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One fateful detour. A raging storm. She didn’t see this love coming…
Holding a knife against a child’s throat isn’t exactly how Dr. Paige Weston had planned to spend her Christmas holiday. But a jolt from an air pocket and here she is, performing an emergency tracheotomy as her flight to Fiji diverts to Kauai. The one place she swore never to return.
Beside the fact her patient comes first, what’s the chance she’ll run into her ex-fiancé—the man who jilted her when another woman turned up pregnant? Then she realizes the island hospital is woefully understaffed, forcing her to lend a hand. And upping the odds that her heart will hit more turbulence before she makes her escape.
Nathan Cross can’t believe his eyes. The emergency room doctor tending to his daughter’s cut foot is the woman he’s dreamed about every night since he was forced to walk out of her life. He should have been prepared for her indifference, but he’s blindsided by the need to hold her in his arms. Just one more time.
Yet Fate is a trickster, leaving him wondering if he should grasp for a second chance…or take his punishment for one, long-ago choice.
This book contains two lovers destined to make up for lost time, which means moments of deep emotional and hot lusty sex, including in such places as against the wall, up against a railing (my personal favorite), on the hood of a truck, in the rain, and every other imaginable place.
Copyright © 2009 Mackenzie McKade
All rights reserved — a Samhain Publishing, Ltd. publication
Holding a sharp razor against a child’s throat wasn’t exactly how Dr. Paige Weston had expected to spend her Christmas holiday. Her hand trembled slightly. She fought to find her center through the worried cries of the boy’s grandmother and the whispers of onlookers.
An airplane sucked as an operating room. So did the rudimentary instruments the flight attendant provided, but they would have to do. A calming breath helped steady her grip. She placed the blade against the child’s delicate skin and began to press down. Without warning, the airplane bounced and dipped, knocking her sideways. She jerked her hand away. Her pulse raced. Nervous chatter filled the cabin as her stomach knotted.
“Dear God.” She shot a desperate glance to the dark-haired flight attendant connected to Med-Link and the pilot. “Hold this airplane steady or—” The terror in Landon’s grandmother’s expression stopped Paige mid-sentence. The flight attendant who stood beside the woman didn’t appear much better. She had turned as white as a sheet.
Slowly Paige exhaled and took a moment to gather her wits.
Time was ticking. Had it already been two minutes since Landon had fallen unconscious?
Steady or not, she couldn’t wait any longer.
A thin line of blood swelled as she cut from left to right to expose the underlying membrane. A gasp rose from behind Paige, followed by a sickening thud as someone hit the floor hard.
Shit. Could anything else go wrong?
Paige blocked out the sound of hastened footsteps. A metallic scent touched her nose as she eased the razor deeper through membrane. Without being told, Joe, the flight attendant assisting her, dabbed at the blood with a gauze pad.
She pried the half-inch incision wide with two gloved fingers. “Tube.”
Concern tugged at Joe’s brows as he handed her the small piece of tube from the oropharyngeal kit. “Will he be okay?”
Paige didn’t respond because she didn’t know. The toy lodged in Landon’s esophagus would have to be surgically removed. There was nothing she could do without a hospital, if she could even get the child to breathe again.
Easing the tube into the tracheal opening, she jabbed her free hand toward the flight attendant. “Tape.”
Joe responded efficiently. As soon as she secured one piece of tape he had another waiting. When she was sure the tube wouldn’t move, she grabbed the stethoscope hanging around her neck and pressed the end to the boy’s bare chest to listen.
Breathe, she silently prayed.
Seconds passed and nothing. She had never lost a patient, and this was a hell of a time to start.
Was that a low whistle? She tensed, listening.
The first gush of air the child inhaled was followed by one of her own. The soft breath of life brought tears to her eyes and sent chills across her arms and legs. It was the sweetest sound she had ever heard. She attempted to blink away the emotion and focus on her patient’s heartbeat, but her vision blurred momentarily.
Thump-thump. A strong, steady rhythm echoed in her ears. The boy’s eyelids fluttered open, and she swallowed her gasp of happiness.
A smile slid across her face. “Hey, little man.”
Several sighs of relief and even cheering rose from the onlookers, showing their support that Landon lived. When he became aware of the discomfort and the fact he couldn’t speak, his eyes widened with panic. He attempted to jerk into a sitting position, but Paige eased him back down.
