I'm not sure what to call this - "scene" suggests a deceptively short story and "novella" would, (I think) by definition, suggest a longer one. So let's just call it "bonus material" and call it a day, eh? ;)
I'm nervous to share this, as it's been a very long time since I've shared anything, but here we go...I hope you enjoy it. <3
Nathan & Stella
Fi passed the tray of ravioli across the table to Danny and then glanced down the table at Stella. “How’s your ankle, Stell?”
“It’s fine. It hurt like hell that night, but it’s much better now. They X-rayed it that night, so I knew it wasn’t broken, so just a bad twist.” Stella rolled her eyes. “Honestly, I was more embarrassed than anything else.”
“What happened?” Carla accepted Gabby’s cup and began refilling it with water from the pitcher. She shot Nina a pointed look. “Of course, Nina didn’t bother to mention you’d been hurt until this morning.”
Nina shrugged. “Why would I tell you that, Car? And when? It happened on Friday and I worked twelves Friday and Saturday.” She loaded her fork full of ravioli then pointed it in Stella’s direction. “She’s obviously fine. Plus, it was her own damn fault. Who the hell climbs up a metal shelving unit? What are you – a damn monkey? Serves you right. Next time just ask someone else at work to get stuff down for you.”
“Says the five-foot-seven sister!” Fi shot back. “Try being five inches shorter! I’ve spent a lifetime climbing on counters, shelves, and chairs. It was either that or buy one of those grabber things and I’m not about to carry that around with me all the time.” She grinned. “Which I totally would, but I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t fit in my purse and I’m not wearing it in a holster.”
“Remember that time Fi fell into the sink?” Stella said, laughing. She leaned over, glancing down the table at Gigi. “G found her – remember that, G?”
“How could I forget?” Gigi replied, grinning. “I walked in to find our baby sister’s butt wedged into the left side of the kitchen sink!”
The kids all dissolved into fits of laughter at the imagery Gigi provided…and probably because she’d said “butt.” Even at sixteen, Carlo wasn’t too old to laugh at stories revolving around butts, farts, poop, and other potty-related issues.
Stella looked around the table to find everyone laughing (well, except Nathan) and grinned.
Apparently no one is too old to laugh at a butt joke. At least not in this family.
“How old was Zia Fi?” Anthony asked.
Gigi glanced around at her sisters with a shrug. “Oh, I don’t know…twenty-one, twenty-two?”
Danny choked on the sip of water he’d just taken. Without missing a beat, Kat began patting him on the back – calmly continuing to eat her salad while her husband hacked up a storm.
“Twenty-one!” Danny wiped at his mouth with a napkin, laughing. “I thought you were going to say five!”
“I’m sure that wasn’t her first in-sink experience,” Kat said dryly. “But it was the first time she couldn’t get out without help.”
“I was trying to reach some Little Debbies that Stella had hidden on the top shelf. I lost my balance and sort of fell into the sink.” When everyone started laughing, Fi did, too. “Hey, that sink is deep and I have short legs!”
“It was like watching a turtle on its back, trying to right itself,” Gigi said.
“Again, so says the tallest sister among us,” Fi said. “Someone who is a damn Amazon has no place making fun of her vertically-challenged siblings!”
“Five-foot-nine is an Amazon?” Gigi asked.
“Uh, yeah, in this family, it is!” Fi flung a hand in Pops’ general direction. “Pops is barely five-nine!”
Pops nodded his head with a shrug - mouth stuffed with sausage and peppers. After he’d swallowed, he said, “I come from short people. In Sicilia, five foot, nine inches is tall for a man.”
“Then what would Nathan be considered down there?” Stella asked, laughing.
“Uh, terrifying. Just like he’s considered here,” Danny said. When Nathan grunted in response, Danny grinned. “But I think it’s less about his height and more of that I’d-love-nothing-more-than-to-strangle-you-with-my-bare-hands look on his face. He’s like the un-Jolly Green Giant.”
“Uncle Nathan would never strangle anyone!” Gabby declared.
Nathan glanced up to give her a wink and small smile. “Thanks for the vote of confidence, Gabs.”
“Don’t be so sure.” Nina glanced across the table at Stella, an annoyingly mischievous twinkle in her eyes…
And Stella just knew what was coming.
She shook her head as subtly – but emphatically – as possible…eyes widened and full of wild desperation.
Naturally, Nina was oblivious to Stella’s silent pleas.
Well, oblivious or she just didn’t care.
When Nina said, “Pretty sure Nathan would love to wrap his hands around that Brett guy’s throat,” Stella slowly exhaled the pent up breath she’d been holding.
Here we go.
Kat must have pinched Nina under the table, because Nina jerked in her seat before shooting Kat a dirty look. “Ow! What the hell was that for?”
Gigi jumped in, suggesting the kids quickly finish up their dinners and then head downstairs with Pops to raid the freezer. Promises of ice cream sandwiches, Klondikes, and Superman ice cream had them all scrambling to finish chewing and swallowing, grabbing their plates, and dumping them into the sink on their way to the basement.
Pops moved a little slower, but eventually everyone heard the tell-tale creak of the last basement step and knew everyone was safely out of earshot.
Danny – God bless him – still attempted to divert attention. He cleared his throat. “Hey, so, uh, Marco…how are things going down at the store?” When Stella shot him a grateful look, Danny nodded with a wink. “Yeah, Kat and I have been meaning to stop in all week, but-“
“So, who is Brett?” Nathan asked, eyes never leaving the plate of pasta he was cutting up for Gia.
His tone was nonchalant – genially conversational, actually.
His expression stoic, as usual.
And his body language was as loose as Nathan’s body language ever was.
Unfortunately, none of that meant shit where Nathan was concerned. Just the fact that he’d willingly jumped into this conversation meant something had been triggered in the typically dormant part of his front lobes that processed illogical emotion. Not many things triggered it, but thinking some guy was encroaching on his marital territory did it every time.
Stella waved it off. “He’s nobody. Just one of the new residents. Thinks he’s St. Mary’s own McDreamy.”
“I highly doubt Nathan knows who that is,” Kat said dryly. “The only reason I do is because Gigi and Carla were obsessed with that stupid show for years.” She huffed. “It was so ridiculous that even Stella – queen of the Lifetime movies – couldn’t stomach it.”
“It’s just…” Stella’s face scrunched up as she began gesticulating. “They’re performing these surgeries – no tape over the patients’ eyes, no tape holding the intubation tubes down…” She shook her head. “And all that ridiculous sex stuff? Listen, you guys know I’m all about the romance, but come on! Nobody is flirting over a comatose patient and – as far as I know – no one is sneaking off to bang all over the hospital. Trust me, if we have two seconds of free time, we’re using it to pee, not have sexcapades in gross hospital beds.” She paused before giving the table a light rap and her head a sharp nod. “Anyway, there you have it. Grey’s Anatomy is absurd and Brett the resident is harmless. Done and done.”
When Nina muttered, “That’s not what I heard,” Stella tried to kick her under the table, but didn’t come anywhere close.
Damn short Ciaramitaro legs! Frickin’ foiled again!
“Store’s doing fine,” Marco blurted, answering Danny’s question from two minutes ago. No fan of conflict – and no good at dealing with it – Marco smiled broadly. “Produce is starting to switch over. You all need to come down and check out the strawberries. Looking good for the first time since October.”
Nathan reached over, slid the highchair tray off, and lifted Gia out. He settled her into his lap, one brawny arm holding her against him, as she leaned forward to try to pick off his plate.
Something about the way Nathan splayed his huge hand over her belly, gently kissed the top of Gia’s head, and then nuzzled it for a few seconds made Stella’s chest ache. She’d only seen him get like this – irrationally concerned – a few times and each time it had been emotionally devastating. Because Stella knew it stemmed from very deep wounds…and Nathan was a man who buried his wounds deeper than most…so deep that sometimes it was hard for even Stella to reach them.
