Chapter 1: With Open Arms
Cooper stepped directly into the crossfire. His intentions had been innocent enough; he'd come down to Pacific Wellcare with the hope of whisking Charlotte away for a romantic dinner. But as he approached her office, he was surprised to hear voices raised in argument. The door was closed so Cooper couldn't make out exactly what was being said, but his protective instinct kicked in when a booming male voice shouted Charlotte down. Before he knew what he was doing, Cooper had pushed open the door and stepped inside.
Charlotte was holding her ground, toe-to-toe and nose-to-nose, with an imposing man twice her size. Cooper physically recoiled when she whipped around, ready to pounce on whichever minion had dared to enter her office without knocking. Her expression softened when she saw him but her tone was still sharp, "This isn't the time, Cooper."
Cooper opened his mouth to apologize, to excuse himself, and slink away. But then, he did a double-take and recognized the mystery man as one of Charlotte's brothers. At the moment, neither looked very friendly but Cooper risked their wrath by taking a step forward and extending his hand. "You probably don't remember me." He offered a friendly smile. "I was at your house a couple of months ago." Cooper avoided mentioning their father's recent passing. "Landry, right?"
Landry King looked him over, then nodded. "Yeah. I remember you." They exchanged a polite handshake but the pleasantries stopped there. "No offense, but we're in the middle of something here-"
"Actually, we were just finished," Charlotte snapped.
Landry bristled and his jaw clenched. He looked ready to light into his sister again, so Cooper jumped in and tried to redirect the conversation, "So, Landry, what brings you out west?"
Landry glared at his sister, but answered the question, "I'm in town for business."
Charlotte was shooting daggers, clearly annoyed that Cooper had engaged the enemy, but that didn't stop him from making polite conversation with said enemy. "Oh, really? What kind of business are you in?"
"I own and operate a horse farm in Kentucky." Landry's combativeness faded and he turned almost friendly as he offered up, "We train thoroughbreds for local and national competitions."
"Wow." Cooper didn't know anything about horses except that they had played a big part in Charlotte's upbringing. Her father, Big Daddy, had owned a horse business so it made sense that Landry, the oldest child, would follow in his father's footsteps. "That sounds amazing-"
Landry interrupted, "You ride?"
Charlotte scoffed, "Please."
Cooper looked at his girlfriend, pride wounded, and asked, "What's that supposed to mean?" She gave him a judgmental arched-eyebrow look until he finally huffed, "I could ride if I wanted to."
"You couldn't handle a carousel." Charlotte's rebuke came off a little harsh and left Cooper bristling. He was tempted to shoot back, 'I can handle you' but blatant sexual innuendo in the presence of an older brother just screamed, 'please beat the hell out of me'.
Fortunately, Landry spoke up and promised, "You ever make it down to Kentucky and we'll teach you how to ride."
Cooper grinned. "That would be awesome." He made a point of ignoring Charlotte's cloudy expression and focused on making a friend out of his potential brother-in-law. "So, how long are you going to be in town?"
"Just a few more hours, I'm afraid." Landry motioned to a black duffel bag that had previously gone unnoticed. "The hotels in LA are all booked up, so I'm staying in Ventura."
Cooper groaned as he remembered, "Oh, there's a big Lakers playoff game tomorrow."
Landry shrugged and said, "I'll just rent a car and commute to my meetings here in LA."
Cooper was indignant. "That's an hours drive each way."
Landry shrugged again. "A necessary evil of big city living, I suppose-"
"No, no." Cooper looked at Charlotte, hoping to generate a little compassion. "That's ridiculous. You'll spend your whole visit stuck in traffic."
Charlotte was unmoved. "Highway 101 is a straight shot."
Cooper couldn't understand Charlotte's indifference. He tried to convey his disappointment in a look but she didn't seem to care. Finally, Cooper just threw up his hands and took it upon himself to play the good host. "Commuting like that is ridiculous." He paused to give Charlotte one last chance to do the right thing but all she did was glare at him. "Charlotte has an empty guest room. You should just stay with her and save yourself the money and the grief." Charlotte opened her mouth to object, but Cooper cut her off, "I'd love to get to know you better. Maybe hear some embarrassing stories about your sister when she was a little girl."
Landry hedged, "I don't wanna impose-"
"It's no imposition," Cooper insisted. "Honest."
"Well, alright." Landry shot his sister a boastful smile. "I sure do appreciate it."
