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The Game Is Played

The Game Is Played by Amii Lorin
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Dr. Helen Cassidy had worked hard to get where she was. Beautiful and talented, she remained aloof from men. Then Marshall Kirk came into her life and made a proposal that stunned her. Though she responded to his passion, she could not forget the past. But perhaps this was how the game was played—and she could win without losing herself. Contemporary Romance by Amii Lorin; originally published by Dell Candlelight Ecstasy

Belgrave House; March 1981
ISBN 9781610847179
Read online, or download in secure EPUB or secure PDF format
Title: The Game Is Played
Author: Amii Lorin
 
Excerpt

“You can get dressed now, Mrs. Ortega, and I’ll see you in my office in a few minutes.” Helen smiled gently at the timid young woman with the dark expressive eyes, then turned and left the examining room.

Ten minutes later, after seeing the beaming girl out of her consulting office, Helen leaned back into her desk chair with a contented sigh. Maria Ortega’s delight in having her maternal expectations confirmed had given her an all-over good feeling. Even after five years of private practice Helen still felt the same satisfaction on diagnosing a wanted pregnancy as she had the first time.

A buzz and blinking light on her desk phone brought Helen upright in her chair, hand reaching for the receiver.

“Yes, Alice?”

The no-nonsense voice of her R.N. Alice Kelly answered crisply. “Jolene Johnson is on the phone, Doctor. I think you’ll want to speak to her yourself. I’ll have her chart on your desk in a minute.”

“Thank you, Alice.” A long, slender forefinger touched the blinking button and in a tone professionally confident she asked, “What’s the problem, Jolene?” Automatically glancing at the clock, Helen noted the time: one fifteen. Fifteen minutes into her half day.

Every Wednesday Alice scheduled patients no later than twelve thirty or twelve forty-five, depending on the medical requirements, in order to have the office clear of patients by one o’clock, thereby giving Helen one free afternoon a week. Helen hoped to one day achieve that free afternoon.

Now as she glanced at the clock she gave a small sigh. She had so wanted to get to that lecture at Temple this afternoon.

“I don’t know if it is a problem, Dr. Cassidy.” Jolene Johnson’s young voice wavered unsurely. “But my husband insisted I call you.”

Thoughts of free afternoons and lectures banished, Helen replied soothingly, “Suppose you tell me why your husband insisted you call me and we’ll take it from there.”

“Well, I have this odd little trickle. It’s the strangest sensation. It started after lunch when I stood up to clear the table and it happened twice while I did the dishes, It’s not like the book says happens when the water sac breaks, and I have no pain or anything, but it does feel funny.”

As the girl was speaking Alice quietly entered the room and placed the open folder on Helen’s desk. Helen nodded her thanks, lifted her oversize, dark-framed reading glasses from the desk, and slid them into place, her eyes scanning the neatly typed sheets for pertinent facts while a picture of Jolene Johnson rose in her mind. A pretty girl of average height and weight, she was twenty-three years old, married two years, and was one week into her ninth month of pregnancy.

“Your husband was right, Jolene.” Helen’s voice was calm, unhurried. “I want you to get yourself ready and go to the hospital”

“But, Doctor, I don’t even have any pain!”

“I know, Jolene, but although you’ve had no gush of water, you are leaking and I want you in the hospital. I’ll call so they’ll be expecting you.”

“Eh—I—” The beginning of fear in the young woman’s voice was unmistakable. “Okay, if you say so,” she was quiet for an instant then went on hesitantly. “Doctor, do you think something’s wrong?”

“I doubt it, Jolene.”

Helen’s eyes had completed their perusal of the girl’s chart and her voice was confident with the medical data she’d read. Jolene’s pregnancy had been normal so far, with no indication of any irregularities. She’d have to examine the girl, of course, but she felt sure the girl and the baby were in no danger.

“Don’t be alarmed. The hospital staff will take good care of you and I’ll be in to see you later this afternoon.”

Helen’s quiet tone had the hoped-for calming effect, for the lessening of tension was evident in Jolene’s voice.

“All right, Doctor, I’ll do whatever you say, and thank you.”

Helen sighed as she replaced the receiver and handed the chart to the silently waiting Alice.

“Trouble?” Alice asked quietly. The tall, rawboned woman had been a nurse for over twenty-five years. She had seen much, said little, and was impressed with very few. Helen Cassidy was one of those few.

“I hope not.” Helen sighed again. Well, so much for free half days. “The girl’s leaking but has no pain. Nothing very unusual so far, but we’ll see.”