Without taking his eyes off Gia, Nathan asked (in that same lethally conversational tone), “Why, what did you hear, Nina?”
She can’t be this oblivious. Even her. She has to see that this is striking a nerve in him right now. She’ll know better. She’ll let it go. No one could be that totally clueless as to miss the agitation rolling off of Nathan.
“I hear Stella’s got a not-so-secret admirer,” Nina said with a grin, proving, once and for all, that she truly was the world’s most socially oblivious person on earth.
After a brief pause, Nathan replied, “Oh, yeah?”
Stella stared Nina down.
I am going to bury you. Alive.
“He had a harmless little crush on her,” Kat interjected. “She handled it – no big deal.”
Stella shot her a grateful look, nodding. “Exactly. It wasn’t even a crush. He was just attempting to flirt. And not even well, I might add.”
But then Kat “helpfully” added, “Stella is a young, pretty, friendly woman…I’m sure she gets hit on all the time at work. This guy was no different.”
Now Stella wished she had two go-go gadget legs so she could kick Nina and Kat simultaneously.
“So he’s been hitting on you?” Nathan asked evenly.
“Well, he asked her on a date! More than once!” Nina exclaimed. “So, I’d say so!”
Stella huffed. “He did not ask me on a date! You are so ridiculous, Nina! Knock it off!”
“‛We should go get a drink some time’ is asking you on a date, Stella!” Nina shot back. “Especially when the question right after it was ‘Are you happily married?’”
What had been agitation rolling off of Nathan quickly turned into full-on aggression. Stella could sense it…if they didn’t defuse this situation, fast, Nathan was going to end up on the weight bench – ripping up his body – or committing the strangling Gabby had been so sure he was incapable of.
“People ask me to go get drinks with them all the time after work,” Fi chimed in. “They’re not asking me on a date, for God’s sake. It’s just work fraternization. No big deal.”
Nina gestured wildly toward Stella. “He told her she smelled incredible!”
Stella gave up, dropping her head into her hands with a loud groan.
“Nina,” Carla began gently – but firmly.
Gigi leaned over and shot Nina a very pointed look. “Yes, Nina…”
Nina threw her hands in the air. “What? The dude was following her around like a puppy dog!” When a thick, tense silence descended over the table, Nina glanced around. “Jesus! I assumed Nathan knew!”
Stella’s head shot up and pointed straight at Nina. “I am never telling you anything evey again! No, screw that – you are not allowed to be within ear shot of me speaking ever again!” She glanced around the table. “And no one here is to ever breathe a word to her about anything, ever again!”
Nina shrugged. “Or you could just tell Nathan what’s going on.”
“I was going to tell him! Eventually!” She gestured toward Nathan. “Nathan and Danny had enough going on with stuff at work this week. I wasn’t going to pile that on top of it, too!”
“In Stella’s defense, telling Nathan…yeah, wouldn’t have been the wise move.” Danny shuddered. “I’ve been on the receiving end of his jealous rage, so I know that of which I speak.”
Nathan grunted. “I’m not jealous. Nothing to be jealous about.”
“Of course not! And most certainly not about some guy we call ‘Dr. Douchebag!’” After everyone laughed (albeit nervously), Stella continued. “He just started his ER rotation last Monday. All that work drama happened Wednesday and, by Friday, I had told the guy off. It’s over. He’ll find someone who appreciates his attention and move on. So not a big deal.”
“Did he make you uncomfortable?” Nathan asked.
Lie. Lie. Lie.
Apparently Stella’s pause spoke for itself because Nathan’s eyes narrowed slightly.
“Look, I work in the ER of an urban hospital,” Stella began. “I spend most of my shifts with drunks, drug addicts, mentally ill people, gangbangers, and snarky co-workers. I’m constantly uncomfortable. An egotistical resident telling me I smell good is the least of my problems!”
“That’s not what I asked you,” Nathan said in that same monotonous tone. “I asked if he made you uncomfortable.”
“I’m a very happily married woman who has zero interest in engaging in flirting – or anything else – with anybody. So, yes, his…attention…made me a little uncomfortable,” Stella replied. “But, like I said, I nipped it in the bud and it’s all taken care of now.”
“He isn’t bothering you anymore?” Nathan asked.
“His existence bothers me. Watching him strut around the ER like he’s God’s gift to women bothers me. But he’s backed off, if that’s what you’re asking.” Stella scoffed. “There are plenty of other nurses just dying for a shot with a doctor…he’s not going to waste his time and attention on a married woman who obviously loathes him.”
“Actually, he sounds like one of those guys who gets off on hitting on married women,” Nina said. “You know the type – the ones who see wedding rings and go after them like it’s open hunting season.”
Nathan’s non-reaction was reaction enough. Stella could literally feel his umbrage.
Danny gaped at Nina. “Are you trying to push every button Nathan has? Jesus Christ, Nina…seriously, enough is enough. We get it – this guy is a scumbag. Stella dealt with it and it’s all good now…” He met Stella’s eyes. “Right, Stell?”
She nodded. “Yep. Right. All good.”
“’Cause you handled Ben asking Kat out so well,” Nina said, laughing. “The poor man barely looked at her sideways and you nearly lost your damn mind. Imagine if he started sniffing her and asking her out now – after you were married? You’d go apeshit, MacDonough.”
Kat scoffed. “Ben would never behave that way.”
“Yeah, I know that, Kat,” Nina shot back, eyes rolling. “I’m just using him as an example.”
Nathan stood abruptly. “We should get Gia home and settled before Gigi
comes over to babysit.” He grabbed a napkin and wiped Gia’s hands and mouth, smiling when she reached for his face – giggling, drooling, and babbling, “Dadadadada!”
He turned Gia in his arms so hers could snake around his neck. It was nearing her naptime, so Stella wasn’t at all surprised that Gia rested her cheek on Nathan’s broad shoulder, put her thumb in her mouth, and snuggled into him.
Gia’s favorite place in the world to be was in her Daddy’s arms…and Stella couldn’t blame her. Those arms were her favorite place on earth to be in, too.
Stella knew Nathan was going to need a little soothing – and that was fine. Absolutely understandable. If she’d heard a story about some badge bunny going after Nathan, Stella would have required an explanation and some soothing, too.
Her lips curled.
Actually, I’d require 2 mg of Ativan and a straight jacket so I didn’t hunt the
homewrecking whore down.
Actually, a straight jacket wouldn’t stop me. They’d need to use posie straps to tie me down and handcuffs just to be sure.
“Sorry for all the drama,” Nathan said to the table at large, busting into Stella’s hypothetical revenge fantasies.
Gigi barked out a laugh. “Oh, darling brother, if that counted as a drama, what do you call what we do on a daily basis?” Her smile faded into a soft, warm one. “We all have our triggers.” She gestured to Marco, sitting to her right. “We’ve been together twenty years and this one still gets all nuts when Tony Bocci stops by the market.” When Marco’s lip curled, everyone laughed (well, except for Nathan). “See?”
“I don’t like the way he looks at you,” Marco said in an uncharacteristically growly voice. “I know he’s thinking about when you two…went out.”
“Went out! We went to middle school together and danced together exactly twice at one dance!” Gigi scoffed, head shaking, as she eyed Marco’s grimace. “Went out…you’re pazzo, you know that?”
“Wanna talk about how you shoved Tanya Schneider into a locker when she asked Marco to the Sadie Hawkins dance in ninth grade?” Fi said, grinning. “Talk about crazy. You almost got suspended for that, you maniac!” She pointed at Danny. “And don’t even get me started on this one! Nina might be a loud-mouthed pain in the ass, but she wasn’t kidding! Danny was out of control!”
The conversation grew louder and more animated as everyone began yelling over each other about past jealous displays.
