Authors: Jennifer Greene
By Jennifer Greene
Mitch Cochran had been kept from enjoying life to its fullest, but he’s now ready for
love has to offer. He wants much more than just a casual encounter, though. He’s looking for love, and Kay Sanders is the real thing. But when he learns she’s a sex ed teacher, Mitch worries that he’ll be unable to live up to the expectations of this very passionate woman.
Kay can tell Mitch is hiding something, and the less he volunteers about his past, the more intrigued she becomes. Despite kisses that could tempt Kay to go against her own rule of no sex without commitment, Mitch ends each date like the perfect gentleman. Kay soon realizes that if she wants to move their budding relationship to the next level, she’s going to have to take matters into her own hands…
Over the years, so many wonderful readers found me through my Harlequin/Silhouette books…and asked me if the books I wrote under “Jeanne Grant” for Berkley would ever be available. Thanks to Carina Press, they are! Over the next few months, starting in November 2010, two titles will be available every month through next spring.
has a special place in my heart—and it’s a story that readers have never stopped writing me about. At the time, it broke all the rules—breaking rules is something I’ve always loved to do—and undoubtedly, that’s part of why I’ve loved it so much.
Mitch has a problem no romantic hero is supposed to have. Let’s just say that he’s an alpha guy who was deprived of his “alpha” until recently. And Kay, the heroine, thinks of herself as a sophisticated woman with a ton of common sense…none of which is going to help her a bit to deal with a man like Mitch.
I hope I’ve tantalized you! Carina Press worked with me to take out a few outdated phrases and references, but otherwise, this is the same story that won a Silver Medallion from RWA and placed on a variety of bestseller lists when it first came out.
Please feel free to let me know how you like the story—you can find me through my website at www.jennifergreene.com or through my Jennifer Greene author page on Facebook.
Looking forward to hearing from you!
With a violent shiver, Mitch shook the rain from his dark hair and strode briskly up the stairs. Outside, there was a “lalapalooza” of a wind, as they called it in Idaho, and his bulky fisherman’s sweater afforded only minimal protection against the damp, cold morning. The first of November was announcing itself with a vengeance.
At the top of the stairs, he pushed open the heavy steel door and wandered through, automatically turning left into the familiar corridor of Branson’s, the new medical facility halfway between the college towns of Pullman and Moscow. The bright walls of the children’s wing were decorated with cartoon art, while painted rainbows graced the ceilings.
Unfortunately, the cheerful decor in no way muted the unmistakable smells of alcohol and antiseptic. Mitch jammed his hands in the front pockets of his worn, loose cords and felt his teeth instinctively clench, just a little.
Old dreads. He’d spent too many years in hospitals to shake his revulsion for those smells; yet that very revulsion was the reason why he spent so many Saturday mornings here. Antiseptics and fear went together if you were a kid. He knew. The hospital he’d been in had been much older and drearier than Branson’s, and he’d been a few years older than most of the children on this floor, but he understood exactly what they were going through.
Way back when—when he was fifteen, to be exact—his only goals in life had been to play football and to get laid.
One’s goals changed slightly when one had spent thirteen years fighting for survival. A narrow streak of white in Mitch’s dark hair and a deep furrow between his brows bore witness to the change. Still, his face must have retained some traces of that hell-bent-for-trouble teenager, because when the brunette at the nurse’s station glanced up, her eyes sparkled in welcome.
“You’re early, handsome.”
“A little.” He returned her wide grin. Rhoda had soft brown eyes, curly hair and a figure that almost made her nurse’s uniform look seductive. He let his eyes sweep over her a little longer, primarily because she would have been disappointed if he hadn’t.
She fussed hurriedly with the papers in front of her. “You give me that kind of look every time you come in here,” she accused mildly.
“You have terrific legs.”
“Thank you.” She stopped fussing. “Now, are you going to see Peter for me?”
Mitch’s easy smile didn’t falter, but his dark eyes ceased to dance and turned broody and gentle. “He was better last week,” he said shortly.
“Medically, he’s doing fine. Oh, chafing at the traction, but it’s his mother he’s frantic about. She’s his whole family…”
“Last week you said she’d been taken off the critical list.”
Rhoda nodded. “She has been, and in time she’ll be fine. But we can’t let him see her, Mitch. The bandages alone would scare him to bits…especially since he’s convinced something terrible has happened to her. Kay’s already in there, by the way, but never mind—that little boy can use all the company he can get.”
Mitch had already taken a determined stride toward the child’s room when he hesitated, one eyebrow raised curiously. “Who’s Kay?”
“Who’s Kay?” Rhoda echoed in surprise. “How could you not know Kay? You two have been coming here on alternate Saturdays for months. Actually, we figured you two had worked the schedule out between you.”
