Some things you never forget…
Your first time. Your first love. Your first broken heart. Or, in Jessi Riley's case, all three combined in one as Clinton Marks.
Bad boy extraordinaire, Clint left town the night of Jessi's graduation, after sharing one unforgettable night together. Now, two decades later, he's back in her life as the military doctor looking after her daughter!
As shared memories float to the surface, Jessi and Clint can no longer deny their longing for each other. Could it be that second time around, one night will become forever?
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About the Author
After the fourth manuscript, she realised there was no going back...she was officially a writer. When not in the middle of her latest book, Tina enjoys crafting stained glass panels, riding horses and hiking with her family. Fluent in Portuguese, she divides her time between Brazil and the United States and loves to use exotic locales as the backdrop for many of her stories.
Read an Excerpt
"Chelsea's new doctor arrived today." The nurse's matter-of-fact words stopped her in her tracks.
Jessica Marie Riley blinked and turned back to the main desk of the Richmond VA hospital, where her twenty-one-year-old daughter had spent the past two months of her lifea frail shell of the robust soldier who'd been so proud of toughing it out at army boot camp.
It had always been just her and Chelsea against the world. They'd supported each other, laughed together, told each other everything.
Until she'd returned from her very first tour of duty as a former POW and a different person.
"He did?" Jessi's stomach lurched. Her daughter's last doctor had left unexpectedly and she'd been told there was a possibility she'd be shuffled between the other military psychiatrists until a replacement could be found.
Maria, the nurse who'd admitted Chelsea and had shown a huge amount of compassion toward both of them, hesitated. She knew what a sore spot this was. "Dr. Cordoba had some family issues and resigned his commission. It really wasn't his fault."
Jessi knew from experience how devastating some family issues could be. But with the hurricane that had just gouged its way up the coast, her work schedule at Scott's Memorial had been brutal. The shortage of ER doctors had never been more evident, and it had driven the medical staff to the brink of exhaustion. It also made her a little short on patience.
And now her daughter had lost the only doctor she'd seemed to bond with during her hospitalization.
Jess had hoped they'd finally get some answers about why Chelsea had spiraled into the depths of despair after coming homeand that she'd finally find a way to be at peace with whatever had happened in that squalid prison camp.
That tiny thread of hope had now been chopped in two. Anger flared at how easy it was for people like Dr. Cordoba to leave patients who counted on him.
Not fair, Jess. You're not walking in his shoes.
But the man wasn't walking in hers, either. He hadn't been there on that terrible day when her daughter had tried to take her own life.
She couldn't imagine how draining it was to deal with patients displaying symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder on a daily basis, but Jessi had been handed some pretty awful cases herself. No one saw her throwing in the towel and moving on to some cushy private gig.
Maria came around the desk and touched her arm. "Her new doctor is one of the top in his field. He's dedicated his life to treating patients like your daughterin fact, he transferred from California just to take over Dr. Cordoba's PTSD patients. At least until we can get a permanent replacement. He's already been to see Chelsea and reviewed her chart."
Top in his field. That had to be good, right? But if he was only temporary
"What did he think?"
This time, the nurse wouldn't quite meet her eyes. "I'm not sure. He asked me to send you to his office as soon as you arrived. He's down the hall, first door on your left."
Dr. Cordoba's old office.
The thread of anger continued to wind through her veins, despite Maria's encouraging words. This was Chelsea's third doctor. That averaged out to more than one a month. How long did this newest guy plan on sticking around?
A sudden thought came to her. "How did the hospital find this doctor so quickly?"
"This is what he does. He rotates between military hospitals, filling in " The sound of yelling came from down the hallway, stopping Maria's explanation in its tracks. A woman headed their way, pushing a wheelchair, while the older gentleman in the seat bellowed something unintelligible, his fist shaking in the air.
"Excuse me," said the nurse, quickly moving toward the pair. She threw over her shoulder, "Chelsea's doctor is in his office. He's expecting you. Just go on in." Her attention shifted toward the agitated patient. "Mr. Ballenger, what's wrong?"
Not wanting to stand there like a gawker, Jessi stiffened her shoulders and headed in the direction Maria had indicated.
First door on the left.
All she wanted to do was skip the requisite chit-chat and go straight to Chelsea's room. But that was evidently not going to happen. Not until she met with the newest member of Chelsea's treatment team.
Feeling helpless and out of control was rapidly becoming the norm for Jessi. And she didn't like it. At all.
She stopped in front of the door and glared at the nameplate. Dr. Cordoba's credentials were still prominently displayed in the cheap gold-colored frame. The new guy really was new.
Damn, and she'd forgotten to ask the nurse his name. It didn't really matter. He'd introduce himself. So would she, and then he'd ask her how she was. That's what they always did.
