The man most likely to drive her crazy…
Growing up in Lafayette Falls, senator’s daughter Natalie Layton hid her sorrows behind a bright smile that charmed everyone in high school—except Brett Harris. Hardworking and highly motivated, Brett dismissed Natalie as a slacker. Instead, she’s become an acclaimed photographer. And when Brett, now a successful cardiologist, needs her family’s help to secure a coveted position, Natalie’s more than happy to prescribe a little payback…
Hailing from the wrong side of the tracks, Brett believed he could never win the school’s popular princess. Now he’s intrigued by the complex and compassionate woman Natalie’s become. Gaining her grandmother’s goodwill is the key to becoming chief cardiologist—and Natalie has no intention of making it easy. But as mutual mistrust gives way to pure chemistry, there’s more at stake than either ever expected—and much more to learn about matters of the heart…
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Everything His Heart Desires
By Patricia Preston
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2017 Patricia Preston
All rights reserved.
Fast and flirty, Rhonda was built to please, and Brett Harris had been hooked the moment he saw her. She was fine in all the ways that mattered. Perfect body and black leather suited her. What more could a guy want? Rhonda had been worth every dime of the fifty-two thousand Brett had paid for her.
In mint condition, Rhonda, a 1969 Road Runner, was one of four classic muscle cars that he owned. Cathy the Camaro, Molly the Mustang, and Farah the Firebird were the other three. He affectionately called them "my girls." They were beauties, and they never let a guy down.
He swung Rhonda into the physicians' parking bay at Lafayette Falls Medical Center. Since it was Friday, the private parking lot was almost empty. Over half of the medical staff, including Brett, took Friday as their day off. He lived for three-day weekends.
"It's all about heaven on earth, Rhonda." He patted Rhonda's shiny blue fender and headed toward the catwalk that would take him to the physicians' entrance.
The brown leather bomber jacket he wore over jeans and a black T-shirt warded off the crisp chill of the November morning. Soon it would be cool enough for a fire in the fireplace. He loved the scent of wood smoke. You knew it was fall when you smelled wood smoke in the hills of Tennessee.
This weekend, a warm front was going to keep the temperature in the seventies. Great weather for picking up a chick and heading to the cabin at Covington Lake.
He tapped in his code on the keypad and walked into the physicians' lounge, which was as deserted as the parking lot. Brett followed the aroma of freshly brewed coffee into the kitchenette, where his friend, pediatrician Dr. Aaron Kendall, was sitting on a stool, eating a bowl of cornflakes.
"Hey," Aaron said. Dressed in blue scrubs, the former college baseball player still had the lean build of an athlete, and he played ball when he got a chance. "I've asked around, and no one knows anything about a meeting this morning."
Brett frowned. "I can't imagine what Sheldon wants." An hour ago, he had received a cryptic message from the chief of staff, Dr. Neal Sheldon.
Meet me at the hospital. Nine o'clock. Executive Conference Room.
It was a simple command with no explanation. Sheldon, being who he was, did not have to explain his orders. His commands were not questioned. Nevertheless, ever since Brett had received Sheldon's message, his mind had been considering all the possibilities and coming up with nothing.
Aaron gave him a thoughtful glance. "What about the chief of cardiology position?"
"You know I don't have a chance." It wasn't that he didn't want it. He would give anything for it. He might even give up one of his girls for it. That was how much he wanted it.
"You're trained in interventional cardiology. That's a huge plus."
"Doesn't matter. It's all politics." More than once the politics had gone against him. He was from the wrong side of town. He'd grown up on Trinity Road, a strip of worn asphalt that snaked through the hills outside of town. Trinity Road had once been home to a branch of the Dixie Mafia, and it was known for its roadhouses and violence. By all rights, he should have never even made it to college, much less through medical school and a cardiology fellowship.
"Lockett would never endorse me, and he has enough clout with the hospital board to make certain they'd go against me, too."
Aaron scooped up a spoonful of cornflakes. "You haven't had words with Lockett again, have you?"
"I haven't spoken to him in three months," Brett answered.
