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The Doctor's Redemption
A Shadow Creek, Montana Novel
By Victoria James, Alethea Spiridon
Entangled Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2017 Victoria James
All rights reserved.
Gwen Bailey was in love with the Muffin Man.
She leaned against the white marble counter in her chocolate shop and gazed at the man seated at one of the tables in front of the large bay window. The Muffin Man or TMM as she and her two sisters-in-law now referred to him, came in every day slightly past seven in the morning, shortly after she opened shop. He ordered a large coffee, which he always drank black, and a chocolate chip muffin. He always left a few dollars in the tip jar on the counter and then he'd go and sit at the same table in the window. He usually came in wearing a navy knit hat, with a navy pea coat, and black leather gloves. He always wore a variation of the same clothes-worn-in-all-the-right-places jeans, and a Henley in either grey, navy, or hunter green. He was tall and fit, with broad shoulders and his shirt clung to some very defined biceps.
The Muffin Man read a newspaper. He drank his coffee and ate his muffin in silence. He'd stay for approximately one hour. He always said good morning, thanks, and then gave a wave with what looked like a strong — ringless — tanned hand before he left. She knew all this of course, because she'd been secretly drooling over the man for the last few months.
But how was it that she found herself in love with a man she barely knew? Maybe it was the fact that her love life had been non-existent for the last five-going-on-six years. Or maybe it was because it was the most male attention she'd received from a man she wasn't related to in the last five years. Or maybe (and this was the maybe she was hoping for) it was because she sensed a deeper connection with TMM. Maybe she and TMM were meant to be. She created the food he obviously loved to eat.
The only problem with her theory of a deep connection was that he may not be aware of it, because in the two or so months he'd been coming in, he'd never started a conversation. And when she tried to, he usually gave a one or two word answer.
"Uh, hello, what's a pregnant woman gotta do to get a cookie around here?"
Gwen spun around, shocked to see her sister-in-law Lily standing behind her. "What are you doing here?" Gwen always did the morning shift. Lately she'd been doing even more than that to allow her sister-in-law, who also happened to be her BFF and business partner, to plan for the unplanned arrival of twins.
Lily was glowing. She was in her second trimester and Gwen had never seen her look better. It could also have something to do with the fact that Lily and Gwen's brother were now happily married after being apart for five years. "I'm just back from my doctor's appointment and thought I'd give you a hand. I know you've taken on so many of my shifts," Lily said, taking off her red coat and hat, and placing them on a stool behind the counter.
"It's the end of winter, Valentine's long gone. Don't worry, our only customer this morning has been TMM," she said, dropping her voice.
Lily sucked in a breath and clutched Gwen's arm. "TMM is here?" She nodded excitedly. Because Gwen always did the morning shift, Lily had never met him. Her heart sank as they both looked over to see TMM leaving, his trademark wave-beside-the-head on his way out the door.
"I can't believe I missed him again!" Lily said as the door shut behind him. Gwen watched sadly as his tall figure disappeared down the street. She knew that he was going to get into his black Range Rover and drive way ... to parts unknown. She had spent way too many hours wondering about that man. Where he drove off to every day. Where he came from every day. It was the longest time until she saw him again.
"Don't worry about it," she mumbled, walking across the empty shop to wipe his table. He had already cleared his garbage. She was starting to feel like a real moron. Her friend was pregnant, married, and here she was obsessing about a man she knew nothing about. A man she had nicknamed. How juvenile. "I'd rather hear about your doctor's appointment. What's the latest on the Bailey twins?"
Lily broke out into a huge smile. "Everything's great!" she said, throwing up her arms and looking totally cute with her baby bump and epic glow. "They are both growing well and the doctor has no concerns at all."
Gwen walked across the shop and hugged her friend. "I'm so happy for you and Jack. Have I told you that lately?"
Lily's eyes welled up with tears. "All the time, because you're the best, best friend and sister-in-law and business partner that I could have ever asked for. I never would have thought on New Year's Eve, when I finally saw Jack again, that I'd be standing here a few months later, married and pregnant with baby Jacks," Lily said, full-on tears now making their way down her face.
Gwen reached for the box of tissue they kept on the counter since Lily had found out she was pregnant and cried at the drop of a hat. "Me neither. As a bystander, I'd say it was also pretty fun watching you make Jack pay for leaving you."
Tragedy had struck her family when five years ago, her older brother who was also Jack's twin, had died in a car accident along with their little nephew. Unable to cope, Jack had left town, as had their brother's wife Julia. But now they were all back in Shadow Creek and settled again. Lily and Jack had gotten married in a small but very emotional and touching ceremony a month ago. They were always destined to be together even though things weren't looking very good for her brother a while ago.
Lily smiled sheepishly. "Well, I guess he did deserve it, even if I feel a bit bad now for putting him through the wringer."
