When big-city trauma doc Taylor Stiles swaps speeding tickets for community medicine, it brings back memories he's spent years running from. The only silver lining? Delectable local doctor Shelby Wayne! But Shelby deserves white picket fences and a familysomething Taylor swore he'd never do One look at the bad-boy doc and Shelby wants to send him straight back! Taylor is the last thing she needs, but everything she wants!
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The flash of red in the parking space directly in front of the Benton Clinic door caught Dr. Shelby Wayne's attention. Great, this could only be the bad-boy doctor her uncle had told her to expect, and over six hours late.
Squinting, she looked through the dusty plate-glass window at the slick convertible sports car on the other side. As far as she knew, no one in that area of western Tennessee had a car nearly as fine as the one now almost blocking the door. This was big-truck not fancy-car country.
Babysitting her Uncle Gene's most recent personal project wasn't her idea of a good time. But needing help at the clinic so badly meant she couldn't send him back to Nashville. Still if she could get two weeks' worth of free medical help out of it, she'd bend over backwards to accommodate her uncle. Maybe if she played her cards right she could convince the doctor that his skills would be better utilized in Benton than where he was currently working.
If she wanted the clinic to remain open, she'd have to find some help soon.
She glanced at the clipboard for the name of her next patient then scanned the packed waiting room for Mrs. Stewart. It would be a waste of time to try to get the attention of the sweet little grandmotherly woman with a hearing problem over the din in the tiny room. As she walked towards Mrs. Stewart the people waiting quieted, and all eyes turned to look out the window.
Shelby watched, along with everyone else, as the expensive-looking loafer touched the pavement. In one athletic movement a man slipped out of the low car. His gaze met hers through the window. Her breath caught in her throat. His piercing look made her wonder if he could see secrets she'd kept hidden. He gave her a slight nod of acknowledgement.
His gaze traveled back and forth along the line of stores in the mostly abandoned strip mall. If it hadn't been for the brief twist of contempt marring his looks he would've qualified for the term "dangerously attractive".
How dared he act as if Benton was beneath him? After her husband Jim had died, continuing to live and work here had been the best decision she'd ever made. Her parents had encouraged her to move back to her home town to practice but she'd decided Benton was where she belonged. It was where she and Jim had chosen to make their home. Benton had supported her a hundred and ten percent as she'd grieved. Each person had their own little quirks but they all had a big hearts. Here she felt secure.
The new doctor still held the room's attention as he stepped to the door and pulled. The front of his car rested so far over the sidewalk that it wouldn't allow the door to open far enough for him to enter.
Shelby couldn't stop the twitch of her lips as she checked a chuckle. He was making a notable first impression on the locals sitting in the waiting room. Everyone in town would be enjoying this story by bedtime. That was one of the great things about living in a small town, though it could also be the worst. Everyone knew everything. When you had a tragedy your friends and neighbors were there to support you, but when there was a good story to tell they spread it.
The man snarled and murmured a sharp word under his breath. Turning, he took three quick strides back to the driver's door, opened it and slid behind the wheel with the same grace as when he'd alighted. Leaving one leg hanging outside the open door, he started the car. The windows of the clinic vibrated slightly as he backed the vehicle up until the entire sidewalk could be seen. As quickly as he'd started the car he shut off the engine, got out and slammed the door.
His long strides brought him towards the entrance of the clinic again. The only indication in his demeanor that he might still be annoyed was the jerk he gave the clinic door.
Shelby smiled but not too broadly so that he wouldn't think she'd been laughing at him. "You must be Dr. Stiles. I was expecting you hours ago."
"Are you Dr. Wayne?"
She offered him her hand. "I'm Dr. Shelby
He shook her hand. "With the name Shelby I had expected a man. Taylor Stiles."
His clasp was firm. Warm and dry. Not the dead-fish handshake she'd anticipated from the fancy-dressed, showy-car-driving, big-city doctor.
"Sorry to disappoint you," Shelby said with a hint of sarcasm.
"If you two young people are through putting on a show " Mrs. Stewart looked pointedly at Taylor Stiles " and making nice, would one of you mind seeing about my sciatica?"
Taylor blinked in surprise. As if on cue, the room erupted in noise as though the curtain had closed and the play was over.
