Peyton Lacoumette drove slowly down the main street of Thunder Point, past all the small businesses, including the medical clinic. She drove all the way to the far end of the point where she was stopped by the ornate gates to what could only be a mansion. She could barely make out the structure behind overgrown hedges and untrimmed trees. She got out of the car to peer through the bars, but couldn't see much. If she had been with a couple of her brothers they might have wanted to scale the wall for a closer look, but that wouldn't do in a sundress and sandals.
She turned the car around and went back through the town. It looked pretty well-lived-in, but it was clean, and it was obvious from the small groups of people who had stopped to chat here and there that people were neighborly. A lot of them paused to stare at her car. It was a shiny new black Lexus and had been ridiculously expensive.
People stopping to talk happened a little less often in cities like Portland and San Francisco and hardly ever in New York City, though she'd liked living in those cities. In Bayonne, France, it was more common, almost required that you were never in a hurry. This place appealed to her immediately, probably because it was similar to the town closest to her family's farm. Or Bayonne, for that matter. Peyton saw a woman putting buckets of long-stemmed colorful flowers in front of her shop; a man was sweeping the sidewalk in front of his store; two dogs were leashed to a lamppost at the diner's doora spotted Great Dane and a Yorkie, sharing a pan of water. The main street appeared well scrubbed and friendly.
She parked in front of the clinic and went inside. It was noon; there were no patients waiting, and the young woman behind the counter stood up to greet her with a smile. "Hi. How can I help you today?"
"I was just passing through, wondering where the best access to the beach was?"
"Probably the marina. Or, Cooper has a beach bar on the far side of the beach, up on the hillside. There's a road to his place from Highway 101, and he has stairs down to the beach and tables on his deck. Cooper's place is the best spot in town to watch the sunset. When the sun sinks behind those big rocks in the bay, it's really beautiful. I think he gets the best part of his business from people who stop by there for something to drink or eat when they're out walking on the beach or waiting for the sunset."
"I saw the beach access from the road, but I didn't stop. There's some building going on out there
"That's Cooper's, too. He's building a house, and next door we're building one, too. Me and my fiancé."
"Oh, congratulations," Peyton said. "On the engagement, not the building."
The young woman laughed. "You can congratulate me on that, too. I didn't think I'd ever live in an oceanfront house."
Peyton looked around the small office. "People must be feeling pretty healthy around here today."
"This is an unusually quiet day."
"Are you the doctor or nurse?"
"Just the office manager. Dr. Grant stepped out, since there weren't any patients. Do you need to see the doctor?"
"No," Peyton said with a laugh. "It just seemed like a good place to ask about the town."
"I'm Devon McAllister." She extended a hand across the counter.
"Peyton Lacoumette, nice to meet you," she said. "I grew up on a farm up north, not too far from Portland in the Mount Hood area. I didn't even know this town existed."
"We're a little off the beaten track, and everyone seems to like it that way. There are only two ways into townacross the beach from Cooper's place or a winding road north of here from 101. That's probably how you found usthere's an exit sign. Folks around here keep threatening to take down the sign," she added with a laugh. "They won't, but some tend to like the hidden quality."
"What do most people do around here?" Peyton asked.
"Lots of fishermen, obviously. Then there are small business owners and people who work in those businesses, like me. My fiancé is the athletic director at the high school. A lot of the local population works out of townBandon, Coquille, North Bend."
"I drove out to the point and saw a big house or building out there. Huge."
"It's a vacant house. The stuff of legends around herethe old Morrison place. It's before my time here, but I guess the family was rich once, went bust, declared bankruptcy, and the son killed someone and went to prison. He was just a teenager. The only murder this town has ever seen, I'm told."
"Why doesn't someone do something with that place?" Peyton asked.
"I guess because it's so bigno one can afford to live in it."
Devon shrugged. "Country Club big. Huge rooms, a lot of bedrooms and bathrooms, a restaurant-size kitchen, thousands of square feet on hundreds of acres right on the point. The only other building out there is the lighthouse, because that point and its twin across the bay are very rocky."
"Hmm. Sounds like a clever person could turn it into a library or boarding school or nursing home. It would be fun to see the inside," she said.
"It would. I never thought about it, but a lot of people in town have been inside that house."
"Have you lived here your whole life?" Peyton asked.
"Oh, God, no!" Devon laughed. "Only a year. I'm originally from Seattlea city girl, really. But there's something about this town
. I like the people, but more than that, it's the feeling of the town in general. It's safe, like it hugs you. Maybe because you have to come here on purpose, it's not something you'd see from the highway and it's not a thoroughfare. I've never lived in a little town before. And then I met my fiancé and found this job, and here I am," she said, and smiled prettily.
"But who runs the office? Is there just the one doctor?"
"Just me and Dr. Grant at the moment, but he's been looking for an associate or nurse practitioner. He doesn't want a big practice, but more than one person capable of writing scripts or putting in stitches would help a lot. It's becoming a busy clinic. He's hoping to expandwe have that many patients. This town could use a twenty-four-hour urgent care, but that takes much more room and staff. He says that's something for down the road."
"And you like it?"
"I love it. I love Dr. Grant."
Peyton raised a brow and smiled. "Does the athletic director mind that you love your boss?"
Devon laughed. "Spencer loves Dr. Grant, too! This town and my jobit's perfect for us. Spencer has an eleven-year-old son, Austin. And I have a four-year-old daughter, Mercy."
"Do you like your soon-to-be stepson?" Peyton asked.
"He's a dream come true," Devon said. "Mercy worships him, and he's very good to her."
