He wasn’t a doctor or even a prosthetist. He was a biomedical engineer. He designed, he engineered, and he preferred to keep a certain distance, like a surgeon on the other side of the drape. But he’d wrestled with it for over twenty-four hours since leaving the diner and come up with nothing except that he couldn’t walk away from it or from her.
“It’s not your leg, is it?” Simon asked, sitting up. “Your extreme pussiness about the waitress? Because if it is, I’ll have to kick your ass. Again.”
“You haven’t kicked it yet, and no. It’s not.” It’d been eight years since he’d lost his leg, though there’d definitely been a time it had been a problem, and it had taken some getting used to.
Take his prosthesis off? Leave it on? Or maybe hard and fast up against a wall so he didn’t have to deal with it at all, not the wide-eyed gasps or the sudden change of heart. Not the pity or the weird curiosity.
“Well, at least that’s something,” Simon said, pausing to look at him. “You know what I think?”
“No, but I’m sure you’ll tell me.” They’d been in rehab together after Simon’s time at the VA. Hours of therapy, hours of hanging out when neither man was at his best. They were as close as brothers, maybe closer. And Simon, who was sandwiched between two older and two younger sisters, was more in touch with his feelings and using his words than most.
“You need the love of a good woman,” Simon said. “Don’t you ever want more?”
“Do you think maybe you’re getting caught up in the wedding fever bliss?” JT rolled his eyes and talked the shit back and forth with Simon, but yeah. He wanted more.
But it was that wanting that reminded him his leg was the least of what had been lost that day eight years ago. And it had all been his fault.
“Don’t look now,” Jenny said, “but Mr. Fine is back and he looks hungry.”
“Is this like Mr. Sexy Hair or Mr. Perky Pecs?” Paige moved around her cousin to refill a soda. Tonight had been busier than they expected, with the cooks churning out food and the waitstaff rushing to keep up.
“Better.” Jenny winked.
Paige smiled and shook her head at her cousin. Always on the hunt for a man. Her own limited experience with men didn’t make her eager for more.
“Are you kidding me?” Jenny went on. “You’re not even going to look?”
She finally did out of curiosity and…crap. It was the guy from the other day. The one that made her pulse beat faster. The one she’d thought was about to ask her out even if she could never say yes. Which is why the tingle on the back of her neck and the heat he brought to her cheeks was so disconcerting. She grabbed a rag to wipe around the base of the coffeemaker. “That’s not my table.”
“It is now. He asked for you specifically.”
“What did he say? Exactly.”
“I said, ‘Hey, handsome, what can I get you?’ and he said, ‘Paige.’ Just like that. Paige, all deep and sexy. Told you he was going to ask you out.”
Jenny must have read the look on her face because she added, “You don’t want him, I’m more than happy. I’d go anywhere that man asked.”
Yeah. Anyone would. And he was looking this way. Crap.
She made her way over to Mr. Fine, as he was aptly named, because okay, yes. He was perfectly gorgeous in a casual, slightly rugged, athletic kind of way, even if she tried hard not to notice. His hair was dark and slightly damp, a black T-shirt covered his chest, just hinting at the muscles beneath. Add to that his eyes and a faint shadow covering his strong jaw, and the entire female population was in danger of hyperventilating.
“Hi,” she said, trying her best not to be affected by him. It would be so much better if she actually wasn’t affected by him. “What can I get you?”
“Okay.” See? Just a man. No reason for this to be awkward. Except that he was here and asking for her. “Anything else? The special is meatloaf.”
“No, thanks,” he said, his voice deep and even, his expression serious. “I wanted to talk to you, if you have a minute. About your daughter.”
What could he possibly have to say about Casey?
“About her leg, specifically,” he added.
Well, now things were awkward. Her shoulders stiffened and she took a small step back. “What about it?”
He took a deep breath and blew it out, then angled himself on the booth seat until his right leg was in clear view. His khaki shorts revealed a below-the-knee prosthesis. The socket at the top was shiny black with a silver pylon that disappeared into a running shoe. It was sleek and impressively high-tech looking.