Today's Reading

"Helping you out." Noah looks pensive as he stares down into his mug, raising it to his mouth to drink the last of his coffee down. "And tell me again why I would do that?"

I scowl. It's honestly so annoying that he might be one of the most good-looking men I've ever come into contact with—shifter or otherwise. His features are angular, and his blue eyes are sharp in contrast with his smooth, fair skin, as if he sees more than you want him to, and I won't pretend that his aquiline nose doesn't rustle up ideas about what he might be able to do with it... If only his personality weren't so sour.

"Intraspecies camaraderie?" Noah looks unmoved, and I groan. "Seriously, would it kill you to do something nice for once? This is based on the assumption that you recognize what doing something nice looks like and know how to properly execute the task."

Noah is studying me again, eyes moving over my sandy blond hair and my amber eyes and even my mouth that is currently pressed into a pout, almost like he's considering. What, I can't be sure. I can't tell if he's thinking about helping me out, or if he's trying to find the most satisfying way to tell me I'm screwed.

"I have never been much for intraspecies camaraderie," he says finally, and I feel my stomach sink, knowing this was the worst idea I've ever had. "But..."

I perk up. "But?"

"I think we can reach an agreement that is more mutually beneficial." Now it's my turn to look confused. I can't think of a single thing that Noah Taylor would need from me, or anyone else for that matter, given that I've never seen him speak to anyone for even a fraction of the time he's been speaking to me without barking orders at some point.

"And what could I possibly do for you?"

Honestly, I'm preparing for the worst. He's probably going to ask me to pass the buck on his consults to one of the other cardiologists, which would be a total pain in the ass, given that he knows he's the most highly requested one. Maybe he'll ask me to clean his office for the pure enjoyment of watching me do it. That feels like the sadistic torture Noah might be into. I can't even imagine what his office looks like. I bet it doesn't even need cleaning. He probably has plastic covers on all the chairs and surfaces. I could offer to put in admission orders for him for some agreed-on span of time. That would be annoying, but doable, at least. Definitely worth staving off a few more horrible dates, since I am apparently too spineless to simply say no to my Gran's puppy-dog eyes.

Oh God. What if he asks me for sex? I've pegged him as some celibate sourpuss who gets by with angry masturbation on the weekends, but what if Noah is like every other horndog I've come across? That is absolutely the one thing that is completely off the table, and I will kick him in his stupidly large shins if he is dumb enough to suggest it. It's not like he knows I'm an omega—there's no way he could—so surely it isn't going to be anything kinky he's after.

I tense when Noah leans forward in his chair, his fingers lacing together as his hands rest on the table, and his piercing eyes meet mine with that blazing intensity that they never seem to lose when I am unlucky enough to cross paths with him. They don't look like the eyes of someone who is about to ask me for sex, at least. Or maybe they do, given the context. I don't know. It's hard to think with him staring at me like he is. But as it turns out, Noah has no intention of asking me for any kind of sordid favors. What Noah proposes is much worse, and the craziest part is the way his expression absolutely doesn't change, not even a tiny bit, when he says:

"I need a mate."

Now it's my turn to blink at him. Stupidly, if I had to guess. "You need...a mate?"

Noah nods, like it's a perfectly reasonable thing he's said. Like he didn't just propose the shifter equivalent of marriage and the last thing I'm interested in to a veritable stranger who I don't think he even likes (I'm not taking it personally or anything, he doesn't seem to like anyone) over bad hospital-lounge coffee.

"And fast," he adds.
Out of the fire, into the frying pan, I guess.


This is a terrible idea.

Even as I suggest it, I am expecting to regret it, but given that the proverbial answer to my problems has miraculously fallen into my lap, I am inclined to take the lifeline being offered. I'm aware of Dr. Carter—young, opinionated, a little too chatty for my tastes—not my first pick for a pretend mate, but with a disciplinary meeting with the board happening in barely an hour over some choice omissions on my part, I see few other options.

"You need...a mate?"

I can see the confusion etched in the set of her soft-looking mouth and her delicate brow, furrowed in thought above her bright amber eyes. I'm aware it's not a simple request, what I'm asking her, but I am desperate and perhaps crazy enough to ask it, anyway. Especially given that there seems to be something in it for her as well.

"And fast," I tell her, and am met with more puzzlement.

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