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"Are you sure you're all right?" Mia Eaton asked a very pregnant Chandra Eaton-Tucker, when she noticed her cousin fidgeting restlessly on the window seat.
With one hand resting on her swollen belly and the other at the small of her back, Chandra exhaled audibly. "I'm good. It was just another contraction."
Mia gave Chandra a look that made her cousin sit up straight. "How close are your contractions?"
"Not close at all. I am not in labor, Dr. Eaton," Chandra said, as she pressed the back of her hand to her forehead. "Please give me a few minutes to get myself together."
"Don't " The door to the bedroom opened as the sound of voices interrupted Mia.
Denise Eaton swept into the room wearing a diaphanous wedding dress made of yards of white silk and satin, trailed by the bride's cousin Belinda Rice, in a black silk-chiffon, Regency-inspired, floor-length gown.
It was New Year's Eve, just four hours before the clock struck midnight, and close to a hundred people, including family and friends of the bride and groom, had gathered in the ballroom of a palatial Philadelphia colonial to witness the exchange of vows between Denise Eaton and Garrett Fennell. The bride had chosen her cousins Chandra, Belinda and Mia as her attendants. The groom's stepfather, half brother and a close business associate were Garrett's groomsmen.
Mia watched Denise as she lifted the skirt to her gown to reveal a pair of hand-embroidered antique shoes. The heels of the bride's shoes dug deeply into the carpet. A profusion of miniature white roses pinned in her tightly curled hair took the place of a veil. With a slight lift of Chandra's chin, the motion barely perceptible to the others in the room, Mia turned and walked toward the door as Denise and Belinda followed.
"Please, Mia, don't tell me Chandra's going to push that baby out before the ceremony." Denise's expression had changed from shock to concern.
Mia smiled, shaking her head. "She's not going to have her baby. But she is in some discomfort. I know she isn't going to want me to examine her, but maybe you can ask my dad to check on her." Mia Eaton had followed in her father's footsteps and graduated from medical school. But unlike Dr. Hyman Eaton, whose specialty was obstetrics and gynecology, she had opted for family medicine like her uncle Dwight.
One of the Eaton family's long-standing traditions was that you either went into medicine, law or education. But the occupational landscape had changed for the current generation of Eatons.
Lately it seemed as if there was either an Eaton wedding or birth several times a year. Mia had attended the weddings of Belinda and Griffin Rice, Myles and Zabrina Mixon, and Chandra and Preston Tucker. Now she was part of the bridal party of Denise and Garrett Fennell. Another generation of Eatons had arrived with the birth of Grant Rice II and his cousins Layla and Sabrina, who were being raised by their aunt and uncle, Belinda and Griffin; there were also Myles and Zabrina's 10-year-old son, Adam, and their infant daughter, Renee Eaton. And in about another month Chandra was expected to give birth. She and her husband had decided that they didn't want to know the sex of the baby beforehand. Mia's plans, however, did not include marriage or children for at least for five or six years. She'd completed her internship, passed her medical boards and was now focused on her residency.
Belinda's gaze shifted from her sister Chandra to her cousin. "You stay here, Denise. After all, you're the bride and people shouldn't see you before the ceremony. I'll go and get Uncle Hyman."
Denise nodded. When she'd asked Chandra to be her matron of honor, she knew Chandra was pregnant. However the baby wasn't expected until mid-to-late January. "Okay," she said. "I'll wait here."
Mia and Denise sat on either side of Chandra, holding her hand. The resemblance between the three cousins was remarkable. They were undeniably Eaton women, having inherited their rich golden-brown coloring and thick curly hair from their paternal grandmother, Libby Harris-Eaton.
Denise looked at Mia. "I can't believe you're serious about doing your residency in West Virginia instead of Texas."
A smile parted her lips. "Believe it, cousin. Doctors are as scarce as hen's teeth in the area where I plan to practice."
