It seemed like the perfect solution to get their meddling moms off their backs. Wounded Navy SEAL Chance Wallace offers to pose as a fake boyfriend for his sexy physical therapist Brandi Wheeler’s week-long family wedding event and to help her avoid her mother’s matchmaking attempts. As a bonus, it also keeps his mother from visiting to help him recover and instead spend time with the intriguing Brandi.
It was the perfect solution…until their passion heats up as they indulge erotic fantasies on a sun-drenched island for a week of pure ecstasy. There’s nothing pretend about Chance and Brandi’s feelings for each other. When this fake relationship unexpectedly turns into something real, does love stand a chance?
Brandi dug the vibrating cell phone out of her lab coat, scowled at the phone number flashing across the screen, and hit the cancel button to refuse the call. There was no way she could deal with her mother right now, not with the way her day was going. Her caseload was already making her fall behind and it was only eleven in the morning.
She ignored another vibration that indicated a voicemail message. Of course her mother would leave a message. The overbearing woman would stalk her until she got on the phone. But she was too busy to worry about that right now.
Brandi stopped outside the exam room of her next patient. She put on glasses that she wore on a chain around her neck, removed his chart from the wall, and studied it.
Navy SEAL. Thirty-three years old. Wounded in action. Leg injury. Healthy otherwise.
Slipping off her glasses, she knocked on the door. When she entered the room, she thought the note about him being healthy was an understatement.
Between his six foot five height and his muscular body, the man hardly fit in the bed. There were two other men of equal size standing by his bed, arms folded, wearing shit-eating grins. When the three turned her way, their steely gazes stopped her. All three men oozed power and confidence, sizing her up with their eyes and never changing their stance.
Swallowing hard, she found her voice. “Hi there,” she said, stepping to the bedside. “Mr. Wallace? My name is Brandi Wheeler, and I’ll be your physical therapist while you’re here.”
The man seared her with a hard stare, narrowing dark brown eyes to pin her where she stood. “I don’t need any damn physical therapist. I can manage just fine on my own. Been exercising my whole life.” His gruff tone showed his agitation with being stuck in bed.
“What the man means is that he’ll be happy to work with you and do exactly what you say,” the man with short black hair and piercing blue eyes said, towering over her. “Finn Coleman, ma’am.” He offered his hand and she shook it. She cringed waiting for the massive hand that swallowed hers to break delicate bones, but his handshake remained soft and gentle. “My friend here means no disrespect.”
Her patient squirmed in the bed, rustling sheets and punching his pillow out of the way. “Don’t tell me what I mean.”
“Chance, you’re in no position to be calling the shots,” the other man said, this one as tall as his buddies but with short blond hair and serious blue eyes a girl could get lost in. He faced Brandi and offered his hand. “Cade Granville, ma’am.” Just like Finn’s, Cade’s handshake was gentler than expected. “Might want to check him for a head injury since he seems to have left his manners at the door.”
Brandi slipped on her glasses again and studied the case notes in the file. Uncooperative. Stubborn. In denial of seriousness of injury. She sighed. Why did she have to be the one assigned a patient with no will to help himself or face his injury? Just made her job that much harder.
“Mr. Wallace,” she began, facing him to make eye contact so he knew she meant business.
She studied the hard eyes focused on her. “Okay. Chance.” She met his glare and held it, keeping her voice firm yet understanding. “Why don’t you let me do my job first and ask you some questions before you say you don’t need my services? I’m sure you understand the need to first assess a situation before ruling out all options.”
She swore the other two men snickered, but she focused on her patient.
Chance’s lips curved into a half grin that held no sweetness. “By all means, waste your time.” He struggled to sit up straighter. “But there’s nothing you can do for me that I don’t know how to do myself. Hell, I know all about conditioning and strengthening workouts.”
She could understand his crankiness at being cooped up in a hospital room when he was probably used to running wild through God-forsaken lands. What bugged her was him dismissing her ability to help him. No one dismissed Brandi Wheeler, especially not when she was only trying to help him or her by doing her job.
A job that she not only excelled at but put her heart and soul into.
“Oh, I’m sorry,” she said, flipping through the chart, letting sarcasm win over as a final attempt to cut through his hostility. “No one mentioned you were a physical therapist. All it says here is that your bull headedness will certainly interfere with any prescribed physical therapy regimen.” She slammed the file shut, removed her glasses and moved closer, hand on hip, barely resisting the urge to tap her foot. “But in my professional opinion your unwillingness to cooperate is indicative of an even bigger problem.”
His eyes narrowed with a dangerous warning. “Oh? And what is that?”
