The Other Side of Love: Chapter Four

Benny

I didn’t mean to fall asleep as soon as we arrive at my apartment but that’s exactly what happens. Whatever stuff they put in those tetanus vaccines, it’s strong enough to make me feel like shit. But Sarah also told me it’s more likely the adrenaline from this morning’s accident had worn off and my body just needs to rest up. 

She could be right, but of course, I wasn’t about to admit it. I don’t need any help, I kept telling her up until I conked out on the couch. 

By the time I wake up, it’s dark and I smell the aroma of hominy wafting from the kitchen. My stomach growls and as I sit up, a blanket falls off my body and onto the floor.

“I grabbed that from your bedroom,” Sarah says from the kitchen as I pick up the blanket and set it next to me. “Didn’t want you to get cold.” 

“Thanks. What time is it?” 

“About seven. You were out like a light after you took the Tylenol. But you should feel even better when you get something in you. The posole’s just about done,” she says, setting a plate and a bowl on the dinner table. “Oh, and I made fry bread, too. I know it’s your favorite.”

What I call hominy Sarah calls posole and normally, I’d correct anyone who can’t make the distinction. But with Sarah, I don’t. Navajo hominy is what I grew up eating, thanks to my grandmother who made sure I learned everything about my culture after my mother and I moved back to the reservation. Back then, all I knew about my Navajo culture amounted to a few sentences—and a whole lot of defensiveness I can only chalk up to a combination of grief from losing my dad and denial that he was really gone.  

Yes, I’m a half-breed. No, I don’t know any Navajo. And what’s it to you anyway?

Now, of course, it’s a different story. I speak the language of my people fluently and I’m passionate about my work as an Environmental Protection Specialist responsible for monitoring the condition and air quality on tribal lands. I do, however, live within the city limits instead of on the reservation, a choice prompted by my desire to be close to the life I used to know before Dad died. 

“Everything should be ready in a few minutes, Benny,” Sarah says as I get up from the couch. “You look better than you did earlier, that’s for sure. You’ve got some color back.” 

“I looked that bad, eh?” 

She chuckles. “You’re so vain. You looked fine. Just a little pale” 

I head to the bathroom to wash my face, brushing my teeth for good measure. Then I take a good look at my reflection in the mirror. Sarah’s right about one thing. I do look better and I feel better, too. Now I just need to get homemade food inside me. 

“How’s the arm feeling?” she asks when I emerge from the bathroom. 

“Better. It’s not hurting as much as it was.” It still feels heavy, as if my bone is attached to some weight I can’t see but my brain is too preoccupied with other things to dwell on the discomfort, like how good Sarah looks in my kitchen. 

“That’s good to hear. Give it a day or two and the pain will be gone before you know it. It’s only a handful of patients who end up with major problems with the vaccine, like muscle wasting.” 

When I worriedly glance down at my arm, opening and closing my fist to flex the muscle, she laughs. 

“But not you, Benny. You’ll be fine.” She pulls out one of the chairs. “Alright, sit down.” 

“Aren’t you joining me for dinner?” I pull up a chair for her as she returns to the kitchen and wipes down the counter with a paper towel. 

“I really just wanted to cook you something and leave.”

“Leave? But where’s the fun in eating alone?” I ask. “It would make me very happy if you can stay for dinner. We don’t even have to talk if you don’t want to.” 

She thinks for a few moments. “Alright. But only for dinner and then I’ll leave.”

Grinning, I pull out a table setting for her from the cupboard and set a place on the table for her. It’s a tiny sliver of hope, getting her to stay for dinner but with Sarah, once she’s dead set on something, it feels like pulling teeth to get her to reconsider. But I’ll take what I can get. I’m also feeling too good to let her resistance bother me, not when I know better than to fall asleep when I should have been watching her move around my kitchen, my apartment, my space… my life.

We spend dinner talking about my work. It’s all she wants to talk about, all my attempts at getting her to talk about herself diverted to what I’m doing in Shiprock. So I tell her that after she graduated from UNM, I continued to earn my Doctorate degree and was soon offered a senior specialist position surveying air quality on tribal lands in Northern New Mexico. 

“But with our main office in Taos, I drive there a few times a month. In fact, I have to go there tomorrow for a meeting,” I say. “What about you? Do you get to visit your family often?”

“I do, every other week or so. I know it’s a trek but I don’t mind it. Driving can be a hazard sometimes, and not because I’m a terrible driver,” she replies as I nod solemnly, the image of roadside memorials, wooden crosses lining the sides of the road almost a common sight along New Mexico highways. 

“I hear you. That’s why you need to be very careful on the road. If you’re planning on heading down there, let me know. We can carpool if you want. The company will be nice.” 

As she dips a piece of fry bread into the stew, memories of our road trips come back to me. A day trip along Turquoise Trail where we stopped by the city of Madrid, another to the Petroglyph National Monument where we checked out rock etchings carved into lava rocks, and then that one weekend where I took her to Chaco Canyon to view the stars. It was platonic—or as platonic as I could manage without her knowing I’d wanted her from the moment we first met. 

But from the beginning, Sarah wanted only a friendship with me. It didn’t help that my reputation wasn’t exactly spotless. There was a rumor going around the university that I banged a lot of women, sometimes a new one each week, and it wouldn’t have been far from the truth. I didn’t necessarily sleep with a different woman each week but it was damn close. 

