of shackles echoed off the hospital’s linoleum floors, rippling across Doctor Alyssa Foster’s shoulders.
She headed toward the source, her muscles tense despite her fatigue. Normally, she didn’t mind taking on additional duties when the department was short staffed like this. She didn’t even mind carrying the everyday load for her attending physicians. And sure as hell didn’t complain about it like her sorry-assed excuse of a rival, Greg Dyne, but this ... This was the worst of the mundane chores. She’d rather perform the toughest procedure on the nastiest patient than be forced to interact with prisoners.
Before facing the hardened, violent psychopaths waiting at the end of the hall, Alyssa ducked into the restroom and took a minute to splash water on her face. Then she made the mistake of looking in the mirror.
Pale skin, bruise-colored shadows beneath her eyes, frown lines marring her forehead. She almost didn’t recognize the person staring back. Her twelfth day in a row of twenty-fours didn’t look so good in this light, and the unsavory chore awaiting didn’t help.
“Fourteen more days,” she murmured to her reflection. Her year-long fellowship would end in just two weeks. Had it really only been a year? She felt like she’d been at St. Jude’s for a decade already. “And if you want to stay here, you’d better learn to live with jailbirds.”
The hospital had contracts with five neighboring prisons and the forensic patients had prompted the budget increase, which in turn opened this new attending radiologist’s position, one either she or Dyne would fill.
No. The one
Alyssa yanked at the elastic band in her hair and smoothed the messy strands back into a ponytail with a damp hand. After stretching her back and popping her neck, she dragged herself through the closed double doors hiding the forensic wing from the general public.
She’d be the first to admit to a bit of a badboy fetish. Certainly had made her share of mistakes choosing men in the past. But her definition of badboys encompassed independent men who pushed the limits and lived by their own rules, not murderers, rapists and drug pushers.
The angle of sunlight spilling through the glass on the single exterior door at the end of the hall told her it was getting late. She still had patients in the intensive care units in need of procedures, the day’s studies to read out and ... oh, yeah, food. She hadn’t stopped to eat anything all day.
Her teeth met and her jaw muscle flexed. She didn’t have time to be doing other people’s work, but if she didn’t, Dyne would. And she damn well wasn’t going to lose this position to that cocky, substandard excuse for a rival.
Alyssa paused at the doorway to the already darkened exam room and nodded to the officer in the hallway. The one with a weapon. The one who kept a safe distance from the inmate so the prisoner wouldn’t have an opportunity to steal a gun. One sweep of his twenty-something, clean-shaven, sweet Midwestern face, and Alyssa knew this was the perfect place for him—well out of the felon’s reach.
“Ma’am.” Farmboy shifted to allow her past the partially curtained opening. “Sorry we’re so late. The transportation sergeant screwed up.”
She couldn’t quite muster the words,
, because it was really messing with her day and her mood, but it also wasn’t his fault. She nodded acknowledgment. “What facility are you from?”
“San Quentin, ma’am.”
Alyssa resisted the urge to close her eyes and slump her shoulders. Quentin: death row capital of the California state prison system. Home to the most notorious serial killers and mass murderers of the decade. Definitely an apropos ending to this hellacious shift.
With a slow breath directed deep into her chest, Alyssa prepared her emotional shields then passed the guard and scanned the prisoner’s paperwork:
Teague Creek, thirty-four, right upper quadrant pain. Abdomen ultrasound.
Piece of cake. It would take her ten minutes, tops.
She surveyed the prisoner from shoulders to toes. He was tall, but little else stood out. His periwinkle-blue prison uniform was too similar to hospital scrubs for Alyssa’s taste. Probably because it made her wonder if she was a prisoner of sorts as well. Especially on days like this.
The second officer—this one inside the room and without the weapon—was older, maybe fifty, also Caucasian.
“Officer,” she greeted, “I’ll need his shirt off and his hands uncuffed from the waist chain.”
Alyssa pulled the curtain halfway closed and set the papers on a foldout desk. Her gaze paused on the box labeled RELEASE DATE where the word
had been scribbled. Her lips pursed with an involuntary shake of her head.
So young. What a waste.
She slipped on a glove, picked up a bottle of warm gel and turned to find the prisoner leaning on the edge of the gurney. Something dark caught her eye and her gaze passed over his face without seeing it, honing in on the coal black tattoos covering a wide muscled chest.
A swastika the size of a basketball stamped the left side of his torso. The right side of his abdomen flaunted an eagle holding a shield with the letters “A B” and two swords crossed in the background. Barbed wire spiraled his biceps. All classic insignia of the Aryan Brotherhood .
Apprehension clenched her belly in a tight, hot fist. Her eyes darted to his face, looking for something—disgust, venom, condescension—some reaction to her ethnicity. Anyone with two eyes could tell she wasn’t a hundred percent lily white. But he’d tilted his chin down, his gaze now cast on the floor, and Alyssa found herself looking at the top of his head, shaved nearly to the skin, and—surprise, surprise—another swastika centered on the dome of his cranium.
In a last ditch effort to quell her anxiety, she took a quick look at his hands. They’d been released from the waist chain and secured with another set of regular cuffs, standard procedure for high-risk prisoners. Suspicion confirmed. This guy had trouble written all over him. Capital T. And Alyssa already had all the trouble she could handle. She already felt brittle enough to shatter. This would be the fastest scan she’d ever performed. The typical ten minute exam just dropped to three.
She gestured to the gurney, keeping her focus on the crisp white sheet. She didn’t want to meet his eyes, didn’t want to see whatever was there—or not there. “Lie on your back, please.”