Shelby cleared her throat. She loved the outspoken and to-the-point woman. "Uh, yes, Mrs. Stewart. You're next." Shelby handed the clipboard to Dr. Stiles. "Call the next patient under Mrs. Stewart's name and put him or her in room two." She pointed down the short hallway. "I'll be in after I see Mrs. Stewart."
Dr. Stiles's dashing brow rose a fraction of an inch but he accepted the clipboard. Apparently he wasn't used to taking direction. His deep baritone voice called little Greg Hankins's name while she guided Mrs. Stewart to exam room one.
"Kind of snooty, that one, but still mighty handsome," Mrs. Stewart remarked as she took a seat in the chair in the room.
"Um, I guess," Shelby said as she flipped through the seventy-four-year-old's chart.
"I could tell by the look on your face you noticed it too. Doc Shelby, you have to start living again. It's been three years. Your Jim is dead, not you."
A stab of pain came with that frank statement about her husband. There had been nothing she could do when she'd reached the accident. Despite not being far behind Jim in her own car, his truck had already been wrapped around a tree when she arrived at the scene. Nothing she'd done had stopped his blood from pooling in the mangled metal. The sight, the smell She'd retched.
Three years later she could at least do everything in her power to honor his memory by keeping the clinic open any way she could. The people of Benton she loved so much needed the medical care and she needed the security of knowing she was needed.
"Now, Mrs. Stewart " Shelby smiled " I'm supposed to be taking care of you, not you seeing about me."
"Well, missy, I think you don't want to see about you, so I'm just going to have to."
Shelby took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "Why don't you let me examine you, then we can work on me?" Adjusting her bright pink stethoscope in her ears, she placed the disk on the woman's chest.
"All you think about is this clinic. Maybe with Dr. Kildare here you can have a little fun for a change," the old woman groused.
"Yeah, he was one of those handsome TV doctors before your time. That new doctor makes me think of him. All tall, dark and handsome."
Shelby laughed. "Mrs. Stewart, you're outrageous." Mrs. Stewart's youngest son had to be older than Dr. Stiles. "You don't even know him and I really don't either. Anyway, he's only going to be helping out for a couple of weeks."
"Yeah, but you could have a little fun for a while. You're not dead. So stop acting like it."
Shelby patted the woman's arm. "For you I will try, I promise."
Without a doubt he had messed up this time. There had been no talking the judge out of his decision. Community service in a rural area. His lawyer had cautioned against arguing with the judge but Taylor had tried anyway. If he didn't have such a lead foot, he'd still be in Nashville in his nice modern trauma department instead of in a town like Benton. He'd run from a town similar to this one years ago and had never returned.
Taylor lifted the large-for-his-age two-year-old boy up onto the metal exam table. Where in the world did you go to find a piece of medical office equipment from the 1950s?
Thump, thump the table responded in rebellion as the boy's heels hit its side.
It was a sturdy table, Taylor would give it that.
The thin, frail mother carefully placed a brown bag she'd been carrying on the floor. She reminded Taylor of how his mother had looked when he had been a child, work weary and sad.
"So what's wrong with Greg?" Taylor looked at the boy's mother while keeping a hand on the wiggling child.
At one time he'd been like this little boy, dirty and wearing hand-me-down clothes from the church thrift closet. The sharp bite of memory froze him for a second. He pushed it aside. He hadn't dwelled on his dysfunctional childhood in years and he refused to start again today.
"I think he has something in his nose. We'll wait and let Doc Wayne take it out."
The mother doesn't trust me. Taylor didn't like that. He was the one with the knowledge who worked in a well-respected hospital, who had managed to get out of a nowhere town like this one, and she questioned his abilities. Turning away as if to get something, he gathered his patience.
Taylor faced the mother again. "Well, why don't I just take a quick look, okay?" Taylor forced his best smile for the mother then sought the otoscope that should have been hanging on the wall. "Uh, excuse me I need to find a light."
"There's a flashlight in the drawer." The mother pointed to the metal stand beside him.
Taylor pulled the drawer open and found what he needed, including plastic gloves. He checked inside the boy's nose. "There it is. In his left nostril. A lima bean, I believe. Do you mind if I get it out? Dr. Wayne will be busy for a while."
"I guess it'll be all right," the mother said without much enthusiasm.
