White Wedding for a Southern Belle

BOOK: White Wedding for a Southern Belle
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Dear Reader
,

I've had a love affair with Savannah, Georgia, for over thirty years. I should—I spent my honeymoon there! The setting of this book made it extra-fun to write. When my fabulous fellow Medical author Lynne Marshall suggested that we place our Summer Brides books in Savannah I didn't hesitate to agree.

I knew who my characters would be as well. Ashley, a feisty local politician who believes deeply in improving her community, and Kiefer, a doctor who starts a clinic in the neighbourhood. These two have so much in common, but both have such strong personalities they almost can't get past themselves to see the love they have for the other.

It was an exciting story to write, and I hope you enjoy reading it. I love to hear from my readers. You can find me at
susancarlisle.com
.

Susan

SUSAN CARLISLE
's love affair with books began in the sixth grade, when she made a bad grade in maths. Not allowed to watch TV until she brought the grade up, Susan filled her time with books. She turned her love of reading into a passion for writing, and now has over ten Medical Romances published through Mills & Boon. She writes about hot, sexy docs and the strong women who captivate them. Visit
susancarlisle.com
.

White Wedding for
a Southern Belle
Susan Carlisle

www.millsandboon.co.uk

To Joan May, my mother-in-law.
Thanks for sharing your son with me.

Praise for
Susan Carlisle

‘Gripping, stirring, and emotionally touching…A perfect medical read!'

—Goodreads on His Best Friend's Baby

CHAPTER ONE

A
SHLEY
M
ARSH
 
PUSHED
 
through the crowded ballroom filled with St. Patrick's Day revelers dressed in costumes and lit by nothing but small green lights. As an alderman on the Savannah City Council, part of her job was to attend these types of events. Still, a fund-raiser hosted by Maggie Bradford wasn't an invitation she could ignore.

Savannah, Georgia, with its large Irish history and a disposition toward a good party did St. Paddy's Day right, even to the point of turning the river green. She'd always enjoyed the festivities but costume parties were a little over the top for her. Recognizing who she was speaking to tonight probably wasn't going to happen. It made her a little nervous knowing that when people were behind a mask they tended to do things they wouldn't otherwise. Experience told her that she wasn't always a good judge of character anyway.

The crowd around her wore anything from big green shamrock glasses to Irish kilts. She'd chosen a green tunic and tights, and a leprechaun hat. With a glittery gold mask over her eyes, she had some anonymity yet she didn't look as foolish as many of those in the room. She smiled to herself. More than once someone had told her to lighten up. Maybe tonight she would...a little. After all, few in the room could identify her.

“Ms. Marsh.”

Maybe she was wrong.

She knew that voice. It was Alderman Henderson, a thorn in her side most of the time. He was dressed as if he were the mayor of an Irish village in a green suit with yellow plaid vest and buckled top hat.

“Ralph, how're you doing? Having a good time?” She already knew he wasn't.

He shrugged. “I guess so. The wife is really into these things. Anyway, I want to let you know that the hospital has agreed to partner with us on your clinic idea. I just spoke to the administrator a few minutes ago. I'm going to agree to support it for the trial period of six months. Be aware, if there's just one issue I'm going to withdraw that support.” His tone was firm, indicating he wouldn't be changing his mind if all didn't go well with the clinic.

Excitement filled her. She'd been working for this opportunity since she'd been elected. “Thanks, Ralph. You're doing the right thing here.”

“I'm not sure about that yet, so we'll see.” He wandered off into the crowd and Ashley wasn't disappointed.

Suddenly feeling like celebrating, she looked around the room and spied a tall man with brown hair standing by himself. He was near a door to the outside as if he was preparing to run at any moment. He wore a dark suit with a green tie. Over his eyes was a mask of small yellow plaid. He was certainly understated for the occasion. Surely he would be safe enough for a dance or two?

Ashley made her way in his direction. Stopping in front of him, she said, “Happy St. Patrick's Day. How about giving a leprechaun a bit of luck by dancing with her?”

Dark green eyes looked at her for a long moment. He nodded then set the drink he held down on a nearby table. Following her, they moved out onto the dance floor. A fast song was playing and she turned to face him. The man was a good dancer. They shared two more songs.

When a slow number started she said, “Thank you for the dances.”

He inclined his head. “You're welcome.” The sexy timbre in his deep, rich voice was something she wouldn't soon forget.