He obeyed, without even attempting a side glance her way. Seemed he wanted to avoid eye contact as much as she did. Something was finally going right with her day.
Alyssa tapped information into the ultrasound machine with tense fingers and grabbed a chair. “Can you raise your arms over your head, please?”
As he moved, so did the bulk beneath his tan skin and black tattoos. Alyssa could have used him as an anatomy model to delineate each muscle. Inmates were often physically fit—after all they had all the time in the world to work out—but this man was extreme. As a physician, the sheer beauty of his body intrigued her to distraction. As a woman half his size, it scared the hell out of her.
The officer in the room edged toward the partially open curtain, meeting up with the other guard. “Did you buy that golf pass yet?”
“No,” Farmboy replied. “I have to wait until my next paycheck.”
“You’re gonna miss the deadline, man. Can’t beat those prices. Thirty bucks for eighteen holes on a course like that? Includes a cart, too.”
Alyssa angled the transducer between Creek’s ribs to get a good shot of his liver, half listening to the idle conversation. She darted a look at his face. His gaze was locked on the ceiling, his jaw ticking. The darkened room shadowed his features, but his looks still caused a double take. Just as striking as his body, his face was all handsome angles and perfect proportions. Too bad the good looks had gone to waste on a racist, criminal pig.
“Do you have AIDS?” she asked as she clicked pictures of his right kidney.
His eyes flicked toward her, held. Light eyes. Sharp eyes. “No, ma’am.”
The low, smooth timbre of his voice gave her belly an uncomfortable twist.
“Hepatitis? A, B, C?”
Her arm brushed his ribs and heat stung her skin. Alyssa startled, attention refocused. She tipped the transducer so she could lay the back of her hand against his belly. “You’re burning up. How long have you had this fever?”
He shifted away from her touch and turned his eyes to the ceiling again. “No fever, ma’am. I’m fine.”
“I can feel it through my glove.”
“Normal for me.”
Alyssa squinted at him in disbelief. That level of heat wasn’t normal for anyone. He had to be near a hundred and five degrees.
As she continued to scan, she searched for a source of infection to explain the fever, but ultimately found none.
In an effort to get him talking in hopes of gaining more information, she said, “I haven’t found anything that would cause the pain you’re having.”
Creek said nothing. His jaw resumed ticking.
With a mental shrug, Alyssa used a washcloth to clean the gel off his skin, his body heat burning through the cloth.
kept repeating in her head. But if he wanted to let his blood boil, so be it.
“Turn toward me,” she said. “You’re almost done.”
The officers ignored her conversation with Creek as they debated club grip and swing arc.
When he rolled onto his side, he was only six inches away. His intense body heat closed around her like an embrace, creating an intimacy that left her squirming in her chair.
Alyssa’s eyes lifted to his face again, expecting to find him staring at her, but again, he was looking down and away, his gaze fixed on the officers’ boots, all that was visible of the men now situated just outside the curtain.
With one last image of yet another perfect kidney, Alyssa dropped the transducer into its holder and laid a towel on the table beside him. This man’s cut physique would linger in her mind for a long time.
Which meant this place must have finally pushed her over the edge, because fantasizing about prisoners was not what lingered on a normal woman’s mind.
“Done. You can clean up.” She turned away and pushed to her feet. “You need to mention that fever to your—”
The hair on her neck barely had time to lift before heat washed her back. Creek’s hard body closed around her. A cool chain cut across her throat.
She sucked air.
Her fingers clawed at the metal.
“Don’t make a sound.” He spoke softly, slowly, his chin on her shoulder as he bent over her and pressed his cheek against hers from behind.
Her brain finally came back online. Air wisped into her lungs and fed the new baseline of fear. When Creek straightened, he rose ten inches above her. And she now registered not only his size, but the sheer strength in all that corded muscle she’d been admiring. His movements were controlled, purposeful, almost Zen-like in confidence.
“You idiot ...” She barely breathed the words, the metal and pressure restricting her vocal cords. “Let go—”
The chain jerked once, cutting into her trachea. “Shut. Up.”
Pain cut off all thoughts of arguing. She wedged her skull against his collarbone to allow a fraction of relief on her airway. Oxygen wisped through the stricture. In. Out. In. Out. Her gray matter slugged back to work, edged with hot, sharp panic that threatened to invade every crevice and drive her insane.
The officers’ boots were still visible beneath the curtain where they stood in the hall, but she couldn’t draw enough air to speak, let alone scream. And the links of metal weren’t cool anymore. They burned, as if Creek’s body heat streamed through the chain.
The older guard chuckled. “You have to stay away from those sand traps, man.”
“Water holes are my problem,” Farmboy replied. “I could pay for the damn pass with the cost of the balls I lose in those lagoons.”
Creek leaned sideways, reaching for something on the desk. With his chest pressed against the width of her shoulders, his hips fitted to the low curve of her spine, he dragged her along. Alyssa strained her peripheral vision toward his reach. Toward the coffee cup holding pens and pencils and ... He plucked up a pair of scissors.
. “Put ... those down.” A spurt of terror gushed up her chest. Her fingers searched for a millimeter of leverage between the chain and her skin. “You’re ... burning ... me.”
Creek’s head tilted down, his whisker-roughened chin scraping her cheek. “Fuck.”
The pressure eased and Alyssa ran her cool fingers over raw skin, choking in blessed air. Her relief was short-lived as the rasp of metal on metal sounded in her ear. A hard blade pressed against her neck, and she squeezed her eyes shut.
“Not another sound,” Creek whispered, “or I’ll cut your throat.”
“All right.” The older guard sounded relaxed and jovial as he swooshed the curtain aside. “Are we all done in—?”