She spoke slow and steady, refusing to let his bravado intimidate her. “That your ego will keep you from getting better because you’d rather sit in bed feeling sorry for yourself than actually make an effort to use the resources available to give you that speedy recovery you keep bitching about.”
“You’re hired!” Cade and Finn said together, fist bumping each other.
“Go to hell, you two.” Chance glared at Brandi. “First of all, I am not bitching.”
“I thought bitching was a nicer word than…whining,” she said, sensing she had struck the right nerve to at least get him to discuss his options.
Cade and Finn whistled. “Oh, man, I think you’ve met your match, buddy,” Cade said, laughing.
“Now listen here—” Chance began, but she cut him off with a wave of her hand.
She spoke clearly, doing her best to remain professional when she really wanted to tell him what a jerk he was being. “No, you listen, Chance Wallace. I’m the physical therapist. Not you. I wouldn’t go into the field and tell you how to do your job, so don’t think you can spew testosterone and tell me how to do mine. Now you’ll give me the courtesy I deserve and let me do my job to help you. Or you can take it upon your know-it-all self and ignore medical advice then you’ll be right back here, with an aggravated injury, and a longer healing time. Don’t waste my time, Chance. There are other patients willing to let me assist them without letting their ego rule their brain. So what’s it going to be?”
Chance stared at the wall for a long moment before turning back to her. “I apologize. I didn’t mean to insult you. Being laid up like this sucks. I’ll make a deal.”
“I don’t make deals,” she said, and turned toward the door.
“I’ll agree to your treatment plan, but if I don’t think it’s working then you have to be willing to listen,” Chance said as she retreated, the sincerity in his voice not to be mistaken for defeat.
She faced him and walked back to stand beside the bed. “I’ll make a deal with you. If my treatment plan doesn’t help you instantly then you can tell me ‘I told you so.’ You’d probably love to do that.”
He smirked and ran a hand over his short, black hair. “No, actually I wouldn’t like to do that. You’re right. You’re the expert. So what’s the plan?”
Wow, she had gotten through his stubbornness. Tough negotiations, but at least she’d made some progress. She proceeded with caution to not overwhelm him. “I need to examine you first. Then I’ll explain everything. But I can tell you that I disagree with the doctor’s assessment of a long recovery.”
His eyes widened with hope. “Why’s that?”
Brandi studied the hard angles of his face and noticed his features had softened now that he wasn’t fighting her. “Because with the amount of stubbornness inside you to fuel your fight to recover, I think you’ll be back shooting bad guys in no time. If you listen exactly to my instructions.”
“I want the fastest recovery. I’ll do anything to make it happen.”
Placing his file on the nightstand beside the bed, she walked to the sink to wash her hands. Once back by his side, she took a deep breath. It wasn’t every day she had a patient who oozed such sex appeal and confidence. “May I remove the bed sheets?”
“Absolutely,” he replied, a smile slowly forming as he rested back on the pillows, hands behind his head, watching her.
His two friends had remained quiet, observing their interaction from across the room while whispering to each other. They stood with arms crossed, looking like they were guarding the door to prevent Chance’s escape. Brandi appreciated the close bond of the men.
Slowly, she removed the sheets from Chance’s legs. He wore grey gym shorts and a white T-shirt which gave her easy access to his wound. She took a moment to compare his legs in size and color, looking for any sign that his condition had worsened or improved. But everything looked about the same as the case notes had indicated which was a good sign he was slowly recovering and infection wasn’t an issue.
The right leg was still swollen from where the bullet sliced through his flesh, on his thigh right above the knee. “You’re very fortunate, Chance. The surgeon reports that the bullet missed major arteries and muscles. Other than some nerve damage, I expect you will have a full recovery and regain normal use of your leg with some rigorous therapy.”
“Good news, buddy,” Finn said.
“Yeah, just listen to the lady,” Cade said. “Don’t be a dumbass.”
Her hands gripped his ankle. “Tell me if I hurt you,” she said, moving his leg around carefully, watching for any sign of pain he wouldn’t disclose.
“Darling, you could never hurt me. Your touch is soft, warm, feels really good. A big welcome from those old farts who come in here on their rounds.”
She ignored him, not wanting to know how much he liked her touching him. She fought against the images his words evoked, their hands on each other’s body, roaming up and down. Jesus! What the hell was wrong with her? This was her patient and she shouldn’t be thinking of him like a sex object, no matter how much she was sure he wouldn’t object.
“I’m going to press against your legs and feet, I want you to push against my hand. Go ahead.”
