Unexpectedly Expecting!, page 1
Just like the townsfolk said, Nora Darby was prickly, all right,
Stephen thought. But maybe he needed a good challenge in his life. Imagining Nora yielding to him, hissing even as she purred, stirred his blood.
“I’d like to see you again,” he said.
Nora looked at him as if he’d suddenly sprouted purple horns and a tail. “I don’t date.” The word was laced with contempt.
She opened her mouth, then closed it again. Finally she simply hurried toward the door.
Stephen watched her go. He wasn’t looking for the love of his life. He’d had that once and lost her. Sassy Nora Darby wasn’t looking for anything permanent, either. But maybe they could find a way to help each other.
Because if she didn’t date, she didn’t get a chance to do…other things.
And watching her move had told Stephen she would probably do those other things very, very well….
To Maureen Child, a gifted writer and a great friend. Your wit, charm and general mouthiness were the inspiration for Nora Darby. Kinda scary, huh?
Books by Susan Mallery
Silhouette Special Edition
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is the bestselling author of over thirty-five books for Silhouette. Always a fan of romance novels, Susan finds herself in the unique position of living out her own personal romantic fantasy with the new man in her life. Susan lives in the state of Washington with her handsome hero husband and her two adorable-but-not-bright cats.
“D on’t even think about it, Dr. Remington,” Nurse Rosie warned. “Braver men than you have tried to scale that particular mountain and few of them have lived to tell the tale.”
Stephen Remington glanced at his nurse and frowned. “What mountain? Texas is flat.”
He knew that firsthand, Stephen thought. He’d driven across most of it when he’d moved to Lone Star Canyon from Boston six months before. Texas was big and flat and everything he’d hoped it would be when he’d left his job running an urban emergency room for the quiet of country doctoring.
His petite nurse-receptionist gave him a knowing look. “I was using a metaphor,” she said with the patience of a woman long used to the frailties of the male mind. “I saw you staring out the window. It wasn’t hard to figure out what…or who…had captured your attention.”
She pointed out the glass window that fronted his generous office space. Stephen followed the direction of her hand and saw that she’d assumed he was spying on his neighbors across the street.
The Lone Star Canyon Medical Offices shared the downtown area with a couple of banks, three restaurants, a sporting goods store, several clothing shops and a hair salon known as the Snip ’n Clip. The latter establishment was directly across from his office. Normally tinted windows kept out prying eyes, but today, with the afternoon so dark and the shop so bright, it was easy to see into the salon.
He could see two people clearly. One was an elderly white-haired woman in the process of getting her hair lacquered for the week. The other woman wielded the can of hair spray with great style and generosity. He guessed that she was the one Rosie had thought he was admiring.
Stephen glanced at the tall brunette wearing tight jeans, boots and a cropped red T-shirt that exposed a strip of skin that included a very neatly tucked “inny.” Her dark hair fell in loose, sensual curls to the middle of her back. She moved with the sexy grace of a woman who can have any man she wanted without wanting a single one.
“Her?” he said, well aware that if he could see into her place, she could see out to his. Fortunately the woman didn’t seem to notice him.
“That’s the one,” Rose said. “Nora Darby. She might look all soft and sweet on the outside, but on the inside she’s about as friendly as a gut-shot mama bear. Nora doesn’t like men, and with good reason. I don’t want to burst your bubble, Doctor, but better men than you have tried and failed.”
Looking at Nora he could understand why they’d tried. She had it all—a great body with a pretty face. If she could speak intelligently on any subject, she would be perfect. Not for him, of course, but maybe for someone else.
“I’ll admit that she’s very attractive,” he told his nurse, “but you don’t have to worry. I’m not in the market for a woman—gut-shot mama bear or not. Besides, she isn’t what I was looking at.”
He pointed to the dark gray-green cloud that had been hovering on the edge of the horizon. Most of it was hidden behind the building across the street, but he could see the top of it, swirling closer and closer as they talked. It was almost as if a part of the sky had reached down to—
Rosie screamed and grabbed his arm. “Tornado,” she yelled, and headed for the front door.
Stephen frowned. He tugged free of his nurse’s insistent grip. “What are you talking about?”
“We have to get into a storm cellar,” she said frantically. “Oh, supplies. There’ll be injuries.” She glanced out of the window again and shrieked. “It’s nearly here.”
