By: Brenda Jackson

“No, but he was sentenced on a lesser charge.”

Kim could understand his frustration. As a nurse she had no tolerance for red tape. She’d seen people who needed to receive treatment denied the care because of administrative issues. That was one of the reasons she transferred to the emergency room. Less red tape. “More coffee?”

His question pulled her out of her thoughts and she smiled. “No, thanks, I’m good.” She stared at him for a moment. “You’ve told me the good and the bad, so what’s the ugly?”

Duan studied his nearly empty cup. Now that was an area he didn’t want to cover with her or anyone else. The ugliness in his life was his inability to forgive the person who’d given birth to him. God knew, he’d tried. And he’d gone so far as to search for her as a grown man of thirty, to let her know he’d forgiven her for what she’d done and to find closure for himself.

What he’d found instead was a woman who didn’t deserve his forgiveness. Or Terrence’s or Libby’s. And definitely not the forgiveness of the man who’d loved her.

“That’s a discussion for another day,” he said, getting off the bed and reaching for the coffeepot. He refilled his cup and glanced over at Kim. “So what about you? What’s the good, the bad and the ugly?”

She smiled. “That’s easy to answer and I prefer going from last to first.”

He tipped his cup at her. “Go ahead.”

“The ugly is my father, the wife beater and drunk. I always wanted to become a doctor and he knew it, especially since I was the one who had to heal the bruises Mom got at his hands. For years she worked extra hours to save money to make my dream come true, only for my father to take it out of their bank account when it was time for me to go to college.”

She paused a minute. “The bad is that I’ll probably never marry because most men see me as too strong-willed. I intimidate the doctors at the hospital, and when it comes to guys outside the hospital, they claim I’m too outspoken. People, mostly men, don’t understand me.”

Duan figured he must like strong-willed women because he definitely liked her. He would even say he liked outspoken women. And he certainly felt he understood her. She was a woman who didn’t mind going after what she wanted. Yesterday, last night and this morning, she had wanted him. He had no complaints.

“What’s the good?” he asked.

Her face brightened when she glanced over at the bottle of unopened champagne. “That,” she said, pointing to the ice bucket. “I have my own celebrating to do. That’s the good.”

“What are you celebrating?”

He could swear he saw her chest stick out with pride when she said, “My admission into med school. It took me long enough but I’m going to finally do it.”

“Congratulations. What school?” he asked, truly interested.

“University of California, San Francisco.” Excitement tinged her voice. “I applied to three others so there’s no telling where I might end up if I’m accepted by them, as well. But it doesn’t matter really. My dream’s finally coming true and I’ve waited a long time for it.”

She was thoughtful a moment. “I’m going to miss being a nurse. I’ve enjoyed it tremendously, but I feel I have so much more to offer as a doctor.”

A huge smile lit his face and he set his cup aside and went back to the bed. Reaching out, he took her hands in his. “I’m happy for you and this does call for a celebration,” he said, placing a kiss on her knuckles.

He released her hand and headed for the bucket of champagne. “I usually don’t indulge in a drink this early, but it’s for a very special occasion.” A few moments later he popped the cork and poured some of the bubbly into two flutes.

Kim realized he was genuinely happy for her and it wasn’t just a put-on. A conversation she’d once had with Olivia came back to her. His sister told her it had always been Duan’s dream to one day own his own P.I. company, but that after college he’d joined the Atlanta police force. However, he’d never lost sight of his dream and a few years ago had started his own P.I. firm.

As Kim watched him cross the room with their champagne, she figured he knew all about following one’s dreams. “Thanks,” she said, taking the glass he offered.

He smiled down at her and held up his own glass. “I propose a toast to the future Dr. Kimani Cannon.”

Kim couldn’t help but beam with both pride and excitement as she touched her glass to his and took a sip, enjoying the sparkling taste as it flowed down her throat.