Gwen toyed with the front of her apron, anxious to broach a business idea she'd thought up. "Don't worry about it, he deserved it. Listen ... I've been thinking about an idea to drum up some business around here during the slow season. What if we did one of those speed dating nights?"
Lily blinked but didn't say anything for a moment.
She knew her friend probably saw right through her pathetic plan. It was kind of out of left field, but business was slow now. She also had no social life. But really, truly, the entire reason was that she wanted a way to lure TMM into a possible date. If he turned her down, then she could once and for all forget her ridiculous crush.
"That's a lot of work, Gwen, and honestly I'm not sure I'm up for it right now. We're still not finished the house reno. Your brother is turning into some crazy nester, insisting we have the place done before the babies. Plus, he's working all the time. Then I don't want to abandon your mom with the baby shower she's planning."
"Julia, my mom, and I are all helping."
"I know, it's just that I already owe you a bunch of hours around here and my extra time I need to spend with Jack and getting organized for not one but two surprise babies. I know that sounds so self-centered. I don't want to say yes and then stiff you with extra work."
She took a fresh chocolate chip cookie off the domed cake stand and handed it to her friend. "No, it doesn't sound self-centered, it sounds honest. I know all the work you have to do over at the house and the baby planning. I get it, the timing totally sucks. Seriously. I don't want you to do anything with this, it'll be my thing." Her timing really did suck; there was no way she could dump this on Lily now. She was just desperate, but of course Lily was focusing on the house and babies. This was something even she, single with no life, could understand.
Lily frowned while taking a large bite of the cookie. "Well, maybe I can find a way."
"Nope. Of course not. I'll totally do this on my own. No extra help required. I'll put up a few signs, add it to our Facebook page and the town's page. Maybe put out an ad in the paper and that's it. It would be a great way to get new people in here."
Lily polished off the cookie and brushed the crumbs off her jacket.
"Are you sure speed dating is still a thing? Do they still do those? Wasn't that like a thing in the nineties?"
Gwen rolled her eyes. "This is rural Montana. I'm sure it's just hitting here now."
Lily angled her head. "True ... very true. I think it's a great idea, but I've got to help you. Why don't I at least do all the signage, social media posts, and the ad? I can easily do that from home."
Gwen clapped her hands. "Done! I'll do some research on the best way to run this thing, standard questions to ask and all that stuff, and then send you the details."
"Are you planning on inviting TMM?" Lily asked, wriggling her eyebrows.
Gwen pretended to wipe down the already pristine marble counter to avoid eye contact. "Well, he doesn't really ... say much. But I guess it couldn't hurt to invite him. Maybe I'll start by hanging up a poster nonchalantly while he's sipping his coffee. Usually there's no one here that time of morning. Then if he says nothing, I'll casually mention it."
Lily gave a little squeal. "Great idea. So do we know any more about TMM?"
Gwen shook her head. "Nothing. We still haven't spoken about ... anything. I've been thinking he's either unemployed or my new career guess for him is woodsman and or lumberjack."
Lily sputtered. "Pardon?"
Gwen stopped wiping and nodded. "I haven't seen him at any of the local businesses."
She could tell Lily was trying not to laugh. "So therefore he must be a woodsman and or lumberjack?"
She crossed her arms. "No. But I've thought about this. He also doesn't shave ... much. And he's usually dressed very casually, like if he were employed somewhere, he couldn't dress like that."
"Maybe he works from home."
"Yes. As a woodsman and or lumberjack."
"That's not even a job anymore."
Gwen leaned on the counter. "I guess it doesn't really matter. But as I've been sitting here these last two months, I've been doing some soul searching. I've been using everything as an excuse as to why I have no life. Michael and Matthew's death. Helping Mom and Dad. Jack leaving. Julia leaving. But they're all back now. You're all happy. I'm just eating chocolate all day! I want to start living, Lil. I don't want to wait anymore. Life's too short and there are no guarantees," she said, hating that she knew how true that was. Her brother hadn't even been thirty. Her nephew just a toddler. She should learn from that. She needed to be the woman she was meant to be before she was old and living in an apartment with only the truffles they couldn't sell to keep her happy at night.
Tears sprang into Lily's eyes again and she sniffled. "You're right. I'm here for you. Let's do this. Let's get TMM to notice you."
"It doesn't have to be him," she said, lying. It had to be him. "Also, if it doesn't work out, then I'm off men. I'd say I need to travel but that's too expensive, so I'll come up with some other fulfilling life plan. Something I'll figure out later."
"It'll work out. This is your time, Gwen. You deserve this. You've been there for everyone else, it's time to focus on your life."
"You're right. I'm done wasting time. I'm going to find someone and I'm going to do it fast."
"Okay. Well, how about some new clothes?"
Gwen looked down at her shapeless black sweater over black leggings. "I guess. I was planning on losing twenty pounds and then going on a shopping spree."
