On her visit to Portland's popular Healthy Living Clinic, royal beauty Catherine Von Husden wanted oh-so-serious Dr. Riley Jacobs to notice her. But the good doctor was all business and didn't give her the attention she so craved. Nevertheless Princess Catherine loved a challenge, and helping Riley open up resulted in her discovering riches beyond her wildest dreams. Riley was handsome, strong in spirit and possessed all the qualities she'd ever watned in a man. And when he returned her love, she was handed a royal dilemma. Would Catherine have to take up her duty to her country and leave behind the love of a lifetime.
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"...complex, funny, and realistic..." ~Wilmington News Journal
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If the monotony of this job didn't kill him, Dr. Riley Jacobs thought, then the paint fumes would. Taking over the running of Portland General Hospital's new Healthy Living Clinic hadn't been where he'd expected to put his extensive ER training into practice; however, the position had turned out to be a necessary rung on the ladder to where he wanted to goand he had every intention of reaching his ultimate goal.
Riley thought of himself as a late bloomer, being thirty years old and having just completed his residency at Portland General Hospital. However, he'd received rave reviews from the ER chief of staff, and he'd truly expected a job offer. But instead Riley had been asked by the head honcho, himselfthe hospital directorif he would become acting director of the Healthy Living Clinic. It seemed that things had gone quite awry here recently. And Riley had been told if he could set the mess right and keep bad publicity at bay, then a job would be waiting for him over in the hospital's emergency room. He'd promised to do his best.
The perfunctory knock on his office door had him calling out, "It's open."
Faye Lassen secured a small stack of patient files in the crook of one arm. The thirty-two-year-old woman with a Ph.D. in nutrition and psychology wore her hair pinned up in a neat 'do, and wore a crisp white lab jacket over a navy knee-length skirt. One look at her and the word professional popped into one's mind.
"Hi, Riley," she said. "Busy?"
"Just reading through all this paperwork so I'll be ready for our meeting. We should get over to the hospital soon, shouldn't we?"
Anxiety clouded her blue eyes. At least, he thought her eyes were blue. He couldn't be sure since they were hidden for most part behind the iconic, huge-rimmed glasses she wore.
"I don't believe I'm going to be able to make it," she told him. "What's wrong?"
"I was just alerted that one of my nutritionists has called in sick and I've got a client waiting. If I'd been told ahead of time, I'd have called her and rescheduled her appointment."
Riley set down the papers he'd been holding. "But I need you in that meeting with me. You know more about this place than anyone. You've been here since the clinic opened. You know what's been happening around here, whereas I've just stepped into the job."
"I know, and I hate to let you down," she said, "but I have no choice. Also" she pushed the door closed behind her and approached his desk "I have some information about Dr. Richie. And it's not good news."
He went still. The springs in Riley's chair creaked when he sat up straight, waiting.
"I was approached by Detective O'Callahan. He told me he was suspicious of Dr. Richie. I'd have told you about this sooner, but I didn't want to spread mere rumor. I told the detective I needed proof. Well, after doing some background research, the detective discovered that, although Dr. Richie excelled in some areas of study during his college years, he didn't do so well in chemistry. Detective O'Callahan has offered hard proof."
Even as he took the manila folder Faye handed him, Riley thought of all those small bottles the staff at the clinic had been handing out to clients right and left. A topical weight-loss oil, NoWait had been the invention of Dr. Richard Strong, the man who had been Chief of Staff of the clinic until a woman proclaiming to be his ex-wife had disrupted his standing-room-only seminar with loud and angry accusations that had caused him to run for the high hills. Dr. Richieas the famous health guru was known by everyone in the Pacific Northwesthadn't been seen in the clinic since.
The commotion had taken place a week ago, and although Riley hadn't been around to witness the incident, it had everyone abuzz, clients and staff alike, and he'd heard the story several times over. But he was doing all he could to suppress gossip. Riley had been shoved into this job with orders to smooth over the workings of the clinic and avoid scandal.
He whistled, low and long. "If the public discovers that Dr. Strong wasn't much of a chemist," he said, "yet he had our backing when he introduced that oil, there could be big trouble for the clinic. We've got to pull NoWait. We need to stop using it. Today."
Faye nodded. "I was hoping you'd say that."