Alice nodded briefly, then turned and left the room. Helen sat staring at the clock. If she left now, she’d be able to hear some of the lecture, but hearing part of a lecture wouldn’t do her much good, so—she shrugged her slim shoulders resignedly—maybe next time.

In sudden decision Helen pushed her chair back, went to the closet, and removed her fur-trimmed storm coat.

January was being very unkind to the east coast this year, and the coat, along with the knee-high suede boots she wore were not only fashionable, but necessary.

She slipped into the coat, dug in her capacious bag for her car keys, slung the bag’s strap over her shoulder, and left the room, slowing her steps but not stopping as she passed Alice’s desk.

“I’m going for lunch.” She named a restaurant. “And then to the hospital, if you need me.”

“Why don’t you do yourself a favor and have a good meal for a change?” Alice chided dryly. “You’re beginning to resemble your own shadow.”

Helen heard the words as she closed the outer door. She was still smiling wryly as she unlocked the door to her Honda and slid behind the wheel. Alice had been on a fatten-up-the-boss campaign for several weeks now, and although her remarks were often pointedly barbed, they had failed to penetrate Helen’s composure.

She was slender. She always had been slender. She probably always would be slender. End of story. Helen frowned. True she had been skipping some meals lately in order to keep up with her increasingly heavy schedule. Also true she had lost a few pounds, but at her age that was better than gaining weight

An hour and a half later Helen walked into Jolene Johnson’s hospital room and paused, a smile tugging at her lips. The head nurse stood by the bed, one hand out-Spread on the expectant mother’s distended abdomen, her voice a dry, reassuring drawl.

“It’s still in the attic. Relax, honey, it’s going to be a long day.”

As Helen moved quietly into the room the nurse turned and stepped back from the bed, a warm smile transforming her otherwise plain face.

“Hello, Doctor.” Her tone matched her smile in warmth. “Jolene’s doing just fine. All prepped and ready to go. At Mother Nature’s convenience of course.”

The tug at Helen’s lips turned into a full smile. This brash middle-age woman was the most flip, while at the same time, the most efficient nurse she had ever worked with.

‘Thank you, Kathy.”

The nurse nodded at Helen, sent a bracing grin at Jolene, and swung out of the room, whistling softly through her teeth.

Laughing, Helen placed her fingers on Jolene’s wrist to take her pulse, eyes shifting to her watch. Jolene began speaking the moment Helen removed her fingers.

“Doctor, tell me the truth. Am I going to lose my baby?”

Helen paused in the process of adjusting her stethoscope, glancing at the girl sharply. “No, of course not. Whatever gave you that idea?”

“Well.” Jolene’s lips trembled. “I’m not due for almost a month and I have this horrible feeling that something’s wrong.”

“Just a moment,” Helen murmured, then proceeded to give the young woman a quick, but thorough, examination. When she finished, she straightened and looked Jolene squarely in the eyes. “There is no indication that anything is wrong. Now what I want you to do is relax. You may use the bathroom but I don’t want you out of bed for any other purpose. I want you to rest.”

“All right, Doctor,” Jolene said softly. Then hesitantly, “May Tim come in?”

“Yes, of course,” Helen replied, adding firmly, “but I want you to rest. The nurse will be taking your temperature and blood pressure hourly. Don’t be alarmed, it’s a precautionary measure. You are open to infection now and I want a periodic check just in case.” She squeezed the girl’s hand before continuing, “Now relax and don’t worry. I’ll be back later to check your progress.”

Helen walked out of the room, paused a few minutes to speak to Kathy informing her she’d be in the cafeteria if needed, then left the section.

As she walked along the halls toward the lunchroom, Helen smiled, nodded, and spoke to several of the doctors and nurses she passed, totally unaware of the admiring glances cast at her retreating back.

Looking tall and slender, her honey-gold hair drawn smoothly back from her classically beautiful face into a neat coil at the back of her head, Helen presented a picture of cool, calm professionalism. She lived up to that picture completely. It seemed she had always known she would become a doctor and had worked steadily toward that goal. During premed she had decided to specialize in gynecology and obstetrics and, except for a few minor and one major emotional entanglements, had concentrated all her energy in that direction.

Now, after five years of private practice and a flawless record, Helen had the reputation of being brilliant in her profession and coldly emotionless. She knew it, and she didn’t care. In fact she encouraged the attitude. Even in the twenty-first century achieving recognition in the professions was not easy for a woman. It took that little bit extra in dedication and hard work. Within her own sphere Helen had made it. If the cost was occasional weariness, due to a grueling workload, and periodic loneliness, due to her withdrawn attitude, Helen paid the bill and considered the price as minimal.