Cooper felt Charlotte's tiny hand wrap around his wrist, her trimmed fingernails digging into his skin. "A moment, please?" The angry glint in her eyes warned him to shut up and comply. He was already in big trouble and defiance would just make his punishment more severe.
Cooper winced. Her nails were probably drawing blood but he managed to offer Landry a weak smile. "Give us a quick minute." He followed Charlotte out into the hallway, tripping over himself as she dragged him by the wrist. She yanked him into the break room, glared at her workers and barked, "Out." Sheldon and another doctor looked at each other, grabbed the contents of their lunch, and scattered like rats. When the door closed, Charlotte finally released his wrist and demanded, "What the hell do you think you're doing?"
Cooper didn't understand what he'd done wrong, but he still felt compelled to defend himself. "I'm just being friendly-"
"Landry isn't your friend and he certainly isn't your family!"
Cooper was hurt by her tone and her words, and he let it show. "I'm sorry." He hung his head and admitted, "I just want your family to like me."
She looked taken aback. "Like you?" She frowned. "What's that got to do with anything?"
"I'm in love with you, Charlotte." Cooper could see that his earnest declaration caught her off guard, so he decided to press his luck, "I want to introduce you to my parents, my aunts and uncles, my cousins-" He stopped to impress upon her, "I want you to feel welcome in my family, and I want to feel welcome in yours."
Charlotte fell silent, her pale green eyes clouded with an emotion that Cooper couldn't quite identify. She looked away, the fringe of her bangs falling across her face, and then somewhat abruptly said, "I'm late for a staff meeting at St. Ambrose." When she looked back up at him, her walls were firmly in place and her tone was all business. "I can't have Landry underfoot at the hospital."
Cooper had trouble reconciling her sudden submissiveness, but felt compelled to volunteer his services, "He can stay with me up on the fifth floor."
Charlotte hesitated, but ultimately nodded her consent. "Fine."
It wasn't a ringing endorsement, but it made Cooper smile. The fact that she was willing to trust him with her brother, with her family, meant a lot to him. He stepped toward her, until their bodies were touching, and kissed her on the cheek. "What time will you be home?"
She shrugged and looked away. "Late."
"Alright." He brushed her hair out of her face. "Landry and I will go ahead and get dinner without you." He tried to coax a smile out of her. "I'll wait up for you." Cooper leaned down for a kiss but Charlotte slipped past him and out the door. He sighed, exhausted by her strange and off-putting behavior. Then, he remembered Landry, and walked out of the break room to find Charlotte's brother waiting for him in the hallway.
Landry was smirking at him. "She giving you hell?"
Cooper felt duty-bound to explain away Charlotte's bad manners. "She's under a lot of pressure. She works two incredibly important high-stress jobs-"
Landry waved his hand. "That's neither here nor there." He appeared not bothered in the least. "That's just Charlotte."
Cooper didn't know how to respond to that, so he changed the subject and said, "I have some paperwork to finish up, but afterwards, we can get some dinner. How does that sound?"
Landry shrugged. "Whatever works for you." He followed Cooper onto the elevator, making polite chitchat as they rode up to the fifth floor. The small, tastefully-decorated lobby was full of patients. Cooper had planned on depositing Landry inside the break room but as he neared closer, he saw that Sam and Naomi had closed the door and were currently engrossed in a rather loud argument.
"Actually, lets go in here." Cooper changed course and steered Landry into a dark office. He flipped on the lights and opened the blinds to let in a little sunlight. "Go ahead and take a seat. I should be finished in about twenty minutes."
Landry helped himself to a seat on the sofa. He set his duffel bag down by his feet and said, "No problem. Don't rush on my account." Cooper gave a nod and a smile, then left the office to finish up his work.
Landry looked around the office. The little knickknacks and personal touches told him that this was, without a doubt, a woman's office. It smelled like perfume and of course, no self-respecting man would hang pictures of rosy-cheeked newborns on their walls. A toy model caught his eye because it was certainly no toy he'd ever played with as a child; a full-scale model of a uterus.
Landry sneered at the model and turned away. "Damned California hippies," he muttered, fishing his phone out his jacket pocket. After returning some missed calls and checking his e-mail, Landry's bored gaze wandered around the office and landed back on the model.
Lost in his thoughts, he startled when a crystalline female voice asked, "Are you staring at my uterus?"
