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His long awaited bride, p.1

His Long-Awaited Bride, page 1

 

His Long-Awaited Bride
 


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His Long-Awaited Bride


  Even if Justin remained friends with Marissa, he’d be the third wheel, the odd man out, the one who would go home alone while the other two would have each other.

  He wanted to be the one to enjoy Marissa’s long legs wrapped around him, to see her shining smile, to soothe her hurts and listen to her confidences.

  He was right for her.

  As he covertly studied her face, Justin thought of a dozen reasons why he should mind his own business, and only one reason why he shouldn’t. By virtue of the lopsided ratio, logic overruled his wish to interfere. But suddenly it didn’t matter if he had only one or a hundred justifiable motives to meddle. His single excuse overshadowed all others.

  He wanted Marissa for himself.

  Dear Reader,

  Welcome back to Hope City!

  Have you ever been in a situation where you’ve taken things for granted, and didn’t truly realize or appreciate what you had until it was gone? In my fourth story of this series, Justin St. James finds himself in the situation I’ve described. And once he makes that realization, he must find a way to win the heart of the woman he loves before it’s too late.

  Naturally, Marissa doesn’t make life easy for him. After all, she’s been under his nose for years and he hasn’t noticed her, but she can’t deny Justin’s persistence as he struggles to convince her that she’s His Long-Awaited Bride.

  So, grab yourself a cup of hot apple cider to celebrate the arrival of autumn, find a comfy chair and enjoy Justin and Marissa’s story!

  Warmest wishes,

  Jessica Matthews

  HIS LONG-AWAITED BRIDE

  Jessica Matthews

  To Maggie, Sue, and Pam.

  You gave me more support than you’ll ever know

  during a trying time in my life.

  You’re three in a million!

  CONTENTS

  CHAPTER ONE

  CHAPTER TWO

  CHAPTER THREE

  CHAPTER FOUR

  CHAPTER FIVE

  CHAPTER SIX

  CHAPTER SEVEN

  CHAPTER EIGHT

  CHAPTER NINE

  CHAPTER TEN

  CHAPTER ONE

  SHE had to hide the evidence.

  Marissa Benson stared at the bouquets lining the counter of Hope City Hospital’s intensive care unit, hardly able to believe that her perfectly normal morning had become the opposite in the space of a few minutes. While the unexpected was only to be expected in any hospital, she had never dreamed that one minute she would be snowed under with doctors orders and the next she would be standing up to her earlobes in flower petals.

  “You must have had some date last night,” fellow nurse Kristi Thomas teased with a glint in her eyes. “I’ve never gone out with anyone who sent flowers the next day.”

  “We had a nice time,” Marissa said primly. Although she and Kristi were both single and often compared notes on their dating experiences, the details of her evening were still too special to share, even with someone as close as Kristi.

  Kristi leaned over to sniff a carnation. “Come on, lady. ’Fess up. Where did you find this guy?”

  Marissa grinned. “At the health spa. He took the treadmill next to mine.”

  Kristi grimaced. “Ouch. Exercise. Still…” Her tone grew thoughtful. “If working out yields results like this, I may have to reconsider. Does he have a footloose brother or cousin hanging around?”

  “No to the brother. Don’t know about the cousin.”

  “Well, find out. That is, if you ever get to the talking stage.”

  “We talk a lot,” Marissa protested at Kristi’s teasing wink. “In fact, last night we talked all though dinner and for hours after the community theatre performance.”

  Kristi smirked. “Yeah, right. If you say so.”

  “I do.” The words sent a fresh surge of heat to her face as she remembered…. “Look,” she said, certain that she was grinning like a loon, “it isn’t that I don’t want to tell you, but—”

  Kristi stepped up and hugged her. “I know. Some things are so good that you have to hold them inside and savor them for a while. I understand.”

  “Thanks.”

  “Just promise me this. When you’re ready to tell all, I’m first to hear the scoop.”

  Marissa laughed. “I promise.”

