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A White Knight in ER, page 1

 

A White Knight in ER
 


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A White Knight in ER


  “There is another option,” he said slowly. “Come home with me.”

  “With you? You’re kidding.”

  “I’m not.” Now that he’d offered, he realized how much he liked the idea. To a man who thrived on new experiences, this was certain to become a memorable occasion. “I have a spare room.”

  She lowered her voice. “I can’t stay at your house.”

  “Why not?”

  “You kissed me.”

  “I’d do it again, if you’d let me, but kisses are a separate issue. I’m offering my house with no strings attached.”

  She nibbled her lip. “We won’t cramp your style?”

  “I wouldn’t have offered if your presence would pose a problem,” he said quietly. It would, but the problem was with him, not her. He probably wouldn’t close his eyes all night because of Megan lying in the other room on the spare double bed.

  Dear Reader,

  I’ve always felt that heroes are made, not born, and it’s the decision surrounding the circumstances that turns a fellow into a knight in shining armor.

  So, to create my special “knight,” I created a guy who had a seemingly rootless existence and paired him with a woman who, through an accident that happens more frequently in health care than we’d like, needed a strong person to lean on. Although Jonas wouldn’t have volunteered to be the man that Megan required in her life, he rose to the challenge like every good hero does!

  My wish for you is to have your own White Knight when you need one most.

  Happy reading!

  Jessica Matthews

  www.jessicamatthews.com

  A White Knight in ER

  Jessica Matthews

  CONTENTS

  CHAPTER ONE

  CHAPTER TWO

  CHAPTER THREE

  CHAPTER FOUR

  CHAPTER FIVE

  CHAPTER SIX

  CHAPTER SEVEN

  CHAPTER EIGHT

  CHAPTER NINE

  CHAPTER TEN

  CHAPTER ELEVEN

  EPILOGUE

  CHAPTER ONE

  ‘WHERE is everybody?’ Gene Webber placed several sheets of paper on top of the chest-high counter surrounding the nurses’ station and glanced around the eerily quiet ER.

  Megan Erickson looked up from the chart in front of her to smile at the red-haired twenty-six-year-old EMT who’d worked with her for the past several years. ‘They usually disappear when there’s a lull.’

  ‘Well, if you see Dr Taylor, would you tell him that we got those results he wanted?’ He tapped the pages on the counter.

  ‘Sure. Do you know where he went?’

  Gene shook his head. ‘After Dr Fleming came, they both disappeared.’

  ‘Dwight’s here?’ she asked, surprised that he hadn’t stayed long enough to say hello like he usually did.

  Gene shrugged. ‘He walked in ten, fifteen minutes ago. He asked about you, but you were with Mrs Johnson. He ran into Dr Taylor and I haven’t seen either of them since.’

  ‘Well, they can’t have strayed too far. Did Dwight leave a message?’

  ‘Not that I know of,’ Gene apologized. ‘I can ask around if you want.’

  ‘Don’t bother. I’ll see him later, I’m sure.’ She smiled. ‘He’s probably getting advice on what to pack for his trip to Mexico.’ Dwight had talked for the past six months about wanting to go on a medical missions tour and his month-long stint would start in less than two weeks. While she was glad that he was pursuing a dream of his, she wanted to think about weddings and combining households. Between the death of her brother and his wife, and taking Angela and Trevor under her wing, she’d placed her own dreams on hold and was eager to get them back on track.

  ‘Has Dr Taylor been to Mexico?’

  ‘Where hasn’t the man been?’ she asked lightly. Dr Taylor had the staying power of a dandelion seed. A consortium of physicians staffed their ER and the man who was currently under contract had taken a leave of absence because of his wife’s poor health. His substitute, Jonas Taylor, had arrived four weeks ago and would stay for three more months. After that, Stanton would become another listing on an already impressive résumé.

  In spite of, or because of his varied experiences, he was a top-notch emergency physician. She couldn’t have asked for someone better. The man was a veritable rock in a crisis.

  He was also the most handsome guy she’d seen outside of a magazine.

