Authors: Jill Shalvis
Complete with exhaustion, sweaty shakes and a killer headache. She'd been plagued by a pesky tropical virus for years, more so lately, since she'd opened the clinic, but she didn't intend to let it get her again.
She'd caught the virus in Bora-Bora years ago while there as a child with her missionary parents, and ever since she'd been susceptible to it. She'd been extra careful, getting rest, eating right—not difficult since she loved food—and for the most part ate extremely healthy. If one didn't count her secret and shameful chocolate addiction.
Oh, wait, she'd given up chocolate. Really. And not because her mother had a tendency to be chunky and Faith was afraid of getting the same way, but because she wanted to practice what she preached. She wanted to live a healthy life.
Her body just didn't always agree with her. "I'm fine," she told Shelby.
"Why don't you do an herbal treatment today? Or better yet, let me do it for you?"
"Maybe." She needed to get the clinic back on track first. It shouldn't take too much. For the most part, the clinic itself was successful. People loved the services they offered. The problem was that most insurance plans didn't cover those services, so she was forced to charge far less than she should. As a result, she was understaffed, and didn't have the budget to hire more people.
The good news … Dr. Walker's services were going to be free. For three months.
"Do you really think Dr. Walker is going to help us?"
"Yes, and before you ask … he's late. I know."
Shelby looked at her watch again. "Twenty bucks says he's not going to show."
He'd better—the hospital had promised he'd be here with bells on, and a smile to boot, doing his best to give support and reverse any publicity damage he'd caused.
Faith was counting on it. Dr. Luke Walker was extremely well respected in the community. People listened to him. With any luck, he'd be far kinder to the clinic once he'd seen them in action, and he'd spread the word. "He'll show."
"Okay, but only a few minutes until patients arrive, and if he's not here…"
"I know, I know." Back-Up City, with patients grumbling, complaining,
something she couldn't let happen.
Still, they waited fruitlessly for him for thirty minutes, and when they were indeed backing up, getting behind schedule, Shelby and Faith again met in the hallway with twin worried expressions.
"It is his usual day off," Faith said. "Maybe he's sleeping in by accident."
"Then we're screwed."
"No we're not." Nothing if not determined, she grabbed her keys. "Tell me we have his address."
"It's on your desk." Shelby smiled. "Going to haul him out of bed?"
"If need be. I know we're already so backed up, but if I get another practitioner in the house, it'll be worth me leaving for a little while." Faith chewed her lip. "Better wish me luck."
"Oh yeah, I'll wish you luck. You're going to need it."
* * *
Faith stood outside Dr. Luke Walker's house on the coast and knocked again. When no one answered, she checked the address against the piece of paper she held. It had to be right. The house was a block-and-glass palace fit for a prestigious doctor, as was the forest-green Jaguar in the driveway.
She glanced at her late-eighties Ford Escort and sighed. She wasn't a confrontational person by nature despite her innate stubbornness and her fondness for being right. Truth was, in a fight she figured she'd roll over like a puppy and show her belly. But with her clinic's destiny at stake, she felt like a protective momma bear.
Make that a mountain lioness, and her claws were out.
The curse of the redheaded temperament, she supposed, and self-consciously patted her long, red—and unruly—hair. Well, tough. He'd asked for her temper by being late. He had a duty, this Saturday and every Saturday for the next three months, to her and the clinic.
She knocked again, louder now. Waited with what she thought was admirable patience. And started tapping her foot when no one answered. She glanced back at the car that assured her someone was indeed home.
And knocked yet again, listening with some satisfaction to the echo of her pounding as it reverberated through the house.
Sleeping, was he? Damn the man, snoozing blissfully while her life went down the tubes—
Then the door whipped open, and suddenly she was staring right at a man's bare chest. Tilting her head up, and up, she found her Dr. Luke Walker, and swallowed hard.