  “Now that you’ve hooked yourself a winner, throw any others you find my way.”

  “I will.”

  Kristi’s smile faded as she touched a rose petal. “It’s too bad these didn’t arrive before you went off duty. Now you have to stash them out of sight until you leave. And pronto.”

  It didn’t seem fair that such a thoughtful and flattering gesture would also create a monumental headache. Marissa sighed. “My thoughts exactly. If I wait until the end of my shift, Lorraine will go ballistic.”

  Lorraine Hawthorne was the sixty-two-year-old director of nursing who firmly believed that flowers didn’t belong in the ICU. If a patient was well enough to enjoy them, she claimed, then they didn’t belong in the unit. And while that might be true to a certain extent, a cheerful spray of color on the nurses’ station counter gave a spiritual boost to everyone who passed by.

  Unfortunately, a small, cheerful spray of color was one thing. Seven bouquets fell into the ostentatious category.

  “Any ideas?” Marissa asked.

  “Other than an empty patient room, not one.”

  “That would work, I suppose,” she said as she tried the suggestion on for size. “I could close the privacy curtains and no one would see.”

  “If the boss walks in, she’ll wonder why the drapes are pulled,” Kristi warned. “And if we get another patient…”

  Marissa didn’t need Kristi to finish her sentence. A new admission would only mean she’d have to move her flowers again. The place she chose had to be secure enough to avoid discovery for the entire day.

  “What are you going to do?” Kristi asked, her expression a mixture of concern, curiosity and envy.

  Marissa glanced at her floral line-up. While she was thrilled by Travis’s grandstand gesture, she wondered what he’d been thinking. Her work environment wasn’t flower-friendly, and even if it had been, how had he expected her to take them home? Her compact two-door car didn’t have the cargo space of an SUV or minivan.

  The flowers simply had to go.

  “First things first,” she decided. “I’ll move them out of sight before anyone notices.”

  “Anyone as in everyone, or anyone as in a certain person who can melt her subordinates with one glare?” drawled a familiar voice from behind a rhododendron, seconds before a man pushed aside the plant to reveal himself.

  It took Marissa the length of a heartbeat to identify the visitor, although she almost wished that someone other than Justin St. James had arrived. While he was a good friend from her college days, as well as one of the two internal medicine specialists on staff, he also had an uncanny tendency to stick his nose into her business.

  His perfect, aristocratic nose. Then again, everything about him was perfect as far as Marissa could tell. Tall, dark and handsome might be a clichéd description, but it fit Justin like a professionally tailored suit. Strong shoulders, a lean physique, chocolaty brown eyes to match his hair and a smile that melted women’s knees—her own included—made Dr. St. James dream material.

  And best of all, his physical appearance notwithstanding, his personality only added to his allure. He had what Marissa called the three Ps—he was polite, patient and persistent, all of which ranked him number one in the bedside-manner department. In fact, if Marissa had to point out a flaw, the only thing she could say was that he worked too hard. And that he looked at her as if she were his younger sister.<
br />
  More was the pity. Her only consolation was that she’d known for years that she wasn’t his type—sophisticated, blond and beauty-queen gorgeous—and had resigned herself to that fact long ago. It was futile to wish for more, even though she indulged herself on occasion. After all, what was the harm in fantasizing about a tall, dark and handsome fellow with a grin—and gorgeous buns—to die for?

  Actually, she knew the harm, which was why she only let her imagination run wild on rare occasions. It was less disappointing that way.

  “Anyone as in everyone,” Marissa repeated seriously, “although you’re an exception.”

  Justin grinned. “I am? I’m flattered.”

  “Don’t be,” she said with a smile. “It’s only because you can be bribed with a home-cooked meal. What’ll it be this time? American, Chinese, Italian or Mexican?”

  He stepped into the nurses’ station and, like always, his presence filled the area much like his broad shoulders filled out his blue dress shirt. “Surprise me, but cherry cheesecake is part of the deal.”