"Very lucky for you," Peyton said. "Those things can be diceyblending families like that."
"We're very lucky, that's true."
"What if you don't find an associate?" Peyton asked.
"We'll manage," Devon said. "We make it work somehow. It's just that
well, Dr. Grant spends a lot of time helping out at other hospitals, sitting on call almost every weekend, and that's inconvenient for him. He's a very devoted family man and needs more time with his family."
"Devoted family man?" Peyton asked.
"Absolutely. Plus he volunteers with Spencer as the game doctor for the football team. This town doesn't have a lot of money, and football is very important to Thunder Point. School programs and sports are the main entertainment here, and most of the student athletes are working hard for scholarships. Spencer's last schoola big, rich Texas high schoolhad a certified trainer and sports medicine physical therapist. We don't have resources like that here in this little town, so it's important to recruit volunteers like Dr. Grant. I wish you could meet him."
"Devon, would you excuse me for a second? I just have to get something
"Sure," Devon said. "Would you like a cup of coffee?"
"No, thanks," she said, smiling over her shoulder as she walked out to her car. She came back in with a cloth briefcase. She opened it on the counter in front of Devon and pulled out a thin newspaper. "I was renting a cottage in Coos Bay for a short vacation. I happened to see this ad but didn't know anything about the town. So, I thought I'd check it out and maybe drop off a résumé."
Devon glanced at the résumé, and her mouth fell open just as her eyes became very round with surprise. "Physician's assistant? From Portland?"
"I worked for a cardiologist. I was there for three years. Very busy practice. I was hoping for something a little quieter for a while."
Devon didn't speak right away. Then she said, "So, you're not just passing through."
"Well, I could have been. I haven't officially started looking for my next job yet. I haven't sent out any résumés yet."
"Why did you leave your former practice?"
"I was replaced, but I promise you my recommendation will be excellent," she said. "Maybe you could give my résumé to Dr. Grant, and if he's interested, my cell phone number and email address are right there," she said, pointing.
"I'll do just that," Devon said. "Miss Sneaky Britches."
Peyton laughed. "Please don't be offended, Devon.
I wasn't going to leave a résumé if something about the town or the clinic or the doctor didn't feel right."
"You haven't met the doctor."
"But you love him," Peyton said. "Even your fiancé loves him."
"Who loves me?" a man asked.
Peyton looked up, and there, standing in the space that led into the back of the clinic, was a very attractive man in his late thirties. He was dressed in faded jeans and a yellow dress shirt, open at the collar, sleeves rolled up. Although he was clearly over thirty-five, he had a boyish quality to his good looks. But not to his physiquehe was broad shouldered and had muscular arms and big hands. Even from where she stood, she could see a depth to his blue eyes.
Devon looked over her shoulder. "Meet Dr. Scott Grant, who obviously just snuck in the back door."
He stepped forward. "Pleasure," he said. "Miss Sneaky Britches, was it?"
"Peyton Lacoumette," she said, taking his hand. "I saw your ad. After getting to know Devon a little bit, I decided to drop off a résumé. I'm a physician's assistant."
"Is that so?" he said, taking the page, glancing at it. "I've been interviewing."
"Well, give me a call if you think I suit," she said. "I'm staying in Coos Bay for a little whilejust taking a breather before summer is over."
Without looking up from her résumé, he asked, "Do you have time for a conversation now?"
"II guess so," she said. Then she laughed a little uncomfortably. "I didn't expect
I didn't dress for
Sure, I have time."
"Good," he said. "Come on back." And he turned that she might follow him.
Scott found himself staring down at the résumé for a long time, looking for flaws. He knew if he looked across the desk he'd see only perfection, and it unsettled him. She was only a job applicant, after all. She was very pretty, yes, but not the type he usually found himself giving a second look. His eyes were usually drawn to blondes, like his late wife. This woman had dark hair, dark eyes and a slightly olive complexion. Her hair was long and straight and looked like a sheet of silk. Italian? Mexican? Sicilian? Her eyes were large and her eyebrows curved in a perfect arch. She was trimshe obviously took care of herself. He noted her very nice collarbones. He almost laughed aloud. Collarbones, Scott? Really? He was afraid to look up. He might lean over the desk to look at her feet and ankles, not that he gave a shit about ankles. He hoped they were at least thick and weird-looking. But he knew they would not be.
"Lacoumette," he said. "Interesting name
"It's Basque. Originally from the south of France. Most of the Basque blood in my family is Spanish, but the name originated in the northern Basque country and has survived for generations. My parents are second-generation Americans. They have a farm near Portland." She was quiet for a moment, then cleared her throat. "Do you have any questions about my résumé, Dr. Grant?" she asked.
"You seem to have a lot of experience," he said. "This is one of the most impressive résumés I've seen."
"Twelve years," she said. "Two practices and two hospitals, plus a year at a small clinic in Bayonne, France."
"An old clinic right in the middle of Basque territory. I wanted to see where our people came from. I'm probably related to half of them." And she smiled then, showing off a row of beautiful white teeth. She was stunning.
"What do you prefer? The private practice or the hospital?"
"For the hands-on work, the hospital wins. For compensation, I'll take private practice every time."
With her experience, Scott knew she could very likely make more money than he did, in the right place. "Did you look around? This isn't a rich practice."
"That isn't why I dropped by," she said. "Are you frowning?"
Was he glaring at her? He shook himself. "I didn't mean to do that, to be defensive," he said. "It's just that
" He took a breath. "Let me be frank. I started this clinic on a shoestring. I run it on a tight budget. Where salary is concerned, I doubt I could meet your demands."