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His long awaited bride, p.10

His Long-Awaited Bride, page 10


His Long-Awaited Bride

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  Abby shook her head. “No. Not yet. But if you’d call Eric to ask if he could drive me home…?”

  Eric was Abby’s birthing coach as well as Lonnie’s brother, and as such his phone number had been posted in the nurses’ station. “Absolutely. I’ll let you know just as soon as I reach him.”

  Luckily, Eric answered on the first ring. “I’ll be there within fifteen minutes,” he promised.

  Relieved, Marissa disconnected the call. Thank goodness Abby wouldn’t go through labor by herself.

  And yet Marissa wondered if having someone other than the man Abby loved at her side would make her feel less alone. Somehow, she doubted it.


  JUSTIN had been trying to think of a way to see if their friendship could become something more, but he hadn’t come up with any brilliant ideas. The only thing he could do was what he always did—spend time with her—and hope that the right plan would pop into his head at the right time.

  He caught up with Marissa just as he finished his ICU rounds. “Are you interested in checking out the new barbecue place?”

  “Well…” She hesitated.

  “I’m buying,” he coaxed.

  Marissa smiled at him. “What’s the occasion?”

  “An early thank-you for your redecorating talents.”

  “In that case, yes, I’ll go. When?”

  “How about tonight?”

  “We were going to look at carpet samples,” she reminded him.

  “First we shop, then we eat. I’ll pick you up at six thirty.”

  She’d hardly had time to agree before his pager summoned him to the medical unit. “What’s up?” he asked the puzzled-looking young nurse, whose nursing pin sparkled with newness and whose name tag read “Ellie.”

  “It’s Mr. Dalton in twelve,” she reported. “We’ve followed your protocol to the letter all weekend, but his finger-stick glucose is all over the place. It’s either really high—over three hundred—or very low. Do we need to change his dosage or switch to another type of insulin?”

  Justin frowned as he reviewed the numbers. “He’s already on a combination of long-and short-acting insulin. This is the same dosage that we used to stabilize him in ICU.” Kyle had been diagnosed with diabetes a week earlier when he’d arrived by ambulance, unconscious because his blood glucose had been over six hundred.

  “Someone hasn’t changed his diet by accident, have they?” he asked.

  She shook her head vehemently. “I’ve double-checked with the dietician. I’ve also asked the aides who’ve been delivering his meal trays. They all insist he’s gotten the proper tray.”

  “Good thinking.” Mistakes sometimes happened when a busy nurses’ aide misread the placard.

  “Then what’s the problem?”

  “If I were to guess, I’d say our patient isn’t cooperating as fully as he should,” he said wryly. “I’d better have a little chat with him.”

  However, the minute Jared walked into the room, the cause for his patient’s erratic glucose was blatantly obvious.

  Sixty-two-year-old Kyle Dalton was sitting in bed with a doughnut in his hand and powdered sugar covering his upper lip.

  “Well,” Justin began, glad that he’d found the cause so quickly and irritated by his patient’s decision to go against his medical advice, “this explains a lot about your blood-work. I’m one hundred percent positive that the cafeteria didn’t send that up with your breakfast.”

  Kyle dropped the remnant of doughnut back into the white bakery bag and brushed the sugar off his mouth while looking suitably chagrined. “Sorry, Doc,” he said. “But your cooks just don’t send up enough to eat. I’m as hungry after a meal as I was before. That just can’t be right for a fellow as active as I am. And what they do send tastes downright awful. Runny eggs, stone-cold sausage links, chicken noodle soup that’s basically water with a few noodles and a piece of chicken dragged through it for flavor just ain’t what I call real food.”

  While Kyle’s manual labor job as a construction foreman gave him plenty of exercise, he definitely needed to trim away at least fifty excess pounds.

  Justin turned to his wife. A mousy woman in comparison to her husband, it was easy to guess that she had spent her marriage bowing to her spouse’s wishes. “I assume that you’ve been bringing the doughnuts?”