“You need to hold still, honey.” Gently, she stroked his unruly brown hair. “Try not to speak. I know it hurts, but I promise you’ll be fine in no time.” Her voice seemed to calm him, so she began to sing like her own mother had done when Paige was a child. “Hush, little baby, don’t you cry…”
The captain’s voice came over the speaker, but she remained focused on her patient. She continued to soothe the boy, when Joe leaned closer. “We need to prepare the cabin for landing, but I’ll stay with you if you need my assistance.”
She stopped singing, but not the glide of her fingers through the child’s hair. “I think we’ll be fine.” And for once she was right.
Landon remained quiet as the airplane began a diagonal approach. It was amazing how quickly the jet descended from the sky. No one seemed to notice the steep decline until the landing gears grinded like fingernails down a chalkboard. Within minutes the jet’s tires touched ground. The jarring force threw Paige forward. She braced her palms on the floor to keep from falling, barely succeeding as the airplane rolled down the runway. Several mild jerks ensued before the aircraft finally came to a complete stop.
All at once the flight attendants began to move. In seconds the hatch was opened and emergency personnel entered with a stretcher.
“Dr. Weston,” a young EMT said, kneeling beside her. “Would you like me to take over?”
“Yes. Thank you.” She tugged off a glove, turning the latex inside out. Her job was done here. As she pushed to her feet, a sharp pang radiated heat across her lower back. The burning sensation was almost forgotten when the gurney passed by her, and Landon reached out and clutched her hand. Uncertainty and fear tightened his features. She attempted to ease her hand out of his, but he wouldn’t release her.
Dammit. She had no resistance when it came to children. Their innocence, the way they trusted and accepted so freely, had always moved her. That’s why she had chosen to become a pediatrician.
The EMT must have understood the struggle she fought, because he said, “You know it isn’t protocol for you to accompany us.”
The child squeezed Paige’s hand again and her heart melted. Who could say no to a face like that?
After she ensured he was out of the woods she could take the next airplane to Fiji, where she had planned to celebrate Christmas with her mother and younger sister, Susan. Truth was, Paige felt responsible for the child. Leaving him without knowing the outcome would have been difficult anyway.
“Dr. Weston, if you’re going with us we need to leave now,” the EMT said.
She patted Landon’s hand with her other one. “It’s okay. I’ll go with you, but you have to let me go so we can fit through the door.” A tear slid from his eye. Reluctantly, he released her.
As she stepped upon the stairs leading to the tarmac, a brisk wind tossed her long blonde hair around her shoulders. The sweet scent of flowers rose against the orange and red sunset that fanned across a graying sky. Déjà vu struck so hard she nearly missed the last step. She swayed, grappling to find her footing. Before she could shake the feeling, one of the EMTs called her name. “The hospital recommends you ride in back with us and Mrs. Buchman up front with the driver.”
Paige climbed in the back of the ambulance and took a seat on the bench. Immediately the child grabbed her hand.
“I’m Scott,” the EMT on the radio with the hospital offered. “This is Vic.” The twenty-something man who adjusted Landon’s IV line looked up and smiled just as the sirens blared and the vehicle jerked forward.
The airport was a blur as they rushed past it. Looking out the window, Paige ran one moist palm down her faded jeans and gave her T-shirt a tug. “I don’t recall Honolulu’s airport being so small when we touched down to pick up passengers. It looked larger.”
“Pretty hectic on the plane, was it?” Vic’s question drew her attention away from the window.
“Yes.” An emergency tracheotomy on an airplane was a first for her.
Mischief twinkled in his eyes.
“What?” she asked. She could use a good laugh about now.
“You don’t know where you are?”
“Of course, Honolulu.” It only made sense that they would return from where they had previously landed.
“Nope. Welcome to Kauai.”
Panic rose fast, icing her veins. Every bone in her body froze. She sucked in a tight breath. Maybe she hadn’t heard him correctly. “Kauai?”
He pressed a stethoscope to Landon’s chest. “Yep.”
“Oh God. I thought we were heading back to Honolulu.” She briefly closed her eyes and fought the sudden queasiness. This couldn’t be happening. Kauai was one place she had sworn never to return to.
“There’s been a cruise ship accident. The hospitals on all the islands are packed, including ours,” Scott offered.
Her stomach pitched.
“Dr. Weston, are you okay?” he asked. “You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”
She opened her eyes, but the memory of a sandy beach and the man who had broken her heart remained. The lump in her throat grew larger, but she managed a weak, “I’m fine.” But she wasn’t. Her whole body was one twisted knot.
