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Bestselling author Devon Hartford brings you another scorching hot and scandalous standalone romance.
SOME SECRETS ARE TOO HARD TO KEEP
The night the EMTs rolled Lion Maxwell into my ER turned my life upside down.
Although he was bloody and battered from defending his title as the WMAA’s reigning cruiserweight champion, his cocky grin lit up the room.
And every cell in my body.
Our fiery chemistry was off the charts.
The ER staff sensed it.
Lion’s entourage and his drooling groupies sensed it too.
If the two of us had been alone, I might have done something entirely unprofessional and completely unethical right there in the exam room. But I was his attending physician. A sexual or romantic relationship with him was grounds for my termination or worse, revoking my medical license. I wouldn’t risk my career on a moment of passion. It didn’t stop that arrogant caveman from doing everything he could to get me into his hospital bed.
After denying his advances for weeks, the last thing I expected were the wild nights he would be spending in my bed.
It was supposed to be nothing more than a secret fling.
I knew it couldn’t last.
He was still my patient.
What we were doing was wrong.
If anyone found out, it could ruin my life.
But we couldn’t let go.
We were bound to each other on some primal level that consumed us.
Sometimes love is tragic.
Sometimes two people aren’t meant to be together.
But sometimes, two people overcome all adversity and build a love that lasts forever.
I knew deep in my heart that Lion Maxwell could be my happily ever after.
As long as we kept our love a secret.
I wish I’d known that some secrets are too hard to keep…
I didn’t have time for men.
As an attending physician at the busy Los Angeles Central Hospital, I had too many responsibilities. Caring for my patients was always my top priority. For me, dating was an afterthought.
But I wasn’t a robot.
I noticed men all the time.
For example, several of the EMTs who wheeled patients into the Emergency Care Unit every night were to die for. The boys in blue were just as yummy, ember-eyed Officer Noah Murdock being the yummiest.
The firemen from the LAFD were even more gorgeous. My favorites were Troy and Rick from Station 10. Both were regulars here in the ECU. Both were also smoking hot and known not only for saving lives and putting out fires, but for starting fires—in women’s panties, and not just mine. Ask any of the women on the ECU team (and some of the men). Troy and Rick were also known for appearing topless in the LAFD Firefighter’s calendar hanging in our team break room. In it, both men sported oiled-up abs and bulging shoulders while looking rugged and sweaty and deadly sexy in their suspiciously low hanging firemen’s pants. Troy was Mother’s Day May and Rick was I wish me a Merry Christmas December. Yes, I skipped ahead to check. Several times a week.
Like I said, I noticed men all the time.
But I was too busy doing my job to date any.
When I wasn’t here at the hospital, I was the on call physician and had to come in at the most unexpected times. Not ideal for dating. Most weeks it seemed like I lived here.
After setting a broken arm in exam room 102, I walked out to fill out the relevant paperwork before taking my next patient.
Latisha Brown, the charge nurse, fell into step beside me and said, “Girl, you gonna wet yourself when you get a look at the fine man in 109. Mmm, mmm, mmm.” She muttered it in a low voice as we walked toward the nurses station. Latisha and I gossiped about hot men all the time. It helped keep things light when they got too serious. “Man brought a whole entourage with him.”
I glanced over at the door to 109. A dozen people crowded the entrance. More were packed inside the room. “Is he somebody famous?”
“Not that I know. But he oughta be a model, the way he looks. Or an actor. Or my next hookup. Mmm, mmm, I’m telling you, girl.” Her eyes glimmered with desire. “I had to change my drawers after helping Allison check his vitals.”
“Why?” I snickered.
“On account of my lady parts was perspiring.” She winked.
“He can’t be that hot.”
“You ain’t seen him yet. The way he looks, that boy must live in a gym. Allison’s hands were shaking so bad when she tried to slide the blood pressure cuff up his arm, I had to do it for her.”
“I’m sure you hated every second of it.”
“Every last one.” She chuckled.
“Do you have his medical record?” Now I was curious.