  She nodded sheepishly as she avoided his gaze. “I had to,” she said. “I got tired of him whining and complaining about being hungry. And he’s really cut down since he’s been here,” she hastened to assure him. “A doughnut or a candy bar here and there is all.”

  Justin drew a deep breath and fought for calm. For the most part, his patients followed his professional advice in order to either become or stay healthy. Unfortunately, there were a few who thought medicine would provide a magic bullet to unhealthy lifestyle choices, and Kyle was one of them.

  “We may not have a gourmet chef on staff, but you absolutely can’t eat those,” he addressed Kyle sternly. “Unless you don’t care about developing irreversible complications that develop because of uncontrolled glucose levels.”

  “I’ve always had a sweet tooth,” Kyle said defensively. “Can’t you just increase my insulin to counteract the sugar?”

  “That isn’t the way this works,” Justin said firmly. “Diabetes requires a lifestyle change, so indulging your sweet tooth with pastries…” he motioned to the bakery bag “…has to stop. If you aren’t going to follow my advice, then I may as well discharge you now. But I promise you’ll be back in the ER before long, probably in a coma that is potentially irreversible.

  “And if you think that having a machine breathe for you and being little more than a vegetable is easier than cutting the doughnuts out of your diet and losing weight, think again. I’ll be happy to wheel you upstairs to visit a man who is comatose and has no hope of recovery, so you can see what I’m talking about. If you choose to go that route after you see him, I won’t stand in your way.”

  Of course, Lonnie Newland’s reason for being in a coma had nothing to do with diabetes, but the end result was still the same.

  Indecision appeared on Kyle’s face. “You’re just trying to scare me,” he began.

  “Yes, I am. If the possibility of a coma won’t scare you into following orders, then maybe the idea of living with the effects of a stroke or being blind will. Then there’s the poor circulation and infections that could force us to amputate one or both legs.”

  He raised an eyebrow. “Do those sound like better prospects? Because I can guarantee you’ll eventually experience one or all of those situations if you continue what you’re doing.”

  Kyle’s face blanched. “You’re serious, aren’t you?”

  “Dead serious. I’ve seen a lot of people who manage their diabetes perfectly and live a normal life. I’ve also seen people who ignore the potential side effects and complications, and they pay the price. The choice is entirely yours.”

  A pregnant pause followed.

  “So what’ll it be?” Justin pressed. “My way or your way?”

  “I’ll follow my diet,” Kyle reluctantly admitted.

  “No extra food?”

  Kyle winced as he avoided Justin’s gaze. “None.”

  He turned to Kyle’s wife. “And you won’t cave in and bring things he can’t eat?”

  “I won’t,” she promised.

  “I’m going to hold you both to your word,” he told them sternly. “If not, you may as well start looking for another physician. I can’t help you if you won’t meet me halfway.”

  “Oh, that won’t be necessary, Doctor,” Mrs. Dalton said, casting a frown in her husband’s direction, at the same time squaring her thin shoulders. “He’ll be a model patient.”

  Kyle nodded, his face resigned, while Mrs. Dalton seemed to stand a few inches taller. If Kyle cheated again, it wouldn’t be with his wife’s blessing.

  The rest of his day went swiftly and smoothly, and Justin found himself glancing at the clo
ck and counting the hours until he could be with Marissa again. It was strange, really. He’d never done that before, or at least he’d never noticed. Although this evening wasn’t technically a date, he found himself wishing that it were. Who knew where it might lead?

  In the end, it led exactly where he’d expected. First to the carpet store, then the restaurant. As they waited for the waitress to deliver their food, he realized how easy it was to be in Marissa’s company. There were no awkward moments of silence when the conversation lagged, no worries about putting one’s best foot forward, no mincing words to avoid potentially saying the wrong thing. They knew each other too well for that.

  Which only reminded him that he hadn’t known Chandra half as well. Oh, he’d known the superficial stuff, but with Marissa, their knowledge of each other went deeper than her favorite color or gemstone. Maybe the two of them had a chance after all….