She had what she wanted. She led a well-ordered existence doing the work she loved. If, at rare intervals, the warm female inside yearned for male companionship, she squashed the yearning ruthlessly.

Helen was of the opinion that in any emotional encounter the odds were heavily stacked in the male’s favor. She had been burned, badly, while still in her early twenties and had promised herself that never again would a man get the chance to hurt her. It had taken months for the emotional wounds to heal, and the scars still remained, a searing reminder of the arrogance of the male animal called man.

As she left the lunchroom, after having a soothing cup of tea, Helen heard her name paged. She went to the main desk in the lobby, lifted the phone, and gave her name. After a short pause Alice’s voice came calm over the wire.

“Better put on your roller skates, Doctor, I think you are going to be a mite rushed. Mr. Darren just called. He’s bringing his wife to the hospital now. Her contractions are four minutes apart. Good luck.”

There was a small click as Alice hung up. Replacing her own receiver, Helen turned away from the desk with a silent groan. Why do they do it? she asked herself as she stepped into the elevator. Why do some of these young women wait at home until the last moment? Are they afraid and trying to put off the inevitable as long as possible? Or are they trying to prove how unafraid they are? Helen truly didn’t know. What she did know was she could live without these last-minute rush jobs. And she had thought Kristeen Darren had more sense.

By the time Helen walked into the delivery room, properly capped, gowned, and shod, Kristeen was only minutes away from motherhood.

“Good afternoon, Kristeen.” Helen’s voice filtered coolly through the mask, which covered the lower half of her face. Above the mask her hazel eyes smiled warmly at the pale young woman. “Longing to have it over with and hold your baby in your arms?”

“Yes, Doctor,” Kristeen began a smile that turned to a gasp as a hard contraction gripped her.

Helen’s eyes shot a question at the anesthetist, who nodded and murmured, “Ready to go.”

Less than twenty minutes later Helen walked out of the delivery room, leaving behind a very tired but ecstatically happy mother of a perfectly formed baby daughter.

After cleaning up, Helen went into Jolene Johnson’s room, evicted young Tim Johnson with the assurance that he would be called when the time came, and spent the following twenty-five minutes examining Jolene and talking down her renewed anxieties.

“I want you to rest,” she reiterated as she was leaving the room. “Sleep if possible. Conserve your strength for when your labor does begin. And don’t worry, I’ll be back later.”

She was standing at the nurses’ station, making notations on Jolene’s chart and talking with Kathy when a nurse and a young student nurse rushed up to the desk all flustered and excited.

“You should have seen what we just bumped into, Kathy,” the nurse, a dark-haired, attractive young woman in her mid-twenties, said breathlessly.

Kathy eyed the two in amusement. “Good to look at, was he?” she asked dryly.

“Good!” The petite student gushed. “He was totally awesome. He’s tall, red-haired, blue-eyed, and shoulders like a Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker. What a hunk,” she finished in an awed tone.

Kathy, obviously unimpressed, shot a long suffering glance at Helen, who, lips twitching, opened her eyes innocently wide and fluttered naturally long, silky lashes at her, then turned and walked away without a word. Behind her she heard Kathy laugh softly, and the student nurse proclaim, “No kidding, Kath, he really was a hunk.”

A smile still tugging the corners of her mouth, Helen pushed through the heavy swing doors that separated the labor and delivery rooms from the maternity section, thinking that, as Kristeen Darren was probably settled into a room by now, she may as well look in on her before leaving the floor.

The smile left her face on hearing her name mentioned as she approached the nurses’ station.

“If Dr. Cassidy walked in now, we’d all catch hell. She just has  this thing about visitors in the room so soon after birth.” The irate nurse, standing with her back to Helen, was so agitated she missed the warning shake of the head from the gray-haired nurse she was speaking to. “But I can’t budge them.”

Before the older woman, who was facing both Helen and the angry nurse, could respond, Helen asked quietly, “What’s the problem, Nancee?”

“Oh!” Nancee spun around, her face flushed with exasperation. “Doctor, it’s the people in Mrs. Darren’s room. There are five people in there, besides her husband. I’ve told them that, so soon after delivery, there should be no one in there except her husband, but they just ignored me. I understand that they’re prominent people, and I didn’t want to cause any trouble by calling security, but Mrs. Darren looks exhausted.”

