Read an Excerpt
Kisha Moran walked briskly toward her Baltimore dental office, hoping to get some paperwork done before her first scheduled appointment. She wanted to get an early start on what was sure to be a very long day. Lost in her thoughts, she barely noticed the tall, casually dressed man leaning against the doorway of her office until she was close enough to make out his features. She approached him warily, but saw in his eyes and facial expression that he seemed to be in serious pain rather than a physical threat, despite the fact that he easily towered over her five-foot-seven-inch height. "I'm Doctor Moran," she said. "May I help you?" "I sure hope you can. I've got a terrible toothache, and this thing kept me up all night."
She unlocked the door, and led him into a waiting room with a large, flat-screen television. She turned on the television. "This should distract you for a minute."
"Doctor, nothing is going to distract me as long as this thing is throbbing."
"Try to relax," she said, taking off her jacket and putting on a white lab coat.
"Look, can't you just give me some pills for the pain? Last night I tried to quell the pain with some bourbon, but this thing is killing me."
She ushered him into one of the patient rooms, where he reclined in the dentist chair. She guessed he must have been at least six foot four from the way he had to contort his frame to fit in the chair. With her mask in place, she moved closer to him and looked down at his face just as he opened his eyes and looked at her.
Until now she hadn't noticed how beautiful the brother was—gorgeous was more like it. His long lashes and dark, deep-set eyes seemed to promise everything a woman could desire. His thin top lip was offset by a full bottom lip that made him look as if he were pouting. She imagined what it would feel like if she'd bent down and run her tongue across his lips. How would it feel to run her fingers through the silky curls that framed his face, which was the color of shelled walnuts? She tried to still the butterflies in her stomach and chided herself for her thoughts, but to no avail.
"I'll give you a Novocain shot, and in five minutes you won't feel a thing," she said, trying to affect an air of nonchalance.
He nearly sprang out of the chair. "Novocain? In a needle? No way. Give me a pill or something."
She resisted staring at his handsome face and let a grin float across hers. "What's your name?"
"Craig Jackson. And I hate needles. Please give me a pill for this pain."
"A pill will take too long, and the dosage I'd have to give you would be too strong. You'd be in no condition to leave the office by yourself and there's no one to take you home afterward. Besides, in the time that we've been talking about this, Mr. Jackson, the Novocain could have numbed your toothache and you wouldn't be feeling a thing. You want the needle, or would you rather take a pill and suffer for another hour?"
"Some choice you're giving me."
"Aw, come now. Don't be such a baby."
"Baby! I'd like to see you deal with a tooth that hurts the way mine does."
"I'm not making fun of you. I know it hurts. Open your mouth please. I really should x-ray this first, but if I took the time to do that you'd be in pain that much longer. Close your eyes and keep your mouth open." She didn't dare let him see the needle. Men were such babies when it came to needles. She injected the Novocain quickly, but winced when he stifled a groan.
"I'm sorry about that," she said, "but that's the worst of it." Waiting for the Novocain to do its job, she took some digital X rays of his teeth and then studied the images.
"Mr. Jackson, would you look at this. How long have you had this cavity?"
"Quite a while. I didn't have time to take care of it. I had to finish an important project. Besides, I dread seeing the dentist."
She told herself not to take it personally, but to think of him as a patient that needed help. Not that she expected it to work. "You need a root canal, Mr. Jackson, and it's going to take a while."
"I don't care how long it takes or how much it costs. I just want to leave here feeling no pain."
"Really?" she said. "I thought that only applied when you were three sheets to the wind."
He'd begun to relax, so she tested the area for numbness. He didn't need to know that if it took longer than usual, she might have to give him another shot. "He raised an eyebrow and said, "Hmm. What do you know about three sheets to the wind? I'll bet you don't even drink."
"You're right. I don't, except for the occasional glass of wine at dinner and a cocktail on special occasions. Though I suppose you know that pleasure need not require alcohol. The best highs are enjoyed cold sober."
"I'm not going there," he said, his speech slightly slurred from the effects of the Novocain.
Now, what had she said to bring that on? She could tell by his expression that he'd taken her comment as a double entendre. Well, she wasn't going there, either.
With her body pressed against the arm of the chair to steady her hand, she began to drill. But the deeper she went, the worse it got. She stopped and stepped back from him. "I don't see how you tolerated this."
"You still think I was being a baby?" he said, petulantly.
"I wasn't talking about the pain when I said that. And, yes, you were being a baby about the needle. Open your mouth, please."
He opened his mouth, and she resumed drilling. "Ow! Hey!"
"My goodness. I touched a nerve. I'm so sorry. Rest for a minute."
"Are you sure you know what you're doing?" he asked in a disparaging tone.
In light of the pain he'd experienced, she forgave him. "I'm a doctor of dental medicine, a DMD. And I certainly did not imagine all those years and student loans I spent studying dentistry. Open your mouth." She quickly gave him another shot of Novocain and patted his shoulder. "I know it's unpleasant, but at least I'm a dentist who cares that you're in pain."
He looked intently at her for a long minute. "Yeah, I guess you do. Sorry if I've been giving you a hard time." He tried to smile, and she could hear the sudden pounding of her heart.
Around one o'clock in the afternoon, nearly four hours after he'd walked into her office, she removed the towel that covered his chest, gave him a cup of water and asked him to rinse his mouth. He did. "Bite down hard on that side," she said. "It should be fine now." She opened a can of Ensure, poured it into a glass and gave it to him with a straw. It'll be a while before that Novocain wears off, so don't try to eat for at least another hour, but this will hold you."
Craig stood and rubbed his hand gently over his left cheek. He stared down at her. "How much," he asked.
"My receptionist will take care of it. You'll see her on your way out."
