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Vivian ignored the knocking on her office door. Five more minutes and the report on her latest patient would be done.
She was bone-tired. It was the beginning of a cold February, and it had been a long Friday in the ER. Nothing major, but throughout the day, they’d had a steady stream of patients either with broken bones or mild ailments. As she’d quickly discovered in the year she’d been here at Marietta Medical, the local hospital, some patients, like Carol Bingley, the town gossip, would find ways into the ER merely to gather tidbits about other people’s lives. Others who would call for help were merely lonely and wanted someone to talk to.
She was here to help real patients. There simply wasn’t time for gossipers and hypochondriacs during their busy days. It was no secret Carol Bingley didn’t like Vivian, probably because she had refused to answer any of her very inquisitive questions.
The knocking resumed. Irritated, she got up and opened the door.
“Yes?” At this point she didn’t really care how rude she sounded.
However, the nurses at Marietta Medical, Vivian had discovered, were not intimidated by anyone. Nurse Jonathan was grinning, ignoring her sour tone.
“Sorry to bother you, Doctor Miller, but Janice O’Sullivan is in the ER with her godson. He’s visiting from Portland and has apparently hurt his foot. She insists you look at it.”
Her irritation forgotten when she heard the word ‘godson’, Vivian grabbed her statoscope. “Of course. Lead the way.” She’d always had a soft spot for children.
She hurried to the ER where a distraught Janice was waiting for her. Vivian and her sister, Annie, had met the vivacious older woman at the diner just after they’d arrived in Marietta about a year ago, and they’d quickly become friends. Janice was also a newcomer to the small town. She’d ‘only’ been living here for five years.
Dramatically dressed as always, this time in a red coat with a huge animal-print collar, Janice would never be the wallflower type. The moment she saw Vivian, she rushed forward and grabbed her hands, her eyes bright with tears.
“Vivian, oh, thank goodness, the poor boy is in such a state, I’m so glad you’re here. Aiden is visiting, and he’s sprained his ankle, poor thing. I’m so sorry to have to bother you, but could you have a look at it?”
Aiden had had enough. He’d been prodded and poked, had his temperature taken, his blood pressure tested, but he had yet to talk to a doctor to explain there was nothing wrong with him. He’d hurt his foot; he wasn’t having a heart attack.
It had been a fluke accident at the airport in Bozeman earlier today when he’d had a run-in with a trolley. He’d twisted his ankle, but as he’d told Aunt Janice, he was sure it was only strained, not sprained.
He swung his legs from the bed; he was getting out of here now.
“Vivian, oh, thank goodness,” he heard Aunt Janice’s voice, the Irish lilt very evident. “The poor boy is in such a state…”
With growing dismay, he listened to his aunt. What the hell? Was she crying? There was nothing to cry about, and she knew it. What was she going on about?
He’d only arrived in Marietta about an hour ago. He’d thought he and Aunt Janice were on their way to dinner and didn’t understand why they had to stop at the hospital.
Please let the doctor look at his foot; otherwise, she’d never sleep tonight, she’d pleaded. She’d looked so upset, he’d reluctantly agreed, but as she very well knew, he wasn’t in any kind of ‘state’.
“It’s okay, I’m here.” A new voice. Brisk, but soft, melodious.
The curtains opened, and a woman stepped inside—tall, willowy, honey-blond hair in a tight bun, no makeup, clear blue eyes. All of this registered in the millisecond she stared at him. Deep inside of him, something shifted.
He opened his mouth to tell her he was fine, but without saying a word, she stepped back, closing the curtain.
Urgent whispering ensued on the other side of the curtain. He couldn’t hear everything that was being said, but the doctor’s tone, even while whispering, wasn’t difficult to interpret. She was ticked off.
He caught a word here and there. “Godson… child… you said he was a boy… he’s a reporter? I don’t believe it…”
What the hell had Aunt Janice been thinking? He quickly got down from the bed and opened the curtains. “Aunt Janice—let’s go. I’m fine.” As he stepped on his left foot, he winced involuntarily.
“Get back on the bed,” Blue Eyes instructed. “Janice, could you wait in the waiting room, please? This won’t take long.”
His aunt studiously avoided looking at him. With a quivering lip, she dabbed her eyes before she walked away.
“Look, I’m fine. I don’t know what my aunt has told you, but there’s really no need—”
Her eyes narrowed again. “I’m tired and I’m hungry and in no mood for a big baby. On top of that I’ve just heard you’re a reporter. I don’t have much time for those. Get back on the bed.”
“I’m telling you, I’m—”
Before he’d finished his sentence, the doctor took hold of his one arm. “Please get on the bed,” she got out through clenched teeth.
Stunned, he turned to look at her. He swore he could hear electricity crackle around them when she’d touched him. A subtle, flowery scent wafted toward him. Silky skin, soft mouth. What would it taste like?
As if she could read his mind, she dropped his arm and stepped back quickly. “Nurse!” she called.
