Authors: Nancy Fraser,Patti Shenberger
Tags: #historical romance, #post civil-war, #cowboy, #Patti Shenberger, #doctor, #fake engagement, #U.S. Marshal, #Nancy Fraser, #McCade Legacy
In time with the music, Zack whirled her around the dance floor. “I’m fine.”
They made another four or five fluid passes, Zack’s hand possessively at the small of her back.
“You’ve been holding out on me, Marshal,” she said, doing her best to add a teasing lilt to her comment. “You’re an excellent dancer.”
“I didn’t say I don’t know how to dance, just that I don’t.”
“Oh. My misunderstanding then, I guess.”
Zack sighed deeply. “A lawman has a certain persona to maintain. He needs to show a tough exterior.”
“So you think being able to dance makes you a sissy? Are you expecting someone will tease you, Marshal?”
He looked down at her and Suzanne immediately felt the warmth of his glare. “Not if they want to walk out of here the same way they walked in.”
The music had slowed, and Suzanne laid her head against Zack’s shoulder yet couldn’t hide the short giggle that escaped her. “There you go,” she said, still fighting back her urge to laugh. “Drumming up more business for me.”
The party began winding down shortly after eleven. Jake and Felicity had left around ten and the mayor and his wife not long after. Only the musicians and the younger members of the community remained.
Suzanne wanted nothing more than to see the end of the night. Yet it would be in poor taste to leave before their guests, given that the party was being held in their honor. Zack sat at her side and was deep in conversation with Pete Bailey, the two of them discussing the best way to control the influx of people scheduled to arrive for the hotel grand opening in two weeks.
She’d barely said goodbye to Kristine and her new beau, Tom Stiles, when she looked up to see who’d come to the table to say goodbye. At her side, Zack’s conversation came to a halt as well.
“Hello, Suzanne darling.”
The man’s greeting drew Zack to his feet. “Excuse me, but who are you?” Zack asked.
“I’m Jason Pennymaker, M.D. and Dr. Martindale’s fiancé.”
Suzanne met Zack’s thunderous gaze. She drew a deep breath and turned to face the man claiming to be her fiancé. “Jason, what are you doing here?”
“I came to find you, of course. I thought you were settling in St. Louis, but when I got there, they said you’d left.”
“We broke up, Jason. I gave back your ring. Remember?”
He shook his head, as if the very motion could wipe out what had happened between them. “No, we stepped back to assess our career options.” His gaze fell to her hand, and he added, “At least I gave you a ring. I understand from the man there at the door, this is your engagement party. What kind of a lout doesn’t give a woman a ring when he asks her to marry him?”
Zack took a step forward and drew himself up to his full height. “Marshal Zackary McCade, the ‘lout’ engaged to Suzanne. And, although it’s none of your business, I did give her a ring.”
“A ring I see she’s chosen to not wear,” Jason said.
Suzanne wished he’d shut up, if only for his own safety. Although Jason was as tall as Zack, he was definitely not as ruggedly built. Nor did he have any knowledge of fisticuffs or carry a gun.
“I forgot to put it back on after…after…my bath,” she said, hoping to defuse the tense situation.
“This is a private party, Dr. Pennymaker,” Zack said. “Perhaps if you’d like to talk with Dr. Martindale, you can do so on Monday during clinic hours.”
“Yes, of course,” Pennymaker said. “I apologize for the intrusion. I’ve managed to secure a somewhat suitable room at the local boarding house and plan to stay as long as it takes to get this sorted out.”
“There’s nothing to sort out,” Suzanne said. “Our engagement is over, and I’m engaged to Zack now.”
Jason Pennymaker sighed deeply, as if resigning himself to a fate he could not accept. “I understand you’re surprised by my arrival, Suzanne. I’ll come by your little clinic day after tomorrow and we’ll talk. Rationally, like intelligent human beings. I have a wonderful opportunity for you in Knoxville that I think you’ll be interested in hearing about.”
“I have a position, Jason, here in Greenville running not only the clinic but the ten-bed hospital as well. I’m not interested in Knoxville.”
“You might change your mind once I tell you about it,” Jason said.
Suzanne was certain that Jason’s condescending tone and smile were getting on every one of Zack’s nerves. In an effort to get Jason to leave, she told him, “We’ll talk about it on Monday at the clinic. I see patients from nine to noon. You’re welcome to come by anytime after one o’clock.”
Jason bowed graciously. “Until, Monday, my darling.”
Zack turned toward Jason, causing Suzanne to hold her breath in apprehension of what he might say.
