Read an Excerpt
The Bachelor Doctor's Bride
By Caro Carson
Harlequin Enterprises LimitedCopyright © 2014 Harlequin Enterprises Limited
All rights reserved.
A black-tie gala on a summer night ought to be the perfect setting for happiness. Glamour, romance, excitement everything Diana Connor thought a person's life should have. So far, she was having a ball at this particular ball.
Downtown Austin's historic hotel, the Driskill, had pulled out all the stops, making the most out of its Victorian gilding by adding a crystal candelabra to the center of every table. Each one added prisms of real candlelight to the night. Diana couldn't remember the last time she'd seen real flames reflected through real crystal. Parties usually got their sparkle from plastic sequins and tiny LED lights not that there was anything wrong with that. Diana enjoyed festive settings of any kind, but there was something extra special about tonight's real flames. Their movement echoed the dancing of the human glitterati on the dance floor.
The gala had attracted everyone who was anyone in central Texas, and the ballroom, the smaller parlor rooms, and the grand mezzanine were all part of the flow as everyone made their rounds, dancing and dining, seeing and being seen. All this glittering happiness benefited West Central Texas Hospital's new pediatric research project, making the evening a perfectly delightful way to raise money for a good cause.
Diana's boss hadn't thought so. The single thousand-dollar ticket he'd bought was the minimum he could donate to make his real estate company look marginally philanthropic. One after another, the top agents at the office had declined the use of the lone ticket to the hospital gala. When the ticket had made its way down to Diana, the ninth-best agent out of ten, she'd jumped at the chance to use it. Being solo was no problem; parties were meant for making new friends.
Her boss had given her gruff instructions with the ticket: Give your business card to every doctor you meet, and tell them you sold that house to the MacDowells. Diana had nodded politely, but she didn't waste precious space in her adorably tiny purse on business cards. If Lana and Braden MacDowell wanted to pass her name on to their friends, they would.
As it turned out, the MacDowells were here tonight hardly a surprise, since they were both doctors at West Central. The surprise was that Diana knew them at all. Fate must have played a role when she'd first met Lana at a flower shop. Diana had spotted Lana, an eye-catching woman with jet-black hair, looking as harried as only a physician moving to Austin from out of state while starting a new job and planning a wedding could look.
Pretty darn harried.
Diana had offered to give Lana a second opinion on the bridal bouquets that seemed to be overwhelming her. When Lana had asked her if she knew a good DJ, too, Diana had been able to help, since dancing was her favorite thing to do on a Friday night. Lana had laughingly asked her if she could magically produce a dream home for her. Diana had been carrying her business cards that day. Fate was a wonderful thing.
Amazingly enough, helping a woman choose wedding flowers gave a person a good idea of what she might like in a house. Diana had found Lana and her husband their perfect home.
The MacDowells danced under the permanently blue sky painted on the ballroom's domed ceiling, a light and smiling couple in love. Later tonight, country Western stars were going to entertain this high-paying crowd, but for now, the big band orchestra seemed like the right music for the MacDowells, a perfect match for them.
All around the chandeliered space, Diana saw good things. Laughing faces, liveliness, shimmer and shine. Everyone looked happy and satisfied. Everyone except ...
Her gaze was drawn again to the one man who seemed utterly still in a room full of motion. His matte black tux drew the light in and kept it. He was supposed to reflect the light, didn't he know?
Champagne sips provided some discreet cover as Diana kept an eye on him, waiting for his date or his wife to return. The song ended, the dance floor cleared, and still, he brooded alone, sitting at an empty table near the dance floor while everyone else was mingling.
Diana frowned into her bubbly. She didn't like to see this man so unhappy. Then again, she didn't like to see anyone unhappy, and she was pretty good at cheering people up, so she and her champagne headed over.
It's going to be like cheering up James Bond.
Not a hardship, really. Handsome man in a tux?
I choose to accept this mission.
While she was grinning at her own silly thought, James Bond cut his gaze to her. Just, bam. One second he'd been brooding at the dance floor, the next, she'd been caught in a green-eyed, intense stare.
She hadn't expected such sea-green eyes from a man with such richly brown hair. Handsome? Holy cow, handsome.
Those sea-green eyes stayed on her, but otherwise, the man didn't move a muscle. Handsome as all get-out, yes, but not happy at a happy party. She had a job to do.
