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Prescriptions and Promises, page 1

 

Prescriptions and Promises
 


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Prescriptions and Promises


  “Didn’t you go to pharmacy school?”

  The direction of Noah’s line of questioning became clear and Jenny went on the offensive. “I’m sure you’re aware of my degree, so why are you asking?”

  “Doesn’t your education mean you’re qualified to step into your uncle’s shoes?”

  Her reply stuck in her throat and she studied the ceiling until she could choke out the words. “It does, but I won’t.”

  “Why not?”

  She hesitated, hating to tell Noah what she hadn’t been able to tell her uncle. “Because I’m not a pharmacist anymore.”

  Dear Reader,

  I’m thrilled to have Prescriptions and Promises introduce you to Harlequin’s new Medical Romance line. I grew up reading all sorts of books, but some of my favorites were the Cherry Ames, R.N. series. Anything dealing with medicine held me spellbound.

  After a stint in our local hospital as a candy striper, I knew that I wanted to combine my love of science with my interest in medicine, and so I pursued a career as a medical technologist. Later, after my youngest was born, I decided to turn my reading hobby and my work experience into a writing career, giving me the best of both worlds.

  I wrote Prescriptions and Promises because I know how difficult it can be at times to keep our promises under extenuating circumstances. However, there comes a point when one must choose “the right thing to do,” regardless of the personal cost involved. I hope you enjoy Jenny’s story as she discovers what’s truly important in life.

  Happy reading!

  Jessica Matthews

  Prescriptions and Promises

  Jessica Matthews

  DEDICATION

  In loving memory of my grandmother Helen, 1901–1999.

  ACKNOWLEDGMENT

  Special thanks to Kathleen Nance, Pharm.D., for sharing her expertise. Any errors are my own.

  CONTENTS

  CHAPTER ONE

  CHAPTER TWO

  CHAPTER THREE

  CHAPTER FOUR

  CHAPTER FIVE

  CHAPTER SIX

  CHAPTER SEVEN

  CHAPTER EIGHT

  CHAPTER NINE

  CHAPTER TEN

  CHAPTER ELEVEN

  CHAPTER ONE

  ‘YOU can’t do this.’

  The deep male voice diverted Jenny Ruscoe’s attention from the pharmacy’s storefront window. She shielded her eyes against the early afternoon sun’s rays to stare at the man who’d arrived unnoticed.

  Although he wore designer sunglasses, she’d have recognized Dr Noah Kimball anywhere. He cut a fine figure with his tall, athletic build, short hair the color of freshly brewed Colombian coffee and a face on par with any male model’s.

  Glancing over his shoulder, she saw a late-model, dark blue Blazer parked at the curb. She must have been totally lost in her thoughts if she hadn’t heard his approach.

  ‘I can. I have,’ she replied. Several people had already stopped to talk about the sign she’d placed in the window. While their responses had ranged from the politely curious to deeply disappointed, no one had been as openly hostile as Noah Kimball.

  She shouldn’t have expected otherwise. From the moment she’d stepped foot in the Hays hospital where her uncle had been transferred after his collision with a loaded cattle truck, Noah Kimball had given her a chilly reception, an it’s-about-time-you-got-here comment and an admonition not to upset his patient.

  As if she’d dropped everything to fly from Grand Junction and agitate her uncle while his grip on life faded.

  The only time Noah had showed a different facet to his character had happened right after the blips on Uncle Earl’s heart monitor had tapered to a flat line. She’d turned to Noah without thinking and had found solace in the shelter of his arms. His shoulders had trembled under her hands as he’d struggled with his own emotions. Later, after they’d pulled themselves together, she’d seen his red-rimmed eyes as he’d offered her his handkerchief.

  After that evening, an invisible barrier had formed between them as if those moments had never happened. Since the funeral, he’d treated her like a stranger and she’d been too caught up in settling Earl’s affairs to care.

  Knowing of his loyalty to her uncle, she’d expected him to protest her decision. However, she hadn’t expected this strong a reaction to her poster’s message.