"Had you considered becoming a small-town doctor before we went to Matewan for my brother's wedding?" Denise's brother Xavier Eaton had married Selena Yates in Charleston, South Carolina, after a whirlwind romance. The two had repeated their vows in a West Virginia church overflowing with members of the Eaton and Yates families. After the ceremony, everyone retreated to a barn that had been transformed into an elegant setting with tiny white lights, bales of hay and cornstalks for a festive Thanksgiving dinner reception. The food, music and down-home atmosphere turned into a party that went on well into the early morning hours.
"No," Mia said truthfully. "At Xavier's reception, I overhead someone at my table talk about having to drive more than twenty miles to the nearest hospital just to have some blood work done because the local doctor had moved away. Driving forty miles round-trip to have blood drawn when it can be done in a doctor's office and sent off to a lab is ridiculous in this day and age, Dee. That's when I decided to stay an extra week and check out whether my medical training could best be utilized in rural West Virginia."
Mia had gone online and inquired about employment opportunities for doctors on West Virginia's Department of Health and Human Services website. And before the end of the week, she had an interview. When she was told that the only doctor in the small town of Jonesburg was semiretired, she decided to accept an offer to assist the elderly family physician.
A hint of a smile tilted the corners of Denise's generous mouth. "So, my high-maintenance cousin is going to trade in her designer threads for flannel and work boots to become a small-town doctor."
"That's a small sacrifice when compared to offering people, many of whom are living at or below the poverty line, adequate medical care."
Denise sobered. "You've changed, Mia."
"In what way?" she asked.
A beat passed and Chandra opened her eyes. "We used to call you Little Miss Tish."
Mia blinked and then went completely still, holding her breath until she felt her chest tightly constrict. Her eyes narrowed as she was forced to breathe. "Are you saying I act like my mother did?"
Letitia Sanders-Eaton had never gotten along with her in-laws, and the feeling was mutual. There were years when Mia didn't see her Philadelphia cousins because Tish Eaton thought they were too boorish for her taste. She hadn't agreed with her mother's assessment of the rest of the Eatons, so when she'd applied and was accepted at a number of colleges, Mia decided to attend the University of Pennsylvania so that she would be close to her relatives. Despite promising her father that she would attend his alma mater, Texas Southwestern, for medical school, she'd exercised her newfound independence even more and attended Baylor College of Medicine in Houston.
She gave the soon-to-be mother a sidelong glance.
"That's cold, Chandra."
"You do act a little snobby at times," Denise added, agreeing with Chandra. "I am not a snob!"
Chandra laughed, resting a hand over her protruding belly, which was covered by the billowy skirt of the black silk chiffon gown. "You remind me of Nixon when he said 'I am not a crook.'" She affected a gruff-sounding voice reminiscent of the former president that had Denise and Mia laughing uncontrollably.
Mia released Chandra's hand. "You must be feeling a lot better." She smoothed the skirt of her empire-waist gown. In keeping with the New Year's Eve holiday theme, Denise Eaton had decided on a black-and-white color scheme for her wedding. All of the bridesmaids wore black dresses, and Denise wore a black satin sash around the waistline of her white gown.
Chandra winked at Denise as she rose from the window seat. "If you're ready to get married, then I'm ready to waddle across the ballroom as your matron of honor." She was on her feet by the time there was a knock at the door and two tuxedo-clad middle-aged men entered the bedroom. "It's okay. I'm all right," she said, as doctors Hyman and Dwight Eaton approached.
Hyman looked closely at his niece. "Are saying you're all right because you don't want me to examine you, or are you really all right?"
Chandra pressed her hands together, as the overhead fixture refracted the brilliant blue-and-white prisms of light that bounced off the diamonds on her left hand. "Yes, I am really all right. Can we please do this so I can sit down?"
Denise smiled at her attendants. "Okay ladies. Let's do this."
The four women picked up the beautiful bouquets that lined the padded bench at the foot of the queen-size bed in Denise's childhood bedroom.
Mia sat at the bridal table, nodding and smiling as the hands on the wristwatch of the man sitting on her right inched closer to one in the morning. Although she didn't get to see her Pennsylvania relatives as much as she'd liked, she'd always managed to stay abreast of family news, since Denise, Chandra or Belinda would occasionally email her with the latest gossip.
