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So that's what he's up to. Autumn Hazard skimmed through the article on her iPad. JMH Health Care had gobbled up another struggling nonprofit hospital in Upstate New York.
She ground her teeth. If he thinks he's going to add the Ticonderoga Birthing Center to his family's collection, he had better think again.
Autumn closed the article and went back to the list of not-yet-billed patients.
"Have you seen him?" Cindy, the birthing center's evening front desk manager, stood in the doorway to her office. "He's drop-dead gorgeous."
Autumn rubbed her forehead. "Seen who?" As if she didn't know.
The middle-aged woman leaned against the doorjamb as if in a swoon. "The new director."
Another woman fallen prey to his outward charms.
"Pretty is as pretty does," Autumn muttered. And nothing she'd seen Jonathan Mitchell Hanlon-or his grandfather, the chairman of the board of directors of JMH-do was pretty.
Autumn touched the screen to flip to the next page. "Something Great-Grandma Hazard used to say."
"I've heard the saying. What I was questioning was your meaning. Wait, you know him?"
"Yes, I worked with him briefly at Good Samaritan Hospital, when I was doing my midwife clinicals. He was an OB resident."
"Oh, then, you-" The sound of the door between the birthing suites and the lobby opening cut Cindy short. "I'd better get back out front."
"Good idea." Autumn picked up the printout of the directions for entering the insurance codes into the billing program. Their office assistant had gone and had her baby early, leaving Autumn and Kelly, the owner of the midwifery practice, without anyone lined up to fill in while she was on maternity leave.
Might as well get started. It wasn't as if she had any other Friday evening plans. Much as she loved living in her Adirondack Mountains hometown, Paradox Lake had a very limited supply of datable men. A supply that had been made even smaller when Rod, the navy recruiter she'd dated for several months, had been reassigned to a post in suburban Boston. She clicked the icon for the billing program. By entering the billing, she'd be making herself useful to the practice. A pang of regret jabbed her in the stomach. While Kelly had been understanding at first, what use was a midwife who couldn't bring herself to deliver babies?
Footsteps sounded in the hall.
"If your grandparents do come up to Lake George for a vacation, feel free to give them a tour of the center." The high-pitched voice of Liza Kirkpatrick, an administrator from the Adirondack Medical Center, carried clearly down the hall to Autumn's office.
Autumn tensed listening for the response. All she heard was a deep rumble of indistinguishable words.
A minute later Liza was at the door to Autumn's office. "Autumn. Good, you're still here. I wanted to introduce our new director, Dr. Hanlon."
Liza and Jon stepped into her office. Cindy was right. Jon was gorgeous. If possible, even more so than when she'd last seen him. His dark hair was clipped a little shorter and neater than when he was a resident. His brilliant blue eyes still had that spark that hinted he knew something you didn't and invited you to try to find out what. And he'd obviously found time to get in his five-mile run every morning, or regular workouts at the gym. However, his classically symmetrical features had lost the harried look he'd always had back then. A look that had added to his appeal for many of the female staff members. They had wanted to soothe his concerns away.
Autumn rose and stepped away from her desk. Jon gave her a low-key once-over ending with a smile that said he liked what he saw.
He doesn't remember me.
She certainly remembered him. Anger squelched any pleasure she might have gotten from his silent compliment. She'd seen him use the same look with every female he'd met at Samaritan Hospital.
The administrator introduced them. "Autumn Hazard, Dr. Jonathan Hanlon."
She took his extended hand, debating whether to let on that she knew him or let it drop. His grip was firm and businesslike.
"Good to see you. It's been a while." He released her hand. "Samaritan Hospital," he prompted as if she might have forgotten him.
"Yes. Good to see you, too." Autumn shifted her weight from one foot to the other as he studied her face. The seconds seemed to run into minutes.
He tilted his head. "I almost didn't recognize you. Your hair was different, shorter."
That was an understatement. When her longtime boyfriend had broken up with her on spring break, Autumn had had her waist-length hair cut in a short, spiky style that she'd since grown back out.
"Well," the administrator said. "It certainly is a small world. Autumn is one of two certified nurse midwives who deliver at the center and have an office here. We have one other midwife who has an office in Keene and splits her deliveries between the birthing center and the hospital in Saranac Lake."
"But," Autumn said, "I've taken a sabbatical from catching babies to develop the GYN side of the practice." At least that's what her official explanation was. Autumn didn't feel that anyone at the birthing center, other than Kelly, needed to know that the complications at the last birth she'd attended had shaken her so much that Autumn wasn't sure when, if ever, she'd resume that part of the practice. It might have been less traumatic if the parents- Jack and Suzy Hill-weren't longtime friends.