Then I met Sarah Drexel and everything changed. Alright, maybe not overnight. I still played the field—after all, it wasn’t like we were dating—but like an addict realizing he had to cut down on his addiction, I slowed down. I lifted weights more, worked on my dissertation more. And whenever she was available, I hung out with her as a friend. If there was something good that came out of it, I learned how to be a friend to a woman. A real friend. It probably helped that Sarah didn’t date anyone although I’m sure if she had, I’d probably have bailed.

“So what’s this about Dax?” I ask, needing to change the subject. I met her younger brother a few times when he’d travel down to Albuquerque to ‘see’ his sister, his favorite alibi when he really wanted to hang out with friends or get into clubs. At least, in Albuquerque, no one knew who he was unlike in Taos where the poor kid couldn’t get a break. Everyone knew what he was up to. “He’s eighteen, isn’t he?” 

“Yup. Eighteen and about to finish high school.” She pauses. “If he finishes high school. He just might end up flunking.” 

“Does he have any college plans?”

Sarah almost chokes on her food. “College? No, he has no plans to go to college at all. Never even submitted a single application. He says he’ll enroll when he’s ready.”

I chuckle. “What did you expect?” 

“That he have some sort of direction in life.” She pauses, shrugging. “Mom and Nana make sure to keep him in line but they can only do so much, you know?”

“He’s eighteen, Sarah,” I say, chuckling. “Legally, you can’t even say he ran away from home if he decides to stay overnight somewhere else.” 

She pouts. “Don’t tell my mother and Nana that.” 

“So do you although you loathe to admit it.” Although my statement earns a glare from her, Sarah doesn’t disagree. I saw the way Sarah and her younger brother picked on each other the three times I met him in Albuquerque years ago, but underneath all the teasing, the love between them was evident. My relationship with my half-sister Marjorie is nothing like it though. She sees me as her shinaaí, her older brother and that’s that.    

“I think he really needs a male father figure in his life,” she says, taking a sip of water. “With Dad spending more time in New York, he’s surrounded by women who dote on him like he’s still five years old or something.” 

“Why does he do that?” 

“Dax? Because like you said, he’s eighteen–”

“I mean your dad,” I say. “Why does he live in New York when his family is in New Mexico? I get that New York is where it’s at but surely he knows his son is acting up.” Surely he’d make an effort, I almost say but I don’t. Ever since I’ve known her, Sarah has always been prickly when it comes to her father. She loves him but she also doesn’t get along with him. 

“Dax can do no wrong in his eyes,” Sarah says, her gaze distant. “He always wanted a boy, you know, and between me and Dax, they went through two or three miscarriages. So when Dax came along, well, you can imagine how my dad must have felt.”

“And how was that?” 

“At last! A boy!” She exclaims, laughing wryly. “But by that time, Mom decided to move back to Taos because she couldn’t stand living in Manhattan another day. Dad’s business had just taken off and he couldn’t leave, not if he wanted his company to keep growing. And so he’s been commuting ever since. It’s not like he doesn’t want to move out here full time. It’s just that his work is back there.”

“Can’t he telecommute?” 

She chuckles as I take a sip of water. “And miss out on all the business lunches and dinners and golf with billionaire clients? No, not Dad. He probably does more work during those times than in his office. I’m sure part of it is him needing to feel important, who knows?”

“You can’t fault a man for doing what he needs to do to provide for his family.”

Sarah gets up to get the pitcher of water from my fridge and refills my glass. “Dax even got to go to this secret club Dad goes to every week… but it’s only for men. No women allowed.”

“I’ve heard of those clubs. Very exclusive.” Hell, even the likes of me probably can’t get in. 

She sets the pitcher on the table and sits down. “You’d think Dax would be impressed but no. He could have been talking to some future presidential candidate, for all I know… or a billionaire. Nope. All he wanted was to check out Central Park and head home.” 

“I can talk to him if you want,” I say. “Pick his brains about college or what he wants to do with his life or something. Not everyone needs to go to college. He can always check out trade schools.” 

“Try telling that to my dad. He’d go ballistic.,” Sarah says, her eyes narrowing as she studies me. “But why would you do that? Talk to Dax, I mean?” 

“Because I want to,” I reply. “But only if he’s okay with it.”  

“I’ll think about it and let you know,” she says. “So what about you. How come you’re not dating anyone? I still can’t believe it.”

“What’s not to believe?”

“You always had someone.” 

“You’re going by news that’s at least two years old, Sarah,” I say. “Things change.”

Her eyes narrow. “You mean you’ve changed?” 

“Don’t we all?” I laugh. “I mean, it’s not like I’ve taken a vow of celibacy or anything. Let’s say I’ve just been more… picky.” I pause, not wanting the discussion to touch on my sex life. “Alright, my turn. Where were you assigned before Shiprock?” 

“I worked for a few months in Alaska, and then Minnesota,” she replies, looking away. “Too cold for my taste and so I figured maybe it was time to start finding something closer to home.” 

“It’s still cold here.”

“Not as cold as Minnesota, believe me,” she says. “But the pay was good so I took it.”

“So why Shiprock, of all places?” I persist. “This isn’t exactly the first place most people think of if they want better pay. It’s out in the middle of nowhere.”

