Excerpt 1

"A matter of trust" #5

“Are you sure you want to get up? I would try to catch some more sleep if I were you.”

Kyle Fitzpatrick rubbed his eyes, yawned, and then held out his hand for his roommate Pam to hand him the cup of coffee currently filling the bedroom with a fantastic smell. It wasn’t just the coffee that had woken him, though. Thanks to his training as a physician, he was used to getting up at the most impossible times, sleeping less than thirty minutes at a stretch, and not needing an alarm clock because his body clock told him it was time to leave the bed.

Even though he’d only lain down five hours ago—and after a twenty-hour shift—he wanted to get quite a few things done today. He couldn’t afford to stay in bed any longer. Though his soft mattress was very tempting right now …

“When did you get home?” Pam asked. “I didn’t even hear anyone come in. Must have been really late—I was reading an article about intracranial injuries until the wee hours of the morning. It was just published. Two days ago, we had a subarachnoid hemorrhage in neurology, and it was clipped in the OR. Stevenson let me put in the clip. That was insane!”

Kyle took a large sip from his cup and reminded himself that while Pam had the annoying habit of chatting nonstop in the morning, she also made a terrific cup of coffee. At the moment he was tired, fighting the urge to lie down again, and needed to fully wake up before he could do anything else. He could have done without Pam’s report on an aneurysm, but he kept his mouth shut. Instead he took another sip, studiously ignoring the short-haired blonde who didn’t seem ready to leave him alone. And who kept describing, in great detail, the state her patient had been in, as if this was a round with the medical director.

He desperately wanted to take his cup and disappear into the bathroom to have some peace, but since he was naked under the covers, he couldn’t get up while Pam was here.

A few things needed to remain private after all.

He might know her preferred tampon brand, and she might have fed him chicken soup when the terrible flu hit him two years ago, but that didn’t mean he would prance around naked in front of her. During med school, they’d practiced drawing blood, starting an IV, and examining the abdomen on each other, but complete nudity was taboo.

That was what had made it possible for them to be friends for nearly ten years, and roommates for three. Kyle could do without the drama. Pam shared his apartment and was his colleague and also his best friend. If they’d ever had the moronic idea to get naked in front of each other, it would have ended in disaster. If he wanted to see a naked woman, he went out and flirted, and chances were he’d find someone who wanted to spend the night with him.

He didn’t have the time for much more anyway. As a man who’d just gotten his specialist qualification and was working in a hospital, and who also had six nieces and nephews he liked spending time with, he had no idea how he could fit in a functioning relationship, not even theoretically.

And on top of all that, there was Cody.

Contrary to his twin brother, Ryan, who’d fought tooth and nail against even spelling out the word “relationship” until two years ago, Kyle was the type of man who would have liked to have a woman at his side. He was thirty-one now, certainly an age when people got married, planned to have kids, and took out a loan to buy a townhouse. But he was still living in a shared apartment, rode his bike to work, and visited his mom when he craved comfort food. All in all, he was damn happy with the way he lived his life, because he lived and breathed his work as a pediatrician. There was still plenty of time to start a family of his own. But if he was being completely honest, he would have loved to have a girlfriend. Unfortunately, his strong sense of realism told him there wasn’t a woman alive who’d stand for his stressful work schedule.

His mom kept pointing out that his older sister, Kayleigh, was also a doctor and worked in the same hospital, and she was married and the mother of twin toddlers. But Kyle couldn’t imagine ever approaching his work with any less energy than he currently did. Maybe his mother was disappointed that he wasn’t going to give her another grandchild any time soon, but she already had six of them after all, and his own twin seemed to have developed surprising interest in houses recently, so he was sure it wouldn’t take much longer before another Fitzpatrick would be added to the family.

“Tomorrow at noon, Stevenson wants to perform a hemispherectomy on a five-year-old, and I’ll be allowed to assist. The gallery will be open. Will you come and watch it?”