“Never heard of her.” He took another impatient step down the corridor.
“Hey. Where’s my kiss?” Rhoda hissed in an outraged whisper.
Mitch’s head swiveled back. “There you go again, completely spoiling your image as a tyrant. How do you expect to keep discipline around here when you’re such a sucker for a little kid and a good-looking man?”
“You? Good-looking?” Rhoda lifted her face for a peck on the cheek.
“You’ve still got that key to the back room?”
“You want it?”
“Believe me, I’d give you exactly what you deserve,” Mitch whispered, “except that then you’d have to go back to your husband knowing exactly what you’d missed in life.”
Rhoda chuckled. “Get out of here. And if you cause trouble on the ward today, I’ll hang you by the thumbs, Mitch Cochran.”
you’ve got me shaking.” Mitch rapped his knuckles once on the high Formica counter and stuck his hands in his pockets again as he strode toward room 209.
Flirting, he was discovering, was like riding a bike. One never forgot how to do it. Between adults, the innuendos were a little more sophisticated than between teenagers, but it was basically the same. A hint at forbidden pleasures, a little verbal rush, a slight retreat, the smallest hint of physical contact… Actually, flirting was really a vastly underrated cure for low blood pressure.
Low blood pressure had never been his problem. It was the condition of his heart valves that had prevented him from having a normal life for the past thirteen years. But that was all behind him now.
His life was at a crossroads. He suddenly had to make decisions—about his lifestyle, his career—he’d never thought he’d have the chance. The choices were awesome. Already, he’d had six months of
It had taken him almost that long to get used to just having the commodity.
These Saturday mornings at Branson’s were a reminder of the riches, and in some ways a relief from those decisions most twenty-eight-year-old men had already made. In a dozen ways, Mitch felt older than his years. He knew a great deal about pain and about courage and about the gut strength it took to fight for survival. But he seemed to know very little about how to form relationships that went beyond the superficial—and the ability to reach out to others wasn’t coming easily.
Except with the children, on Saturday mornings. Mitch paused in the open doorway of room 209. The room was a private one; Mitch had already tried to persuade Rhoda to move the boy into a two-bed room. Little ones needed company, not solitude, and this boy even more than most.
Peter was seven, a redhead with more freckles than face. His left leg was in a heavy cast. At a glance, Mitch could see the blotchy red around the youngster’s eyes, as if he had only recently finished crying. However, at the moment Peter’s cheeks were puckered, and he was clearly fighting laughter.
Mitch’s eyes shifted promptly to the source of that miracle. Both amusement and curiosity caused his lips to curve in a smile. Gazing at the woman’s back, he realized this must be the Kay that Rhoda had mentioned. She was evidently acting out a story for the little boy.
“Crrreeeak, went the door,” she whispered dramatically. “Little Archibald’s heart was beating so hard he couldn’t think. Slowly, slowly, he peeked around the corner, and right there, right there in the center of the room, was a monster. A
yellow monster with three eyes, and all of those eyes were crying…”
Silently, Mitch eased his way to a corner from which he could see the woman’s reflection in the mirror over the bureau. Peter was captivated, his eyes huge with curiosity and expectation.
“He wanted a cookie,” Kay said sadly. “That’s all he’d ever wanted in his whole monster’s life—one little cookie.”
“Did Archie give him one?” Peter demanded impatiently. “If it had been me, I’d have given him one.”
“Archibald was terrified out of his wits. This was a terrible-looking monster, yellow and hairy and fat. And he looked
Mitch’s smile grew broader. Kay was trying to describe her monster graphically, by bloating her cheeks and hunching her shoulders and crossing her eyes. Peter giggled.
With a total lack of self-consciousness, Kay mussed up her hair until it was going every which way—evidently trying to reproduce her monster’s hairstyle. She lurched toward the bed, squinting out of one eye and trying to talk out of the side of her mouth. Peter giggled again. “You’re silly, Kay,” he told her.
“Hey. Would you kindly try to get into this?” Kay told him severely. “This is a very scary story.”
“I’m scared, I’m scared,” Peter assured her. “It’s just that I’m so much braver than Archie. What happened about the cookie?”
Mitch couldn’t seem to stop watching her. Somewhere amid all those grossly contorted features was an unusual pair of sherry-brown eyes—big, deep-set and heavily lashed. Neither the bulky red sweater nor her ridiculously hunched shoulders could hide a distinctly feminine set of curves. His eyes lazily drifted from the small rainbow patch on the fanny of her jeans to her soft white throat to the arch of her delicate brows. Her hair was sort of brown, half honey and half coffee-colored, and he speculated that she must normally wear it simply curling to her shoulders. It was hard to tell, when at the moment, it was sticking out in a witch’s tangle.