“You should have seen Kat that night after the club!” Danny grinned at a glowering Kat. “Thank God I didn’t have a woman there or I’d be talking to her through prison glass right now.”
Kat huffed. “I wasn’t jealous – I was territorial. Jealous means I wanted something that was hers. Territorial means she wanted something that was mine. Big difference.”
Her lips curled into a smile when Danny leaned over and kissed her temple.
“I’m glad I didn’t have to witness that shit show. Kat on fire, ready to rumble?” Nina shuddered. “I’ve seen her explode a few times and it wasn’t pretty. Not something I’m looking to witness again, that’s for damn sure.”
Stella reared back. “But you do enjoy watching me explode?”
“Hell, yeah. You’re so easy to provoke – you and Fi,” Nina replied, grinning. “Not saying you aren’t scary sometimes, but the theatrics are usually entertaining as hell. Kat mad is just plain terrifying. And Gigi mad…” She shuddered again. “It’s like Halley’s Comet – only happens once every seventy-five years, but when it does, it’s crazy as hell.”
As they all started laughing and talking over each other again, Nathan quietly slipped out of the dining room and into the front room, Gia still in his arms.
Stella slipped out of her chair and followed him. “Everything okay?”
“Yeah, everything’s fine,” he replied, gently guiding Gia’s chubby arms into her yellow plaid jacket. Nathan kissed her hand when she placed it on his lips and then pulled the hood over her dark curls. He smiled at her before dropping a kiss on her forehead. “Just want to get her home, that’s all.”
Stella heard it.
She felt it.
And it broke her heart.
“We’ll talk it all over later, okay?” Stella grabbed his arm when he went to turn away. “Hey…”
“It’s fine, Stell. I just wish you would have told me what was going on.” When she opened her mouth to argue her point, Nathan shook his head. “I get why you didn’t, but it still bothers me.” Nathan lifted a shoulder. “You know how I get sometimes. I’ll fight through it.” He gave her what Stella knew was supposed to be a heartening smile, but it just made him look sadder, somehow. “It’s fine.” He paused. “Well, it’s not fine, but I’m glad to hear it’s been taken care of.”
Yeah…he didn’t sound like it was fine and Stella knew he didn’t consider it taken care of. Not by a long shot.
But Stella wasn’t going to push him right now. She was very familiar with that look in his eyes – the one that silently pleaded with her to give him some space and time to process information before clinging to him like a barnacle, talking his ear off, and interrogating him about his feelings.
It was a preference Stella found very hard to accommodate, but she tried her hardest.
“Okay, then.” Stella grabbed her jacket off the couch and slipped it on, smiling up at him. She slipped her arm through his and squeezed. “Let’s go home.”
Over the past two years, Nathan had discovered many fucked up things about being in love…especially with someone who was his complete opposite. Some he had anticipated – he’d known loving Stella would force him to give up some control, require him to open himself up emotionally (at least as much as a fucked up person can), and to trust her implicitly (something so dangerous and unwise that Nathan still couldn’t believe he managed it).
But Stella had given him no choice. She’d made it apparent that Nathan didn’t need to grasp onto any control in their relationship. She’d taught him – shown him – that theirs was a relationship built on mutual respect, love, and a sharing of “power.” Stella would never use her influence to harm him in anyway, leaving Nathan free to let down that vigilant guard he’d had up his entire life.
Stella had created a safe space for him to open up – to share his feelings without fear of judgment, ridicule, or rejection. Sometimes, when Nathan couldn’t even identify, let alone articulate, his feelings, Stella still saw them. Felt them. Helped him make sense of them and was there to support him as Nathan struggled to deal with them.
She’d proven time and time again that she was completely worthy of his trust. Stella had never deceived him, manipulated him, or betrayed him in any way…and Nathan knew she never would. For someone who had been lied to, misled, and betrayed by nearly every person he’d interacted with from birth on, trusting Stella had proven surprisingly easy for Nathan. And he’d known he would have to trust her – and that she’d need to trust him – if they were going to make it work.
But there were side effects of loving Stella that Nathan hadn’t anticipated, because there was no way he could have known such…feelings…existed before he’d loved her. Hell, before Stella, Nathan would have argued till his dying breath that feelings like that – visceral reactions like that – didn’t exist…or at least not for someone like him. Someone practical. Logical. Reasonable. A pre-Stella, perfect model of self-control, moderation, and pragmatism.
Unfortunately, Nathan had found out – fast and furiously, in crushing waves of blindsiding emotion – that falling in love with Stella meant awakening a dormant, primal beast inside of him. One he’d never known existed, but one that was very quick to rear its ugly head. And that beast had only gained more strength, more power (and less self-control), after Gia’s birth.
As the eldest child of three boys who had been neglected and abused throughout childhood, Nathan had naturally taken on the role of protector. Then he’d become a police officer, who were often referred to as “sheepdogs:” the people out there on the front lines, keeping civilians safe…protecting their “flock.” So Nathan had always been comfortable with that role – relished it, actually – and had fully embraced it as a cop, husband and father. Any man worth a damn felt protective of his family…it was natural.
But, every once in a while, that naturally protective streak took a decidedly more aggressive – and less reasonable – turn.
“Stella doesn’t get off till eleven-thirty. With report, she won’t leave until around midnight, right?” Danny asked, interrupting the aggressive, less reasonable streak Nathan was struggling with right now.
“Yeah.” Nathan hit the unlock button on his fob as they approached their cars in the East Cleveland Police Department parking lot.
“Let’s go have a quick beer then.” Danny checked his watch. “It’s only eleven fifteen. We can hit Sutton’s and still get you back home before Stella.”
“I don’t feel like it tonight,” Nathan replied. “I’m just gonna go home and relieve Gigi.”
Nathan grabbed the back of his neck and squeezed, rolling his shoulders in attempt to loosen up his trapezoid muscles. He’d felt tightly wound all night – tightly wound, restless, pissy, and…
Stop. You are not fucking worried, for Christ’s sake.
But Nathan couldn’t deny the uneasiness in the pit of stomach. That old, familiar (albeit rusty, these days) fear of being…
What, left? Abandoned? Pushed aside? Forgotten?
Nathan’s throat constricted.
He unconsciously shook his head, trying to get rid of the awful images flashing through his mind.
Nathan’s scoff must have been audible, because Danny stopped walking abruptly and turned to face him. “Hey.”
“We need to go have a beer. You don’t have to talk about it if you don’t want to, but I can see it in your face – you’re in that zone. And we both know, nothing good happens when we fall down that fucking rabbit hole,” Danny said. “So let’s hit Sutton’s and blow off some steam.”
“I’m fine,” Nathan lied.
Danny scoffed. “Yeah. Right. I’ve seen that look on your face before and nine times out of ten it was right before someone received a beat down.”
“I’m going home to relieve Gigi and check on Gia…nobody’s getting beat down.” The corner of Nathan’s mouth ticked into a tiny smile. “Well, maybe you, if you don’t shut the fuck up.”
Danny didn’t return his smile. “I know what’s bouncing around your head – and I get it. You know I get it. But you can’t let it eat you alive, brother. Like you said to me, not that long ago – that would be like letting them win…and, I don’t know about you, but I fucking refuse to let that happen.” Nathan’s stony silence prompted Danny to try another tactic. “Plus, Stella’s gonna be pissed if you drive over there and stir up shit. She said she handled it.” Danny grinned. “The woman is no shrinking violet – if she said she handled it, she handled it. And you can bet your ass she did a fine job of it, too.”
Nathan didn’t doubt it for a second.
But he was nothing if not a stickler for fixing a problem correctly – thoroughly – the first time so he never had to waste his time or energy dealing with it again.
Nathan almost smiled.
Because, despite knowing he was rolling around in a hugely irrational mindfuck at the moment, he was still perversely excited to correct this particular problem.
