Return to Lone Oak

Return to Lone Oak

by Amy Knupp

The courage to love

Katie Salinger has spent most of her adult life looking for the next big adrenaline rush. But the extreme-sports journalist faces her greatest challenge when she returns to Lone Oak, Kansas…and meets the attractive, secretive doctor who's intent on buying her beloved family home.

Ever since he returned


The courage to love

Katie Salinger has spent most of her adult life looking for the next big adrenaline rush. But the extreme-sports journalist faces her greatest challenge when she returns to Lone Oak, Kansas…and meets the attractive, secretive doctor who's intent on buying her beloved family home.

Ever since he returned from Africa, Dr. Noah Fletcher has been haunted by a tragic loss. His hometown thinks he's a hero, including Katie, who's determined to uncover all his secrets. Noah can't deny their mutual attraction. But he also can't let her close. Because the last time he fell in love, it almost killed him.

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Harlequin Heartwarming Series
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Katie Salinger swallowed her annoyance at being injured and pasted a smile on her face as the door opened. She thought the world of old Dr. Fletcher.

Except it wasn't old Dr. Fletcher who walked into the examining room.

"Hello, Katie," the tall thirtysomething man said, scanning her chart.

"Where's Dr. Fletcher?"

"That's me. Noah Fletcher."

She stared at him blankly.

"I'm Ivan Fletcher's son."

The light dawned. Katie remembered years ago seeing family photos in Dr. Fletcher's offices. One kid, a son. At least ten years older than she was. Katie had never known his name. Never cared. But that was long before she'd found herself stuck in a small room with the man—with a gaping wound in need of stitches.

Okay, more stitches.

"You're the baseball player." He'd been wearing his uniform in several of those pictures, she now recalled.

He made eye contact. "A long time ago. High school." His eyes were green with flecks of gold. He returned his attention to the notes on Katie's chart.

"Looks like you have some kind of death wish," he said with an arch of his eyebrow. "Rollerblading with previous injuries?"

"Cars kill a lot more people than Rollerblades."

"Not in Lone Oak, Kansas."

"You have a lot of Rollerblade deaths here?" she asked, pushing a strand of hair off her face. "Wouldn't surprise me, actually, with the condition of the sidewalks."

She rarely wiped out on her skates unless she was trying to learn a new trick, but some of the uneven walkways in this town were like minefields for a skater.

And the streets… The ones that weren't paved in hundred-year-old brick had more craters than the moon.

Dr. Fletcher looked as if he were about to debate further. His chest expanded as he drew a deep breath. Causing others to need deep, patience-gathering breaths was something Katie excelled in.

"You injured yourself three days ago doing…what?" he asked.

"Kayaking in Colorado. Ever been?"

He absently shook his head, while continuing to grill her. "You have a broken wrist and you had..'" he paused to consult her chart again ".twelve stitches in your chin. Rollerblading doesn't seem like the best idea to me."

"Good exercise. I wore pads. A helmet."

"My point is, now you need me to redo your stitches."


"How do I know this won't be a weekly occurrence?"

"Think of me as easy money." She smiled and tapped her foot on the rubbercovered surface of the table. "Could we get this over with? Please?"

Instead of jumping to grant her wish, the doctor continued to flip through her medical file. "You understand my signature is required by your employers before you can return to work?"

"I was hoping Dr. Fletcher could handle it."

"I am Dr. Fletcher."

This guy had the humor of a rattlesnake. "Will getting your approval be a problem?"

"Only if I see you in here again with a new injury. Take care of yourself, heal and I'll be happy to sign. No more of the daredevil activities."

She frowned, her shoulders sagging. "Is Rollerblading considered 'daredevil'?"

He looked her squarely in the eyes. "Give it a couple weeks, at least."

"What about jogging?"

"Can you run without popping your stitches again?"

"I'll do my best."

Jogging bored her to tears, but it'd get her out and about. Keep her active and in shape. She loved being back in her family's old, familiar home, but she wasn't one to sit still for long, no matter where she was.

"Try to take it easy, for your own sake. Let your body rest. You're young, but you still need plenty of healing time." Dr. Fletcher closed her file and rose from his stool. She braced herself. Placing one of his hands on her cheek, he gently rubbed a pungent-smelling disinfectant on her chin. Which stung like crazy, in spite of his tender touch.

"I'm going to deaden the area now."

"You're very kind."

