“Knock, knock. Anyone home?” Scarlett stepped into Walker’s hospital room, a bouquet of daisies in one hand and a Peppermint Sweet bag in the other.
“I ain’t home, and I ain’t anyone.” He harrumphed and crossed his arms. “What’re you doing here? Tell me you didn’t spend money on those.”
“I’m visiting you, cranky pants,” she said as she set the small arrangement of daisies on the nightstand next to his bed. “And they were free. I rescued them off the floor of Daisy’s Delivers before the poor girls were swept into the trash. I couldn’t let that happen. They might think no one loves them.”
The local flower shop let her take any flowers they didn’t use, and she always found them a purpose, someone to cheer up. No one could be in a bad mood around a vase stuffed with daisies.
“I gotta say, Walker Ames, that hospital green is so not your color.” His face looked haggard and a little gray, and his hand shook. “What’d they do to you to make you so grouchy? Save your life or something?”
Her heart had nearly leaped out of her chest when she’d heard he’d been taken to the hospital with what they thought was a heart attack. Turned out it was merely a “warning,” according to her sister.
“Nothing good. They tell you to rest and then wake you up every two hours to poke and prod you like a lab rat. And the food in here sucks. I’m supposed to lay off fat and sugar, according to Nurse Sadist out there.” He hitched his thumb to the hallway.
She held up the bag she’d brought. “Oh, then I guess this piece of pie I picked up—”
He side-eyed her. “Blueberry?”
His hand shot out. “Give.”
She laughed, depositing it in his lap.
He peered into the white paper bakery bag. “At least someone around here listens.”
Wow, he really was a grouch that day. But the man hadn’t spent that much time indoors in years. He practically lived in the horse barn, saying the animals needed him.
Walker took a big bite of the pie from the paper cone wrapping, threw his head back, and murmured his appreciation. “Okay. Report in.”
“Miss Peabody Carmichael continues her reign.” The pony wouldn’t hurt a blade of grass, but for some odd reason, the rest of the horses followed her lead in everything. “Cluck-Cluck got out again but is fine. I say that if that chicken wants to brave the evening critters and become dinner, then go forth.” Though any fox that tried to take her out would be pecked to death first. “And I’m picking up more of Beano’s antibiotics after I leave here.”
“How’s it looking?” He blew crumbs across his lap as he spoke.
“Better.” The Appaloosa was at least twenty years old. An eye infection wasn’t as bad as the myriad of other things that could befall him. But she and Beano had a deal. They were going together, and if that meant the horse had to live another sixty years, then so be it.
“I can’t thank you enough, Scarlett, for holding down the farm while I’m in here wasting my time. I won’t let you down again.”
He always seemed to forget it was his farm now. She and her sister had gifted it to him recently. He deserved it, considering he’d taken care of the place since he was eighteen, which basically meant fifty years. “I’d say getting stents put in because you refuse to do what the doctors say is—”
“A load of Beano’s horse shit.” He took another big bite. At the rate he was going, he’d be done with the pie in seconds. He’d only been at the hospital for two days, but you’d have thought he’d been abandoned for a year on a desert island the way he scarfed up the treat.
He smacked his lips. “Got anything new for me to read?”
“I brought you new pages.”
His eyes widened. “The rest of the scene?”
“No, I’m still working on that one. My hero isn’t coming to me. I brought you a new chapter from her POV, though.” She pulled out the four pages from her bag.
Maybe it’d lift up his mood. The whole room was depressing. Huge plastic bed with guard rails, topped with so many sheets she doubted he’d ever untangle himself. Sad little TV on a wall mount in the corner of the room. No wonder he was bored.
“You need man inspiration.” He took the papers from her. “That Mark fella … Ah, sorry. Didn’t mean to bring him up.”
She waved her hand. “Ah. He’s a good guy. He just couldn’t keep up with me.” She winked at him.
When did guys get so fragile? Just because she might have fibbed a teeny, tiny bit about the length and steepness of that hiking trail—okay, maybe by about three miles—there was no reason to blow a gasket and say they weren’t “compatible.” So what if they almost had to spend the night in the woods? Pioneer women did it all the time.