“She’ll never leave you, Nathan. Not for this asshole – not for any asshole. Not for anyone,” Danny said. “Doesn’t matter who hits on her…doesn’t matter who she meets for the rest of her life…she’ll always choose you. And you know it.”
No. I don’t. Not for sure.
Never for sure.
When Nathan still didn’t respond, Danny clapped him on the shoulder. “You’re spiraling. Come on, let me buy you a beer. You can ignore me just as well at Sutton’s as you can in this damn parking lot.”
Nathan forced his lips into the best smile he could manage as he shrugged off Danny’s hand and walked to his car. “I don’t know what you’re yammering about. I told you – I’m going home to see my baby girl and that’s what I’m doing.”
Danny sighed. “Well, at least let me go with you.”
Nathan opened the car door, slid into the seat, and started it up. He glanced back at Danny – frozen smile still in place. “I’m going home. You go home. To your wife…who is probably starting to get worried. I’ll talk to you later.”
The last thing Nathan heard before he slammed the door shut was Danny sighing.
Stella and Christopher waited until they were out of anyone’s eye line, scurrying to an empty corner of the ER and huddling together, both stifling laughter.
Stella grabbed onto Christopher’s scrub sleeve and met his eyes. “No…seriously. What. The. Hell.” She lowered her voice to an even quieter whisper. “First, the penis punch and now this?”
“And what’s with the rash of cucumber-related incidences?” Christopher feigned indignance. “If you’re gonna do that, at least keep it seasonal. It’s spring – a nice beet or lemon would have been much more appropriate. How gauche.”
“You know what…I’ve gotta give the guy props, though,” Stella replied, laughing through tears. “At least he didn’t use the I-have-no-idea-how-that-got-there or I-fell-on-it lines. He owned that shit.”
When Christopher shot back, “Literally,” they both laughed.
“And at least we got it out without surgery,” Stella said. “Remember the can of Chunky soup?”
He shuddered. “Remember it? I walked around with my cheeks clenched for a week!”
“What is with you guys and the butt stuff?”
Christopher reared back. “What’re you asking me for? There are things that belong up there and things that don’t – and canned foods and unseasonal vegetables aren’t among them.”
“Hey, Stella?” Esther’s voice traveled down the long hallway. She leaned over the nurses’ station desk and craned her head. “Wherever you are, you better get up here, honey.”
Stella strode toward the front of the ER, busting into a half-jog at the quirked brow and glimmer in Esther’s eyes.
She glanced down at her watch.
Her lips curled.
Well, he’s nothing, if not punctual.
Stella remembered the earlier buzzing of her cell as she and Christopher had been busy with their extraction and pulled it out of her pocket. She saw Danny had texted twice, so she stopped to quickly read them.
Danny: Heads up, N’s on the warpath. He was weird and pissy all night and then he got THAT LOOK. Said he was going home, but I’m pretty sure he’s on his way to you right now. Tried to stop him, but you know how that goes.
Yeah, she did.
Danny: Don’t be too hard on him. He knows you can hold your own, but it’s not about that. He’s got some fucked up demons screaming in his ears right now. He just needs a little Stella TLC and he’ll be all right. It’s just those demons are scary as shit when they get riled up.
Yeah, I know.
Danny: You need me, call me. Good luck.
Stella quickly texted back: Thanks, DM. He’s here now. I knew the minute Nina opened her mouth that he’d be showing up here tonight. I know what’s going on and I’ll patch him up. Thanks for being such a good friend to us both. XOXO
“You told him, didn't you? Even after I told you what a huge no-no it would be?” The moment they rounded the corner of the nurses’ station, giving them visual access into the adjacent hallway, Christopher cringed. “Yep. You told him.”
Nathan was positioned right across from the main triage desk, leaning back against the wall – arms folded over his chest and his right leg crossed over his left. It was a deceptively casual pose, complete with his infamous, stoic expression, but Stella knew…the more relaxed he looked, the harder his insides were raging.
Serious = all’s well.
False easygoingness = someone’s head was gonna roll.
Stella scanned the visible area quickly, searching for tonight’s “someone.”
Please let him be with a patient. Please let him be with a patient.
All hope flew out the window when Stella spotted him on the phone in the back corner of the station.
Esther leaned forward, peering over her bifocals at Stella, head shaking. “I done told him he better knock that shit off or that giant man of yours was gonna show up. With a gun,” she whispered. Sort of. She clucked her tongue. “I tried to warn him he was barking up the wrong tree, but you can’t tell doctors anything.”
“How long has he been standing there like that?” Christopher asked through a tight smile and with a half-hearted wave in Nathan’s general direction.
“Long enough. He looked at me and I knew exactly what he was here for. I pointed back there and that was that,” Esther replied. At Stella’s widened eyes and gaping mouth, Esther shrugged. “Hey, I ain’t lying to no police officer…” She pointed her pen in Nathan’s direction. “And I definitely ain’t lying to that police officer. No way. Uh-uh.”
“Maybe I can get him out of here before Ressler gets off the phone,” Stella muttered as she began walking toward Nathan.
“This shit’s like a train wreck,” Stella heard Christopher say. “Watching it is gonna hurt, but I can’t look away.”
Nathan’s expression as Stella approached was a mix of wariness and…guilt? But it was the barely concealed concern there that broke her heart.
He pushed off the wall, but kept his arms crossed over his chest.
“Hi, hon,” Stella said, smiling. “What a nice surprise.” She slipped her arms around his waist and gave him a quick hug.
When Nathan not only tolerated the PDA, but hugged her back, it was proof positive of just how hard his demons were raging.
Stella tightened her hold. “I’m so happy to see you,” she whispered into his chest before rearing back to look up at him. “How was your night?”
She felt him stiffen in her embrace, as if every muscle in his body tensed up at once.
“Hey…” Stella tugged on the front of his uniform, trying to get him to look down at her, but his glare was firmly affixed over her head. “Why don’t you wait for me downstairs? I have to give report, but then I’m done. You can walk me to my car, okay?” When Nathan didn’t respond and Stella felt his chest rising and falling more rapidly, she tugged again. “Nathan.”
No response and his hold on her tightened.
Stella braced herself.
“Well, this must be the husband I’ve heard so much about,” Ressler said in that smarmy way of his. Stella turned in Nathan’s embrace just in time to see Ressler flash his unnaturally white teeth in an insincere grin. “I’m Dr. Ressler – but you can call me Brett.” Ressler extended his hand toward Nathan…
And it just hung there. In the air. All by itself.
Nathan’s posture was as stiff as board, his hold on Stella was firm, and his glare was so wicked, “icy” didn’t begin to describe it. It was unflinching, direct, and terrifying.
The sight of it had Ressler’s grin fading fast and his arm dropping back to his side. He shoved both hands into his lab coat pockets, an uneasy expression replacing the faux friendly one.
Ressler laughed uneasily. “So what brings you here tonight. Not hurt, are you?”
Nathan’s silence, his stance, and his glare became too uncomfortable for Stella to handle. She glanced over at everyone behind the desk, watching: nurses, aides – hell, even Dr. Graebner was lurking back there.
And they all looked as uncomfortable as Stella felt.
As the silence stretched on, Ressler’s smile faded. He cleared his throat. “Well, we love Stella around here.”
Stella internally groaned.
No. No. No.
Ressler gestured toward her. “I’m sure Stella tells you we joke around all the time. Great environment here. Good people."
He cleared his throat, again. “Learning a lot. St. Mary’s is a great teaching hospital.” Ressler half-choked on a laugh. “Not that you care about any of that.” He gestured toward Nathan’s uniform. “So, you’re a cop?” Ressler’s gaze dropped to meet Stella’s eyes. “We love those around here, too, don’t we, Stella?”
“Don’t look at her. Look at me,” Nathan said.
Well, commanded was more like it. Or maybe growled.
“Wha…oh…“ Ressler stammered. “Yeah.” He laughed nervously. “Sure. Okay.”
