Title: Where Nerves End (Tucker Springs, Book #1)
Author: L. A. Witt
Publisher: Amber Allure
Format(s): ebook, paperback
to Tucker Springs, Colorado: Population, 70-something-thousand. Home to
beautiful mountain views, two respected universities, and a
ridiculously high cost of living.
Davis can handle a breakup. And an overwhelming mortgage. And a
struggling business. And the excruciating pain that keeps him up at
night thanks to a shoulder injury. Handling all of it at once? Not so
much. When his shoulder finally pushes him to a breaking point, he takes
a friend’s advice and gives acupuncture a try.
Whitman is a single dad struggling to make ends meet. When a mutual
friend refers a patient, and that patient suggests a roommate
arrangement to alleviate their respective financial strains, Michael
jumps at the opportunity.
together would be easy if Jason wasn’t so damned attracted to Michael.
Good thing Michael’s straight, or the temptation might just be too much.
Well, their mutual friend says Michael is straight…
I made the call on Monday morning, and on Tuesday, I
followed the receptionist’s directions across town to a shopping center a
couple of blocks from the freeway. Nothing screamed credibility for a medical
professional like setting up shop in a strip mall, but I also knew just how
difficult it was to find a place with a reasonably affordable lease and some
actual visibility. That was why my nightclub lived in an old converted warehouse
on the not-quite-as-nicely-kept side of the Light District. Glass houses,
throwing stones, etc.
Still sitting in my car, I took a deep breath and stared at
The sign over the windowed storefront read Tucker Springs Acupuncture between a
black and white yin yang and another symbol I didn’t recognize. Seth had been
after me for two years to do this, and middle of the night desperation had
finally convinced me, but now, I wasn’t so sure.
I was here, though. I’d made the call, made the appointment,
and had the cash in my wallet in spite of the fact that I could not afford this. What did I have to
lose? It wasn’t like that shit was dangerous or anything. I couldn’t imagine
there were too many side effects, and I didn’t see myself getting addicted to
I just stared at the letters and the yin yang and the tinted
windows below them, silently demanding they justify themselves. Offer proof.
Offer some reason for me to believe it would be worth it to walk through that
shining glass door.
Whenever my mom tried to sell me on acupuncture—and she had
since the day I’d fucked up my shoulder—I’d just brushed it off as another
miracle cure she’d taken at face value. My mom had chronic pain too, and gladly
put her faith in anything that held even the slightest promise of relief,
whereas I regarded every potential treatment as not only snake oil, but the
snake itself. At best, quackery. At worst, dangerous. And no matter what,
Seth? Not so much. My mom wasn’t stupid by any means, but
Seth was one of those people who refused to buy into anything until he’d
exhausted every reason to avoid it. For that matter, the man had a
“Professional Skeptic” bumper sticker on his truck, and one of his tattoos was
some symbol that apparently identified him as an atheist. He demanded empirical
proof for everything, and I do mean everything. If it didn’t have at least a
dozen peer-reviewed studies published, it was bullshit in his eyes. To say the
least, Seth wasn’t the type to buy into snake oils and homeopathic nonsense.
What did I have to lose? Money, mostly. That wasn’t
something I could throw around frivolously right now, not with words like
“foreclosure” and “bankruptcy” looming in my near future. But at the same time,
if it meant pain relief, and thus fewer refills for my expensive and
never-ending painkiller prescription…
I still wasn’t completely buying it. I still didn’t believe
there was anything a couple of needles could do for an injury like mine unless
those needles were being used to inject something.
But after the last couple of nights, I was desperate.
So what the hell? I’d give it a try.
I got out of the car and started toward the clinic. I
stopped on the sidewalk to read the sign in the window beside the door. It
echoed the name and yin yang overhead, and in smaller font, listed various
ailments that the acupuncturist claimed to treat.
On and on and on. God, this smacked of a snake oil salesman.
One tincture to treat every ailment under
the sun! A miracle cure! Hallelujah! That’ll be $79.99 please, cash, check,
charge, or firstborn.
But I hadn’t slept last night. My shoulder still throbbed
relentlessly, and my head was still light from lack of sleep and the second
dose of painkillers I’d taken at six-fifteen.
Maybe I was desperate, maybe I was as gullible as the next
person, but in spite of my skepticism, two words on that lengthy list drew me
through the door:
The clinic smelled oddly…herbal. Something pungent, vaguely
familiar, and slightly burned. Just strong enough I couldn’t ignore it, not
powerful enough to be nauseating. And I could have been mistaken, but I swore I
smelled one particular herb that I was pretty sure wasn’t legal without a
government-issued license and a compelling reason.
The waiting area itself wasn’t all that different from what
I’d expect in a doctor’s office, though it somehow lacked the sparse, sterile
appearance. Framed prints of tranquil landscapes lined the dark green-painted
wall between two mahogany bookcases. Beneath a small table, a plastic milk
crate tucked beneath the table held brightly colored plastic toys, and a few
well-worn magazines leaned on each other inside a metal magazine rack. Between
a Buddha statue and a fan of books on Chinese medicine was a trickling fountain
in a clay bowl. Water ran over pebbles and fake jade, and a tree that resembled
a Bonsai tree stood on top.
“You must be Mr. Davis,” a voice sing-songed, and I turned
He was a cute kid, probably a college student. Square-rimmed
hipster glasses, stylishly messed up hair with highlighted tips, and just a little flamboyant. I wondered if he was
part of the reason Seth came over here on a regular basis. This kid was a
hundred percent his type, right down to the tan that did not happen naturally
in Colorado this time of year.
