Sometimes love comes sooner rather than later—or worse, sometimes not at all. Then that’s when life isn’t worth living. As a foster kid, the only people Ryder could rely on were Jensen, his good friend and foster brother, and their foster mother, Mrs. Wilson. Now that they are grown up, Ryder has become a medic, while Jensen has become a fireman. When Jensen gets injured on the job and is taken to St. Michael’s ER, the last thing Ryder expects to meet when he rushes to the hospital is the very sexy Doctor Nelson, who is not only all man, but gay. Just as Dr. Nelson and Ryder begin to know each other better, Ryder’s foster mother dies. While Ryder tries to keep up with his new relationship, work, plus grieving, the stress soon overwhelms him. Will Ryder be able to find help in time, or will he lose his one piece of happiness before he can make it last? .
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Chapter One “D amn it to hell and back, but this better be the last time,” Ryder groused as he found a space in St. Michael’s parking garage. He loved his foster brother, Jensen, but this shit was getting old. In the three months that Jensen had been with Flint Fire, he’d already been in the ER two times. Ryder had a sinking feeling that it would only be getting worse, too. He knew it sure wouldn’t be getting better. As he got out of his car and locked it up, Ryder wondered for the millionth time how Jensen had ever managed to graduate his fire training classes, let alone find a place on the city’s department. Not having an ounce of common sense or fear, Jensen also had the tendency to be scatterbrained at times, a lasting result of being born to a mother who was addicted to crack. Jensen had only met his birthmother once, and Ryder had been with him at the time. She’d been wearing shorts that were at least three sizes too big and a white t-shirt that was so old it was gray and torn in several places, and she had a thin, almost wasted look about her. She’d blinked blearily and said, “Who in the hell are you?” When Jensen had calmly replied that he was her son, 1 .
Stephani Hecht she had turned away and walked back inside the saggy one-story ranch that seemed to house several other people. For a while the foster brothers stood there in shock, Ryder running his hand up and down Jensen’s arm in a sign of silent support. “I can’t let this happen again,” Jensen finally said. “Let what happen again?” Ryder had hedged. He’d worried that Jensen would be rash and storm into the house and tell his mother off or something. Jensen never had developed any kind of self-control when it came to emotional issues. “I’m going to get a job where I can help people and make a difference. That way I won’t always be just her son. I want to make something of myself.” Ryder had found himself agreeing. While he couldn’t remember much about his parents, what little he did recall wasn’t good. Like when they’d gone on vacation and left him alone. Totally alone, too, they hadn’t even bothered to hire a sitter to take care for him. He’d been five at the time and been abandoned for three days, before he’d finally become desperate enough to go to a neighbor’s and asked for some milk. They’d given it to him, sat him down at the table and then promptly called the police. Ever since then, he’d been a permanent ward of the state. At first, he’d bounced around between foster homes, because he hadn’t talked much and had been withdrawn. Later, after he’d come out, it’d been hard to place him because he was gay. “I think I’ll do the same thing,” Ryder had agreed with Jensen’s idea. They’d been eighteen at the time, on their own and 2 .
Blamestorming working dismal jobs. Four years later, they’d managed to get the education and training they needed and were both working in emergency systems field. Out of habit, Ryder still walked in via the ambulance entrance. As the door swooshed open, he nearly ran into Matt, a fellow medic and friend. “Do you know where he is?” Ryder asked, knowing that without even saying, Matt would understand he was there for Jensen. Matt was tall, gorgeous, and blond. When Ryder had first gone to work, he’d harbored a deep crush on the guy until he found out how committed Matt was to his long-time boyfriend. Matt nodded. “Yeah, I brought him in. He’s in exam two.” “What happened this time?” Ryder asked, already bracing himself. “We all responded to a fire. After investigating closer, we found all kinds of drug supplies lying around. We started evacuating until HazMat could show up, and Jensen spotted some kid’s toys lying around the ground. Once outside he got in the father’s face, asking how in the hell he could have all those dangerous chemicals around children.” “Oh, boy,” Ryder groaned, running a hand through his hair. “Yeah, the father didn’t take it well at all. We got there as soon as possible, but not before the asshole got in a few good punches, and now Jensen looks like the loser in a MMA match.” “Crap, I hate it when he decides to save the world.” “Hey, don’t be so hard on him. There are plenty of 3 .
Stephani Hecht us who want to play hero. Jensen will even out soon enough.” Ryder smiled at the medic. “Thanks.” “Sure thing. Now go see your brother, and tell him that he really needs to take some boxing lessons. I would try to teach him myself, but other than the whole drink-a-glass-of-raw-eggs thing, I don’t know shit about that sport.” Ryder laughed and shook his head. While many thought Matt was nothing more than a smartass, the guy had an amazing ability of lifting people’s spirits. As Ryder approached Jensen’s door, he saw the doctor was in there. Not wanting to intrude, Ryder hung back and waited. While he didn’t think Jensen would mind Ryder being in there, most people had trouble believing they were brothers, since Jensen was black and Ryder was white. “Your hair is darker,” a voice interrupted Ryder’s thoughts. Spinning around, Ryder saw it was one of St. Michael’s newest doctors. Before that moment, Ryder had never seen the man up close. Now that they were only a couple of feet apart, Ryder got an eyeful of what he’d been missing. A bit younger than most of his peers, the doctor had blond hair that was cut in a cute, stylish way with the front of his hair flipping up just a little bit. He had deep, soulful brown eyes and the most cock-pleasing smile in the whole city of Flint. Ryder reached up and tugged at the strands of his own hair. “Yeah, Matt took me to get a makeover the other day.” 4 .
Blamestorming “That was nice of him.” Ryder chuckled. “Actually, he did it because he said he was sick of having a mini-him running around.” “It looks really good on you,” the doctor replied, his gaze giving Ryder a long once-over. “Thank you…” Ryder trailed off, a heat coming over his face. “I’m sorry, I never got the chance to learn your name.” “That’s okay, the two times I’ve seen you, you were in and out of the ER pretty quick. I’m Nelson.” “Shouldn’t I address you as Doctor Harden,” Ryder asked, glancing at the man’s ID badge. Giving Ryder another approving glance, Nelson shot back, “You can call me anything you want…other than Nelly. The kids in grade school made my life a living hell with that moniker.” Letting out a small chuckle, Ryder said, “I’m Ryder.” “I already knew that.” “Really? What else do you know about me?” Nelson’s lips curled up ruefully. “Sadly, not much else. Like for instance, I don’t know how you and Jensen can be brothers. Nor do I know if you’re dating anybody or even looking for a relationship.” “Why would you want to know all that?” Ryder teased, even as a heat came over his face. He couldn’t believe he was actually flirting, and with one of the hottest guys he’d ever met. Since Ryder usually sucked at the whole dating scene, he often just hung back and did his best not to be noticed. Nelson leaned back against the wall, crossing his arms his chest. How he could make a pair of blue 5 .