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The baby doctors bride, p.1

The Baby Doctor's Bride, page 1


The Baby Doctor's Bride

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The Baby Doctor's Bride

  “Would you like me to assist?” he asked, hoping she’d refuse.

  Ivy positively beamed and took a step forward. For a moment she wore such a supreme look of relief that he thought she might kiss him.

  He wouldn’t have minded. In fact, just the possibility of feeling her lips against his own sent blood rushing through his body. Having such a strong physical reaction on the basis of merely thinking about a kiss plainly indicated he’d been alone for far too long.

  But physical attraction or not, he didn’t have any business letting his imagination run away with him. He carried too much emotional baggage right now to consider any sort of relationship, even a platonic one.

  Dear Reader,

  I think everyone would agree with me that we’re all influenced in one way or another by events in our lives. Some of those events occur as a result of our decisions, while others are completely out of our control. There are happy ones and tragic ones, but regardless of what happens, our friends and family are the people who both share in our joys and support us in our sorrows. So when I began to write this story, I wanted to show my hero’s journey from darkness into light.

  In The Baby Doctor’s Bride, Ethan Locke was devastated by a tragedy, and, as a result, his entire life took a turn for the worse. Wandering seemed the only solution for his lost soul until he met that one special person, that one heroic woman who brought hope and joy back into his life.

  It wasn’t an easy road for either of them, but things worth having are worth fighting for.

  Best wishes,



  Jessica Matthews


  To my family, whose unwavering support has been

  my inspiration.














  DESPERATE times called for desperate measures.

  Ivy Harris parked her SUV on the circular gravel driveway in front of the hunting lodge commonly known as the old Beckett place. For a moment she clutched the steering wheel in a white-knuckled grip as she studied her surroundings.

  The rustic house, built to resemble a log cabin, was nestled in a shady grove of cottonwood and oak trees. According to her father, the building sat on the edge of three hundred and twenty acres of private land, teeming with deer, quail and turkeys, and was a popular rental property during the hunting season. But she didn’t care about the house or the land or the wildlife. She was only interested in the lodge’s current resident.

  After inhaling a bracing breath for courage, she slid out from the behind the wheel. There was no sign of human life—no vehicles, open windows or tools scattered around the yard—and she wondered if today’s excursion was simply a wasted effort. But she’d come too far to jump to conclusions. If Ethan Locke wasn’t here now he would eventually return, and she would be waiting.

  Provided he didn’t take longer than her scheduled lunch break.

  Her trainers crunched eerily against the gravel as she tramped up the path toward the front concrete steps, conscious of the birds merrily chirping overhead and two squirrels playing tag in the uppermost branches. For an instant she chided herself for not taking time to spruce herself up a bit, in an effort to give a good first impression, but in the next she was glad she hadn’t. She hadn’t come to make a fashion statement, with her khaki trousers, the yellow tank top with its faint pink stains courtesy of a small patient’s cherry lollipop, and her tennis shoes. Looking like the frazzled physician she was, rather than a woman ready for an afternoon of tea parties and shopping, could only help her cause—or so she hoped.

  Determined to be as eloquent and as convincing as possible, she pounded on the weathered screen door.

  No one responded.

  She tested the screen door and found it unlatched. This time she pounded on the inside door.

  Still no answer.

  Slowly she closed the screen door and glanced at her watch. She could stay another fifteen minutes, but any longer than that would throw off her schedule. If her afternoon passed like most of them had, she’d be working until well past dinner.

  Still, it couldn’t be helped. She sat on the front step and stretched out her legs. Without warning, a tall, chocolate-brown-haired man in his late thirties rounded the corner of the cabin, carrying a fifty-pound bag of birdseed over his shoulder. In spite of his rather disreputable state—ragged denim jeans, stained T-shirt, tousled hair and unshaven face—his lean physique and muscled chest made him worthy of a second glance.

  Considering how it had been ages since she’d given any man another look, she was surprised by how easily this one had momentarily made her forget her purpose for being there.

  “Hi,” she said brightly, jumping to her feet.

  He dropped the bag next to a bird feeder in the front yard with a thump and straightened. His storm-cloud-blue gaze was direct, and his straight nose, square jaw, and well-defined cheekbones formed a breathtakingly handsome face. “Hello,” he said, in a deep, pleasant voice. “I hope you’re not lost and looking for directions, because I haven’t lived here long enough to be helpful.”

  “I’m not,” she assured him. “I’m here because I’m looking for Ethan Locke.”

  Suspicion instantly replaced his welcoming smile. “What do you want with him?”

  “It’s personal. Do you know where he is?”

  He hesitated for several seconds, as if unwilling to answer. “I’m Ethan Locke,” he finally said.

  Impossible. She’d been told the man was retired, so this had to be his son. “I’m looking for Dr. Ethan Locke,” she stressed as she walked toward his side.

  “In the flesh,” he answered gruffly.