“There are six people around that bed?” The tone of Helen’s voice sent a chill of apprehension down the spines of both nurses.

“I’ve tried to—” Nancee began.

“I’ll go help her clear the room.” The older nurse cut in.

“No, I’ll do it,” Helen stated grimly. “You two have more important things to do than trying to coax a group of unthinking people into behaving rationally.”

Ignoring the anxious look the two women exchanged, Helen squared her shoulders and walked the short distance to the room in question. Pausing in the open doorway, Helen’s eyes circled the room slowly, missing nothing.

Kristeen Darren did indeed look exhausted, even though her eyes were bright with excitement and pride. Her small pale hand was clasped tightly in a larger one, which obviously belonged to her husband, who, Helen noted with a frown, was sitting, on the bed beside her. On either side of the bed were two older couples who Helen correctly identified as the respective grandparents. And at the foot of the bed was a young man, somewhere around thirty, Helen judged, who could be no one other than the “totally awesome hunk,” the giddy young student nurse had been starry-eyed over.

Helen’s eyes lingered long seconds on the man. Up to a point the student’s assessments had been correct. But only up to a point. He was tall and his shoulders did look like they belonged on a Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker. But this was no mere “hunk.” This was more like bad news for all females. And his hair could not really be described as red. It was more of a deep chestnut-brown, the red highlights gleaming in the glare from the overhead light. And the face was shatteringly masculine. At least the profile was, which was what Helen viewed.

“Is this party strictly family or may anyone join in?”

The caustic question, spoken in Helen’s most professional, icy tone, jerked five startled faces toward her. Before anyone could protest or even open their mouths, Helen added, “As it seems to have slipped everyone’s mind, might I remind you that this woman has just given birth, and although she did not have a very hard delivery, it is never easy. She is tired. She needs rest, and as I want to examine her, I will give you thirty seconds to vacate this room.”

The startled expressions changed to embarrassment on all the faces but one. The “hunk” turned, giving Helen the full impact of rugged good looks, an ice-blue stare, and a voice loaded with cool, male confidence.

“You must forgive us, Doctor.” The smooth, deep voice held not a hint of apology. “This is the first child born in both families for some twenty-odd years and I’m afraid we’ve all been slightly carried away with her advent.” His eyes shifted briefly to Kristeen, clearly his sister, then swung back to Helen. “But I see you are right. Kristeen does look very tired.” His eyes took on the glint of devilment. “If you would step out of the doorway, we will all file quietly out and leave you to do your job.”

A shaft of hot anger stiffened Helen’s already straight spine. This silken-mouthed young man was most assuredly overdue for his comeuppance.

“Thank you,” she snapped acidly, then turned away as if he were of no importance at all and addressed his brother-in-law in a pleasant tone.

“I’m sorry, Mr. Darren, but you really must leave now. If you have any questions about your wife’s condition, please wait in the hall. I’ll only be a few minutes.”

As she was speaking she heard the muffled movements as the others left the room. When she finished, she favored the new father with her most disarming smile.

That young man grinned sheepishly as he grasped his wife’s hand.

“No, Doctor, I’m sorry. We were all thoughtless and inconsiderate.” He gazed down at his wife, his eyes warm with love. “I’m so proud of her, we all are, and yet we remained, tiring her even more. Our only excuse, as Marsh said, is that we got carried away. I have no questions, as you filled me in perfectly after the baby was born.” He bent, kissed his wife lingeringly on the mouth, murmured a few love words to her, then straightened, released his hand, and stretched it out to Helen. “I’ll get out of here now. Thank you, Doctor, for everything.”

Clasping his hand, Helen laughed softly. “I didn’t do anything. Kristeen did all the hard work.”

The moment he was out of the room, Kristeen said quietly, “I must apologize for my brother, Dr. Cassidy. I know he made you angry, but you see, Marsh is used to issuing orders, not taking them.”

“No matter.” Helen brushed aside the subject of that young man. “Let’s see how you’ve progressed.” She did a routine check, asked a few questions, then, as she removed her stethoscope, pronounced, “Very good. Now, if you behave yourself, get some rest, and eat a good dinner, you may have visitors this evening.” She started to move away from the bed, then paused and glanced archly over her shoulder. ‘Two at a time, please.”

“Yes, Doctor.” Kristeen promised meekly.

The hall was clear of Kristeen’s visitors except for the “hunk” who leaned lazily against the wall next to the doorway, speculatively eyeing the passing nurses. As though he were invisible, Helen stepped by him briskly and headed down the hall. Silently, effortlessly, he fell into step beside her.