  Marissa scanned the homey decor of the restaurant with its red checkered tablecloths, lit candles, comic pictures of fat little chefs on the walls, and napkins large enough to be towels. The atmosphere at Buck’s Barbecue was as boisterous as a Fourth of July picnic, and every now and again, someone would slip money into the jukebox to hear their favorite country and western song.

  “This is quite a place,” she said above the din.

  “It is. I hear the food is terrific.”

  Marissa eyed the steaming platter of ribs that a waiter had carried to a nearby table. “There’s certainly plenty of it. I predict we’re going to need a carry-out box.”

  “At least one,” he agreed. “But with all those bones, Toby will be in doggy heaven for a couple of days.”

  “If he gets them at all,” she remarked.

  “You’re not going to share?”

  “Probably not,” she admitted. “I don’t want him to break off a piece and choke on it and I definitely don’t want him dragging a bone slathered in barbecue sauce through my house.”

  He grinned. “You don’t want to buy new carpeting, too?”

  She laughed. “After seeing the prices, I can’t afford it. But of those we saw, which sample did you like most? And don’t say the cheapest one.”

  “How did you guess?”

  She shook her head. “You’ll never change, will you?”

  “Oh, I don’t know,” he said lightly. “I might surprise you.”

  While they discussed the merits of the different samples they’d chosen, Marissa noticed how all the patrons appeared to be couples. One couple in particular caught her eye when she saw the two of them holding hands across the table. Suddenly, she wished that she and Justin weren’t just two friends sharing an evening meal but a couple on a bona fide date.

  Immediately she scolded herself for her wish. It was so unlike her to let her thoughts continually stray in the wrong direction. Travis was coming home, Justin wouldn’t need her decorating tips after a few more days, and then her life would finally get back on an even keel. It was so odd that after all their years of easy camaraderie, something had changed between them. Oh, they still talked and joked, but the underlying atmosphere was different, as if the air had suddenly become electrified.

  All because of one little kiss.

  Logically, she knew she’d handled herself well. She’d treated the incident lightly, as if it had meant nothing. He hadn’t mentioned it since, which only suggested that he’d dismissed it from his mind far more easily than she had. She would do well to follow his lead.

  Yet when he leaned across the table with his napkin to dab at her mouth as soon as she’d finished her meal, something flashed in his eyes for a split second.

  “Barbecue sauce,” he explained.

  She wiped her mouth again, with her own napkin. “Thanks.” Yet, it didn’t take much imagination to picture him kissing the same spot.

  Sweet mercy, but she was definitely in trouble!

  If Justin had harbored any doubts about there being enough sparks between them to take their friendship to a new level, they’d disappeared after last night’s dinner. He’d heard her little intake of breath when he’d dabbed at the sauce at the corner of her mouth, seen how her gaze had landed on his lips and how her eyes had softened with her smile. He would never have noticed those things if he hadn’t been alert, which only made him wonder how many other signs he’d missed.

  In any case, Marissa wasn’t as immune to him as she pretended.

  He would have liked to mull over the situation and figure out where he would go from here, but after Jared Tremaine, Hope’s ER Director, caught him on his way out of the hospital the next morning, the opportunity disappeared.

  “Have a minute?” Jared asked.

  “Barely. What’s up?”

  “You missed the medical staff meeting this morning.”

  He snapped his fingers. “Darn. I forgot.”

  “The main topic of discussion was West Nile. The local news has picked up on the number of cases reported in the county and wants to interview a doctor to discuss symptoms, treatment, preventative measures, etcetera.”

  “Good idea. Who’s the poor schmuck, er, lucky person, who gets to go on the record?”


  He groaned. “Me? Why me?”

  “Because you’re the closest thing we have to an infectious disease specialist.”

  “Norm Allen likes to go in front of the camera. Let him have the honors.”

  “He’s eighty if he’s a day and only sees a handful of patients in between his fishing trips. I’m not sure he knows any more about West Nile than the reporter does.”

  “What about—?”