She'd heard about him, of course, in the occasional article in the newspaper, especially once he'd made his infamous comments about her clinic. But Dr. Luke Walker in the flesh was like nothing she'd ever experienced. He was leaner, harder than she'd expected, the lines of his face more stark, his nearly naked body far tougher than she would have imagined.
"Yes?" His vivid blue eyes had landed right on her, and for some odd reason she couldn't find her tongue much less form a sentence.
His dark, slightly wavy hair was short and bed-ruffled, his mouth grim. At her silence, a muscle in his cheek ticked.
Oh, and he wore nothing but low-slung sweatpants that he hadn't bothered to tie.
Bad attitude personified, all one hundred eighty pounds of him.
Clearly, she'd indeed gotten him out of bed, and yet there was nothing even halfway sleepy about his searing gaze as it swept over her. "Who are you and why are you trying to knock my door down?"
"Faith McDowell," she said, trying really hard not to notice all his corded muscles and sinews, all his smooth, tanned skin. For some reason the sight of him, up close and personal and practically naked, made her feel a little insecure.
"Well, Faith McDowell, what do you want?"
"I…" What did she want? Oh, yes, her clinic, her
Her lioness claws came back out. "I came to drive you to the clinic, because clearly, your car isn't working, which would explain why you didn't show up at the clinic an hour ago when you were supposed to."
He just looked at her.
She tried valiantly not to look at her watch or rush him along. "We have patients scheduled for you, remember?"
Tell me you remember.
"I remember." He said this in a voice that assured her going to the clinic was the last thing he wanted to do, right after, say, having a fingernail slowly pulled out. "I just wish I didn't."
"So … your alarm neglected to go off?" This time she didn't hold herself back and purposely glanced at her watch. And then nearly panicked at the time.
"It isn't time for it to go off."
"Right, because as a doctor, you can breeze into the clinic more than an hour
it's opened, with no concern for how that would throw off our schedule." How could she have forgotten the arrogant God complex of doctors? "Look, I'm sorry you don't want to do this, but we have a full load of patients today. Thanks to your tardiness, we're already far behind. The longer I stand here waiting for you, the worse it's going to get."
"If we get much more behind before lunch, trust me, it's not going to be pretty."
He ran a hand over his jaw, and the dark shadow there rasped in the morning silence. "I was told 9:00 a.m."
"That's not what I was told."
A misunderstanding then. Fine. Annoying, but they could get past this. "I'm sorry, but you were told wrong."
He scratched his chest, the one she was trying not to gape at. Obviously, he did something other than treat patients all day long because that body of his was well-kept, without a single, solitary inch of excess.
"I wouldn't have agreed to seven," he said. "Seven is too early."
"Well, for three months' worth of weekends, get used to it." Surely, it had to be against the law to be so mouth-wateringly gorgeous and such an insensitive jerk at the same time. It was his fault he was in this spot. People were waiting for him right this very second, though she imagined that was the story of his life. Dr. Luke Walker had been born to heal, or so legend claimed at South Village Medical Center, one of the busiest hospitals in all of Southern California. His hands held and delivered miracles every single day. His patients worshipped him because of it.
The people who worked with him; the other doctors, nurses, staff—everyone understood and respected that extraordinary gift, but according to gossip—and there was never a shortage of that in her field—there weren't many who held a great love for him personally. Faith knew much of that was simple pettiness and jealousy. After all, he was only thirty-five, and the rumors predicted he'd be running the hospital by the time he hit forty.
If they could fix his habit of speaking his mind, that is.
Because while he was astonishingly compassionate and giving and tender with his patients, he did not generally extend those people skills to anyone else, such as the people he worked with. Faith had heard the stories and figured he didn't mean to be so gruff and hurried and impatient, he just didn't suffer fools well.
But now, she had to wonder if maybe he was just missing the be-nice-to-people gene. "I realize this isn't important to you, working at the clinic, but you promised."
He let out a rough sound that managed to perfectly convey his annoyance, and for Faith, it was the last straw.
