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Chapter One

ROMANCE

SUSPENSE

IMAGINATION

 

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Doctor Daddy 

Harlequin American
Men Made in America
September 2009
ISBN 978-0-373-75277-5

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Chapter One

 

          Only a few hours old, the infant scrunched her eyes and yawned, oblivious to the humming noises of the nursery and the rows of bassinets around her. With the tiniest of wriggling motions, she nestled into Dr. Jane McKay’s arms.

            Jane’s heart squeezed. She’d delivered three babies this morning, including this little angel. If only one of them were hers.

            She did have time to bear a baby of her own. Just not a lot of time, with her thirty-fifth birthday little more than a month away.

            After that, as Jane often informed patients, fertility rates declined sharply with every passing year, and the risk of pregnancy complications increased. Of course, modern medicine offered almost miraculous advances and some high-tech alternatives to the conventional route of man, marriage and motherhood.

            She still hoped, in her more optimistic moods, that she would find the right guy to have a family with. Sure, she met plenty of men, but no one she felt she could share her life and future with. So as the months and years ticked by, she’d been giving more and more thought to having a baby on her own.

            Scary, exciting thought.

            Jane returned her attention to the small, alert face with its rosebud mouth. How utterly innocent this baby girl looked, how warm and responsive and…

            Flirtatious?

            While she knew the infant’s unfocused eyes couldn’t see into the hallway beyond the observation window, Jane glanced curiously in that direction. On the far side of the glass, framed by the red hearts the North Orange County Medical Center staff had posted for Valentine’s Day, appeared a pair of broad shoulders and a head of perfectly styled golden-brown hair.

            She didn’t immediately recognize the man. But her body flushed instinctively, and out of the past popped a name.

            Oh, who was she kidding? No woman ever forgot Luke Van Dam. Not even Jane, and heaven knows, she’d tried.

            He stood half-turned away, talking to someone. For a weak moment, Jane enjoyed the sight of the sexiest man she’d ever met, while her memory filled in the details. A cleft that flashed in his left cheek at rare moments. Gray eyes that on closer inspection revealed rays of violet. A hard mouth that could soften into a heart-stopping smile.

            She hadn’t seen him since they’d been classmates and members of the same study group at UCLA’s medical school. The last she’d heard, he’d been practicing in Los Angeles, an hour’s drive from her home here in the town of Brea. Only an hour, but a different world.

            What was he doing here?

            When he shifted position, she glimpsed a slim brunette nurse absorbed in conversation with him. Judging by her rapt expression, Jane could see that the passage of time hadn’t diminished the spell Luke cast.

            Against Jane’s shoulder, the baby uttered a contented sigh. Oh, honestly. Her happiness couldn’t have anything to do with the great Dr. Van Dam, even if his classmates had teased him about being the ultimate babe magnet.

            Irked by her reaction to the man, Jane tucked the baby into a bassinet and checked on the other infants she’d delivered. Although their welfare was no longer her responsibility, she enjoyed this chance to observe the little people whose hearts she’d been listening to and whose tiny forms she’d been studying via ultrasound for so many months. Plus an extra pair of trained eyes never hurt. Only last week she’d spotted a developing case of jaundice so new even the nurse hadn’t yet noticed. Treatment with phototherapy had cleared it up.

            Nurturing women and their babies had been Jane’s dream from an early age. She wanted to be there for them, using her talent and training to improve their lives and, sometimes, even save them. And she was living that dream.

            In the anteroom, the clock read 3:15 p.m. Jane shed her protective clothing, washed her hands and went out. She’d had to postpone a couple of appointments due to today’s deliveries, but she’d still be able to keep her four o’clock and four-thirty. Jane hated inconveniencing patients.

            No sign of Luke in the hall. Perhaps he’d dropped by to see his younger cousin, Sean Sawyer, who was Jane’s medical partner. She’d almost forgotten the men were related. Both turned female heads wherever they went but, despite Sean’s good looks, he’d never quickened Jane’s pulse.

            Who could account for taste? Jane wished hers didn’t fall into line with that of so many other women. Luke had always held an almost magnetic attraction for nurses, fellow medical students and plenty of other women. And Jane.

            For their first three years as study partners, she’d been his friend, and in some ways, as they bolstered each other through medical school, she’d come to know him better than almost anyone.

            Then, one night when they took a break from hours of studying, she’d foolishly acted on her feelings. Big mistake. Not that Luke had behaved like a jerk, exactly. He’d made it clear he’d had a good time and wouldn’t mind a rematch.

            A rematch! Like an idiot, she’d been hoping he’d feel a lot more. Maybe even as much as she did. Upset with herself as much as with him, Jane had kept her distance.

            That was ten years ago. She only wished seeing him again hadn’t thrown her into a state of confusion.

            She exited the hospital via a side door and set out on foot for her office a block away. Along the walkway, calla lilies and pansies bloomed in the late-afternoon sunshine. Jane still relished Southern California’s splendid February weather even though she’d moved here over a decade ago from her hometown of Cincinnati, Ohio.