  “You’re Dr. Locke?” she asked, startled by his admission because she’d been expecting a much older man.

  “Yeah, and who wants to know?”

  The congenial man she’d first encountered had become a gruff, taciturn fellow. “Ivy Harris,” she said in her most friendly manner, although from his frown her effort was wasted. “I have to apologize,” she continued. “I’d been told you’d retired so I’d expected someone…”

  “Gray-haired and walking with a cane?” he finished dryly.

  Her face warmed. “Not quite. In any case,” she pressed on, “rumor says you’re a doctor. A pediatrician, in fact.”

  “Not anymore. According to you I’m retired, remember?” He slit one corner of the bag with a utility knife, then began pouring birdseed into the feeder. “Did you want something in particular, or did you just drop by to interrupt my peaceful morning?”

  For some reason referring to his profession had pressed one of his hot buttons, but she’d come too far to give up now. While she would have preferred to state her case with his undivided attention, she couldn’t demand he stop what he was doing when she had arrived unexpectedly and without an invitation. “I have a proposition for you.”

  “A proposition?” He paused to rake an insolent gaze along her full length. “I’m flattered, but I’d rather not spend my days in jail.”

  Her face warmed with embarrassment in spite of the shade-cooled breeze. “Not that sort of proposition,” she said loftily. “A business proposition.”

  “Doesn’t matter what sort it is. My answer is no.”

  “But you haven’t heard the details. The least you can do is listen. Please?” Trying not to beg, she added, “It’s

  “It always is,” he mumbled, before he set the bag of seed on the ground, reattached the lid to the feeder, and strode toward the cabin’s front door. “I suppose you’d better come inside.”

  It wasn’t the most gracious welcome, but he was willing to hear her out, so she’d find her victories wherever she could.

  In spite of his gruff manner, he courteously held open the screen door for her. “Thanks,” she murmured, equally polite.

  As soon as she stepped across the threshold into the main living area she instantly felt at home. Because she spent nearly all of her day seeing patients in claustrophobic cubicles, open spaces appealed to her. If she had a place like this to come home to every night, she’d be one happy lady.

  “This is quite impressive,” she said, taking in the rough-hewn log walls, the flagstone fireplace, the bear rug in front of a leather sofa and the overall “Southwest” interior design. At the opposite end of the great room stood an old oak table, large enough to accommodate eight comfortably, and a kitchen area that boasted modern appliances.

  Furnishings aside, Ethan Locke dominated the space.

  He clicked off the television, then crossed to the table, where a half-empty bottle of water stood, and drank deeply. “I’m sure you didn’t drive this far off the beaten path to discuss my accommodations,” he said when he’d finished.

  “No, I didn’t,” she said, refusing to be intimidated by every inch of his six feet plus lean frame or the frown on his ruggedly bewhiskered face. “I need your help.”

  “Oh?” Everything about him exuded skepticism, from the way he folded his arms across his massive chest to the suspicion shining in his blue-gray eyes.

  “Actually, the whole town needs you.”

  He raised one eyebrow. “Somehow I find that hard to believe.”

  “It’s true,” she insisted. “With our only family practitioner, Walt Griffith, gone—”

  “What happened to him?”

  “Nothing, but his brother in Phoenix had a stroke and he went to visit. Apparently he’s not doing well, and Walt thinks he could pass on anytime, so he doesn’t want to leave. Which is okay because a friend of his, Jed Richardson, has taken over.”

  “Then I don’t see a problem.”

  “Jed’s an internist, which means I’ve inherited all of Walt’s pediatric patients. I’m a pediatrician, too, by the way.”

  “Lucky you.”

  She ignored his comment, although she wondered at the reason for his attitude. “To make matters worse, I have seven kids with whooping cough.”

  He frowned. “Aren’t you encouraging your parents to vaccinate their children? Or don’t they teach that in med school these days?”

  “The ink may not be quite dry on my board certification,” she ground out, irritated by how easily he’d jumped to the wrong conclusions. She could quickly imagine what he’d think if he knew she’d moved here less than a month ago. “But Walt and I are both well aware of the importance of childhood vaccinations. Three of my cases are eight years and older, and are current with their shots. The other four are babies who haven’t received the full immunization regimen yet. They aren’t sick because of parental or physician negligence.”

  He let out a deep sigh and stroked his face thoughtfully with one hand, which wasn’t an apology, but a reluctant acknowledgment of his wrong assumptions.

  “What do you want from me?” he asked in a more modulated tone.

  Hope rose and Ivy stepped closer. “Your help,” she answered promptly. “Your hands. Your expertise. I’m working twenty-four hour days, and I can’t be effective if I continue at this pace. It isn’t fair to my patients.”

  “Hire a locum.”

  “I’ve tried, but no one’s available until the end of the summer. You, on the other hand, are here and—” she met his dark-eyed gaze “—available.”

  “I’m on vacation.”

  “For how long?”