Lockett was the Ivy League prick who headed up business administration at the hospital. He and Brett had clashed since day one. Lockett had said Brett needed to look more like a doctor than a felon, and more than once, Brett had been reprimanded for his heated arguments with the administrator.
But lately there hadn't been any big blowups between him and the administrator because Lockett was dealing with cash flow deficits at the hospital, and the interventional cardiac procedures Brett performed brought in sizable insurance payments. From what Brett had heard, Lockett was holed up in his office, trying to save his job.
"I don't know," Brett said, still mystified as he got a small cup of coffee. "I don't have any patient complaints against me that I know of." He took his work seriously, and he was good at what he did.
Aaron finished his cereal. "If you get the chance, you should mention the chief of cardiology position to Sheldon. You'd do a great job."
"The only way I will get it is if everyone else turns it down."
The position did mean extra work. The other cardiologists on staff were older than Brett, and they had families on top of large practices. They all balked at more responsibility.
"I think Foster will step up and take it," Brett said. Dr. Roy Foster had been on the staff for over twenty years. He was well-liked, well-connected, and a better politician than Brett.
"Still, you should say something to Sheldon," Aaron suggested. "Just see what his thoughts are."
"He'd probably flatten me like a cockroach." Brett glanced at the wall clock, which read eight forty-five. It never hurt to be early. He tossed the foam coffee cup in the trash. "I'll let you know what happens."
"Good luck, bro."
Brett strode down the blue tiled hallway, thinking about the chief of cardiology position. Dr. Collins had held onto the position for twenty-five years. For the past few years, Collins had been biding his time, getting ready to retire. He had let things in the cardiology department slide. Collins never went to battle for new equipment or upgrades to the cath lab. Brett had found that frustrating, but mediocre Collins was Lockett's golfing buddy, and he had the support of the governing board of trustees and the medical staff. You kiss my ass and I'll kiss yours.
In the hallway, he passed a couple of lab techs. "Hey, Hot Rod," they greeted him by his nickname. "TGIF!"
"You got that right," Brett replied. Who didn't love Fridays? Nothing like a Friday to put a little spring in your step. On Friday nights, he usually hung out at the Thunderbird Bar and Grill. He had invested a wad of cash into the Thunderbird, and it was paying off nicely.
What could he say but that life was good and just kept getting better?
As he approached the elevators at the end of the hall, the doors to one of the cars slid open, and he made a dash for it. He almost ran into Mrs. Rutherford, the hospital's stodgy dietitian, who stepped out of the roomy elevator, built to accommodate stretchers and wheelchairs.
"Doctor Harris, aren't you energetic this morning?"
"It's Friday, Mrs. Rutherford." Brett rushed into the elevator car as the doors started to close. He nodded at an elderly Asian couple who were standing near the door. He stepped to the left, where the operating panel was located, and pressed the number seven. The executive offices and meeting rooms were all on the top floor of the hospital. Then he settled into the front corner as the car shuddered and began its climb.
That's when he noticed the hot chick standing in the right rear corner of the elevator, diagonal from him. Long hair, the color of gold dust, rippled over her shoulders and formed an S-curve. She wore a short burgundy jacket with embroidered lapels over a silky top, along with snug jeans and brown suede riding boots with stack heels.
She looked as if she had just stepped out of a Ralph Lauren ad. All cool and classy. Like she belonged at a polo match, on a sailboat, or in his bed, he thought with a grin. She held a couple of large, white pastry boxes from the hospital cafeteria.
He reflexively checked out her hands. Delicate clear nails and no wedding band or engagement ring. He grinned. Maybe it was his lucky day.
The elevator opened on the second floor, and the Asian couple got off. While the elevator was stopped, Brett took the opportunity to move to the rear of the car so he and the Ralph Lauren model stood in opposite corners.
The elevator hydraulics sighed as the door closed. He glanced toward her. She looked directly at him and smiled. Her face went perfectly with her lean body and stylish clothes. She had full lips painted a soft mauve color, a straight nose, and bold blue eyes that sparkled like sapphires as she pinned him with a gaze that would have fired up the pistons in any man.
She was fine, and he was available. So there you go.
"I've heard we're going to have great weather this weekend," he said, throwing some bait her way. He tapped the elevator handrail. For the first time ever, he wished the elevator would move a little slower.