She reached over the counter of the nurses station and grabbed a chart off the rack. “Here you go. Before you go in, I should warn you about the python in his pants.”
“Python? An actual python?” From time to time, patients came into the ECU with the strangest things attached to or inserted inside themselves. The obvious: nipple clamps, cock rings, dildos, vibrators, anal beads, condoms, tampons. The not so obvious: fruits, vegetables, latex gloves, flashlights, a toy car, a glass light bulb. Yes, an actual light bulb. When I extracted it, Latisha was on hand. I held it up and said, “This gives me an idea.” Latisha struggled not to laugh. The patient was half passed out on muscle relaxants (we were worried about shattering the lightbulb) and he lay face down on the bed. The light bulb was a first for everyone on staff that night. But top of the list for Latisha and me went a step weirder. Two summers ago, we performed a Rectal Foreign Body Removal of a smallish garden gnome, complete with red pointy hat, from a male patient. The man had said he “fell on it” while gardening. By “fell” he meant “sat down.” On purpose. Multiple times. After discharging him and sending the man home with his gnome, I warned him to be more careful while “gardening” in the future. In private, I’d asked Latisha if she thought the man did his “gardening” in the nude. She said no, he probably wore assless chaps at the very least, so as to protect him from thorns and thistles. I had said, but not from gnomes? We had both broken into laughter at that point.
“You remembering that nasty ass gnome, ain’t you?”
“Sadly.” I chuckled.
“Don’t worry, the python in 109 is warm blooded. But I’ll get you the anti-venom kit, just in case.”
“Tisha, pythons aren’t warm blooded and they don’t have venom.”
“This one does.” Her eyes flared for a moment before she swallowed a ticking snicker, doing her best to maintain a professional demeanor. It wasn’t working. “And it spits like a cobra if you get it all riled up.” We both giggled naughtily.
“When was the last time you got any? You sound completely desperate.”
“More recently than you. And that ain’t saying much.”
“Don’t remind me.” I groaned while flipping through the man’s chart. I read his name out loud. “Lion Maxwell? That can’t be his real name.”
“I think it is.”
“Who names their child Lion?”
“Shoulda named him Snake,” she said seriously.
I glared at her and struggled not to laugh as I walked toward the crowd outside 109. It consisted of several men wearing matching gold on black T-shirts emblazoned with a roaring lion and the slogan #TeamLion – FEEL THE BEAST.
Why did that sound vaguely sexual?
The other men standing outside wore suits or blazers and slacks. There were also a few women best described as trashy strippers: tight micro skirts, flashy bedazzled tops with too much cleavage, fake boobs, spray tans, garish makeup, etc. I’m sure a significant portion of the male population found women like these highly desirable, but to me they looked like sparkly clowns.
One of the strippers had a strategically messy pile of dark hair on her head that was the largest I’d seen since the late 1980s. On her, somehow it worked. Her eyes raked over me with obvious judgement and a hint of a challenge, like she saw me as competition. Competition for what, I wasn’t sure. She sneered, “Who are you?”
I wanted to say, Was the stethoscope and white lab coat not enough of a giveaway? But I was a professional and kept it to myself. “I’m the doctor.”
“Mind if I see my patient?”
“Whatever,” she huffed and turned her back to me.
I squeezed past her into the exam room. More burly men in #TeamLion T-shirts filled the room.
Latisha was right.
One look at the nearly naked man reclining on the hospital bed said it all. He made my favorite firefighters Troy and Rick look like regular Joes. Lion Maxwell was in another league. He was dangerously gorgeous. Emphasis on danger. Thick dark hair and equally dark eyes added a brooding quality. A number of contusions and cuts were scattered over his face and torso, but on him it looked good, like they belonged there. This man was a warrior and he’d obviously been in a fight. Even lying down, he exuded a masculine energy that said Do not mess with me or I will destroy you. Add to that his perfect body that was hard and scarred and chiseled in the extreme. Exactly what you would expect from the king of the beasts.