Kyle yawned a second time and then shook his head, leaning to one side to put down the coffee cup next to his bed.

“Tomorrow at noon Cody’s cast is being taken off, and I promised him I’d be there.” He stretched briefly. “And after that, we need to discuss his new physical therapy plan with Hank.”

When Pam didn’t reply right away, Kyle looked up and brushed a few unruly strands of hair from his face. His roommate was chewing her lower lip in a show of indecision, wrinkling her nose.

With a sigh he asked, “What is it?”

“Kyle, I don’t want to be intrusive, but Cody is your patient. You’ve grown far too fond of the kid already. Maybe you should try to keep a little more professional distance.”

He shrugged one shoulder helplessly. “Cody’s completely on his own, Pam. What am I supposed to do? The kid has been in the hospital for three months, he’s lost his parents and brother, and he’s only ten years old.”

“But he’s still your patient,” Pam insisted gently. “You treated him as a physician. Now it’s time for you to slowly back off.”

Kyle did not reply to that.

During his years at med school, he’d been taught not to build personal relationships with his patients but to deal with them in a strictly professional manner. Empathy and compassion were allowed, but anything beyond that was unwanted in a doctor.

But that was much easier said than done.

Pediatricians generally felt more strongly about their patients anyway, but when you treated a ten-year-old who’d barely survived a severe car accident and undergone enough surgical procedures for ten lives, how could you do anything but build a special relationship with the little fellow? When he’d been brought in, Kyle had promised the kid he’d watch over him in the ER, and he’d kept his promise. What else could he have done after Cody’s mom died right away, his dad died after two weeks in a coma, and his little brother had gone into cardiac arrest during an operation?

The boy was completely alone, had suffered horrible injuries that he was recovering from very slowly, and had to deal with the fact that he no longer had a family.

As Kyle had sat by Cody’s bedside at night, dealing with patient files and keeping an eye on his vitals, the kid had grown on him.

And ever since that day he was brought in, Kyle had felt responsible for Cody.

Pam meant well, but how could she even remotely guess what he felt? She hadn’t sat by Cody’s bed or been tasked with telling him that his family had all perished in the crash. And she hadn’t been the one to try to comfort the sobbing boy.

“It’s not that easy, Pam,” he replied with a sigh. “The little guy doesn’t have a family anymore.”

“But you’re not his family either,” she reminded him, bending to pick up his empty coffee cup. “I feel for the kid, too, but you’re just his doctor.”

He’d been a lot more than Cody’s doctor for a long while, because the boy had made him his confidant, too. And Kyle had taken the bright ten-year-old into his heart. He worried about the boy, visited him every day, even if he didn’t have a shift, and was happy to watch as Cody gradually got better. How on earth could he stop caring about and worrying over him now?

He already cared too much; it was as simple as that.

Pam was a surgeon, so naturally her relationship with her patients was more distant than his. And of course she hadn’t spent as much time with Cody as he had, hadn’t observed his progress, his attempts to walk again after several surgeries. Nor had she put flowers on the grave of Cody’s family when the little guy asked for it.

But Kyle had done all those things.

He didn’t respond, however, since he didn’t want to confess to his roommate that Cody had become so much more than his patient. Instead, he just looked up at Pam and said, “Let’s change the subject. What are your plans for today?”

She shrugged and leaned against the doorframe. “It’s Sunday, and I don’t have to do a weekend shift for the first time in weeks, which means I’m going to order pizza and lounge around in bed watching Netflix for hours.”

“Sounds tempting.” Kyle made a face and wrapped the sheet around his still-naked thighs. “My mom’s probably making her famous meatloaf. Care to join me?”

Pam emitted a hoarse laugh and raised her arms as if to ward off evil. “Thanks for the offer, but I’ll pass.”

Since his mom’s meatloaf was beyond compare, Kyle raised a confused eyebrow. “Are you really that obsessed with Netflix? Why else would you spurn my mom’s meatloaf?”