Ashley walked away. She wasn't into being held by strange men, so she was both surprised and relieved that he hadn't insisted she dance the slower song. If she was less cautious she might have enjoyed being in this stranger's arms, but she knew too well what could happen when you weren't careful...

* * *

Dr. Kiefer Bradford watched the tiny leprechaun cross the room and speak to a few people as she left him on the dance floor. He might have pursued her but his mother wouldn't appreciate him picking up a one-night stand at her event and he'd no interest in anything longer. After what his ex-wife had done to him he had no intention of stepping into a serious relationship again. She'd seen to it that he didn't believe anything a woman said.

The only reason he was at his mother's costume ball was because he'd been in town for a job interview. When his former best friend, Josh—now his ex-wife's husband—had been made director of the ER at the Atlanta hospital where Kiefer worked, it had been time for him to get out of town.

He was tired of dodging Josh. The whispers of the staff. The pitying faces of his friends. And, worse, the anger he continued to feel. Savannah was his home. He still owned a place here. He'd come back and leave all the ugliness behind.

Kiefer saw the leprechaun a few more times around the room but never on the dance floor. Twice they were almost close enough to speak but then she was gone. Anyway, he'd done his duty and he was ready to go. Enough green for him today. He'd watch and hear the rest of the fun from the balcony of his apartment.

As he was on his way out to the lobby, the leprechaun was coming out of a door to the right. Just as he was about to pass her Kiefer saw his ex-wife, Brittney, and Josh coming toward him among a group of people. Despite the festive dress, he recognized them.

Apprehension and anger rushed through him. Even here they still interrupted his life. They must have come to town for St. Patrick's Day. Brittney was from Savannah as well. Regardless of their history, his mother's party was the go-to event in town, so of course they wouldn't miss it.

Kiefer didn't want to speak with Brittney and Josh or want them to see him leaving alone. Without thinking, he grabbed the leprechaun as she passed.

Her small yelp of surprise made him pause for a second before his mouth found hers and he backed her against the wall. Her lips were soft and sweet beneath his. Her hands braced against his chest, pushed and then relaxed against him. Seconds later they slid to his waist. He shifted his mouth to gain a better advantage. One of his hands moved to cup her cheek.

Through the fog of desire welling up Kiefer heard the group pass. He forced himself to back away, letting his lips slowly leave the leprechaun's. The longing to find them again filled him but he'd already stepped over the line.

“Just what do you think you're doing?” she hissed, standing between him and the wall, his hand still cupping her face.

“Saying thank you for those dances.”

The leprechaun huffed. “By accosting me?”

He shrugged and removed his hand. As he did so the button on the sleeve of his coat caught in the necklace around her neck.

“Stop. Be careful. Don't break it.” Her voice rose.

Why was she overreacting about a simple necklace with a funny-looking stone on it?

He held his arm motionless while she worked to release the chain. The shamrock on top of her hat bobbed against his nose. She smelled like baking cookies.

“Got it.” She looked up.

This leprechaun had the most beautiful doe-brown eyes he'd ever seen. Kiefer leaned in. She pushed against his chest. He stumbled backward and she hurried past him, disappearing into the crowded ballroom.

That leprechaun had certainly made this St. Patrick's Day memorable.

Three months later

Kiefer was back in Savannah and driving through Southriver. He wasn't having his first reservation or second but third about being in this part of town at this time of day. During his teen and college years Southriver had been the area where everyone had gone to find or buy a good time. Apparently that hadn't changed.

When the medical director of Savannah Medical Center had questioned him about working at the Southriver clinic during the interview, Kiefer had thought of it as more of a what-if sort of question instead of a sure thing. He liked the adrenaline rush a large ER offered but he needed to get out of Atlanta. Seeing Josh regularly after what he and Brittney had done to him wasn't working. The staff was too aware of the tension between them.

Being the clinic physician wasn't his first choice but at least it would prove his leadership and organizational skills for an opportunity down the road. Three to six months at the clinic and maybe he could transfer to the ER or apply for a departmental spot at the hospital.

As he continued down the street the number of people sitting on the steps of houses increased. It was already hot and steamy for the early days of summer and this evening was no different. These people were doing anything they could to catch a breeze. In front of a few homes children played. Maybe the revitalization of the area was starting to work.

The appearance of the neighborhood improved the farther he drove. The blocks behind him had empty buildings with grass growing in the cracks of the sidewalk and trash blown against the curb. All signs of inner-city apathy. In contrast, the closer he came to the address he was looking for, the better kept the houses and businesses looked. Many were newly painted, with fresh signs above storefronts and flowering plants hung from light posts. This went on for one block but the next started showing the neglected look of the earlier ones.