He was about to swab her face a second time but stopped, his hand in midair, and stared at her thoughtfully. She smiled, but his green eyes were shielded, giving away nothing.

"Isn't a nurse supposed to prep me?" Katie asked.

"I'm a hands-on kind of guy."

Otherwise known as a control freak, she'd guess.

He rubbed the numbing agent on her skin, then came at her with an injection of local anesthetic to finish the job.

"Normally people like to close their eyes for this," he said patiently.

"I'm not often accused of being normal."

"Somehow, I'm not surprised."

She was silent as he gave her the shot and explained they would need to wait fifteen minutes for it to take effect. Katie nodded, checking her watch.

"Of course, you're familiar with the whole procedure."

"Yes, sir. And for the record, you've done a much better job so far than they did in Colorado."

He met her gaze and his features relaxed a little. If he wasn't a doctor, she might even entertain the thought that he was good-looking, with his collar-length brown hair and his stubborn jaw. Oh, okay, he was nice to look at, but she was a far cry from interested.

Cleary, he was stuffy. Older than her twenty-six years. More serious than a gaggle of nuns. The kind of guy who would rather organize his sock drawer than be social. Definitely not her type.

Dr. Fletcher left, and she listened to his footsteps fading down the hallway. This nondescript room could make a girl climb its bland walls. A pastel print on the faded wallpaper, an antiseptic odor hanging in the air and not a single window. The decor hadn't changed since she'd been a kid. No way could she sit here for the fifteen minutes he'd said it would take for the numbness to kick in.

Katie opened the door and walked into the narrow beige-carpeted hallway. In her socks, she wound her way toward the reception area to look for a magazine. Dr. Fletcher of the younger variety might be a stranger to her, but Katie knew this place of his intimately. She'd been here far more than her share when she was growing up.

Medical clinics were a fact of life for girls who learned to climb trees and scale walls by the age of three. In fact, the elder Dr. Fletcher had regularly joked about naming one of the exam rooms after her.

The young Dr. F, however, didn't seem quite so amused by her frequent-flier status. His problem. He didn't need to be amused, as long as he signed off on her health forms. Without his signature, her editor wouldn't let her go back to work. Company policy. She'd have to make a point of not winding up here again during the six weeks she was off work, other than for routine checks on her wrist and chin, and the hip she'd bruised.

She headed to the magazine rack, scanning the neat stacks for her magazine, but she wasn't surprised when she didn't see it among the Peoples, Lifes and Field & Streams.

"So you're Katie Salinger."

Katie couldn't tell if the woman speaking to her thought that was a good thing or a bad thing. She looked toward the receptionist's desk. A petite dark-haired woman about Katie's age stared back at her with interested eyes.

"Yeah. Am I in trouble?" Katie asked, as she approached the counter.

"I've read your articles." The woman did a quick check over her shoulder and then stood. "I'm Eve Peterson. Jealous fan."

Katie relaxed when Eve smiled. "Nice to meet you. So you read Rush?"

"You bet. Shh." She held up a copy of the latest edition of Rush from her desk, then buried it again under some files. "I covet your job every day. Not that this one isn't a barrel of laughs, but I just about peed my pants reading your double black diamond snowboarding article. How cool was that?"

"That was one of my favorites, both the doing and the writing."

Katie tried to remember Eve from school. If she'd grown up here, surely they would've run into each other. Or more accurately they would have known everything there was to know about each other.

"Did you go to Lone Oak High?"

"Just for a year. I moved in with my great aunt when I was a senior. Class of oh-six."

"I was two years ahead of you, then. So you've lived here ever since?"

"Mostly. I did a brief college stint. Ran out of money, so here I am." The phone rang. "Speaking of here…"

"I need to get back to my cheery room, anyway."

Katie walked away, grinning as she listened to the very official, very phony voice Eve used to answer the phone.

Noah stepped out of Exam Room One, where Kathy, the part-time physician's assistant, had asked for a second opinion on a rash. He glanced at his watch and did a double take. It was already after five. He couldn't figure out how his dad had been handling this volume of patients by himself, especially at the age of sixty-three. Was he trying to work himself into a heart attack?

Noah had come home for his own reasons. Specifically, he was looking for peace and quiet, but now that he was here other worries were absorbing his mind. His parents seemed so old, so much more vulnerable than he remembered, and he felt compelled to help them out and try to make their lives easier. Just thinking about them now brought the tension out in the back of his neck.

