Chapter 1

2092 Words
I looked like a vampire. Maybe a zombie. The vial was mocking me. In the slim reflection of the plastic, my dark-circled eyes looked back at me. I placed the vial into the centrifuge and sat back, rubbing my eyes with the palms of my hands, pressing in. Zombie it was. How long had it been since I’d slept? Twenty-two hours? What day is it? I’d done countless blood chemistry analyses, trying to catch up on the backlog. “Paisley, do you have the blood work done for Dr. Patterson?” My head fell back, and I got an upside down view of Marcy, my boss. She stared at me with her unconcerned brown eyes, freshly woken and showered. She looked a lot like a pig from my skewed view. Not that she was. She was a damn good boss, friendly and helpful. Granted, I was the best technician the medical examiner’s office had. Four years of college with a degree in biology went a long way. Which was one reason why I was still processing samples almost twenty hours after walking through the door. I reached forward, feeling around for the stack of files containing the completed analysis and grabbed the top one, holding it over my head. “This it?” She huffed, her lips forming a line. I’d say it was a disapproving line. “When was your shift supposed to end?” “Murphy called in,” I said with a frown that probably looked like a smile to her. “I’m pulling a double, and Rick wasn’t able to come in.” “s**t. You only get loopy like this when you’ve been here too long. Do you know what time it is?” I glanced over to the clock. “Seven.” “Morning or afternoon?” I blinked at her. “Does it matter at this point?” She rolled her eyes and pushed on the back of my head. “Sit up. Your face is turning red.” I let out a groan, my head spinning. She settled in against the counter. “It’s seven in the morning, which means you’ve been here for eighteen hours. Go home.” “Still two hours left.” Most of the time I loved our ten-hour shifts because I had three days off a week, but two shifts in a row was too much. “I don’t care. Damon can fill in until Sandra gets in.” “Damon’s a doctor. He doesn’t do lab work.” “Well, he will today.” She scanned the counter and the small stack of work that was left. “Anyway, you’re pretty much caught up, so it can probably wait until Amanda gets in. Though I would love to see the look on Damon’s face.” A grin spread on her face. It was sinister. “Why, Dr. Brenton, I’d say you have something against Dr. Douche.” He was a pompous ass to everyone in the lab, even the chief medical examiner, Dr. Mitchell. Her eyes widened, and she playfully slapped my shoulder. “Shush, you.” “If you do, video it for me.” She let out a small chuckle. “As I was saying, go home. The party’s tonight and Dr. Mitchell wants you there, mentally as well as physically.” Fuck…the party. I hated parties. Scratch that. I hated work parties, loathed them. Every year I prayed they’d forget about it. Who ever heard of a year-end party in February? Granted, the medical examiner’s office was especially busy during the holidays, so we’d never been able to hold one around that time. February sixteenth was the furthest out we’d ever gone in the five years I’d worked here. “Do I have to go? Micah gets handsy when he’s drunk.” Micah was one of the ME’s assistants. Nice guy, decent looking, but I wasn’t interested in him. Plus, in his drunkenness, he was an equal opportunity groper. She laughed, smiling as she shook her head. “I’ll be there to pry him off.” “Then he’ll just latch onto you.” She nodded. “True, but I could use a little loving, and he’s not bad looking.” “Cougar.” She gasped. “He’s only three years younger than me.” I grinned up at her, and she rolled her eyes. “Enough. Tell me where you are and get out.” With a brief description of where I left off and what samples were in the centrifuge, I headed to my locker. Purse out, lab coat in, and I was gone. In what felt like seconds later I was face down on my bed, sprawled out on top of the comforter, scrubs still on. I didn’t care how I got home, only that I was, and I could finally sleep. The incessant beeping of my phone going off pried me from my deep sleep. I patted around the bed trying to locate it, half seeing out of my sleep covered eyes to turn it off. Four in the afternoon. It was my usual time for getting up if I was working the night shift, but it was my week for day shifts, and tonight was the party. My face scrunched up, and I nuzzled against my comforter. All I wanted to do was cuddle on my couch, maybe watch a movie and order a pizza. The phone next to me beeped again, this time with a text from Marcy telling me to get up. Or more precisely… Get your ass out of bed. Don’t make me come get you. I pushed against the bed, propping myself up. Bright lines danced across the floor as my curtains blew in front of the window. As I stood, aches in my body protested all movement. Every part of me was stiff. A bend of my neck led to a snap, crackle, some pops, and a lot of relief. My feet shuffled across the floor, dragging as I made my way into the bathroom. The reflection greeting me in the mirror was horrific. What was I saying about zombies earlier? My strawberry blonde hair was still in the ponytail I’d put it up in, but it was a wild mess of loose strands. At least the dark circles were gone from under my baby blues. A shower later, and color returned to my pale skin. Life seemed to be flowing through me again, doubly so when the numbers on the clock read much later than I expected. Adrenaline pumped through me, driving me like a mad woman as I dried my hair at super speed before going through my closet. I pulled out the few dresses I owned, all of them from the Digby days. Two were nixed due to being too fancy, another three because they were summer dresses. What remained was a cap sleeved flared dress and a body hugging, long sleeved sweater dress. Due