She doesn’t answer right away. She takes a spoonful of stew and bites into a piece of bread. I let her take her time. 

“I dated the wrong guy,” she says as soon as she finishes chewing her food and takes a sip of water. “A doctor.” 

“Was he married?” 

“No.” 

I breathe a sigh of relief. When I first met Sarah, she’d just transferred to the University of New Mexico from out of state. People used to wonder how someone from an exclusive college in New York’s Upper East Side would end up in Albuquerque, of all places. It didn’t help that Sarah was distant, almost aloof if she didn’t know you.

I can never forget the moment when someone found out exactly why she left New York. I beat the shit out of him and warned him if he’d say anything to anyone about it, I’d beat the living crap out of him again. Word got around anyway especially after Sara started turning down every guy who asked her out. 

Later, during one of our late-night study sessions, Sarah would tell me that she’d been kicked out because she had an affair with her professor. The asshole had told her he was separated from his wife when he wasn’t. He was forty and she was nineteen. 

“At least, he wasn’t married,” I say as Sarah bites her lip.

“He was my boss.” 

“That’s why you had to leave? Because he was your boss?”

“Well, he wasn’t exactly my boss. He was the head of the department. A doctor.” Sarah starts picking at the table cloth. “After I broke up with him, he… he uploaded naked pictures of me online.” 

I stare at her. “He what?” 

“He sent them to porn sites, forums. That kind of thing.” 

It takes me a few moments to understand what I just heard, my jaw clenching. “Why the hell did he have to do that?” When Sarah doesn’t say anything, I reach across the table to hold her hand. “I’m sorry some guys are assholes, Sarah.” 

“You don’t have to apologize for the assholes of the world, Benny. It’s not your job,” she says, smiling wryly. 

“God knows I can be an asshole, but not that kind of asshole,” I mutter. “That’s just cruel. What a fucking coward.” 

“Anyway, that’s why I canceled plans to go home.” She pulls her hand from my grasp and sets it on her lap. “The last time I did was when the first set of pictures were posted and Dad was livid. He said I should have known better than to have pictures taken of me. Videos, too. He worried what his business associates might say.” 

I can feel my anger ratcheting up another notch. I don’t care if this guy is a fucking doctor or her boss, but you got to be one insecure son of a bitch to do something like that.“I hope to God your dad understands that it’s not your fault, Sarah.” 

“When you’ve established a record for having the worst taste in men, Benny, that stuff’s easier said than done. As far as Dad’s concerned, that’s two strikes.” She takes a deep breath.

“So you have terrible taste in men,” I scoff. “So what? Doesn’t make it your fault.”

Sarah clears her throat. “Anyway, that’s enough catching up for one night. As your nurse, I’d say you’ll survive the night.” 

As Sarah gets up, the chair legs scraping against the floor, I grab her hand. She’s what… twenty-three? Twenty-four? People make mistakes, true, and maybe she has terrible taste in men. But Sarah’s not the one who set out to ruin someone else’s life by posting their nude pictures online. What her ex-boyfriend did is harassment—sexual harassment.

“Sarah, listen to me. It’s not your fault.” 

“That’s easy for you to say, Benny,” she says, her voice cracking. “I should have known better. How could I be so stupid?” 

Suddenly I don’t want to say another word. We’ve said enough words for one night as it is. As Sarah steps away from the table, I pull her toward me, feeling her body melt against mine. Holding her in my arms brings everything back—the times spent together laughing and being ourselves, doing our best to remain friends until the night we ended up in my bed and she told me things she regretted hours later. But if Sarah believes her confession ruined everything she and I once had, she’s wrong. 

For it didn’t ruin us, certainly not for me. It made me realize the lie I’d told myself the whole time I was “just” her friend. I wanted her to be so much more. I wanted her to be my everything. But I never got to tell her. When I woke up the next morning, she was gone.  

And now she’s broken. 

RELEASE DATE: SEPTEMBER 17

Days
Hours
Minutes
Seconds

The Other Side of Love: Chapter Three

SARAH

For someone I haven’t seen since I moved here two months ago, I suddenly can’t turn around without bumping into Benny. In this case, twice on the same day. Is that why my heart is beating as if I’ve just completed a sprint? 

“Hey,” I say as he gets out of his truck. His left arm is bandaged just above the elbow, the wrap peeking from under the folded sleeve of his button-down shirt which also reveals his muscled forearm. His features look pinched like he’s hurting. “Tetanus shot bothering you?” 

“How’d you know?”  

“Standard operating procedure. It’s the big guys who usually feel the aches and pains the most.” I place the last of my purchases into the trunk of my SUV and close the door. Since I canceled my plans to drive down to Taos, it meant a trip to the supermarket as soon as I woke up from my nap to stock up on junk food and rent a DVD. Maybe some action flick or comedy, anything that will take my mind off Benny and his six-pack abs. Only that’s not exactly working because he’s right in front of me and just to be sure, I just might need to go back inside and get new batteries.

“Did you just come from the office?” I ask as Benny rubs his bandaged arm absently. “I would have thought you took the rest of the day off. That cut was nasty, and that bump on your noggin was, too.” 

“It’s nothing,” he grunts and I can’t help but chuckle. Benny hasn’t changed much even if he’s looking a bit pale. Side-effects must be hitting him.

