Authors: Felicia Mason
The Doctor's New Family
Doctor Spring Darling has everything she needs. A wonderful family and a busy job helping the children of Cedar Springs, North Carolina. She's given up on adding love to that mix. Until the moment David Camden and his adorable son appear in her exam room. Spring assumes David is another down-on-his-luck single parent at the free clinicâbut looks can be deceiving. Because David has a jobâhe's the architect proposing a new development in the middle of Spring's land! When the truth is revealed, can Spring find a way to keep both her home and the blessing of new love?
David Camden had played her for a fool.
“I have nothing to say to you,” she told him.
“Let me explain,” David said.
“Explain? You lied to me.”
“I did no such thing,” David said.
“First, you let me believe you were homeless and nowâ” she gestured toward his large portfolio “âyou gave a lie of omission.”
“Did I?” he asked.
He'd arrived at the community care clinic with Jeremy in his arms. She'd just assumedâ¦
Embarrassed, Spring glanced at the floor. “I've beenâ¦” she started, then looked up to meet his gaze. She'd made a major error in judgment, maybe in an attempt to quell the almost immediate attraction she'd had toward him. An attraction that was overwhelming.
“I made some assumptions,” she told him. “I'm sorry, David.”
He sighed, the anger seeming to drain from him.“I didn't mean to lose my temper with you,” he said. He nodded toward the room they'd recently vacated. “I wasn't prepared for that type of reception.”
“You should have. You're here to steal my land.”
is a journalist who writes fiction in her free time. Her Love Inspired novel
was a finalist for the 2005 RITAÂ® Award from Romance Writers of America. She has been a college professor, a Sunday school teacher and a member of several choirs. When she is not writing, she enjoys reading, traveling to new places, scrapbooking and quilting. She resides in Virginia.
Books by Felicia Mason
The Single Dad Finds a Wife
THE SINGLE DAD
FINDS A WIFE
Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.
Love is patient, love is kind.
Thank you to Denise P. Jeffries, RN,
for providing medical and clinical information for this novel. Any mistakes here are mine.
he last thing on David Camden's mind was romance. He had enough complications in his life already without adding the type that generally accompanied females, especially ones his best friend tried to set him up with.
More importantly, he had no babysitter. And he couldn't very well show up at the biggest meeting of his career with a cranky four-year-old in tow.
He had been keeping tabs on the atmosphere in town and reading the articles about the opposition to his project. The online edition of the
Cedar Springs Gazette
carried full coverage, including a slew of testy letters to the editor questioning the need, efficacy and motivation for the project. It was frustrating to know he was walking into Cedar Springs, North Carolina, at a decided disadvantageâbefore he could even present his ideas for a new mixed-use development.
Historical societies and their hysterical members were the bane of his existence.
“Daddy, my stomach hurts.”
David looked up from the open laptop on the desk. Jeremy sat on the pullout sofa in the hotel room they were calling home for the next few days. He closed the email from his best friend; the missive spouted the attributes of someone named Susan that she wanted him to go on a blind date with. As if he had time to date. He was a single dad with a floundering business to run.
“Hey, buddy,” he said, rolling the desk chair over to the sofa. “What's this about a tummy ache?”
David crouched before his son. He pressed his hand to the boy's forehead and frowned.
Jeremy had a fever.
Guilt flashed through David. His son hadn't been cranky because he was four. Jeremy had been irritable and out of sorts because he was sick.
David wiped a hand over his face and weighed his options. They were few. A sick kid and important business meetings coming up.
He sighed. It was moments like this that he really missed having the support of a wife.
He didn't know any doctors here in Cedar Springs, let alone where he might find one at this time of the night. It was already after seven, probably closer to eight. He'd lost track of time with emails and reading the online newspaper.
So he did what anyone else in his situation might do: he called the front desk and asked for recommendations.