His roommate rolled her eyes. “No offense, Kyle, but the last time you made me join you for dinner at your mom’s house, I was under the impression that she was already thinking about our wedding cake. So I’m going to stay put.”

Now it was his turn to laugh. “She’s Irish and has a strong romantic streak. Plus, she doesn’t believe men and women can live under the same roof and not have sex.”

Pam snorted. “That may be true for men and women in general, but we’re doctors. I wish I’d finally see a naked male who isn’t my patient!”

Kyle was polite enough to ignore her whining and refrain from mentioning that Pam could easily get a date with Max, the paramedic who’d been hitting on her for months. Surgeons were terrible snobs, so they only went out with other surgeons—paramedics were beneath them. Kyle had been a paramedic himself before he went on to study medicine, and thus her attitude should have annoyed him. Fortunately, he felt nothing but amusement.

“My mom knows you’re my best friend,” he said before Pam could further lament her lack of sex. “Will you come along if I promise you won’t have to try on a wedding dress today?”

Pam shook her head. “I’m sorry, my dear, but I’m rather exhausted and don’t have the energy for the weekly Fitzpatrick fight. You’ll have to face that on your own.”

“Well, thanks a lot,” Kyle complained. “Don’t be too kind.”

She disappeared with a laugh.

The weekly fight began only a few hours later, when the family gathered at his mom’s house, like every Sunday, to have dinner together. Assembling the entire family around his mom’s table to devour her inimitable meatloaf had become a tradition almost carved in stone.

Most of the time, the family attended Sunday mass together before that, since his mom was a devout Catholic who would rather reveal her tightly guarded apple pie recipe than skip mass. Though Kyle was spiritual, going to church didn’t really do anything for him, which was one of the reasons he often cited his job as an excuse for not going. Today, he could tell his mom he’d had a long, demanding shift again, and it wasn’t even a lie. So he was easily able to skip the long, drawn-out service and instead took care of his laundry, which was really urgent. After all, it’d been days since he’d been able to find a single pair of matching socks.

The seating arrangements at the Sunday dinner table had changed quite a bit in the preceding seven years. Before his dad, then chief of the local fire department, had died in a job-related accident eight years ago, there had been eight of them: his parents, his brother Heath and his fiancée Hayden, Shane, Kayleigh, and himself and his twin, Ryan.

Today, Heath and Hayden were married and the proud parents of seven-year-old Joey and her five-year-old sister, Kayla. He also suspected Hayden was expecting again, considering she hadn’t touched a drop of alcohol in weeks, not even a tiny glass of champagne to toast her husband’s promotion two weeks ago. The doctor in him knew the signs and assumed he would be an uncle again soon.

His remaining siblings had also done their best to provide him with nieces and nephews. His second oldest brother, Shane, and his wife, Thorne, had contributed two sons to the family. Brady was eleven and followed in his dad’s footsteps, already sure he would be a policeman someday, while four-year-old Connor preferred playing with his toy firetruck, which charmed his oldest uncle Heath, who was well on the way to becoming the next chief of the department. Thorne, on the other hand, had started taking college courses in law a year ago, which made the whole family terribly proud.

Thorne’s brother, Aidan, had become Kyle’s brother-in-law, by marrying the only Fitzpatrick girl, Kayleigh. They had twin toddlers, Ellie and Charlie, who were both spunky as could be. The two of them had given the entire family a good shake-up due to their being incredibly sly and mischievous. Since Kyle was a twin himself, and remembered a lot of the stuff he’d done with his brother, probably driving his parents insane, he felt a little sorry for his sister and his good-natured brother-in-law.

Right now, Ellie and Charlie seemed to be needing an exorcist just because their mother had spooned vegetables onto their plates. Their clamor would have given Kyle a migraine had he not been used to being surrounded by screaming children. Kyle’s twin, Ryan, and his girlfriend, Jordan, who worked on Heath’s squad at the firehouse, looked on.

