So why is the sought-after playboy going out of his way to prove to the love-burned Erika that he'd make the ideal husband—and perfect father to her adorable baby girl? Stay tuned, dear readers, to see if the town's favorite new physician will be heading back home. Or if this Dr. Daddy is writing a prescription for lifetime happiness!
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The door to Dr. Dillon Traub's office at the infirmary in the lodge suddenly flew open. A tall, husky man carrying a boy of about eight rushed inside. "You've got to do something, Doc. I can't find his EpiPen."
Erika Rodriguez was right on the man's heels. "This is Dave Lindstrom. He thinks his son Jeff is having a reaction to something he ate." Her words were quick and precise, yet she seemed calm.
As Dillon rose from his desk, their gazes collided and the zing he'd been experiencing ever since he'd met his receptionist hit him full force. Even now.
Pushing aside any thoughts other than those about this little boy, Dillon took Jeff into his own arms and ran into a well-equipped exam room. "Call 9-1-1," he shot over his shoulder at Erika, experiencing the gut-wrenching ache he always felt when he was near a child in crisis…remembering his own child.
"I already did," Erika called after him.
An internist, Dillon could handle almost any emergency that cropped up at Thunder Canyon Resort. Marshall Cates—the resident doctor here—had assured him not many emergencies occurred at the resort.
So much for Marshall's assurances.
The boy's breathing was labored and his lips were blue and swelling. Dillon knew he had everything he needed to reverse the reaction if it wasn't too late.
Too late, echoed in his mind, as it often had over the past few years.
It wouldn't be too late for this child.
"Hold on, Jeff," Dillon said in a low voice as he laid the boy on the table.
Expertly assessing Jeff's height, weight and condition, Dillon grabbed an EpiPen with the appropriate dosage from the medicine cabinet. Instants later, he'd administered it, pulled over the oxygen tank and let Jeff breathe it in through the nasal cannula. Erika assisted any way she could while Dillon ran an IV line. All the while, he monitored the little boy's pulse, checked his breathing, comforted him in low tones and prayed for the anaphylactic reaction to reverse.
Dillon was aware of Erika beside him. He'd been too aware of her since he'd briefly met her on his vacation here in June. When he'd accepted Marshall Cates's offer to take over as staff doctor for the month of September while Marshall was away, Grant Clifton, the resort's manager, had assigned Erika to be his receptionist. Since then, Dillon's awareness of her had revved up into something even more disturbing—desire. He hadn't felt real desire since well before his divorce.
Erika had never had any medical training but seemed able to take on any assignment she was given with a competence that made her a valued employee in Grant's eyes, especially given the recent budget cuts. Those same budget cuts had made it necessary for Ruthann, Marshall's nurse, to come on duty when Dillon went off. Not that he was really ever off. He was usually on call twenty-four hours a day, except for the odd night when the retired physician in town would cover for him.
Now Erika suddenly glanced toward the hallway, her long dark brown, wavy hair sliding over her shoulder. "I hear the sirens. The paramedics are coming."
Standing at the boy's shoulder, Jeff's father murmured, "Thank God."
Dillon checked Jeff's nailbeds and was relieved to see the blue was receding. His lips were less swollen and pinker, too. "I know you're scared, Jeff," he said clasping the child's arm. "But everything's going to be okay."
Jeff's hazel eyes darted to Dillon's face.
"You can breathe easier now, can't you?"
Jeff nodded, then reached his hand out for his dad who took it and squeezed it tightly. The husky man's brow was beaded with sweat and he looked as if emotion was choking his throat. Finally he managed to say, "He's all I have."
Dillon reached out his hand to the lodge's guest. "Mr. Lindstrom, I'm Dr. Traub. I'll follow along to the hospital to make sure all goes smoothly as soon as I give my nurse a call so she can cover."
"I'll call her," Erika offered. "She's due in soon, so she's probably around the resort."
Erika moved away from Dillon's side, her figure trim in her navy suit. Her skirt was just the right length to be professional and her white silky blouse had a scooped neckline that showed off her beautiful olive skin.
As she passed him, her scent, light and tempting, enveloped him. She turned her head and her dark eyes stayed on his. For a moment, a rippling intensity skittered back and forth between them.
She broke eye contact and had almost reached the door when Dillon caught the sound of voices and the clang of a gurney. All at once, there the paramedics were — ready to handle an emergency…ready to take care of Jeff while they transported him to the hospital.