“It’s okay, Nathan.” Stella patted his chest and smiled up at him – even though his gaze was laser focused on a now sweating and red-faced Ressler. She looked back at Ressler. “Right? All clear and all good now, right?”
Ressler began backing up slowly, lifting a hand in a supplicating gesture. “Oh, yeah. Sorry if I…Stella already said…I…” He exhaled a sharp laugh. “Hey, never hurts to ask, right?”
Nathan’s lips curled into a tight smile. “Well, now, that depends on who you’re asking, doesn’t it? Asking the wrong person can hurt a whole lot.”
“Sure. Yeah. Right.” Ressler backed himself right into a wall. “Good point. Well, I’ve got patients, so…” He jerked his thumb over his shoulder. “Nice meeting you. Gotta go,” he added over his shoulder as he scurried away.
“Fucking asshole,” Nathan muttered, eyes still fixed in the direction Ressler had disappeared.
In an instant, Nathan let go of her, glanced at his watch, and dropped his hands to his hips. When his eyes met hers, all Stella saw was…nothing...in his.
“I’ll meet you downstairs, okay?”
Stella nodded slowly. Before she could say anything, Nathan turned and walked toward the entrance, hitting the silver button to open the automatic double doors leading into the main triage area.
She stood there, staring after him, for a few moments before the silence was interrupted by a loud snort.
“I can’t even get my husband to stick up for me to his mother," a nurse named Cheryl said.
“If I told my husband a doctor hit on me, he’d think we hit the jackpot,” Sarah, a nurse’s aid, said wryly and everyone laughed. “He’d share if it meant getting something out of it.”
“Oh, come on!” Stella replied, laughing, as she turned back to face everyone.
“I’m serious.” Sarah shook her head, auburn ponytail swishing around her shoulders. “Your husband scares the piss out of me, but that was awesome, Stell.”
“Speaking of scaring the piss out of people…” Christopher glanced around before snickering. “I think someone better bring Ressler some Depends. If he didn’t shit and piss himself during that showdown, I’ll eat that cucumber Stell and I pulled out of…”
“O-kay! I just ate my dinner, so can we not?” Denise shuddered. “And I had cucumbers on my salad, so, really, no more!”
Nathan knew he was making the people going in and out of the Emergency Room nervous. Nobody liked to see a cop lingering around, because that usually meant someone dangerous was in the building or something violent had taken place. But he was too wound up to go sit in the car...also, he was about five seconds from walking back inside and driving his point home harder.
It wasn’t necessary, but it would make him real fucking happy.
Nathan exhaled a long, hard breath, leaning forward to rest his forearms on his knees. The bench outside the ER was iron and his ass was freezing, but the adrenaline still coursing through his body had him spooked. He needed to stay put – be still – until he could talk to Stella.
Something - someone - caught his peripheral vision and Nathan turned his head toward the swish of sliding doors. A few seconds later, Stella emerged, an old plaid diaper bag she now used as a tote bag for work hanging off her shoulder.
Suddenly, Nathan was afraid to look at her. He knew she was going to be angry – or at least annoyed – by the stunt he’d just pulled and he hated Stella being pissed off at him. Or, worse yet, disappointed in him.
“Hey,” she said as soon as she saw him stand up. Stella walked over and Nathan took a second to study her expression…
Not pissed, but not effusive Stella.
So, not angry, but probably disappointed. Or embarrassed. Or both.
“Hey.” Nathan cleared his throat in an attempt to make his voice sound a little less strained. He gestured to the back corner of the parking lot. “I’m parked back there. I’ll drive you over to the employee lot and then follow you home.”
Stella stepped off the curb and walked toward the Denali. “Let’s just drive home together. We can pick up my car tomorrow.”
“That’s fine.” Nathan trailed after her, hands stuffed into his pants’ pockets, shoulders slumped.
As he watched her walk, Nathan’s insecurity ratcheted up a few notches. This was cold Stella. His least favorite Stella.
Just leave her alone tonight.
But then his gaze automatically dropped to her ass…so perfect in those teal scrub bottoms…
Fan-fucking-tastic. Now you’ve got a hard on to deal with, too.
One that wasn’t going to get cured any time soon, if Stella’s demeanor was any indication.
Nathan reached down, attempting to adjust, but polyester police uniform pants couldn’t hide much. As Stella always joked – his pants were made of “unforgiving erection material.”
Which she loved to take full advantage of, the little she-devil.
Stella reached the Denali and then turned back to face him, left brow quirked. “What’d you park all the way back here for?”
Nathan hit his fob's unlock button as he approached. “The lot was fairly full. Plus, I didn’t want to take up a closer spot in case someone needed it.”
“Ah,” Stella replied, nodding. Her lips curled slightly…eyes skimming over his entire body – from head to toe – before meeting his again. “My good citizen. Always doing his civic duty.”
Nathan’s eyes narrowed.
Cold Stella was morphing into inscrutable Stella – a rarely seen Stella.
And it was that unreadable look on her face that had Nathan blurting out, “I apologize if that…situation…embarrassed you. That wasn’t my intention.”
Stella tilted her head, studying him for a few long moments before asking, “Well, what was your intention, then?”
Now there was a loaded question – one Nathan wasn’t sure he could articulate the answer to. So he tried the first logical thing that popped into his mind.
“To make sure that fucker didn’t bother you anymore?” His hoarsely whispered reply came out more like a question than a statement.
Stella smiled. “Oh, come, now, my love.” The corner of her mouth turned up as she put her hands behind her – bracing herself against the car. “We both know that wasn’t your sole intention. Or even your primary one. Don’t we?”
Nathan, now fully hypnotized by the silky tone of her voice and the hungry way she was looking at him, nodded dumbly.
Which made Stella exhale a soft, little laugh that sent a rush of warmth throughout his chest…and a huge rush of blood to his dick.
“Then, tell me, Nathan.”
He swallowed hard. “Tell you what, Stell?”
She laughed again…and it hit him in the heart that time, too.
God, I love your laugh.
Nathan didn’t know exactly what was going on here, but he was ridiculously relieved and grateful that she didn’t seem too angry at him. Unless this was all some elaborate ruse to get his guard down and then pounce…but that wasn’t Stella’s M.O. Her openness and directness was one of the things he loved most about her. She didn’t play games.
Unless they were her own special brand of fun games. Now those Nathan had grown to love.
Nathan noticed her entire body trembling and realized she was cold. “Let’s go home and talk. It’s cold out here and Gigi is waiting for us.”
“Nope, we’re gonna talk here.” Stella grabbed her key fob out of her bag, clicked the auto start button twice, and the Denali engine turned over. She dropped her keys back in the bag with a smile. “I already texted Gigi, telling her we’d be late, so no worries there.”
Without another word, Stella hoisted herself into the SUV, dropping into the captain’s chair behind the passenger’s seat with a smile. She crooked her finger at Nathan.
“What…” He pulled at the collar of his uniform shirt, because – unlike Stella, Nathan was burning up. And, unlike Stella, he had no idea what the hell she was up to. Or he hadn’t until a few seconds ago.
He got like this sometimes…during situations requiring him to remain stoic and composed while his insides were raging hard. Years of conditioning made maintaining that stony façade very easy – unless the issues affecting him were related to Stella or Gia. Then Nathan seemed to lose all perspective - and control.
He swiped a palm across his damp forehead, dropped his hands to his hips, and gestured to her inside the SUV. “What are you doing in back? Climb up into the front seat and let’s go home.”
When Stella shook her head, sexy smile lingering and that damn gleam still in her eyes, Nathan managed to eek out, “Why not?”
“Because I want to talk to you now. Here.”
Nathan watched through the tinted windows as Stella slipped through the narrow aisle between captain’s chairs and sat on the back bench seat. She flashed him a shit eating grin and he exhaled a defeated sigh.
