Flattened and collapsed.
Breathless and stunned.
I’d had the proverbial rug yanked out from under me more than once in my twenty-five years. The first time had been when my father’s partner showed up at our front door sobbing uncontrollably. Dad had taken a bullet during a routine traffic stop and in the blink of an eye I went from little boy to the man of the house. It was my job to take care of my mom and two younger sisters, so that’s what I did.
The second time was when my very best friend in the entire world tapped me to teach her how to kiss when were just about to enter high school. Royal Hastings was everything a teenage boy should want, beautiful, funny, and sweet as could be with a rack that wouldn’t quit. Kissing her should have been a treat and not a chore. I loved her something fierce, so when our lips touched and I was left wholly unaffected and completely unmoved, it forced me to stop and really consider why. That summer when I went away to a very exclusive baseball camp and met a boy named Riley who also wanted to practice kissing it became crystal clear why touching Royal did nothing for me. I liked boys, really liked them, in a much more than friendly way. Initially, the revelation had freaked me out, sent me scrambling and into denial, but I was too close to my family, too tight with Royal to keep the revelations quiet for long. And like everything else I eventually just accepted it was who I was along with being my family’s protector and Royal’s bff. Being gay was simply another facet of the man I would ultimately become. So it took a backseat, to getting out of high school and doing my late father proud and becoming a cop just like he was.
I managed to reach every goal I set out for myself. I was focused and diligent, often working harder than the next guy because I felt like I had not only a legacy to live up to but also more to prove. When I got shot in the line of duty, which led me to taking a header off of a building, which, of course, did a brutal number on my body, the uncertainty of what my future held as I healed nearly paralyzed me. Lately, I was surly, argumentative, and a general pain in the ass to be around. My family was sick of me, and it had killed me to watch Royal, who was now my partner on the force as well as still being my best friend, nose-dive into a downward spiral of guilt because she felt like my getting hurt was her fault. It was a mess. I was a mess, both physically and mentally.
I always considered my typical recovery time pretty quick when things shifted and tilted around me. I was a man that rallied and adapted to my changing circumstances with a stiff upper lip and practical sensibility. This go-around, I was scrambling. Everything was off-balance, and I couldn’t seem to find my footing, no matter how much I fought to remain sturdy and upright. It pissed me off even more that my current disorientation had little to do with the limp left over from my recently shattered leg, and my questionable future with the Denver Police Department and everything to do with the somber-faced man sitting across from me.
It had taken months to get an appointment with him, and that was with Royal pulling strings because she shared mutual friends with the man. I had to wait for an opening in his schedule that was packed because the guy was in demand across the board when it came to complicated athletic injuries. The guy was no joke when it came to fixing broken bodies and he didn’t take on just anyone as a client.
He was supposed to be a miracle worker, with magic hands and the perfect touch. He was my last hope that I could get not only my body back in working order but also my place on the force.
Orlando Frederick also happened to be a gorgeous specimen of a man and he unnerved me with the way he kept staring at me intently out of a striking pair of grayish blue eyes. He was watching me like I was a complicated math problem that he was trying to solve. I didn’t like being dissected and picked apart. I was used to being the one in the position of authority and command. So sitting there silently while my last shot at getting my life back decided if he was going to help me out or not wasn’t any fun, and it took every single shred of self-control I had not to fidget or twitch anxiously under that cool, unwavering gaze.
I decided to check him out in a different way than the detached and calculating way he seemed to be analyzing me. He was a redhead. Not a full-on orangey-red ginger, but his auburn hair leaned further on the red side than the brown, and it was cut in a fashionable style that was super short on the sides and much longer on top. He had a paler complexion than I normally found attractive, and he had freckles that dotted the bridge of his nose. Who knew freckles could be so sexy? Rusty eyebrows arched elegantly over eyes the color of a mountain stream and while all of that should have made him seem wholesome and approachable, it had the opposite effect. All of those distinct and elegant features combined made him seem way more refined and sophisticated than the men I typically found myself interested in.
He was dressed in a black polo shirt with his clinic’s logo on it and when he stood up to shake my hand, I noticed he was an inch or so taller than me but built along far leaner and longer lines. He was in great shape, I figured he would have to be, considering his job, and he made me feel bulky and clumsy as he guided the way into his office. He seemed like he was built for speed and flash, whereas I was built to take a beating and keep on going. There wasn’t a hint of sophistication or refinement about me, and I liked it that way. It made fitting in with the guys on the force slightly easier. They all knew I was gay, but I went out of my way to make it a nonissue.
After an initial question-and-answer session, where he quizzed me about the accident, the subsequent injuries and what kind of physical therapy I had been doing up to this point, he lapsed into silence, where we just spent a good five minutes staring at one another. I was waiting for him to tell me there was nothing he could do. That’s what the doctors said. That’s what the physical therapist at the hospital said. That’s what the orthopedic surgeon said after my last surgery. I was always going to have a limp, and my shoulder was always going to be stiff, making my movements stiff and hampered. Neither of those things was acceptable when you chased bad guys around for a living.