Read an Excerpt
"Did you get a glimpse of Dr. Garroway's backside? Oooee, what a treat it would be to see him in a pair of jeans."
"Jeans? I'd like to see him without the jeanswithout anythingexcept that smile of his!"
The hushed prattle of the two nurses turned into low giggles just as Nicolette Saddler approached the work desk where stacks of medical charts were waiting to be dispensed to waiting doctors.
"Ladies, do you think one of you might find the time to dig out Mr. Stanfield's chart?" she asked.
Both women, who were several years younger than Nicolette's thirty-eight years, looked around with shocked, parted lips. Obviously, neither nurse had been aware of her presence as they'd gushed over the new cardiologist.
"Oh!" Embarrassed, one of the nurses whirled toward the pile of manila folders and began to fumble through them. "Oh, sure, Dr. Saddler. Just a moment. It's right here."
Technically, Nicolette wasn't a doctor. She was a P.A., a physician's assistant. But most of her patients and colleagues called her doctor, simply because it was easier.
The second nurse smiled sheepishly. "Uh, we were just discussing the new heart doctor. Everybody in the clinic is excited about him."
Everybody meaning all the women, Nico-lette thought, as she did her best to stifle a sigh. From the moment she'd walked into the clinic this morning, she'd heard nothing but praise and adoration for the new cardiologist, who'd filled the empty spot left by Dr. Gray Walters's retirement. But as far as Nicolette was concerned, no man could fill the elderly doctor's shoes. He'd worked tirelessly to see that each and every patient had the best care. While other physicians enjoyed themselves on the golf course, or fishing down on the coast, Dr. Walters had been in the clinic or the hospital, giving of himself to his patients.
She didn't expect the same sort of dedication from the new man. From what she'd heard, he was only twenty-nine and the biggest thing he had going for him was his looks.
"Yes, I've heard," Nicolette said drearily. Today was her first day back at Coastal Health since she'd taken two weeks off to nurse her ailing mother. Though she hadn't expected to find Welcome banners for her return, she would have enjoyed having at least one person express their pleasure at seeing her. Instead, the new Dr. Garroway seemed to have turned the place on its ear.
The young nurse looked at her with a puzzled frown. "You don't sound a bit excited. Haven't you met him yet?"
"I'm not excited," Nicolette briskly informed her. "And I haven't met him yet. I have more important things on my agenda. Like sick patients."
She took the chart from the other nurse's hand and left the work station. As she walked down the corridor to her office, she pretty much felt the two women staring after her, as though she was some sort of hardened matron. Maybe they were right, she thought dismally.
She couldn't remember the last time she'd gotten excited about a member of the opposite sex. Since she and her ex-husband had parted, she hadn't looked twice at one. She'd had her turn with a good-looking, sweet-talking man and she wasn't interested in having another.
Ten minutes later Nicolette was sitting at her desk, going over a battery of test results before she saw her first patient, when the nurse who worked as her personal assistant stepped through the open doorway.
"There's someone in the waiting room to see you, Doctor," she said.
Frowning, Nicolette glanced up at Jacki, a young woman with a mop of curly red hair and an effervescent smile that lasted throughout the day, even when everyone else was growling with fatigue. For the past three years, Jacki had been at Nicolette's side. She'd become a friend, and thankfully Nicolette could talk to her as such.
"Should be a room full of patients," Nico-lette replied dryly.
"The patients are there, plus someone else. I told him I'd see if you had a minute or two."
Nicolette's brows peaked. "Him?"
Nodding, Jacki took a small step into the office, leaned toward Nicolette and whispered loudly, "The new doctor. I think all the women in the waiting area are trying to feign heart trouble."
Murmuring a curse word under her breath, Nicolette tossed down her pen and pushed back her chair. "Why didn't you tell the man I was busy? You certainly wouldn't have been lying!"
Unaffected by Nicolette's sharp words, Jacki made a palms-up gesture. "Because he would only come back later. Besides, he's only trying to be neighborly. Something you normally try to be."