Though Kayleigh also worked as a physician at the hospital and was no stranger to kids, she now leaned back with an exhausted expression and raised her hands in a gesture of resignation. “Your call, Aidan. You get them to eat their carrots. I’m done for today.”

While she made a face befitting her own beheading, her husband just uttered a gleeful laugh and paid no attention to the screeching twins, who were busy getting mashed potatoes in each other’s hair.

“You can’t give in, honey,” Aidan said. “You’re the one who wanted to have them, remember?”

Kayleigh shot her husband a look, wrinkled her nose, and grabbed a pointy fork from out of Ellie’s reach. “No offense, Aidan, but I expected us to have a pleasant girl like Joey, or a little ball of sunshine like Connor. Nobody prepared me for being the mother of twins bearing a striking resemblance to my own twin brothers from hell.”

Ellen Fitzpatrick cleared her throat loudly and echoed, “From hell?”

“No offense, Mom, but have you ever seen the movie The Omen? The script was based off Ryan and Kyle!”

Even though Kyle didn’t think his sister’s comparison was particularly flattering, he didn’t say anything. Instead, he watched his twin, Ryan, point at Kayleigh with his fork in a show of outrage, while munching on some peas. The fact that the fork held a bite of meatloaf as big as his fist only proved Ryan was a glutton, not that he was in league with the devil. Or so Kyle thought.

“The Omen?” Ryan repeated. “Excuse me, dear sister, but if anyone at this table could give Satan a run for his money, it’s you!”

His sister narrowed her eyes. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

“It means a red cape and pitchfork would suit you just fine.”


“He’s right, you know,” Shane agreed, flashing a diabolical grin. “You shaved your dolls’ heads when you were in kindergarten …”

“And don’t forget her temper tantrums,” Heath threw in, cutting his food with professional calm. “We used to hide in the closet when she got going.”

“You’re not helping,” Kayleigh complained. “And I did not throw temper tantrums!”

Shane started coughing incredulously. “You used to scream so loud it worried the neighbors. The people from the Department of Children and Families came once!”

“That’s not true,” Kayleigh objected furiously. “Mom, would you say something! DCF never came to our house because of me! If they’d come, it would have been because Ryan and Kyle had lice several times in a row!”

“None of us had lice!” Ryan yelled, outraged, giving his girlfriend a sideways glance. She seemed to be following the altercation with interest.

“You did, too, Ryan! Mom shaved your heads twice in a row. You would’ve looked like Kojak if we’d put some seventies-style sunglasses on you!”

“Oh, is that why you did the exact same thing to your dolls?” Ryan screeched. “Like Kojak, very funny!”

“Please stop it.” Ellen Fitzpatrick sighed deeply. “It’s Sunday. You’re not setting a good example for the kids. But just to clarify: nobody from DCF ever came to our door, and you got the lice from playing with the Gallaghers. I put each of you in the tub every night,” Kyle’s mom insisted, her cheeks practically aflame. That her kids had brought home lice must have been a cause of massive shame for the woman whose house had always looked spotless and who continued to get an award for her apple pie at the church bazaar every single year.

Her daughter-in-law Thorne gave her a soothing look and then winked at the older woman. “Brady brought home lice three times in a row when he was in kindergarten. I felt I was an awful mother and worried my house was dangerously grubby, Ellen. It happens.”

“If we had lice, it was Kayleigh who gave them to us.” Ryan lifted his chin triumphantly. “Your hair was always matted, and you used to come home from the playground looking like Pigpen from Peanuts. Aidan, if I were you, I’d take a long, hard look at your wife’s childhood photos. It’ll be a miracle if you don’t run from the house screaming.”

Kyle watched Aidan grin and offer a piece of carrot to his daughter, who, mysteriously, accepted it and happily stuffed it into her little mouth.

Kayleigh, on the other hand, frowned grumpily. “If anyone kicks the devil from his throne in hell, it’s going to be Ryan. And just for the record, I never had lice.”