            A dental clinic and an optometry office flanked her medical suite, which she entered through a private door. In the changing room, she donned a fresh white coat and ran a brush through the shoulder-length light-brown hair that she’d been growing out for the past eight months.

            After checking with her nurse, Rosemary Tran, Jane approved several refill prescriptions. Rosemary also reported a couple of non-emergency calls from patients. Pregnant women craved reassurance, and, besides, an apparently minor symptom could indicate more serious problems best nipped in the bud.

            Jane returned both calls before her four o’clock patient arrived, an older woman recovering from a hysterectomy. Her situation called for extra time reviewing such issues as her sex drive, hot flashes and bone density. All seemed in order. 

            The four-thirty appointment cancelled, so the extended discussion didn’t inconvenience anyone. En route to her private office to dictate her notes, Jane spotted receptionist Edda Jonas, whose round, freckled face glowed even pinker than usual.   

            “Have you seen … oh, I wish they’d explain what … well, I guess they’re waiting for you,” Edda babbled.

            “Excuse me?” Jane tried in vain to sort out this burst of words.

            “They’re in Dr. Sawyer’s office. I didn’t think anybody could be better looking, but … well, he’s, he’s just ….” A deep breath barely saved Edda from a meltdown.

            No question who had inspired that burst of feminine enthusiasm. “I assume you’re referring to Dr. Van Dam.” 

            Edda nodded mutely.

            Clearly the man had taken her breath away. “I’d better go say hello.”

            “Is he … he’s not wearing a ring, but I wondered…”

            “I have no idea if he’s married.” She’d purposely avoided asking Sean anything about him.

            As the receptionist departed, Jane wondered if this visit had anything to do with the recent death of Sean’s great-aunt. Last week, he’d attended her funeral in Santa Barbara, north of LA. Perhaps the cousins had rekindled their friendship when they met at the funeral, but if so, why didn’t they get together on a weekend?

            She ducked into the restroom to apply lipstick. Silly to worry about such a thing, but she needed a moment to prepare for seeing Luke.

            She’d worked hard to recover from her misplaced attraction years ago, but her response at the hospital made it clear that she hadn’t entirely succeeded. Really, Jane told herself sternly, they’d both moved past that incident. There was no reason for any discomfort between them – or any primping on her part, either.

            Drawing herself to her full five-foot-seven-inch height – make that five-nine in pumps -- she proceeded down the hall. As she raised her hand to knock on Sean’s door, deep laughter drifted out. A tingle ran from the soles of her feet up to her earlobes. 

            Get over it, McKay.

            She rapped. A moment later,             the door swung open to reveal Sean’s welcoming smile. “Good! You’re here.” He ushered her inside. “You remember my cousin Luke?”

            Instantly, his heady masculine scent made her feel like a first-year med student, trying not to gawk at the gorgeous man who’d somehow joined her study group  His mere presence reshaped Sean’s office, recasting the angles and sharpening the colors. A hint of cragginess had replaced the smoothness of youth in his strong-boned face, yet she caught a startling flash of vulnerability in that violet gaze.

            He was almost irresistible. The key word being almost.

            Jane extended her hand, which he enfolded in his. “Of course I remember him,” she said briskly. “In fact, I saw you at the hospital, Luke. Sorry I didn’t get a chance to say hello.”

            “It’s a terrific facility.” He released her with a trace of reluctance. Chalk that up to his instinctive bedside manner. “The new birthing center is impressive.”

            “You sound as if you were evaluating it. Surely you’re not planning to practice here,” Jane commented more tartly than she’d intended. When he blinked, she realized her words might sound unfriendly. “I mean, our little med center can’t measure up to the facilities in LA.” He’d always been ambitious, and the last she’d heard, he’d been affiliated with a major teaching hospital.

            The men exchanged looks. Something was definitely afoot.

            “Actually, Luke’s doing me – doing us both – a favor,” Sean blurted. “Jane, I just found out that Aunt Mattie left money to discharge my student loans. I’ve been talking your ear off about working in an impoverished area. Well, I can finally afford to do that.”

            Jane struggled to absorb this turn of events. She’d long been aware of, and admired, Sean’s dream of going overseas to help poor women. But they’d both assumed it would be years before he paid off those bills.

            So his Aunt Mattie had left him a legacy. That was wonderful, both because he could now reach for his dream and because Jane understood the relief of climbing out from under crushing debt. She would always be grateful to her own mother for making sure that, after her death following a long illness, the insurance was enough to pay off Jane’s loans and provide a down payment on a house. Nothing could replace her mother, but Jane didn’t miss those sleepless nights worrying about her financial burden.

            Then the rest of her partner’s statement sank in. Luke’s doing me – doing us both – a favor. He planned to work here, with her?