Tell the truth? Or nod and say, "Fine," just like she did every other time someone asked her?
She lifted her hand and rapped on the solid wood door.
"Come in." The masculine drawl coming from within was low and gruff.
The back of her neck prickled, the sensation sweeping across her shoulders and down her arms, lifting every fine hair in its path. If she had to pick a description to pair that voice with, she'd say impatient. Or sexy. Two words you didn't want associated with an army psychiatrist. Or any psychiatrist, for that matter. And certainly not one charged with her daughter's care.
He's probably fat and bald, Jess.
Comforted by that thought, she pushed the lever down and opened the door.
He wasn't fat. Or bald.
His head was turned to the side, obscuring most of his face, but the man seated behind the gray, military-issue desk had a full head of jetblack hair, the sides short in typical army fashion, while the longer top fell casually across his forehead. Jessi spied a few strands of gray woven through the hair at his temple.
He appeared to be intently studying his computer screen. Something about his profile tugged at her, just like his voice had. She shook off the sensation, rubbing her upper arms as she continued to stand there.
He had to be pushing forty, judging from the lines beside his eyes as well as the long crease down the side of his left cheek. The result of a dimple utilized far too many times?
Something in her mind swirled back to life as if some hazy image was trying to imprint itself on her consciousness.
"Feel free to sit," he said. "I'll be with you in a minute."
She swallowed, all thoughts of new doctors and balding men fading as worry nibbled at the pit of her stomach. Was something wrong with Chelsea? She tried to open her mouth to ask, but the words were suddenly stuck in her throat. Maybe that's why Maria wouldn't quite meet her eyes. Had Chelsea made another suicide attempt? Surely the nurse would have said something had that been the case.
Pulling one of the two chairs back a few inches, she eased into it, her gaze shuffling around the room, trying to find anything that would calm her nerves.
What it landed on was the nameplate on the doctor's desk. Not Dr. Cordoba's. Instead.
Jessi froze. She blinked rapidly to clear her vision and focused on the letters again, sliding across each one individually and hoping that an a would somehow morph into an e.
Her gaze flicked back to the portion of his face she could see. Recognition roared to life this time.
She should have realized that prickling sensation hadn't been a fluke when she'd heard his voice. But she would never have dreamed.
Images of heated kisses and stolen moments in the grass beside the creek near her high school flashed through her head.
God. Clinton Marks. A ghost from her past a rite of passage.
That's all it had been. A moment in time. And yet here he was, sitting across from her in living color.
Worse, he was evidently her daughter's new doctor. How was that possible?
Maybe he wouldn't recognize her.
When his gray eyes finally swung her way, that hope dropped like a boulder from a cliff. A momentary burst of shock crossed his face, jaw squaring, lips tightening. Then the familiar mocking smile from school appeared, and his gaze dropped to her empty ring finger.
"I should have recognized his last name," he said. "Me and Larry. Neck and neck "
His murmured words turned their shared past into a silly nursery rhyme. His next words shattered that illusion, however. "Still married to him?"
She swallowed. "Widowed."
Larry had died in a car accident a few months after their wedding. Right after he'd discovered from a mutual friend that she'd been seen returning to the auditorium with Clint the night of graduation. He'd asked her a question she'd refused to answer, and then he'd roared off into the night, never to come home.
Was he? She couldn't tell by looking at him. The Clinton Marks of twenty-two years ago had worn this exact same mask during high school, not letting any kind of real emotion seep through. The earring was gone, and his tattoo was evidently hidden beneath the long sleeves of his shirt, but he still projected an attitude of blasé amusement. She'd seen that mask crack one time. And that memory now kept her glued to her chair instead of storming out and demanding that the "punk" who'd slept with her and then left without a word be removed from her daughter's case immediately and replaced with someone who actually cared.
Someone who had at least a modicum of empathy.
She'd seen it. Experienced it.
Had felt gentle fingers tunnel through her hair, palms cupping her face and blotting her tears.
She sucked down a deep breath, realizing he was waiting for a response. "Thank you. He's been gone a long time."
And so have you. She kept that to herself, however.
His gaze shifted back to something on his monitor before fastening on her face once again. "Your daughter. There's no chance that ?"
"I'm sorry?" Her sluggish brain tried to sift through his words, but right now it seemed to be misfiring.
"Chelsea. Her chart says she's twenty-one."
It clicked. What he was saying. The same question Larry had asked her before storming off: Is the kid even mine? Pain slashed through her all over again. "She's my husband's."
His jaw hardened further. "You didn't waste much time marrying him after I left."