“Do you really have to keep invoking the devil on a Sunday? We were just in church an hour ago.” Ellen Fitzpatrick shook her head. “And I do not want to hear about lice while we’re eating. It spoils my appetite even worse than Kyle’s stories about his patients.”

Kyle threw his mom an amused glance. “Don’t provoke me, Mom. The day before yesterday, a guy who’d had a few too many beers was brought in. He thought he could repair the garbage disposal while drunk. From now on, his wife will have to open his beer cans for him, since–”

“No details!” Heath snapped, cringing. “I can imagine it far too clearly, no need to describe it further.”

Kyle shrugged and cut a potato in half. “I just wanted to enlighten you guys, in case one of you drinks a bit too much and thinks it’s a good idea to repair the garbage disposal. I’m sure Hayden would divorce you, Heath, if she suddenly had to open all the pickle jars.”

His sister-in-law winked at him. “Don’t forget changing the batteries for the remote,” she went on. “That would be difficult with only one hand. If Heath can’t watch his sports shows, he gets so grouchy.”

“Hey,” the man in question complained. “I do not get grouchy.”

“But you do, love.” Hayden sighed and gave him a quick once-over before turning to Kyle again. “I’d probably go on a killing spree if Heath actually tried to repair the garbage disposal drunk.”

“Good.” Kyle nodded. “Then you could finally divorce the grouchy guy and marry me instead. It’s about time!”

While Hayden laughed in genuine mirth, Heath reacted with a scowl and a typical Fitzpatrick gesture—raising his fist in a threatening manner.

Kyle gave him a wolfish grin. “No offense, dear brother, but your wife needs someone who knows how to appreciate her instead of demanding she change the batteries in the remote for him.”

“Is it just me, or did that sound like sexual innuendo?” Ryan chimed in cheerfully.

Heath put a possessive arm around his wife’s shoulder. “Rest assured I do know how to appreciate my wife, little brother.” For the benefit of everyone around the table he added, “At least four times a week, to be precise.”

“Heath, really!” Ellen Fitzpatrick shook her head and pointed at the children, who were sitting between their parents. “Not in front of the children, come on!”

Brady, who was sitting at the table with a forbidden smartphone, which Kyle identified as his twin brother’s, didn’t even look up as he told his grandmother in a worldly tone, “I don’t mind if you guys talk about sex, Grandma.”

For a moment, the table was completely quiet. Then Shane cleared his throat uncomfortably and asked his son, “How do you know what sex is, big guy?”

The boy, who was such a spitting image of his father it was almost creepy, raised a lazy eyebrow and replied casually, “I’m eleven, Dad.”

“I see.” The corners of Shane’s moth curled with amusement, and Kyle registered his own lips twitching and suppressed a chuckle as well. “That explains everything, of course.”

“Everyone at school knows what sex is. Ms. Miller told us all about it last year,” Brady continued, before holding up the phone in his hand. “Plus, Uncle Ryan has dirty pictures on his phone.”

Kyle choked on his last piece of carrot and burst out laughing in the general horror that ensued. “You were supposed to keep an eye on the scores,” Ryan scolded his nephew, “not go through my pictures!”

“I’d like to know exactly what kind of photos my son just found there,” Thorne cut in, her voice dangerously calm. Kyle glanced at his twin brother’s girlfriend, but Jordan didn’t look fazed.

“Oh, you do not want to know,” Ryan shot back with a groan, actually blushing violently.

“Yes, I think I do,” Thorne replied firmly.

Ellen Fitzpatrick was flustered. “Why do you keep dirty photographs on your phone, Ryan?”

“Why wouldn’t he, Mom?” Kayleigh couldn’t stop laughing. “He’s the guy who got caught chained to a bed with his own handcuffs, remember?”

“Kayleigh,” Ryan warned as she made a gleeful face in his direction. “Shut up.”

Aidan cleared his throat—visibly struggling not to burst out laughing as his wife had. “What exactly does Brady mean by ‘dirty pictures’?”

