An all-new steamy friends-to-lovers romance is coming next week from author Kimberly Kincaid, and I have the first chapter for you. While part of the Remington Medical world, this book is a complete standalone and can be read on its own.
There was a bathtub in Natalie Kendrick’s living room. Which wouldn’t be so bad, if she’d ordered a new one and it was awaiting installation, or even if she were living in a tiny little efficiency and had four hundred square feet to her name. But since the bathtub in question belonged to her upstairs neighbors, and it had arrived via the giant, gaping hole now turning her ceiling into a skylight, Natalie was less than pleased at the disaster zone in front of her.
And by less than pleased, she really meant internally freaking the fuck out, because from the look of things, the tub had been full to the brim when it had crash-landed on her couch.
“Whoa.” Jonah’s perfectly blue eyes went perfectly wide from where he stood beside her, amid the chaos of firefighters, utility workers, and absolute destruction. Having her best friend and fellow surgeon beside her usually went a long way toward calming Natalie in situations that had taken the handbasket route directly to hell. Right now? Jonah really had his work laid out in front of him.
“At least you weren’t here when it happened,” he said, and okay, she’d give him that. Still, this so wasn’t the ending she’d anticipated from her Monday, especially since she’d preceded her post-work friends’ night out with an eleven-hour shift at the hospital that had included three pediatric surgeries.
Natalie looked at her landlady, Agnes, and put her very best effort into a nice, calm inhale.
It didn’t work.
“How did this happen, exactly?” All Natalie had to go on was the cryptic phone call Agnes had made fifteen minutes ago that had pulled her and Jonah away from their friends and colleagues at The Crooked Angel and into Waterworld.
“Well, you’ll have to ask Max and Rebecca for the, ahem, exact particulars.” She swung a gaze at the bathrobed couple standing sheepishly in the main hallway, and Natalie swallowed a groan. Max and Rebecca rented the second floor of the Victorian townhome, while Natalie lived on the first. Each floor had been renovated into completely separate, private apartments, but that had never kept the couple from making their highly active and wildly imaginative sex life audible from every corner of Natalie’s space.
Oh, the irony.
Agnes continued, fluttering a birdlike hand over her floral housedress. “But it seems they were filling the bathtub for a night of relaxation when they became, ah, preoccupied with other endeavors. The tub overflowed, and well, you know how old the house is, dear. That tub is pure cast iron, and the hardwoods and plaster are part of the original construction. As soon as the floorboards got wet enough to weaken…”
She gestured upward with one arthritic hand, and Jonah’s brows popped. “Wait,” he said slowly. “So, they were, uh, preoccupied long enough to allow for a flood that made their bathtub collapse through the ceiling?”
“It appears that way.” Agnes nodded.
“That’s some serious stamina,” Jonah murmured under his breath.
“You have no idea,” Natalie said, very quietly, even though every last bit of her wanted to scream. She had to find the bright side. She always found the bright side.
Please, God, let there be a bright side. “Okay, so no one was hurt, but there’s obviously a lot of property damage. What do we do now?”
Agnes blinked through her bifocals. “Well, I’ve called Wilfred to come take a look, but these nice firefighters here mentioned…oh, what was it?”
“Structural integrity,” the nearest firefighter supplied.
Between Agnes’s mention of her twin brother, who did all of the maintenance on the house at a pace that would make most snails look speedy, and the firefighter’s ominous-sounding response, the smile that Natalie had manufactured slipped.
“McNamara,” the guy said, tipping the brim of his helmet at her. “I take it you’re the tenants?”
“Whoa, not me,” Jonah said quickly, his hands hiking up as if he’d been scalded. “We don’t…I mean, I’m not—”
“We don’t live together,” Natalie said. Under other circumstances, she’d laugh at how apoplectic Jonah looked at the suggestion, even though it wasn’t nearly the first time a stranger had mistaken them for a couple. Right now? She had bigger fish to fry. “I’m the tenant. Natalie Kendrick.”
She offered Lieutenant McNamara her hand, her manners having been sewn-in pretty much at birth.
“Wish I had better news for you, Ms. Kendrick. But with how old this house is and the fact that there’s damage from both the collapse and the flooding, there’s really no telling how bad it is until a building inspector can take a closer look. It’s definitely not safe to live in.” He eyed her ruined living room with sympathy. “Not that you’d probably want to try. It looks like this thing took out part of your kitchen, too.”
