Excerpt: Yours To Hold
Ribbon Ridge, Book 2
Kyle Archer wanted answers. The elevator chimed as it hit the third floor. He stepped into the corridor, his gaze finding the list of medical offices, and more specifically, the name he sought.
Psychology, Maggie Trent, PhD, 320
Following the arrow indicating the suite numbers, he turned left and strode down the hall with purpose. Suite 320 was on the right, about halfway down. Without pausing, he pushed open the door and took in the gurgling fountain in the corner, the instrumental music featuring what he thought was probably a lute and a sitar, and the muted lighting. He supposed it was meant to establish a calming environment, though none of it did anything to soothe the frustration that had taken root in his gut over the past week.
He went to the check-in window, which was closed. The glass slid open as he approached. A guy in his late twenties with brown, wavy hair and horn-rimmed glasses looked up at him. “May I help you?” he asked in a quiet, almost tranquilizing tone. His mouth relaxed into a pleasant, rather bland smile. He was probably trained to put people at ease, but he only set Kyle’s teeth further on edge.
Kyle forced a brittle smile. “Hello, I have an appointment with Dr. Trent. I’m Cal Drogo.” He tried not to smirk as he said the TV character name, but given the receptionist’s lack of reaction, it was apparent he’d neither watched Game of Thrones nor read the books.
“Yes, Mr. Drogo.” He glanced at his computer screen. “No insurance, is that right?”
The receptionist’s lips pursed. “The scheduler explained that you’ll receive a discount if you pay in full today?”
“She did. And I will.” Kyle whisked out his wallet and handed over a hundred bucks. The fifty-minute appointment was ninety dollars without insurance.
Horn-rims gave him change and handed him a form on a clipboard. “You’ll need to fill this out—front and back.”
Kyle didn’t touch the proffered item. “I explained that I didn’t want to complete any paperwork before I meet the psychologist. It’s part of my . . . paranoia.” He glanced away in an effort to convince Horn-rims that he might suffer from some sort of anxiety disorder. Kyle was a lot of things, but anxious or high-strung wasn’t one of them.
“I see. No problem.” Another patronizing smile to accompany his sugar-sweet tone. “Have a seat, and we’ll call you when it’s time. Feel free to help yourself to some herbal tea.” He indicated a minibar in the corner that surely lacked the accoutrements of a typical minibar. Bummer. Kyle could’ve used a stiff shot of something to get through the next hour. If this even took that long.
Kyle stowed his wallet in his back pocket and nodded. “Thanks, I’ll check it out.”
The tea station had no coffee and no tea with any caffeine. It did, however, have little bags of gluten-free crackers. How hypoallergenic.
“Cal Dr—” The feminine voice cut off. “Cal Drogo?” She sounded skeptical, and Kyle knew this one had gotten the joke.
He turned, smiling, then crossed the empty waiting room to where the young woman stood at an open door with a clipboard in her hand.
“Your name is seriously Cal Drogo? Like that massive guy on Game of Thrones?”
He’d needed a fake name, and it had been the first thing that had come to mind. Kyle, Cal, they sounded alike. Though he hadn’t spelled it the same as the character. That would’ve been a dead giveaway. He’d take the little bits of humor he could find in life. “Weird, right?”
She laughed. “Totally. You’re pretty tall, I’ll give you that, but nowhere near dark enough. You look like a surfer dude.”
“Guilty as charged.” At six-three, he was nearly as tall as the actor on the show, but where that guy was tall, dark, and scary looking, Kyle was blond, blue-green-eyed, and in possession of a smile that said I’m all about having a good time. So far that had served him pretty well.
They turned a corner, and he followed her to a door at the end. Next to it was a shiny placard that read Maggie Trent, PhD. Kyle’s gut tightened, and just like that, his brief bout with good humor evaporated.
The young woman who’d escorted him smiled warmly. “Go on in, Mr. Drogo.”