"Let me find"
"The big tweezers thing is in the jar on top of the stand," the mother said in a dry tone.
"So how often has Greg been in with this type of problem?" Taylor asked as he reached for the instrument in the outdated clear sterile jar.
"This is the third time in two weeks."
"Really. That often?" Taylor nodded his head thoughtfully. "Greg, you just lean back and hold still. I'll have that old bean out in no time," he said sternly enough so the boy would do as instructed but not so harshly as to scare him. The bean slipped out with a gentle tug and Taylor dropped it into the trash can, along with the gloves.
"Okay, young man, you're done here." Taylor picked up the boy and set him on his feet.
As if Taylor had pushed the button of a doorbell, the boy burst out crying then wailing. His slight mother hefted the child into her arms. "Shu, what's wrong, honey? Did the doctor hurt you?"
Great, now she's making the kid afraid of me.
"Sucker, I want a sucker," the child demanded between gasps.
Over the noise, Taylor asked, "Has Dr. Wayne been giving Greg a sucker each time she's taken something out of his nose?"
The woman nodded.
"Greg," Taylor said firmly, gaining the boy's attention and shutting off his tantrum. "If you don't put anything in your nose for one week then your mother will bring you by to get a sucker. Do you understand?"
The boy nodded his agreement and plopped his filthy thumb into his mouth.
"Good. See you next week."
As they exited the room the mother handed Taylor the brown sack she'd been carrying with extra care. "Your pay."
"Uh, thank you."
As the mother and child walked back down the hall toward the waiting area, Taylor unrolled the top of the bag. Nestled inside were six brown eggs. He crushed the top of the bag. He could remember his mother not being able to pay the doctor and bartering her house-cleaning services for medical care for him and his siblings. Of all the places the judge could have sent him, why did it have to be here?
"Where's my patient?" Dr. Wayne demanded as she looked around him into the room.
"I examined him, and he's left."
Her shoulders went back, her chest came forward. He would've taken time to enjoy the sight if it hadn't been for her flashing gray eyes.
"That's not what I instructed you to do."
"I'm a doctor. I treated a patient. End of story."
She didn't say anything for a few moments.
The blood rose in her face. More calmly than her appearance indicated she said, "We need to step into my office."
Turning, she walked to the end of the hallway. Apparently it wasn't until she reached the office door that she realized he hadn't moved. She glared at him.
Not appreciating being treated like a school child being called to the principal's office, Taylor resigned himself to putting up with her bossy ways for the time being. The judge had stated in no uncertain termsclinic or jail.
"Coming, Dr. Wayne," he said, loud enough to be heard but with zero sincerity.
After he'd entered the office, she closed the flimsy door behind him. "Dr. Stiles, you will not come into my clinic six hours late and start doing as you please. If you'd been here on time I could've instructed you in the clinic protocol."
Straight chestnut hair that touched the ridge of her shoulders swayed as she spoke. Taylor would describe her as cute in a college co-ed sort of way. Her practical black slacks and white shirt did nothing to move her up on the looks scale.
"These are my people. I won't have you showing up for two short weeks and taking over. I cannot, will not, have you here for God knows what reason and let you destroy the trust I've built with my patients. I expect you to follow my instructions."
Who did this woman think she was, talking to him that way? Taylor carefully set the bag of eggs down on the desk. Turning his back to it, he placed his hands on the edge of the desk and leaned back.
"Doctor," he said, with enough disdain to make the word sound like he questioned whether or not that was the correct term. He took pleasure in watching the thrust of her breasts indicating her indignation as his barb struck home. "I won't be relegated to being your nurse. I'm the chief trauma doctor of a major hospital in Nashville. I can assure you that there will be few, if any, problems you see in this small, backwards clinic that I'll need your handholding for.
"I don't like being here any more than you obviously like having me. But what I can tell you is that I'm a good doctor. By no choice of my own, your patients are also my patients for the time being. Now, I suggest that we get back to that room full of people you're so concerned about."
Her mouth opened and closed. A sense of satisfaction filled him at having so thoroughly shut her up. Based on the last few minutes the next couple of weeks wouldn't be dull.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I loved the small-town setting and themes in this story. The doc isn't what he seems at first to be, and when I got to know him I couldn't help falling for him myself! If an apple a day keep the doctor away, I'm giving up apples. : )