  GOING OUT OF BUSINESS.

  He motioned to the window. ‘How can you wipe out fifty years of service to this community? Do you realize what the repercussions will be?’

  ‘Yes, I do, but I’m surprised you heard the news so quickly. I only hung the notice this morning.’

  ‘Naturally the news travelled fast. This isn’t a restaurant where, if it closes, three others are standing by to fill the void. Ruscoe Pharmacy is part of Springwater’s history. Did you expect to drop your bombshell and slink out of town without hearing a public outcry?’

  ‘I’d thought of shooting fireworks and hiring a brass band to observe the occasion,’ she retorted, ‘but the band director is on vacation and fireworks are banned in the city limits until the Fourth of July.’

  Although Jenny didn’t consider herself a sentimental person, her family’s contributions to the town deserved some sort of commemorative fanfare. A neatly lettered poster didn’t seem a fitting end to the era.

  He folded his arms across his chest. ‘Your earth-shattering announcement caught the town by surprise, so I presume you’re either an expert fraud or you decided this on a whim.’

  His mirrored lenses hid his eyes, but she imagined his gaze being as piercingly cold as his tone. She gritted her teeth at his close-minded attitude.

  ‘I’m not impulsive and I never set out to deceive anyone. Everything came to head and I had to do something. This…’ she motioned to her window ‘…was my best option.’

  The battle for the drug store’s survival had started a month ago, on the very day the lawyer read her uncle’s will. She’d intended to maintain the status quo until she’d found a suitable buyer, but her alternatives had become fewer and fewer until her best-laid plans had come crashing down. Literally, overnight.

  Noah Kimball would never know how much she’d agonized over her decision. Losing the man she’d looked upon as her father, that had been bad enough. Now she shouldered the pain of seeing his legacy disappear into the annals of history.

  ‘Well, if you’re waiting for the city council to name a park after you, you can forget it.’

  ‘I’m not interested in your popularity contest. I carefully weighed all the facts and came to the most logical conclusion.’

  ‘Do tell.’

  A bead of perspiration trickled down the side of her face. In spite of being bare-legged and wearing a sleeveless green-and-red plaid cotton shirt and khaki skirt, she felt hot enough to melt into a puddle. She took a perverse pleasure in imagining how much more uncomfortable he had to be in his dress clothes.

  Out of the corner of one eye, she saw several nearby business owners step outside their establishments and begin sweeping off their already-clean sidewalks. Clearly, they didn’t want to miss a single scene of the action taking place under their noses.

  Jenny, however, wasn’t in the mood for an audience. ‘We don’t need to discuss this—’

  ‘Yes, we do.’

  She continued as if he hadn’t interrupted, well aware of the growing group of spectators. ‘In the heat. Believe it or not, the air-conditioning is working.’

  Her uncle had replaced the heating and cooling system last year and it was one of the few things in the old building that functioned properly. With any luck, a cooler environment would also lower Dr Kimball’s rising temper.

  ‘Fine.’ He waved his arm tow
ard the door. ‘After you.’

  The bell above the door jangled as she regally limped inside, thanks to the blister on her right heel. The familiar blend of scents, consisting of everything from cherry syrup to peppermint, surrounded her like a hug from an old friend. In spite of the comforting aroma, she could pick out Noah’s special fragrance—the combination of soap and healthy male which she remembered so vividly from the evening spent in Uncle Earl’s ICU room. Normally, she would have been allowed fifteen minutes every other hour, but none of the nurses had dared to enforce their rules, with Noah hovering nearby.

  The air cooled her sun-warmed skin but did nothing for her dry throat. Before she could courteously offer a glass of iced tea, he’d replaced his sunglasses with a pair of oval wire-rimmed frames and had headed over to the corner where a large, insulated sports Thermos stood on a rickety table. Depending on the season, Earl had always kept a free pot of coffee or iced tea available for his customers, and she’d observed the same custom.