She batted those baby blues at him. "There's a storm coming."
A storm? He had watched the weather report on TV before he left his house. Sunny autumn weekend, high in the seventies, no rain. "I don't think so."
"Oh, I'm fairly certain of it," she insisted with a swift lowering of her lashes. She had a breathy voice with a slight lilt. She didn't sound local. Her accent was cosmopolitan like a newscaster's. No regional drawl.
She flashed him a tempestuous smile. "I love storms. Thunder and lightning can be very sexy at night."
Whoa. Damn. He raked back his dark hair. The elevator passed the fourth floor. With his motor running, he cut his eyes toward her, and she didn't shy away from direct eye contact. She gave him the once-over as if she were sizing him up. Then she wet her lips. Kinda like she was silently saying, I'm great at oral sex.
I love bad girls! If he had been a Christmas tree, every light on him would have been glowing. Where had she been all his life?
The elevator passed the fifth floor. There was no time, so he decided to go for it.
He had not been born humble.
"I'm going to be at the Thunderbird tonight. Hanging out. If you're out that way, stop by. I'd love to have some company." He didn't make a big deal of it. Subtlety had its merits.
"You're totally Type A," the Ralph Lauren model said as she shifted her hands on the pastry boxes she held. He could see the flecks of violet in her blue eyes, and he caught the soft scent of her breezy cologne.
He blinked. Something seemed familiar about her. Then again, not.
He nodded. Yeah, he was assertive. He didn't lack confidence.
"Ambitious." The elevator came to a halt on the seventh floor with a familiar chime as the car reached its destination.
"Definitely." If he hadn't been ambitious, he would not be where he was today. Ambition fueled him. He cut his eyes toward her and hoped the next attribute would be attractive.
"Asshole," came next.
He frowned. "Not all Type A's are assholes."
"But you are."
Bewildered, he blinked. "If you knew me, you wouldn't think that."
"I do know you," she said as the elevator doors slid open. "And I do think that."
Then she was on the move, heading down the carpeted hallways toward the executive suites. He caught up with her. "What do you mean you know me?" He was certain they had never met. He had never been so drunk that he couldn't recall whom he'd picked up, and he couldn't imagine not remembering her.
"Coach Vanderford's biology lab." The Ralph Lauren model stopped in the quiet, carpeted hallway. The top floor only housed medical staff offices, conference rooms, the medical library, and a rarely used observatory.
"Coach Vanderford?" Mentally, he had to sweep the cobwebs from memories that had been buried for years. Coach Vanderford had been one of his high school science teachers. "You're talking Lafayette High?"
"You were always such a smart ass, Brett."
"I was a teenager," he countered. Teenagers were cocky. They came with an attitude. "There were a few guys a lot worse than me."
"Not to Natalie Layton."
His face soured as if he'd just taken a dose of quinine. Natalie Layton. The senator's daughter. Platinum blond hair cut short like Tinker Bell's. Megawatt smile. The stuff of wet dreams. Voted Cutest Girl and Class Favorite. Always hanging onto her jock boyfriend or riding on a parade float in a lavish gown. Everyone had loved her but him.
He had nearly crapped when Coach Vanderford had handed out lab partner assignments and he got stuck with Natalie. If all that was necessary were cuteness and charm, Natalie could ace it, but if it required any effort and intelligence, you could forget it. She kept her head in the clouds.
While he was working his ass off, maintaining a 5.0 grade average so he could get a full scholarship and go to college, she spent half her time in class staring out the windows in some sort of fantasy world. Or drawing pictures instead of taking notes.
He had resented everything about her, including the fact that a boy from Trinity Road had no chance with a girl like her.
"When it came to Natalie Layton, I just didn't suck up to her like everyone else did. I said exactly what I thought, and I guess I was blunt. Were you one of her friends?" Everyone had claimed to be her friend. Naturally. Her family owned a castle.
"It's me, Brett. Slacker," she said, nudging his memory again.
Slacker? That was the nickname he'd given Natalie when she was his worthless lab partner. What's your ambition in life, Slacker? Trophy wife? If daydreaming made you smart, Slacker, you'd be the next Einstein. Hey, Slacker, maybe you can become a professional float rider.