A wave of desire rained down from my head to my toes. I pushed it away. I was here to work, not languish in his good looks.
My eyes focused on his splinted knee. The EMS team had already stabilized the knee joint with orange board splints and stretch bandages. Lion’s chart had said dislocation of the joint with possible torn ligaments and/or tibial avulsion fracture, which meant the kneecap tendon contracted so hard it tore off a chunk of bone from the lower leg. The swelling was bad enough it could be any or all of those things. Only an MRI would reveal the full extent of the injury.
“Who ordered the foxy doctor?” Lion said from the bed, relaxed and amused. His voice was deep and slightly gravelly. It shook me out of my diagnostic train of thought and did things to me that were entirely inappropriate.
The men surrounding him all turned to face me like a pack of jackals. All had hungry eyes.
Welcome to the lion’s den.
I’d never felt so much testosterone in one room. Most of it came from Lion and made me feel like a piece of meat, the kind that gets hunted down by ravenous carnivores on the plains of the Serengeti.
Lion’s dark and dangerous eyes roamed all over me. “Please tell me you’re my doctor.”
His men chuckled approval. Obviously, Lion was the king of these beasts. But I needed to get this situation under control. Not a problem. I was in my element.
“I’m Dr. Flanagan. What happened to you, Mr. Maxwell?”
“Call me Lion. Everybody does.” That voice. It oozed confidence and resonated in my chest like he was invading me.
If he kept talking in that sexy voice of his, I was going to be the one doing the oozing. I needed to stay focused. I was a doctor, not a giddy teenager. So I took a moment to collect myself in case I started babbling like one.
Lion smirked at me. A hungry sexy smirk.
I offered a curt smile and swallowed hard. The giddy teenager in me wanted desperately to bat my eyelashes at this gorgeous man.
More chuckles rumbled from Lion’s men as they watched me trying to hold it together. One said, “Go easy on her, Lion.”
Another: “She looks fragile. You don’t wanna spook her.”
Spook me? What, like I was some kind of dainty deer wandering through the forest, scared of the big bad mountain Lion? Not even close. I was the opposite of fragile.
Lion said, “What’s the matter, Doc? Cat got your tongue?”
I smirked. “Very funny, Mr. Maxwell. I was just taking a moment to ignore your arrogance in hopes that it would go away. But we all know wishful thinking never works.”
“Don’t worry. I’ve got more where that came from.”
More what, I didn’t want to know. Mainly because I was afraid I would like it, whatever it was.
One of the other men said, “Don’t mind him. He’s always like this with the ladies.”
Lion laughed easily. “You trying to make me look bad, Cahill?”
Cahill chortled. “When it comes to looking like a tool, you don’t need any help from me.”
“But if I did, you’d be the first man I’d ask for lessons.”
The men laughed again. Cahill laughed too. Clearly, this group was the best of friends. Or frat brothers. All they needed was a keg and a stack of plastic cups to get this party started.
“So, Mr. Maxwell. About your knee.” I said it loud enough to get everyone’s attention. “Can you tell me what happened?”
“Busted it up in the cage tonight.”
“Championship fight,” Cahill added. The nice thing about having an entourage of your own was that they could parade your ego around for you, so you didn’t look arrogant. I wasn’t fooled. They were on his payroll.
Being polite, I said, “Did you win?”
“Do you have to ask?” Lion cocked his bad boy grin.
Had there been any women in the room, the sound of panties dropping would’ve been overwhelming. Obviously I was wrong about him needing his men to parade his ego around. He was more than happy to do it himself.
I was over it. “I take it you won. But your knee looks like the biggest loser tonight, Mr. Maxwell.”
“You afraid to say my name, Doc?”
“I just did.”
Hoots from the men. One said, “She bad, Lion. Watch out she don’t bite you.”
Lion stared at me, eyes locked on mine. “She can bite me all she wants.” He shifted on the bed and let his uninjured knee fall to the side, opening his legs. He wore only skin tight gold lycra shorts. Otherwise, he was entirely naked.