Kyle didn’t spare her another glance as he moved into Dr. Trent’s office. The door closed behind him as he stepped farther inside. Dr. Trent looked up from where she stood behind her desk. The smile curving her lips froze, and her eyes—dark like the TV show character whose name he’d borrowed—widened.
“Your name isn’t Cal Drogo.”
“What gave me away? I’m pretty sure your assistant, or whatever she is, doubted that was actually my name, but she went along with my joke. Why won’t you?” Normally, his tone would be light, teasing. He could scarcely carry on a conversation without injecting some sort of humor or sarcasm. But he wasn’t messing around with Maggie Trent, and so his words came out hard, clipped.
Her gaze turned wary. “I’ve seen your picture. You’re Kyle Archer.”
“Alex showed you pictures of us?” It bothered him to think his deceased brother had talked about them to a stranger, but then that’s what you do in therapy, right? Talk about your family? He wished he could ask Alex, but of course he couldn’t. Not now. Not ever.
She nodded stiffly. “Yes. This,” her voice squeaked, “this is highly inappropriate. I can’t talk to you.”
Kyle glanced around her cozy office. Besides her desk and the bookshelf behind it, there were windows, a leather couch, and a chair. He assumed the couch was for clients and the chair for her. He sat in the chair. “I figured you would say that. It’s why I made the appointment under a fake name and refused to give them any of my information.”
She scanned the paper on her desk and frowned. “You told them you were too paranoid to give that information over the phone.”
He leaned back and put his feet up on the leather ottoman. “Yep, I did.”
Straightening, she crossed her arms. She was more attractive than he’d envisioned. He’d pictured a middle-aged, dried-up hag with a pointy nose. Maybe with a little greenish tinge to her skin. He’d imagined a monster. How else would he see the woman who’d counseled his brother and failed to stop him from killing himself?
However, life was a cruel bitch, and Maggie Trent was quite pretty. She was about Kyle’s age—twenty-eight—but had little pleats between her eyebrows that gave the sense she worried too much. Maybe she had anxiety.
She blinked—her eyes were the color of Dad’s special recipe Christmas stout, dark and rich like bittersweet chocolate. A light freckle dotted her upper right cheek. He couldn’t get a good sense of her hair because it was wound up on her head, though it was also dark, and little springy curls grazed the back of her neck.
“If you’re done staring, you should go.”
“No, I don’t think so.” He cracked a lazy smile, which didn’t reflect the animosity roiling inside of him. “The going, I mean. I’m done staring.”
She exhaled loudly and dropped her hands to her sides. “I’m not doing this. I’m really sorry about Alex. So sorry.” Her voice broke, and she looked away toward the windows.
A pang of sorrow hit Kyle, and he hesitated. No, he was doing this for Alex.
That wasn’t necessarily true. He was doing it for the entire family.
Kyle didn’t want to prolong this interview, so he got right to the point. “How did my brother get the drugs he took?” He’d taken a mix of antidepressants, sleeping pills, and painkillers. A potentially lethal mix for anyone, but for someone with Alex’s chronic lung disease, it was absolutely deadly.
She looked at him sharply, her gaze shrouded with anguish and regret. “I don’t know.” Her words carried the weight of unshed tears. “I . . . I cared about him a great deal.”
He steeled himself against feeling sorry for her. “He was my brother. And he never should’ve been able to get his hands on drugs like that, not with his illness. He had to have obtained them illegally.”
She shook her head. “I can’t prescribe drugs. I’m not a medical doctor.”
“I know that.” He needed to move. He stood up and walked the length of the couch.
She backed up a step, even though her desk and several feet separated them. “Are you here to accuse me of something?”
“Like what, lethal incompetence? Yeah, I think you have to be a pretty shitty therapist if one of your clients killed himself. You have to live with that, though. I just want to know who contributed to my brother’s death. What they’re doing is illegal, and I’m going to put a stop to it.”
Moisture gave her eyes a luminous sheen. “It won’t bring him back.”
“It’ll make a lot of us feel better.” He moved forward again. “There’s a psychiatrist in this office. Did he give Alex the drugs?”