“It’s normal for patients to feel pain and even get a fever, muscle aches, nausea. Even lightheadedness,” I say. “In fact, you probably shouldn’t be driving.” 

“Nobody told me that at the clinic,” he says, frowning.

“I’m sure they did. You just didn’t hear them.” 

“Maybe they did, maybe they didn’t,” Benny says, shrugging. “I’m a big boy.” 

“That you are. But acetaminophen should ease the pain. Not that I’m officially diagnosing or prescribing you anything,” I say. 

“Don’t worry. I won’t tell anyone.”

“What about a bit of TLC from your girlfriend?” I continue. “I’m sure she could–”

“I don’t have a girlfriend.” 

I look at Benny incredulously. Benny Turner? Single? Did hell just freeze over? 

I almost ask him about Noelle but I remind myself it’s none of my business. I also need to stop worrying about Benny. Before we know it, I’ll be offering to make him dinner and tucking him into bed. I walk past him and pull open the passenger door of my SUV.

“I should get going. It was nice seeing you again, Benny.” I do my best to act nonchalant even as my heart thunders inside my chest. How can two years go by and yet feel like it was yesterday when I last saw him? 

“Likewise, Sarah.” 

“Go home and get some rest,” I say as I get behind the wheel. “A fever reducer and painkiller along with chicken noodle soup should do you some good, too.”

He closes the driver side door for me. “Green chili maybe?” 

I nod. “Yeah, green chili stew although I’d opt for something clearer. And rest. Lots of rest.”

For a moment he doesn’t speak. A faint smile lingers on his lips. Then he takes a deep breath, taps my door two times, and steps away. “Thanks for all your help, Sarah. Guess I’ll see you around,” he says, turning away from me and grabbing the basket I’d parked by the side of my SUV. 

As I slip the keys into the ignition, I know Benny’s too tough to admit he needs help. At the same time, I’ve got no excuse treating him the way I just did. Cold to the point of being mean. I’m a nurse, for crying out loud. I’m supposed to be compassionate. 

I chuckle to myself as I start the engine. Yeah, right. Like I need to be compassionate toward someone like Benny who’s just going to break my heart like everyone else. The sooner I nip this in the bud, the better. 

* * *

So much for walking away.

Five minutes later, I find Benny in the medicine aisle, standing between the ibuprofen and acetaminophen products and holding one in each hand. Tall and broad-shouldered, Benny has always been a sight to behold. It’s in the way he carries himself, raw confidence evident in every step and a roughness underneath the surface. 

Right now, though, it’s a different story. Benny looks tired and a bit confused as he tries to decide which bottle of pills to buy. But I can’t blame him. Benny’s not the type to rely on medication. He’s the type of man to power through broken bones and barroom brawls, two things I’ve witnessed when we were both students at UNM. But body aches and fever from a tetanus shot? Apparently not so much. 

“Alright, any more of this looking like a lost puppy and I’ll be taking you home. Why don’t we get you all sorted out?” I take the box of ibuprofen from his hand and return it to the shelf. When he doesn’t say anything, I continue, “Do you live far from here?”

“No.” 

“If you want, I can help you with whatever you need to buy and follow you to your apartment. We’ll get you settled and I’ll make you something to eat.” 

“You don’t have to do that, Sarah.” 

I shrug. “Just say the word then and I’ll be on my way.” 

Benny opens his mouth to say something but stops. Then he nods. “Alright, nurse Sarah. I’ll take you up on your offer, but you better not be doing this out of pity.”

“Not out of pity, no,” I reply, pushing his basket down the aisle. “As a friend… a former friend or whatever the hell we ended up as after I… well, whatever.” I take a deep breath. “Anyway, I’d rather you not go home alone, not when you look the way you do and it’d be nice to have some company tonight. Maybe we can catch up on what we’ve both been up to.” 

He arches an eyebrow. “That’s all?” 

“I was going to head back to Taos and see if I can talk sense to Dax but my dad’s coming in to spend the weekend,” I add, shrugging. “No sense in driving out there and everyone’s busy. It’s not like my brother’s going to listen to me anyway.”

“Dax is in trouble?” 

“He’s hanging with the wrong crowd and Mom’s worried. He’s already gotten into two fights since I started working here,” I reply, taking a few things off the shelves. If I’m making him something to eat, then I might as well get started with the ingredients. “And it’s not like I can talk sense to him, you know, although I try? I’m just the older sister who gives him a hard time.”

“An older sister who loves him,” Benny says softly. “What about your dad? Can he talk to him?” 

“I’m sure he can but once he returns to New York in a few days, Dax goes back to whatever trouble he gets into.”

“So he lives in New York while your mom lives in Taos?” Benny asks, frowning. “And they’re not separated or anything? Divorced?”

I shake my head as he stop in front of the meat aisle. “Hell no. They just have this weird arrangement where he works there but flies back to Taos twice a month, spend time with Mom and Dax and then flies back again. It’s crazy.” 

“Why does he do that?” 

“Because he handles other people’s money and he loves what he does. Mom would like him to work from Taos but big money’s back east, you know?” I pause, choosing two packets each of precut pork shoulder and pork belly and putting them in the basket. I don’t know why I’m telling him my life story all of a sudden. But then, there was a time when we used to have the same exact conversations. “Anyway, I don’t know if you remember, but my dad owns an investment firm that handles rich people’s money.” 