Pressing her lips together, Nicolette rose from the leather desk chair. Jacki was right. Meeting the new doctor in the group was the friendly thing to do. And no one said she had to fawn over the man like the rest of the females at the clinic seemed to be doing. "All right. I'll go meet Dr. Garroway," she said as she swished past the nurse. "And then we'll get to work."
Not pausing to see if Jacki was following, Nicolette strode out of the office and down a narrow hallway. When she pushed through a slatted swinging door and into the waiting room, she saw the back of a tall man standing in the center of a ring of female patients. Her patients!
"Oh, hi, Dr. Saddler. You ready to see me?"
The question came from an elderly lady with chronic arthritis whom Nicolette treated on a regular basis. The woman was standing at the far edge of the group and as Nicolette approached the woman, she said, "Hello, Mrs. Gaines, I'll be seeing you in just a few minutes. Right now"
At that moment Dr. Garroway turned toward Nicolette and for a split second she struggled to keep her jaw from dropping.
From this morning's buzz, she'd expected the man to be young and cute, maybe even handsome. The only thing she'd gotten right was the young part; the rest of him could only be described as striking. At least, she certainly felt as if someone had whammed her right in the diaphragm. Her lungs didn't know whether they wanted to breathe in or out, or simply stop altogether.
Nicolette felt more than saw the people around her move aside as the man stepped toward her. By then she'd collected herself somewhat and offered the new doctor her hand.
"Hello, I'm P.A. Nicolette Saddler," she said. "And you must be Dr. Garroway."
A pair of thin lips pulled back into a wide, crooked smile. "Just Ridge to you, Doctor."
The voice matched the face, she thought. Rough, tough and too sexy to be legal. He was far from the pretty boy she'd expected. He had lean, chiseled features that gave the impression he'd thrown a punch or two in his lifetime. His dark-blond hair was straight, naturally streaked with lighter shades of honey and long enough to be considered shaggy. Even though he'd made an effort to comb it back from his face, a few strands had fallen onto his forehead, giving him an even more rakish look. Warm, whiskey-brown eyes stared out at her beneath a pair of thick, brown brows and the certain gleam in those eyes put her on instant alert.
She cleared her throat as she glanced around at the audience of patients. "Would you like to step back into the hallway for a moment?"
"Sure. Just lead the way."
Taking a deep breath, Nicolette walked back to the swinging door with the doctor right behind her. Once they were inside the corridor she turned to face him, hoping she didn't appear as flustered as she felt.
"I'm sorry about the nosy patients out there," she apologized. "I just want to say welcome to the clinic."
His lips quirked with amusement while his gaze seemed to dance all over her face. She felt unaccustomed heat rising to her cheeks.
"Don't apologize for the patients," he said. "I like people. Nosy and otherwise. And, though it was nice of you, I actually didn't stop by to receive a welcome. I've been eager to meet you."
Her brows inched upward as she regarded him warily. Why would a doctor like him be interested in meeting a lowly P.A.? "Really? I can't imagine why."
He chuckled and the sound skittered over Nicolette's skin like a warm, teasing breeze. She resisted the silly urge to sigh.
He said, "Don't be so modest, Doctor, I hear you're probably the most popular physician in the building. Maybe even in the whole town.
I wanted to see for myself just what this su-perwoman was like."
Embarrassed by his flattery, she glanced away from him. At the end of the hallway, Jacki stood at a work counter that portioned off a small room where medicines were kept. Even though the nurse appeared to be busy, Nicolette suspected she was lingering in hopes of catching a bit of their conversation.
"Someone has obviously been pulling your leg, Dr. Garroway. I'm not even a physician. I'm just an assistant. And as for being popular, that's a real exaggeration."
His tongue clicked with disapproval. "There you go, being modest again. I just walked through your waiting room. It's full. What does that say?"
That she was busy and nothing more, she wanted to tell him. But she bit back the words. It would be highly uncomfortable if she got off on the wrong foot with this man. Especially when the two of them would be working in the same building. But she was getting all sorts of vibes from him and none of them were businesslike.
Trying to keep her voice cool, she said, "It tells me that there're plenty of sick people around here."
Looking back at him, she was jolted once again to find he was studying her intently, as though she were a flower he very much wanted to pluck.