It took her a moment to pull herself together. Besides, what were the odds that she’d run into Nathan on this island again? Sure, his parents owned an island just east of Kauai called Lotus Point. Even if he was in the vicinity, he would be on their family island—him, his wife and the child that should have been his and Paige’s.
The thought struck like a dagger ripping through her chest. She flinched as the old wound tore wide open to steal her breath. How could it be that it felt like just yesterday Nathan had walked out on her, instead of five years?
A light squeeze of her hand pulled her out of the memory that threatened to consume her. She gazed down at the small hand holding hers, and then into the innocent eyes filled with concern.
You’re being ridiculous, she silently chastised herself.
Ridiculous or not, Kauai was the last place she wanted to be.
When she had her emotions intact she forced a smile for the child. “What a good boy.” She brushed damp hair from his forehead, and he relaxed beneath her touch.
Right now what she needed to do was focus on her patient. She would worry about getting the hell off this island later.
The trip to Wilcox Memorial took only five minutes, even with slowing down for red lights. On their approach, the siren was silenced. They pulled before the entrance where a team of medical personnel waited. When the ambulance stopped, the back doors of the vehicle swung wide. Immediately, Scott began to update a male nurse, while Vic worked with the others in attendance to unload Landon. The gurney wheels touched asphalt, and Paige and Landon’s grandmother had to pick up the pace to keep up. The glass doors slid open, and she stepped inside to be assailed with cries and moans and the all-too-familiar antiseptic smell.
Lord, help them. The EMT had been right. The noise level bordered on offensive as medical personnel rushed in opposite directions. Thankfully, a surgical unit awaited Landon. Without delay, he was ushered through a pair of double doors.
Paige and Landon’s grandmother didn’t have to wait long before a nurse approached them. “Are you with the boy from the airplane?” The badge on her blue scrubs identified her as Cathy. By her dark skin and hair, she looked to be an islander.
“Yes. I’m Nancy Buchner, Landon’s grandmother.”
Cathy smiled. “Let me show you where the waiting room is. Admittance will be in to speak to you shortly.”
When the nurse started down the hall, Nancy yelled, “Wait.” She quickly moved toward Paige. “I can’t thank you enough for all that you’ve done.”
“You’re welcome.” Paige reached out and squeezed Nancy’s arm. “He’ll be fine. You’ll see.”
Nancy gave her a hug and then left with the nurse, while Paige remained behind. Paige looked around the busy ER room, locating a chair that was out of the way of the hustle and bustle. Next to the seat a colorfully lit Christmas tree blinked off and on. She sat down, and the light scent of evergreen tickling her nose reminded her that in less than a week it would be Christmas. Beneath the lower branches of the tree, neatly wrapped presents in cheery paper and big bows lay as if waiting for a cozy little family to open them.
A pang struck her chest. She swallowed hard, attempting to dash the image of a cozy family, mainly Nathan’s, and focus on lying on the beaches of Fiji and soaking up the sun. Yep. Two wonderful weeks with her mother and sister. How pitiful did that make her sound?
Someone screamed in the room next to her and she startled. Her nerves crawled further out on the edge. What she’d give to speak to her mother.
Crap. Paige released a huff of disbelief. Her damn purse was still on the airplane along with all her luggage. Nothing she could do about it this late at night.
This was going to be a long evening.
The minutes ticked by. Patients came and went. Several times Paige started to offer her assistance, but thought better of interfering.
A gray-haired man dressed in green scrubs and a surgical cap passed by the nurses’ station heading straight for her. Slowly she got to her feet. Apprehension slithered up her spine. Dammit. Landon had to be okay. Her palms were clammy. She wiped them on her jeans just as the doctor stopped before her.
The doctor opened his hand, and in his palm he held a little red fire truck. “Here’s your culprit. Wouldn’t think something so small could cause such a fuss, would you?”
No, she sure wouldn’t. Nor would she have guessed that when she got up this morning that her perfectly planned vacation would have taken the detour it had. Somewhere over the ocean an airplane was heading to Fiji and she wasn’t on it.
“I’m Dr. Waters. Your patient is doing fine. He’s in recovery. You saved that little boy’s life.”
Paige wasn’t looking for praise. She worried more about the short time Landon had gone without oxygen. “A full recovery?”
“Yes. Thanks to you.”
She exhaled a sigh of relief. “Good.”
They shook hands, and Dr. Waters pivoted to leave, before stopping short. He glanced over a shoulder. “Don’t imagine that you’d like to give us a hand in the emergency room? The cruise ship accident has left us in a bind. We’re short a doctor and have one on vacation.”