  “Fine. In the meantime, make yourself useful.” She thrust the vase of roses into his startled grasp, then the rhododendron.

  “Hey,” he protested, “since when did the D in ‘MD’ stand for Delivery?”

  “Since I need an extra pair of hands and yours are the only ones available. Need I remind you that if Lorraine sees these and reads me the Riot Act, you can tell your taste-buds to think hospital cafeteria tuna surprise instead of jalapeño and melted cheese?”

  “All right, all right,” he grumbled good-naturedly. “But make it fast. I have places to go and people to see.”

  “Don’t we all?” she answered dryly. “Now, to find a perfect hiding place…” She glanced down the hallway in search of inspiration.

  “How about the storeroom?” Kristi offered. “OB borrowed a couple of our wheelchairs so we have some extra space until they bring them back.”

  “Good idea.” Marissa left the salmon-colored Gerbera daisy in its yellow ceramic pot on the counter next to the large spray of carnations and baby’s breath and followed Kristi down the corridor. Justin fell into step beside her.

  “What’s the occasion?” he asked, his curiosity palpable. “I know it isn’t your birthday.”

  Before Marissa could frame her answer, Kristi beat her to the punch.

  “They’re from her date last night,” Kristi supplied in a dreamy voice as she unlocked the supply-room door and opened it with a flourish. “Lucky girl. Isn’t it romantic?”

  Justin’s jaw dropped in obvious surprise. “From your date?” he said.

  Marissa nudged past him to place her armload on an empty shelf. “Yes,” she answered simply as she avoided his gaze, well aware that more questions would be coming—questions that she didn’t want to answer in such a public place. “Let me have those,” she said instead, as she took the arrangements out of his hands and placed them on an empty metal cart.

  An instant later, she shooed her two helpers from the room and closed the door with a decided click. “Thanks for your help in buying me some time,” she told them.

  “What’re friends for?” Kristi winked. Before anything else could be said, a call light blinked down the hall. “That’s for me,” she said cheerfully, leaving Marissa and Justin alone. As Marissa had suspected, it didn’t take long for the inquisition to begin.

  “You got all this after going out with what’s his name?”

  The disbelief in his voice, as if it was completely inconceivable that a man would go to such lengths for her, instantly added starch to Marissa’s spine. It was bad enough that Justin had never noticed her, not even during those carefree college days when she had been his study buddy and he had dated what had seemed like every woman in her entire dormitory. The idea that he still couldn’t see her as a woman who might attract a man and enamor him to reckless generosity was enough to raise her hackles.

  “Is it completely beyond the realm of possibility for me to receive flowers?” she demanded.

  “No, but considering today isn’t your birthday and you’re not celebrating an anniversary, this seems a little…” He stopped short, as if he’d finally noticed her clenched jaw and narrowed eyes, and had decided it was time to tread softly.

  “Bizarre? Overboard?” She faced him squarely, daring him to agree with her.

  He didn’t. “What is the occasion?”

  “Does a man need an occasion to send flowers?” she countered. “Can’t he give a bouquet for no other reason than just because he wants to? Or because he knows it would make a girl feel special?”

  “If it was one bouquet, I’d agree with you, but he’s cleaned out the florist’s shop. He either wants something or buddy boy’s a showboat,” he finished, the disgust in his voice as obvious as the look on his face.

  “You’re jealous.”

  “Jealous? Of what?”

  His clueless attitude caused her teeth to grind together painfully. Those three little words only drove home how smart she’d been way back when to accept their platonic relationship and move on to greener pastures.

  “That he thought of doing something kind and considerate and you didn’t.”

  He rolled his eyes. “Oh, ple-e-ease.”

  “It’s true. When was the last time you sent anyone flowers for no other reason than ‘just because’?”

  He opened his mouth to speak, then closed it.

  “Aha!” she crowed. “I knew it. You never have.”

  “Hey, if Trevor wants to—”

  “You’re definitely suffering from a senior moment,” she interrupted grimly. “I’ll remind you that his name is Travis. Travis Pendleton.”