Liza narrowed her eyes. Autumn knew the former birthing center director hadn't hesitated to make it clear to Liza and the rest of the hospital administrative staff that he wasn't pleased with Autumn's decision. It had potentially put him on call more often. Not that he'd actually been called more. There hadn't been more births than Kelly and the other midwife who had delivery privileges at the birthing center could handle.
"Is Kelly here?" Liza asked. She turned to Jon. "Kelly Philips started Ticonderoga Midwifery, which has had its office here since the center opened."
"No," Autumn said. "One of our home-birth mothers went into labor a couple of hours ago. She and our delivery nurse Jamie Payton are there."
Jon knit his brows. "The center condones home births?"
Autumn interrupted Liza, bristling at the disdain in Jon's voice. "We're a private practice, so it's not up to the center to condone or not condone our mothers' birth arrangements."
"Autumn and Kelly and their two delivery nurses aren't employees of the birthing center," Liza explained in a placating voice. "The practice has privileges and leases space here."
Jon drew his lips into a hard line. "I assume the medical center's attorneys have vetted this arrangement for any liability that could come back on the center."
Autumn fisted her hands at her sides. Jon's tone and words irritated her, even though she knew he was simply asking from a business standpoint. But it wasn't his concern how she and Kelly practiced. The practice's agreement was with the Adirondack Medical Center, not him.
"Certainly." Liza's terse reply was a sharp contrast to her earlier, almost fawning attitude.
Autumn flexed her fingers.
"And what's my responsibility if complications arise at one of these births and higher-level medical intervention is needed?"
Shades of the former director? Was Jon concerned he'd have to do more than push paper? No. When she'd worked with him at Samaritan, he'd seemed to derive a lot of satisfaction out of delivering babies. But he'd had a technical approach to childbirth, almost as though he was curing the mother of a deadly disease, rather than bringing a new life into the world. She bit her tongue to organize her thoughts so she didn't blurt out the first response that had come to mind. It didn't work.
"With a normal birth, medical intervention isn't necessary."
Something flickered in his eyes that she would have normally read as pain. But that didn't make any sense.
"Even a seemingly normal birth can have complications."
Jon wasn't saying anything she didn't already know well. But most of their births didn't need the type of intervention he was talking about. "We continually screen our mothers and insist on a center delivery when we think one is needed, or refer the mother to an obstetrician if we see anything abnormal that might require medical intervention or a hospital delivery."
"And when something goes wrong at home?" Jon asked.
"With our screening, that hasn't been a common experience." Her only life-threatening complication had occurred here at the center.
"You're saying that you've never had to rush a home-birth mother to the hospital?" he pressed.
Autumn silently counted to three. "We've had to transport a couple of laboring home-birth mothers to the birthing center."
He crossed his arms and nodded, as if her answer had proved some point.
Uneasiness washed over her. As director, Dr. Hanlon could initiate a review of her and Kelly's privileges here at the birthing center if he had a problem with their practice. The next closest medical facility, where they also had privileges, was an hour away at the Adirondack Medical Center in Saranac Lake. Autumn shook the feeling off. She was being paranoid. The center needed Kelly and her. The community needed them.
"We should get back to Saranac." Liza glanced from Jon to Autumn. "We have a dinner meeting with the board of directors of the hospital."
"Of course." Jon turned to Autumn. "I'll set up a staff meeting for early next week and email you and your partner an invitation."
"The front office assistant has our patient schedule." No need to tell him she worked with Kelly under contract. He'd find out soon enough that she wasn't a partner.
"Good. I'll check with the office assistant." He took a step to follow Liza, who was already at the doorway, and stopped. His all-business expression softened. "You wouldn't by any chance be related to Neal Hazard at the campgrounds over on Paradox Lake?"
"Yes, he's my father. Why?" Autumn couldn't imagine any way Jon would know her father.
"I'm renting his duplex."
"The one on Hazard Cove Road?" He couldn't mean any other. It was the only duplex Dad owned. She'd assumed he was renting it to one of the usual families who took it for the summer.
"That's the one. I'll see you next week."
Once he was out of sight, Autumn leaned against the edge of her desk. Dr. Hanlon was going to be her next-door neighbor. She could put her feelings about him and the thoughtless way he'd broken her Samaritan Hospital roommate's heart behind her at work. She and Kelly practiced independently of the birthing center administration. And since she'd taken leave from delivering babies, she was unlikely to have any need to consult with him as the practice's backup physician. If she made an effort, she could pretty much avoid him here.