She didn’t even pause. “Of course, it would be my pleasure, but I don’t know when the next flight to Fiji might leave.”
“I’ll have someone check for you.” He returned to place his palm on the small of her back and guide her toward the nurses’ station. “I don’t know if you are aware, but Wilcox Memorial is a leading medical facility and one of the top one hundred rural hospitals in the United States. Who knows, by the end of the night you might even want to join us. You know, we have an opening.” He winked.
She chuckled. “Thanks, but no thanks. I’m just passing through.” By tomorrow afternoon she would be back on track and far away from Kauai.
They stopped before the nurses’ station, and a plump Polynesian woman with dark skin raised her head. “Ilana,” Dr. Waters said. “This is Dr. Weston. She’s offered to assist us tonight.”
“Oh thank goodness.” Ilana popped up from her seat and quickly moved around the desk to greet Paige with a hearty handshake. “Welcome. Welcome.”
“Ilana will make sure you have everything you need, and she’ll assign someone to contact the airport to check on the next flight to Fiji. Now if you’ll excuse me,” he said, “I need to prep for another surgery.”
“Guess you might as well start at the top and work down. Let’s see.” The head nurse glanced at the dry-erase board. “Four-year-old girl with a laceration on the bottom of her right foot.” She pulled a white jacket from beneath the desk and handed it along with the child’s chart to Paige. She pointed down the hall. “Room five. A surgical tray has been set up. Teri will be in shortly to assist you.”
No time like the present to get started. Paige slid her arms into the jacket, before starting off down the hall. Her sandals slapped against the vinyl flooring. She stopped at the door and knocked before entering. Peeking her head in, she said, “Hi. I’m Dr. Weston.”
She couldn’t help but notice how pretty her first patient was. Dark, shiny ringlets framed her petite face as big tears flowed down her cheeks. A young woman in her late teens or early twenties wrapped her arms around the child who sat on the examination table. Gently she rocked back and forth in an attempt to calm the girl.
“I want my daddy.”
“Shhh, sweetheart. He’ll be here in just a little bit.”
Paige began to wash her hands. “So what do we have here?” She dried her hands on a paper towel.
“We were at the beach and Cami started to climb the rocks. They were wet from the rain, she slipped.” The woman nervously brushed back her long brown hair. “It was an accident.”
“Of course it was.” Paige stepped on the foot pedal of the trash can, the lid rose and she tossed the towel inside. When the door jerked open and struck the wall with its force, she startled. A man barreled through the doorway, his attention pinned on the child.
For a mere second the blood in Paige’s veins froze. From the back he looked like— What was she thinking? It couldn’t be Nathan, but that didn’t stop her heart from pounding.
“Daddy,” the little girl whimpered.
The man took the child in his arms and whispered, “Baby.”
Oh God. The air in Paige’s lungs escaped in one gush. She knew that deep, sensual voice.
“Janis, what happened?” Nathan asked.
As Janis explained the incident, the palpitations in Paige’s chest began to pound with a vengeance. Her vision dimmed. She couldn’t breathe. Just the sight of him made her knees weak. Rational thought escaped her as well. She had to get out of the room. She couldn’t bear to see Nathan again.
Trembling, she moved quickly toward the door, stopping when the voice she’d dreamt about for five years said, “Paige?” Her entire body tensed. “Is that you?”
She clutched the doorframe like it was a lifeline. For one moment she felt she’d fall completely apart, and then she turned to meet her past eye to eye.
He smiled as if he was meeting an old friend. “Oh my God. I can’t believe this.”
“Daddy?” The tearful voice of the little girl forced Paige’s attention from Nathan.
Cami was Nathan’s daughter.
A sharp pain shot to Paige’s chest. She swayed and the room spun. She attempted to hold onto her professionalism, but it was like holding water in her hands. “I can’t do this.” She spun around and fled through the doorway.
Paige was halfway down the hall when a hand on her shoulder pulled her to a stop. Her arm flailed as she jerked away.
Ilana’s eyes narrowed with interest. “Dr. Weston, are you okay?”
Paige pressed her hand to her mouth to restrain the cry being ripped from her diaphragm. The weight on her chest nearly suffocated her. If she didn’t know better, she’d say it was a heart attack, but she knew this pain. It had become a part of her the day Nathan had walked out. Night after lonely night she had played the scene of his ex-girlfriend announcing she was pregnant a week before Paige and Nathan were to be wed.
