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The gps valentine propos.., p.1

The GP's Valentine Proposal, page 1

 

The GP's Valentine Proposal
 


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The GP's Valentine Proposal


  For the first time since she came to Hope, Dixie realized that she wasn’t eager to return home

  What a difference a mere twenty-four hours made.

  No, that wasn’t quite right. Time hadn’t made the difference at all. It was the man seated across the table from her who could claim sole responsibility for her sudden discontent. This attractive, sometimes overbearing and bossy, and refreshingly gallant man had shown her how empty her life really was, and he didn’t even know he’d done so.

  Suddenly, she wasn’t as eager to discover the secret as she had been when she’d arrived. Her and Mark’s common goal of finding out the truth allowed her to spend time with the handsome doctor that she otherwise wouldn’t have, and every day’s delay meant one more day in Hope. One more day of dreaming that she wasn’t alone.

  She’d almost be willing to let something develop between them, but fear held her back. In spite of her faith in her family, deep down she was afraid that it might be misplaced. And if it was, any relationship she developed with Mark in the interim would wither after the painful truth was revealed.

  Dear Reader,

  Welcome to my HOPE CITY series, where people find love as they pursue their dreams and aspirations.

  The idea for this series grew out of the knowledge that we’ve all entertained hopes at one time or another. So I wanted to create a town where my characters not only give hope to others through their profession, but, for various reasons, also cling to it themselves.

  The GP’s Valentine Proposal is the third story, where the discovery of a huge family secret by Dr. Dixie Albright leads to her very own perfect proposal from fellow practitioner Dr. Mark Cameron. In Hope City, it’s the combination of medicine and romance that gives the community its name.

  Happy reading!

  Jessica Matthews

  The GP’s Valentine Proposal

  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

  CHAPTER TWELVE

  CHAPTER ONE

  “WHAT do you think you’re doing?”

  Startled by the irritated male voice that had come from nowhere, Dixie Albright jumped and banged her injured knee on the open drawer. Pain shot through her leg to the point of instantly bringing tears to her eyes, but she managed to swallow both her groan and a few choice words.

  “Well?” he demanded as he strode into the office and hovered over the oak desk like an avenging angel.

  She didn’t need this, she decided as she took a few bracing breaths. She didn’t need to undo the surgeon’s work so soon after he’d repaired the damage, and she certainly didn’t need to be treated as if she had no right to be there. Hoping to avoid this very situation, she’d checked in with Jane, the practice receptionist, who obviously hadn’t spread the word about Dixie’s presence.

  Actually, there shouldn’t have been anyone to tell. She’d arrived during the noon hour when everyone—other than Jane—had left for lunch. She’d planned to take advantage of the near-deserted practice to scout out the situation before anyone—namely her cousin’s boss—realized she’d been there.

  And from Ned’s description, the man glowering at her could only be the top man in this three-physician family practice. As she rubbed her knee and mentally willed the pain down to a manageable level, she wondered if he always took a short lunch-break.

  He probably did, she told herself. Ned had complained of his partner’s workaholic tendencies, and at the time she’d hoped they’d rub off on her free-spirited cousin. Considering that she was sitting at Ned’s desk in a busy medical practice while Ned was off doing only heaven knew what, those traits clearly hadn’t made any impression on him.

  Determined to be polite and not alienate the one man who could possibly help her, she pasted on a smile and carefully balanced her weight on her good leg as she rose and straightened out a few wrinkles on her blue Paisley skirt. Dresses weren’t her favorite things to wear during the cold days of January, but pulling a pair of slacks over her swollen knee seemed more work than it was worth.

  “Hi,” she said brightly as she held out her hand, taking stock of the impeccably dressed man who loomed over her. “You must be Mark Cameron.”

  While she waited for him to shake hands, she quickly created a mental list of his characteristics. Wide shoulders, powerful arms, which the long sleeves of his navy blue shirt didn’t disguise, slightly windblown auburn hair, a handsome face with faint scars above his right eyebrow and along the right side of his jaw, a heart-stopping dimple in his firm chin, and gray eyes that, at the moment, were as frosty as the winter weather.

  “Yes, I am. And you are?” He raised a dark eyebrow.

  A lesser woman might have quaked in her boots under the circumstances, but Dixie hadn’t survived medical school without weathering all sorts of situations. She’d learned how to handle bad-mannered, obnoxious, and arrogant professors by not backing down. Now, thanks to Father Time and the years under her proverbial belt—not to mention the initials after her own name—she no longer humbly accepted whatever dish a colleague tried to serve.

  She shot him one of her own “doctor” glares that she saved for rare occasions, then dropped her hand and sat down. If she had to deal with rudeness, she’d do it as comfortably as possible.

  “I’m Dixie…” Her comment faded as she caught a glimpse of something shiny under a pile of notepads sporting logos of various pharmaceutical companies. Distracted by the possibility of finding the very thing she’d been searching for, the very thing she needed, her introduction died as she grabbed for what she hoped was her prize.

  It was.

