Unexpected attraction, p.1

Unexpected Attraction, page 1

 

Unexpected Attraction
 


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Unexpected Attraction


  She swore never to trust him...

  Hardworking single mom Andrea Taylor thought she knew everything about her teenage daughter. She doesn’t. Her teen is being bullied, and the school has brought in Jake Polegato to help. But the charming psychologist is the last man Andrea wants meddling in her family affairs.

  Andrea has good reason to despise Jake, but her daughter comes first. Yet as Andrea and Jake work together, she begins to see the man he really is. As tensions turn into undeniable attraction, Andrea finds herself in dangerously unfamiliar territory. Because now she doesn’t just need Jake’s help...she needs him.

  “Are you ready?”

  “Sure, but be prepared—you may be pulling fishing line out of my hair.”

  “I look forward to the opportunity to run my fingers through your hair in search of fishing line,” Jake replied, leaning toward Andrea, the heat of his body blending with hers. She fought to keep from swaying into his broad chest. She wanted to touch his face, feel the texture of his skin beneath her fingers. His body was so close...too close.

  Suddenly uncertain, she retreated and concentrated on the rod she held. She

  couldn’t look at him for fear he’d see her need.

  “Let’s fish,” he whispered into her ear.

  Dear Reader,

  As an author, I enjoy writing stories about issues that people face in their everyday lives. Lives that involve doing our best in whatever we undertake, caring about each other and the one essential part of happiness that everyone seeks—finding someone to love.

  Unexpected Attraction is based on a subject that everyone at one time or another has had to deal with, whether personally or with a family member: bullying. It is so important for all of us to recognize that everyone has the right to be a part of this world, to work in their chosen vocation, to love and fulfill his or her dreams without fear of being bullied.

  I experienced bullying in my life, watched my children go through it and even my grandchildren. Some instances were more serious than others, but each time it produced anxiety, fear and uncertainty.

  This story is about each one of you who has faced being bullied and had to find a way to cope with it. But it is also the story of love between two people who at first glance didn’t want anything to do with each other, but thanks to their shared circumstances they had to find a way to work together to help two teenagers. In learning to work together, they came to love each other with their whole hearts.

  I hope you enjoy this story and share your own experiences around bullying. I can be reached at www.stellamaclean.com or on Facebook or Twitter.

  Sincerely,

  Stella

  Stella MacLean

  Unexpected Attraction

  Stella MacLean loves creating contemporary romances in which the characters find love and fulfillment while learning to live in the moment. She draws her story ideas from her life as a wife, mother, grandmother and friend, and from her professional background as a nurse and accountant. Stella is an avid bird-watcher and gardener, taking great pleasure from digging in the dirt and watching seeds she has planted add beauty and grace to her gardens.

  Books by Stella MacLean

  HARLEQUIN SUPERROMANCE

  Life in Eden Harbor

  The Doctor Returns

  To Protect Her Son

  Sweet on Peggy

  Heart of My Heart

  Baby in Her Arms

  A Child Changes Everything

  The Christmas Inn

  Get rewarded every time you buy a Harlequin ebook!

  Click here to Join Harlequin My Rewards

  http://www.harlequin.com/myrewards.html?mt=loyalty&cmpid=EBOOBPBPA201602010002

  The single most important person in my writing life is the reader who takes the time to connect by reading my books. Shirleen Miller is one of these people. She is an avid reader who has encouraged me by offering her support and reminding me of the reason why I sit down at my computer every day.

  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 THIRTEEN

  CHAPTER FOURTEEN

  CHAPTER FIFTEEN

  CHAPTER SIXTEEN

  CHAPTER SEVENTEEN

  CHAPTER EIGHTEEN

  CHAPTER NINETEEN

  CHAPTER TWENTY

  EXCERPT FROM HER AMISH PROTECTORS BY JANICE KAY JOHNSON

  CHAPTER ONE

  ANDREA TAYLOR’S SUV swerved as she swung the wheel, changed lanes then headed down the exit ramp. She was late for an appointment to show a house to a new client. She had loaded her smartphone with a tentative viewing schedule for other properties to discuss with the young couple when they met at this first house, which would be in a few minutes if all went as planned.

  Because she’d grown up in this small town off I-94 near Kalamazoo, she had personal knowledge of this house, knew its interior features and its beauty. It had belonged to a family whose parents were employed at one of the subsidiaries of a large cereal production company. They had been transferred earlier in the year, leaving behind a spotless, well-staged home that Andrea was certain would appeal to the young doctor and his wife.

  Yet what excited her most about this appointment today was personal. She was on track to be the top salesperson at her real estate firm if she made this sale. Reaching her sales goal would boost her confidence, make her feel more a part of the real estate business as an accomplished professional in her own right. The money would be a great bonus, as well. She wanted to take her daughter, Shannon, on a nice vacation as soon as she could afford it.

  While waiting for the light at the bottom of the ramp to turn green, she glanced at her face in the rearview mirror, touched up her lipstick and then checked her cell phone for messages. The client had said he’d call when he left his office to pick up his wife. He’d been so insistent that they look at this house today she’d arranged to have her real estate partner, Gina Dowd, take Shannon to her hair appointment.