But this latest relationship blip was further confirmation that the heroes from romances were a myth in real life. They were beautiful people between the pages of a book but not likely to rear their golden heads to her anytime soon.
“I never did like how his eyes slanted sideways when you graced him with your writing,” Walker said.
That was another thing Mark didn’t like. How she was willing to put it all on the page—all the “C” words and “P” words because why leave out the fun stuff? “I don’t know, Walker. You think it’s good for you to read them since you almost had a heart attack?”
“Eh.” He waved his fingers. “Though, that last scene I read? Gotta say, you’d make a porn star blush. Let’s go ahead and give these new stents a workout.” He gave her a yellow-teeth-stained grin.
“I have a feeling you’re going to do that on your own. I keep telling you, you need me to hire you some help. At least to get the hay up into the barn.”
“With what? Hit the bestseller list, did ya? Land in a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow?”
A loud ahem sounded, followed by a rap against the door frame.
“Hide that,” he whispered, nodding toward the bakery bag in her hand.
“Already ahead of you.” Scarlett shoved the bag into a ball and tucked it behind her. It wouldn’t help, though. The man had blueberry stains all over his lips and teeth and a lap full of pie crust crumbs.
She turned, ready with a smile to greet the doctor, but was stunned instead. Like seriously stunned at the man who filled the door frame—and they built those things wide in hospitals.
“Mr. Ames.” The mirage of male perfection eyed the pie crumbs. “I see we aren’t following the recommended diet.”
“It’s just Walker. And you can’t expect a man to live off twigs and berries.”
One side of the doctor’s mouth inched up, reminding her to close her lips and straighten her head because she was pretty sure she was staring, mouth agape and head cocked. He looked like he came out of a mold. Chiseled jaw with a five o’clock shadow even though it was eleven in the morning. Black hair that seemed almost blue in the fluorescent lights overhead. Dark blue eyes like ocean water—only the perfect kind of waters you see in tourist postcards trying to sell you on a beach vacation.
“How are we feeling today?” His voice had a hint of gravel.
Walker scowled. “Feeling like walking out.”
Scarlett stood. “Hi, Dr. …”
“Are you his daughter?” He looked down at the iPad he held.
She tittered. “Oh, no. I’m his sort of daughter. And you are?” She tried to read the teeny tiny name embroidered on his lab coat, but it was half hidden by his tablet.
“Dr. Stevens. I’m afraid you’ll have to remove those flowers,” he said, lifting his chin toward the daisies.
He cocked his head. “The CDC recommends—”
“The Center for Disease Control and Prevention.”
She knew this. His eyes must have stunned her brain. They really were a remarkable shade of blue. “Oh, right. Well, we just won’t tell them.”
“Fresh flowers may seem nice, but in fact—”
“They are nice.” She turned to the bouquet, fluffing two wilted-looking daisies. “Don’t listen to him.” Poor things. Lord knows how long they’d been sitting on the florist’s shop floor without water.
“Miss, the hospital has a strict policy on this matter. For our immuno-compromised patients—”
“I ain’t compromised anything,” Walker barked.
Dr. Stevens took in a long breath as if steeling himself. “Mr. Ames, I put six stents in you yesterday.”
“Six?” Scarlett turned to him and held up her hand. “That’s impressive.”
He returned her high-five. “Eh, my brother had seven last year.”
“We’re not trying to go for a record here.” Dr. Stevens patted his lab coat pocket and pulled out a phone. “One moment. Hello?” He turned away, his phone to his ear. “Yes. No. I said no.” His voice was stern, direct. It made her back straighten a little. She always was a sucker for confidence, which rolled off the guy in waves.
He killed the call, re-pocketing his phone. “Now, Mr. Ames. I don’t like your latest read-out.” He tapped his screen.
Walker chuffed. “You mean I’m going to be a prisoner for another damned day.”
Dr. Stevens frowned. “You had some serious blockage. Another night, or at least until we get your blood pressure under control.”
Scarlett turned to Walker. “You didn’t tell me it was up.”
“You didn’t ask,” he grumbled.
She patted his hand. “I say listen to him. Tell you what. I’ll get hot Delores to come by for some entertainment.” She waggled her eyebrows.