“I’ll walk you to the door, Dr. Pennymaker.” Zack’s tone seemed deceptively calm. They’d gone no more than five feet, when Suzanne heard Zack say, “Just for the record, Pennymaker, she’s my darling, not yours.”
Zack and Suzanne arrived at her cottage shortly after midnight. Although he’d not said a word on the carriage ride over, Suzanne was sure Zack would let loose the moment they entered the house. Rather than wait for his verbal explosion, Suzanne took the lead. “Zack, I can explain.”
“There’s nothing to explain. You broke off the engagement and pretty-boy there can’t accept rejection.”
“He’s not a pretty-boy, he’s an accomplished surgeon. And, I
break off the engagement. He did.”
“Well, not in so many words.”
The look on Zack’s face would have been comical had the situation not been so tense. “Perhaps you should explain exactly what happened.”
“We were awaiting final assessment scores after our residency. The top physician was guaranteed a position at the surgical hospital in New York. Jason was confident in the appointment, given the scrutiny women surgeons still face to this day. However, when the final scores came out, I ended up ten full points ahead of everyone and Jason came in second. When the hiring board offered me the position. Jason went totally to pieces. He told me if I truly loved him, I’d decline the offer and make way for him to be offered the job in my place.”
“Why would he want the job knowing he’d been deemed second best?” Zack asked.
“He’d convinced himself the scoring was fixed and they were only offering me the position to show they weren’t prejudiced against women doctors. When I explained I couldn’t be engaged to a man who didn’t want me to be as successful as I could be, he made a crude remark about women doctors sleeping their way through their exams.”
“What’d you do then?”
“First, I slapped him, quite soundly. Then, I pulled the ring from my finger, handed it to him and walked out the door. The next morning, I turned down the position, and accepted another job working with Dr. Dubois Parmalee in the new field of artificial orthopedics.”
“The job that eventually led to you coming to Greenville,” Zack said.
“So if he was given the position in your stead, why is he here and talking about Knoxville?”
“I’m not sure about Knoxville, but before I left New York, someone told me that he’d not lasted more than a couple of months in the new position. Apparently, he left New York in favor of Chicago and that was the last I’d heard of him.”
“Any idea how he tracked you down here?”
“No, unless he was able to access licensing records. I did have to apply for a Mississippi license when I moved here.”
“What do you plan to tell him on Monday?”
Suzanne could see the concern in Zack’s expression and wondered if, perhaps, he was beginning to feel as strongly for her as she was for him. “Obviously, I’m going to reiterate that his and my engagement is over.”
“What about the job in Knoxville?” Zack reached out and laid his hand against her cheek. “You know I’d never stand in your way if it were truly a wonderful opportunity. However, you might have trouble leaving town. There are at least a hundred people who wouldn’t want you to go.”
Are you one of them, Zack? Would my leaving make a difference to you?
“I’ll listen to what he has to say. After all, he did come all this way to find me. However, I am content with my position here. The town is growing, more young women are getting married which means more will be having babies. I want to specialize in women’s health, in addition to my general medical practice.”
“Why don’t we let this drop for now? I’m sure there are far more interesting things we can talk about than your ex fiancé.”
“Really, like what?”
“Oh, I don’t know. You could give me some more anatomy lessons, if you’d like,” Zack said, effectively changing the subject.
Zack awoke, as always, just before dawn the next morning.Suzanne slept soundly beside him. Rather than wake her with a kiss, he slipped quietly from the bed and dressed in the dark. He needed to leave, not just for propriety’s sake, but because he still wasn’t certain how he felt about the unexpected arrival of her former fiancé and even less certain of what thoughts were running through Suzanne’s beautiful head.
He had the urge to wake her and tell her he’d meet her at the clinic after lunch, in case she needed moral support. Yet, to do so would be saying he didn’t trust her judgement. Instead, he stole away in the pre-dawn light, doing his best to convince himself his eagerness to leave was due to the fact he had reports to prepare regarding Ripley and McGinty and get them sent off to the marshal’s office in Jackson.
At five minutes past one the bell above the clinic door rang, signaling the arrival Suzanne had been dreading all day. She stood from her desk and started toward the open waiting area.
“Suzanne?” Jason called out. “Are you here?”
“Yes, Jason,” she said. “I’m right here.”
“Where’s Marshal McCade? I assumed he’d be here to make sure I didn’t spirit you away.”
“Zack is anything but an insecure man. He knows it would take more than an ex-fiancé to pull me away.”
“What about an ex, or not so ex, with an exceptional professional opportunity?”
“There’s no question as to whether or not we’re exes, Jason. I gave you back the ring for a reason. You couldn’t face the fact I’d finished on top of the rankings. You verbally insulted me, and every other female physician, all because you were angry at being bested.”