  “Indefinitely. Think of me as being on sabbatical—which means I’m not sitting on the back porch, birdwatching.”

  Picturing his huge bag of birdseed, she suspected he was, but it would be rude to correct him. She couldn’t risk alienating him more than she apparently already had. “Regardless of how you describe your stay, technically you’re free.”

  “It means I’m not punching a clock or taking orders from someone else,” he countered. “And I’m not going to.”

  She eyed him carefully, irritated by his refusal, and desperate to gain his cooperation. “Give me one good reason why you won’t help.”

  “I don’t want to.”

  “Not good enough.”

  “What if I said I was sick?”

  She gave him a quick once-over, noting how casually he stood straight and tall on muscular legs. His biceps and forearms were well developed, too, as if he lifted weights on a regular basis. He’d also carried a fifty-pound bag across the yard with the easy grace and sure footing of a panther. While he didn’t have the deep tan of someone who spent his days in the sun, he certainly didn’t possess the washed-out, pale color of someone who either was or had been ill.

  The only thing she could say about him was that he looked like a man on vacation—a man who hadn’t taken time to shave that morning, a man whose thick hair was longer than she guessed he usually allowed it to be. But underneath the grubby look she saw a tall, suave, sophisticated man in his late thirties, who had an intensely serious expression capable of drawing women to him like metal shavings to a magnet if he’d only smile. Or smile more often.

  “I wouldn’t believe you,” she said smartly. “According to Lew at the gas station, you’re retired.”

  “He’s wrong.”

  “Obviously,” she said dryly. “So you came to Danton for a vacation, but—”

  “An extended and well-deserved vacation is what I intend to have. Find someone else if you need an extra pair of hands.”

  “There isn’t anyone else,” she insisted. “Look, if you want to spend your days resting and relaxing, great. But can’t you spare a few weeks out of your busy schedule? I’m not asking you to work twenty-hour days, either. Nine to four, Monday through Friday. I’ll take care of the night and weekend call schedule.”

  Her offer was quite generous, in her opinion, but if he wanted more—such as working only three days a week—she’d agree to his terms, because any assistance he could give was better than none.

  “I sympathize with you, but I’m not interested.”

  “I’ll pay you a salary,” she offered impulsively.

  He raised one dark eyebrow. “You said this is your first practice?”

  “Yeah, so?”

  “Then you don’t have two cents to rub together.” His tone was flat. “I know because I’ve been there myself. Unless you’re independently wealthy?”

  “I’m not. If you won’t accept a salary, then I’ll split the office profits with you, with none of the expenses.” She didn’t know how she’d manage that and still meet her loan payments, but she’d find a way.

  “I don’t take advantage of my colleagues,” he stated. “Save your money.”

  Calling her a colleague boosted Ivy’s hopes for the second time since she’d walked into the cabin. “Then it’s a deal? You’ll join me?”


  Impatiently, she rubbed the back of her neck and struggled to hold her tone even. “What’s the problem?”

  “There isn’t a problem. I just want to be left alone,” he ground out. “Is that too difficult a concept for you to grasp, Dr. Harris?”

  Although the red highlights in her hair came courtesy of her hairdresser, Ivy’s temper rose to match. “You don’t have a concept. You have an excuse. How can you ignore children who need a doctor?”

  “They have you, and you seem capable enough.”

  “What about your Hippocratic Oath and the joy of healing those who seek your help?”

  “I can’t help you, Dr. Harris,” he said flatly.

  “You won’t,” she corrected.

  “I have my reasons.”

  “Which are?”

  “None of your business, Dr. Harris.”

  “Perhaps you don’t understand the dynamics of rural communities. Everyone helps each other. Think on that the next time you go to town and expect someone to serve you at the diner, sack and carry your groceries, or change the oil in your car.”

  “For the record, I’m immune to threats.”

  “A threat would be if I said no one would serve you,” she said through gritted teeth. “I’m merely pointing out that the people in this area share their skills and talents. We don’t hoard or use them only when it’s convenient.” Her voice shook with frustration. “You don’t have any children, do you, Dr. Locke?”

  His eyes turned dark and his expression cold. “No.”

  “I didn’t think so, because if you did, I wonder how you’d feel if you had a sick son or daughter and the doctor who could treat him refused because his vacation was more important.”

  He didn’t answer.

  Unable to spend another minute in his presence, she headed for the exit. “Enjoy your rest and relaxation, Doctor. I hope you’ll be very happy spending time in your ivory tower.”

  She stormed out, carefully and quietly closing the screen door when it was tempting to do the opposite. It was equally tempting to rev her engine and scatter the gravel as she peeled out of the driveway, but she refused to act in such a petty manner. Ethan Locke might think of her as a country hick, but she possessed more class than that. With any luck she wouldn’t run into the man for the rest of his so-called vacation, however long it lasted. Considering how she spent nearly all of her time at the clinic, the ten-bed hospital, or her father’s diner, the odds of never seeing him again lay solidly in her favor.

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