“More visitors may not be what you need, Mr. Ames.”
“She works here. Nurse Trainlot?” By Dr. Stevens’ clueless expression, Scarlett could tell that he didn’t have an inkling about whom she was talking. “Golden brown hair, great …” She circled her hands over her breasts.
He shifted on his feet, and his cheeks grew rosy. Okay, maybe she’d gone overboard on that last move, but Delores did have spectacular boobs, and the guy begged for shaking up a bit. He was attractive but also a little too stiff—as if someone shoved a steel girder up his butt.
He also seemed oddly shy. For a guy who saw people naked on the regular, you’d think breasts wouldn’t have elicited such a blush.
“She does.” Walker nodded. “Okay. Deal.”
Dr. Stevens made a disapproving hum in his throat.
Scarlett shrugged. “It’s okay. Delores and Walker here have a … thing.”
“We do not,” Walker shot out, a touch of red filling his cheeks.
“You would if you’d finally ask her out. I mean, come on …” She circled her hands again.
Dr. Stevens raised his hand. “Mr. Ames, our goal here is to get you healthy enough to go home.”
“So, I guess conjugal visits are out?” Scarlett asked. “It’s good for the circulation, you know.”
“I’ll be the judge of that. Now, no more of …” The doctor circled his fingers over the pie crumbs scattered across the sheet.
Scarlett grinned at him. “Blueberry pie, i.e., heaven on earth. Peppermint Sweet. You must know the place.”
“I don’t, Miss …”
“Scarlett Bloom.” She stepped forward and smiled at him, hoping to elicit one in return. She didn’t.
“Scarlett, the flowers?” Somberly, he pointed at them.
She flattened her smile and picked up the bouquet. “Fine. But I’ll have you know the daisies are offended.” She turned to Walker. “Addy will come by later.”
“I trust she’ll come during visiting hours. You need rest, Mr. Ames.”
So stern. “Yes, sir. See you later, Walker.”
“And bring me another piece of pie,” he groused.
“No pie,” Dr. Firm Face admonished. His disapproving look was kind of appealing if you were into that take-charge type. His tone was similar to the hero she was trying to write. Kadyn Carmichael also was do-this and do-that.
Regardless, she was definitely bringing pie when she came back. Maybe the move would earn her more of Dr. Stevens’s condemnation. His furrowed brows and frowny lines could be good book research.
“And no more flowers, please,” the doctor added.
At least he said please. “You’re no fun.”
“We’re not here to have fun.”
“Clearly, no one is,” Walker grumbled.
Dr. Stevens hugged his iPad to his chest. “We’re here to get you better.” A dash of compassion colored his voice even though his face was as reproving as ever, which moved him from sort of interesting to quite interesting territory. He cared about what happened to Walker.
“You have a good stern face.” She moved closer to the man—wow, he was tall, too—and he didn’t budge at her advance. “You would’ve been a good commanding officer. Were you? Because I bet you are in the OR. Do the nurses snap to attention when you talk to them?”
Again, his cheeks filled with color. He was adorable when embarrassed. People had to be lined up to get inside his operating room.
He cleared his throat and shifted on his feet. “I’ll check on you again in a bit, Mr. Ames. Good day, Scarlett.” He moved to turn away.
Oh, no. He couldn’t get away that fast. She had questions. Lots and lots of questions because she wasn’t one to punch a gift horse in the mouth. She and the karmic-forces-that-be were besties. Wasn’t she saying she lacked inspiration? The Universe put this guy in her path for a reason. She was sure of it.
She plucked out a daisy from her bouquet and handed it to him. “I think this particular flower wants to be with you.” Maybe it would reverse his frown. She needed to see what his smile looked like if she wanted to describe it later accurately. Like did it crinkle his eyes, make them sparkle more?
He took the flower and stuffed it back in with the rest—rather rudely.
She pulled the vase back. “Hey, don’t hurt her.”
“You’d best check a person’s allergies before attacking them with … those.” One eyebrow lifted. Not a hint of a smile to be seen.
“Attack? It’s a daisy.”
“Just remove them.”