* * *
Dr. Spring Darling was looking forward to tonight. The Magnolia Supper Club's dinner meetings were always a highlight after a busy workday. And following the stress of this week, she needed the therapy of a relaxing evening with good friends and stimulating conversation that had nothing to do with work. They'd probably review the latest data they'd each gleaned about the mayor's proposed boondoggleâa condo development and shopping centerâas if the city needed more of either.
She logged her notes from the last patient and was heading toward the volunteer lounge at the Common Ground Free Clinic and Health Center when a ruckus at the front receptionist's desk caught her attention.
“I'm sorry, sir. We're closed for the evening. The emergency room at Cedar Springs General canâ”
“You don't understand,” he said. “I...I can't go to the hospital. I was told to come here. Please, is there a doctor who can see him?”
The clinic's hours made no difference to Spring when a patient was in need. She quickly made her way back to the front, where Shelby Peters was trying to send a man on his way.
The man was holding a small boy in his arms and pleading with the free clinic's by-the-book receptionist.
“What seems to be the problem?” Spring said, stepping forward.
The man's gaze connected with hers, and Spring felt as if a bolt of lightning had hit her. She knew there were people who claimed to know on first sight that someone was The One. Spring had always been the practical Darling sister and didn't believe in such nonsense. Getting to know someone over time, discovering mutual interests, shared values and overall compatibilityâthose were the qualities that mattered, the elements that determined if a relationship had a chance at being successful. But this was different, and her breath caught from just one look at the man.
The feminine side of her noted his dark eyes, sandy hair and the way he held the boy. She sensed in him a quiet compassion and strength, something that appealed to her on a visceral level. Spring wondered at her reaction to the man as she registered the flushed look of the boy's face. Tamping down thoughts of relationships and the appeal of a dark-eyed stranger, the clinician in her was already running through the paces, assessing the child's demeanor.
“Dr. Darling, you can't keep doing this,” Shelby said. “The clinic is not a twenty-four-hour operation.”
“Maybe it should be,” Spring said. Then to the man holding the boy, she said, “I'm Dr. Darling. Follow me.”
“Exam room five is prepped,” Shelby said, resignation in her voice.
Spring led the way to the examination room. As they went down the hall, she asked, “What are his symptoms?”
“He was complaining about a stomachache earlier,” he said. He put his precious load on the white-paper-covered examination table in the room. “I thought it was too many jelly beans. We got them free at a shop downtown.”
Spring nodded. “Sweetings,” she said as she went to a small sink, washed her hands and then slipped on a pair of examination gloves. “They give kids free samples.”
“The lady must have felt sorry for himâor us,” the man told her. “She filled a big bag and gave them to Jeremy. I didn't think he'd eaten that many.”
Spring checked the boy's vitals.
“He has a temperature,” he continued. “I don't have a thermometer, so I don't know how high, but...”
“It's a low-grade fever,” Spring confirmed a moment later. “You said his name is Jeremy?”
The man nodded, his gaze boring into Spring's. She felt as if she'd been overcome with a fever herself. She found it disconcerting but, oddly, not unpleasant.
Shaking off the sensation, she told herself it was compassion, not attraction. The people who came to the Common Ground Free Clinic often had no other available recourse for health care. While her specialty was pediatrics, she, like all the other volunteer physicians, nurses and physician assistants, practiced general medicine here, doing what she could for the patients on-site and making referrals as warranted. Often the clinic picked up the tab for those specialty referrals.
The free clinic's clients were typically the unemployed or underemployed, the working poor who had low-wage jobs with no or inadequate benefits. And then there were the homeless, an ever-growing population in the city of Cedar Springs.
She wondered which category the man and the boy fell into.
He'd said he couldn't go to the hospital. And then there was the overly generous handout at the downtown bakery and sweetshop. Spring could make a fairly educated guess about their financial situation.
She sent the man a reassuring smile, then gave her full attention to her young patient. “Jeremy, sweetie, does it hurt anywhere?”
He let out a moan in response.