Natalie’s pulse tripped. “Do you know how long repairs on something like this might take?”
“It really all depends on what the inspector finds once he or she gets in here,” the lieutenant said. “But if I had to guess, I’d say you’re looking at a minimum of four to six weeks.”
Heat pricked in Natalie’s eyes, her throat knotting over a hard lump that signaled imminent tears, but no, no. No, no, no, she would not cry. Not in front of Agnes or Lieutenant McNamara, and definitely not in front of Jonah. If she did, then he would know she was really upset, and if he knew that, he’d worry.
She had to put on a brave face, and she had to do it right freaking now.
Natalie closed her eyes. Counted to three. When she opened them again, her tears were gone and her silver lining was firmly in place. “Well. I suppose that’s better than four to six months.”
“Your bedroom looks like it was mostly undisturbed, and since it’s on the other side of the house, you’re okay to go in there to get some things.”
Jonah must’ve sensed how close she was to flipping her pancakes despite her efforts to appear calm, because he stepped in and shook the lieutenant’s hand. “Thanks, man.”
“No problem.” He fell back to supervise his crew as they finished up their check of the place. Agnes shook her head, her stare all apology as she turned toward Natalie.
“I’m so sorry, dear. Of course, I’ll have Wilfred start working on it right away, and we’ll work with the insurance company to make sure they have everything they need to replace your belongings. But this is my only rental property. I’m afraid I can’t offer you another place to stay.”
Natalie nodded. “Thanks, Agnes. I’ll figure something out.”
What, she had no clue, but first thing was first. She needed to salvage what she could from her bedroom before the firefighters kicked her out of the house. “Okay,” she said, looking at Jonah as Agnes moved toward the main hallway to talk with Max and Rebecca. “There are a couple of suitcases in the closet at the end of the hall by my bedroom. If we—”
“Nat.” Jonah stepped in her path, his body so close that she had no choice but to come to an immediate halt to avoid crashing into him. “Are you okay?”
“Of course I’m okay,” she said. Jonah knew her better than anyone, so she had to put her back into the smile she’d forced out along with her answer, but come on. She’d conquered far thornier obstacles than this. For pity’s sake, she’d beat cancer before she was even old enough to drive. A little household destruction should be a tropical island vacay, complete with flip-flops and umbrella drinks, compared to that.
Somehow, Jonah wasn’t looking convinced. “You know, it wouldn’t be totally outside the realm of normal for you to be a little freaked out right now.”
“This isn’t anything to freak out about,” she said, and of course, the firefighters had to choose that exact nanosecond to confirm that yes, the water damage had extended into her kitchen. “Look at the bright side. No one got hurt, and at least my bedroom is intact.”
The laugh that Jonah gave up was soft and chock-full of irony, but her argument had done the trick. He stepped back, letting her lead the way toward her bedroom. “You are the only person I know who would look at this mess and see the bright side.”
“And what does the alternative accomplish?” Natalie asked, relieved to have an objective. She swung her bedroom door open and turned on the light. “Getting upset won’t make my apartment any less wrecked.”
“It might be cathartic,” Jonah suggested.
“I don’t need catharsis. What I need is a suitcase.”
After a quick trip to her storage closet at the end of the hallway, Jonah rolled two empty, practically new suitcases over the threshold to her bedroom. “Not to ask a sticky question, but have you thought about where you’re going to stay?”
Dread threatened to reclaim Natalie’s belly, but she folded it neatly into the compartment where she kept all of her crappy emotions, far, far from her face.
“Four to six weeks really is outside the realm of a hotel stay,” she mused. Even if her insurance company gave her an allowance for housing, it probably wouldn’t cover a decent efficiency that was close to the hospital. And that was assuming one was even available on short (okay, fine. No) notice.
“You could ask Tess,” Jonah said, prompting Natalie to give up a laugh.
“In case you haven’t noticed, Tess has a three-month-old baby. And her marriage is already pretty strained. I’m not asking her to take me in for six weeks.”
