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"Connolly allows their friendship to grow slowly as they try to suppress their mutual lust. Once they get together, the sex is hot and the use of consent is overtly sensual."Holly
The Smut Report
Ben Gerhard's kidney failure has progressed rapidly, and none of his family or friends are matches to donate. Relief comes in the form of Holly Foster. She's bossy, adorable, and willing to undergo surgery to save Ben. Problem is, the more time he spends around her, the more he wants her to see him as a something other than the sick guy she's agreed to help. Holly gets Ben to share hidden parts of himself, all the while keeping him at a distance.
Holly cannot be attracted to Ben. If things fall apart, Holly's older brother would lose out on the organ promised to him from another source. They've been burned in the past, and this time needs to go smoothly. Problem is, Holly is finding that the guy whose life she's agreed to save is becoming an integral part of her own.
If she's not careful, he'll take more than she's willing to give...
Release date: November 14, 2018
Print pages: 420
Content advisory: sex scenes
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You Only Need One
“If you don’t talk to me, I swear, I’m gonna go crazy. Like punch a hole in the wall crazy.”
The room is quiet, except for the scratch of a pencil and the occasional crackle of stiff paper as I shift uncomfortably on the examination table. Luckily, I’m just getting the results of my blood test today, so I’ve got on jeans and a cotton T-shirt rather than the revealing gown that opens up in all the private places I don’t want my brother to see.
Marcus sits in the only normal chair in the room, foot crossed over his ankle, notepad propped on his knee, pencil skittering across the paper. In his own world, like always. Normally, I’d leave him to it, but today, I need a distraction.
“Which wall?” He keeps sketching.
“Which wall? Which wall? Does it matter?” I throw my hands up at the ridiculousness of his question.
“Only if you’re strong enough to break through the drywall.” Finally, he stops drawing, instead using his pencil like a professor would use a pointer during a lesson. He even sounds like one of my instructors. “Three of these walls”—he points them out—“you’d likely just get empty space behind. So, you’re good to go. But this one”—he reaches back to tap the one behind his head—“is a load-bearing wall. So, there are beams. I’m guessing steel. Punch one of those, and you’ll break your hand.” Finished with his lesson, Marcus goes back to his work.
I roll my eyes, a common occurrence around my big brother. “You architects. Think you know everything, don’t you?”
“When it comes to walls? Yeah.”
I snort and try to leave him alone.
He didn’t have to come with me today. I’ve been going to the doctor alone since I was fifteen. But this isn’t a normal yearly checkup. And I think it’ll be better to hear the news together. If it’s good, then plans can be made immediately. If it’s bad … well, at least I won’t need to repeat it.
Marcus huffs in what I can tell is frustration. He flips his pencil over and erases the offending mark with a glare. I smile as I watch him work. Doesn’t matter if he makes a mistake or two; the final drawing will be amazing. Everything Marcus creates blows my mind.
I can feel my smile fall when the door clicks open, and my doctor walks in. It’s not that I don’t like Dr. Williams. I really do. She’s perfectly nice and always professional, and she gets straight to the point.
Even when her news sucks.
“We’ve received the results of your blood test. I’m sorry, Holly, but you are not a match for Marcus. You won’t be able to give him your kidney.”
A buzz fills my ears, and the room gets fuzzy for a second.
You are not a match.
You are not a match.
You are not a match.
A broken record flicks those words over and over in my head.
I thought I just needed to wait.
“When you’re eighteen, then you can check. But I’m not letting you go before then.”
Marcus told me that for a year. Ever since his kidneys got so bad that he needed constant treatments—aka dialysis. No matter how much I begged him, told him that age didn’t matter if I could save his life, he never gave in.
Today was supposed to be the day.
But today is just a new person telling me that I have no control.
A warm hand gives my knee a squeeze. When I glance up from my lap, Marcus smiles at me in sympathy. As if I were the one living with a death sentence. This man doesn’t deserve the crappy genes he was dealt. I just want to fix it.
“Don’t worry about it, Holly. We knew there was no guarantee. I mean, we’re only half-siblings.” He pats my leg before standing and offering Dr. Williams his hand. “Thank you for checking. And for being gentle with my sis.”
Her face stays serious as she shakes his hand. “No one is a fan of needles. I’m just sorry I couldn’t give you better news. You’re still on the donor list though. And there are other options, such as exchange programs.”
“Exchange programs? What’re those?” I sound desperate, but I don’t care.
Marcus grimaces but keeps quiet when I shush him.
Dr. Williams makes sure to face both of us as she explains, “An exchange program, also called a paired donation, is when two or more people with kidney failure have willing, medically able, living donors who are incompatible”—she gestures at me—“with their loved one”—she points to Marcus—“but are compatible with another in need. If a pairing match is found, that means you would be donating to a stranger, Holly, with the understanding that their family member or friend would be donating a kidney to Marcus. With your brother’s rare blood type, I can’t guarantee we will find one of these situations, but it doesn’t hurt to enter into the program. If you think you would be comfortable with that situation?”
I choke out a disbelieving laugh. “Are you kidding? Sign me up!”