The curtain opened again, and a nurse joined them, her eyes twinkling. “So, what do we have here, Doctor Miller?”
At least the nurse was friendly.
He smiled at her. “Aiden O’Sullivan.”
“Oh, you’re one of Janice’s boys.” The nurse smiled. “She never stops talking about you and your cousin and sister.”
“Can we please focus on the matter at hand?” Doctor Miller was clearly fed up. She rolled up his jeans, hesitated for a millisecond before she reached down to put her hand on his foot.
This time the electricity literally crackled, and inhaling sharply, the doctor quickly pulled back her hand before she examined his foot again.
“Wow,” giggled the nurse. “Never seen vibes—”
“Please get some Tylenol and Advil gel for the gentleman,” the doctor interrupted. “And take him for X-rays. I think it’s only a strain, but the way he’s been carrying on would suggest he’s in a lot of pain.”
Before Aiden could utter another word, she’d left.
Cussing, Aiden got down from the bed.
The nurse tried to stop him, but he’d had enough of this place. “I’m getting out of here.”
“At least wait for the Tylenol,” the nurse called out.
He just waved and hobbled in the direction of the waiting room. He was seldom ill and couldn’t remember the last time he’d seen a doctor. Doctors were usually caring human beings, though, and even those who didn’t have good people skills at least tried to be civil and caring. But Doctor Miller clearly had no bedside manner, no people skills, and not a caring bone in her lovely body.
She was gorgeous, though. A pity she’d stopped being a human being.
His aunt wasn’t in the waiting room. Maybe she was waiting in the car. It was so cold, though. Hopefully, she’d have the heater running.
As he walked through the hospital doors, his phone rang. It was Craig, his cousin. He’d been ten when his parents had joined Doctors Without Borders and Craig had moved in with Aiden and Riley’s parents, more or less permanently. He’d always been more of a brother than a cousin.
Aiden was glad his cousin had finally called. He’d been trying to reach Craig since yesterday to tell him he was on his way to Marietta, but as usual, Craig had been in one meeting after the other.
“You rang?” This was Craig’s way of saying hello and asking how Aiden was. He didn’t use unnecessary words.
“I’m in Marietta,” Aiden said.
“Craig, you still there?”
“As in Marietta, Montana?”
“Yep. Aunt Janice has invited me.”
Craig barked out a laugh. “Don’t tell me she’s trying out her matchmaking skills on you again?”
Frowning, Aiden turned to look back at the hospital. Could it be… “Nah, this time I don’t think so.”
Their aunt had never married, but over the past few years, she’d doggedly tried to set up dates for him and Craig and Riley. It had become a family joke. When you were Irish, matchmaking was a skill you were born with, she would tell anyone who’d listen. She was going to help them find their soul mates, she’d vowed time and time again.
“So why does she want you to visit now? I can’t believe there’s anything to investigate in Marietta? Or is there a huge scandal I haven’t heard about?”
Aiden pressed his lips together before he spoke. “I have to find a damn feel-good story.”
“In Marietta, Montana?” Craig was clearly amused.
“There’s a Valentine’s ball coming up on the fourteenth…” Aiden began, but Craig was laughing so hard, Aiden didn’t even try to finish his sentence.
“Oh, man.” Craig chuckled. “Thanks, cuz. I needed a good laugh. But let me get this straight—my ace investigative reporter cousin is in Marietta, Montana in search of a feel-good story?”
“I don’t know what you’re laughing about; it’s not funny.”
“Does Riley know?”
“Yeah, I spoke to her yesterday. She actually picks up her phone when I call her.”
“She okay?” Craig’s voice changed.
“She will be, she said,” Aiden assured Craig quickly. His cousin worried way too much about him and Riley. “It’s much more difficult to work as a freelance fashion photographer, but fortunately, another big magazine has just asked her to do the shoot for their new spring collection.”
Ever since their dad had died while they were all still in school and then their mom had passed away a few years after that, Craig had taken on the responsibility of protecting his cousins. That he hadn’t been able to safeguard Riley from getting hurt when she’d been jilted at the altar was still something he was struggling to come to terms with.
“That’s wonderful news. I’ll drop by her place tonight. I haven’t seen her and your nephew this week; work has been crazy.”
“We should get together when I’m back.”
“What about Valentine’s Day? Or, no, wait—you have a ball to attend!”
Craig was still snickering when Aiden ended the call. He was never going to hear the end of this.
Aunt Janice’s car was approaching the building, and he hobbled forward as quickly as his ankle allowed him.
“She’s beautiful, isn’t she?” Aunt Janice smiled as they drove away from the hospital.
“Who…” The penny finally dropped. Groaning out loud, he rubbed his face. “Please don’t tell me you’re trying out your matchmaking skills again?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” his aunt said, looking hurt.