“And I tried to apologize but you wouldn’t let me.”
“Sometimes, Jason, there are words that can’t be taken back no matter how much you apologize. And besides, it wasn’t your insult that hurt me. It was the realization that you expected me to give up something I’d worked so hard for just so you could have it.”
“Is there somewhere we can talk a bit more private than this waiting room?” he asked.
As reluctant as she was to spend any more time than necessary in Jason’s presence, she couldn’t just send him away without hearing what he had to say. “We can go into my office.”
Suzanne led the way down the narrow corridor and stepped inside her office, offering Jason the seat opposite her desk.
Once she’d taken her seat, Jason opened the small portfolio he carried and took out a drawing of a hospital. “This is a sketch of the new hospital they’re building in Knoxville,” he explained. “I’ve been hired as the administrator and charged with hiring the best staff we can find.”
“There are hundreds of qualified physicians in Tennessee. You didn’t need to come looking for me.”
“I know you want to specialize in surgeries for women. You said so at least a dozen times. This new hospital will have a complete women’s section with its own operating theatre. You’ll be able to perform surgical births and other life-saving surgeries. We need a head of women’s health and that could be you.”
Suzanne couldn’t deny the fact that she was tempted by the opportunity. Yet, the people of Greenville, and Zack especially, seemed as important to her as Jason’s offer.
“I came close to performing a surgical birth, just last month.”
“Think of how exhilarating it would be to do one a week and in brand new, pristine conditions.” He paused, as if considering his next works carefully. “Not only would this be a wonderful opportunity for you, but it could be a new beginning for us.”
Suzanne met Jason’s gaze, as if drawing his attention directly to her would help him absorb what she was about to say. “There never will be an ‘us’, Jason. Not ever. I’m engaged to Zack and I fully intend to stay engaged to Zack.”
“I’m sorry, Suzanne, but given your background, your upbringing, I can’t understand what you see in such a ruffian, a man who makes it his job to shoot people.”
“That ‘ruffian’ as you put it, comes from excellent lineage and chooses to do a very difficult job protecting not only the people of Greenville, but also the residents of the state of Mississippi. And he does it with integrity.”
Jason stared at her for the longest time before asking, “Do you love him?”
Suzanne thought of sidestepping his question, but then decided the truth would hold more impact. “Yes,” she said finally. “I love him with all my heart.”
Jason sighed deeply and then leaned forward in his chair. “I’m scheduled to leave on the stage day after tomorrow,” he told her. “I will make every effort before I leave to convince you to come with me, even if it means bringing along your marshal. Surely they need qualified lawmen in Knoxville as well.”
“I couldn’t ask Zack to leave his family,” she said.
“Not even for the professional opportunity of a lifetime?”
Suzanne had no answer, at least not one she cared to share at that moment. “I have rounds to do, Jason. We can talk again tomorrow after I’ve spoken with Zack.”
“When should I come by?”
“Clinic hours tomorrow are ten to three, with a break for lunch at one. You may come by during lunch break or after three.”
“I’ll wait until the afternoon,” he told her. “I want to make sure you’ve had plenty of time to discuss this opportunity with the marshal.” Jason stood and nodded in her direction. “I’ll see myself out, Suzanne, but I will be back.”
Suzanne sat for the longest time pondering Jason’s offer. She shuffled through the patient charts scattered across her desk and reflected on the morning’s patients. One had a severe case of gout, the other a strained muscle in her wrist, mostly likely caused by the repetitive action of churning butter. A third, her most challenging case of the morning, entailed identifying a rash on a very sensitive part of the patient’s anatomy. She’d had to quell her urge to smile when she’d told the young man that he should be more careful where he took his girlfriend to picnic. Baring one’s body amid a patch of poison ivy would only lead to trouble.
She thought of the hospital Felicity’s inheritance had financed, and of how hard they’d all worked to make it a safe and comfortable place to seek medical care. Even with all the updated medical equipment they’d added, it was a far cry from a new building with large wards and separate operating rooms for each department.
The idea of suggesting to Zack that he come with her to Knoxville danced like a new toy in a small child’s hand. He’d already left his family home in New Orleans to come to Greenville. Why wouldn’t he be willing to go with her to Knoxville?
Because your engagement isn’t real. It’s only for convenience and show
. The taunt of her conscience nearly brought her to tears. How could she leave Zack, just when she’d admitted she loved him?
And yet, if she were being true to herself, to her life-long ambition, how could she not accept the job she was being offered?
Suzanne buried her head in her hands and closed her eyes in search of an answer. Like most difficult answers, it stood off to the side and demanded she figure it out for herself.