“What about you being injured.”

She shook her head as the phone went silent. But it didn’t stay quiet for long. The text that binged was from Sophy as well.

Novo read it out loud because why the hell not. “Fine. I guess I will have to take care of my bachelorette party. Miss Emily’s doesn’t have a reservation for us on Friday. Clearly, you never called them. Thanks so much for all your help.”

Letting the cell fall back down onto the tray, she took a deep breath—and could swear she was catching a contact high from the weed.

“You’re in a hospital bed,” Peyton said.

“Really?” She looked down at herself. “And here I thought this was a hot tub.”

“Be serious.”

“This coming from you?”

He slashed his hand through the air. “You’re recovering. Why are they bothering you with anything?”

She made a show of folding the top of the blanket down and smoothing it across her chest. “Well, to be fair, they didn’t know I got hurt.”

When there was just silence, she glanced over at him. And as if he had been waiting for the eye contact, he shook his head.

“That’s just like I am with my father. I don’t tell the male anything, either.” He frowned. “What would they have done if you’d…”

“Died out there? Or on the table?” She shrugged. “Probably just put our first cousin in as the head bridesmaid and moved right along.”

“Wait, bridesmaid? What the hell?”

“Oh, yeah. She’s adopting the full human routine and expecting my parents to pay for it, me to go along with it, and all her friends to put it out on Insta. I think she believes she will set a trend, and who knows. Maybe she will.”

“Who’s she mating?”

Novo cleared her throat. “No one special. Just another civilian—well, he comes from a little more money than we have, so it’s a step up for her. And listen, my issues aside, Sophy is beautiful, so it’s a good exchange on the mating market. I’m sure they’ll be very happy together, him buying her the things she wants, her giving him the young he…”

Novo couldn’t go on.

It was as if she had been heading down a road, toolin’ along, moving at a reasonable pace while not paying much attention to the landscape or the weather conditions. And then BAM! Black ice, skidding, gripping the wheel…and slamming headfirst into a rock face.

“So yeah.” She took a couple of deep breaths. “You know, that weed is strong.”

“It is.”

“Only the best for you, huh.”

“Something like that.” He looked at the joint’s glowing tip. “Is she going to put you in a bad dress?”

“I’m sorry? Oh, Sophy—you mean at the ceremony? If she doesn’t kick me out first.”

“When is the mating—or is she calling it a wedding?”

“Let’s just call it circus, between you and me.” As he smiled a little, she said, “Why the grin.”

His eyes bored into hers. “I like the idea of you and me having a secret.”

And then he got serious. Fast.

Rising to his feet, Peyton headed for the bathroom to put the joint out—and along the way, he did absolutely nothing to camouflage the erection he was sporting.

It was so thick, so hard, she could see the outline of the head under the tuxedo’s slacks.

As a rush of lust hit Novo, she had to close her eyes. Also had to lick her lips—which made her glad he was in the little bathroom.

From behind the partially closed door, there was a trickle of water, and she imagined him bent over the sink, extinguishing the joint. Then he was standing in between the jambs, his handsome face grave.

With his eyes locked on hers, he tucked one of his hands down into the front of his pants and he not-discreetly-at-all rearranged himself so that the tent effect was gone.

After which he just continued to look at her.

She knew exactly what he was waiting for. And the interesting thing was…she got the sense he was content to stay like that for the next hour. Or twelve.

It was another thing that was totally unlike him.

“Come here,” she said in a low voice.

Peyton did exactly as he was told, approaching the bedside so that he stood over her. His scent was incredible, and for once, the smell of weed, which usually she wasn’t that into, didn’t bother her in the slightest.

With an elegant hand, he rolled up one of his sleeves. And then the other. His forearms were heavily muscled and veined from the workouts, his body adapting to the rigorous exercise by growing stronger.

She focused on his throat.

As if he knew what she was looking at, he let out a pumping growl. “Let me lie down beside you.”

If he did that, they were probably going to have sex, she thought.

Take out the “probably”—

The door was thrown open, and, man, Dr. Manello was not a happy camper, the surgeon’s face in full glower mode.

He jabbed a finger at Peyton. “That shit in the alley might not get you tossed from the program, but I will guarantee you that smoking weed in one of my patient rooms will.” He looked around as if searching for a bong, a bowl, or a pipe. “And clearly, the two of you must have realized that and stopped, am I correct. You flushed the joint down the toilet because you thought, wow, in a room with an oxygen tank, around a patient on a complex regimen of drugs, using marijuana would be a really fucking stupid idea. Am I right?”

They both nodded.

“And am I also correct in assuming that this is a mistake that will never happen again, because you two fucking assholes recognize that at that point I would have no choice but to turn you in to the Brothers for a beating?” They nodded again. “Good. And your punishment”—he pointed that finger at Novo—“is you get to stay here all through tomorrow during the day.”

The instant she opened her mouth, he talked right over her. “And thank God you’re too smart to fucking argue with me right now, because my bad mood just went nuclear because of the smell in that corridor.”

With that, the surgeon marched out and yanked the door shut behind himself.

Except then he put his head back in. “Do you have any left?”

Peyton’s brows shot up. “I’m sorry, what?”

“Weed, you dumb-ass.”

“Ah…yeah. It’s old, though. I don’t wear this tux more than four or five times a year and I found ’em in my pocket.”

The surgeon put out his hand. “Gimme. And in lieu of payment, I’ll put a sign on the door that says PATIENT SLEEPING, DO NOT DISTURB.”

Novo spoke up. “We’re not doing anything in here.”

“Oh. Right. You’re just going to hold hands while he feeds you. Which is why I’ll put the sign up and you’ll lock the door on the inside.” He jogged his palm. “Why I am not holding any weed right now?”

Peyton took out the two remaining joints and handed them over. “You need a lighter?”

“Yes, I fucking do. And I’ll give it back to you. Because I don’t ever smoke. And especially not weed.”

“Okaaaaaay, I’m going to go out on a limb here and suggest there’s some empirical data happening at the moment to suggest the contrary, but that’s your issue, not mine. I gotta ask, though, what’s wrong? Can we help?”

“You don’t have enough time to listen to it all. But at the top of the list is a drug company, halfway down is UPS, and the bottom is I ate a burrito at Taco Hell at about five in the afternoon when I was trying to get more Cipro on the black market—and I’ve been shitting liquid ever since.”

Peyton’s gold lighter changed hands. “You deserve this.”

“No shit.” Dr. Manello rolled his eyes. “And FYI, I hate that word right now, I really do.”

The surgeon left on that note, and Peyton looked down at her.

It was hard to say who cracked up first. Maybe it was him, she wasn’t sure. But a split second later, the two of them were wiping their eyes and trying to breathe and laughing so hard, they were limp.