“I’d like a word with you, Doctor,” the deep voice requested blandly.

Helen felt her hackles rise, followed by shocked surprise. What was it about this man that put her back up? For in all truth she had felt it the moment she’d clapped eyes on him.

“What about?” She bristled.

“Temper, temper,” he murmured, then, at the flash of her eyes, “my sister, among other things.”

Helen’s steps didn’t falter as she turned her head and raised her eyebrows at him in question.

“I’ve been told I was rude and owe you an apology by”—he raised his left hand and ticked off the fingers one by one with his right forefinger—-”my mother, my father, my brother-in-law, and his most respected parents. By way of an apology let me buy you dinner.”

Coming to a full stop in front of the doors into the labor and delivery section, Helen turned to face him, shaking her head. “No, thank you, Mr.—”

“Kirk, Marshall Kirk. Most people call me Marsh.”

“I am not most people,” Helen elucidated clearly. “Now if you will excuse me, I have a patient waiting.” On the last word she pushed the door open, stepped through, and let it swing back in his face.

Jolene’s condition was stable and unchanged. She had not had a twinge of pain, and as she was getting bored and restless with her confinement, Helen sat talking to her for some time. After briefly outlining the procedures she would take if Jolene did not go into labor within a reasonable length of time, Helen left the girl and stopped at the desk to speak to Kathy.

“Slow day,” Kathy drawled, glancing at the clock. “And unless things start happening mighty quickly, I’ll be off duty long before Jolene is wheeled into delivery.”

Nodding in agreement, Helen’s eyes followed Kathy’s to the large wall clock, then flickered in surprise. It was almost six thirty! She had been in the section almost an hour and a half. No wonder she was beginning to feel slightly wilted and vaguely empty. Informing Kathy that she was off in search of sustenance, Helen left the section. The sight that met her eyes as she walked through the swing doors brought her to a shocked standstill. Propped against the wall, head back, eyes closed, stood Marshall Kirk, looking, strangely, neither uncomfortable nor out of place. On hearing the door swish closed, his eyes opened and appraised her with cool deliberation.

“Surely you haven’t been here all this time, Mr. Kirk?” The frank admiration in that level blue stare put an edge on Helen’s tongue.

“I assure you I have, Dr. Cassidy.” The sardonic emphasis he placed on her name rattled Helen, giving an even sharper edge to her tone.

“But why?”

Sighing wearily, exaggeratedly, he closed his eyes. When he lifted the lids, he fixed her with an ice-blue gaze so intense that Helen felt a shiver curl up the back of her neck.

“I told you I wanted to talk to you about my sister. I also invited you to have dinner with me, by way of an apology.”

Fighting the urge to rub the back of her neck, wondering at the odd catch in her throat, she rushed her words just a little. “That’s not necessary, we can talk in the lounge right here or in the—”

“I know it’s not necessary,” he interrupted smoothly. “But it is now”—he glanced at the slim gold watch on his wrist—”close to seven. I assume you’re hungry. I know I am. Why not have our discussion in a congenial atmosphere and feed the inner person as well?”

Helen stared at him wordlessly for a long second. What was it about this young man? She felt unnerved, a very rare sensation for her, and she didn’t know why. Of course, that unnerved her even more. His attitude, of polite interest, could not be faulted. Nor could his tone, for he sounded pleasantly reasonable. So what was it? Unable to find an answer, or a reason for refusing his invitation, Helen hedged.

“Mr. Kirk, I—”

“Yes, Dr. Cassidy?” He prodded gently.

“Very well,” Helen sighed in defeat, then added firmly, “but I cannot go far or be gone too long. I have a patient in there”—she nodded at the large swing doors— “that I want to keep an eye on.”

“Is she in labor?” he asked interestedly.

“Not yet.” She shook her head. “But that’s why I want to keep an eye on her.”

“Whatever you say, Doctor.” He paused, obviously thinking, then offered, “There’s a small place, fairly close by, an old, renovated inn, would that do?”

“Yes, anywhere, as long as it’s close by.” Unsure she’d been wise in accepting him, Helen’s tone was almost curt. “I’ll need a few minutes. I must call my answering service, get my coat and bag and—”

“Take your time,” he cut in. “I’ll go get my car and wait for you at the main entrance.”

Without waiting for a reply, he strode off down the corridor.