What the...?

Just ahead of him a group of males who wore their pants low on their hips and matching bandannas on their biceps stood aggressively facing a woman in front of a three-story brownstone. The woman was Ashley Marsh. Kiefer recognized her from a couple of TV interviews he'd seen since his return.

The best he could tell, she was a crusader of the highest order. As a child of someone who took on causes—sometimes to her own detriment—he was weary of what Ashley's plans might be. In her interviews he'd found her articulate and intelligent, if not a little antagonistic for his taste.

Kiefer wasn't particularly impressed. He believed in helping people—after all, that was why he'd become a doctor—but he also expected people to help themselves. Not everyone could be saved. Sometimes people were just not worth it.

What he knew of Ashley Marsh reminded Kiefer too much of his mother. That “help everyone, all people are good” view of life made Kiefer a little leery of Ashley Marsh. Advocates often saw the picture through rose-colored glasses. Ms. Marsh struck him as being that type of person. If he were ever interested in a woman again it wouldn't be in someone who didn't show more restraint where people were concerned.

As he drew closer he could see that Ashley was talking to the group, gesturing with her hands.

One of the young men made an aggressive move forward. To her credit, she didn't back away.

Kiefer's hands tightened on the wheel. All the ugly memories of a day so long ago, when his mother had been attacked, came flooding back. The man off the street, his mother begging him not to kill her, his mother falling to the floor, the man going through her purse and Kiefer watching it all helplessly through the slats of the pantry door. He'd sworn then he would never again stand idly by while someone was being threatened.

His tires squealed as he quickly pulled into a parking lot next to the building. The group turned toward him. At least their attention was drawn away from Alderman Marsh. Kiefer hopped out and circled the truck, putting himself between her and the gang.

“Hey, man, who're you?” growled the man Kiefer had pegged as the leader of the group. His dark hair was long and pulled back in a band. He wore a hoop in his ear.

“Dr. Kiefer Bradford. I'm the new clinic doctor.”

“We don't need no more outsiders here.”

Ashley sidestepped Kiefer. He put his arm out to stop her without taking his eyes off the men in front of him. He felt more than saw her move around him and he dropped his arm in frustration.

“I can handle this,” she announced in a firm tone, confronting the guy in front of Kiefer. “Look, Marko, the clinic is to help the people around here, not to spy on you. What if your mother or sister needed medical care? Don't you want them to have a place to get it? This will be a no-questions-asked place.”

It would be?
That was the first Kiefer had heard of that.

“We don't need...” Marko lifted his chin toward Kiefer “...no outsiders coming into our neighborhood.”

“This is my home as much as it is yours,” Ashley stated. “I've known your family all your life. I used to change your diapers.”

A couple of Marko's buddies snickered. He glanced at them. Their faces sobered. “All your do-gooding isn't going to work,” Marko said to Ashley.

“I'm trying to make the community better. The clinic is the first step in doing that.”

“Yeah, right, it's your way of trying to change everything.” He spit on the ground then scowled. “I run this 'hood, and if I don't want you or your clinic, you'll be gone.”

Kiefer took a step forward. “Don't threaten the lady.”

Marko glowered at him. “Back off, mister, or you'll regret it.”

A couple of Marko's thugs moved toward him.

Ashley pulled at Kiefer's arm, preventing him from going toward Marko. “He isn't worth it.”

The horn of a police car had Marko's gang scrambling, each running in a different direction and disappearing into the dwindling light.

“Is there a problem here?” the patrolman asked out the car window.

Ashley left Kiefer's side and went to the car. “No, we're fine, Carl.”

Carl looked at Kiefer and raised his chin. “Who's this guy?”

“This is Dr. Bradford, the new director of the clinic.”

Kiefer nodded.

“Good to have you, Doc,” Carl said. “Never a dull moment in Southriver.”

“I'm finding that out.”

“Carl, don't run him off before he even gets started,” Ashley said with a half laugh.

“Sorry, Alderman, that wasn't my intention. Y'all have a good evening.” Carl's partner drove the car on down the street.

After all the excitement Kiefer took a really good look at the woman beside him. Beneath the streetlight she wasn't at all like the person on TV, more like a college coed and less like a hard-nosed politician. Of average height, with midnight-black hair she wore pulled back in a ponytail. Her jeans had holes in them; not as a fashion statement but from actual use would be his guess.

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