But it was easy to see the luster of it, as it caught the dull day’s light from the windows. It was also easy to see that she must be a few years younger than he was, and that she was working her little tail off to entertain Peter. Warmth and compassion radiated from her like sun rays. So did a certain spice of humor, and a natural vibrancy that tugged at his curiosity. And if her face would just
long enough for him to be sure, he had a sneaky feeling that she had a very special brand of beauty.
Peter was clearly in love with her. “And they lived happily ever after,” he finished for her. “But I still don’t understand how the monster never got to eat a cookie before. His mom would have given him lots of them.” The little boy chewed on his lower lip. “
mom…” His smile abruptly faltered. “I want,” he said, very quietly, very firmly, “my mom.”
“I know you do, sweetheart.” Aching for him, Kay reached out her fingers to brush the wiry carrot-colored hair off his forehead.
“I want her
” The blue eyes filled up. “They keep telling me she’s okay. She’s
okay. You don’t know my mom. She’d have been here if she knew something had happened to me. I want—”
“Oh, honey.” Kay leaned over and hugged him, her lips pressed to his temples. She wanted to pick up that little frail bundle and rock him so close he couldn’t cry.
A seven-year-old could only understand so much… “She’s fine,” Kay soothed. “You’ve been so very brave—you think I didn’t notice?—and you’re going to see your mother in a few more days. I promise, Petie.”
“No,” he choked. “I’m sick of everybody saying that. Something’s happened to her…”
“Sport?” The deep male voice startled Kay, and she jerked around. “If you really want to see her, we’ll manage it.”
“Mitch!” Peter cried. His two fists hurriedly rubbed the moisture from his eyes.
“You in the mood to take a ride this morning?”
“Down to your mother’s room. We can’t go in, of course. But I can’t think of a reason in he—on earth why you couldn’t talk to her. If you want to.”
“I want to,” Peter breathed.
The stranger cocked his head in Kay’s direction as he moved forward. “So who’s your friend?” he asked Peter.
“Just Kay. Don’t you know Kay?”
“Now I do. Hello, just-Kay.”
Peter giggled. Kay found herself moving forward to accept a mock-formal handshake. “How do you do…?”
“How do you do, just-Mitch,” she said gravely.
“I’m pleased to meet you, just-Kay.”
“No, no,” Peter chortled. “You don’t say
-Kay—it’s just Kay.”
“Isn’t that what I said?” Mitch insisted.
Like windmills, Kay’s hands were hurriedly trying to straighten her hair and tug down her sweater. Unobtrusively. While Peter continued to explain the vagaries of the English language to Mitch, Kay stole a studying glance at the stranger. He was about a zillion feet tall and lanky, all limbs and big hands. His broad shoulders were encased in a fisherman’s sweater, but beyond that he was rather lean. His old cords looked comfortable; his suede boots even more so. His movements were slow and sure, easy.
And he was very lazily, very nonchalantly, raising Peter’s bed to stretcher height. Kay’s eyes widened. “Hey, wait a minute. Are you sure—”
“That I need your help? Very. Hold this for a minute, would you?”
Behind her back, she dropped the brush into her purse. So much for her hair. “Listen,” she started politely, but he was gone, out the doorway. Weakly, Kay offered her most reassuring smile to Peter.
“You don’t have to worry,” the boy told her. “Mitch can do anything.”
“I’m sure he can.” She wasn’t sure of any such thing.
“He can. Honest. And he gets real mad if you tell him
can’t do something.
he says. Just thought I’d warn you.”
“I get the picture.”
Mitch returned moments later with a gurney. Even in the ensuing confusion, Kay noted that he wheeled it around with the assurance of one who has had long experience in stealing hospital equipment. She tried to sneak in a polite “Are you out of your mind?” but she couldn’t seem to get the chance. He was talking nonstop to the child in that deliciously vibrating baritone.
Suddenly, Peter’s leg was elevated on pillows; the child was strapped onto the gurney and giggling to beat the band. For a man with such a lazy economy of movement, this Mitch accomplished a remarkable amount in a very short time, Kay mused. He didn’t give anyone a chance to
More puzzling yet was watching herself help him every step of the way. Still, she balked at the door, her hands determinedly perched on her hips. Kay was no stranger to a moment’s impulse, but the child’s welfare had to be their paramount consideration right now. Her lips parted to fire out at least seven of her ninety-seven concerns, but then Mitch’s eyes met hers, really met hers, for the first time.
She found herself swallowing, and pushing the gurney out into the corridor. Mitch was pulling the other end.
The stretcher wheels made a steady dull rumble on the tile floor. Feeling a little like a gangster’s moll, Kay let her eyes flicker in Mitch’s direction. His face…well, he didn’t look much like a gangster, but beyond that she wasn’t exactly reassured.