Their colleague and close friend was already under a metric crap-ton of pressure. No way was Natalie going to add to the woman’s stress. Even if getting to babysit Jackson from time to time would be pretty fun.
“Eh, you may be right,” Jonah agreed. “What about Charlie, then?”
More laughter barged past her lips. “The same Charlie who literally announced her engagement tonight and lives with her fiancé, who, oh, by the way, is one of my interns? Are you nuts?”
“Okay. Your parents. I know they live outside the city, but they’d totally let you crash at their place.”
For the first time tonight, actual fear took root in Natalie’s chest. “No. No. My parents cannot know about this. Not today. Not ever.”
“Jesus, Nat.” Jonah’s brows creased, but only for a second before he traded his confusion for a much more affable smile. “Your ceiling caved in. I know it’s kind of whoa, but it’s not a threat to national security.”
“You’re right. It’s worse.”
Jonah squinted across the bedroom at her. “What are you talking about? Your parents are two of the nicest people on the planet.”
Okay, so that wasn’t entirely inaccurate. Still… “They’re two of the nicest, most overprotective people on the planet,” Natalie corrected. Having a kid with cancer did that to otherwise lovely parents. The fact that she was about to celebrate her eighteenth remission anniversary from the acute lymphocytic leukemia she’d been diagnosed with at age ten made no difference, nor did the fact that she was a board-certified pediatric surgeon, and a damned skilled one, at that. They still worried about her. A lot.
She continued, “If I tell my parents this happened, they will lose their shit. My mother will kick things off with a speech about the two dozen ways I could’ve been brutally killed by that bathtub even though I wasn’t even here when it fell, and I’d have seen the flooding long before the ceiling gave out if I had. Her diatribe will encourage my father to point out—for thirty minutes, minimum—that he knew when I moved in that this apartment is an ancient death trap, and it’s probably violating, like, nine thousand sections of the Remington City Building Code right this very second.”
“The building is pretty old,” Jonah said, his Bahama-blue eyes moving over the admittedly creaky wide-plank hardwoods and the intricate molding around the doors and windows that had made Natalie fall in love with the place the second she’d clapped eyes on it five years ago.
She huffed out a frustrated breath. “So it’s not a slick condo in an uber-trendy part of the city. But it’s quirky and it’s fun, not to mention all I can afford because I have medical school loans the size of freaking Kansas. But give me a little credit,” Natalie said, and damn it, maybe she was going to go just a teensy bit thermonuclear after all. “I ran a check for building code violations online before I signed the lease, and Wilfred might be slow, but he’s always fixed everything I’ve asked him to on the rare occasion that something fritzes out. Not that either of those things will keep my parents from worrying themselves sick if they find out about this bathtub thing, or keep them from helicoptering me to death if I stay with them for the next six weeks. So, no. Telling them is absolutely not an option.”
She plopped down on her bed. She’d been so caught up with thoughts of gathering what few things she could that she hadn’t realized exactly how few viable places she had to bring said things.
“I could camp out in an on-call room at the hospital, I guess,” she said, although her nose wrinkled involuntarily at the thought of flat mattresses and less than zero privacy. Plus, the hospital’s chief of staff, Keith Langston, would probably kill-switch the idea once he got wind of it. The man took by-the-book to a whole new level.
“Ha, good one.” Jonah cracked the sort of handsome, boyish smile that made most women fling their panties in his direction. “Next thing you know, you’ll say you want to crash with me for six weeks.” He laughed heartily.
“Oh, my God, could I?” The idea sprang to life in her chest. Despite having been best friends for four years, she had never actually spent a night at Jonah’s place, nor had he ever crashed at hers. He’d been in a serious relationship when they’d gone from colleagues to close friends, and after that had abruptly ended, he’d been in a thousand not-serious relationships. Both scenarios had made an overnight—even a platonic, I-had-one-too-many-can-I-face-plant-fully-dressed-on-your-sofa kind of thing—slightly awkward.
But beggars couldn’t be choosers. Slightly awkward or not, she needed a place to live, and she needed it tonight.
“I…” Jonah’s stare became very, very round before his smile reclaimed its place on his magazine-model face. “I was totally kidding, Nat.”
“But I’m not.” Natalie looked up at him. “I’m one hundred-percent stone-cold serious. Will you let me move in with you?”