Nicolette breathed deeply and told herself she was wrong. This young doctor wasn't making eyes at her literally. He was simply being himselfa sexy flirt. These past few days doctoring her mother had worn her down and now her mind must not be turning on the right cog.
"I was told that you used to work under Dr. Walters," he said.
Lord, the man was tall, Nicolette thought. Even though she was five foot eight, she would easily fit under his chin. Not that she would ever get that close, she silently swore. But she had to admit his lean body was a thing of beauty with its wide shoulders, narrow waist and long, muscular legs.
"That's right. Dr. Walters was wonderful. I miss him."
And I wish he were here instead of you. She might as well have said it out loud, Ridge thought, but he didn't let the notion get to him.
This woman didn't know him personally. But he was going to make sure that sooner or later she would, and maybe then she'd be calling him wonderful. He didn't know why changing her mind should be so important to him, especially when he didn't know her personally, either. But all of his colleagues spoke of P.A. Saddler with great admiration. He valued her respect.
"I'm sure you do miss him," he told her. "But Dr. Walters has earned a well-deserved retirement. And I've assured him I'm going to take the best of care of all his patients. He trusts me. Do you?"
She shot him a look that said she considered his question odd. "Trust you?" she repeated skeptically.
He gave her an indulgent smile. "That's right. To be a good, dedicated doctor."
Her gaze lowered to the floor, and Ridge took the moment to study her more closely. From the moment he'd spotted her in the waiting room, he'd found himself wanting to stare. She was nothing like the matronly woman he'd been expecting. Instead of wearing chunky heels, owl-rimmed glasses and a severe bun, she was sporting stiletto heels, clear gray eyes and long brown hair that swung freely to the middle of her back. It would be hard for him to guess her age, but that detail didn't matter. She was the most beautiful, sexy woman he'd ever seen in his life.
"Oh," she said. "Well, I'm sure you know your business. Otherwise you wouldn't be here."
It wasn't the response he wanted to hear from her, and he got the sense that she had already formed an opinion of him. One that wasn't all that flattering.
"I was told you were working with Dr. Kelsey now."
She certainly wasn't helping him with this conversation, he thought. Oneor two-word answers didn't tell him much.
Her gray eyes popped wide. "I beg your pardon?"
He shrugged. "I was just wondering why you chose to work with him. Since you worked with Dr. Walters before he retired, I would have thought I'd have been your first choice. Or does dealing with heart ailments bore you?"
It was obvious that his question caught her off guard. She was floundering to come up with the right words.
Clearing her throat, she said, "Dr. Kelsey is a family practitioner. He deals with all sorts of health problems, and I get his overflow. I like the variety. And as for working with youI don't know you. And no one told me beforehand that you wanted an assistant."
He smiled once again. "I wanted one when I heard about you."
She folded her arms beneath her breasts and Ridge couldn't help but follow the starched fabric of her lab coat as it molded to the rounded mounds. Even with the coat on, he could see she was a shapely woman.
His gaze moved to her left hand, and he was surprised to see it empty of a wedding ring. With her looks he'd figured some man had already branded her a long time ago as his property. But then, she could be a career women who didn't want the extra responsibility of being married, he thought. In any case, finding out more about this woman was on his agenda.
"That's gracious of you to say, Dr. Gar-roway, but"
"I'd really like it if you'd call me Ridge," he interrupted. "After all, I'm sure we'll be running into each other quite often."
Not if she could help it, Nicolette promised herself. The man's charm was as lethal as a flaming arrow and she wasn't about to put herself in the path of the man's aim.
To him she said, "Okay, Ridge it is. But as for us running into each other, I'm sure we're both going to be very busy." She glanced pointedly at her watch. "Which I am right now. I hope you'll excuse me, but I have patients waiting."
She glanced up at him, figuring his expression would have cooled somewhat, but if anything, his smile had deepened and the gleam in his eye was even brighter.
"Of course," he said warmly. "I have work waiting on me, too. But we doctors need to take time out for ourselves, otherwise we'd need somebody to treat us."
To her indignation, he winked and then casually turned to go. Before he pushed through the swinging door, he said over his shoulder, "Nice meeting you, Nicolette."