Ilana waved Cathy over. When the nurse Paige had met earlier approached with a wheelchair, Ilana said, “Sit.”
“Please.” Paige’s voice broke in short gasps as she bent at the waist, her palms on her thighs. She had to hold it together. “Give me a minute.” She released the air from her lungs slowly in an attempt to steady herself, but the agony of seeing Nathan again threatened to pull her deeper into despair.
Ilana took the chair from Cathy and nudged it closer. “Why don’t you have a seat while you catch your breath. You’ve been through a lot today. I’ll let Dr. Waters know you’re unable to continue—”
“No.” The response came almost as fast as Paige snapping into a standing position. She wiped angrily at her tears. How humiliating. She had never dropped the ball on one of her patients.
You are a professional. You have a job to do.
She sucked in one breath and then another. She had to get a grip. Like it or not, Cami Cross was her patient. After a few agonizing minutes, she squared her shoulders.
“Are you sure you’re okay?” Doubt reflected in Ilana’s concerned expression.
“Yes.” Truthfully, Paige was anything but okay, but that was beside the point. She was a doctor. She could do this.
“Paige.” Nathan’s voice almost eradicated her brief moment of confidence.
She pinched the bridge of her nose and blinked hard, drying her tears. The beginning of a headache pushed at her temples.
Heart in her throat, she turned to face her past. “Nathan.”
Five years had a way of changing a person, but not him and not the electrifying effect he had over her. Her damn body went haywire, breasts tingling, as his gaze swept over them. The normal rhythm of her heart had yet to return, and now a heat wave flared across her skin. She couldn’t take her sight off his handsome face. Broad forehead, lazy bedroom eyes and lips that were made for kissing taunted her. He had matured into an even better-looking man.
The urge to touch him was so great that she fisted her hands, gluing them to her side. Her nose tingled with the start of tears forming, but she had to stay strong. Somehow she had to get through this night without breaking down or losing the last bit of dignity she had.
Paige cleared her throat to steady her nerves. The sooner she finished up with Cami, the sooner Nathan would leave and be forever gone from her life, again. The thought was bittersweet, but she had no choice. He belonged to another.
“Paige, I’m so s—”
She silenced him with a raised hand. Without a word she hurried past him and headed for the examination room.
You can do this. She slipped through the open door and her feet pulled her to an abrupt stop. The sweet face of Nathan’s child sent another wave of sorrow over her. His daughter had his blue eyes and ebony hair. Her teeth clenched at the sting of tears. She swallowed hard.
Damn. Damn. Damn. She isn’t your child and never will be. Let it go.
A single tear rolled down her cheek. To hide the emotion, she spun on her toes and headed to the sink. You can do this. She slid her hands beneath the warm water and scrubbed, maybe a little too long, but it was all she could do to refrain from running back out of the room. With a fragile grip on her control, she eased her foot off the pedal that activated the water before drying her hands. When she turned around, Nathan stood silently beside his daughter. His presence sucked the air from the room, making it difficult for Paige to breathe.
“My foot hurts,” Cami whimpered.
“I know, baby,” he said.
Paige closed the distance between them. Gently, she raised Cami’s foot and examined the two-inch laceration. Don’t look at him. Focus on your patient. It was difficult, but she did just that. The wound required stitches. “Did it bleed much?” Bleeding served as a natural way to cleanse the cut.
“Horribly,” Janis said.
Janis was probably the child’s nanny, because if she remembered correctly Nathan’s wife was a haughty woman of wealth. Tall. Gorgeous.
Okay. That’s enough. She mentally shook off the picture of the statuesque brunette. “Shots up-to-date, including tetanus?”
“Yes.” Nathan moved to look at the injury.
She took a step backwards. His close proximity unsettled her in a way that made her want to flee again. What she’d like to do was bar him from the room, but that would be ridiculous and his daughter needed him. The logic didn’t stop her from trembling. “Why don’t we have the little princess lie down so I can get a better look?”
“Daddy, she called me a princess.”
“She did, didn’t she?” His deep voice raked over Paige’s skin, making it prickle with goose bumps.
“Dr. Weston.” Paige glanced over her shoulder to see a redheaded nurse enter. “Can I be of assistance?”
“Yes. Thank you. You must be Teri.” Paige focused her attention back to Cami, but all she could see was the child that should have been hers and the man that would never be.
She pinched her eyes closed. God give me the strength to make it through this night. Then she raised her eyelids and went to work.
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