I turn to my brother, pinning him with a glare and giving his chest a firm poke. “If you think for one second that I’m not doing this, you’re in for a rude awakening, bro. You’d better get ready because I’m finding you a kidney if it’s the last thing I do.”
Silence fills the room before Marcus sighs in defeat. He knows when I’m armed and ready for battle.
Turning to the doctor, he gives her a shrug. “If it’s what she wants, then I’m on board.”
Dr. Williams nods and writes herself a note. “Okay. I’ll put your information into the system.”
We might have gotten some bad news today, but there’s still hope. And I’m going to cling to it like a rabid raccoon.
Marcus ruffles my hair as we exit the office. “I still can’t believe this is how you wanted to spend today.”
I shrug. “You’re the one who made me wait.”
He shakes his head like I’m the weird one and tosses me the car keys. “Now that the depressing portion of the festivities are over, let’s go get you some birthday cake.”
Chapter OneBenThree Years Later
These waiting rooms always smell the same. Not bad exactly, but distinctly sterile. If this smell were a person, it’d be that guy who ironed his dress shirts before he hung them up and then again right before he wore it, and then he would glare at your wrinkled T-shirt, as if you’d somehow offended him.
It’s giving me a headache.
But I push past it because today is a good day. Today, I meet her. My donor.
My kidneys are shit. My fault. I can’t curse at my parents or a stranger for this situation. Maybe the universe, but I’m not a fan of yelling into the void. Nope, I screwed my body up all on my own.
Still, all my family members and friends got tested to see if they could help me out. Maybe give me one of theirs. No luck there. Every time they called with a negative, I would try to convince myself that it didn’t matter, but then I’d have to hook up to the machine again.
Each treatment with the needles in my arm, sucking my blood out to be cleaned and then piping it back in, pushed me closer to crazy town. The only thing that kept me going was the hope that my wait on the organ donor list wouldn’t be longer than the life left in my body.
Today’s the big day.
My parents are late, but I don’t care this time. Without them here, I can people-watch. Maybe catch a glimpse of my donor before the official meeting.
I only know her name and her brother’s, who needs a kidney just as bad as I do. My doctor said a name is all he could give me without their permission, and some people don’t even get that.
Holly and Marcus Foster. My superheroes. I half-expect her to burst in here, sporting a Wonder Woman getup. Getting a kidney from Gal Gadot would be a bonus.
That’s just wishful thinking though. I’ve got my eye out for a man and a woman more my parents’ age or older. Kidney failure isn’t something people as young as me normally deal with. I’m an outlier.
My glasses slide down my nose as I bend over the book in my lap. I should’ve brought one of my textbooks, but studying political science isn’t as interesting as reading a novel. Normally, I can get lost in a good story, but today, I can’t get through a paragraph without glancing at the door.
Finally, it opens, and in walk a middle-aged man and woman.
They’re obviously here together, her hand wrapped around his forearm. She has her dyed blonde hair pulled back from a round face, making it easy to see her thin lips pinched together. The man looks like any military movie drill sergeant with buzzed hair and steely eyes.
They have to be the Fosters.
I almost jump up and introduce myself, even consider kneeling and kissing Holly’s feet. But I don’t do that because Mr. Foster looks like a man who throws punches first and asks questions never. Better wait for the doctors to call us in.
I’ve no idea if they’ll even be interested in talking to my cousin, Fred, and me over the next few months. They might be good with a quick hello and then radio silence until surgery day.
The Fosters sit down on the other side of the room in the only two remaining empty chairs.
It’s depressing how crowded the waiting room is. When I got here, I ruled everyone present out as possibly being Holly and her brother. A few older men with varying shades of gray hair are scattered around. An elderly woman sits with a young girl, clasping her hand and holding tight to a rosary. A father whispers in Spanish to his preteen boy. A guy with darker skin, who I’d guess is in his thirties, has a sketchpad propped in his lap. And then a young woman sits on her own, next to Holly.
Staring at the two people I’ve been waiting for, while creepy, makes sense. Staring at the mystery girl beside them is only reasonable if you ask my dick for input.
She has a textbook on her lap, and she taps the end of a highlighter on her full bottom lip, like she’s trying to draw attention to it. What man wouldn’t want to get a closer look at that pouty mouth? Of course, I’m making up the invitation. She only has eyes for her book.
Most people here are obviously sick. It’s in the way their skin looks or a smell they have. Or the fear mixed with depression on their faces.
This girl should be on a billboard advertising health. And swimsuits.
Silky brown hair waves slightly, brushes against her cheeks, and ends just below her chin. She’s got on a conservative white blouse, buttoned to her slim throat. I want to pop a few of those buttons open, see more of that skin flushed with a healthy glow. A black skirt covers her to the knees but still lets my eyes trace down her toned calves to where they disappear into a pair of heeled black boots. The whole outfit makes her look like she’s heading into a job interview, but I find the professional look sexy as hell.
Why is she here? This girl can’t be dying … can she?
A surprising surge of panic has me clenching my hands.
With a deep breath, I push the strange reaction away because it’s not rational. I’ve never spoken to her, so why should I care about her medical issues?
