July 16, 2018 at 9:05AM
MUSC, Downtown Charleston, SC
She hated the heat with a passion she didn't have words for. Why mom ever thought moving from Illinois to fucking South Carolina was a good idea was absolutely beyond her.
Though, if she were being honest with herself, she knew it was because dad would never be caught dead south of the Mason Dixon. So moving them to the deep South had been the safest option short of leaving the U.S. entirely.
Still, this heat needed to fuck off and stay that way. Or even just the humidity. Feeling like she was trying to breathe oxygen from air-turned-water was hell.
"You look even less happy to be awake today than yesterday," a smooth drawl spoke from behind her and she was smiling before she'd even turned around. "I'm actually impressed."
"Sebastian!" She crowed and her smile widened seeing her best friend standing with his shoulder pressed against the light post that held the crosswalk signs. His hair was brushed back out of his face and gelled to stay there, the sides shaved down to the skin to help keep him cool. He was dressed more business casual with the sleeves of his white Oxford rolled up to his forearms and tucked into form-fitting black slacks and brown loafers. His thin black tie was loose and he lacked the vest and jacket he normally had. Guess the 100+ heat index was enough to make even the unflappable Sebastian Kane dress down.
His snort pulled her out of her thoughts and she blushed having been caught staring at him. Let's be real, you were ogling him.
"Shuddup," she muttered petulantly as she looked away to stare at the crosswalk sign on the other side of Calhoun Street. "It's weird seeing you in such a state of undress. Warn a girl first if you don't want her staring."
His responding laughter settled low in her belly and filled her with warmth, just like it always did. It was hard to be even annoyed with him when he laughed so quick and easy at her attempts at humor.
"I'm still clothed, Bree," she didn't have to look at him to know he was smiling as he spoke.
"What are you doing downtown?" She asked for a subject change, glancing back at him with a raised eyebrow before stepping into the crosswalk when the light changed. He fell in step beside her with easy strides, all banked aggression and enigmatic smiles that had everyone parting around them. Though that was what he showed everyone else. She knew it was just a mask because she saw a different side to him, a side no one else saw. She'd seen him in a t-shirt and worn-soft jeans with ripped knees, smile wide and easy, eyes lit with mirth that made her think of dive bars with shitty lighting and creaky pool tables. No one else saw that part of him, the part that was relaxed, happy, and content. No one but her. "Aren't you supposed to be at Trident Main on Mondays?"
"Normally, yes. But a child reported in during the wee hours with trauma equitable to long-standing familial abuse. They called me in to speak with him once the doctors had cleared him from the I.C.U."
She cursed long and harsh. "People fucking suck."
"I concur," he answered with a darkness to his voice that made her shiver but not in fear. She didn't fear Sebastian Kane, never had and doubted she ever would. But he loathed when a child turned up at the any of the hospitals and he was called in to confirm suspected abuse or general mistreatment. He could handle just about anything without his façade of indifference slipping. But kids? Kids knocked him off balance and then some.
And when the words "released from the I.C.U." were part of what little he could tell her? Well, she knew it was going to be one of the cases that kept him sleepless for several days.
"Are you okay? I can stick around after I see mom, if you want. I'm off work today so I don't have anywhere else to be," she offered, reaching out to touch the bare skin of his exposed forearm to pull his mind from whatever dark place it had gone to.
He turned a soft smile to her that made his brown eyes look more red-brown than the nearly black they normally were. "I would very much like that, Brianna. Thank you." He touched his fingers to hers where she'd left them on his sun-warmed skin. "I should be done by noon, at the latest." The I hope was obvious but neither of them said it.
"Good. It's a date then!"
Soon as the words were out of her mouth a blush burned hot across her cheeks, her eyes falling closed in exasperation at herself and her inability to police her own mouth because fuck I wasn't supposed to say that.
"Only if you let me buy you lunch," he replied and she looked up at him with wide eyes, half expecting him to be making fun at her expense. But all she saw in his eyes was total seriousness. "I am a gentleman, after all, and it would be improper of me not to treat my lady friend to a meal on our date."
She snickered and shook her head as they finished crossing Ashley Avenue and continued down Calhoun Street towards the hospital.
"You're something else, SK."
"You don't know the half of it, Bree."