I kept my eyes locked on his. I didn’t have to look directly to see he was packing. His huge bulge practically filled the room. Latisha hadn’t been exaggerating about him having a python.
“Like what you see, Doc?”
I wasn’t taking the bait and I wasn’t going to look. But I was going to stare him down.
More muttering from the men as they watched our staring contest.
I was aware that nothing was going to get accomplished if I didn’t put my foot down and stop this frat party. In a strong voice I said, “Gentlemen! Do I have to clear the room?!”
They looked shocked.
Lion was as cool as a cat. “You trying to get me alone, Doc?”
“No. I’m just trying to do my job, Mr. Maxwell.”
“You don’t have to deny it, Doc. I could tell you wanted me the second you laid eyes on me,”
Not anymore, I don’t. And, could you be any more cocky? I mean, aside from the python in your pants? And did he really think using sexually suggestive words like “laid” was going to work on me? Was that his idea of hypnotism? Did he really think it would make me imagine having sex with him? Hardly.
A few of the men started tittering like this was middle school and I was their pushover substitute teacher, the one who didn’t know how to herd the class clowns into their pens when they misbehaved.
I clapped my hands together and barked, “That’s it! All of you, out! Now! This isn’t a locker room. This is my house and we play by my rules! The exit is that way, gentlemen.” Like a football referee, I swung both arms around and pointed out the door. Too bad I didn’t have a referee whistle to blow in their faces. I hid a smile. Game, set, and match.
“Want me to leave too, Doc?” The innocent look on Lion’s face was completely fake.
I glared at him. “Are you always this defiant?”
“Always.” And proud of it, no doubt.
“If you weren’t my patient, I would throw you out with the rest of them. Unfortunately, I devoted my life to helping the sick and injured, no matter how annoying they may be.”
His men laughed and hooted.
I wheeled on them. “Zip it! All of you! Were you not able to find the door?” Considering the room was twelve by twelve feet, even an earthworm could find its way out. Then again, the average earthworm probably had a higher IQ than all these men combined.
Lion smiled at me, the wheels behind his eyes turning, no doubt wondering what other thing he could do to harass me.
I arched my eyebrows, daring him to speak.
Finally, he chuckled. “Better do what the doctor says, fellas.”
Cowed, the men shuffled out of the room, grumbling as they went.
It infuriated me that they obeyed him and not me. Not that it mattered. Mission accomplished. Divide and conquer. Never fight the enemy all at once if you can take them down one at a time.
At least they left.
Order restored, I closed the door, but left it open a crack. Now it was just me trapped in this cage with Lion. Somebody get me a chair and a whip. Scratch that. Make it a tranquilizer rifle. I swear I’ll put this animal down if he tries anything. And someone call the taxidermist. Lion’s head is going up on my office wall on a plaque. Which reminds me, I’ll need to get a photo of me standing with my shoe on his head to commemorate the kill. The picture can go right next to the taxidermy head.
I repressed another smile.
“What’re you smiling about, Doc?”
“Anybody ever tell you you got an iron fist?”
I wanted to say, Yes, and I’ll use it on you if you don’t behave. But it was time for me to get to work, so I kept my mouth shut.
“I like that in a woman.”
“Is that so?” I was trying to be polite. His taste in women was not my concern, but I was slightly flattered he didn’t consider me a bitch. Slightly. I had never been afraid to stand up for myself even if it meant being labelled a bitch.
“Yeah. I can take control all day long. I do every time I step in the cage. I think that’s why I like a woman who doesn’t take shit from anyone.”
“That’s me. But I make an exception when asking my patients for stool samples. Then I will take their shit with a straight face.” It was a dumb joke. But it just slipped out.
He snorted. “You’re clever, Doc.”
I was surprised he found that funny.
“You got a man?”
I saw where this was going and I didn’t want to encourage him. His injured knee was my focus. I wanted to get the paperwork started for an MRI so I could move on to other patients. So I ignored his question. “Let’s get these bandages off so I can get a better idea of what’s going on.” I started to carefully unwrap the splint.