  Jared shook his head. “No arguments. You’re it. We voted and the consensus was unanimous.”

  “But I wasn’t there to defend myself,” he protested.

  Jared grinned. “Let this be a lesson to you. He who doesn’t attend gets volunteered. It happens every time. Honestly, St. James, you should know that by now.” He shook his head in mock sympathy.

  “I don’t suppose I could claim being too busy as an excuse.”

  “Not a chance.” Jared clapped him on the back. “Look at it this way. You know all the details off the top of your head while the rest of us would have to do our homework. Plus, you’ve treated the most severe of the cases we’ve seen in the area. Never let it be said that we didn’t pick the best man for the job.”

  “Gee, thanks.”

  “Your interview, by the way, is at five. I purposely scheduled it at the end of the day so it wouldn’t interfere with your office hours.”

  “I’m thrilled by your thoughtfulness,” Justin said dryly.

  “You also might want to touch base with Virginia at the County Health Office. I understand she’s going to participate, too.”

  Justin sighed. “Anything else?”

  “Not at the moment,” Jared mentioned cheerfully. “If I think of something, though, I’ll call you. Catch you later.”

  Justin marched toward his car, wishing someone else had been chosen to stand in the limelight. While the article would be timely, considering the number of positive West Nile tests the medical community had encountered, he’d rather spend his time with Marissa, redecorating his house. Not to mention how he had to somehow convince Marissa that Pendleton wasn’t the man he was cracked up to be.

  And yet maybe this interview wasn’t such a bad thing after all. Comparing notes with Virginia just might give him the ammunition he needed.

  All at once, he created his own list of questions, but he intended to get his answers long before five o’clock.

  And he did.

  Now he only had to think of a tactful way to break the news to Marissa.

  “I’d like to see Travis Pendleton,” Marissa informed the City Hall secretary shortly after six-thirty that same evening. She’d been on her way home after work when she’d decided to spring an unannounced visit on Travis to welcome him back, in person, from his trip. Although they’d spoken on the phone every night he’d been gone, she felt like an
eager teenager now that he’d come home.

  “He’s still on the phone, but go on back and have a seat.” The twenty-something blonde wearing a crisp navy suit gave her an inquiring look before she waved her in the direction of his office. “He won’t be much longer, I’m sure.”


  A minute later she hesitated outside his doorway. Although his secretary had given her permission to enter, she hated to simply barge inside. Rather than interrupt, she waited…and watched.

  He may have spent the entire day at the office, immersed in whatever tasks were required to manage the city, but she couldn’t tell it from his appearance. Not a hair was out of place and although he’d abandoned his suit coat, his tie was firmly in place and his white shirt unwrinkled. Cool, calm, and collected came to mind while she, on the other hand, was definitely not looking her best.

  She tucked a few wispy strands of hair that had slipped out of her ponytail behind her ears, wishing she’d stopped to powder her nose. Her tracksuit, although of wrinkle-free cotton polyester, had spent the day wadded up in her locker since she’d changed into her scrubs at the hospital early that morning. Perhaps she should have gone home and slipped into something classier, like her best pair of black dress slacks and a silk blouse, to welcome Travis home after his trip.

  While she debated the merits of slipping away, sight unseen, he saw her, smiled broadly, then waved her in. “Have a seat,” he whispered with his hand over the receiver. “I’ll be through in a minute.”

  She sank into the plush side chair, pleased that he hadn’t minded her impulsive visit. Determined not to listen to his one-sided conversation, she mentally compared the samples of kitchen wallpaper that Justin had liked and tried to decide which of the three would fit him best. Before she knew it, she was comparing the man himself to the one in front of her.

  By this time of day, Justin would look rumpled. He would have discarded the jacket and rolled up his sleeves, appearing like a man who’d been physically active, not like one who’d hardly moved a muscle. Because he considered ties a nuisance and an infection hazard, he would have gone without. Some of his colleagues might consider a tie part of a physician’s uniform, but not Justin. Even while working, he dressed for comfort, not style.

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