But with him living right next door, avoiding him and keeping her dislike in check wouldn't be so easy. While she hadn't been bowled over by him like so many of the nurses, she'd liked Jon when she'd first met him and had half expected him to ask her out. But he'd asked out her roommate, Kate, instead. Then, after he'd broken up with Kate, he'd had the audacity to ask her out. And he'd seemed mystified when she'd turned him down. It hadn't taken him long to move on to another nurse friend, confirming the buzz around Samaritan that he wasn't the settling-down type. And while it might seem old-fashioned, she was.
Autumn pushed away from the desk, knocking a coffee mug of pens off the edge. Considering his reputation with women, he probably didn't remember any of it. But she did.
Jon unlocked the door and stepped into the front hall of the bed-and-breakfast in Crown Point where he was staying. He stretched the kinks out of his back as he climbed the stairs. What had been a pleasant hour's drive from Ticonderoga to Saranac Lake in the bright summer evening hours had seemed interminable on the drive back in the dark. The distances people here in the Adirondacks had to travel for medical care were unbelievable compared to what he was used to downstate. And Liza had told him that Autumn and her partner's practice served a large part of the sixty-mile distance between the birthing center and the hospital in Saranac, as well as some of the areas south of Ticonderoga.
He let himself into his room. Liza's comment had kept Autumn in his mind as he wound his way back to Crown Point. Thoughts of her traveling the steep narrow side roads he'd passed to deliver babies in homes set up on the mountainside alternated with visions of Autumn this afternoon, her delicate-featured face framed by wisps of flaxen hair escaping the silver clip that pinned the rest up.
As he slipped off his suit coat, he noticed the message light flashing on the phone. He was tempted to ignore it. Morning would be here all too soon, and he had to be up to meet the moving van at the duplex at eight. That's it. It could be the movers. He'd given the number here at the bed-and-breakfast as an alternate number where he could be reached.
Jon lifted the receiver and pressed the message button.
"Jay." His grandfather used the family nickname he'd dropped in middle school. "It's your grandfather. I'll be upstate next week, and your grandmother insists on coming with me and having dinner with you. I've made reservations for Wednesday at six-thirty at the Sagamore in Lake George."
The message clicked off with no goodbye. Typical of Grandfather. Bark an order and leave, fully expecting it to be obeyed without question. Jon dropped the receiver back in place. He should ignore it. Nothing he did pleased his family anyway. But he couldn't do that to Nana. Not after all she'd done for him. She'd provided the love his career- and stature-driven parents hadn't. She'd grieved and prayed with him when Angela, his favorite cousin and close friend, had died in childbirth in Haiti, where she'd been serving at a mission.
His parents' brief acknowledgment of his sorrow had been tinged with an undercurrent that it was punishment for Angie having conceived before she and her fiancé had married. Angie had gone through a wild period at college. But after she and her fiancé had learned of the baby, they'd both reembraced the Christian faith they'd been raised with.
Jon jerked off his loosened tie. Despite what the family might think, Angie and Brad's Haitian missionary work after they married had been more than enough to atone for their indiscretion. Angie hadn't had to His throat clogged. Jon was finding it harder and harder to accept the tenet of a vengeful God that he'd been raised with in his parents' church. His thoughts went to Brad, now raising their little boy alone, and how Brad's faith in a loving Savior had given him strength. Jon had had only anger that grew into a need, a calling, to use his medical training and technology to do everything he could to protect other women, families, from the same tragedy.
The directorship of the Ticonderoga Birthing Center was the perfect first step toward doing just that-maybe even more so now that he'd learned about some of the center's current practices. In his opinion, home births weren't something to be encouraged. Too many things could go wrong without emergency equipment on hand.
He tossed the tie on the dresser. Tightening up birthing center procedures shouldn't be too difficult. Part of the reason for the home births might be cost. Essex County had its share of lower-income and uninsured people. That shouldn't mean mothers and babies received less-than-optimal care. He'd check the center's financial records and work on Autumn and her partner, showing them his reasoning for technologyoriented treatment.
Back at Samaritan, he and Autumn had been friends of a sort, until Kate had alienated her and half the other staff by making her version of their breakup public-very public. Kate had known all along he wasn't serious about their relationship and, as far as he knew, she wasn't, either. The dissension she'd caused among the members of the medical team had been unacceptable.
He'd ignored the fracas as much as possible. And he'd done what he'd always done. Moved on. If he wanted conflict, he could visit his family.