"Hi," she said, while she was still a few feet away. The faintest lift of his brow revealed his surprise that she was headed for him. "Thanks for saving me a seat."
She gave the hem of her bright green dress a tug to be sure it wouldn't ride up and expose her derriere, then sat in the chair next to his. The dress was a little too short, but she'd fallen in love with its layers of fringe. Even when she moved only the tiniest bit, the fringe looked like she was dancing. Still, she was showing a lot more skin than usual. In an effort to look less like a '60s go-go girl and more like a flapper from the '20s, Diana had twisted her brownish well, mostly red hair into something resembling a short bob, secured with a jeweled brooch on the side. That had been another great reason to use her stingy boss's single ticket: the chance to play dress-up.
Oh, yes, it was a great ball. Time for James Bond to enjoy it, too.
First things first. She angled her chair toward his with a little scoot. She stuck her hand practically into his torso, so he had little choice but to shake it. "My name is Diana."
"Quinn," he said, then released her hand. His voice was somber. The poor man was serious from the inside out.
He glanced away from her, but she kept her gaze on him and saw muscles bunch a little as he clenched his jaw, quite a tense reaction to something. She followed his gaze. He was unhappy about ... Lana MacDowell.
"I'm sorry to tell you," Diana said, "but she's married. Happily."
He said it like a cowboy, with just a touch of Texas twang, but the way he looked at her was purely upper-class offended dignity. He wore polished black cowboy boots with his tuxedo, as did probably half the men at this Austin ball, but he had "exclusive club" written all over him. Ivy League education, for certain.
Diana had to raise her voice as the music resumed. Who'd have guessed that a dozen people making up an orchestra could be as loud as any DJ with massive speakers? "She's married. Don't give her another thought."
"I wasn't," he said, without taking his eyes off Lana.
"Sure, you weren't."
Mr. Bond brooded on.
Diana sighed and sipped her champagne. "I hate to dash anyone's hopes, but that's one marriage that is going to last."
That got his attention. Those sea-green eyes looked directly at her again. Better at her than a married woman, she supposed.
"How do you know?" he asked.
"Lana and I are friends." For some reason, she added, "And business associates."
Business associates? It sounded like she was trying to say she was as accomplished as Dr. Lana MacDowell, but Diana was most definitely not med school material. Not Ivy League. Not even community college. Why did she want James Bond to think she was?
She wasn't his type. It was a simple fact. She could tell, at a glance, that this man would squarely put her in the buddy category. Maybe little sister annoying little sister.
I'm not annoying, I'm friendly. Her heart was in the right place, so she wasn't worried if his initial impression was "annoying." She was going to be his buddy before the party was over, the gal pal who encouraged a guy to get out there and live. It was a role she fell into all the time. People liked her that way.
The poor man continued glowering as he watched Braden and Lana dance. "You're being a little too obvious," she said. "What is your name again?"
"Quinn." From his tone, she guessed he didn't like having to repeat himself.
Diana snapped her fingers. "Now I know who you are. I saw you on the hospital's bachelor calendar, didn't I?" She laughed out loud. "I didn't recognize you tonight with your clothes on."
"What?" He sounded baffled or annoyed. Baffled was nicer, so she went with baffled.
"It's a joke. I've only seen you in your doctor duds, the green scrubs. Didn't recognize you tonight with your real clothes on, get it?"
He didn't laugh, just sent a faint, polite smile in the direction of the dance floor. He probably preferred to get his humor from The New Yorker. Intellectual humor, not party joke humor.
Well, she was here to change all that. "Look, I'm good at matchmaking, so let's find someone else for you to think about. We need to salvage your evening."
That green gaze returned to her. "Do we? I wasn't aware I was so dangerously near rock bottom."
"You need to find the right woman for you. Lana isn't it."
He dropped his gaze, which meant he looked at her bare thighs being tickled by green fringe. Then he looked away, frowning faintly.
She tugged at her hem, relieved that he wasn't ogling her. She hated when guys mistook her friendliness as a sign that she wanted to party horizontally.
It was hard to imagine that anyone had persuaded this man to pose for a fundraising man-candy calendar. Diana remembered the photo, though. He'd been glowering in that one, too, as if daring the camera to make him take his surgeon's garb off. She'd thought it was a shame the photographer hadn't succeeded.
"Lana and I are only friends," he said. "I'm well aware that she isn't available."
"And she never will be."
