By Geri Krotow
Copyright © 2013 by Harlequin Books S.A.
“I’m Tanya, and I’ve been at BTS for almost two years. I’m a certified social worker and family counselor. My specialty was addiction therapy, but I got a bit burned out on it, so I came here, intending to stay for only a few months….” Tanya Ripley twisted a long, curly lock of hair around her finger.
“You mean like me?” Lucas teased, prompting a loud chuckle around the table. They were taking turns introducing themselves.
Val noticed that Lucas fit in with the group and wasn’t surprised. She saw Miles Mikowski nod at him.
“Hey, Lucas, I’m Miles. I’m still on active duty, stationed on Whidbey. I come over to San Juan to talk to the families about how I put my life together after I lost my leg.”
“I’m guessing that helps you as well as them.”
“Absolutely. Nothing like seeing a spark of hope in a kid’s or widow’s eye, hope that maybe they’ll be able to move on. I know this guy—” he playfully punched the man to his left “—because he’s put me through so much torture in his clinic.”
“I’m Drew, and I’m not usually here, since I run my own physical therapy clinic on Whidbey Island. I decided to get away overnight, and this is heaven because no one on this island knows me.”
To Val, Drew hardly resembled the handsome man he’d been when he’d first offered BTS free passes to use his clinic.
“How are you holding up, Drew?” She didn’t want him to feel he had to share more than he wanted, but except for Lucas, everyone at the table knew his story.
“I’m okay.” Drew shot a look at Lucas. “Since you’re not from here, you probably don’t know that my wife was lost at sea almost a month ago. She’s a Navy pilot.”
“I’m so sorry.” Lucas’s expression remained neutral, open.
Drew shrugged. “We weren’t doing well before she left, and I feel something of a fraud playing the tortured husband.”
Val noted that he didn’t say “grieving.”
“Have you heard any more about the accident?” Lucas posed the question no one else asked.
“She’s still alive. No evidence of that, but I know it.” Drew spoke with a conviction that stopped everyone from eating, sipping, chatting.
“Trust your gut, Drew.” Maggie spoke up. “I knew my husband was gone before the Navy knocked at my door. I felt it in my bones. If you don’t feel that, then she’s still here.”
Drew nodded, his eyes downcast.
“Where did you study physical therapy?” Lucas guided the conversation to less emotional territory.
Drew told him. Her team chimed in and the low din of their chatter resumed.
Val soaked up the camaraderie she’d only dreamed of cultivating a couple of years ago. The concept of working with a team, the sense of belonging at BTS, were as important as the families they served.
“So, you’ve signed a six-month contract, right, Lucas?” Winnie Ford sipped her water. She brought Sam, her therapy dog, to BTS once a month, and this was her week. She didn’t usually stay overnight but her husband was home with their daughters. There were five apartments at the resort reserved for counselors, and two for transient support staff like Winnie.
“Well, if you change your mind, I’m sure Val would entertain an extension.” Winnie winked at Lucas.
This drew another laugh. Yes, Lucas was going to fit in without a problem.
“Don’t scare him, Winnie. Have you seen the pile of case files on my desk?” Val emphasized her point with her fork midair. When Lucas’s grin turned into a smirk, she looked at her fork. It had a noodle hanging from it.
The team broke into more laughter.
“Okay, I deserved that.” Val hid her embarrassment by focusing on her dinner.
“Get used to this, Lucas. We don’t keep the kid gloves on for anyone.” Maggie beamed at him as if he were her own son. Val stifled a groan.
“I knew it was going to be an interesting job when I was on the ferry over.” Lucas paused, making eye contact with everyone around the table before he went on. “I almost tossed my cookies in the storm!”
“Storm?” Winnie looked puzzled. “Didn’t you come over today?”
Val cleared her throat. “That wasn’t a storm, Lucas. That’s Puget Sound in the winter.”
At the group’s sympathetic “awws” Val rolled her eyes. Leave it to the good-looking doctor to turn her team of hard-charging gals into mush.
It was going to be a long six months.