God damn, she was the most stubborn woman he’d ever met.
Stella had given him no choice. It was do things her way – climbing in and talking to her – or standing out here alone (his dick literally in his hand as he reached down to give it another quick adjustment).
When Nathan glanced around, Stella’s laughter floated out of the car. “What – are you making sure there aren’t any cops around?”
Infernal, smart assed she-devil.
Nathan climbed in, pulling the door closed behind him. Within seconds, the overhead lights began fading and soon they were in almost complete darkness.
Stella took in his hunched over form and laughed again. “You’re too tall for back here.” She patted the seat next to where she was sitting. Come sit by me. I just want to talk to you for a few minutes.”
There was nothing Nathan wanted more than to bury himself inside of Stella – right here, right now, but he felt too…raw…to be that close to her right now. He’d planned on having the car ride and some time at home to settle down. To let the emotions and adrenaline subside before touching her. Because his entire body was vibrating and his brain was buzzing and he couldn’t trust himself not to split wide open the moment Stella put her hands on him.
“Well, are you coming?” When he didn’t respond or move, she quirked a brow. “Are you gonna make me come up there and get you?”
Nathan pushed his big body between the two chairs and – with a fair amount of maneuvering – managed to drop back onto the bench seat. Before he knew what’d hit him, Stella was straddling him.
All vestiges of humor and frivolity were gone as she pushed up onto her knees – bringing them face to face, his cupped tightly in her hands.
Some moonlight and cast off light from a lamppost a few yards away provided Nathan with just enough light to see her face…to stare deeply into her dark brown eyes, which were boring into his.
“Tell me why you really came here tonight.” Stella searched his eyes, her voice lowering to a hushed whisper. “The truth. All of it.”
When Nathan replied, “I don’t think I can,” Stella’s brows dropped.
And, when Nathan replied, “And, even if I could, I don’t want to,” it was the God’s honest truth.
The corner of her mouth turned up. “You rode into my work all gangbusters, scared the living hell out of my co-worker, and put on quite a show for the rest. I think I deserve an explanation.”
“I already told you, I…” Nathan’s words followed his thoughts, which had fled his brain the moment Stella leaned her torso into his – bringing them chest to chest.
Her warmth…her scent…the way her body seemed to fit against his perfectly...
Never breaking eye contact with Stella, Nathan placed his hands on the creases behind her knees and then slowly slid them up the backs of her thighs until he reached her ass.
He kept them there – one hand lightly resting on each cheek – for a few seconds before suddenly grabbing them firmly and pulling her even closer. Stella gasped softly and Nathan could feel her breathing grow faster and more shallow against his chest.
“You told me you wanted to keep Ressler from upsetting me.” Stella’s eyes dropped to his lips, staring at them for a few seconds before licking hers. “But that’s not the only reason – or even the sole reason, is it?”
“He can’t fucking have you.”
If the way Stella’s brows dropped and she reared back slightly were any indication, she was surprised by his quiet, but vehement declaration as Nathan was.
“He can’t have me?” Stella searched his eyes. “Who – Ressler?” When Nathan nodded, she slowly began shaking her head. “No…no, he can’t.”
One of Nathan’s hands came up to gently grip the back of her neck. Her dark eyes – so full of emotion – latched onto his, he growled, “No one can have you.”
Their labored breaths were the only sound in the otherwise silent car until Stella whispered, “You are feeling very possessive of me right now?” Nathan paused for a few seconds before nodding. “Well, that’s a good thing.” Stella smiled. “I love that. And I feel the same way about you.”
“Not like this. You’re not…” The emotions he’d been struggling to tame and hide swelled in his chest, bubbled up to the surface, and Nathan blurted, “You’re not insecure. You are not terrified.”
“Nathan…,” she began softly. “I never had to hoard the things I loved. I never tried to hold onto people as hard as I could…only to have them slip through my fingers, anyway.” Stella’s eyes caressed his entire face and her expression reflected nothing but pure understanding, love, and tenderness. “But you don’t have to hoard me or hide me away – I’m not able to be stolen. And I don’t care how tightly you hold onto me – it doesn’t matter – because I’m holding onto you just as tightly.”
“He tried to take what was mine,” Nathan gritted out. “It doesn’t matter that you didn’t go along with it – someone threatened our family. And I’ll be fucking damned if I’m not going to protect us. I don’t know how I found you and I know I don’t deserve you, but – fuck…” The feelings washed over him in huge, destructive tidal waves again, rendering Nathan a muted, shaky mess of a man. “I love you way too much, you know that? I love you so much it drives me fucking crazy.”
Before Nathan even knew what was happening, Stella shed her jacket, pulled her tee shirt over her head, and undid her bra in a blur of frantic movements. Clothing and her prosthetic lying next to them in a pile on the seat, she grabbed his left hand and placed it on her right breast. Nathan instinctively began rubbing the palm of his hand over her nipple and Stella moaned softly, eyes glazing over.
“Then show me.”
She didn’t need to say another word. In their relationship, Nathan had one tool with which he was able to communicate his deeply felt emotions to Stella – and that was his body. His mouth, his hands – every single part of him, worshipping every single part of her. Worshipping, venting, asking and receiving her verbal and non-verbal responses…showing love, appeasing lust…just using something tangible to express all of the powerful, intangible feelings he harbored deep inside.
Stella had often said making love to him, with him, was like having a conversation. She claimed she always found out something new about him every time they were together. That had made Nathan more than a little uneasy at first – the last thing he wanted was Stella gaining any more unflattering insights into his psyche. But it seemed like the opposite happened. The more they made love, the closer she felt to him, the more she interpreted his actions into emotions…the more willing Nathan was to open up. Because opening up to her felt so fucking good. She soothed all the rough edges, accepted all the darkness, and loved him unconditionally.
It was fucking addictive.
Nathan moved his hand over to her scar, very gently grazing it with his fingertips. He lowered his head and began pressing soft kisses to the marred flesh.
The hitch in her voice had him meeting her eyes again and he thought…
I fucking love every part of you.
I wouldn’t change a thing.
You are so perfect to me.
Stella’s eyes welled at what she saw in his. She wrapped her arms around his neck and lowered her lips to his temple. After placing a soft kiss there, Stella kissed her way across his cheek, to his ear. Voice low and tight with emotion, she whispered, “Thank you.” When Nathan wrapped his arms around her and held on tightly, she added, “And you are so beautiful and perfect to me, too.”
It only took seconds for Stella to lose herself in the sensual pleasure of inhaling his scent, licking, kissing, and nuzzling Nathan’s neck and jawline…feeling his hands gently skating across her bare back. He gently pulled the ponytail holder out of her hair before burying his hands in it.
Nathan tugged gently on her hair until Stella lifted her head. She immediately went after his mouth, but just before their lips made contact, Nathan asked, “Why aren’t you mad at me?
Stella nipped at his bottom lip. “Hmmm?”
When she tried to kiss him again, Nathan reared back, searching her eyes.
Stella pulled herself out of her lusty haze long enough to recall his question. “Of course I’m not mad at you, my love.” Stella pulled on his neck, trying to get him close enough to pounce. “Now, come here…”
“But why aren’t you mad at me?”
She huffed in frustration. “Why?”
Nathan nodded. “You told me you took care of it. Why aren’t you pissed at me for coming up here and stirring shit up?”
“Well, for one thing, I knew it was going to happen the second Nina opened her big, fat mouth.” Nathan’s brows dropped and Stella smiled. “Nathan…there are two things I can count on in life: number one, you respect me as an equal partner who can handle her own problems. And, number two, you have absolutely no intention of letting me. Or at least not when you interpret the ‘problem’ as threatening me or Gia in some way.”
“That doesn’t piss you off? That I fly off the handle about shit like that?”