She was sure it would have seemed that way to him. But Clint had been already on his way out of town. Gone long before he'd actually left. There had never been any question of him staying, and he'd used protection that night, so surely he knew Chelsea couldn't be his. But, then, condoms had been known to fail.
"You weren't coming back. You said so yourself." The fact that there was a hint of accusation in her voice didn't seem to faze him.
"No. I wasn't."
And there you had it. Clinton Marks was the same old looking-out-for-number-one boy she remembered. Only now he was packed into a man's body.
A hard, masculine body with a face capable of breaking a million hearts.
He'd broken at least one.
Only she hadn't admitted it at the time. Instead, she'd moved on with her life the day he'd left, doing everything in her power to erase the memory of that devastating night. She'd thought she'd succeeded with Larry. And she had loved him, in her own way. He'd been everything Clint hadn't. Kind. Dependable. Permanent.
And willing to give up his career to be with her.
Three months later they'd married, and she'd become pregnant.
And Jessi certainly loved the child she'd made with him.
In fact, that was why she was here: Chelsea. "It was a long time ago " Her gaze flicked to the nameplate, and she made a quick decision about how to treat this unexpected meeting. And how to address him. "Dr. Marks, if you think that what happened between two kidsand that's all we werewill hinder your ability to help my daughter"
"Are we really going to do this, Jessi May?" His brow cocked as the name slid effortlessly past his lips. "Pretend that night never happened? I'm interested in treating Chelsea, not in making a play for you, if that's what you're worried about."
Her face heated. "Of course I'm not."
And he was making it perfectly clear that he had no more interest in her now than he had all those years ago.
"I only asked about her parentage because I would need to remove myself from her case if it turned out she was not Larry's."
In other words, if Chelsea were his.
What a relief it must be to him that she wasn't.
What a mess. Not quite a love triangle, but almost. There was one side missing, though. Larry had been infatuated with her. She'd been infatuated with Clint. And Clint had loved no one but himself.
Which brought her back to her current dilemma. "My daughter is sensitive. If she thinks you're treating her to work your way up some military ladder, you could damage her even more."
"I'm very good at what I do. And I'm not interested in going any further up the ladder."
The words weren't said with pride. In fact, there was an edge of strain behind them.
She believed him. The word Colonel in front of his name attested to decades of hard work. She knew from her father's days in the army that it took around twenty years to make that particular rank. Her dad had made it all the way up to general before his death five years ago.
In fact, her father was why she and Clint had wound up by the creek. When he'd realized Larry was headed for a military career her dad had gone off on her, using her mom's depression as ammunition for his position. The night of graduation had brought home all the changes that had been about to happen. Everyone she cared about had been on their way out of her life.
Only Larry had changed his mind at the last minute, inexplicably deciding to study at a local community college and take classes in agriculture instead.
Her glance went back to Clint, whose jaw still bore a hard edge of tension.
Me and Larry neck and neck.
And Larry had stayed behind. With her.
The only one who knew about her dad besides her girlfriends was. "Oh, my God. You told him, didn't you? You told Larry about my father."
He didn't deny it. He didn't even blink. "How is he? Your father?"
"He's gone. He died five years ago." The pain in her chest grew. They may never have seen eye to eye about a lot of things, but she'd loved the man. And in spite of his shortcomings, he'd been a tower of strength after Larry had died and she'd been left alone, pregnant and grieving.
"I'm sorry." Clint reached across the desk to cover her hand with his. "Your mom?"
"She's okay. Worried about Chelsea. Just like I am."
He pulled back and nodded. "Let's discuss your daughter, then."
"The nurse said you've already seen her, and you've read her chart, so you know what she tried to do."
"Let's talk about that, and then we'll see her together." He pulled a yellow legal pad from a drawer of his desk and laid it in front of him. He was neat, she'd give him that, and it surprised her. Around ten pencils, all sharpened to fine points, were lined up side by side, and a single good-quality pen was at the end of the row. Nothing else adorned the stark surface of his desk, other than his nameplate and his computer monitor. So very different from the scruffy clothes and longish hair she remembered from their school days. And she'd bet those motorcycle boots were long gone, probably replaced by some kind of shiny dress shoes.
Maybe that had all been an act. Because the man she saw in front of her was every bit as disciplined as her father had been.
She shook herself, needing to gather her wits.
The only thing she should be thinking about was the here and now and how the Clint of today could or couldn't help her daughter.
What had happened between them was in the past. It was over. And, as Clint had said, what they should be concentrating on was Chelsea.
So that's what Jessi was going to do.
If, for some reason, she judged that he couldn't help in her daughter's recovery, then she would call, write letters, parade in front of the hospital with picket signs, if necessary. And she would keep on doing it, until someone found her a doctor who could.
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I'm sorry i bought ghis one it was so boring