Dillon was so grateful that Erika's calm handling of the crisis, as well as his ministrations, had saved Jeff's life. He wished recovery was an outcome for every sick child.
Yet he knew firsthand it wasn't. He'd lost his own child to leukemia—and there hadn't been a damn thing he could do about it.
At her desk, Erika suddenly went on alert a few hours later. She recognized the bootfalls of Dr. Dillon Traub as he strode up the hall to the infirmary.
She had heard he was the heir of an oil fortune. Western-cut suits that impeccably fit his broad shoulders, fine leather boots, as well as the oil fortune were all good reasons to stay away from him. Ever since she'd met him in June and chemistry had rippled between them, she'd known becoming involved with him would be trouble.
Not to worry, she reassured herself. She was sure he wouldn't be interested in her at all if he knew the truth about her.
Now as Dillon appeared in the doorway to the infirmary suite's reception area, Erika noticed his tawny blond hair looked as if he'd run his fingers through it. It had a wave that styling couldn't deny.
He wasn't smiling, and she worried that Jeff had taken a turn for the worse. "Is Jeff okay?"
Dillon's gaze held hers. "He's doing great. And I also want to tell you that you handled yourself and the emergency very well. But we've got a problem. Mr. Lindstrom's talking about suing the resort."
Dillon's praise meant a lot. Simply because she wanted a promotion, she assured herself. "Suing the resort? Why?" she asked.
Crossing to her desk, Dillon stopped at the corner. "The kitchen has been making Jeff special meals because of his food allergies. Jeff said he ate his lunch right before the attack. Mr. Lindstrom is convinced there was a nut residue in the salad. He assured me he has enough money to keep the resort tied up in lawsuits for years."
"Does he want a settlement?"
"I don't think so. I think he just wants to make sure it doesn't happen to anyone else."
"But if he sues the resort—"
"I know. These are tough times. Resort reservations are down considerably, especially for September. I'll have to speak with Grant about the possible lawsuit."
Erika noticed the deepened lines around Dillon's eyes and didn't believe the lawsuit was the only matter pressing on him. "Jeff won't have aftereffects from today, will he?"
"I hope not."
Was that pain in Dillon's eyes? Turmoil? About what?
She broke eye contact, feeling the flutter in her tummy that happened whenever Dillon was around. She instinctively knew if she kept gazing into his eyes, almost anything could happen. She couldn't let anything happen. After Scott Spencerman had left her so suddenly she'd made a plan for her life—and it didn't involve romance. She would not be distracted no matter what the gossips said about her.
Putting the brakes on the course of their conversation, Dillon reached across the desk and tapped the notepad in front of her, obviously wanting to change the subject. She'd doodled guitars and cowboy hats and a pair of boots.
"I was just trying to decide what to do next." Should she confide in Dillon Traub? Why not? This wasn't anything personal. After the gossip fest the town had participated in about her, she kept everything personal away from her professional life.
"It's Frontier Days," she admitted.
In addition to being a receptionist to Dillon—which wasn't always a very busy position—she was managing the Frontier Days Festival scheduled for the fourth weekend in September. The festival had been planned to boost business for the town and resort. It was a huge project for her, but Grant Clifton had said he had confidence in her abilities. She was hoping to use the festival to score a much-needed promotion. If she could be promoted from receptionist to even guest-room manager, she'd have more to spend on her monthly budget…more to save for Emilia's future.
"For the most part, everything is falling in line. I feel I have a handle on events in town as well as guest-stay enhancements here. There's just one element that's missing and I can't seem to do anything about it."
"The entertainment. I wanted to have a really great draw, like a well-known country singer—Brad Paisley, Keith Urban, Zane Gunther. I've called every manager I could find. I even have the county arena at the fairgrounds lined up for that Saturday night. But I don't have a star to perform there."
Dillon said, "Maybe I can help you with that."
"Do you know someone?" she asked with surprise.
"I might." His smile was a bit mysterious and, oh, so sexy.
She went on, "I'm a little worried about the weather, too."