Noah needed to find a way to cut down on his dad's workload without making him feel incompetent. He planned to carry more than half the weight of the practice, just as soon as he got settled in and accustomed himself to everything and everyone in the office.

Being overloaded with patients would be fine. Being busy up to his eyeballs was exactly what he needed. He'd have less time to think that way.

The woman in Room Four should be numb by now. Katie Salinger, the daredevil. Beautiful and reckless. A dangerous combination, as far as he was concerned.

He braced himself for trouble as he rounded the corner toward her room and ran right into it. Into her. He caught one of her arms to steady her, and did his best to avoid looking straight into those intense blue eyes.

"Is something wrong?" he asked.

"No. I just don't like small rooms. I've been getting some doctor-approved exercise."


"Walking. I assume that's okay?"

Was she giving him a hard time? Everyone here tiptoed around him, but apparently Katie hadn't gotten the message—or maybe she just chose to ignore it.

Interesting. But not for him to worry about.

"How's the chin? Can you feel anything?" He held the door open for her. As she passed him, her light berry scent snuck past his defenses and challenged his general tendency not to notice such personal details. He turned away and increased the distance between them, annoyed with himself.

"It's dead. I think I'm drooling."

He nodded, satisfied, and automatically steadied her as she climbed onto the table. Then he set to work sewing her stitches, finishing quickly.

"Before you go, I think we need to discuss what's allowed in a little more detail." Call him overcautious, but he didn't trust her for a second.

Katie had been ready to leave, but now she sat back again, clearly less than thrilled.

"Kayaking and Rollerblading are out, at least until your stitches are gone. It'd be best if you didn't do either of those things until your wrist heals, as well. Are there any other dangerous activities you like to participate in?"

"I work for a magazine called Rush, as in adrenaline. What do you think?"

The mischief in her eyes was alluring—and familiar. So he looked away. "What do you do for them?"

"Whatever they ask. I write a lot of firsthand-experience reports. You know, hang glide off a mountain, then write about what it was like… I also cover extreme sports competitions, but I usually don't get to participate in them."

He could tell she didn't like being just a spectator. In anything. He knew the type well. She had to flirt with danger, taunt death. Just like Leah. The ache in his neck—which never fully disappeared—climbed higher, blossoming into a fullblown headache.

"Last month I went kite-surfing and swam with sharks."

"How was that?" he asked, thinking surely she was certifiable. Possibly even more so than Leah had been.

"The sharks were terrifying. Can't wait to do it again. Surfing? Awesome. Ever try it?"

"I'm afraid not."

He'd had his share of adventure over the past two years as a volunteer for Medical Missions and he wasn't afraid of taking certain risks. Or at least he hadn't been when he started out. But now he'd come back to Lone Oak for a calmer existence, to build a low-key focused life, where setting bones was as exciting as it got. Kite-surfing was not on his to-do list.

"You should give it a try sometime. There's a great spot in south Texas."

"Highly unlikely."

"Your loss." She shrugged and got off the exam table. "Is the lecture over?"

"For now. I'll see you in a week to remove those stitches. If you haven't taken matters into your own hands again before then."

She bent to pick up the Rollerblades in a corner of the room and then it dawned on him that she must have skated here to have her stitches repaired. She had a screw loose. She was tall, golden-brown-haired trouble with a scary dose of invincibility.

When she saw him watching her, she looked almost guilty for a flash. "I wasn't going to skate. I got the message."

"I'm just making sure you take it seriously."

"Of course." She stuffed her socks into the skates, along with her knee and elbow pads, then picked up her bright yellow helmet. As she straightened, she met his eyes. "I can tell you're the type to take everything seriously."

She said it as if it were an insult, but Noah didn't defend himself. From what he'd seen, she could use a large measure of serious.

"Nice to meet you," he said, holding out his hand.

She shoved her helmet under the cast encasing her left arm and took his hand, her shake much softer than he expected. Then she smiled, her eyes sparkling with a zest for life that rocked him with a bone-chilling familiarity.

Trouble, he thought again, as he watched her leave.

Meet the Author

Amy Knupp lives in Wisconsin, with her husband, two sons and five cats. She graduated from the University of Kansas with degrees in Journalism and French and is a diehard Jayhawk basketball fan. She's a member of Romance Writers of America, Mad City Romance Writers and Wisconsin Romance Writers. In her spare time, she enjoys reading, playing addictive computer games, and coming up with better things to do than clean her house. To learn more about Amy and her stories, visit

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