  Perhaps she shouldn’t have noticed how Dwight’s golden good looks paled in comparison to Jonas’s dark coloring, but she had. Jonas’s dark hair in a military-style cut should have made him seem stern and imposing, but the twinkle in his midnight-black eyes and his good-natured grin softened the impression. He admitted to loving the outdoors and his tanned skin corroborated his claim.

  He was tall and lean, which was surprising considering the amount of food he put away. According to rumor, he’d taken part in nearly every sport or activity humanly possible and Megan guessed that he’d probably excelled at each one, too.

  Jonas Taylor was definitely the most intriguing fellow to work in this ER since the founding fathers had built the hospital, but he wouldn’t know commitment if it hung on his coattails. Other women might be only interested in having a good time but, with two children to consider, Megan wanted stability and someone to share the responsibility of raising them. She couldn’t afford to think of anything else, no matter how exciting the prospect.

  ‘He’s been all over,’ Gene admitted. ‘I’d be happy if I’d visited a fourth of the places he’s seen.’

  ‘No kidding, but, then, what else is he going to spend his salary on?’ She didn’t know the exact details of his contract, but she knew the hospital had picked up the tab for his rent and utilities. His paycheck, minus Uncle Sam’s cut for taxes, had to be nearly pure profit.

  Gene sighed. ‘Oh, to be so lucky.’

  ‘Yeah, but remember—the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence.’

  ‘Only because he can afford fertilizer,’ he answered gloomily.

  Megan giggled. ‘Cheer up. Maybe the next lottery ticket you buy will pay off.’

  ‘I can hope.’ He glanced around the department once again. ‘Do you mind if I run down to the cafeteria for a minute? I hear they baked a fresh batch of peanut-butter cookies and I want some before they disappear.’

  Knowing Gene’s weakness for peanut butter, Megan chuckled. ‘Go ahead, but don’t dawdle.’

  ‘I won’t. I’ll even bring one back for you.’

  ‘Make that two and I’ll give you an extra five minutes.’

  ‘You’re on.’

  He scampered away and she tried to focus on the chart in front of her, but couldn’t. Dwight now occupied her thoughts and, sadly enough, those same thoughts were more troubling than satisfying.

  Things weren’t working out the way she’d expected.

  She’d accepted Dwight’s engagement ring a month before her brother and his wife had died in a boating accident, and with no other siblings to look after their two small children, she’d taken in her niece and nephew, Angela and Trevor. The past year had been a time of adjustment for all of them, but she’d made the switch from doting aunt to mother of now four-year-old Angela and eighteen-month-old Trevor.

  During that time, and at Dwight’s suggestion, they’d postponed wedding plans until they’d settled into a new routine. At first, she’d been thrilled by his thoughtfulness, but as time had gone on and he’d appeared content to leave their future on the shelf, her confidence had begun to waver.

  Those doubts had grown when she’d realized something else. After nearly a year, he acted as uncomfortable around the children as he had on the day they’d brought them from Iowa
to her home in Nebraska. As far as she was concerned, he simply seemed to tolerate them, when she’d hoped he’d love them as much as she did.

  And if her suspicions were correct, was marrying him the route she wanted to take? The route she should take?

  She sighed. Perhaps she hadn’t given him the personal attention he’d been used to receiving before their engagement, but the children had required everything she’d had and then some. Maybe being separated for several weeks would help her—and Dwight—see the situation more clearly. Wasn’t there an adage about absence making the heart grow fonder? She hoped so.

  Forcing her personal life out of her mind, Megan read the notes she’d written. She had nothing to add, so she scrawled her signature, clicked her pen and closed the chart.

  By the time she’d stuck it in the slot for the medical records staff, Gene returned, carrying two paper sacks in one hand. He gave her the smaller of the two.

  ‘Here are your goodies,’ he proclaimed.

  ‘Thanks.’ She felt the bag. ‘Still warm.’

  ‘Fresh out of the oven, or so I’m told.’

  She rose. ‘Then I’ll have mine with coffee. If you need me, you know where I’ll be.’

  ‘OK, but don’t forget. If you see Dr Taylor…’

  ‘I’ll tell him you’re looking for him,’ she promised.