Ryan blushed even more violently than before, but Jordan couldn’t be unnerved. She answered in his stead, “When Ryan had that course in D.C. a month ago, he sent me a few nude photos of himself—and I replied in kind. That’s probably what Brady’s talking about.”

“Nude photographs?” Shane reached for the phone his son was still holding in his hand. “Let me see—”

“Shane!” Ellen snapped, holding out her hand. “Give me the phone now. I’m confiscating it.”

“Thank you, Mom.” Ryan glared at his older brother.

“You’ll get your phone back when everyone heads home,” Ellen stated with finality., taking the phone from Brady’s hand and putting it in the pocket of her cardigan. Then she rounded on Ryan and clucked her tongue in a disparaging manner. “And what makes you think you can give Brady your phone and tell him to check on football scores during dinner? You know phones are not allowed at the table—especially on a Sunday!”

“Why would he remember that when he couldn’t even think of the nude photos before handing his phone to an eleven-year-old?” Jordan rolled her eyes. Still, she didn’t seem bothered that little Brady had seen her in her birthday suit. “Did you send the photos to anyone?”

The boy shook his head but quickly broke eye contact. Kyle had to give it to his nephew, he was pretty cool for a boy his age. He imagined that his own head would have looked like a tomato ready to explode if he’d discovered nude pictures of his future aunt. “No, I didn’t.”

Jordan grinned as she stole a few beans from her boyfriend’s plate, before winking at Brady and stage-whispering, “You should have sent Uncle Ryan’s nudes to your phone, to blackmail him with.”

“I don’t have a phone yet,” Brady replied grumpily, throwing his parents an accusatory look. “Almost all of my friends have their own phones, but I don’t.”

Jordan clucked her tongue. “Well, you could have gotten one at last, if you’d been a little smarter about this whole thing.”

“Don’t give my son any ideas, Jordan. He’s not getting a phone.” Thorne rolled her eyes and turned to her husband. “And as for you, buster, stop showing so much curiosity in nude pictures of other women.”

“Oh, honey, come on, it’s all in the family.” Shane grinned and kissed his wife for a much longer period than the situation warranted, which led Brady to make loud retching sounds.

“Ewwww! Don’t start this again, you guys!”

“Mom, give me back my phone,” Ryan pleaded like a teenager, not the thirty-one-year-old he was. “I have this bet going, and I need to know—”

“If you don’t stop it this moment, Ryan Niall Fitzpatrick,” Ellen threatened with a scowl, “I’m going to shear your head like you have lice, so help me God.”

He fell silent immediately.

“If you’re not going to shave his head, Ellen, it would be awesome if you could show me a photo of him as a child with a bald head.” Completely unfazed, Jordan put another piece of meatloaf on her plate. “I’m dying to know what he looked like without hair. And if you decide to go looking for old photographs, I’d also love to see pictures of Ryan as a baby.”

“Isn’t it enough that you have to look at his nudies, Jordan?” Kayleigh groaned. “Ryan may be nice enough to look at when he’s wearing clothes, but with his head shaved … I’m not so sure.”

Kyle watched his twin brother squint and give his girlfriend a skeptical look. “Why do you want to look at my baby photos?”

She offered him a wide grin, attacked her fresh piece of meatloaf, and replied with her mouth full. “I want to know what our baby might look like, once we decide to get pregnant. I want to be prepared in case you were an ugly baby, like with a unibrow or something, so I don’t go into shock after giving birth. And you should know that I was a particularly cute baby.”

It seemed Jordan had decided to tease her boyfriend a little, because all those present were witness to Ryan becoming frighteningly pale and then shaking his head vehemently. “What is that supposed to mean?”

“Well, I don’t intend to go through hours of labor and then push out a child, only to end up with an infant who has more facial hair than I do.”

Kyle’s twin choked on something or other and started coughing, looking helpless and stunned. “What?”