  Andrea glanced again at her phone when she realized Shannon hadn’t responded to any of the messages she’d left, which was odd. Shannon usually returned her calls. Knowing her daughter, she was probably talking to her friend Chloe about their sleepover. That probably explained the silence. Shannon, her sixteen-year-old daughter, was considerate and respectful—the best daughter any mother could ask for.

  Andrea turned right into the gated subdivision just as her cell phone rang. It had to be either her daughter or her client. Relieved, she checked the caller ID.

  Cambridge High School? She hit the answer button. “Andrea Taylor speaking.”

  “Mrs. Taylor, this is Mrs. Barton, Shannon’s homeroom teacher. Your daughter has been taken to the hospital.”

  Panic pushed against her ribs. “Hospital? What’s she doing there?” she asked, easing her foot off the gas pedal. A horn blasted behind her.

  “She’s been...injured.”

  Injured? Who would hurt Shannon? It wasn’t possible. She pulled over and put the vehicle in Park. “What do you mean?”

  “You need to get to the hospital.” Mrs. Barton hesitated. “I can meet you there if you’d like.”

  Andrea couldn’t take in the woman’s
words. Shannon couldn’t be hurt. “Was she in an accident?”

  “I—I’m not sure. Shannon is in the emergency room,” the teacher said. “They need you there now.”

  Emergency room?

  “I’ll—” She took a deep breath. “Tell them I’ll be there right away.” Stunned, Andrea ended the call, only to have her cell phone ring again.

  “Is this Shannon Taylor’s mother?” a very cool, professional voice asked.

  “Yes. Who’s this?” Tension climbed Andrea’s shoulders.

  “My name is Karen. I’m calling from the hospital. Shannon has been injured.”

  Andrea held the phone closer to her ear as though that could stop her hands from shaking. “Her teacher just called me. Please tell me what’s going on.”

  “Your daughter was brought in with abrasions on her arms, face and knees from a fall onto the sidewalk, or so we believe. The doctor is doing a few tests and a chest X-ray for possible injury to her rib cage.”

  There had to be some mistake. “Are you sure?”

  “Yes.”

  Andrea glanced at her watch. Shannon should have been at the hairdresser an hour ago. She would never change her plans without calling first. Andrea had to call Gina to find out what had happened after the salon appointment. “Who is there with her?” she asked, her mind fumbling for an explanation.

  “Kyle Donahue. A classmate, I believe.”

  Kyle was in Shannon’s class and was her math tutor. He was always polite and kind when he came to the house. Andrea liked him mostly because Shannon was always happy to have him around. Shannon never discussed the boys in her class other than Kyle, leading Andrea to wonder if they were more than friends. “I don’t understand. My daughter is supposed to be at—”

  “Mrs. Taylor, we need you here now.”

  “I’m on my way,” she said, her heart racing as she tried to remain calm. She shoved the gearshift into Drive, turned the wheel sharply and did a U-turn in the middle of the street.

  She sped toward the interstate as she dialed Gina. When it went to voice mail, she left a message asking Gina to call her immediately. Her friend would be able to fill her in. The accident must have happened after Gina dropped Shannon off at home.

  Andrea called her client, explained the situation and promised to set up another appointment as quickly as possible. Fortunately, as a doctor, he understood the urgency. She called her mother’s house. Edna, her mother’s housekeeper, picked up. “Is Mom there?” Andrea asked without preamble.

  “Carrie is landing in Chicago as we speak. Can I give her a message?”

  “Tell her to call me as soon as she can.”

  “I will. Anything wrong? Anything I can do?”

  Andrea hesitated. Edna had been her mother’s housekeeper and a part of Andrea’s life for as long as she could remember. Edna loved Shannon as if she were her own granddaughter. “Shannon’s been hurt. I don’t know the details. I’m on the way to the hospital now.”

  “No! That can’t be. I’ll come right over.”

  She heard tears in Edna’s voice and tried to hold her own at bay as she responded. “Please don’t. I’m sorry to upset you, but I’m sure she’s okay. Just give Mom the message. Tell her to call me as soon as she can.”

  Traffic was backed up on the exit that led to Headley Hospital. Andrea gripped the wheel, waiting. Feeling the tension in her shoulders, she forced herself to breathe deeply and slowly. She had to remain calm and in control. Whatever had happened couldn’t be that serious. It seemed impossible that a fall would injure Shannon severely enough to require a trip to the emergency room. She was cheerleader, a good athlete and a physically strong young woman with good reflexes. She would have protected herself if she fell. This didn’t make sense.

  Finally the traffic eased forward. Andrea turned onto the street leading to the hospital then made her way into the parking garage. In a matter of minutes she’d be with her little girl.

  She hurried to the reception desk inside the emergency department. “I’m Andrea Taylor. I’m here to see my daughter, Shannon.”

  “There is a waiting room for family members. I’ll let the staff know you’re here. Please follow the red dots just beyond the door,” the woman at the desk said.

  With a click the doors slowly opened, and Andrea went in, making her way along the wide corridor leading into the brightly lit space.

