A Fighting for Love Novel
By Gina L. Maxwell, Liz Pelletier
Entangled Publishing, LLC Copyright © 2012 Gina L. Maxwell
All rights reserved.
Lucie Miller didn't bother looking up when she heard the knock on her office door. Her next physical therapy patient was early, which irked her since she hadn't even completed the paperwork from the previous appointment. She pushed her glasses back in the proper place. He could just cool his heels in the hallway for the next ten minutes while she fini —
The knock came again, a little more insistently this time, and her resolve to not cater to someone else's wishes crumbled, as usual. Dropping her pen to the sheaf of papers in front of her, she called out, "Come in."
A head of perfectly styled dark hair popped around the edge of the door. "Hope I'm not disturbing you."
Before she could order her heart to behave, it skipped a beat at the mellowy-smooth voice of Dr. Stephen Mann, Director of Sports Medicine and major hottie at Northern Nevada Medical Center. At warp speed, her brain performed an unsolicited catalog of her appearance, spitting out the usual diagnosis of "plain and disheveled." Holding back a disappointing sigh and the urge to smooth a hand over the strands of hair that escaped her ponytail, she gave him her best smile. "Not at all. I didn't forget another meeting, did I?"
Twin dimples winked at her. "No, not today."
He turned to close the door, and her pulse raced. As an orthopedic surgeon, he'd visited her less-than-impressive office in the Rehab and Sports Med Center plenty of times to discuss mutual patients. But not once had he ever closed the door.
Trying hard not to jump to conclusions, she gestured in front of her. "Please, have a seat."
Lucie glanced to the single visitor chair piled high with file folders, old newspapers, and research articles. She swore she felt her cheeks actually change color as she bolted around her desk. "Oh my gosh, I'm so sorry. Here, let me just —"
"That's all right, you don't have to —"
"No, I insist." She gathered the haphazard paper mountain in her arms. Not for the first time, or even the hundredth time, she wished she weren't so disorganized. Spinning in a quick circle, she searched for a place to stash the mess. Stacks just like the one she held lined the walls of her office on the floor and over every square inch of desk and file-cabinet space. Finally she gave up and just plopped the pile into her chair before turning her attention to her guest. God, why couldn't she be smooth and put-together like other women? Like the kind Stephen dated. "So, what brings you down into the bowels of the hospital this afternoon?"
He cleared his throat and shifted in his seat. Normally, the gorgeous doctor was the picture of confidence. It was the reason women literally sighed in his wake. Well, that and his easy charm and Ken-doll good looks, complete with killer smile.
"The hospital's annual charity dinner and dance is only two months away, and whereas a guy only has to rent a tux and show up, I'm aware that a woman needs ample time to shop for a dress and schedule all sorts of hair and nail appointments and whatever else it is that you women do to make yourselves beautiful."
Lucie's throat closed, and her fingers flew to fidget with her necklace. This was it. They'd worked together for years, sometimes even staying hours past their shifts to work on mutual cases, ordering bad Chinese when their brains refused to quit but their stomachs could no longer be ignored. They'd always been intellectually compatible, and their mutual obsession to help patients recover quicker and better bonded them as nothing else could. She'd loved him for years, but he'd never asked her out. Never made a move, instead preferring to date classy businesswomen he met during happy hour at the posh Club Caliente down the street.
But now he was here. In her office. Talking about the hospital ball. Dear God, please don't let her faint. Taking a slow, deep breath, Lucie tried for casual. "Are you trying to ask me something, Stephen?" And failed miserably. Damn.
A strong hand rubbed at the back of his neck, and he gave her the cutest look of embarrassment. "Ah, yeah. I'm not doing a very good job of it, am I?"
"No, you're doing fine!" Too much enthusiasm. Double damn!
"I know I should've brought this up before. And I really did want to ask that night I saw you at Club Caliente last month, but I hesitated and then you left. I was hoping I'd see you there again because it doesn't quite seem appropriate to inquire about a date here at the office, you know?"
Her mind flashed back to the one night she'd ever stepped foot in the overcrowded, overpriced club. Her best friend, Vanessa MacGregor, had just won a really difficult case and wanted to celebrate with a few drinks and some dancing. Instead of going to their usual hangout, Fritz's, Vanessa convinced Lucie to meet her at the much closer meat market of a club. They'd only been there for an hour tops before leaving. The club was like a frat house on steroids with a country-club clientele. The rest of their night had been spent downing tap beer and hustling guys at darts in a proper celebration.
"Oh, don't worry," she assured him. "I mean, not down here. The only person that could possibly hear us right now is Mr. Kramer on the treadmill out there, but the door is shut, and even if it wasn't, I don't think he remembers to turn his hearing aid up very often, so the chances of him hearing us over the noise of the mach —"
"Sorry." Oh my God, would you shut up already? You're babbling like an idiot! "You were saying?"