“You didn’t answer my question.”
I didn’t respond. I wasn’t going to get sucked back into flirtation. Since we’d already established that he found my iron fist a turn on, I needed another approach to keep him in line. The next best strategy was re-direction, a tactic that worked well with toddlers. That meant it would probably work well with Lion. “Can you tell me what happened when you injured your knee? What I mean is, did it twist more than normal? Were there any popping noises? Anything you can tell me will help.”
“I’ll make you a deal, Doc. For every question of yours I answer, you gotta answer one of mine.”
I smiled. “No deal.”
“Then I’m not talking.”
Ahhh, toddlers. They can be so stubborn.
He folded his muscular arms across his equally muscular chest. Everything bulged magnificently, even his bulge, which I was still ignoring. But I couldn’t miss his charming grin. It had gone from ferocious to adorably playful.
Sometimes, the best way to let a man down was with a compliment.
“Mr. Maxwell. I’m flattered that you’re interested. I mean it. You’re a handsome man with a sense of humor. If we’d met under different circumstances, who knows. But we didn’t, and I need you to understand one thing.”
“It’s against the rules for a doctor to date a patient.”
“The rules set down by the Medical Board of California and this hospital. Dating patients is considered unethical and therefore strictly verboten.”
“Who needs rules?”
“Let me ask you something, Mr. Maxwell.”
“You’re what, a boxer?”
“Mixed martial arts. Cage fighter.”
I ignored the fact that the term cage fighter conjured up all kinds of sexy images of him, me, a gloomy torch-lit cage that vaguely resembled some kind of sexual torture chamber (in a good way), and both of us sweating. A lot. While naked. Him grunting. Me moaning. Excessive amounts of bodily fluids would be exchanged as sexual organs shamelessly filled all relevant orifices with said bodily fluids. The orgasm count would be in the triple digits.
“You okay, Doc?”
“Yes.” I cleared my throat, trying to block out the onslaught of images. I needed to re-direct my own giddy teenaged train of thought. What had he just said? Something about rules? Oh yes, rules. “Are you allowed to hit your opponent in the eye or the groin during a cage fight?”
“No. Eye gouges and groin strikes are off limits. If you do it on purpose, you’ll get disqualified, automatically lose the fight, and get fined by the judicial board.”
I arched an eyebrow. “Imagine that. And, have you ever hit anyone in the groin during a fight? I mean, on purpose?” Why did I say groin? Groin groin groin. I pushed the thought away.
“No way. That would be against the—” He stopped short.
He refused to answer, but his adorable grin returned.
“Sounds like you follow the rules, Mr. Maxwell. When it suits you.”
The slightest hint of a blush reddened beneath his tan skin. He chuckled. “You got me, Doc.”
“Rules, Mr. Maxwell. We all follow them, often when we don’t want to.”
“So you’re saying you would date me if it wasn’t against the rules?”
“I said maybe. And we all know maybe means no. Ask any kid, they’ll tell you.”
He chuckled. “Right.”
Why did I feel like I was flirting again? I swear, that wasn’t my plan. The truth was, I really was flattered he was interested in me. Men of his caliber rarely spoke to me let alone threw themselves at me. But technically it was too late. I would be remiss if I didn’t follow my own rules. The ECU wasn’t my own personal singles bar. It was my place of work. As far as I was concerned, every patient who walked through the front doors was off limits, no matter how attracted I was to them or vice versa. “I’m very sorry, Mr. Maxwell. You’re my patient. That’s not going to change.”
“Okay. Then I won’t be your patient. You haven’t done anything yet so get me another doctor. Please.”
I almost bristled at his order. Nobody told me what to do. But the please he added at the end stopped me short. As did his adorable smile. “I did unwrap your bandage. See? It’s too late.”
“Shit, I coulda unwrapped it. You gonna tell me if you put a Band-Aid on a guy, he’s your patient?”
“Yes. If it happens here in the ECU, definitely.”