Scarlett had learned to size up people fairly quickly. It was one of her gifts. This man wasn’t able to be bossed around—at all. Rather, he did the ordering.
Oh. My. God. He truly was Kadyn Carmichael. In fact, Dr. Stevens was exactly what she needed in her character.
Good looking. Authoritarian. Commanding voice. Confidence. Good job. I think.
“Cardiology,” she said to him. “Does it pay well?” She drew out her phone. She’d never remember anything in the wake of his blue eyes if she didn’t take notes.
Again, his eyebrows inched northward. “Are you asking about my salary?”
“That would be super helpful. Thanks.”
He shook his head, his lips finally moving in the direction of “up,” though not fully. “Mr. Ames. Scarlett.” He angled himself slightly in a half bow.
“Oh, that’s good.” She began to tap. Good manners.
He spun on his heel without so much as a goodbye.
She followed him out, and just outside the door, she put her hand on his arm. Firm forearm, she noted. He probably played squash. All doctors did, didn’t they? “Excuse me, sir, you got a minute?” Guys like him enjoyed being called sir, right?
“I’m afraid I don’t.”
“Maybe we could book time later to talk?”
He continued to walk away, forcing her to jog after him. Unfortunately, her flip-flops did not behave at all as they slapped on the floor, creating an echo, and the flower arrangement sploshed all over her hands, their little daisy heads bobbing. “I’m sorry, girls.”
He stopped and turned to her. She also got a familiar side-eye from a nurse she didn’t recognize. Whatever. Someone in this town was always judging her.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to offend. I was just hoping to get an interview. It’s purely professional.”
“I don’t speak to journalists.”
“I’m a writer. A novelist.”
She snorted. “Oh, no. I write fiction.”
His eyes glittered. “As I said, same thing.” He seemed a bit amused, which only increased his attractiveness score. “Miss Scarlett—”
A laugh burst out of her, which she slapped back down. “Sorry. But that sounded straight out of Gone with the Wind. Don’t get me wrong. I get that all the time. Like was your mother obsessed with the old South? And then I have to explain the whole thing about how I got my name from the game Clue and—”
He gave a slight shake of his head. “I have rounds to make.”
“You put your patients first, don’t you?”
“You are a hero,” she breathed. His characteristics were killing her—all in a good way. Like making her lady parts come fully alive.
A shy smile formed on his face—finally. “I-I’m sure you’re a lovely woman, but—” He raised his hand, actually putting it right in her face. “I have no interest in anyone right now. I’m sure you’ll find someone suitable elsewhere.”
He thought she was flirting with him. “Oh, I see. Don’t worry. I’m not trying to get under your scrubs. I’m sure everyone with ovaries in this place probably is trying to drag you into break rooms and cop a feel under the operating table. I mean,” she waved her free hand up and down in the direction of his torso, “look at you. And a cardiologist? With those blue eyes? I have to thank you. For being here. I’m looking for hero inspiration for my book.”
“I’m not what you’re looking for.” And then he did stride away—with some velocity, she noted. Which only gave her a great view of his broad shoulders in that lab coat. They were at least a ten out of ten on her Man Measurement scale. Yep, he played squash, alright. That meant his butt also had to be amazing.
“Maybe you’ll change your mind? About the interview?” she asked, hopefully.
“I won’t,” he called without looking back.
“But you might,” she said as he turned the corner. A nurse hissed a big shush her way.
She pointed in the direction where Dr. Stevens disappeared. “Where did he come from? And why did no one call me?”
“Keep your voice down,” the nurse shout-whispered. “We have sick patients.”
“Sorry. It’s just …” She didn’t have the right words. She waved her hand in his direction. “He is in the building.”
“Dr. Stevens. I know.” She smirked. “He’s gotten the same reaction from every female in this place.”
“Some of the men, too, I’d say.” In fact, he was so appealing that she had to use him as her character.
She sidled up to the nurse. Passed a glance at her nametag. “Jeanette, beautiful.” She set the daisies down on the ledge of the station. “You like flowers? Like to take a break for a little chat?”
Want to read more? Because you know Scarlett rarely takes “no” for an answer. 😉
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