As she spoke, Stephen realized that the wind had picked up around them and that there was a peculiar heaviness in the air. Tornado? He’d heard about them, of course, but he was from the East Coast where phenomena like that occurred o
But Rosie’s panic was real enough. His normally unflappable nurse ran for the front desk and jerked the emergency first aid kit from its rack on the wall. Stephen took it from her as she grabbed his arm again and headed out the front door.
As they stepped into the street, he could hear the approaching sound of a train. Except there weren’t any train tracks in Lone Star Canyon. His gaze was drawn across the street. Not toward the very tempting Ms. Nora Darby, but to her elderly clientele, all of whom were going to have trouble making it to shelter in time. He shifted course and headed toward the Snip ’n Clip.
“I love this song,” Mrs. Gelson said as she admired herself in the mirror.
Nora tuned in to the sentimental song coming from the small stereo in the back of the shop.
Mrs. Gelson sighed and patted her helmet of white hair. “Makes me miss my Bill. He used to sing this to me.”
Right, Nora thought as she pasted a smile on her face. This would be the same Bill who left his wife and three kids to play poker two nights a week, regardless of whether or not there was enough food in the house. The fact that the money he lost might be needed for the phone bill or shoes for the kids had never occurred to him. And Mrs. Gelson hadn’t said a word in protest. The old couple had been married forty years when Bill had “gone to his reward,” as Mrs. Gelson had put it. At least the bastard hadn’t borrowed against his life insurance, Nora thought grimly. So although she was far from well off, his widow’s last days would be better than her years with him.
But Mrs. Gelson wouldn’t see it that way. Now that Bill was gone, he was a saint and Mrs. Gelson lived to tell stories about his greatness.
“You always said your husband was a romantic,” Nora said warmly, telling the lie that her client wanted to hear. Because it was kind and the right thing to do. Because most women seemed to have convenient memories where men were concerned. Not that Nora had that problem. She had an excellent memory and she never made the same mistake twice.
Mrs. Gelson handed her a ten dollar bill and waited for her two dollars change. Then she dropped one of the bills onto Nora’s station, gave a wave and started for the front door.
Nora stared at the single dollar. She was never going to make any money if she didn’t start raising her prices. Actually she had…several times over the past ten years. However, there were certain customers who couldn’t afford more, so she didn’t charge them more. There were the seniors on limited incomes. Debbie Watson, whose husband had run off, leaving her with four kids and a pile of bills. And nearly a half dozen others in similar circumstances.
“It’s only money,” Nora murmured philosophically as she pocketed the tip and turned to help her elderly client to the door.
Just then the front door flew open. A tall, sandy-haired man in a white jacket stalked inside. Nora recognized Stephen Remington, the town’s new doctor. Successful, single, yeah, yeah, folks had been singing his praises since he’d first arrived. She was deeply unimpressed and continued to drive sixty miles to a different town with a female doctor.
She looked at him now and was pleased that despite his wide hazel eyes and lean good looks, she was immune. As always.
“We don’t do men’s hair here,” she said sweetly. “You’ll have to go to the barber shop down the street.”
She sighed. Men could be so incredibly slow, she thought, wondering how he’d made it through medical school. “I said—”
He cut her off with a quick shake of his head. “I don’t care. There’s a tornado coming. Everyone into the shelter.”
Before Nora or anyone could react, the warning siren went off. Sound exploded through the small salon. She swore under her breath as she glanced around at the full chairs. Except for herself and the other three stylists, no one was under sixty-five. They were not a wildly mobile group and the shelter was nearly half a block away, next to the bank.
“Jill, you take Mrs. McDirmity,” Nora said as she ran to the dryers and quickly raised the hoods. “Come on, we have to hurry. Tornado’s coming.”
As she spoke, the noise outside increased. She realized it wasn’t all from the wind and the sirens. Instead there was a loud roaring, punctuated by ripping, tearing and banging, as if the world around them was being torn apart. In less than two minutes all her elderly patrons were moving toward the shelter. Dr. Remington had an arm around two ladies, one with tightly wound curlers in her hair. Dust and debris battered them, but they weren’t hit by anything worse than a few small branches.
Up ahead Nurse Rosie stood at the entrance to the cellar. She hustled people down into the safety underground as quickly as possible. Jill raced by, pushing Mrs. McDirmity in her wheelchair. The doctor lowered his two ladies into the cellar, then called down for help. Together he and one of the guys from the diner across the street carried the elderly woman to safety. The wheelchair was folded up and pulled inside.