My imagination has too much free rein when I’m stuck in these uncomfortable situations. Like a coping mechanism, to avoid my own problems, I make up fake issues for other people that I can worry about. That has to be it.
I’m being ridiculous. I don’t know why she’s here, who she is, or even what her name is.
She hasn’t even looked at me.
And, like I yelled that thought across the room, my mystery girl glances up from her book, her gaze connecting with mine.
Why did we get here so early?
This is supposed to be a good day, but I’m still a jittery mess. I think it’s these sitting rooms. Maybe the chairs with their poor back support and lack of cushioning or the lighting, always fluorescent. But, really, I think it’s the smell. Brings back bad memories.
I’ve been stuck reading this same page for the last five minutes, trying to focus enough to get the words to stay in my brain.
It’s no use. I’m too excited. Too scared.
Will things finally work out this time?
I glance out the side of my eye to check on Marcus. He grumbled about me staring at him earlier, so now, I have to be covert.
As usual, he’s busy with his designs. Just last year, a prestigious architecture firm in NYC made him a decent job offer. So good in fact that he was willing to leave his beloved Philadelphia to relocate. I might have given him a shove or two, making sure he didn’t let a dream slip through his fingers. I miss him, but at least he’s just a train ride away.
When I’m sure he’s not freaking out, I refocus on my homework for digital marketing. Normally, I’m all about this subject. I carry half of the class participation on my own shoulders.
I still can’t concentrate.
But, this time, it’s not my worries throwing me off. There’s a weird pressure brushing against my skin. Like I’m being watched.
With that creepy thought itching over me, I put my finger on the sentence I last tried to read and tilt my head up to view the room.
Immediately, I lock eyes with a guy sitting against the opposite wall.
He’s staring at me, though he does jerk in surprise when I first look at him. But, instead of doing the usual thing where you dramatically glance around, putting on a show that says, Oh no, I wasn’t staring at you. You just happened to catch me as I was looking at everything in the room, the guy keeps on watching me.
I scan my clothes, looking for a giant stain or something else that would make me worth examining. But the crisp linen shirt I ironed this morning is spotless. When I brush my hand across my mouth, I don’t feel any stray crumbs. A quick finger-comb of my hair assures me that nothing is sticking out at a strange angle.
So, what’s this guy’s issue?
Flipping my eyes back to his side of the room, I find him still looking my way, only now he has a half-smile. Like he found my self-examination amusing.
Well, he’s not the only one here who can gawk at strangers.
I place my highlighter down, angle my body toward him, and set to staring.
Then, I make my list.
1. Strawberry-blond hair with a touch of a curl in slight disarray. Probably did that on purpose with styling products.
2. Wire-rimmed glasses sitting on a straight nose, making him look like a young professor. Bet they’re not even prescription.
3. Blue-checkered dress shirt, neatly tucked into corduroy slacks. Preppy much?
4. Can’t tell how tall he is, as he’s sitting down, but I bet he’s obnoxiously tall. Like break my neck to look him in the eye tall.
5. Holding a book. Okay, I guess that’s hot.
6. Overall, too attractive for his own good.
As I reach my conclusion, his half-smile morphs into a full-on smirk.
Now, I’m annoyed. I’m over here, worried about my brother’s health, trying to stay sane during this wait, unable to tell which of these older men is Benjamin Gerhard—the person I’m getting myself cut open for—and Mr. Handsome Face is practically laughing at me.
He wants something to laugh at? I’ll give him something to laugh at.
I start with a fierce glare made to wither even the strongest of men. Then, without warning, I cross my eyes and stick out my tongue like the grown woman I am.
There, that should teach him to stare at strangers.
When my eyes settle back into their proper direction, I’m satisfied to find his mouth has popped open in shock.
Situation handled, I go back to my textbook, prepared to lose myself in the technical writing.
But then the chuckling starts.
With the self-control of an Amazon warrior, I keep my eyes on my book, even as the stranger’s choked laughter fills the room. I comfort myself with the knowledge that everyone else here probably thinks he’s crazy.
“Making new friends?” Marcus’s murmured question has me glancing up at him. Now, he’s the one with a half-smile.
Did he see my immature exchange with the stranger?
He grins and crosses his eyes at me.
Yes. Yes, he did.
“He started it,” I mumble back.
The laughter dies off.
The silence is more tempting than the noise, and I can’t hold back the urge to check on Mr. Annoyingly Attractive. His smile is gone. Instead, he appears puzzled as he glances between my brother and me.
I don’t have time to wonder about him any longer because the door beside reception swings open.
A woman in watermelon-colored scrubs appears and reads off her clipboard. “We’re ready for the Gerhards and the Fosters now.”
As I stand, I scan the room, trying to get my first look at Mr. Gerhard. But the only person who stands up besides Marcus and me is Mr. Getting-on-My-Nerves Gorgeous.
“You?” I can’t hide my disbelief. I shake my head to clear it. Or to deny the truth.
He’s too young!
I just stuck my tongue out at him!
This can’t be right!
The guy looks just as confused as I am, gaze flitting between me and the woman sitting in the chair next to mine. I’m still convinced that he is joking and will sit back down. But then he says one word, and my fate is sealed.
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