Here is the PROLOGUE first
Proud Of Himself
Three Months Later
“Mick,” Wyatt Fierce said, opening the door to his place. “Come on in.”
Mick stepped into Wyatt’s place and looked around. He should have figured Wyatt would have this nice of a condo. “Thanks for the invite.”
“Anytime,” Wyatt said. “You don’t need to be invited. I’m glad you could come for dinner and have a drink. How are you finding it being back?”
“It’s like I never left,” he said.
He wasn’t originally from Durham, but not that far away either. Just about ninety minutes in a small rural area. Durham was the big city to him growing up. Duke had been a dream and to go there for his first four years and then med school was something he had thought someone from his background could only imagine.
He’d busted his ass for the grades to get in and stay there. He was proud of himself despite the debt he had to pay down.
Life didn’t turn out the way he wanted it to though, but he was making the best of it. He’d learned a long time ago to never plan on anything because there were no guarantees.
Not too many people he could rely on either. But one of those he could was standing right here in front of him. Not only Wyatt but the entire Fierce family that had pretty much taken him in when he was on his own.
“It’s been years, but I’m thrilled you decided to return. How’s your mom and sister?”
“My mother is the same as always. Got some new guy she is living with. I haven’t met him like I haven’t the past several. But, boy, do I hear about them. Julia is good too. At least the last time I talked to her.”
He wasn’t as close to his younger sister as he would have liked. He had regrets about that, but when it was time for him to leave for college he couldn’t get out fast enough. His younger sister was left behind with a mother that was never around and a father that was in and out of jail.
Michael McNamara had gotten fired from his job as a CPA for mismanagement of a client’s funds. He suspected that was a loose term for theft, but he wasn’t charged with anything. Then he turned to drugs and alcohol to dull the pain of his wife leaving him over the embarrassment. Drug usage turned to dealing to make money and it finally all caught up with him.
Between the drugs and the back child support, Mick’s father had seen a cell a few times for short stints. He was out now, but wiped from his kids’ lives. Or at least Mick’s.
Wyatt nodded his head. “How about a beer? Got a fresh stash delivered on Saturday.”
“I’d kill for a beer,” Mick said.
“Help yourself to what you want,” Wyatt said. “I’m going to light the grill and we eat like men tonight. Steaks and beers. Nothing green. Maybe I’ll put a few potatoes out there, but that is about as close as I’m getting to healthy.”
“Deal,” Mick said, moving to the kitchen. He opened the fridge and saw the variety, then grabbed one at random. All the Fierce beers were good in his eyes. He’d met the Fierce Five, Wyatt’s cousins who owned the brewery and a restaurant in Charlotte, a time or two. Hell, he’d been running through Wyatt’s family home for years secretly wishing it were his own.
“So, are you all set up at your place now?” Wyatt asked, coming back and picking his beer up off the counter. “Have a seat.”
They moved to the living room. “Set for the moment,” Mick said. “Thanks again for telling me about the complex.” It was one of the nicer ones he’d been in and gave him plenty of space. It was really more a townhouse than an apartment now that he thought of it. He just never did. A place to lay his head at night was all the same to him.
“My father and brother did a lot of work for them a few years ago when they were built. They always have an in on the best places around and when I told them you’d gotten a job here, they said to check it out.”
“I’m grateful to your family, as always,” he said. It felt like he’d said that a lot in life to Wyatt and his family.
“Don’t think anything of it,” Wyatt said. He started to shake his head. “I can’t believe you’re a medical examiner. Dude, really? What happened? We lost touch during our residencies and I’m sorry about that.”
Mick snorted. “Don’t be sorry. I was a state away and putting in more hours than I was sleeping. Just like you. It happens.”
“Don’t remind me,” Wyatt said. “But seriously. You had it planned out. Surgeon first, then emergency medicine. This was never on your radar.”
If there was one person he could be honest with, it was Wyatt. “I lost a patient,” he said. “It hit me hard. I know we all do. Not everyone does in a residency, but I did.”
“Sorry about that,” Wyatt said. “If anyone can understand the fear it’s me.”
Wyatt was an anesthesiologist. He held people’s lives in his hands daily in his job. Multiple times a day. Mick was never cut out for that. He found he wasn’t cut out for the medical field much when it came down to it. Not the way he’d imagined.