“Come on, Mrs. Gelson,” Nora said as she steadied her customer. The widow took cautious steps into the underground shelter.
Nora was the last one on the street. She took a quick look around, searching for stragglers, but didn’t see anyone. Her gaze lingered on familiar buildings and businesses. How much would survive the storm?
She sent up a quick prayer that there wouldn’t be any deaths, then stepped into the cellar. Even as she reached for the door to pull it closed, she couldn’t help pausing and looking back as the tornado swept close enough to take the roof off an abandoned building at the end of the street.
Long, tall, swirling darkness circled up to the sky. The sound was so loud as to be a vibration. The ground shook, the heavens moaned. She had once heard a tornado described as the finger of God, writing across a landscape, destroying without thought or plan. But she’d never witnessed the raw power before. It was amazing. It was—
“What the hell are you doing?” a male voice asked, just as two arms came around her midsection and jerked her into the semidarkness of the cellar.
Nora instinctively released the door. It banged shut. She sensed more than saw movement as someone reached up to bolt it securely. But what really captured her attention was the heat of the man holding her so close.
He held her in an awkward embrace—her back to his front. But that didn’t stop her from feeling the warmth of his body, or his strength. She was tall, nearly five-nine but he was taller. The arms around her nestled just below her breasts. When one of his hands moved, his fingers brushed against the bare skin of her tummy. She shivered. Not from cold or fear of the approaching storm but because…well…because—
Nora pressed her lips together and shoved the arms away. She didn’t know why she shivered, nor did she care. She took a step away from the man who had captured her so neatly, then turned to scowl at him.
Her gaze settled on the sandy-haired man in the white coat. He had hazel eyes, lean features and freckles. She’d heard him described as handsome, but she was immune. Stephen Remington, the town’s new doctor. Of course. No one else would have dared to touch her that way.
She arched one eyebrow, a trick she’d taught herself in junior high. “I wouldn’t have thought a doctor would have to resort to free feels,” she said casually, expecting him to get angry and sputter a protest to her assault on his reputation.
Instead Dr. Remington, new guy in town, gave her a lazy once-over, starting at her expensive boots and heading as far north as her breasts, then ending at her exposed stomach. “I wouldn’t have thought a woman your age would have to resort to dressing like a teenager just to get attention.”
“You mistake my meaning,” she said coolly. “I’m not interested in attention. At least not from you.”
She was aware of their interested audience. In the small storm cellar everyone heard every word. Nora wished she’d kept her mouth shut. She’d been stupid enough to stand on the steps, staring at the approaching storm. The doctor had simply dragged her inside so they wouldn’t all be killed.<
Not knowing how else to end their conversation, she turned her back on him and checked with her elderly clients. The shelter was about twenty feet square, with benches along three of the four walls. There were enough supplies to last a couple of dozen people for two days, and a portable toilet was tucked into a curtained alcove. Everyone from the Snip ’n Clip had made it into the shelter safely. Her staff circled among their clients, offering hugs and words of comfort.
Mrs. McDirmity touched the curls of her new perm. “At least Jill had already rinsed out the solution,” she said with a slight smile that trembled at the corners. “I hope my cats are going to be safe.”
Nora settled next to her and took her bent fingers in her own. “You know how they love to hide under beds and sofas when they get scared,” she told the older woman. “That’s the best place for them right now. Instinct will keep them safe.”
Mrs. McDirmity nodded. “I know. I just worry. They’re all I have.”
Nora talked to each of her customers, then chatted with several patrons from the diner. She was careful to avoid Dr. Remington. She often felt his gaze on her, but she didn’t return the attention. As she’d told him before, she wasn’t interested. Not in him or any man. She’d learned her lesson a long time ago.
The noise outside grew worse as the storm passed overhead. Crashes and the sound of breaking glass competed with the roaring of the wind.
In the corner, Mrs. Arnold began to wheeze. She reached for her handbag, but couldn’t catch her breath enough to open it and pull out her inhaler.
“Asthma,” Nora told the doctor as he moved to the woman.
Stephen Remington gave her a quick nod. “I know. She’s my patient.”
Nora gritted her teeth. “Well, excuse me for trying to help,” she muttered under her breath, and hoped the storm would be over soon. If she had to spend much more time trapped with that horrible man, fur was going to fly.
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