Benny nods. “I remember.”

“Anyway, it’s gotten pretty successful, actually. It allows him to charter a plane and all but it still means he’s not around most of the time and I think that’s why Dax acts up. He loves his dad.”

“He needs a father figure then, while your dad’s away.” 

“Maybe. Or maybe he just has to use his common sense and not get into trouble.” I look at Benny, noting the furrow in his brow as he studies the stuff I’ve put inside his basket. 

“You’re making hominy stew?” he asks and I can spy the hint of a smile on his face. 

“Why not? It’s your favorite, isn’t it? You’ll just have to settle for frozen hominy as the base. I don’t intend on soaking dried hominy overnight.” 

“You’re welcome to,” he says as I glare at him. “Alright, frozen is fine. It’s better than canned.” 

“I don’t know if you’ve got spices in your kitchen–”

“Salt and pepper count?”

“–so I’m just going to get everything just to be sure.” I stop in front of the spices aisle and take a jar of cumin seeds, Mexican oregano, and bay leaf from the shelf and toss them into the basket. “That okay with you?” 

He grins, nodding. “You’re the boss.”

“And I’m just going to make this for you, make sure you’re not running a high fever or anything, and then leave, okay?” As the words leave my mouth, it almost seems like I’m trying to convince myself that’s all I want to do. After all, this is me being the compassionate person I really am underneath all the armor I need to wear around Benny, even as the broad grin on his face makes my belly do flip flops. 

“Alright,” Benny says, grimacing as he rubs his bicep gently. “Deal it is.” 

RELEASE DATE: SEPTEMBER 17

Days
Hours
Minutes
Seconds

The Other Side of Love: Chapter Two

BENNY

Small world. Who’d have thought Sarah Drexel would be working right here in Shiprock? Hell, I didn’t, not in a million years.

I first met her at a coffee shop in Albuquerque four years ago when she was studying Nursing and I was working toward my Masters in Environmental Sciences. The place was packed, and she and another friend asked if they could sit at my table since I was hogging one all to myself. I almost said no but figured, what the heck, I was going to leave in five minutes anyway and head to the university library where it would be quieter.

Before I knew it, five minutes turned to ten and then ten turned into two hours. Sarah’s dark brown eyes and fiery passion intrigued me as she advocated for the imaginary patient she and her friend were assigned to treat for a case study. While her friend was all for drugs, Sarah wanted to know the why’s of the patient’s illness. Family history, current diet, and nutrition. Even their culture.

“Let’s say they’re Native Americans and hooked on those fry breads that we all know about,” she had said. “Did you know that flour, sugar, and lard were never a normal part of the Native American’s diet? It was given to them by the government when they were forced into the reservation. What the heck can you make with all that flour, lard, and sugar and nothing else? So they got creative, and that’s how fry bread came to be.”

“You make it sound like they had a choice,” I’d said and they both looked at my direction as if just realizing I’d never left. “I wouldn’t say that they’re ‘hooked’ on fry bread because it wasn’t exactly a choice. Before they were forced from their lands to go on the Long Walk to Hwéeldi, the Place of Suffering, my people grew their own vegetables and beans and basically had a very healthy diet. Thanks to all that flour, lard, and sugar they gave us, diabetes, hypertension, and obesity have been on the rise among Native Americans for as long as fry bread came to be.”

I can’t forget the daggers I got from her as she lifted her chin and said, “Excuse me, but who the hell are you?”

“Benjamin Turner, Ma’am,” I replied. “Navajo and future Environmental Protection Specialist to Indian lands.”

“But you’re not really full Navajo, are you?” she asked, her brow furrowing. “You don’t look…”

“Native American? No, my mother is full Diné and my father’s Caucasian. German and New Mexican to be exact,” I replied. “You?”

There was that chin tilt again. “New Mexican. Proud and true.”

Her friend looked at her, frowning. “But your dad’s a New Yorker.” 

“I grew up here, so that makes me New Mexican,” she said. 

I don’t even remember her friend’s name—Amy or Alannah or Allison—for all I saw was Sarah. It felt like I’d been hit by a bolt of lightning whenever she looked at me, meeting my gaze boldly. Not a lot of women on campus did that and I liked that about her. Smart, feisty, proud.

But there’s something different with the Sarah I’m seeing now, more than two years later. There’s still that feisty part of her, true, but there’s also something else although I can’t place it. Sure, there’s an annoyance at running into me again but there’s also something else. It’s an undercurrent. Regret?

I’ll never know for the entire time she cleans up my wound and stitches it, Sarah doesn’t look me in the eye. The doctor’s also busy telling me about the importance of getting a tetanus shot so I really can’t do much but focus on what he’s saying, something about possible side-effects like pain at the site of injection, a fever, and a few other things. 

I barely hear what he’s saying. I just want Sarah to lift her gaze and look at me… see me. But she doesn’t. As far as everyone at the clinic is concerned, we didn’t know each other before today.

When another nurse enters the room, it’s only to relieve her and in a blink of an eye, Sarah is gone and my sour mood returns. It worsens when I emerge from the back office, my arm wrapped in a bandage, and I see Colton tapping away on his phone.