  As he filled the cups from the spigot, the play of muscles across his shoulders drew her attention. His athletic build filled out his moss-green shirt and dark trousers in all the right places. Her uncle had once told her how Noah played a mean game of one-on-one basketball, and she could easily picture him on the court, wearing shorts and a tank top. Underneath his professional attire, he obviously had powerful legs, a washboard stomach, and long, strong arms.

  The top button was undone and revealed smooth skin in the hollow of his throat. She was almost surprised that he didn’t wear a tie, but either he preferred a more casual appearance or chose not to suffer one in the heat.

  Noah’s garments were of good quality name brands, but not ostentatious. Considering how Springwater was a town of low- to moderate-income families, he’d clearly purchased those items that wouldn’t flaunt his social status or his physician’s income.

  At five feet ten, she often looked down on people, or at least met their gazes head on. However, he had a five-inch advantage which under the circumstances, gave him a psychological edge in the battle about to begin. For that reason alone, she hoped he would sit so they could air their differences on an equal footing.

  He turned toward her and she studied his features. His high forehead, straight nose, and well-defined cheekbones obviously came from a gene pool of handsome men. Although she didn’t expect to see a smile, one would certainly have added to his masculine charm.

  She accepted the paper cup he held out to her. Considering the situation, it seemed incongruous to be on the receiving end of his courtesy. Once Noah Kimball broached the subject he’d come to discuss, he would show her no mercy.

  Deciding to make herself physically comfortable in an emotionally uncomfortable situation, she hobbled toward the three chairs standing against the north wall where customers could wait for their prescriptions if they were so inclined. ‘Would you like to sit—?’

  ‘What’s the matter with your foot?’ A wrinkle of curiosity appeared on his forehead as he studied her.

  ‘Nothing, really. Just a blister.’ No doubt she’d earn a scathing remark if he knew she’d gone on a walking tour of Springwater last night without changing from sandals to her tennis shoes.

  ‘Do you have something to put on it?’

  ‘We’re standing in a drug store. I’d say so,’ she said dryly.

  ‘But did you?’ he persisted, his brown eyes intent on her face.

  ‘A Band-Aid. Satisfied?’

  Noah rolled his eyes in a heaven-help-me look before he turned toward the aisles of over-the-counter medications.

  She thought about waiting to sit until he did, provided he finally chose to do so, but the dull pain on her heel reminded her of how badly she wanted to remove the shoes responsible for her predicament. She sat and slid her foot out of the sandal far enough so the back strap didn’t rub on her sore spot.

  Noah’s voice carried from across the room. ‘Did you, or did you not, promise Earl on his deathbed that you’d keep his business open?’

  She flinched under his reminder. Since Noah had been with her at the time and had witnessed their short conversation, she couldn’t deny it. ‘Yes, but—’

  ‘I’d like to know why you’re not living up to your commitment.’

  ‘I told Uncle Earl that I’d keep things running while he recovered,’ she corrected. ‘He didn’t.’

  ‘Getting technical, are we?’

  His tone rankled, but she choked back a reply and counted to ten. ‘No, just pointing out the facts.’

  ‘I warned you from the moment you stepped foot in the hospital not to hope or plan for his recovery. His injuries were too extensive. Earl was asking for more than your temporary help and you know it.’

  She leaned back in the chair and bit her lip as the truth stung. Guilt-ridden over the events of the past year, she’d have promised her uncle anything. Anything at all. Those, however, were circumstances that she didn’t intend to explain to the overbearing Noah Kimball.

  ‘I was well aware what my uncle was asking of me.’

  ‘I also told you of Earl’s worries about the store. Did you think you could promise a dying man anything in order to ease his last moments?’

  She bristled under his accusation. ‘I fully intended to honor every word I said.’

  He arched an eyebrow at her as he paused in his search. ‘Then what changed your mind?’

  ‘Would you like a list?’ she asked with sarcasm.

  ‘In a word? Yes.’

  His attitude pressed a sore spot on her pride. ‘I’m not under any obligation to tell you a thing.’