  Inside the waiting room there were groupings of chairs and a refreshment stand with a coffeepot and bottled water. Relieved to see the room empty, Andrea fought back the worry she’d been struggling with.

  Moving toward a comfortable chair near the center of the room, she glanced around at the muted blue walls displaying paintings by local artists. Taking a deep breath, she closed her eyes and tried to calm herself.

  The clock on the wall behind the sofa clunked at each passing minute. The coffeepot hissed. The muffled sounds emanating from the hospital corridor did nothing to soothe her anxiety. How long would she have to wait? They’d told her to get here as soon as possible. She was here. Where were they? Unable to sit still any longer, Andrea clutched her purse and stood. Sliding her hands up her arms, she walked around the room, looking for a distraction.

  Suddenly there was a woman wearing blue scrubs and a white lab coat standing at the door. “Mrs. Taylor?”

  Andrea’s heart felt as if it were going to leap out of her chest. “Yes.”

  “I’m Dr. Janet Everett. I’ve examined Shannon. She has some cuts and a bruised knee, a welt on her forehead. We’re running a few tests on her now.”

  “What happened? Why would a fall on the sidewalk result in my daughter being brought to the hospital?”

  “An ambulance was called to the scene, so obviously someone was very concerned. As far as I know, she didn’t lose consciousness. Your daughter has said very little other than that she fell. A young man came in with her but left about ten minutes ago.”

  “Kyle Donahue?” Why had Kyle left Shannon alone instead of waiting for Andrea to arrive? Was he involved somehow in what happened? And how had Shannon ended up being hurt when she was supposed to be at home?

  “I believe that’s the name, but your daughter should be able to tell you.” The doctor’s quizzical expression made Andrea feel inadequate, as if she should have known who was with her daughter. And she should have... Which was a problem she intended to fix as soon as she could see Shannon.

  Dr. Everett’s glance swept over her. “Are you okay?”

  Shannon had never been in the hospital before. Not once. She must be so frightened by all this. “I—I think so. When can I see her?”

  “In a few minutes.” The doctor’s weary smile didn’t offer much comfort.

  Andrea stood still, trying to absorb it all, trying to calm her racing heart. She had more questions after speaking with the doctor. She still couldn’t understand how Shannon could have fallen and why an ambulance had been called. If Kyle was with her, why hadn’t he grabbed her before she hit the sidewalk? None of this made sense.

  The ring of her phone sent a spike of adrenaline through Andrea.

  She checked the caller ID. Scott Taylor?

  Her ex-husband was the last person she wanted to speak with now, yet she couldn’t ignore him. “Scott, why are you calling me?”

  “Shannon just phoned. Did you know she’s in the hospital?”

  Why would Shannon call her father? The man only wanted contact with their daughter when he needed something. “Yes. I’m at the hospital now.”

  “Have you seen her yet?”

  “I’m on my way to her room in a few minutes,” Andrea said, the old feelings of inadequacy roiling her stomach.

  “What are you doing to help her?” Scott demanded, his voice suddenly loud and angry. “You’d better be looking after her.”

&n
bsp; “That’s not fair! Shannon’s safe with me. You know that,” she said as she began to pace.

  She listened to more angry words about her parenting skills from the man who had tried to take her daughter from her. But what he wanted didn’t matter. This was not the time or place for his tirade. “I’ll get back to you once I’ve talked to Shannon.” Andrea hung up before he could respond.

  A woman in pink scrubs walked into the waiting room. “I’m Karen, Shannon’s nurse. I can take you to see her now.”

  They walked toward the trauma area, through a set of swinging doors to an area behind a white curtain.

  Andrea stopped in front of the barrier, bracing herself for what she might see. “Shannon?” Andrea asked as she slipped behind the cotton drape.

  “Mom? Mom, I’m so sorry. I never meant—”

  “Oh, sweetie, you’re okay. That’s all that matters,” she said, her voice shaking as she hugged her daughter. “I was so worried. Why didn’t you call me?”

  “Mom, please don’t,” Shannon said, easing away, clutching her elbows as she stared at a spot over Andrea’s shoulder.

  Andrea was so relieved to see Shannon she didn’t immediately register the dismissive words and actions. She eased away and scanned Shannon’s face for any sign of injury. Other than a small white bandage on her forehead and a reddened area on her cheek, there didn’t seem to be any visible damage. “Where do you hurt?” she asked, smoothing the pillow behind Shannon’s head.

  “I’m fine, Mom. You don’t need to worry.”

  From what she could see, Shannon seemed to be okay, but that didn’t alleviate her concerns. “Why didn’t you call me after school?” It took surprising effort to keep the recriminations from spilling out. If Shannon had answered her phone, perhaps this could have been avoided. At the very least, Andrea would have known what her daughter was up to.

  “I was busy and forgot.”

  How could her only child forget to call her? That wasn’t how their relationship worked. They stayed in contact, always letting the other know when plans changed. When had Shannon stopped telling Andrea everything? And why hadn’t she noticed that her daughter seemed...different? What had gone wrong, and was Kyle the reason for Shannon’s odd behavior? “Was Kyle with you?”

 
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