Whose idea was it to have me mentor this kid again? Fresh out of college with no experience out on the field, he doesn’t even have a clue about the Diné culture, bumbling around the New Mexican landscape thinking he’s Val Kilmer’s character in that 90’s flick, Thunderheart.

And what was the deal with me letting him get behind the wheel when the kid easily panics at the sight of a roadrunner? And panic he did. Drove us right over the damn embankment and we’re lucky all we got was a gash in my arm.

But as Colton and I step outside and head back to the work truck, its bumper sitting in the flatbed, I really can’t complain. It got us into the clinic where I ran into Sarah Drexel two years after she left without saying goodbye.

* * *

At the office, I change my shirt and get to work. I really don’t have much to do, just a bunch of reports to review and phone calls to make. Forget that my personal phone’s been buzzing with texts from Tanya, a woman I’d hung out with a few times back in Taos. She wants to know when I’m going to be in town again.

Sorry babe. Busy, is all I text back. She replies with a sad face emoji before I shut off my phone and return to work. I’m actually going to be in town. I just have no plans on seeing her. 

By noon, the arm that got the tetanus vaccine starts to throb and I’m suddenly not feeling too great. I’ve got a headache and my body is hurting all over. I pull out the piece of paper Linda gave me before I left the clinic. I never bothered to read about the side-effects but now I need to make sure it’s not my imagination.

Most common side effects include redness and swelling around the injection site. Body aches. Fever. Headache.

Great. Looks like I’ve got all the side-effects down pat. I look up to see Colton typing reports and turn off my laptop. Hell, let the kid continue working until five. I’m done.

“You heading out early, Benny?” Tony asks as I slip my laptop into my backpack. He’s one of the specialists who works with me, a fellow Diné.

“Yup. Gonna go home and rest. I need to be up early tomorrow for that meeting at the main office.”

“Got someone to keep an eye on you? That’s a nasty bruise you’ve got on your forehead.”

I scoff. “You volunteering?”

“Heck no, man,” he says, laughing. “Get someone else. One of your women.”

Normally, I’d have a good comeback for Tony but not right now. I’ve got a throbbing headache. “Alright, I’m out. See you guys next week.”

I grab my backpack and sling it over my shoulder. I need to head to the supermarket first before going home. With a fridge that probably only has a six-pack of beer and leftovers from last night’s dinner with the guys from work, I’m going to need to do some shopping. Either I have to figure out how to get food delivered to my apartment regularly or I need to learn how to cook.

I curse under my breath when my arm starts to throb again during the drive to City Market on Highway 64. It’d probably be a good idea to add a painkiller or two to the list of things I need to buy. I don’t like them and hardly use them, but at this point, it doesn’t hurt to have some on hand.

By the time I turn into the parking lot, my mental list of things to pick up has grown even longer. Laundry soap, dryer sheets, soup mix. Hatch green chili sauce—and the best kind at that, if they have it. But at this rate, I’ll probably just pick up a few microwave-ready meals because I sure as heck am too tired to figure out what to cook.

That’s when I see her and my heart rate speeds up and my belly tightens. No longer wearing scrubs, Sarah looks great in a dark blue sleeveless top over faded jeans, her long hair falling over her shoulders as she loads her groceries in the trunk of her SUV.

As I park my truck in the only available spot in front of the supermarket, right next to her SUV, our eyes meet and she frowns even as I can’t help grinning. I don’t even care that I suddenly don’t remember a single thing I need to get inside the store.

Not a damn thing. 

 

RELEASE DATE: SEPTEMBER 17

Days
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The Other Side of Love: Chapter One

SARAH

“Visiting your family after this?”

I turn to see Melina, the nurse supervisor writing down notes on the whiteboard behind the nurses’ station. With my shift ending in five minutes, she’s writing down which nurse or doctor will have what room for the next shift. 

“Yup. After I get done with my nap.” I stifle a yawn as I get up from the counter. “It was crazy last night.”

“That’s what I heard, but as they say, it could have been worse,” Melina says as she returns her attention to the whiteboard and the staff who’ll be working the morning shift.

The last few hours couldn’t have been any less predictable—a gunshot wound, a barroom brawl resulting in stitches, two drunk driver-related car accidents resulting in broken bones and one fatality. I try not to think of that last one.

Just another day as a traveling nurse in Shiprock, New Mexico. If I thought this job was going to be a piece of cake, I was fooling myself. But I already knew it wouldn’t be easy. 

“Did you call Enrico back?” Melina asks and I’m glad she’s got her back to me as she writes another name on the whiteboard. That way, she doesn’t see the face I make. Melina has been trying to get me to go out with her son Enrico ever since I started working at the clinic. Why did I agree to have her give my number to the poor guy? It’s not like I’m planning on dating anyone at the moment. It hasn’t been on the agenda since I got here.

“I haven’t had the time, Mel.” I slip on my cardigan. With my stuff in the employee break room, I’ll be lucky to be out of here before she tells me I should at least have coffee with the guy. “Anyway, I’m going to clock–”

I don’t finish what I say for the front doors slide open and two men walk in, one cradling a bloody arm and the other looking at his companion nervously, one of the lenses of his wire-rimmed glasses cracked.

“Linda’s not here yet,” Melina says. “Can you stay one more minute?”