  ‘No,’ he said, ‘but as a close friend of Earl’s, as a witness to your promise, and as a physician who sends a lot of business in your direction, I’m entitled to some sort of explanation.’

  She started to refuse, then reconsidered. She had nothing to lose one way or the other. In fact, Noah might shed some light on the questions that had arisen.

  ‘The problems facing the pharmacy were—are—over-whelming,’ she began. ‘I’d barely recovered from one disaster before another one hit. I went into crisis management mode and couldn’t get out.’

  ‘So you’re quitting, just like that.’ He snapped his fingers.

  ‘No, it’s not “just like that.”’ She mimicked his gesture. ‘As I said before, I fully intended for Ruscoe Pharmacy to carry on. After all, it’s been in my family for two generations. I don’t want to see the business fold any more than you do.’

  ‘Actions speak louder than words.’

  ‘Do you want to hear this, or not?’ she ground out.

  He frowned, but fell silent, gesturing impatiently in a go-ahead motion.

  Jenny drew a bracing breath. ‘After studying Uncle Earl’s books for the past month, I found he—the pharmacy—was in trouble. He’s shown a steady loss in recent years—’

  ‘That’s impossible. He had the corner on the market in this town.’

  ‘Maybe so, but how long could you stay in business if the amounts in your accounts receivable exceed the bottom line in your accounts payable?’

  His expression became thoughtful. ‘Your uncle was a generous man.’

  ‘I know he was.’ He’d helped her meet her own expenses during college when she’d run short of funds. ‘But his generosity contributed to his problems.’

  Noah started to speak, but Jenny forestalled him with a raised hand. ‘I’m simply telling you what I’ve found. John Grant is the accountant. He can confirm everything I’ve said.’

  ‘Earl never, ever, mentioned having financial difficulties.’

  ‘I’m sure he didn’t,’ she said, aware of just how close-lipped her uncle had been, ‘but the signs are all here and probably have been for some time.’ She waved her arms in an all-encompassing motion. ‘Does this look like a successful, up-to-date, profit-making operation?’

  She drew his attention to the most conspicuous flaws. ‘See the brown patches of old water stains on the ceiling? Don’t forget
the one left behind from last week’s storm. By the way, did you notice that the awning outside was missing?’

  Warming to the subject, she continued. ‘The wallpaper’s peeling. The display shelves are falling apart. Someone’s taped the torn vinyl seat cushions with gray duct tape to hold in the stuffing. Oh, and don’t forget the table in the corner. There’s an inch-thick pad of cardboard underneath a leg to keep the whole thing level.

  ‘And in case you hadn’t noticed, in some places, the floor tile has been worn completely through. Why, even the design is gone. It used to be brick red with gold and black flecks instead of this faded reddish-pink color. I know, because I helped pick it out twenty years ago.’

  As a twelve-year-old, she’d been thrilled and overwhelmed with the responsibility. Hoping to please her uncle, she’d spent days weighing the pros and cons of various colors and patterns. She’d even polled several business owners for their opinions of which brand held up the longest before she’d presented her final choice to him for his approval. Her aunt had argued in favor of something else, but Earl had stood by her recommendation, claiming it was exactly what he wanted.

  Eunice had ruled the roost at home, but in matters concerning his pharmacy only Earl exercised authority. He’d maintained complete control of his professional world.

  Noah turned down another aisle. ‘Things are run-down, but a good carpenter can work wonders with a few nails and a gallon of paint.’

  How could the man be so obtuse? If that was his attitude, she wondered how he maintained his own office building.

  ‘A few nails and a fresh coat of paint won’t scrape the surface of what’s needed,’ she stated firmly. ‘The electrical system is an accident waiting to happen. I doubt if it’s been updated since Ike ran for office. When I plugged the coffee-pot in this morning, sparks flew. I can’t imagine what would happen if I plugged in my laptop.’

  ‘OK, I’ll concede the wiring is bad. What’s next on your infamous list?’ He hesitated, then changed the subject. ‘Hey, where’s the antibiotic ointment?’

 
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