He took a deep breath and exhaled like he was preparing to BASE jump from the roof of the hospital instead of asking her on a date. "I was trying to get your friend's number."
"My ... what?"
"The girl you were with that night. Is she seeing anyone?"
"Vanessa?" Lucie's mind scrambled as it tried to follow the sharp turn off the path the conversation had previously been headed. Or where she'd thought it had been headed. She was such an idiot. "Um, no, she's not seeing anyone ..."
Every muscle in his body visibly relaxed as he stood, his easy smile returning to hit her with both dimples right between the eyes. "That's great! Can I get her number? I don't want to take the chance of waiting till the last minute to ask her. I'd like to take her on a few dates before the big event, too. You know, get to know each other better. Lord knows you can never have a decent conversation at that charity dinner without someone interrupting with shoptalk. Lucie? Are you listening?"
"What? No. I mean, yes, I'm listening. Yes, you're right. It's definitely not conducive to first-date discussions." Lucie dropped her gaze to the organized disaster on her desk. Vanessa would have a panic attack if she saw it. Her friend was hyperorganized, always put together on the inside and out, never a hair out of place or an emotion uncalled for. Add in the perfect Barbie-doll looks and you had the kind of woman Stephen Mann was drawn to. The kind of woman she was most definitely not.
"Soooo ... Can I have her number? Or maybe you're playing the role of protective friend and would prefer to grill me about my intentions first," he teased. "Maybe ask me why I think I'm good enough for her, something like that?"
She couldn't help the small lift at the corner of her mouth. "As if you couldn't be good enough for someone. You're charming, smart, handsome, and successful. How could that amount to 'not good enough' by anyone's standards?"
He winked. "I am quite the catch, aren't I? Be sure to tell Vanessa that when she tells you I called her. That is, if you ever give me her number."
"Oh! Right, sorry. Uh ..." She looked around for a Post-it note or scratch piece of paper. She knew she had some, and if she could stop and think for a minute, she'd know right where they were, but somewhere in the last five minutes she'd been given a full frontal lobotomy, and now she couldn't function.
Giving up, she grabbed her pen and his hand and scribbled Vanessa's cell number onto his palm. She had to force herself to release him before she did something stupid like add an exclamation mark and "accidentally" use too much force for the dot, puncturing his smooth skin with the tip of her ballpoint. "There you go. All set. Now you'll have to excuse me. I, um, have a new patient who should be here any minute."
"I won't take up any more of your time then. Thanks, Lucie." Using his ink-free hand, he grabbed the knob and opened the door before looking back and adding, "I owe you one."
She pasted what she hoped was at least a facsimile of a smile on her face as best she could. "I'll keep that in mind, doctor."
As soon as he was gone, she sank into her chair, not even bothering to move the stack of papers before she did so. This wasn't anything new. In fact, being overlooked for someone else was typical. By now, she should be immune to the hurt that came with it. What was that phrase? Old hat. Yes, that was it. By now, this should be old hat, and it wasn't even the first time a guy she liked was interested in her friend. But it still hurt. A lot.
There was no fooling herself any longer. She would never be the object of the doctor's desire. And though the realist in her said it didn't matter — that all she needed was compatibility and companionship with someone else — as her future came into sharp focus, the dreamer in her allowed herself to shed the tears that blurred the world in front of her.
"Can you point me in the direction of the physical therapy department?" Where some arrogant ass will give me exercises fit for a toddler, essentially castrating me in the process ...
To say Reid Andrews was in a foul mood was a total understatement, but that didn't mean the hospital receptionist deserved his wrath. He listened as she gave him directions and thanked her as he set off.
The closer he got to his destination, the more his muscles bunched in irritation. He shouldn't be here. He should be back in Vegas, working his injury out with his coach and team doc. Not Sparks, Nevada — which was practically Reno and way too close for comfort to his hometown of Sun Valley to the north. Now he would be working with someone who had no concept of his sport or how important it was for him to get back in the cage as soon as possible to prep for his rematch.
For as long as he could remember, he'd been fighting. Fighting in the sport he loved above all else — Mixed Martial Arts, or MMA — to get to the top, and then fighting his ass off to stay there. Fifteen years later, he was one of the richest light-heavyweight fighters in the UFC, with a record of 34-3 and a fanbase of millions. Of course none of that mattered now because if he couldn't get healthy in time for the rematch, his career was over.
A doctor talking on his cell and checking his pager crowded Reid around a corner and bumped into him. The guy didn't even look back to apologize as he continued to clip down the hallway. Reid clenched his jaw and held his right shoulder as he waited for the pain to subside. Even from an impact so small, it hurt like a bitch.