Landry turned to see a tall, striking redhead standing in the doorway. He looked her over, smiled the most charming smile, and replied, "I'm sure you're used to people staring."
Addison flushed at the unexpected compliment but managed to maintain her professionalism. Stepping inside her office, she extended her hand and introduced herself, "Doctor Addison Montgomery."
"Addison Montgomery," he repeated, his thick southern accent teasing her last name into four, drawn-out syllables. "Pleasure to meet you."
They shared a lingering handshake, prompting Addison to fluster and say, "I'm sorry. Are you a patient here?"
"No, I'm afraid not." Remembering his manners, he finally introduced himself, "I'm Landry King-"
Addison's smile faltered. "King?" The last name was common, but the strangers' fair features and thick southern accent suggested it was more than a coincidence. Addison feared she already knew the answer, but she had to ask, "Are you, by some chance, related to Charlotte King?"
"Her older brother." Landry plainly saw Addison's displeasure at the revelation, so he tried to backtrack, "My relationship with my sister is complicated." He gave a wry smile. "Family is complicated."
Addison thought about her own family -- the Captain, Bizzy, Archer -- and muttered, "Tell me about it." They shared a soft, brief smile, and Addison decided it would be unfair to dismiss Landry completely. His proximity to Charlotte King on the family tree didn't have to mean that they had anything more in common than beautiful green eyes. In a split second decision, Addison set aside her preconceived notions to inquire, "Are you going to be in town for long?"
"A couple of days." Landry paused for a beat, then artfully dangled the carrot in front of her nose, "I'd stay longer if I had someone to show me around town. Get the tour from a real native."
Addison wasn't naive. She knew what he was proposing but decided to play coy. "I'm not a native. I'm from Connecticut."
"Even better. We'll be two tourists getting lost in the big city."
Landry was an attractive and articulate man, successful by the look of him and according to his left ring finger, legally and morally free for the taking. Addison had no intention of turning him down. "Well, Los Angeles can be a pretty confusing place." She perched on the edge of her desk, crossed her long legs, and offered up an enticing smile. "You'd be lost without me."
Landry chuckled. "Don't I know it." He reached into his wallet and pulled out his business card. Despite his old-fashioned manners, he got straight to the point, "I'd like to take you to dinner tomorrow night."
Addison smiled a big, happy smile as she pocketed his business card. "I'd like that." She added, "My day usually ends around six. I can meet you somewhere-"
Landry graciously interrupted her, "I'd like to pick you up."
The request was a surprise, but a pleasant one that she just attributed to his southern upbringing. "Alright." She turned and fumbled with the papers on her desk, but managed to scribble her address onto a scrap of paper. "The winding beach roads are hard to navigate, especially if you're not familiar with them-"
Landry didn't seem concerned. "I'll find it." He pocketed the address and inquired, "Will you be ready by seven thirty?"
"Seven thirty," she agreed, giving a little nod.
Out of the corner of her eye, Addison saw Cooper cut across the lobby as he approached her office. He didn't bother to knock. He just popped his head through the doorway and said, "Hey, Addison. I guess you've met Charlotte's brother." He gave a conciliatory smile. "Sorry about leaving him in your office-"
"No, it's fine," Addison spoke up, stealing a glance at Landry. "No problem at all."
Cooper was socially awkward but that didn't mean he was completely oblivious. Even he could see that he had interrupted something. He opened his mouth to excuse himself but Landry was quicker on the draw, "It was a pleasure to meet you, Dr. Montgomery." He extended his hand to Addison. "And I look forward to tomorrow night."
Cooper grinned. "Tomorrow night? What's happening tomorrow night?" He looked at the two single, consenting adults and prayed he'd misread the situation. "Guys?" he prompted.
Addison decided against an outright lie. Instead, she settled on a skillful omission, "I'm showing Landry around Los Angeles."
"Oh." Cooper didn't quite believe it, but he wasn't going to challenge them. "That's neat."
"It certainly is," Landry agreed. He reached down and shouldered his duffel bag. He looked to Cooper and asked, "So, you ready to grab some dinner?"
"Yeah." Cooper nodded. "Paperwork is all finished." Landry was already moving toward the door, so Cooper had no choice but to follow him.
As they waited for the elevator, Landry mused aloud, "You know, I think I'm gonna like LA after all."
A/N: I've worked really hard on this story, so reviews are much appreciated!