"If I weren't pregnant, I'd threaten to shoot myself if I have to hear about the twenty pounds. If you want to really live, then live now. Don't wait until you reach some goal weight that's only in your head to treat yourself well. If you want to be noticed, then dress for it. Stop hiding. Stop using your weight as an excuse. Also, not that this has to do with going shopping, you did lose weight. Again, let me point out that you don't actually need to lose weight."
"You're the best. Everything you said was true. Yes, I lost a few pounds. Three to be exact. Three miserable pounds that were all blood, sweat, and tears. All I had to do for those three pounds was walk miles every day for the last month. Oh, and I even gave up cream in my coffee. No sugar. I'm drinking black coffee, Lil."
Lily was trying not to laugh, she could tell. "Well, you look great. You always have. This is all in your head. But I'm right when I say you're being too hard on yourself and you need to start living."
Gwen took a deep breath and held up her hands. "You're so right. Fine. New Gwen, new life. Let's go after we close."
Lily beamed. "Perfect, because I need some maternity clothes. I'm bursting out of everything. My wedding dress better fit."
"Of course it will. At least you have an excuse to be bursting out of your clothes. I'm not giving birth to twins," she muttered.
"Gwen," she said sternly.
"Right. Right. Turning over a new leaf."
Lily nodded. "Should I ask Julia if she wants to come?"
Great. Another person to witness her transformation. "Sure, why not!"
* * *
Luke Thomson tried to focus on driving home and not on what had just happened. He had known this day was coming. It was the reason he was in Shadow Creek. But he had no idea that the cute coffee shop girl was Gwen Bailey. He'd had his first clue when he'd seen Lily walk in. He had treated her one night in the ER. When she had left the ER it had occurred to him that her fiancé was Jack Bailey.
The Baileys were the people he needed to speak to.
Not that he was interested in a woman, but he'd had a hard time not noticing Gwen this last month. He never would have started going into her shop if he'd known who she was. It was getting more and more difficult to ignore her though. When he'd first moved to Shadow Creek, there hadn't been any open places to grab a decaf coffee on his way home from the brutal twelve-hour night shift at the hospital. Then he'd noticed this place. The first morning he'd walked in, the sweet smell of freshly baked whatevers and coffee greeted him. But that hadn't been what had hit him in the gut; it had been the gorgeous woman behind the counter. She'd given him a smile that had soothed the turmoil he'd been living with for the last five years. Right from the first, he'd been attracted to her in a way that made her pop into his head throughout the day.
He soon found himself listening to her as she spoke with customers, smiling when he heard her laugh, glancing over at her when she was busy helping people. Everyone who came into her shop loved her. She chatted with them and asked them about their families. She had a way of making each of them feel important and special. Including him. But it was when he'd seen Lily walk in and Gwen refer to her as her sister-in-law that changed everything for him. There would be no asking the gorgeous, sweet, Gwen Bailey on a date. Gwen was off-limits. When she found out who he was, it would destroy her. He could never get close to her or any of them.
He pulled onto the last street before reaching the small cabin he was renting a few miles outside of town. The cabin served its purpose; it was an easy commute to the hospital he worked at, and not that far from town. It was also isolated, which was perfect for him as he had no interest in a social life. That part of his life was long gone and he didn't miss it.
He needed a hot shower and a warm bed.
He pulled into his driveway, frowning when he saw he'd need to shovel the walkway again. His phone rang as he trudged up the front steps. It was his sister.
"Hey, Haley, how are you?" He unlocked the door and walked in, tossing his jacket on the kitchen chair and taking off his boots.
"Okay ..." The sigh that followed her "okay" told him everything wasn't okay. He worried about his little sister. He wasn't a worrier in general, but she was the most important person to him, and her marriage last year to a man he totally suspected was a douche, left him apprehensive. Added to that was that she lived three hours from him, so he wasn't able to keep an eye on her. They had grown up together, and being that he was six years older than her, he'd taken on a parental role many times. He'd thought twice about moving to Shadow Creek for the year, but she'd reassured him she would be fine. He also hadn't expected to stay here so long. He hadn't even planned on working, but when he found out how the rural hospital had been in desperate need for doctors, he'd taken on a one year position. In a way, it made the time pass faster as he wasn't a guy accustomed to lying around without anything to do.
"Tell me exactly what's going on," he said, going to his fridge and looking for leftover pizza. He pulled out the box and waited for her answer. Luigi's pizza had saved him many, many nights. It was so good, he ate it cold from the box.
"Are you eating cold pizza?"
He stopped chewing. "No."
"You need to take better care of yourself, Luke."
He continued chewing. "It's vegetarian."
She sighed. "Have you approached the Baileys yet?"
"You're going to have to tell them sooner or later."
He chucked the crust into the open box, his appetite gone. "I know. Maybe tomorrow."
Excerpted from The Doctor's Redemption by Victoria James, Alethea Spiridon. Copyright © 2017 Victoria James. Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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