Jordan cut her food into bite-sized portions and explained as calmly as if she were laying out the rules of soccer, “Since I’m thinking about getting pregnant soon, I’m wondering what the baby might look like. That’s a natural thing to do, you know.” Jordan turned to Ellen and asked eagerly, “So, what did Ryan look like as a baby?”

His mother couldn’t hide her amusement as Ryan gulped air like a fish on dry land.

“Oh, Ryan and Kyle were both absolutely adorable—and neither of them had any facial hair to speak of.”

“See, that’s reassuring.” Jordan gave a content nod.

Ryan cleared his throat with a croaking sound and finally seemed to find his voice again. “Did I miss something, Jordan? You want to get pregnant?”

Jordan shrugged a calculating shoulder. “Not right here and right now, but in the coming months, yes.”

Bewilderment was clearly written on Ryan’s face. “And you couldn’t tell me that in a slightly more … private setting? It had to be at my mother’s dinner table, over her meatloaf?”

“Hey.” Jordan wrinkled her nose. “Don’t be such a nitpicker, Ryan.” There were sniggers from the audience for her brilliant word choice. “It’s your fault Brady saw nude pictures of us, so who are you to get upset about a harmless conversation on pregnancy?”


The fact that his girlfriend was planning offspring seemed to disconcert Ryan so much that he didn’t even complain when Heath emptied the rest of the delicious gravy on his own plate.

But Kyle didn’t want to witness his twin peeing his pants in sheer panic—and he was sure that was what was about to happen. So he rose and rapped the dining table with his knuckles. “I’m heading out, people. Kayleigh, I’m counting on you to take care of Ryan if he has a heart attack, okay?”

“Will do,” his sister promised cheerfully, simultaneously keeping her daughter from shoving a pea up her nose.

Kyle pressed a goodbye kiss to his mother’s cheek, but she rose from her seat and pointed toward the kitchen. “Wait. I have something for you, dear.”

“Don’t you dare give Kyle my phone, Mom,” Ryan called angrily from the table. “Jordan’s nude pictures are as off-limits for him as for anyone else!”

Kyle didn’t want to give his brother the finger in front of all the kids, so he just flashed a mean grin before following his mother into the kitchen, where she pressed a collection of Tupperware into his arms.

“What is this?”

She winked at him. “You’re on your way to visit the little boy in the hospital, aren’t you?”

He opened his mouth in confusion. “Yes, but—”

“No offense, honey, but I saw you pack up a few leftovers for him last week. I’m sure the boy would love to eat his meatloaf without it being squashed in a crumpled piece of aluminum foil.”

She wasn’t chiding him, but Kyle felt his neck burn anyway. Yes, he had taken a slice of meatloaf last Sunday, wrapped it in foil, and brought it to Cody, because the boy was sick of the daily fare in the hospital. And Kyle couldn’t blame him for that. He sometimes preferred a half-rotting pizza to the food in the canteen.

He didn’t know why he hadn’t told his mom right away that he’d like to take some of her food to his patient. Maybe he’d been afraid his family would tell him the same thing Pam had told him—that he should keep his professional distance.

“How is the little guy doing?” Ellen asked.

Kyle juggled the small containers that were heavy with food in order to hold them in one hand. “He’s doing quite well, improving every day. A few weeks ago, nobody expected him to recover, but he’s got the will of a warrior.”

“The poor boy.” His mom sighed. “A real tragedy. No child should be going through a thing like this. How much longer will he have to stay in the hospital?”

Kyle took a deep breath and shrugged. “We’ll see,” he said evasively. “Cody still needs physical therapy, and then a few screws have to be taken out, in his ankle and his knee. Also—”

“I’d rather not hear the details, if that’s okay.” His mom rose on tiptoe and pressed a kiss to his cheek. “Hug the little man for me, Kyle. And if he has a favorite pie or cake, let me know so I can bake it for him.”

He gave her a weak smile. “Thank you, Mom.”