"Natalie?" His eyes widened as the realization dawned on him. "You're Natalie Layton?"
She produced the megawatt smile. "In the flesh."
He couldn't quite wrap his mind around the fact that the woman who stood before him was the same girl he'd known in high school. She had made some sort of unbelievable transformation. Her voice, her hair, her manner, and even her face seemed different.
He knew that teenagers changed as they matured into adults, and he hadn't seen Natalie since graduation, but he had seen some of their former classmates. They didn't look exactly like they had in school, and neither did he, but he recognized them.
He would have never known Natalie. Not in a million years.
"Surprise." She looked proud of herself and he knew why.
"You were playing me in the elevator." If he could kick his own ass, he would.
From beneath thick lashes, her eyes flashed. "Who knew you'd be so easy?"
Shit. He shrugged and spouted out a polite lie. "Good to see you again. Sorry, I can't stick around." He started walking. "I'm going to be late for a meeting."
He headed for the short hallway that led to the Executive Conference Room, and he was at the oak door before he realized she was behind him. "What are you doing?"
"Bringing breakfast," she said, indicating the two takeout boxes she held. "Dr. Sheldon is married to my grandmother's sister, and Harry Layton is my uncle."
Brett stared at her. Could this get any more bizarre?
"Why don't you get the door?" she suggested. "My hands are full."
He pushed the door silently across the thick carpet of the conference room. Landscape paintings hung on the walls, and recessed ceiling lights illuminated the room where decisions that affected the hospital and health care were made. A long dark cherry table stood in the center of the room. Fresh flowers filled a gold vase, and matching executive chairs on rollers lined either side of the gleaming table. The room smelled of leather and power. And two of the most powerful men in Brett's universe stood beside the table.
Dr. Neal Sheldon and Harry Layton.
Tall and silver-haired, Dr. Neal Sheldon was in his mid-seventies. His regal appearance and calm demeanor had served him well as chief of staff. Considered a brilliant neurologist, he had worked on several research projects and had published in a number of medical journals. Everyone, including Brett, respected Sheldon and deferred to his wisdom. Sheldon was Gandalf in a white lab coat.
In contrast to Sheldon's Gandalf was Harry Layton, the hobbit. Harry was a short, squat fellow in his fifties with a belly as round as his face. Harry's balding head was hidden beneath a Tennessee Volunteers ball cap. In fact, Harry was a walking billboard for the University of Tennessee sports program. A diehard fan, he sported an orange-and-white Vols polo shirt and an orange UT windbreaker over gray slacks.
Despite looking like a hobbit in orange and white, Harry was probably the sharpest, most powerful businessman in Lafayette Falls. He came from old money, and he had made tons more. The Layton family had long been one of the cornerstones of Lafayette Falls society, and the Layton name appeared on businesses all over town. Harry was also the president of the hospital board of trustees. If Harry wanted it done, it got done. No questions asked.
Excerpted from Everything His Heart Desires by Patricia Preston. Copyright © 2017 Patricia Preston. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I had never read a book by Ms Preston, and was wondering how I would like it. I have to confess that the first part of the book was slow and I was not feeling engaged. I was pleased when the story picked up and the plot moved swiftly and smoothly. The story centers around Natalie Layton , the daughter of a senator who has lead a privileged life, or so we think. NO so, especially after the devastations she experienced as a war photographer. Our other main character is Brett Harris, her schoolmate from the wrong side of town, who seemingly didn’t liked her as a kid and even had called her a slacker. He has risen from the poverty and now is a reknown intervention cardiologist hoping for the position of Chief of Cardiology. The two meet again, and that’s when the story gets interesting. The secondary characters, Anna and Clara, are delightful as are the rest the town dwellers. That said, the story is more than the plot. It reminds us of how our childhood, what others think of us, our loses as a child, and the effects of war and death can change a person. The feelings of inadequecy as a child, will linger through adulthood , and the pain of loss, may make us stay away from love, for fear of more loss and heartbreak. A thought provoking , well written story. I was gifted this copy by Netgalley. The opinions expressed are solely my own.