Authors: Suzanne Ferrell
Tags: #Contemporary Romance Novel
Close To Home
By Suzanne Ferrell
hat you need is a man in your life, Emma.”
Emma Lewis rolled her eyes at the comment and stacked a pile of celery to chop.
Luckily, she had her back to her boss, Lorna Doone—named after the cookie—the owner of the Peaches ’N Cream café. Not that Lorna would fire her for the action. Lorna thought of herself as the unofficial matchmaker of Weston. Almost daily, she carried on about some part of someone’s life in the small Ohio town.
Apparently today was Emma’s turn.
“What I need is to get this prep work done before the lunch crowd gets here.” She looked through the pass-through window to where her twin sons sat on stools eating their breakfast at the café’s counter. “Benjamin and Brian, I better see all that oatmeal gone or no cookies for later. You hear me?”
“Yes, ma’am,” they both muttered, shoving spoonfuls of oatmeal in their mouths.
She glanced at the elderly lady seated next to the boys. Her mother stared off into space, something she’d been doing a little more since Daddy passed away back in the spring. “You okay, Mama?”
Isabelle Lewis blinked then smiled. “Why yes, dear. And Lorna’s right. You do need a man in your life.”
“Not you, too, Mama.” Emma shook her head and began chopping. “Besides, I already have two men in my life.” She winked at her sons, which sent them into fits of small boy giggles.
“Mom’s right, Em,” Rachel, Lorna’s daughter, chimed in as she filled the ketchup bottles lined up in a row on the lunch counter. “You need someone, tall, dark, handsome…”
“Like the doc’s nephew,” Harriett, the doc’s nurse, said between sips of Lorna’s sweet tea.
“Yeah, him.” Rachel leaned one elbow on the counter. “He’s so…hot. That’s who you need to hook up with, Em.”
“Harriett, don’t you have patients to see?” Emma peeled two onions and halved them on the cutting board.
“Clint’s never been married, has he, Harriett?” Lorna carried out a tray of clean glasses and began lining them up next to the soda fountain.
“No. He came close about a year ago then it all sort of fell apart. Doc and Caroline were concerned about him for a while, but now he’s staying in Weston while the Doc takes Caroline cruising around the world.”
“The poor guy’s heartbroken and in need of a good woman.” Rachel looked at Emma through the pass-through. “Someone like our Em, huh?”
“Of course. Besides, Emma works too hard. A man to take care of her would be so wonderful.” Mama picked up her toast and scooted down next to Harriett. “How long will Clint be in town this time?”
Emma diced the onion into smaller and smaller pieces.
Dear God, save her. Lorna, Harriett and now her mother. The only person missing was the minister’s wife and there’d be no stopping them until they had her dating and marrying the fill-in doctor. Been there, done that, got the T-shirt. Her ex, Dwayne Hazard, cured her of ever trusting a doctor under fifty again. Especially not one as handsome as she remembered Clint Preston.
For a moment she studied her sons, their copper-colored hair shining in the early morning light, heads bent together as they whispered something back and forth. Those were the only two good things she’d gotten from her ex.
She grabbed three roasted chicken breasts and peeled the skin off, then the bones.
“The poor girl hasn’t dated anyone since coming home with the boys. Of course they were so small then, they took both of us all day to care for. And they certainly need a father,” her mother said.
“That was nearly seven years ago, Isabelle. It’s time for her to find someone.” Lorna leaned over the counter.
“I’m standing right here,” Emma called from the kitchen as she lined the chicken up and chopped with a vengeance.
“What we need is a way to get her to meet the doc’s nephew.”
“Maybe she could come down with something,” Rachel chimed in, her shoulders shaking with hidden mirth.
Emma shot her an I’m-going-to-hurt-you glare.
Rachel’s shoulders shook harder.
“No, we wouldn’t want him to see her sick,” Lorna said, slipping a straw between her lips and chewing on the end. Since she stopped smoking, she’d taken up straw chewing to fill the need for oral fixation.