He paused. "I can't thank you enough, Doctor. The patients with appointments this morning must be furious with you. Thanks again. His gaze swept across the room and came back to her. Lights danced in his large brown eyes.
"You're the definition of an angel," he said, then winked at her and left.
Kisha sat down in the chair where Craig had just sat. It wasn't just that she was tired. She wasn't quite sure why she was so exhausted.
She knew Regine, her receptionist, would have him fill out the intake form and provide his personal information along with his payment. And for a fleeting moment, Kisha thought about using the information in his patient file to find out more about him.
She'd been around plenty of attractive men. In Key West, where she'd lived before moving to Baltimore, it was not unusual to see good-looking guys wearing the skimpiest of swim briefs. She enjoyed looking at them—after all she wasn't dead. But she had never reacted the way she had toward Craig Jackson. His eyes! She took a deep breath and slowly exhaled. She'd love to experience what those eyes promised.
Three months ago, Kisha Moran had had all of her belongings packed and shipped to number 118 Palely Place in Baltimore, Maryland. She said goodbye to the never-ending Florida heat, the floods and the dreaded hurricanes. She loved living in the Keys, especially the casual lifestyle of fishing, swimming and tennis. But after seeing the damage from one too many hurricanes, she'd had enough.
Kisha had been concerned about opening her dental practice and starting all over again in a place where she didn't know anyone. But Baltimore had a large African-American population and a number of institutions of higher learning. She planned to build her new practice by providing low-cost dental care, letting students pay on a sliding scale and offering free service to children from the poorest families.
By mid-September, she'd settled in, had a respectable number of patients. Her practice increased weekly, thanks to the proximity of her office to Morgan State University and its large student population to which she offered a discount. Not all of her patients attended the university, but many of them did, and they proved to be her best source of referrals.
Craig Jackson's acquaintances thought of him as a loner, and to some extent, he was. In his undergraduate days at Howard University, his personality earned him the nickname of Stonewall. A brilliant, no-nonsense man, he was often brutally frank and always honest. Small talk annoyed him.
At age thirty-three, Craig's career was about to take off, or so he hoped. He anchored a local five o'clock TV news program and prided himself in writing all of its scripts. His habit of including a "human interest" segment in each of his daily programs made him a favorite with viewers.
Back in his office at TV station WWRM, Craig cast a rueful glance at the chocolate bar, the refuge from desperate hunger, that he kept in his top desk drawer, and shook his head. If he had to choose between hunger pain and the return of that toothache, he'd welcome the pain in his stomach. He answered his phone.
"Hey, son, how's it going?"
He knew his dad hadn't called to make small talk, so he asked, "What's up, Dad?"
"I'm wondering how far you are from deciding that you want to be a lawyer after all. I just looked at a piece of prime office space that would be perfect for Jackson and Jackson. It's—"
"Dad, I thought we agreed that if I don't become syndicated or get a network-level job within a year, I'll join you. Right now, I'm the only anchor on my level who writes his own news scripts. That ought to tell you something. I've got nine months to go."
"All right. I want you to succeed at whatever you undertake, but this is my dream. I want to see you successful and happy, but, well, I'm between a rock and a hard place."
"I'm beginning to think I'd make a lousy lawyer, Dad. The more I work as a journalist, the more I love it."
"You got your law degree with distinction and passed the bar on the first try."
"But I got my journalism degree at the top of the class. Look, Dad. If I don't have a network-level program in nine months, I'll join you. I'll be as miserable as a wet puppy in freezing temperatures, but I'll keep my word. But you know I have no intention of failing at this."
He told his father goodbye and hung up. He didn't blame his dad. By not joining the family firm he was breaking a tradition that had begun with his great-grandfather. He looked at his watch. She'd said an hour, but he still couldn't feel a thing on that side of his face. Hunger pangs reminded him that he hadn't eaten any solid food since the previous evening.
Thinking about what he could eat that didn't require chewing, he went down and got a container of milk and a muffin from the snack shop. He soaked the muffin in the milk and managed to make it slide down his throat. Then, he busied himself editing the five o'clock news.
That doctor had a tender, caring touch. "I wonder what her first name is," he said aloud, as he got his suit jacket and found the card that the receptionist gave him. "Kisha." He pronounced it several times. She was a looker. And sweet, too. "I can't believe I left that woman and didn't even ask her for a date," he said to himself. "I must be getting old." He realized that the effects of the Novocain had finally worn off entirely when he felt a dull ache. A glance at his watch told him that he had an hour and forty minutes before news time. He closed his computer, locked his desk and headed for the restaurant at the end of the block.
Kisha couldn't get Craig out of her mind and, for the remainder of the day, she thought of various reasons to call him. That night, she slept fitfully with intermittent dreams of Craig Jackson and the way his long-lashed, dreamy eyes teased her. She tossed in bed until her shoulder ached and awakened the next morning, sleepy, groggy and with an aching head. For the first time since she opened her practice, she arrived late to work. Her first patient needed front caps for cosmetic purposes, and after taking X rays and measurements, she got down to the business of making a forty-five-year-old man who should never smile look like Prince Charming. She attached the temporary caps and went to lunch, but not even a good crab salad improved her mood.
When she returned to work, she pulled Craig's file, wrote his phone number in her address book, went into her office and closed the door. Using her private line, she dialed Craig Jackson's phone number.
"Mr. Jackson, This is Kisha Moran. How are you feeling?"
She wondered at his silence. "Uh…thanks for calling. I guess I feel like a guy who just lost the inside of a tooth."
She didn't know what to make of that comment. "I'm not sure I know what that means. Does it hurt? I mean are you having any discomfort? You had very extensive surgery yesterday. I'd like to know how you're getting along."