Stella laughed. “Hell, no it doesn’t piss me off! It would have been overkill to arrest Dr. Douchebag or push him around…” She paused, lifting a shoulder. “Although – don’t get me wrong – both scenarios would have been very entertaining.” Stella’s grin faded into a soft smile as she reached for Nathan’s left hand, which was resting on her right hip. “But instead of telling you how it made me feel…” She went up on her knees again, undid the ties of her scrub bottoms with her other hand, and then guided his hand into the front of her pants, exhaling a loud moan when Nathan’s huge hand cupped between her legs.
She latched onto his eyes as she maneuvered his hand, slipping it inside the front of her underwear. “Feel me, Nathan,” she whispered huskily. “Feel what you did to me.”
When his fingers delved deep and found her soaking wet, they moaned loudly in unison.
Stella gripped his neck, lowering her lips to his ear again…panting against it as Nathan stroked her. “I’m about to come just thinking about that spectacle you put on up there.” The way his fingers stilled against her told Stella he was surprised. She squirmed against him, prompting him to get that hand moving again. “God…you were so fucking hot,” she breathed out.
Nathan’s “Yeah?” came out as strangled…
Which made Stella smile against the curve of his ear, as she began rubbing herself against his hand in a rhythmic grind. “The second I saw you standing there, I got wet.”
“Jesus, Stella…” he groaned.
Stella gasped when he slowly slipped a finger inside of her.
“This is what you do to me…what all your protectiveness and strength does to my body…” Nathan plunged a second finger deep inside her and she began riding them, “This is what I think…about how much you love me and how committed you are to keeping me safe and keeping our family safe.”
She reached down – and finding him tangibly every bit as turned on as she was – began stroking his erection over his pants to the same rhythm. Approximately five seconds later, Nathan’s utility belt was tossed aside, his pants were undone, and Stella’s hand was down his pants.
They hissed in unison the moment her hand wrapped around him.
“This,” she gasped out against his neck as she gripped him tightly. “This is all I could think about…and when I saw you standing there in your uniform…all I could think about was how much I wanted you to fuck me…to show me how much you want me and care about me and need me…”
Nathan used some of her wetness to circle her clitoris, making Stella jerk back - keeping herself out of her reach. “I…I’m gonna come if you keep doing that.”
His free hand grabbed her hip and pulled her back against his hand. “I know.” Nathan crooked his finger – hitting her G-spot at the same time his thumb slid across her clit – and Stella cried out. “So come.”
“Oh, God….oh, God….oh, God…oh, God,” she moaned against his ear, her body still rocking against his hand – riding out the waves of pleasure washing over her. Stella kissed along his jawline until their lips met. “I love you…I love you…you…”
“Then show me,” he commanded huskily, echoing her earlier words. When Stella met his eyes, the yearning and lust in his robbed what little was left of her breath. Nathan gently tucked a lock of her wild hair behind her ear and then caressed her cheek with the back of his fingers. “Show me how much you want me and care about me…how much you love me…and need me.” He paused to swallow hard – against what Stella knew was a lump of emotion caught in his throat as he searched her eyes. “‘Cause you do need me, right, Stell?”
She pressed a soft kiss to his lips and then smiled against them. “I needed you desperately even before I met you…and you know it.”
Stella suddenly pulled back and slid off his lap. Nathan watched her movements like a hawk, clearly enraptured, as she divested herself of her shoes, socks, pants and underwear.
“Pull your pants down a little more,” she said. “Just enough so I can climb on.”
Nathan scrambled to get them down as quickly as possible – his clumsy, horny fumbling making her giggle. Pants around his ankles, Nathan began undoing his shirt, but Stella stilled his hands with hers. “Uh-uh. I wanna fuck you with your uniform shirt on and your pants around your ankles.” At his quizzical look, she giggled again. “It’s naughty to have sex in a parking lot, but it’s super naughty to have sex with a ridiculously hot cop in one.” Stella positioned herself back atop him, her core right up against the base of his erection, loving the way Nathan’s head fell back and a loud groan escaped his lips. “Especially when the cop is a very straight-laced civil servant who tries very hard not to do naughty things with his wife in public.”
Nathan’s hands fisted into her hair and another groan filled the car when Stella grabbed his erection and rubbed the head of it against her wet, swollen, warm core. She used it to pleasure them both simultaneously – stroking the rigid tip against her folds.
“You’re…a…terrible…influence,” Nathan gritted out as Stella slowly increased the depth she allowed the tip to penetrate her. She knew he wouldn’t allow shallow thrusts to continue for long, which – although she adored teasing him within an inch of his sanity – she was dying for.
He tried to thrust deeper, but she rose up and didn’t allow it. His stern expression coupled with the desperation in his eyes made Stella giggled. “What? You know how much I love the tip, baby.”
Well, that did it.
Nathan had her flipped over and facing the rear view window before Stella could register his movement. She braced her hands on the top of the back seat and adjusted her bent knees on the cushion, spreading them apart just a little farther…
She grinned to herself.
Well, just to torture him a little more, that’s why.
If the “Fucking hell,” Nathan muttered was any indication, Stella figured her little maneuver was successful.
And, if that wasn’t proof enough, the unnaturally large man now mounting her eliminated all doubt.
Stella heard a few rustles and knew Nathan was getting out of his pants. He was too tall to stand, so he had to go onto his knees, next to hers, and dropped forward to grip the top of the back seat – his hands right beside hers.
He curled himself around her body and lowered his lips to her ear. Stella felt him reach down and position the tip of his erection against her now aching, throbbing core.
“This is what you wanted, baby?” Nathan pressed kisses behind and below her ear – the gentleness of his lips only making his sexy, taunting tone all the hotter.
Especially when Stella was suddenly the one trying to press him deeper inside and he was the one not allowing it.
When she moaned, “Nathan, please…” it was his turn to laugh.
“You’ll get it, baby, don’t worry. And you’re gonna get it extra hard for being such a bad influence.” Nathan thrust forward, sliding the length of his erection against her clitoris and Stella’s entire body began shaking.
“Fuck me…please,” she begged, bracing herself with one hand while reaching down to try and force his erection inside of her with the other.
Nathan’s hoarse laugh and refusal to allow it royally pissed her off and made her eyes swim with frustrated tears.
“You’ve gotta wait just a little bit longer,” he whispered. “For teasing me a few minutes ago.”
She huffed. “No, now!” and he laughed again.
Stella didn’t mind some fun and games, but she’d been dying to feel Nathan inside of her for the last ten hours…and right at this minute, she was downright desperate for another release. And to remind him who was really in charge of this little tableau.
“If you’re not gonna fuck me, I might as well drive home,” she said, forcing her tone to be conversational. Stella shrugged. “Or I could head back into the ER and work a few more hours. Maybe Brett…”
Nathan emitted something way more animalistic growl than human male noise before fisting his hand into the hair at the base of her skull with one hand, gripping her right hip with the other, and slamming himself inside of her.
As Stella cried out, he gave her hair a gentle tug. “Don’t you fucking say his name.” Nathan withdrew himself, paused, and then slammed back into her again – eliciting yet another loud cry from Stella. “You’re my fucking wife…and I’m your fucking husband…” Another withdrawal and base to top thrust – this one even harder. “And this is my dick fucking you…I’m fucking you…and I’ll be the only one fucking you…the only name on your lips as you come.” He let go of her hair to grab her hips with both hands before withdrawing yet again. When he hesitated, Stella mewed in frustration. “Oh, you’ll get it, baby…but first I wanna hear you say my name.”
She dropped her head, the leather of the back seat so cool on her damp forehead. “Nathan,” she whispered hoarsely.
When Nathan replied, “Louder. I can’t hear you,” Stella’s temper flared.
“Nathan!” she yelled. “My husband, Nathan! The only man I’ve ever loved, the father of my baby, and the only man I ever want - and will ever want – fucking me! So fuck me! Now! Before I absolutely lose my shit on you, Nathan!”