“Oh, dear no,” Mama agreed. “The poor child gets all pale and splotchy when she’s running a fever. You remember last winter when she had bronchitis, don’t you?”
Harriett nodded. “Sure do. Wasn’t a pretty sight at all. What we need is a minor injury.”
you, you know.”
What she needed wasn’t a man. What she needed was a month’s vacation in a sunny place, with a masseuse, good margaritas and a hot tub. Somewhere far away from Weston.
“Oh, yes. Something where he’ll have to stitch her up.”
“See her as a damsel in distress.”
“That’s it! Lorna, I’m taking my break.” Emma dropped her knife, pulled off her apron, grabbed her tea and stomped out the back door.
“What are we going to do with all these chopped vegetables and chicken?” Lorna called after her.
“Add mayo and cranberries for chicken salad, or make potpie. I don’t care!” Emma yelled over her shoulder just before the screen door slammed.
“Poor dear, she really does need someone to help her.”
“A man to love her.”
“What we need is a good accident.”
* * *
STRIPPER SENTENCED TO LIFE IN ABUSED SON’S DEATH.
Clint Preston shook his head at the headline and laid the paper on his desk. Despite the court’s decision, his own sense of failure flooded every pore of his body. If only he’d acted in time he might’ve prevented it.
A silver-haired woman dressed in white entered his office without knocking. Harriett handed him two charts. “You’ve got some customers in exam room one waiting for you, Doc.”
Clint read the names and birth dates on the outside of the files. Then he looked back at the efficient nurse he’d inherited along with the country family practice from his uncle for the next six months. “Twins?”
“Yup. The Lewis twins. Two of the orneriest boys in Doc Ray’s practice. And two of his favorite.” She headed out of the room. “He said they reminded him of you.”
“That bad, huh?” Clint shook off his moroseness and followed her down the hall. “What’re they here for? Check-ups?”
“No. Broken wrist.”
“Which one?” he asked.
Clint looked up from the charts. “Both wrists?”
“No,” Harriett replied. “One wrist.”
“Then both what?” he asked, completely confused.
“Each boy broke a wrist?” Clint knew he’d lost control of this conversation somewhere back in his office.
Harriett nodded. “What one does, the other one does, too.”
When he arrived at the exam room, two redheaded, six-year-old boys sat on the exam table. Dried tears left paths on their freckled faces. Each boy gently cupped a limp hand. One boy held his right wrist, the other boy held his left.
Suddenly the vision of another little boy filled Clint’s mind. A small body, broken and limp on the table of the emergency room. No breathing. No pulse. Battered. Broken.
“You ain’t the doc,” said the boy on the right, snapping Clint out of his own nightmare.
“This is Dr. Clint, Benjamin,” Harriett explained.
“You a real doc?” asked the second boy. He was missing his two front teeth.
“Just like Doc Ray...” Clint looked at the second file in his hand for the boy’s name, who was apparently younger by mere minutes. “Brian.”
“Must be a real doc, Ben…” the second boy said to the first.
“…’cause he can tell us apart,” the first one finished. His smile matched his brother’s, missing tooth for missing tooth.
Clint smiled. They certainly weren’t shy. He pulled up a seat next to the table. “So, guys, tell me what happened here.”
“I jumped out of the tree,” Benjamin said.
“And fell on your brother, right?” guessed Clint.
“Nope.” Brian grinned up at him. “I jumped too.”
Clint looked at Harriett for an explanation.
She simply shrugged and turned away. “I told you. What one does the other has to do, too. I’ll set up the x-ray machine.”
“Wait a minute, Harriett.” Clint stopped her at the doorway. “Where’s their mother?”
“Home in bed, I suppose.”
Clint hated his nurse’s brusque answers. He waited for her to explain. Her expression told him he’d have to ask. “All right, I’ll bite. Why is their mother home in bed in the middle of the day, instead of here with her sons? And while you’re at it, maybe you can tell me how they got here by themselves.”