  “Whatever.” He waved his mistake aside with one hand.

  She strode toward the nurses’ station, intent on the last of the large floral arrangements still standing on the counter. Although she’d hoped to leave him behind, he caught up to her in spite of her two-step head start.

  “This was, what, your second date?” he asked.

  “Third,” she corrected.

  “Ah, yes. Number three. A regular milestone in a relationship.”

  She grabbed the vase before she faced him with narrowed eyes. “What’s that supposed to mean? Just because you don’t date and if you do, it’s never more than twice…”

  He held up his hands. “Hey, if Trevor wants to spend a fortune on flowers, I’m sure that Frannie’s Florals will be delighted to get the business. But it might be a good idea if you told him to send flowers to your home address instead of here. I may not be able to bail you out the next time.”

  “Bail me out?” she sputtered.

  “Not to mention it makes the place look like a damn funeral parlor,” he continued mercilessly. “We’re here to take care of patients, not to smell the roses.”

  “I didn’t ask for any of this,” Marissa said defensively. Angry and hurt, not to mention bewildered by his attack, she squared her shoulders and adopted her most professional tone. “But you’re right, Doctor. We’re here for patients, so if you’ll excuse me, I have work to do.”

  She regally sailed past the centrally located nurses’ station to room six, leaving Justin behind. With luck, by the time she left Lonnie Newland’s bedside, Justin would have reviewed his charts and left her unit—and her—in peace.

  Fat chance. Lonnie was also Justin’s patient, which meant she’d have to discuss the man’s care with him shortly, but at least Justin would have to focus on something other than her personal life. And she could concentrate on issues other than how she’d like to knock a bedpan—preferably a used one—against his hard head.

  Before she crossed the threshold of the cubicle, she drew a deep breath, forced a smile to her lips and greeted Lonnie’s wife, the thirtyish woman who was gently washing her husband’s stubbled face.

  “Hi, Abby,” Marissa greeted her. “I brought a little something to brighten up the place.”

  Abby’s soft smile didn’t quite reach her
eyes, which wasn’t surprising under the circumstances. The dark circles and tired droop of her shoulders were easily explained by her pregnancy and the stress of having had a comatose husband for the past three months. Lonnie had been riding his motorcycle on his way home from Kansas City when a car had hit him. In spite of wearing his protective helmet, he’d been left with massive head injuries and had only recently been transferred back home to Hope Memorial after the neurology unit had done all it could. After a brief stint in the long-term care annex, where he’d developed a kidney infection, Lonnie had been transferred back into ICU.

  “Thanks, Marissa. We’re going to enjoy them a lot, aren’t we, Lonnie?”

  It was obvious that Abby had taken the neurosurgeon’s advice to heart. She talked to her husband as if he were awake and able to respond, determined to provide any and all possible stimulation she could to draw him out of his unconscious state.

  She leaned close to her husband’s ear as she touched his pale arm. “You should see what Marissa brought us. The carnations are just lovely. They remind me of the bouquet you sent me when we first heard the news about the baby. They’re pink and yellow and blue with lots of baby’s breath and greenery. We’re going to put them on the tray table in front of you so you can smell them.”

  Marissa placed the vase where Abby had requested, wishing—no, hoping—that the smell of the fragrant blooms, coupled with his wife’s voice, would be enough to yank the thirty-five-year-old businessman back to the land of the living. Logically, however, and based upon her experience, the situation didn’t bode well for a happy ending. On the other hand, she’d been an ICU nurse for too long to discount the possibility of a miracle or the power of hope.

  “Did you get any rest last night?” she asked Abby while she monitored Lonnie’s vital signs and checked everything from his IV sites to drainage tubes.

  “Some,” Abby admitted. “It’s just hard to be at home by myself. Even when my sister or parents come to visit, the house seems so empty….” Her voice died as she shrugged a slim shoulder.

 
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