"The divorce rate among doctors is astronomical."
"The MacDowells are rock solid. Just put Lana out of your mind while we find you someone super special."
Despite the loud music, Diana could almost hear his snort of derision.
She pretended not to notice. Men often acted tough and grouchy when they were really sad and lonely. She'd rescued enough homeless dogs to recognize the gruff defense. "The good news is, you're far from a hopeless case. For starters, you're a man, so we don't have to work too hard to get you on the dance floor."
"I don't understand, Miss ...?"
"Just call me Diana, please. 'Miss Connor' would be ridiculously stuffy."
"Miss Connor. What makes you think I'm in need of your matchmaking assistance?"
"Because you're sitting here sulking. Like a child."
Being blunt had the desired effect. The look on his face made her want to laugh. He couldn't even frown at her, she'd shocked him so greatly.
She nudged his shoulder with hers. "Don't take yourself so seriously or me, either, for that matter. I'm friends with Lana, you're friends with Lana, so that makes us friends, too. As your friend, I'm here to help you get your party on."
He leaned back in his chair and crossed his arms over his chest. At least she had his attention totally, this time and he looked like he was actually close to smiling. "How fortunate for me. I thought I'd never manage to get my party on. It was worrying me considerably."
"Glad to hear we agree. Now, I was saying that you are at a big advantage because you're a man."
"Is that right?"
"You can ask a girl to dance. You have no idea what a luxury that is. This would be much harder if you were a woman. If you saw a likely candidate, you'd have to strategically stand where he could see you, make a little eye contact, flirt a little, and hope he asked you to dance."
"I doubt you are saying this from experience. You don't strike me as a wallflower."
"I never ask the man to dance. I only approached you because you were so obviously in need of a little coaching."
"You'll thank me later, trust me," she said, answering his sarcasm with sauciness. "Now, what kind of woman do you think you want?"
He looked toward the dance floor, but Lana and Braden weren't there. They'd probably gotten a hotel room they were practically on their honeymoon.
Diana sighed dramatically. "Okay, okay. You think Lana is the perfect woman. Then let's find you a woman like Lana." Diana scanned the crowd. "Gosh, everyone is so beautiful. The whole ballroom is beautiful. Isn't it great?"
When he made no comment, she turned to him. "Don't you think it's a great night?"
He shrugged, an uncaring movement of masculine shoulders under fine black wool.
"Well, it is. Everyone's so sparkly. And happy." She poked his lapel, earning herself another raised eyebrow. "And you're going to be happy tonight, too."
"What makes you think I'm not happy?"
Diana started to laugh, but she had the sudden intuition he was asking a sincere question. The man needed to take a good look in the mirror.
Diana decided to be that mirror. She crossed her arms over her chest and scowled, hard. Dropping her voice to the lowest bass she could manage, she said, "What makes you think I'm not happy?"
Quinn scowled back at her for a good, long while.
Then he uncrossed his arms and looked away with a little shake of his head. "That bad?"
"That bad, but not for long. Let me just find you the perfect partner."
"Do you often perform your matchmaking services for total strangers?"
"All the time." Every weekend, in fact, but she wasn't going to tell James Bond that. Every weekend, she volunteered at an animal shelter where she matched total strangers with the perfect pets.
This Quinn-in-a-tuxedo wouldn't appreciate that her skills had been honed on dogs, but people weren't much different. It was all a matter of finding complementing temperaments, something Diana had found success at by relying less on talking and more on facial expressions and body language.
Diana trusted her mad matchmaking skills. Lana would never have been right for Quinn, even if she'd been available, but Quinn would never believe Diana. Perhaps she should let him figure it out for himself. "Look there's a Lana lookalike for you. Go ask her to dance."
When he didn't budge, she put her hand on his shoulder and pushed.
Quinn shook his head as he stood. "I can't believe I'm going to do this."
But he did. The woman was petite and slender, with shiny, straight black hair and an air of confidence about her. Diana watched her graciously present her hand to Quinn, so he could lead her to the dance floor. Like so many men in Texas, men who grew up leading women in the Texas two-step and country waltzes, Quinn was obviously a confident dancer. He and his partner looked elegant together, dancing to a Frank Sinatra standard.
Excerpted from The Bachelor Doctor's Bride by Caro Carson. Copyright © 2014 Harlequin Enterprises Limited. Excerpted by permission of Harlequin Enterprises Limited.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.