“Emma works the afternoon-to-close shift over at the Peaches ‘N Cream Café,” was all the explanation his nurse gave before she disappeared down the hall.
He turned back to the boys, more confused than ever.
“Mommy wants to deliver babies,” Benjamin volunteered.
“She does, huh?” Clint gave the boys a reassuring smile.
“Yeah,” Brian chimed in. “But she’s busy delivering blue plate specials instead.”
This sounded like a direct quote to Clint. Did the woman resent helping support her sons? And just how did she want to deliver babies? “Do you want her to deliver babies?”
“Yep. We want her to deliver us a baby sister.”
This caught Clint completely off guard and he laughed. “I don’t think your mom can just bring you a sister, guys.”
“Then how’re we gonna get one?” Brian asked.
This was a tricky one. “Well, you could always ask your dad,” Clint suggested.
“We don’t got one, Doc Clint,” Benjamin said. Brian nodded his head in agreement.
Clint shook his head a moment. Another fatherless family. How many had he seen over the years? “Well, guys, I guess you’ll just have to talk to your mom about getting you a sister, then. But she still can’t just bring one home from the hospital.”
“I told you, Bri. Moms have to grow them inside their bellies like the rabbit mom did.” Benjamin gave his brother a shove that sent him flying off the edge of the exam table. Clint grabbed Brian before he could injure himself further.
“Hey, let’s not break anything else before I get those arms fixed, okay?” He set Brian beside his brother.
“You gonna take pictures of our arms with that big machine back there?” Benjamin pointed out the exam room door and down the hall to where Harriett worked in the x-ray room.
“That’s the only way I can tell how bad you guys have hurt your arms, Benjamin.” Clint gave them a reassuring pat on each of their knees. “But I promise it won’t hurt a bit.”
“Oh, we know that,” Benjamin said. “Doc Ray took pictures of our heads last winter...”
“...when we crashed into the tree at the bottom of Yoder Hill on our sleds,” Brian finished.
Clint studied the two young daredevils with renewed appreciation. Yoder Hill was infamous. Every Christmas, when they visited his aunt and uncle, he and his sisters and brothers had joined the local kids to sled down that hill. And every year one of them crashed into that huge oak at the bottom.
“If it didn’t hurt last winter, it shouldn’t hurt this time either.” He helped each boy off of the table then headed out of the exam room. When he didn’t hear two sets of footsteps behind him, he turned to find both boys rooted to the spot.
He walked back to them. “Don’t you guys believe me?”
“We believe you,” Benjamin said, his younger brother nodding in agreement.
Clint hunkered down in front of them. “Then what’s the problem?”
“Lollipops,” came the brief answer from behind him.
He looked over his shoulder at his nurse. “What do lollipops have to do with x-rays, Harriett?”
She handed one to each of the boys as she answered. “Don’t you remember? Doc Ray always gives his patients a magic lollipop so the picture will turn out fine. Isn’t that right, boys?”
The twins nodded as they popped their treats into their mouths and trotted off down the hall behind the nurse.
How could he forget those magic lollipops? Clint chuckled to himself as the trio disappeared into the x-ray room of the clinic. He’d had his share of them as a child in this very room. Now he knew exactly why those two reminded his uncle of him. When he was their age he’d been in just as many scrapes. Instead of dragging a twin into his trouble with him, he’d dragged his two younger brothers along.
If it hadn’t been for his uncle’s stabilizing influence in their lives, he, his brothers, and sisters might have turned out as some kids from broken homes did; in trouble with the law, on drugs, or living on welfare. Only because of his mother’s determination that they all succeed, and his uncle’s part in their lives as a male role model, had they become successful professionals.
While he waited for the films to be developed, and the boys safely under Harriet’s watchful eye, Clint walked to the kitchen/staff lounge of the clinic his aunt and uncle had lived and worked in for years. They had converted the lower level of the building into a medical clinic—complete with exam rooms, suture room, x-ray and office, while upstairs was a comfortable three-bedroom apartment for them.