The man winced, a reaction that didn't escape her. He hovered near the top of the table and put his hand on the boy's shoulder.
“My stomach hurts,” came a small voice.
“Well, I'm Dr. Spring, and I'm going to see about that, okay?”
She gave him a cursory exam, feeling along his abdomen and chest, watching his reaction as she pressed or prodded.
The boy moaned again.
“Is he going to be okay?” The father's concern and fear compelled Spring to reassure him in some way, even though she knew she couldn't give him the blanket promise she knew he wanted to hear.
“May I see you for a moment?” she asked him.
He glanced at his son and then nodded. “I'm going to be right over here, buddy. You hang in thereâthe doctor's going to make it better.”
They took a few steps away, just far enough that the child couldn't overhear.
“I'm going to run a few tests,” Spring told him. “Just to be on the safe side. It could be a simple tummy ache, but I don't want to rule out anything else unless I'm sure.”
“Do you know how muchâ” the man began.
Spring interrupted. “You don't have to worry about the cost. Our focus here at Common Ground is wellness and health.”
“I can pay,” he said.
She touched his arm. “It's all right. Really.”
A little moan from the examination table drew Spring's attention back to her young patient.
“Everything will be fine,” she assured the boy's father.
* * *
David didn't know what was more distressing, Jeremy getting sick while they were out of town or this gorgeous doctor thinking he was some kind of deadbeat who couldn't pay for his kid's health-care needs.
And gorgeous she was. Her blond hair, like spun gold sprinkled with shards of sunlight and honey, was pulled up on the sides and clasped with a large barrette to keep it out of her face. She wore simple gold hoops in her ears. Khaki slacks and a crisp white shirt were visible under the unbuttoned white lab coat she had over her clothing.
But something about that name rang a bell with him. What had the receptionist said?
And then he remembered.
Someone named Darling was leading the opposition to his development project.
, David thought.
What else can go wrong?
“I think it's a case of gastroenteritis,” the pretty doctor said.
David groaned. That sounded serious.
“That sounds...it sounds bad,” he said. “Are you sure? Is he going to be okay?”
Dr. Darling smiled and placed a reassuring hand on his arm. Again.
“It sounds much worse than it is,” she said. “Gastroenteritis is what most people call the stomach flu. Has he had anyâ”
“Daddy, I have to go to the bathroom.”
“âdiarrhea or vomiting?” Spring said at the same time.
David's eyes widened as he looked between the boy and the pretty doctor. She pointed toward the door.
“Second door on the right,” she told him.
David scooped up his son and dashed for the rest room.
Twenty minutes later and with his son's diagnosis confirmed, David got instructions from the doctor on what needed to be done.
“He'll need rest and plenty of fluids for the next few days,” Spring said. “It's really easy for the little ones to get dehydrated with this sort of illness. He needs plenty of juice, tea or Gatorade. I'm going to give you a prescription. It's an oral electrolyte replacement. Gatorade has some, but this will ensure that he gets all the fluids and minerals he needs. He may not want much to eat, but be sure you give this to him with food, even if it's just a bit of banana or some peanut butter. The protein will do him good. But be sure he starts with soft foods.”
“Dr. Darling, I'm not sureâ”
“It's already taken care of, Mr.âI'm sorry. I didn't get your name.”
“Camden,” he said. “David Camden.” Then, wondering, he added, “What's already taken care of?”
“The prescription. All you have to do is take this to any pharmacy in town. Common Ground will see to the payment. You just need to make sure Jeremy takes all of the medication, even when he's feeling better.”
Her cheery explanation grated on David. Here he was in Cedar Springs to help develop its economic vitality and all she could see was a loser who needed handouts. That Carolina Land Associates, and thus David Camden himself, was one contract away from just that stung his psyche like salt in an open wound.
For every degree of warmth in her voice, David's dropped until ice chips formed on his words.
“I am not a charity case, Dr. Darling.”