to the cold weather, the sweater dress won, and I decided to pair it with my knee-high boots. So what if the front zipped up? And that Digby had pulled it down with his teeth before f*****g me on his desk in the middle of a Christmas party? Maybe the dress would get lucky again. I wouldn’t be against it. A little live action in my nether regions. Just not with Micah. Hair? Check. Dress? Check. Drink to calm my nerves and help get my ass there? There was an atrocity happening in my kitchen—the rum was gone. Along with the vodka and amaretto. There were a few small shot-size bottles of rum somewhere. After finding them stuffed in the egg carrier in the fridge, I tossed them in my purse. Eyeliner, mascara, lip gloss, and out the door. Only ten minutes late, but it wasn’t like I had to be there exactly at six. Fifteen minutes later I was parked and slowly walking toward the hotel bar, downing my tiny bottles of rum while convincing myself the necessity of my being there. “Wow, Paisley, you look hot.” Marcy walked toward me, her short bob of brunette hair curled and pinned, bouncing with each step. “Have you looked in the mirror?” I looked her up and down. “Damn, girl!” A blush spread across her cheeks, and she smiled. Marcy was always self-conscious about her weight, but the skintight cocktail dress she wore highlighted her curves in all the right ways. “Your t**s look great.” I waggled my eyebrows at her. She slapped me with her clutch. “I’m still your boss.” I shrugged. “What? It’s a compliment. You know I like the sausage.” Her brow quirked, and she stared at me for a moment. “Did you start drinking already?” My gaze bounced around the room, glancing over to the trash can that held the two recently emptied bottles of rum. “Maybe.” “You have loose lips when you do. Come on.” She waved at me to follow her into the hotel’s bar. “Marcy, I don’t wanna.” She let out a sigh. “Stop whining like my five-year-old niece, and get your ass in there. It’s just a party.” My shoulders slumped forward, and I groaned. “It’s a work party, which makes it infinitely worse than any other party.” She put her hands on her hips. “What is your party malfunction, Warren?” “I’m a social drinker. I get f****d up, horny, and sleep with whoever is available. And with my luck, it’s the ugliest guy there.” Her lips cracked up into a smile. “I’ll keep you ugly free.” “That’s beside the point! I don’t want a nighter with someone I have to look at every day. Plus, Dr. Douche becomes extra douchey when he’s liquored up. I had to file a complaint with HR after last year.” “Wait, what?” she asked with a furrowed brow. “I don’t remember that.” “He called me a whore.” “Whoa!” I pursed my lips and scrunched my brow. “Then again, I may have been hitting on him. I don’t really remember.” She shook her head and wrapped her arm around my shoulders, tugging me along with her. “Even his hotness can’t combat his horrible personality. What if we taped his mouth shut? He has a great smolder.” My head fell back in laughter. “Don’t tempt me. It’s been a while.” We walked in, and I took a deep breath as we crossed to the back. Most of the tables we passed were empty but would steadily fill in with the people filtering in. During the last few feet of approach to our group, I took a quick glance around the room for my exits before we reached the table where over half a dozen people already sat. “Paisley, sit here.” Micah’s eager smile beamed at me as he patted the space on the booth beside him. The drink in his hand was half gone—sitting next to an empty one—which probably accounted for his rosy cheeks. A hand reached out for mine and tugged me in the opposite direction. “Paisley, dear, why don’t you sit next to me?” The corners of Dr. Mitchell’s eyes crinkled with fine lines and age, a knowing smile as he pulled out a chair. “Thank you,” I whispered, giving his hand a squeeze. “No worries. You aren’t the first victim of the night.” He sat back down beside me, what looked like a brandy in front of him, which he gingerly sipped from. “How have you been?” I glanced around for Marcy to make sure she hadn’t been snared, only to find that poor Sandra had, then turned back to the older gentleman next to me. And that was exactly what Dr. Mitchell was—a gentleman. His once dark hair was white, but he still held a youthful appearance for his sixty years. “Good. Work’s keeping me busy.” “Not too busy for a social life, I hope,” he said before taking a sip. Social life? In the last six months, the only relationship I had was with my couch. We had three-ways with my television. Sometimes two guys named Ben and Jerry came around for an introvert gang bang. “Well…” I trailed off, not having an answer, my gaze glued at a spot on the table as I fidgeted with my purse strap. “Paisley.” I turned to him. “I’ve been spending a lot of quality time with myself.” His lips formed a thin line. “I was afraid you were going to say that. Is it because of Digby?” My chest clenched as the hairs stood up on the back of my neck. Digby. “It’s been almost a year since he moved. Do you keep in touch?” I shrugged. “Occasionally.” If phone s*x about a month ago and a midnight hookup four months ago on his way through town counted. After being together for almost three years, it still stunned me that we were over. He got an offer with the Dallas Cowboys’ marketing team and two weeks later, he was gone. Then again, I did nothing to follow him. We talked about it, he even proposed, but I couldn’t commit to it…to him. A mindset that’d kept me down for a year. An almost perfect guy, one who loved me, and I let him go. “There’s someone out there for you, but you can’t lock yourself inside all the time. Get out, enjoy the world. You only live once.” I leaned forward, wrapping my arms around his shoulders. “Thank you. I’ll try.”
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