"And really, this is your own fault anyway," she pointed out. "If you hadn't made that statement that got out to the press saying you thought our clinic was worthless, you wouldn't be stuck paying penance for three months' worth of Saturdays. You could be out golfing—"
"Golfing?" His eyes widened incredulously.
"Or whatever it is you rich doctors do with all the money you make off your patients."
"My God, you have a mouth on you."
Yes. Yes, she did. It had gotten her into trouble plenty of times, but damn it, this was important to her.
Still, what was it her mother had said… You could catch more flies with honey? With a sigh, she swallowed her pride. "I'm … sorry." Not words she used often. "It's just that we really need you."
With his arms crossed over that bare chest, and a frown still masking his chiseled-in-stone face, he looked far more like a thug than a doctor. A beautiful thug, but still a dangerous, edgy one. He let out a disparaging noise, shoved his fingers through his dark hair, making it stick up all the more. "I'd like to get one thing straight here. I never said the clinic was worthless. What I said was I didn't understand why the hospital gave your clinic money when—" He took in her humor-the-jerk expression and broke off. "Okay, forget it. I'll be there soon."
"I'll just wait and drive you."
"That's not necessary."
"I think it is."
"Why? Is there an emergency waiting for me right now?"
"Are you in need of medical attention of any kind?"
"Well, no, but—"
"Then I'll be there. On my own. Soon." He actually turned to go inside the house, dismissing her.
Without stopping to think—a personality disorder she'd been saddled with since childhood—Faith slapped a hand on his front door and held it open. "I'd really rather wait for you."
Still turned away, Dr. Walker let out a long-suffering sigh, which brought her attention upward past the sleek, powerful flesh and sinew of his back to the widest, most tension-filled shoulders she'd ever seen.
Unfortunately, he turned then, and caught her in the act of ogling him. Not a word came out of his mouth, but no words were necessary, not when his highly vexed expression did all his talking for him.
She cleared her throat and tried to ignore the blush that crept over her face. Another redheaded curse. "You
do understand the clinic's already full—"
"Yeah." He closed his eyes, then lifted his hands to his temples. The untied sweatpants shifted down an inch or so on his hips, revealing more flat belly.
A hot flash raced through her body. That pesky tropical virus again. It had to be.
"I don't get it." He sounded baffled. "Why do you even want me there? You know I'm into conventional, modern medicine. The good, old-fashioned, scientific stuff. So—"
"Actually, the alternative means of medicine that we use is the good, old-fashioned way, thousands of years old in some cases. So really, your 'conventional' medicine, at only a couple hundred years old, is the baby."
His jaw ticked again. "I still don't see what massage therapy, aromatherapy, acupressure, yoga and herbs have to do with me."
"The alternative practices can be blended in with the more conventional ones, and with that, we can offer people something more. Something better."
"But I don't know how to treat people that way."
"It's just a way of life," she said. "You'll have plenty to offer. Mostly credibility at first, but…" She broke off when he put his hands on his hips.
Her gaze glued itself to his loose sweat bottoms, her breath blocking in her throat. If they slipped just another fraction of an inch or so—
"Look, I had a really long night." His weary tone drew her eyes back up to his exhausted ones. "And I thought I had an extra few hours. I'll hurry, but I don't need an audience, so if you don't mind—"
"Well actually, I—"
The door shut in her face.
armen showed up in Luke's inside hallway, having clearly just let herself in the back door. She blocked his path to the stairs with that look on her face that told him he was getting no peace until she spoke her mind.
"Gee," she said. "Hard to imagine how a man with all your charm could still be single."
Ignoring her, he headed wearily up the stairs. He'd been up all night, shifting through nightmares that forced him to relive losing six-year-old Johnny Garcia to the war zone that had become Los Angeles. "Just wake me in ten minutes, okay?" If he could catch a few more minutes, he'd be okay. He'd be human. He'd be able to remember that on most days he loved this life, loved what he did for a living.
"She was a sweet girl," Carmen said, disgusted. "Coming to pick you up. And you chased her off."