was because if I couldn’t have it with the one woman I wanted, I didn’t want it with anyone, and now that woman is finally on the horizon, waiting for me to return—even if she doesn’t know it yet. So I tried to end things with Ella—and then I tried again, and again. The woman just won’t take no for an answer. She asked me to dinner tonight, and I begrudgingly agreed on the condition that we at last both come to the same page on our relationship, and where it would finish. Right here, right now, tonight.

But so far, there’s been a whole lot of talking on my part and a hell of a lot of eye-fucking on Ella’s part.

That’s going to end. Now.

With a clear mind and a new fuel of determination rushing through my body, I head back into the restaurant.

“Sorry about that,” I tell Ella when I reach our table, picking my napkin off the seat before settling back into the chair across from her, placing it back in my lap. “You ordered wine?” I ask, looking at the two full glasses on the table and the bottle with the expensive French label chilling in a bucket to my right.

“I figured we could relax a little. It’s been a long week.” She reaches across the table, her small hand about to close around one of mine, but I pull back before she can get purchase.

“I’m on call, Ella,” I mumble, pushing the glass closest to me away and picking up my water.

She shrugs, pulling her arm back and winking before taking a delicate sip of her own wine. “Well, you’ll have to cut me off after two, Tatum. Anything more than that and I won’t be any good for you tonight.”

“Stop, Ella. You know damn well I didn’t come out tonight as some sort of prelude to fuckin’. I’m only here for another month before my resignation is effective, but even without me movin’ back to Texas, whatever you think is goin’ on here isn’t. We’ve talked about this.”

Something flashes in her eyes, but it’s gone a moment later. Her perfect mask falls back in place. “Oh, Tatum, I understand. Goodness, your accent sure does come back when you’re heated. Anyway, I had hoped dinner might lead to a little good-bye fun, but you’re right, I’m sorry. You can’t blame a girl for trying though, Tatum. I mean, look at you.”

I feel one of my brows arch at her continued attempts at flirting, but I ignore it in the hope that she will take a hint. “I’d prefer the remainder of my time here to pass without any more weirdness between us. I’m not goin’ to deal with you playin’ the role of a jealous girlfriend when you know damn well the time we spent together don’t equal a relationship, especially when I made it clear I don’t do commitment. We’re colleagues and that’s all.”

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