She shook her head, jostling the curls that grazed her neck. “No one would prescribe them to him—not with his condition. You’re right that he had to have obtained them illegally. But I don’t know how. He didn’t discuss—” She sank down onto her chair. “I can’t talk to you about this. It’s unethical.”
“Why? Are you telling me about his treatment? I haven’t asked what you talked about, though I’m sure we’d all like to know. You do realize his suicide shocked the hell out of all of us? My family is a mess. Our parents are barely speaking to each other.”
Her expression was pained, those lines between her eyes creased to full effect. “But you’re back home. That’s a good thing, right?”
Alex must have told her about him and that he’d moved to Florida almost four years ago. Like everyone else in his damn family, Alex believed he’d run away and had wanted him to come home. Kyle didn’t think Alex had killed himself to provoke that, though he couldn’t help but think it had made it onto his list of pros. As if Alex had sat down and made out a list of reasons to off himself and reasons to live. Even if he had, why hadn’t the latter been long enough?
Kyle’s chest tightened. “I don’t think that’s any of your business.” He had enough trouble dealing with his family members regarding his return. He didn’t need some shrink nosing in, too.
“You blame me,” she said softly, her hand rising to her chest, where it fluttered briefly before dropping to her lap once more. “I’d blame me too, I think.”
Damn, she was making it hard to be pissed at her. With those sad eyes and lips that were an inch from quivering—or so he imagined. He could also imagine kissing them. Now, that pissed him off.
He gritted his teeth. “So what are you going to do to make it right?”
She blinked at him and her eyes darkened, which he hadn’t thought possible. The emotion around her mouth shifted into something harder. “If you think anyone can make this right, you’re fooling yourself. Even if you find out how he got the drugs, it won’t bring him back. It won’t change the fact that he chose death over life.” Now her lip did quiver. Exhaling roughly, she looked away again.
“It’s the only thing I can do.” Kyle shoved his remorse aside. It sounded like she might blame herself, but so did he. Hell, every person in their family carried a hefty piece of guilt. If he’d been here, maybe he would’ve seen something to indicate his state of mind. His sister Sara, who had been here, insisted that wouldn’t have been possible.
“I don’t think that’s true. I think you honor Alex by coming back here, by rejoining your family.” She glanced at him nervously. “If that’s what you’re doing. I don’t mean to presume.”
“Keep your therapy to yourself. It didn’t help Alex, and I don’t want what you’re selling, doctor.” He set his hands on his hips, his forefingers dipping into the pockets of his jeans. “I want those drug dealers, whoever they are, to pay.”
She stood and crossed her arms across her chest again, as if they could provide some sort of defense against his anger. “I told you already that I can’t help you with that.”
“Did he talk to the psychiatrist here?”
She shook her head. “I didn’t even work here then. I had my own practice in Ribbon Ridge.”
“Which you conveniently shut down after Alex died.”
“There was nothing convenient about it,” she snapped. “I was devastated.” She flicked him an uneasy glance and edged closer to her desk. “I think you should go.”
“I’m not finished.”
Her gaze turned stoic. “I’ll call security if I have to.”
“Security? Do you feel threatened?”
She tightened her arms around herself. “I don’t feel comfortable.”
“Then welcome to our hell.” He pulled out the business card he’d stashed in his front pocket. He dropped the creased rectangle on her desk. The Archer logo with its A shaped into a bow and arrow stared up from the face. “Call me when you have information to share—and don’t tell me you don’t have anything. You talked to my brother—what, every week for nearly a year? I’m sure you’ll think of something that can help me.” He speared her with an icy glare. “It’s the least you can do.”
Her look of remorse did nothing to ease his frustration at walking away empty-handed, but he hoped she’d come around. She had to have something that could help him track down the person—or people—who’d provided Alex with the means to kill himself. If she didn’t . . . He refused to go down that path.
He turned and strode from her office, leaving the door ajar as he went. Her assistant was in the corridor. “Finished already?” she asked.
“For now,” he said darkly, not bothering to adjust his tone.