  Clutching the keyring like a lifeline, she sank back in the chair and sent up a silent “thank you” for her success. Without those keys, she’d be forced to call a locksmith and heaven only knew how long it would take for him to work his magic.

  “You can’t imagine how happy I am that I found these.” She jingled them for emphasis.

  “I can guess,” he said dryly. A fraction of a second later, he leaned across the desk and grabbed them with a sleight of hand that would have made a magician envious. Before she truly realized what had happened and could protest, he dropped them into his trouser pocket.

  She stared at him, incredulous. “What do you think you’re doing?”

  His expression matched his grim tone. “I asked you first.”

  “I’ve been looking for those,” she ground out, struggling to contain her temper.

  “You may have found them, but be glad they’re in my pocket instead of yours.”

  “Really? Why?”

  “Because if you carry those keys out of this building, I’ll have you arrested for theft. Miss…?”

  Her goodwill faded, along with the smile on her face. “I’m Dixie Albright and, for the record, I’m not stealing them.”

  “From where I stand, it looks like you are.”

  She gritted her teeth. “I need those keys.”

  He crossed his arms as a smug look crossed his face. “And why should I give them to you, Miss Albright?”

  “It’s Dr Albright,” she said, matching his frosty tone. “As I’ve already explained to your receptionist, I’m Ned’s cousin.”

  She hadn’t expected him to greet her with open arms, but she had expected the information to soften him a bit. A blush or a sheepish smile would have suited her just fine, but all she got was a raised eyebrow. “I’m here to—” she
began.

  “Do you have ID?”

  “To prove that I’m a physician or Ned’s cousin?” she retorted.

  “If you think I’m handing over anything to anyone who claims to be a relative, you can think again.”

  “For the love of—” She bit back the rest of her sentence. Obviously, Ned hadn’t mentioned her, which pained her more than it should have. After all these years, she should be used to being invisible in his eyes. That was, she was invisible until he or his parents needed her to bail him out of the messes he landed in from time to time.

  Like now.

  If she weren’t so tired from driving four hours and if her knee didn’t throb in time to her heartbeat, she’d be relieved to know that Mark’s tenacity to guard Ned’s property resembled a pit bull’s, but she was exhausted and her knee was protesting the strain. The sooner he recognized her legitimate claim to those keys, the sooner she could elevate her leg, take a pain pill and plan her next move.

  Bowing to the inevitable, she fished her driver’s license out of the shoulder-bag at her feet, and placed the laminated card on the polished surface of the desk.

  His gaze darted to the photo ID, then back at her.

  “As for being Ned’s cousin…” she flipped through the snapshots in her billfold until she found the last family photo they’d taken “…will this convince you?”

  He took the single photo she held out, studied the likeness, then glanced back at her. “You’ve changed.”

  “It’s called age,” she said smartly. A lot had happened in the six years since the photographer had snapped the picture. She’d completed her residency in emergency medicine, her uncle had died, her aunt’s health had deteriorated, and her cousin…well, Ned may have finished at the top of his med-school class and specialized in family practice, but Ned was still Ned.

  “That was taken six or seven years ago. I may look different, but Ned doesn’t.”

  “You cut your hair.”

  She’d also exchanged her glasses for contacts with the hope that she’d undergo LASIK eye surgery one day, but he didn’t need to know her medical history. “It’s still me.”

  He handed her billfold back to her. “Why are you here?”

  Dixie stuffed her belongings back in her bag before she stared at him, incredulous. “Why am I here?” she repeated.

  “Ned’s gone,” he said flatly. “If you came to visit, you’ll be sorely disappointed.”

  “I didn’t come to visit,” she said slowly. “I came to find him.”

  He scoffed. “Good luck.”

  Her hope that he might have a clue as to Ned’s whereabouts faded. “Then you don’t know where he went?”

  “If I did, I’d mail his termination letter.”

  The situation was worse than she’d thought although, if the truth were known, not completely surprising. Ned was the type of man who marched to a different drummer, a man who played by his own rules, the most important being that he had no rules. Ned did what he wanted, when he wanted and somehow Dixie usually landed in the position of controlling the damage. His parents had raised her after hers had died and she, being the older of the two children in their home, had always been charged with looking out for Ned.

  It was a thankless job but hers, nonetheless.

  “You’d fire him because he took a vacation?” It rankled her to defend Ned when it was clear that this time he’d over-extended his latest spur-of-the-moment trip, but what choice did she have?

  “Disappearing without a word of warning in the middle of influenza season, leaving me high and dry with no idea of when he might come back or where he even went, is not the usual way to arrange for a vacation.”

  Dixie inwardly winced at her cousin’s thoughtlessness. She didn’t blame Mark for his hard-line attitude. As many faults as her cousin had, disappearing for this long exceeded even his limits.

  Or so she hoped.

  “Aren’t there three of you?” she asked. “I distinctly remember Ned saying he would be the third physician in this practice.”

  “He was, until Don Richmond retired two months after Ned arrived. For the last three months, it’s just been the two of us.”