He did as she said and allowed her to perform her tests. As expected, his left leg was stronger than his injured right leg. She removed a small metal tool from her lab coat pocket to drag along the soles of his feet and legs to test for feeling, or lack thereof.
When he pulled away, she looked at him. “I’m sorry. Did I hurt you, Chance?”
She swore there was a slight blush forming on his tanned face. “No. Just…tickles.” The last word was said in a whisper, but that didn’t stop his two friends from overhearing and snickering.
Brandi couldn’t resist standing up for her client. She faced Cade and Finn. “Gentlemen? Do you need to wait outside?”
Instantly, they both stopped smiling and stood straight, hands behind their backs as they murmured in unison, “No, ma’am. Sorry.”
Turning back to Chance, she caught him gloating as if telepathically telling his buddies “ha ha, you got busted.” Really? And they give these men guns?
Offering a smile, she spoke again. “Sorry that it tickled, but that’s a good sign. You have complete feeling in your legs and feet, which will make our job easier and your recovery faster.”
She pulled the sheets back over his legs and stepped back. After putting on her glasses, she started writing in his file. “You have good range of motion, Chance. We’ll need to work on strengthening the muscles but, with you being in such good shape, that won’t be a problem. The wound is healing well. No signs of infection. Until the stitches are removed in a few days, we’ll work around that.”
The man had legs like tree trunks. Never had she had a patient so muscular, so strong. And she’d had many military personnel as patients. It was obvious that this man took pride in his physical fitness.
“Now what happens?” he asked, giving her his total attention.
Glancing at him, she couldn’t help notice the muscles straining against his T-shirt. “We can start therapy this afternoon. We’ll start slow and build up each session, adding more exercises. Any questions?”
He studied her, like he was making a chess move. “Does that mean you’ll be working with me? I only want to work with you.”
Umm, okay. “And why’s that? My staff is highly trained and very capable. While I will be working with you the majority of time, there may be times when I need to send my assistants due to scheduling conflicts or workload. Your therapy must remain constant to be successful.”
“Yeah, but I’m willing to bet none of those assistants are as beautiful or appealing as you are. And you’ve just proved that you’re very capable of handling my stubborn ass.”
She smiled. She was beautiful? Appealing? “If it takes me working with you directly for you to comply with therapy, I’ll do it. Besides, I don’t want my staff hating me for siccing you on them. Three o’clock, I’ll be back. Gentlemen, nice to meet you.” Gathering her file and removing her glasses, she prepared to leave.
“Absolutely great to meet you,” Cade said, grinning.
“You are going to earn your pay with this one,” Finn said, thumbing toward Chance.
“Oh, I think I can handle him,” she said with a wink. “Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go put my notes in the computer.”
“Notes? What kind of notes?” Chance asked.
Smiling, she walked to the door and then turned to face him. “Let’s just say that you’ve been one of my most interesting patients. Ever. Three o’clock. And no complaining.”
She left the room and fought hard not to fan herself as she quickly searched his file for any reference to a wife or significant other. She chastised herself for feeling glad when she found none.
Brandi reminded herself that it wasn’t appropriate to be attracted to a patient. But, wow, how could any living, breathing woman not be attracted to such a virile, sexy man? Even his abrupt tone and crankiness were appealing. The dangerous glint in his eyes should be a warning to stay away, because a man like Chance Wallace surely was used to getting his own way. But that only piqued her interest more.
Stop it! He’s a patient. Besides, the man probably had a woman in every state waiting for him.
“Brandi, what’s going on? Why are you daydreaming?” her assistant, Stella, asked, waving her hand in front of her face to get her attention while she stood at the nurse’s desk.
“Sorry,” Brandi replied, hoping she was acting as normal as possible or the very observant Stella would keep asking questions. “I’m just trying to collect my thoughts on my last patient and finish these notes. I’m already so far behind schedule. Trying to catch up.”
“Uh-huh.” The doubtful tone from the middle-aged African American woman with long, gorgeous braids and a smile to light up the room was a warning to Brandi that she would be asking more questions when time allowed. “You usually wear your glasses when writing notes, don’t you?”
Busted! Best just to ignore the observation. Brandi handed Chance’s chart to Stella. “Schedule Mr. Wallace to start PT today at three with me. He’s a little brash, so I will deal with him directly.”
“He’s also a whole lot of handsome. You go, girl,” Stella whispered.
Brandi just smiled. “Stop that. I’ve got my next patient.” She walked away before Stella could interrogate her on her new and irritating patient. She found herself looking forward to the three o’clock appointment with Chance, mostly because she enjoyed a challenge but secretly she enjoyed him.
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