He was actually listening. That wasn't a trait she had found in many men. "It can be unpredictable in September. I'm not planning summer activities in case the weather turns colder. Still, tourists will be in and out of the stores, sampling food from the chili booths, listening to campaign speeches with a lot more enthusiasm if we're having Indian summer. I've made alternative plans for everything, but the best laid plans…"
Dillon had seemed to relax and now sat casually on the corner of her desk. "The resort needs tourists before the ski season starts to fill vacancies and the town needs them to support Thunder Canyon businesses."
"That's why I planned Frontier Days for late in the month. The candidates for mayor seemed pleased with that, too, so they could rev up their campaigns for the November election."
"You've thought of everything."
She felt color rising from her neck to her cheeks. "Not really."
Electricity crackled in the air as they gazed into each other's eyes.
"Is Ruthann here?" Dillon asked, seemingly out of the blue.
"She's back in her office."
He nodded. "I'll check in with her before I leave for my dinner break. How would you like to get a bite to eat with me?"
It was after five and technically Erika was finished for the day. She had responsibilities at home but with a phone call to her mom…
She was so tempted by Dillon's offer. For the past three years, she'd shunned dating and steered clear of men. No man had ever made her heart race like Dillon did, not even Scott Spencerman. Was that a good or bad thing? She'd fallen for Scott's charming flattery, as well as his suave, sophisticated persona.
Dillon didn't seem to give idle compliments. He just—
Made her feel like a woman? Made her feel alive? Made her feel as if she were missing something?
What harm could one dinner do? No one could gossip about that, could they? And it might be a test to see just what kind of man Dillon was. Whether he could enjoy beer and a country jukebox…if he would mind being seen with his receptionist in public. "How about the Hitching Post in town?"
"The Hitching Post is fine with me," he offered with a smile that could easily curl her toes if she let it. He was one sexy, attractive Texan with that defined jaw, golden-brown eyes and sandy-blond hair. Yet he didn't seem to be a player. He had confidence but not the arrogance some men emanated when they thought they could hook any woman they crooked their finger at.
Erika was about to confirm their date, when Stacy Gillette appeared in the doorway. A pretty brunette, Stacy was one of the social directors at the resort. She was lithe and friendly and always seemed to have a smile. But then Erika supposed Stacy didn't have a reputation to repair or something to prove.
Dillon's face lit up when he saw the social director. "Hi, Stacy. I haven't seen you around since I arrived. I was hoping we'd connect." He gave Stacy a huge hug and a light kiss.
That kiss and his familiarity with the social director bothered Erika and she knew it shouldn't.
Turning to Erika, Dillon said, "I met Stacy in Thunder Canyon when I was a kid."
Stacy was beaming, too, as if seeing Dillon was the highlight of her day. She merely nodded to Erika, acknowledging her. Erika didn't have many friends on staff because of the gossip that had followed her…and the friends she'd lost. She didn't want to confide anything to a fellow employee that could be used against her. The one friend she'd made recently at the resort was Erin Castro, a newcomer to Thunder Canyon. Erika felt comfortable with her, probably because the woman knew nothing of Erika's checkered past.
Stacy addressed Dillon. "I thought I'd drop by and if you were still here, see if you wanted to go to dinner."
"I have a commitment tonight," he said, without glancing at Erika, even though she hadn't given him a final answer yet. "How about tomorrow?"
"That sounds great," Stacy agreed. She gave his arm a playful jab. "Then you can catch me up on what the great doctor's been doing in Midland, Texas…besides working. I won't keep you. See you tomorrow," she said, then with a wave and with another flashing smile, she was gone.
Dillon's gaze returned to Erika's. "I do have a commitment tonight, don't I?"
Were he and Stacy simply childhood friends? Or did he date more than one woman at a time?
One meal. She could see if he really wasa regular guy. Or if he was a player like Scott had turned out to be.
"Yes," she answered, rolling her chair away from her desk. "I'll gather my things and meet you at the Hitching Post."
Straightening, he nodded. "See you there."
Erika hoped to high heaven she wouldn't regret getting to know Dr. Dillon Traub just a little better.
Erika opened the door to the Hitching Post and stepped inside, troubled by her phone conversation with her mom. When Erika had told her she was having a bite to eat with Dr. Traub, the cold silence had reminded Erika of too many things she'd like to forget.
Erika had assured her, "It's just a bite to eat," and explained about the emergency with Jeff. Still, her mom's attitude had been more than a little concerned and Erika knew why. After all, her romance with Scott had put them both through the wringer.