  ‘You have to tell her,’ Jonas Taylor matter-of-factly advised his colleague, Dwight Fleming, while they hovered near the coffee-maker in the ER staff lounge.

  Dwight heaved a sigh. ‘Yeah. The question is, when? Before I leave or after I get back?’

  ‘If I knew my decision was final, I wouldn’t want this hanging over my head for several more weeks,’ Jonas answered firmly. ‘It’s not fair to Megan.’

  ‘Waiting will only prolong the inevitable, I suppose.’

  ‘Exactly.’ Being the newest kid on Stanton Community Hospital’s block, Jonas was surprised Dwight had cornered him to discuss such a personal matter. He hardly knew the man. Giving Dwight a plastic surgery referral and joining him for a beer with a group of hospital personnel who’d gone to the First Base sports bar after a harrowing night in the ER made him a passing acquaintance, not a father confessor.

  ‘On the other hand,’ Jonas continued, ‘maybe you should talk to someone else. Someone who—’

  ‘I can’t.’

  ‘Why not?’

  Dwight ran one hand over his face. ‘Because everyone who knows Megan sympathizes with her. All I hear is how wonderful she is to be raising her brother’s two kids. A regular saint, if you get my drift.’

  ‘And you’ll look like the bad guy,’ Jonas guessed.

  Dwight nodded miserably. ‘The thing is, I think she’s wonderful, too. She’s one of a kind.’

  Jonas privately agreed. Megan Erickson was one of the best ER nurses he’d worked with and he’d been around enough of them to know. She was bright, beautiful and possessed a calm personality that came in handy during moments of tension. The unit functioned like a well-oiled machine when she was on duty and limped along when she wasn’t.

  She’d earned the respect of everyone and received more than her fair share of admiring male glances, Jonas’s included. How could he not? Everything about her breathed vitality, from the shimmery highlights in her short chestnut brown hair to the confident way she carried herself.

  Her hazel eyes shone with intelligence and humor and the ready smile on her face was always a welcome sight. The entire package of a pert nose, creamy skin and a body that filled out her scrub suits in all the right places could turn a man completely inside out.

  He would have liked to have asked her out, but two things held him back—the diamond on her finger and the fact that she was the type who should wear a ring on her finger. She was the kind of woman a fellow took home to meet his family, the kind he steered clear of with every ounce of his being.

  It didn’t stop him from dreaming, though.

  Regardless of her marital status, she was a bright spot in a department that needed one more often than not. Her upbeat attitude was surprising really, when the rumors said that her life for the past few years hadn’t been a bed of roses.

  And he was recommending that her boyfriend, no, fiancé, add another thorn to her collection.

  Some days, life was a royal pain.

  ‘Anyway,’ Dwight continued, ‘you’re a man who’s been around. I figure you could give me an unbiased opinion. See things from my side of the fence.’

  Normally, Jonas kept his nose out of other people’s problems. It seemed a waste of energy to get caught up in co-workers’ personal lives when, other than his years in medical school and residency, the longest he’d stayed in any one place had been eighteen months. But Dwight had asked for his advice and as much as he hated to get involved, as much as he knew this would hurt Megan in the short term, he had to be truthful. Honesty was the best policy.

  As for seeing things from Dwight’s side of the fence, he saw them quite plainly. While others might encourage Dwight to stick with Megan for the sake of the kids, Jonas couldn’t for that very reason. No marriage was better than a bad one and he respected her too much to steer her in the wrong direction.

  ‘Like I said, it won’t get easier the longer you wait,’ he cautioned with his voice of experience. He might be only a year or two older than Dwight, but he’d packed a lot of living in his thirty-four years and knew what he was talking about.

  ‘You’re right. I’ve been stewing over this since last summer, when her brother was killed.’

  ‘It’s April, man!’ Jonas was incredulous. If Dwight had harbored doubts for that length of time, he didn’t have any business tying the knot. ‘Are you serious?’

  Dwight shrugged and his face turned ruddy. ‘I thought my feelings would change, but they haven’t. Then, a few weeks ago, she began dropping hints that we should get our wedding plans back on track.’

