Carter McKinney pulled into the drive of his parents' house and turned off the ignition to the car. He adjusted the rearview mirror so that he would be able to see his face reflected back at him and gingerly felt around the welt just below his eye. The sting of pain caused him to wince slightly, but at least it had gone down since his match a few days before. He wondered if his family had bothered to watch that one on television.
He picked up the box on the passenger seat that contained gifts for his family and the bouquet of flowers he had purchased for his mother. As he made way up the sidewalk, Trina McKinney appeared at the front door with a huge smile for her son. He returned the grin and embraced her closely.
"Hey Mom," Carter greeted, kissing her on the cheek. "These are for you."
Trina's face glowed as she took the flowers. "Daisies were always my favorite. I'll put these in some water. You come say hello to everyone else."
Carter followed her through the entryway and into the dining room. His twin sister Carrie was setting places at the table for dinner. She looked up when he entered and finished the last two settings before she hugged him. Carter set down the box and hugged her back.
"How's it going, Carrie?"
She shrugged. "I'm getting through. Glad you're home. Remy is asleep in her playpen in the den if you want to sneak in there."
He thanked her for the information and tiptoed to the den to see his little niece. The six-month-old held a blankie tightly in her little fist, a little bit of drool trailing down her chin. Carter found a burp rag and wiped it off, then just couldn't resist picking her up and holding her to his chest, her head rested gently on his shoulder. The baby stirred but fell right back asleep, snuggling into Carter's neck. He breathed in that wonderful baby smell and went back out to the dining room.
"She better not wake up early and be cranky," Carrie warned with a smile. In truth, she loved seeing her brother have such a connection with her daughter. Carter settled into a chair at the table while his mother and sister busied themselves with setting out the meal. After just a few minutes, his father came out from the back hallway and sat at the head of the table.
"Hey Dad," Carter greeted.
"Son," Keith McKinney replied. "I didn't know you were here."
"Just came in a few minutes ago. How have you been?"
Keith shrugged. "I'm holding up. We saw your fight the other day. Looks to me like he banged you up pretty good."
Carrie sat down between Carter and her father. "Carter won the match, Dad."
"Keith, give the boy some slack. It's Easter – let's all just be happy we're together as a family," Trina offered. She settled down at the table and directed her husband to say grace before passing around the food. "Carter, sweetie, I'm very proud of you for winning. That's four wins in a row, right?"
"Just three, actually," Carter corrected, lumping mashed potatoes onto his plate. "But thanks, Mom. If I can win the next couple of fights, then I'll be able to fight for the lightweight championship."
"So how long are you going to be here?" Trina asked. Carter noticed the agitated look on his father's face and knew he needed to change the subject soon.
"About a month. Carrie, can you put Remy's carrier over here? I'm going to put her down while we eat." Carter gently laid her back down, and the child didn't even flutter her eyes open this time. "She's getting so big."
"Wait till she wakes up. She'll talk your ear off," Carrie smiled. "I really do wish you were around to see her more."
"I do, too," Carter agreed. "But the pictures and videos you send are amazing. I've got just about everyone in the gym in love with that little girl."
"That's what you need, Carrie," Keith commented. "A bunch of brutes in your daughter's life."
Carter ignored his father's implications. "Have you been to the doctor lately, Dad? What did he have to say?"
Keith grunted and glared at his son. "No changes. There's not going to be. Anything else you want to talk about and run down this holiday for your mother?"
The men glared at each other for a few moments before Trina and Carrie initiated a conversation about the new daycare that Carrie was looking at for Remy. Carter put in short comments when necessary but mostly kept his mouth shut. Before he was done eating, Remy was up from her nap and ready to eat. He assured Carrie that he could feed her and left his parents and sister at the table to visit, taking Remy and her bottle out to the front porch.
The smell of the hospital was so familiar by now; Lindy's nostrils were no longer taken by surprise with the smell of antiseptic when she walked into the building. She quickly briefed the ER resident taking over the patient's welfare on the vital signs that had been registered on the ambulance ride over to the hospital and then trekked back to the ambulance where her partner was waiting.
"Geez, Carmichael. You always get 'em in and out so quick," Sam Jones commented. He'd been cleaning up the back of the truck while she admitted the patient. Sam was twice her age, salt and pepper hair, and was a veteran paramedic. Lindy knew that he had done his share of complaining about getting such a young partner – and a girl at that. After only a few shifts, however, he warmed up to her, finding that she was a quick learner and really knew her stuff.
"I do what I can," Lindy smiled back. They both climbed to the front and headed back to the post. The day shift would be coming in soon and they would be relieved.
Sam offered to take her for breakfast, but Lindy declined. She drove herself home to her modest apartment and immediately stripped herself of the heavy shirt and pants she wore for her uniform. She walked from her bedroom to the bathroom and started the bath. She poured in some honeysuckle bath soap and stepped in cautiously.