“You know exactly what I’m talking about. That doctor in there—yes, she’s gorgeous and sexy and…” Cussing softly, he swallowed all the other adjectives he’d been thinking about. “The point is, there is nothing really wrong with my foot. You wasted the doctor’s time all because you were trying to set me up with her!”
“Don’t be silly, dear, you’re not her type. I merely thought you should have your ankle looked at before the weekend. I was just wondering if you also think she’s beautiful. I wanted a male perspective, see? You’re right. I am trying out my matchmaking skills, but not for you. The lovely doctor is too much woman for you, I think. She’s intelligent, independent, and certainly doesn’t need a man to fight her battles for her. Not like the women you tend to date, at all.”
“What do you mean, the kind of women I date?”
“Well, for instance, the last one I saw you with—I can’t quite remember her name. Something foreign, if memory serves me right.”
“Natasha? We didn’t date. We had dinner when we ran into you.”
“That’s what I mean. You don’t date. You don’t get serious about a woman because you don’t want to commit. The lovely Doctor Vivian Miller needs a man who isn’t afraid to share his feelings and who is willing to settle down, get married, have a couple of kids and a dog. So, where shall we have dinner? Or do you prefer to put your foot up and we’ll order in? Rocco’s Italian Restaurant makes wonderful pizzas. How does that sound?”
Not afraid to share his feelings. Aunt Janice’s words ran through his head. Feelings were messy—they made what could have been simple, complicated. She was right—he wasn’t one to talk about feelings, and yes, the mere thought of settling down, raising a couple of kids freaked him out.
“Yes, let’s order pizza. It sounds perfect. My treat.”
“A new math teacher has started at the school, and I want to introduce him to Doctor Miller, so I’m thrilled you also think she’s gorgeous and… what else did you add? Oh, yes—sexy. He’s a great guy. Handsome and…” She winked. “Also sexy. They’ll make beautiful babies. A lovely match, I think.”
Later, back in the guest room of his aunt’s house, Aiden began pacing. He was unsettled and not sure why. Could it be the mention of the new math teacher his aunt wanted to introduce to the lovely doctor? But why would that bother him? Beautiful babies. A little girl with her momma’s clear blue eyes and blond hair…
What the hell? He never thought of babies—what was happening? Maybe the bump to his foot had also affected his brain. Swearing softly, he hobbled to the bathroom. It had been an eventful day, no wonder he was feeling restless. A good night’s sleep would hopefully put all the crazy thoughts to rest.
At ten o’clock, Vivian grabbed her medical bag and tiptoed toward the front door. She was never going to sleep if she didn’t know for sure her patient was okay. She was very close to the front door. Two more steps…
“Viv?” Annie called from the kitchen. “I’ve just made hot chocolate. Want some?” Her sister appeared in the doorway, holding a mug.
“I’m going out quickly.”
Annie cocked her head. “What’s going on? You’ve hardly spoken at dinner. You seem… rattled, not something that ever happens.”
Resigned, Vivian rubbed her face. Annie wasn’t going to stop asking questions until Vivian answered her. “Janice O’Sullivan was at the hospital today, insisting I have a look at her godson’s foot. I thought he was a little boy. Turns out he’s a grown man.”
After a stunned silence, Annie burst out laughing. “Ah, I think I understand what’s going on here. He’s attractive, I take it? That would explain your whole manner.”
Vivian gnashed her teeth. She didn’t need any reminders of exactly how handsome Janice’s godson was. With dark blond, longish, curly hair swept back, blue Chris Pine eyes, a hint of stubble around his mouth, broad shoulders, muscled legs, he was drop-dead, toe-curling gorgeous. Not that she’d ever tell Annie that. “That’s not the point,” she finally got out. “He’s a big baby and a reporter to boot, she’d told me. I don’t know what he’s done to hurt himself; his foot isn’t even swollen. Probably looking for a story and wasting my time.”
Annie’s eyes widened. “Shame, Viv—don’t tell me you didn’t help him?”
“I asked the nurse to take him for X-rays and give him Tylenol, but apparently he left without waiting for it.”
“I suppose you did that ice-queen thing you do.”
“What ice-queen thing?”
“You know what I’m talking about. So, where are you going now?”
Vivian sighed. “I’m taking some pills and gel to Janice to give to him.”
Annie’s mouth twitched.
“It’s not funny!” Vivian turned around and stormed out of the house.
She dearly loved her sister and brother, but ever since they’d arrived in Marietta about a year ago, the three of them had moved into the house Annie had bought. The idea had been they would stay with Annie while the house was being renovated and turned into a B and B. She didn’t have a problem living with her siblings if only Annie would stop pestering her to date. Frankly, getting out of the freezing cold and cuddling up with a book in bed was infinitely more interesting, stimulating, and far less boring than dressing up after a long day at work, getting out in the cold again, just to listen to another man rambling about his misfortunes.
She was doing this for Janice, not the godson. The fact that he was ridiculously attractive had absolutely nothing to do with it.
End of Excerpt