He had one of the most aggravating injuries a fighter could have: a torn rotator cuff. To literally add insult to injury, it hadn't even happened in a fight. He'd gotten the damn thing while training for his title fight. Thirty-four was almost ancient for a fighter, especially one who'd been at it for as long as he had, and his body was starting to reflect that, injury by godforsaken injury.
Sidestepping an old lady traveling at the speed of a land snail, Reid cursed his trainer, Butch, for sending him here.
Shortly after Reid had had the surgery to repair his right shoulder, the camp's sports medicine doc needed to return home to take care of his ailing father. Scotty wasn't expected to be back for a couple of months, and since Reid was the only injured one in the camp, Butch set him up with a local PT for the interim. But if Reid kept working with that guy, he wouldn't be ready to fight until he was fifty, so he'd taken his therapy into his own hands.
Unfortunately, Butch got hip to what he was doing and bawled him out for not listening to Scotty's replacement and taking it easy. But Reid didn't know the meaning of taking it easy. His mottos were more than just your average motivational fodder. He lived by things like "give more than your everything or you'll amount to nothing" and "if you didn't come to win, you should've stayed the fuck home." Shit like that had been drilled into him since he was old enough to throw a punch at his old man's command.
He refused to accept the possibility of not completely healing in the next two months, thereby losing his shot at ever reclaiming his title. Every year the sport produced younger and better fighters, and it was becoming increasingly difficult for the older fighters to compete. That's why Reid trained as hard as he did. There would always be some guy who wanted his belt and was working his ass off for a chance to take it, so he had to train and prepare that much harder to keep it. He was pissed as hell Butch had given him an ultimatum: leave camp and do PT the right way or he was pulling the fight.
Fine, whatever. He'd make his coach happy and go to this lame PT shit. But that didn't mean he wasn't going to treat it any differently than he did his regular training. He didn't have time to dick around. He needed to get back to Vegas a.s.a.p. so he could reclaim what was rightfully his.
Reid pushed open the double doors and walked through a large room resembling the inside of a YMCA. Treadmills, ellipticals, weight sets, and exercise balls. No sparring cage. No floor mats. No punching bags. However there was an old man of about eighty-plus years walking so slow on a treadmill that he was practically immobile.
"This blows," he mumbled as he approached the small office with his PT's name, Lucinda Miller, on the partially closed door. He raised his hand to give a quick rap before announcing himself, but paused when he heard soft sniffles coming from the bowed head of a brunette sitting behind the desk. At least he assumed it was a desk. It was hard to tell what was under the stacks of files and papers. Instead of knocking, he cleared his throat. "Sorry, this a bad time?"
The woman spun her chair around to face the back wall, hitting her knee on a file cabinet in the process and muttering an expletive he'd bet she didn't use publicly very often. Though he hadn't seen her face yet, he couldn't help but find her clumsiness sort of cute. When she grabbed a Kleenex from somewhere on her floor and blew her nose, he was reminded that she was in a vulnerable moment. "I can come back."
"No, no." She blew her nose and then gestured behind her without turning around. "If you could just go have a seat in the next room, I'll be right with you."
Sounded good. As much as he hated to see a woman upset, it was bad enough having to console someone he knew, much less a woman he didn't. Finding the room, Reid leaned his hips on the padded table, absentmindedly cracking his knuckles as he waited. It was only another minute before she breezed in, eyes on his file, while making a beeline to the small desk along the wall.
"I'm terribly sorry about that," she said. "Let me just take a brief moment to look this over and we'll get down to business."
"Take your time." Something about her voice poked at his brain. Almost like he'd heard it before.
"Okay, Mr. Johnson, let's take a look at —"
They froze as recognition took hold.
It had been several years — shit, six, maybe even seven or more, he couldn't remember — since the last time he'd seen his best friend's little sister. Her face was blotchy with her eyes rimmed in red from crying. So he almost hadn't realized it was her, but the freckle at the outer corner of her left eye vaguely shaped like a heart gave her away. It was just barely visible under the dark-rimmed, rectangular glasses she wore.
"Oh my gosh," she said, giving his waist a hard squeeze. It'd been so long since he'd seen anyone from their hometown, and besides her brother, she'd be the only person he'd care to see. He returned her hug, tucking his head down to hers. Her hair smelled like a mix of flowers and summer, so different from the heavy perfume concoctions he was used to women wearing.
She released him, taking a seat on the swivel stool in front of the desk while tucking loose strands of hair behind her ear. "I can't believe it's you. Wait, why does my chart say Randy Johnson?"
Reid chuckled at the ridiculous name he used for anonymity. "It's an alias." Wanting to erase the pained look from whatever had happened before he arrived, he gave her a wicked smile and added, "And sometimes a state of being." (Continues...)
Excerpted from Seducing Cinderella by Gina L. Maxwell, Liz Pelletier. Copyright © 2012 Gina L. Maxwell. Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
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