The warm water felt good on her aching muscles. She hadn't been to the gym for a few weeks and she could feel her muscles waning against the bodies she'd had to roll or lift onto gurneys over the past twelve hours, even with Sam's help. She decided she'd go after she got some sleep; she'd worked her three days on and was now due for two off before she had to go back.
The honeysuckle scent floated up to her face and she smiled as it replaced the smell of iodine and open wounds. Lindy loved her job – being the first on the scene to help save a life was the reason she had become a paramedic in the first place – but coming home and relaxing was still rewarding.
When the bath water cooled and her skin had pruned, she climbed out and let the tub drain then wrapped a fluffy towel around herself. She padded back to her bedroom and pulled her hair back into a messy bun before dressing in clean sweats and an over-sized t-shirt. Tired but not quite feeling sleepy, Lindy dragged the comforter and pillow off of her bed and bunkered down on the couch.
Early morning television didn't offer much for her interest, so she settled on the national news and grabbed for her mobile phone. She'd missed a call from Paul's mother and from her sister. She didn't plan on returning the call from the former, but she went ahead and dialed Elise's number.
"I've been trying to get a hold of you since the end of your shift!" Elise exclaimed.
Lindy chuckled. "Must be quite the emergency."
"It is, actually," Elise replied, her tone conveying the annoyance with her older sister. "Justin's cousin is in town and he needs a date for the club we're going to tomorrow night …"
"No," Lindy answered firmly and shook her head. "I love you and I love Justin but the last time the two of you set me up on a blind date, I thought I was going to have to shoot myself in the first five minutes."
Elise sighed. "That's because it was two months after Paul and you split and you were half-asleep from your shift the night before. Please, just do this for me? This club is amazing. The music, the dancing, the drinks, the food – it's all the best. It's only one night."
Lindy leaned back on the arm of the couch and rolled her eyes. "Fine. But don't expect me to be your fourth wheel every time you guys are out of balance."
"Thank you!" Elise squealed. "I'll come pick you up tomorrow afternoon and we'll go shop."
Lindy agreed and hung up the phone. She smiled a little bit at her younger sister's enthusiasm; she smiled more at Justin's willingness to try and tame Elise. As her eyelids fluttered shut, she found herself actually looking forward to a night out.
After three days home, Carter was ready to get back to the gym, at least to maintain the training he had built up while he was in Nevada. After a hefty breakfast, he changed to a t-shirt and basketball shorts. He tied his sneakers and grabbed his gym bag, then headed downstairs.
"You want some help cleaning up before I leave, Mom?"
"No, it's okay sweetie. I'm going to leave a few things out for your father anyway."
Carter frowned. "He's not up yet?"
"He will be soon. The medication the doctor has him on makes him tired." She put a few plates in the sink and leaned on the counter. Carter came up behind her and put his hands on her shoulders.
"Are you holding up okay with all of this, Mom? I know I'm not around much like I should be."
Trina turned to face her son. "Don't even think it. You help a lot, Carter. There's no way we could make it through without the money you send. All the same, your father has been the man I love and my best friend for twenty-five years. I'm not sure exactly what I'm supposed to do."
Carter hugged her and assured her that she was doing all she could. "No one takes care of him like you do. You keep loving him and taking care of him and you'll be doing exactly what you're supposed to."
"Oh, Carter. You always know the right thing to say, don't you?"
He chuckled. "If only that were the case. I'll be back in a couple of hours."
Lindy was dressed in shorts and a tank top. Her dark brown hair was pulled back into a ponytail, her bangs clipped back out of her face. She pulled the head phones away from her ears and turned down the music on her mp3 player. She picked up a towel from the locker room and wiped the sweat away from her face. She took a long gulp of water from the bottle and stretched her arms and legs a little. She felt like she was spent but still wanted to do a little bit of weight training to perk her up for lifting patients at work.
The weights area was roped off for a training class. Lindy sighed; if she waited around, she'd lose her motivation. She grudgingly stomped up the stairs to the second floor weight room. It was used mostly by boxers and fighters – the type she hated to be around – but it would have to do for now.
She was grateful to see only a few men and one other woman working out on the second floor. She started with lower weight dumbbells to work her arms, moving on through her circuit to work the other muscles in her body. The strain on her tired body felt good; she'd be sore later, but at least she was getting in some exercise.
The other woman working out left down to the locker room. As Lindy worked on some pull-ups, two of the men who seemed to be working out together started to notice her. She could see from the corner of her eye that they were pointing at her, and their ducked whispers didn't escape her either. She pretended not to notice and continued on.
Twenty minutes later, she was done with her workout. She picked up her towel and water bottle, made use of both and then headed for the stairs.
She had almost made it to the landing before the stairs when the two men who had been working out together stepped in front of her. Lindy rolled her eyes and attempted to push past them, but it didn't get her anywhere.
"Are you sure you don't need someone to walk down those stairs with you?" the first one asked.
"It's a long way down," the second added with a charming grin.