  ‘If you’re waiting for Megan’s family responsibilities to fade,’ Jonas mused aloud, ‘you’re out of luck. They won’t disappear in the next six months or the next six years. You’re either in for the duration or you’re not. It’s better to come clean now rather than later.’ He rinsed out his coffee-mug and refilled it with the strong brew that was the mainstay of the ER.

  ‘I don’t know how to tell her. What shall I say?’

  ‘Be honest. You owe it to her.’ Megan would probably be upset—any woman would be when her intended cried off—but she was a logical person. For all he knew, she might have even sensed their break-up was imminent. He certainly would if his fiancée had dragged her feet for a year over setting a date.

  Not that he had a fiancée, or even wanted one, of course. The M-word wasn’t part of his vocabulary.

  Jonas drank his coffee, conscious of how Dwight’s gaze had become speculative. ‘Now what?’ he asked.

  ‘Have you done this before?’ Dwight asked.

  ‘Done what? Broken off an engagement?’ At Dwight’s nod, Jonas grinned. ‘I’ve walked away from a number of interesting women, but nothing was serious. How can a man settle for one when there are so many to choose from?’

  He fell back on his usual excuse for his single state. It was easier and simpler to confirm the conclusion people had drawn than to explain the real reason. In fact, he wasn’t sure what his real reason was, other than he knew he wasn’t cut out for commitment. He had nothing against marriage—the finest people he knew were married—but that particular state wasn’t for him.

  And although Dwight Fleming reeked of respectability and seemed to be a family man, he obviously wasn’t interested in matrimony either. At least, not to a woman saddled with two kids and an ailing parent.

  If a man truly loved a woman, he wouldn’t let those details stop him, which only went to show that Dwight didn’t love her. Yup, he was definitely doing Megan a favor.

  ‘Just tell her the truth,’ Jonas repeated. ‘That you’re not ready. That you want to pursue your career before you settle down with a
mortgage payment, a mini-van and a St Bernard.’

  Dwight squared his shoulders. ‘OK. I will.’

  ‘When?’ At the moment, Dwight seemed ready, willing and able, but if he didn’t act while his courage was up, he’d probably postpone it until tomorrow. Worse yet, he’d do as he’d threatened and wait until he returned from his month-long medical missions trip.

  Megan didn’t deserve to be left in limbo by any man, much less one as shallow as Dwight.

  ‘I’ll catch her before her shift ends.’

  Jonas might not be the world’s most romantic fellow, but he could think of a more appropriate backdrop for this conversation than the ER. ‘Wouldn’t you rather go somewhere more…ah, private?’

  Dwight shook his head. ‘I can’t take her to dinner because she won’t be able to find a sitter at such short notice. Trying to have a heart-to-heart at her place is impossible because of all the interruptions. The kids are in the hospital day care, and they won’t mind if she’s late. No, this is the best place.’

  Jonas disagreed. ‘At least take her to the restaurant across the street. It won’t be busy at three-thirty.’

  ‘Oh.’ Dwight blinked as he considered the suggestion. ‘That might work.’

  Jonas clapped him on his shoulder. ‘You can do this. And nothing says that you can’t be friends when this is all over.’ Whenever Jonas’s relationships drew to a close, he always remained on amiable terms with the women involved. He attributed his success to faithfully following a few simple rules. One, he never made plans further ahead than the upcoming weekend. Two, he steered away from deeply personal topics of conversation and, three, he never, ever met their families.

  ‘I suppose so.’ Dwight didn’t seem convinced, which was understandable because he didn’t follow Jonas’s foolproof rules. Maybe when this was all over, he’d let him in on his hard-learned secret.

  ‘And you’ll tell her everything.’

  ‘I’ll tell her everything.’

  Eagerly anticipating her first bite, Megan headed for the lounge at the far end of the department, next to the supply storage area. It was large enough to hold a twelve-person conference table and doubled as the formal meeting place for department gatherings. At other times, it was simply a place where staff could take a few minutes to fortify themselves between patients.

 
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