“That’s a rule. And we all know rules are sometimes ridiculous. But most aren’t.”
“Just get me another doc, Doc.”
“I wish I could, Mr. Maxwell. Unfortunately, we’re busy tonight and we’re short staffed. You would be doing everyone a favor if you just let me treat you.”
“I don’t know, Doc. Any doctor can fix my knee. But something tells me you’re the only doctor in the world who can fix a broken heart.” What should have been corny came off charming because he delivered it with such sincerity.
“I wish I could help you, but I’m not a cardio thoracic surgeon.”
“Sorry. Doctor humor. A heart surgeon. I’m orthopedics. I don’t do hearts. But I am eminently qualified to fix your knee. So let’s focus on that, okay?”
“What’s your first name?”
I sighed. “If I tell you my first name, I’ll still be your doctor.”
“You’re too damn smart for you own good, you know that? That’s what I like about you, Doc. I mean, Ms. Flanagan.” He was looking at my name tag. “Since you’re not my doctor anymore, I’ll have to call you Ms. Flanagan until I know your first name.”
“How do you know I’m not a Mrs.?”
“I don’t see a ring.”
“Maybe I left it at home.”
“Don’t see a tan line.”
“That’s because I’m always here working and don’t have time to get one.” I had to admit, his persistence was endearing. And he complimented me for being smart, which was the way to my heart. But it wasn’t going to work. “Try as you might, Mr. Maxwell, I will not be dating you. I’m sure one of the nice women waiting outside for you would be happy to take on that responsibility.” If they haven’t already. Everything about his demeanor suggested that he was an accomplished manwhore, which likely meant his telling me I was smart was just a trick to get me into bed. I didn’t do tricks. I’m sure the strippers outside would be happy to turn all the tricks he could ever want.
“Them? Nah. They’re just fight groupies. But you? You’re my kind of woman. You’re a boss and a badass and smart as hell.” Tricks, more tricks! “Not to mention your red hair and those mint green eyes make me rock fucking hard.”
Tricks, tricks, tricks!!! My eyes aren’t even mint green! They were just plain green. Mint. Pfft. He’s not fooling anybody. Except… me.
I finally broke down and stole a glance at his cock. He wasn’t exaggerating. His python was wide awake and straining against his tight lycra shorts. I could see the shape of the head and the shaft through the fabric. When it pulsed, I almost lost my cool. Almost. There was a reason they called me Dr. Freeze in the ECU. I could deal with rude patients, gunshot wounds, and the chaos of trauma all day long. But this was different and that was one long python…
“You’re blushing, Ms. Flanagan.”
I was also staring. It was a fact that some snakes hypnotized their prey before going in for the kill. I tore my gaze away before his snake ate me. Or I ate it. If I hadn’t been hypnotized, I would’ve been embarrassed by my utter lack of professionalism. But it was the snake’s fault.
“You sure you can’t find me another doctor, Irish?”
“How did you know I was Irish?”
“Flanagan is Irish, isn’t it?”
“Yes. But don’t call me Irish.”
“Why not? Is it racist or something?”
“No, just don’t call me that.” Nicknaming me makes me sort of like you, so stop.
“Then tell me your name.” His dark eyes smoldered with the promise of forbidden pleasure, the kind of pleasure that took place in his torchlit caveman’s cage where I could scream out every orgasm he gave me without worrying about waking the neighbors.
I hadn’t had an orgasm with a man in ages. And never with a man this magnificent. Like I said earlier, I wasn’t a robot. I had my limits. Apparently, Lion was it. So I caved. I let down my guard and muttered:
“You don’t even know me, Mr. Maxwell.”
“But I will.” Again with that commanding voice. Low and dangerous and oh so delicious.
Latisha had been right about the anti-venom kit. I needed one to break the spell that Lion Maxwell had cast over me. If something didn’t break it soon, I was going to make a terrible mistake.
Devon Hartford is a dude who writes romantic comedies because he likes to laugh as much as he likes to love.
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