Nathan slammed himself into her so hard and so fast it knocked the wind out of Stella’s chest…and then he just continued slamming into her again and again and again.
“Is…this…hard…enough…baby?” When Stella’s only response was a guttural moan, Nathan rasped out, “God, you feel so fucking good…”
Stella teetered precariously on that orgasmic brink until Nathan finally put her out of her misery – reaching his hand around and down, giving her aching clitoris a quick flick, tug, and slap – pushing Stella right off that edge and she screamed.
“Shhhh, baby, shhhh,” Nathan whispered into her ear, a smile in his voice. “I live to make you scream, but someone is gonna call the cops if you don’t quiet down a little.”
“I can’t…I can’t…keep…fucking…me…please…” she begged hoarsely.
Because the aftershocks of her orgasm coupled with Nathan’s hard thrusts were making her see stars and pushing her right back up onto that brink again.
No more words were spoken – Nathan just continued to pound into her, until Stella shattered one last time around him…and a few seconds later, he was the one crying out her name as he spilled himself inside of her with hard, quick jerks until he was completely spent.
Nathan dropped his forehead onto the nape of her neck, his hot pants against her damp flesh causing Stella to shiver.
“You cold, baby?” Nathan wrapped an arm around her front and pulled her back against his chest and then deftly turned, pulling Stella into his lap. Nathan took in her continued shivers and chattering teeth and enveloped her in his arms.
It wasn’t the first time Stella’s senses had been overwhelmed and her nerves overwrought by their emotionally and physically intense lovemaking and she prayed to God it wouldn’t be the last.
“Did I push you just a little too far?” Nathan’s words implied teasing, but the concern on his face was dead serious.
“I’m…fine…” Stella smiled up at him before nestling farther into his warm embrace. “You know how I get after particularly intense sessions.”
“Yeah, I know.” Nathan nuzzled the top of her head and rubbed her exposed arm with his hand. “But I’m always afraid it’s because I hurt you.” He lifted his head and Stella instinctively dropped hers back so their eyes could meet. Just as she suspected, his were full of concern.
“You didn’t hurt me at all,” Stella reassured him. “Not one bit.” Her lips tugged into a grin. “I might not be able to walk for a few days, but…”
Nathan’s brows furrowed and his eyes dropped to between her legs – as if searching for signs he’d hobbled her – and Stella laughed. “I’m joking, caro.” She paused. “Although, I’m definitely gonna feel that tomorrow.” When his expression didn’t lighten, she added, “In a good way!”
He grunted, pulling her back into a tight cuddle. “You know what we just did is illegal, right? It’s called public indecency.”
Stella laughed. “It was indecent, all right. Amazingly indecent.” He grunted again and she tipped her head back to look up at him, smiling. “Are you going to arrest me, officer?”
“I should.” Nathan huffed, but the corner of his mouth ticked. “We need to try and deter some of this deviant behavior.”
“Oh, you love my deviant behavior and we both know it, so don’t even go there.”
“And you love pulling me into your shenanigans any chance you get,” he grumbled.
When Stella shot back, “That’s pretty much my entire purpose for living!” his chest rumbled in a low laugh.
“Well, you do it admirably.”
“Why, thank you, officer.”
Nathan snorted. “That wasn’t a compliment, she-devil.”
“The hell it wasn’t!” Stella’s head suddenly shot up. “Hey, what if cops found another cop having sex in a car? What would they do? You think that’s ever happened? It has to have, right?”
“I don’t know, Stell,” Nathan replied with a yawn. He shrugged. “I would assume the officers would extend their fellow cop a professional courtesy and just look the other way, but I’ve never been in that situation.”
After a brief, thoughtful pause, Stella said, “Huh. Well, now I kinda wanna call the cops on us to see what they do.”
Nathan scoffed. “Okay. Time to go, little troublemaker. Before you get my ass fired.”
“But it’s such a cute, pinch-able, perfectly sculpted ass. I love your ass. In fact, I’d love to squeeze the hell out of it right now.”
“Yeah…I’m aware. You tell me at least once a day.” His brow quirked. “You’re not what one would call ‘verbally stingy.’”
“Hey, it’s not my fault you have an incredible body. Let yourself go a little and maybe I’ll stop grabbing at you and complimenting you all the time.” Stella grinned up at him. “But, as it stands, I can’t help myself. Combine that sick body with that gorgeous face and phenomenal personality and…well, I’m only human.”
“I never said I didn’t like your grabbing and complimenting,” he said gruffly. “And, phenomenal? Really? I know you love me, but that’s even a stretch for your rose-tinted eyes. I think we’re solid with ‘tolerable’ at best.”
Stella sat up in his lap and gently grabbed his chin, forcing him to look into her eyes. “Tolerable, my ass. You are the most amazing, sexy, wonderful, phenomenal man I have ever met! And the best father in the entire history of fathers! And I am crazy in love with you! And you just made me see stars – and come three times – in the cramped backseat of our SUV.” Stella dropped a quick kiss to his lips. “You are literally the perfect man.”
Stella’s heart ached at the look of bewilderment on Nathan’s face.
She shook her head. “How is it you don’t see how insanely beautiful and incredible you are?”
“Maybe because I’m not. Either of those things.” Nathan shrugged. “I’m just a fucked up asshole who – by some goddamned miracle – stumbled across the one woman on planet Earth who, for reasons I still can’t wrap my head around, somehow gets me and miraculously loves me.” He rubbed a hand over his head with a scoff. “Fuck, she even seems to like me.” Nathan dropped his arm and flashed her a half-grin. “Go figure.”
“You’re ridiculous, Nathan,” she said before settling back into his arms. “Amazing, sexy, wonderful, phenomenal, and ridiculous. But I even love your ridiculousness. I love it and you and that’s that.”
Nathan paused and then said, “Let’s go home, Stell.”
At the strain in his voice, she looked up at him. “What’s wrong?”
He shrugged. “Nothing’s wrong. I just want to go to our home and see our daughter…then hold you all night in our bed.” Nathan cleared his throat. “Because our life…the life we share…is all I’ve ever wanted.” He averted his eyes. “I know I don’t say it enough – and I’m sorry for that. For not saying much of anything at all, let alone the important stuff. The stuff you need to hear.” Nathan met her eyes again. “But you know it, right, Stell? That I love you and Gia more every day? That my life is perfect because of you and that, without you in it, it wouldn’t mean shit? That I would be a shell of a person – just like I was before I met you – if I didn’t have our…family. The family you gave me. The family you are to me. My family. Mine.”
“You finally have something that rightfully belongs to you and something you belong to, my love. Me. Our family. Forever.” Stella grinned against Nathan’s chest. “Just like Stitch says, ‘Ohana means family and family means nobody gets left behind or forgotten.'”
“Thanks for not leaving me behind, Stell,” Nathan whispered quietly, nuzzling her head. “Even when you had every reason to.”
“You can’t leave behind pieces of yourself, Nathan,” she whispered back. “You need them to function – to be whole. Leaving them behind is not an option. You have to have them to survive. And you are one huge, vital piece of my heart and soul – of my entire being, Nathan. Not leave-behind-able. At all. Ever.”
“I love you, Stell,” he replied, voice low and tight with emotion.
Stella gave him one last big squeeze and placed a kiss on his chest. “I love you, too, caro. For always.”
After a few minutes of quiet cuddling, Nathan said, “Now I’m in the mood to watch Lilo and Stitch with Gia. Think she’s up?”
Stella glanced at the dashboard clock.
“Knowing Gigi, not only is she up, but she’s probably elbow deep in pasta, cupcakes, and God-knows-what-else.”
“Sounds like great movie food to me,” Nathan replied with a smile.
Stella gestured for him to lower his head. She gave him a lingering kiss and then whispered against his lips, “Me, too, caro. Me, too. So let’s go home.”