  She didn’t need him to spell out the obvious. To add to their already overly full schedule, Cameron had been carrying the load for the last ten days completely on his own. He had every right to be upset and less than forgiving.

  What in the world were you thinking, Ned, to put your partner in this position?

  “Haven’t you heard from him at all?” she asked.

  He snorted. “Like I told your aunt, other than the note waiting on my desk saying he’d be gone for a long weekend and a phone call that raised more questions than gave answers—”

  “He called you?”

  “A week later.”

  “What did he say? How did he sound?”

  “He only said that he ran into problems and wouldn’t be back for a while.”

  “How long?” she demanded. This was better news than she’d expected.

  “The connection was bad and that was all I heard.”

  “Did he say what kind of problems or where he was?”

  He shook his head. “It was a one-sentence conversation that basically told me nothing. So, if you should see or talk to him, tell him not to bother coming back.”

  She didn’t think it likely that Ned would contact her. His own mother hadn’t discovered he had left town until she’d phoned the practice to talk to him. Her call had been routed to Mark who, in turn, had mentioned Ned’s delayed absence.

  As a result, her aunt had insisted on filing a missing person’s report, but the police hadn’t been helpful. With Ned’s note and no indications of foul play, the authorities had decided that he’d disappeared by choice. Still worried about her son, her aunt had insisted on Dixie’s help to discover where Ned had gone. Now, finding him was up to her, and so far Ned’s phone call to Mark was her only lead.

  “Aren’t you being rather hasty? He might have a legitimate reason for not returning when he said he would. He could have been in a car accident, gotten ill, maybe even—”

  “Ned has twenty thousand excuses but, regardless of the number, I have a three-strikes-and-you’re-out policy. As far as I’m concerned, Ned’s used all of his pitches. He’s been permanently benched and, in fact, is off the team. End of story.”

  A sick feeling settled in the pit of Dixie’s stomach. “Then he’s done this before?” Dammit, he’d promised her he’d settle down after his father died, if for no other reason than to not worry his mother.

  “Twice. Oh, he only left for a few days each time, but I need someone I can count on—someone the patients can count on—and clearly Ned isn’t that person. So, if you’ve come to talk me into holding his position for the day when he may waltz back in as if nothing has happened, you’re wasting your time.”

  Her face warmed at Cameron’s uncanny accuracy. “Have you already replaced him?”

  “Not yet, but I’m working on it.”

  “A locum?”

  “For now.”

  “When will he or she arrive?”

  He raised an eyebrow. “Does it matter?”

  Her mind raced with possibilities. “Yes.”

  “Why?”

  “Because I’m on leave for a few weeks and could fill in if you’d like. Especially since you clearly haven’t replaced the fellow who retired.”

  “You?”

  She squared her shoulders. “I’m fully qualified. As you know, family practice rotations are part of my ER training.”

  His gaze traveled to the crutch propped against the desk. “You’re obviously not in peak condition.”

  “I’m only temporarily disabled,” she corrected.

  He didn’t appear convinced and she decided to explain. “I had a meniscectomy a few days ago,” she said, referring to the procedure where a piece of cartilage was removed via arthroscopy. “It was all simple and straightforward. If this personal problem hadn
t come up, I’d be going back to work at home. Which means that if my orthopedist approved me to return to the ER, I can handle the demands of a family practice.”

  His expression grew thoughtful, and then a knowing glint appeared in his eyes. “If I let you cover for your cousin, are you assuming I’ll take him back without question when he finally shows up?”

  Once again, Mark had second-guessed her plan. The sneer in his voice clearly said that he found it wanting.

  She met his gaze without blinking. “It’s a viable idea.”

  “It would be,” he agreed, “if I was willing to give him another chance. I’m not.”

  The hard set to his jaw provided ample evidence that he wouldn’t be moved. Perhaps if she wasn’t so tired and if her body wasn’t demanding a pain pill, she’d be willing to argue Ned’s case, but tomorrow, as the saying went, was another day. She wasn’t ready to admit defeat, but in some instances retreating and regrouping were far better tactics to employ. This seemed like one of those times.

  “I’ll be staying at Ned’s place until the end of the week. Provided you give me his keys,” she added pointedly. “You can reach me there, in case you have second thoughts.”

  “I won’t. My locum will arrive day after tomorrow. I have everything under control.”

  It didn’t take much for her to imagine no thanks to Ned tacked onto the end of his sentence. And yet she had to put forth one final effort before she left…

  “And a permanent replacement?” she asked. “For both Ned and your retired physician?”

  “I’ll interview my applicants in the next few weeks,” he answered. “The locum will stay until I have a replacement. Everything is falling into place.”

  And that was that, she thought wearily.

  She held out her hand. “In that case, if you don’t mind, I’d like my, er, Ned’s keys.”

  This time he didn’t hesitate. He dug in his pocket and immediately dropped them into her outstretched palm. She closed her fingers around the small pieces of metal, surprised to feel how warm they had become after resting against his body, then slipped them into her skirt pocket.

 
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