“Yes,” I said. “I’m Jason Davis.”
He smiled. “Right on time. Dr. Whitman just needs you to
fill this out as best you can,” he said, handing me a pen and clipboard. “And
just be blunt and honest, because…” He waved a hand and sighed dramatically.
“He’ll get the answer out of you one way or another, so you might as well not
try to hide anything.”
I laughed. “Is that right?”
“Trust me.” The kid had a mischievous sparkle in his eye.
“He’s one of those people; you might as well just tell him what he wants to
know. He’s kind of like the CIA, minus the car batteries and waterboarding.”
“Good to know.”
I took the form and clipboard to the waiting area, and sat
beside the table with the books and fountain.
The form was about what I’d expect from anyone else. The
usual crap about injuries and ailments. And of course, Are you currently taking any medications, including over the counter?
I chewed the inside of my cheek, tapping the pen on the
form. I’d heard holistic practitioners frowned on modern medicine. Something
about poisonous chemicals and evil pharmaceutical companies or some crap like
that. Whatever. The last thing I needed to hear was a lecture about why I
shouldn’t be taking the pills that sometimes meant the difference between one
hour of sleep and three.
He’s one of those
people; you might as well just tell him what he wants to know, the
receptionist’s voice echoed in my head. He’s
kind of like the CIA, minus the car batteries and waterboarding.
I sighed and wrote “OTC anti-inflammatories +
doctor-prescribed Percocet for pain.” The man would probably have heart failure
when he found out I was sucking down pain pills instead of meditating or
drinking purified water blessed by a unicorn. Oh well.
After I’d filled everything out, I handed the form back to
the receptionist, then returned to my seat. While I waited to be called back, I
fixed my gaze on the trickling fountain. The fact that I was here at all bugged
the hell out of me. There was a heavy sense of hopelessness in the realization
that everything had come down to this. That I was desperate enough to try
anything that had the slightest promise—mythical or otherwise—of relieving my
What if it didn’t help? What if nothing did? After five
years, I was at my wit’s end, but what would happen in ten, twenty, fifty years
if I couldn’t find some sort of long-term—even short-term—relief?
“Jason?” The receptionist’s voice brought me out of my
thoughts. He raised his chin so he could see over the high desk. “Dr. Whitman’s
still with another patient, but he should be out in a few minutes.”
I forced a smile. “No problem.”
My stomach fluttered with nerves. As if I didn’t have enough
to think about, it occurred to me that I hadn’t asked Seth about this guy.
They’d been good friends for a long time, which said a lot since Seth didn’t
trust anyone any farther than he could throw them.
But I was curious. What kind of guy went into acupuncture,
anyway? I could only imagine the banter between these two. Seth the hardcore
prove-it-or-it-didn’t-happen atheist versus “Dr.” Whitman the acupuncturist. Of
course, the guy had persuaded Seth to get this kind of treatment. That more
than anything made me raise my guard. What was I dealing with here? A guy who
could sell used cars and snake oil? Or a New Age, hippie type who bought into
this as much as his clients did?
Give him a chance,
I closed my eyes and released a breath. I would give him a
chance. After the other night’s excruciating episode, I’d believe in unicorns
if someone told me it would help. Well, not really. I was desperate, but I knew
that was when I was most vulnerable to a convincing sales pitch. The proof had
damn well better be in the pudding, or I wasn’t buying.
Down the hall, a door opened. As footsteps and a male voice
approached, I turned my head. An elderly woman appeared first, and when the
source of the male voice came into view, I almost choked on my breath.
was the kind of guy who went into acupuncture. Holy. Fuck.
I couldn’t say if I was expecting dreadlocks and hemp or
glasses and a lab coat, but what I wasn’t expecting was six-foot-plus of oh my God with a heaping dose of please tell me you’re single. He looked
like he’d just stepped out of a laidback business meeting: pressed slacks, a
plain white shirt with the first button casually left open and the sleeves
rolled to his elbows. His hair was almost black, and short but not severely so.
Short enough to be neat and professional, long enough it just started to curl. Long enough for a man to get a grip on if—
Jesus, Jason. You get a grip.
A thin string of twisted brown leather hung around his neck
and disappeared down the V of his shirt, and he had a beaded hemp bracelet on
his left wrist, so he wasn’t entirely without the signs of his “hippie
lifestyle” as my brother—and Seth, whether he admitted it or not in this
case—would call it.
While the acupuncturist and his patient exchanged a few
words, I just stared. Goddamn, he was hot. He’d taken that old cliché “tall,
dark, and handsome” and made it his little bitch. Dark-haired, dark-eyed, tall
enough I’d have to look up at him, and he had a perma-smirk that hinted at
something dark and devious hiding inside that mind of his. And handsome? Good
God, yes. The perfect amount of ruggedness roughened his edges, tempering his
borderline pretty boy look like an invisible black leather jacket and
sunglasses. If the receptionist was Seth’s type, Michael was undeniably mine.
And then he looked right at me. “Mr. Davis?”
I cleared my throat and stood. “Jason.”
He extended his hand. “I’m Dr. Whitman, but most people just
call me Michael.”
“All right,” I said. “I guess I’ll call you Michael.”
He smiled, which crinkled the corners of his eyes just right
to draw my eyes right to his, and suddenly nothing was on my brain except and I thought I was a sucker for blue eyes. Apparently brown ones did it for
Don’t mind if I do…