She was more than a bit shocked to learn that Trey Chambers Jr. was really Garrett Fennell's half brother. The last she'd heard was that Rhett and Trey had had a falling out over Denise, but that was before Rhett was aware that he and Trey had the same father.
Trey Chambers cast a sidelong glance at the woman with the close-cropped, curly black hair who'd been his partner in the wedding party. She was stunningtall and slender, with curves in all the right places. Trey saw Mia as more the high-fashion model type than a doctor. Her large dark, wide-set eyes didn't look at him, but through him. It was as if she could see through the slick veneer he'd affected over the years to get women into bed. It'd worked on most women, but not with Mia Eaton. And he'd certainly tried and failed several times to get her number.
His gaze lingered on her delicate profile, with lips so tempting that he was forced to look away. "Are you certain you don't want me to get you something to drink?" he asked in a quiet tone.
Mia forced a smile. "I'm very certain," she said. Rising from the table, she pushed back her chair. "Please excuse me." She had to leave to change out of the gown and into clothes suitable for traveling.
After the reception, Mia, Xavier and his wife, Selena, were planning to fly to Kentucky and then travel on to Matewan, West Virginia, where the newlyweds would spend a week with her family before returning to South Carolina. Xavier had reserved a car that would take her and his wife to a regional airport for a nonstop flight to Pikesville, Kentucky. Mia planned to stay overnight with the Yates', then drive eighteen miles south to Jonesburg to meet the local physician, Dr. Millard Lyman, and settle into her new place. She'd packed enough to last a week, hoping the rest of her luggage filled with clothes and other items she would need to set up her apartment would arrive in West Virginia as planned.
Before leaving the reception, Mia nodded to her father as he spun her mother around the ballroom dance floor. Her relationship with her mother, Leticia, had become somewhat strained, since her mother refused to accept the fact that she wanted to become a country doctor instead of setting up her own practice in Dallas.
Twenty minutes after retreating to Denise's bedroom, Mia walked out with a leather tote containing her ticket and a carry-on bag. Dressed in jeans, Doc Martens, an Irish-knit pullover sweater and ski jacket, she left the house through a rear entrance.
The driver sitting behind the wheel of a town car got out and opened the rear door upon her approach. He touched the shiny bill of his cap before he took her bags. "Mr. and Mrs. Eaton are on their way."
Mia nodded, ducking her head as she got into the limo. She was dog-tiredexhausted. After working a double shift, her flight had arrived in Philadelphia just hours before the wedding rehearsal, followed by the rehearsal dinner at a popular restaurant.
The next morning was spent at a full-service beauty salon and spa. A facial, massage, waxing, manicure and pedicure, followed by a midday snack and then hair and makeup, had left her more out of sorts than relaxed. Much to her mother's chagrin, she'd opted to have her hair styled in a low-maintenance pixie cut. The shortened strands would save valuable time because she wouldn't have to set and blow-dry her hair.
Settling back on the leather seat, she closed her eyes. Mia stirred when she felt Selena and Xavier join her in the rear of the limousine, but she didn't open her eyes. She was wide awake, however, by the time they arrived at the regional airport and went through security. Almost as soon as she fastened her seat belt, she fell asleep again before takeoff.
Mia's eyelids fluttered as she tried to get her bearings. They were on the ground, and the small aircraft was taxiing to the gate at the small terminal. She smiled at Selena Yates-Eaton, owner of Sweet Persuasions, a Charleston, South Carolina pastry shop. The pastry chef had made the most beautiful wedding cake for her sister-in-law. The detailed flowers on the cake matched those in Denise's wedding bouquet.
Stretching her body like a cat, she rolled her head from side to side. "How long will it take to get to your hometown?"
Selena smiled, scrunching up her nose. "It'll be long enough for you to take another power nap."
Mia massaged the back of her neck. "I don't think I'll ever catch up when it comes to sleep."
"Treating patients in Mingo County will be a lot different than seeing those in a big city. I'm not saying you won't have your share of patients with health problems, but it will mostly be sick kids and their mothers. Most men don't put much stock in seeing a doctor unless it's absolutely necessary. Speaking of men, I'd better turn on my cell phone and see if my dad called. He said he would come to pick us up."