"I'm sure I'll be just fine," Lindy replied and made another attempt to push between them, again unsuccessfully. "Would you two jerks mind moving out of the way? I've got places to be."
"Jerks," the first one snorted. "We just offered to help you down the stairs and here you're calling names."
"I know your type," she snapped back. "You're probably fighters, right? Welterweight, I'm guessing? Yeah, I know exactly how you are. You think all that strength and dominance that you display will make you a chick magnet. Maybe some girls, but not this one. Now that that's clear, would you mind leaving me the hell alone?"
Both of the men took a step forward and Lindy took a step back. She should have known better than to mouth off, but her attitude had gotten the best of her that time.
"Excuse me, guys. Is there a problem here?"
Lindy looked behind her to see the third man who had been making use of the weight room a couple of steps to her right. Close enough to show he was intervening for her, but not so close so as to seem possessive.
Both of the harassers' faces turned from confident to defeated as they seemed to recognize the man beside her and immediately mumbled apologies before making way down the stairs.
"Wow. I wish I was that intimidating," Lindy muttered. "Thank you for doing that."
"You're welcome," Carter returned.
There was an awkward silence as neither of them knew what to say next. Carter wanted to introduce himself but he couldn't deny he was attracted to her and didn't want to put her in a similar situation from which he'd just rescued her. Lindy didn't necessarily want to walk away but it was too obvious that he was a fighter – something she planned to stay away from for the rest of her life, as much as she could help it. Finally Carter held out his hand; Lindy took it hesitantly
"I'm Carter," he introduced himself. Her hand was small and shaky in his strong handshake.
"My name is Lindy," she replied.
"How did you know those guys were welterweights?"
Lindy knew she had to extract herself as quickly as possible. "Lucky guess, I suppose. I really do have to get going. Thanks again."
"Maybe I'll see you around here," Carter called after her. She was already halfway down the stairs and if she heard him, she didn't acknowledge it.
He mentally chided himself for being so presumptuous. This girl was a complete stranger and obviously didn't care for his type. Letting out a deep sigh, Carter treaded back to the weights he'd been working with and tried to concentrate on his workout.
Elise had loaded Lindy down with multiple outfits she wanted her sister to try on for their engagement that evening. Elise had just as many outfits – if not more – thrown over one arm while she browsed shelves and racks with the other.
"I love this store," Elise gushed. "They've got everything we could possibly want to look for or try on."
"Seems to," Lindy agreed.
Elise stopped and took in her sister's distracted countenance as the girl mindlessly poked through a rack of shirts. Shaking her head, Elise grabbed Lindy's hand and dragged her to the dressing rooms. She found a larger one and stuffed herself and her sister into it.
"Try on clothes," Elise ordered. "Then tell me why you're so distracted today."
"I'm not distracted," Lindy argued. "Just tired probably."
"Oh, no, you're not getting out that easy." Elise adjusted the dress she'd just tried on and scrunched up her nose. "This makes my butt look big, doesn't it?"
Lindy looked up from the pants she was pulling over her legs. "Yeah, it does, actually. Fine. I was at the gym earlier today and there was this guy there." She explained the whole situation to Elise who about tripped over the jeans she was shimmying onto the floor.
"His name is Carter?"
"That's what he said. Why?"
Elise stopped for a moment. "Does he have like – hmm. A mohawk and a lip ring? But the mohawk isn't like weird, it looks good."
"Well, you know Justin still watches all that UFC stuff and there's this newer lightweight guy and he's from here. He just fought a match not too long ago, so I figure he's back home. His name is Carter McKinney – what are the chances there's two Carters in this town who have the same style and both fight?" Elise tossed a pair of jeans and a top at her sister who had to scramble to catch the garments.
"Then I guess I don't have to be distracted anymore," Lindy said.
"Oh, come on, Lin. You had to have had some idea." Elise picked up the dress she had made a final decision to wear and waited for Lindy to try on the outfit she'd picked. "Maybe you should give him a chance."
Lindy looked at herself in the body-length mirror in front of her and figured the outfit was good enough. It was more casual than Elise usually let her get away with it; she quickly changed into her own clothes and followed Elise to the cash register.
"It's on Justin," Elise smiled, lumping Lindy's purchases with her own and handing the girl behind the counter a credit card.
Lindy rolled her eyes. Justin's father owned a multitude of clubs around the country – the one they were attending tonight was probably his newest investment – and he bestowed only the best to his son and son's girlfriend. She was more than capable of paying for the clothes herself, but if Elise wanted to flaunt her good fortune, so be it.
"You know," Lindy started as they exited the store, "I think that I'm just going to forget about it. It was just a chance meeting. You can tell Justin about it later and he can be jealous."
"Whatever you say," Elise dismissed.
A/N: I'm super excited about this story, not gonna lie.
I know, I know. I'm not supposed to have two stories going simultaneously. However, I'm alternately driven on this story and Wonderwall and I want to have a more recent chapter more often. So that's what I'm attempting to do by posting this.
TIA for the reviews and feedback. : )