"If the newspapers pick up the story about how that stuff is affecting our clients, it could ruin the clinic's reputation," Riley said.
"We've got to keep that from happening."
He unwittingly tapped the tip of his pen against the heel of his hand. "Granted, NoWait is a homeopathic treatment. It's topical, dab a bit on the skin. What can it harm? And Dr. Richie's papers only list natural ingredients. I've read them. I can't imagine NoWait being anything but harmless."
"It has seemed to help our clients lose weight," Faye said. "But everyone has also been acting rather peculiar."
Peculiar wasn't the half of it, Riley silently surmised. The first day or so on the job, he'd been too busy to notice. But he'd quickly realized that the people in the clinic seemed more frisky than normal. And he didn't mean frisky as in lighthearted and playful, either. These people were downright lascivious.
"We can't automatically blame NoWait for this odd behavior," he hurried to say. "Not without testing."
"That's true," Faye said. "Exercise does produce high amounts of endorphins to be released in the body. Endor-phins that induce a 'feel good' effect. That could account for the behavior."
The higher-ups wanted this situation handled with kid gloves. They wouldn't be happy hearing that Riley and Faye wanted to yank NoWait from use. The clients loved the product. For more reasons than one.
"Or it could be," he said, "that everyone is experiencing the high of self-esteem produced by shedding those pounds and firming up, and that's why they're feeling amorous. A general, all-around dose of confidence might do it."
"Maybe," Faye murmured. But she clearly didn't believe it.
"Look, you need to be at that meeting," he told her firmly. "You've got the inside scoop on Richard Strong. You have that evidence. You need to make our case about the NoWait. I'll take the client off your hands."
"I can't let you do that. You're the boss around here now. The director. And besides that"
"All I have to do is go over the nutrition booklet with her, right? I'll meet you over at the hospital just as soon as I finish with the woman, okay?" Riley could tell she was about to argue. "Listen, I can't have the meeting with hospital administration without you. But you can start it without me. I have every confidence in you."
The tension in her expression eased. "You'll come right over?"
Riley assured her he would.
She plucked a file from the top of the small stack she carried and handed it to him. "Her name's Catherine Houston. She's twenty-six and in good health. She's in conference room three. She's due at the gym after her nutrition orientation. Oh, and you should probably know." Faye paused long enough to pinch her bottom lip between her teeth. "I think she's wealthy. Definitely upper crust. She purchased the whole line of vitamins, and some other supplements, too. And she bought several of the books we have for sale. She could be good for the clinic. So be nice to her."
Riley's mouth twisted. Rich, self-important people he could do without.
"Now, don't look like that," Faye chided. "It's not like she's arrogant or anything. Just the opposite, in fact. She's really personable. Very nice. I like her. I just thought we should be nice"
"We're nice to everybody."
A groan rumbled from the back of her throat and she frowned. "Oh, forget I said anything. You're absolutely right." She waved her free hand in the air. "I'm just trying to think of anything and everything that will help us overcome the mess that Dr. Richie left us in. This whole thing has got me inside out and I'm not thinking clearly."
That was easy to believe. Her effusive remorse confirmed she was professional to the nth degree, and Riley knew that commenting on a client's affluence was atypical for her. Obviously, the situation had her stressed to the max. It had everyone stressed.
"I wish Dr. Richie would show his face," Faye muttered. "Sure would make my life easier."
"Everything's going to be okay," he assured her. "Go on over to the hospital and I'll get to the meeting just as soon as I can."
Alone in his office, he stared at the plain manila file in his hand and stifled a sigh.
Definitely upper crust.
Great. Just what he needed. A pretentious little rich girl.
He knew the type. Women who thought they were above people like him. What made it all the worse was that he knew it was true.
Faye had been adamant that this woman was friendly, but that wouldn't keep him from feeling second-rate. His mouth cocked cynically and he snatched up his lab coat.
Well, better to get the session over with, he thought, pulling the door of his office closed behind him and making his way down the hall.
The door of the conference room was open, but the shapely blonde had her back to the door so Riley tapped to get her attention. She swung around to greet him, her shoulder-length hair swinging, her lush, shiny lips smiling to reveal two rows of perfect, pearly teeth. Her flawless skin glowed. And he imagined the silky feel of it beneath his fingertips.