Her teeth nibbling at her lower lip, Helen watched him walk away, an uncomfortable feeling of foreboding stealing over her. She opened her mouth to call him back, tell him she’d changed her mind, then closed it again with a snap. Don’t be ridiculous, she chided herself scathingly, there is nothing the least bit threatening about this man. He is exactly as he seems. A well-bred, urbane young man interested in the welfare of his sister. That his eyes seemed to have the power to demoralize her she put down to the fact that it had been a long day and that hunger was making her fanciful. Giving herself a mental shake, she walked away quickly.

He was waiting for her, standing beside a shiny black Lincoln Continental, hands thrust into the pockets of a perfectly cut tan cashmere topcoat. As her eyes ran over the luxurious garment Helen realized, with a start, that it was the first tune she’d noticed his attire. If asked, she doubted if she could describe what he had on under the coat. Strange, she mused, hurrying toward the car, she usually took note of the total person, so to speak. Indeed, she could describe what Kristeen’s parents, her husband, and his parents had been wearing, down to the snakeskin shoes the older Mrs. Darren wore on her small feet. Strange.

Preoccupied with her thoughts, Helen was only vaguely aware he’d helped her into the car and slid behind the wheel beside her, when his quiet voice brought her musings to an end.

“Problems?”

“What?” She blinked in confusion, then laughed softly. “No. No problems. I was just thinking.”

One dark eyebrow went up questioningly and she was again subjected to that strangely intent blue gaze, then, with a small shrug and a murmured “Good,” he turned away and set the car in motion.

A nervous, panicky feeling invaded her stomach and Helen turned her head to glance out of the side window, her teeth again punishing her lower lip. What in the world, she thought frantically, is the matter with me? She caught herself edging closer to the door and sat perfectly still with shock, her thoughts running wild. Surely I’m not afraid of him? Her hands went clammy as her stomach gave a small lurch. But that’s preposterous, she told herself sternly. Over the last few years she had met, and had been unaffected by, a number of prominent and powerful men, some of whom had been extremely good-looking. What was it about this man? That she would react at all to him would have been curious. But this! This moist-palmed, all-over crawly sensation was mind bending. And to top it all off, he had to be at least five or six years her junior.

“You really are in a brown study.” Once more that deep, quiet voice cut into her thoughts. “Wondering what your husband will say when he finds out you’ve had dinner with another man?”

It was a deliberate probe and she knew it. For some reason it irritated her.

“I’m not married, Mr. Kirk.” Helen paused, then added bitingly, “As I suspect you already know, since I wear no rings.”

To her surprise he laughed easily, slanting her a quick, glittering glance.

“No, Doctor, I didn’t know, as a lack of rings today is no indication of a woman’s marital status.” All amusement was gone, replaced by mild disgust. “Quite a few of the young marrieds I know refuse to adorn their fingers with anything as possessive as a man’s ring.”

The knife-edged sarcasm to his tone shocked her and she stared at him in amazement. What in the world was he attacking her for? Did he think she was lying? The thought that he might brought her chin up in anger.

“I assure you, sir”—she bit heavily on the last word— “I have no such mistreated male hidden away.”

“Temper, temper.” He repeated his chiding admonition of a few hours earlier, then, “Ah, saved by our arrival at our destination.”

The inn was old, but beautifully renovated. The decor was rustic, the lighting soft, and the fire that blazed in the huge stone fireplace infused the room with a warmth and welcome that went a long way in draining the anger from Helen.

Sipping at a pre-dinner glass of white wine, Helen studied him over the rim of the glass, taking deliberate note of his clothes. His brown herringbone sport coat and opened-necked cream-colored silk shirt looked casually elegant, as did the way he leaned back lazily in his chair, sipping his own wine. His eyes scanned the room disinterestedly, yet Helen had the feeling that not the smallest detail escaped their perusal. And for some unknown reason he scared the hell out of her.

“Will I pass muster, Doctor?”

Helen felt her cheeks grow warm at the amused taunt. She would have vowed he had not observed her study. Deciding attack was the best form of defense, she gave him a level stare.

“Does it matter, Mr. Kirk?” she asked dryly. “You are a very attractive young man, as I’m sure you know. I’m sorry if I was staring, but I can’t believe you give a damn if you pass muster or not.”

The sound of his soft laughter was more potent than the wine. The words that followed the laughter hit her like a blast of sobering cold air.

“Oh, but that’s where you’re wrong, Doctor. Your opinion of me is very important. For you see, my lady doctor, I fully intend to rectify the nudity of your left ring finger by encircling it with my wedding ring.”

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1610847172
9781610847179