Saturday, June 2, 2012

EXCERPT: Where Nerves End (Tucker Springs, book 1)

Title: Where Nerves End (Tucker Springs, Book #1)
Author: L. A. Witt
Publisher: Amber Allure
Format(s): ebook, paperback

Welcome to Tucker Springs, Colorado: Population, 70-something-thousand. Home to beautiful mountain views, two respected universities, and a ridiculously high cost of living.
 Jason 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.
 Michael 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.
 Living 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 clinic.

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 it.

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, fucking expensive.

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.


Drug addiction.

Vision problems.


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:

Chronic pain.

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 my head.

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 pain.

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, Jason.

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.

Apparently that 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 me too.

“Follow me.”

Don’t mind if I do…

1 comment:

  1. Very tempting. Onto the wish list it goes! :)