Something strange twanged in his gut. The muscles there went tight as a knot. And his throat. It went so dry he felt as if he'd swallowed a mouthful of powder. The greeting he'd formed in his head refused to roll off his tongue.
Immediately, mild confusion knitted the woman's smooth brow.
"Is everything all right?" she asked.
Her voice had an exotic, Mediterranean lilt that triggered a reaction stemming from the most primitive part of his brain. The skin on the back of his neck quivered, and the urge to ask her to repeat herself welled up in him fiercely. Not because he hadn't heard her question. No, it wasn't that at all.
She blinked, thick, tawny lashes brushing against milky skin. "Dr. Lassen set me up with Sally Henderson, the nutritionist. Dr. Lassen said she'd try to stop by, too."
"Sally's out sick." Riley moved to the oak table and set the file on it. "And Dr. Lassen was called to a meeting. It was unavoidable. Have a seat and we can go over this information."
As greetings went, his had probably been too abrupt and not nearly friendly enough, but he seemed to be fighting his way out of a strange fog at the moment.
When she remained by the window on the far side of the room, Riley asked, "You are Catherine Houston?"
"Yes." She tucked a strand of wavy hair behind her ear, but only advanced a step or two closer to the table.
Her hesitation surprised him. Usually, women of her ilk were confident and assertive. He waited for her to finally reach him, and then he pulled out a chair for himself, hoping she'd follow suit. Opening the file Faye had given him, Riley found the booklet and thrust it toward her.
"Read this over," he instructed. "And I'll answer any questions you have."
She turned the booklet over in her hand, looked at the front and back cover. Then she flipped through the pages. A quick, unexpected grin played at the corners of her mouth, and Riley felt his belly go taut once again.
"I have to read this?" Her cute nose wrinkled.
"There is only one goodknowledgeand one evilignorance."
"That's right," Riley said. "He was a smart man."
"Yes, but even Socrates would balk at swallowing all this in one sitting. Eighty-six pages?" she observed, glancing down at the last page. When she looked up at him, her eyes gleamed mischievously. "I don't mind reading. I'm just surprised you've got that kind of time on your hands to sit there while I do."
If she'd felt at all uncertain before, she'd certainly made a rapid recovery.
Good and truly put in his place, Riley said, "Yes, well I didn't realize Maybe we should just touch on the high points."
She laughed, and he felt the enticing notes slowly tumble down each vertebra of his backbone. His spine arched slightly, and he rested his elbow on the top of the conference table, liking the unexpected calmness that washed over him.
"There in the introduction" he indicated the booklet in front of her and she flipped to the appropriate page "you'll see that there are four basic nutrients: water, carbohydrates, proteins and fats. They're referred to as the building blocks of a good diet."
Her head was bent, her attention directed at the printed words. Riley couldn't help but notice how the sunlight streaming through the window glinted off her hair, igniting it like golden fire. She looked like an entrancing goddess.
"Good nutrition," he espoused verbatim from what he'd memorized since taking over as director, "is the foundation of good health."
He let his gaze rove over her profile, along her high cheekbone, down her pert nose and the curve of her jaw-line.
"Choosing the healthiest forms of those four basic nutrients," he continued, "and consuming them in the correct balance" he took an instant to inhale the soft flowery scent of her "will enable your body to function at its optimal level."
Catherine Houston roused something in him. Something deep. Something basic. It was almost as if she were luring himin a way he hadn't been lured in a very long time.
Like a blaring horn, the dangerous thought snapped Riley out of the bizarre trance that had nearly ensnared him. He sat up straight, and with conscious effort, folded his hands into his lap.
Obviously he found the woman attractive. There was really nothing he could do about that. She was a beautiful woman. He was a red-blooded man. Physiologically, that was all it took.
She chose that moment to tip her head to the side and glance up at him. The smile she flashed beaned him like a two-by-four between the eyes, and his breath left him in a rush.
"Food is necessary," he blurted.
Her smile magnified, and so did his internal reaction.
"What I meant to say is that good nutrition is necessary." He slid his chair several inches from the table. "Look," he told her, his tone sharper than he intended, "the information you have there in that booklet is self-explanatory. It'll provide you with everything you need to know about nutrition and how what you eat affects your health. Read it at your convenience. If you have any questions, I'm sure Dr. Lassen would be happy to schedule another session with you."
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