            Good heavens. Not that she couldn’t deal with the situation. Jane had long ago left her coltish insecurities behind. But why on earth would Luke, who hungered for major research projects and challenging surgeries, want to move to a small town?

            The men stood watching her, obviously awaiting her reaction. “Congratulations,” she told Sean. “When do you think you’ll go?”

            “At the beginning of March.”

            That was two weeks away. “How’d you find a position so fast?”

            “I already planned to work at a mission in Central America for a few weeks this summer, remember?”

            “Well, sure.” He’d mentioned traveling with an international group that brought its own medical equipment and supplies.

             “After I learned of Aunt Mattie’s bequest, I called the mission see if they could use a doctor on a long-term basis.” Excitement tinged Sean’s voice. “It turns out they just got a grant to open a full-service clinic and they need a director, preferably an ob-gyn. Luke’s offered to fill in here for a year. Isn’t that fantastic?”

            “It sure is.” Finding a replacement of Luke’s caliber was a stroke of good fortune. “But how can you relocate on such short notice? And why would you want to?”

            “That’s my Jane,” Luke said fondly. “Blunt as ever. Glad to see you haven’t changed.”

            His Jane? She hadn’t imagined he ever thought of her that way. Or that he thought of her at all.

            You’re making too much of this, McKay.

            “That isn’t an answer,” she replied calmly. “What’s going on?

             “I’ve been looking to move to north Orange County for personal reasons.” Luke offered no further explanation.

            Personal … well, he had a right to his privacy. Jane, too, preferred to keep this relationship strictly professional. “You’re starting in two weeks?”

            “That’s the plan,” he said. “If it’s okay with you.”

             “No problem. Glad to have you on board.” No problem except that, against her will, her body vibrated with his nearness. Plus the fact that she’d felt uneasy around him ever since that night, even though he hadn’t seemed to notice. “Transitions can be hard on patients. Who’s going to notify them? Pam?” Pam Ortiz was Sean’s nurse.

            “I’ll phone them myself,” Sean promised. “We’ll make this as smooth as possible.”

            “I’m sorry you’re leaving, although it’s for such a good cause.” With complete sincerity, Jane added, “I’ll miss you.”

            Although they’d never socialized, they’d shared a vision for their practice and their community. When brush fires destroyed homes in nearby Yorba Linda and turned the Brea Community Center into a temporary shelter, the two of them had spent most of the weekend counseling evacuees and offering medical services. Fortunately, there’d been no fire-related injuries, but a couple of pregnant women had thanked them for the attention.

            When Sean gave her a hug, he felt solid and comforting. “It’s been great working together.”

            “You’re not kidding.” Realizing she hadn’t exactly welcomed Luke, Jane turned to him. “I’m sure we’ll make a fine team.”

            “I know I can count on you,” he told her. To Sean, he explained, “In med school, when the rest of us were freaking out about exams, she always kept us focused.” Late-afternoon sunlight softened the chiseled planes of his face and the slight crookedness of his nose. An old football injury, she recalled.

            “Jane’s not only one of the best doctors around, she’s also a font of wisdom on all sorts of subjects,” Sean remarked. “Did you realize she worked her way through college as a nanny?”

            “Before medical school,” Jane added in response to Luke’s puzzled expression. As a med student, she’d found hospital-related jobs.

            She’d never mentioned the nanny position because there’d been a subtle jockeying for status among the future doctors. Many had come from wealthy or professional families, and being the daughter of a truck driver had already put Jane at a disadvantage.

            Luke raised an eyebrow. “Sounds like a good way to learn about mothers and their needs.”

            “It was.”

            Sean went on praising his partner. “And she knows practically everything about Brea. She’s a great resource.” 

            “As a matter of fact” – Luke’s velvet gaze fixed on Jane – “I need to find a rental, and Sean’s apartment is a bit small. Any suggestions?”

            “You should talk to Oliver Armstrong at Archway Real Estate.” Oliver and his wife, Brooke, lived next door to Jane and had become close friends. “The last I heard, he was looking to rent a condo he owns about a mile from here.”

            The unit lay within walking distance of shops, cinemas and a comedy club. It ought to be perfect for a bachelor who entertained hot and cold running women. Make that hot, exclusively.

            Unless Luke was married. To her annoyance, she had to fight not to glance at his ring finger. But then, Edda had already mentioned he didn’t wear one.

            “Archway Real Estate,” he repeated. “I’ll get in touch.”

            They shook hands and Jane went to her office. Since it was after five, she dictated her notes quickly and departed.

            As she drove the short distance to her Harmony Circle neighborhood, her thoughts sparked against each other. Unbelievable. Luke the Duke, as the female med students used to call him, was going to be her partner.

            She intended to take the situation in stride. But right now, she wasn’t sure whether that meant walking sedately, loping for an exit or running for her life.

 

 ©2009 Jackie Diamond Hyman

Permission to reproduce text granted by Harlequin Books S.A. 


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