Again, life not going his way, so he made the best of it by adjusting and turning the wheel.
“You get it. But I was so far into it and couldn’t walk away. I know a lot do. But the debt I had. The time invested. It wasn’t an option. I moved to a pathology residence to finish up and here I am. I did a fellowship for forensic and that’s an option in the future too. Maybe government work someday, but for now I’m happy at Duke with you.”
Before he switched to pathology, he’d been going home at night so drained and shaken. It was eating at him and not healthy. He knew he’d probably give himself a heart attack if he continued. The doubt over what he was doing and the worry that he could kill someone was weighing too heavily on his shoulders. That doubt had been clouded under a mask of cockiness that a storm blew away fast.
“You said you were going into medicine because you wanted to make it big,” Wyatt said, reminding him. “You put too much pressure on yourself. Do you think that was part of it?”
He laughed. “You got me to admit that after we played beer pong. That doesn’t count.”
“It was the only way to get you to loosen up. Shit, I pranked your room daily and all you did was laugh, but you never said much to me on a personal level for those first few months.”
He didn’t want anyone to know what or where he came from. That his father was in jail at the time. His mother was on another boyfriend and hardly home. It was an embarrassment.
Being assigned a room with Wyatt Fierce, whose family was well known in the area, made him keep as much a secret as he could.
Mick was a pretty laid back guy and had no problem with jokes and pranks when many couldn’t stand that Wyatt was always doing things. Maybe that was why they got along so well.
That and the fact Mick almost idolized the guy, but never let on.
“Yeah, well. I did put a lot of pressure on myself and then I started to realize I wasn’t cut out for playing God. I wanted the easy things. Bring me a broken bone or a cut, a stomach bug. I could do that all day.”
Wyatt laughed. “Fishing objects out of anal cavities.”
He cringed. “Not that, but hell, I wasn’t risking a person’s life that way. Anyway, I was a few months into the ER residency and just…it wasn’t working,” he said, not wanting to admit much more. “I started to think of my options and realized if the person was already dead, I couldn’t hurt them.”
“Right on that,” Wyatt said. “So now you try to find cause of death rather than worrying about causing it.”
“Death never freaked me out. Neither do dead bodies.”
“Just when they came to you alive first?” Wyatt asked.
“Exactly. I always loved puzzles and this seemed to be the best situation for me. It’s not the most glamorous of medical jobs, but I’m a doctor and doing better than I ever thought I do.”
“Don’t knock yourself down,” Wyatt said.
“Never,” Mick said, forcing a laugh. “I’d say we could still be each other’s ride or dies, but that’s morbid considering our professions. And you’ve got the ball and chain around you now.”
“Don’t let my wife hear you say that. She’d kick your butt. And trust me, that girl is competitive and athletic. She scares me.”
Mick laughed. “I never thought I’d hear those words come out of your mouth.”
“When you find the right woman, you don’t give a shit about anything other than making her happy.”
“I’m not looking,” Mick said. “I’m having too much fun right now.” Lying never sat well with him, but it seemed the thing to say.
“I always said that too,” Wyatt said. “But when it hits you, it does. There is no stopping it. I didn’t bother to try.”
“I’ll take your word for it,” Mick said. “So how about we put that food on the grill instead of talking like a bunch of chicks. Seems your wife is wearing off on you. I hate to think I’ve got to find another partner in crime in the area to hit the bars.”
Wyatt snorted. “You’re saying that half-hearted and you know it.”
“You’re right,” he said. He had no time for a woman. He was just glad to be back by the guy he’d thought of as his brother for years and was thrilled Wyatt didn’t hold it against him for their lack of communication.
Part of Mick was embarrassed that he’d had all these plans and they didn’t pan out. Wyatt always knew what he wanted and made sure he got it.
But the other part was, he figured Wyatt had a big enough family, he wouldn’t miss Mick when he was gone and didn’t want to put it to the test. By him not staying in touch, he wouldn’t have had to worry about being hurt.
Wyatt held his beer up. “To the two of us being back together again.”
Which told Mick he had nothing to worry about. All those fears were just more pressure he’d put on himself for no reason.
“Together again. I’m now the third wheel.”
“We’ll find you a chick,” Wyatt said. “No worries there.”
“I can find my own when I’m ready,” he said, laughing. And he wasn’t ready.