I barely hear Melina, not when my attention is riveted to the tall man with intense brown eyes and a trimmed beard. As he storms into the clinic, his button-down shirt barely hides the outline of his muscled chest and a flat stomach.

My mouth turns dry. Of all places I could have picked as a traveling nurse, how the hell did I manage to find myself in the same place as Benjamin Turner?

As if hearing my thoughts, Benny stops, frowning as his eyes narrow at the sight of me. His companion, tall with long dark hair tied in a ponytail, approaches the counter.

“Colton Johnson, Ma’am. We were out surveying and the truck rolled. The doc here got a gash to his–”

“The truck didn’t roll, Walt,” Benny grumbles. “You went off the damn embankment and nearly killed us both.”

“I thought it was just a little dip on the road.”

“Dip, my ass–”

“Alright, gentlemen, no arguing in my lobby,” Melina says. “Why don’t we get you two in the room and have that arm looked at?” She turns to Benny. “That’s a nasty bump on that forehead. Did you hit your head?”

Benny scowls as he rubs his head with his uninjured hand. “No.”

“Yeah, he hit the dashboard,” the other man says as Benny glowers at him even more, the red spot on his forehead turning even redder. “You weren’t wearing your seatbelt, man.”

“I was in the process of putting it on when you gunned for the damn embankment.”

“I thought I’d set the gear to rev–”

“Alright, that’s it. Room five. You guys are lucky we’re not too–” Melina says as a woman walks in behind the men, her baby’s cries filling the lobby.

“I’ve got Mr. Turner,” I say, taking the patient folder from her. With Colton not needing any medical attention, that leaves only Benny and I don’t want to seem obvious that I know the guy.

Across the counter, Colton points to an empty chair in the lobby. “I’ll wait for you out here, man.”

“Whatever,” Benny mutters as I press the button to unlock the door separating the lobby from the rest of the clinic.

“Follow me.” As I make my way down the hallway to the examination room, I see the clock turn 7:00 AM. Oh well, there go my plans for a quick stop at the local restaurant for a breakfast burrito, maybe a nap and then the three-hour drive to Taos. What’s a few more minutes until Linda gets starts her shift?

“How long have you been here?” Benny asks under his breath as he follows me to Room Five.

“Since nine last night.”

He glares at me and I sigh, pointing to the examination table. “Two months. Anyway, why don’t you sit down and we’ll get your paperwork started before the nurse gets here.”

“But I thought you were my nurse.”

“Lucky you, I was just finishing my shift,” I reply.

Benny doesn’t answer. He studies me, an amused expression on his face. “Two months… man, I should have gotten banged up sooner if I’d known you were here.”

I don’t take my eyes off him. “Sit down, Mr. Turner. I’ll need to take down your information.”

It takes me five minutes to get all Benny’s information down even if I know half of it already. Too bad the half that I know about him has no place in a hospital chart like the fact that he earned his Master’s in Environmental Sciences from the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque while I was completing my Bachelors in Nursing.

“You must be the new nurse they were talking about months ago. One of my other guys had to be brought in. Got a nasty gash on his leg while surveying,” he says when I take the stethoscope from around my neck and place the ear tips in my ears.

“Do you scope out every one of the nurses?”

“Only the ones I already know,” Benny says as I twist the ear tips slightly to make a good seal, his voice becoming faint as he continues. “Anyway, they have a pretty high turnover rate at this place and so I’m grateful for every person who does show up. The locals around here need people like you.”

“Take a deep breath.”

Benny does as he’s told and then exhales. As I rest the diaphragm on another spot on his chest, I can’t help but notice how defined his pectoral muscles are. And then there’s the hint of a six-pack underneath his white shirt. He definitely still works out.

“Come to think of it, I don’t know why you’re doing that when it’s just my arm that’s injured,” he says as if noticing my gaze and I clear my throat.

“Your friend said you hit your head.”

“True, but my head’s up here,” he says, pointing to his temple, “not where your stethoscope thing is at.”

I roll my eyes as I decide he’s healthy as an ox with regards to his heart and pull the diaphragm away from his chest. “You haven’t changed, you know that? You’re still incorrigible.”

“Now that’s pretty harsh, isn’t it? We haven’t seen each other in, what? Two years?” Benny says, grinning. “Too long, if you ask me.”

“Not long enough, actually,” I mutter, looping the stethoscope over my neck. “I should have checked to see if you worked here before I took the job.”

His eyes narrow and for a moment, I wonder if I’ve gone too far. But before I can apologize, Benny cracks a smile. “Glad to see you’re still feisty as ever, Sarah Drexel. I like that.”

The sound of my name escaping his lips makes my heart quicken and I get up abruptly, the chair rolling away and hitting the wall. Wouldn’t you know it? Obviously, two years isn’t long enough to get rid of my body’s reaction to Benny Turner saying my name.

“Why don’t we fix that nasty boo-boo and get you on your way, Mr. Turner?” I say as sweetly as I can just as the doctor steps inside the room.

“Ah, Nurse Sarah, could you stay and help me with Mr. Turner here?” the doctor asks. “Linda is doing intake on the new patient and she should be here shortly.” 

As I nod and tell the doctor it’s okay, I don’t miss Benny’s grin. If I could wipe it off his face I would, but that would probably only make my problems worse, not better. 

* * *

Half an hour later, my phone rings as I get behind the wheel of my SUV. I don’t need to see who’s calling. Even though I’m three hours away from Taos, nothing makes my mother happier than knowing I’m back in the same state as she and my brother. New Mexico is New Mexico.

“You finished with work, mija?”

“Just stepped out the door, Mom.” I start the car, my eyes on the front doors of the clinic. Beyond those doors is Benny Turner, once my best friend until I ruined it the night I graduated from college.

“I can’t wait to see you today,” she says. “Make sure you’re well-rested before you leave the house, okay? The highway can be crazy.”

I turn the key in the ignition, allowing the car to warm up. “I will.”

There’s a pause and I have a feeling she’s got something else to say but she’s holding back.

“Did Dax get into trouble again?”

She chuckles nervously. “No, he didn’t. He’s actually looking forward to seeing you.”

“Is Nana okay?” Nana is her mother who helped raise me when we moved to Taos when I was six.

“Your dad is flying in tonight,” she says softly. “I thought you should know considering…”

I take a deep breath. The last time Dad and I saw each other we had an argument and I walked out of the house. That was eight months ago, on Christmas Day. Mom and Nana cried and Dax was pissed. Dad and I haven’t exactly talked since then, not when I’m too busy avoiding him.

For Mom’s birthday last May, I told her I was working and that couldn’t visit until I was on my day off which happened to be the day Dad had to fly back to New York. It wasn’t true, of course, but I wasn’t ready to face him. Our last conversation brought everything back, the disappointment of letting him down, for being a major fuck-up.

I put up a good front though. To everyone, I’m this successful nurse, smart and outgoing. Sometimes too daring for her own good, which usually gets her into trouble. And twice now, that’s exactly what happened.

“Why don’t I call you later, Mom, after I take my nap?” I say, not wanting to think about Dad anymore. “We had a crazy shift last night and I just want to crawl into bed.”

“Are you sure you’ll be okay to drive?”

“I’ll be fine,” I say, shifting the car into gear. “Look, Mom, I got to go before I fall asleep at the wheel.”

“Alright, mija. Te amo.”

Te amo, Mom. I’ll see you in a few hours, okay?” But even as I hang up, I know I won’t. I’ll tell her that one of the nurses is out sick and that the clinic needs me to come in tonight. She’ll understand why.

RELEASE DATE: SEPTEMBER 17

Days
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Seconds

The Other Side of Love

After her last relationship ends in disaster, Sarah Drexel swears off men and takes a job as a travel nurse in Shiprock, New Mexico. It’s far enough away from civilization to be recognized yet close enough to visit her family in Taos. Surely, no one can find her here, right?

Wrong.

Just when Sarah thinks she can conveniently run away from her past (again), environmental protection specialist Benny Turner walks into her clinic in need of stitches and a tetanus shot. They used to be friends back in college until the night she told him her deepest darkest secrets only to leave without saying goodbye.

But with Benny back in her life again, is she going to let her past mistakes tell her to run again? Or will she finally face her past-and her secrets-head-on and accept them as part of who she really is?

And will Benny accept them, too?

THE OTHER SIDE OF LOVE

Read the first few chapters of The Other Side of Love before anyone else! If you'd like to continue reading beyond the first three chapters, you will need to register in order to gain access.

RELEASE DATE: SEPTEMBER 17

Days
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Minutes
Seconds

Her Lucky Charm: A Friends to Lovers Romance

When Roxy’s alleged walk of shame goes viral, billionaire philanthropist Kodi Donovan comes up with a temporary plan he thinks will save her reputation. 

Neither of them counted on falling in love…

Did we or didn’t we?

That’s the million-dollar question when I wake up next to Kodiak “Kodi” Donovan the morning after a mutual friend’s St. Patrick’s Day wedding.

Forget that he’s one of the hottest bachelors in Manhattan, a billionaire, and as the founder of the nonprofit ReBuild to Heal, a philanthropist to boot.

And so we agree to go on with our respective lives and pretend nothing happened.

Too bad my walk of shame ends up getting plastered all over social media and the next thing I know, I’ve become #walkofshameroxy.

As if that isn’t bad enough, my job as an ICU nurse is in jeopardy, too.

Suddenly whether we did it or not is the least of our worries. To save my reputation, the only other question becomes…

…should we or shouldn’t we just take it all the way?

Every Breath is Live!

Environmental protection scientist Benny Turner has always managed to surprise his long-time love (and Valentine cynic) Sarah Drexel on Valentine’s Day. But when a toxic waste spill on tribal land requires him to travel out of state, for the first time since they’ve been together, they’ll have to spend Valentine’s Day apart.

But Benny has never been one to give up so easily. Determined to give Sarah a day she’ll never forget, he’ll move mountains to get back to her in time for Valentine’s Day… or even better, employ the help of friends and family to help him pull off his most ambitious plan yet. 

But Benny’s not the only one with a surprise up his sleeve. Sarah has one, too. 

This is a steamy Valentine’s Day novella featuring Dax’s sister Sarah Drexel and her longtime partner Benny Turner. It’s a slice-of-life story set in Taos, New Mexico where we first met Harlow and Dax in Everything She Ever Wanted.

Featuring characters you’ve met in previous books in A Different Kind of Love series, this story is guaranteed with steamy feels and no cliffhanger!