Книга - The Doctor’s Lost-and-Found Heart


The Doctor's Lost-and-Found Heart
Dianne Drake

Under the Argentine stars… Dr Jack Kenner can’t refuse Amanda Robinson’s plea for help – even though it means returning to South America, where the ghosts of his past haunt him.Worse still, the tropical nights working with brave, fiery Amanda push Jack to his limits – for a man who has sworn never to risk his heart again, they offer the ultimate temptation…

Dear Reader

I’m so grateful to be bringing you another book for the fabulous Mills and Boon

Medical Romances

. I love writing these stories. More than that, I love hearing from readers who ask me when I’m going to write a book featuring the Philippines or India or Barbados. It’s humbling, knowing all the many places my books are being read.

THE DOCTOR’S LOST-AND-FOUND HEART takes us to Argentina, one of the most spectacular countries in the world. It also has the most amazingly friendly and resilient people, which is why I chose this setting for my story. It simply seemed like the place Jack and Amanda should be. Of course they’re both a little resistant to that. Resistant to each other as well. But Amanda is transformed from a very unanimated woman when she’s at home in Texas to someone who’s positively hot-blooded the instant she steps foot on Argentine soil. So what’s that about? You’ll have to read the book to see.

Then there’s Jack, a man from nowhere, going no place in particular. He wants to avoid Argentina at all costs, but when duty calls he will always put aside his personal needs and answer. In the case of Argentina, the cost of his call is the highest price he may ever have to pay.

THE DOCTOR’S LOST-AND-FOUND HEART follows Jack Kenner’s story—a story begun in NO. 1 DAD IN TEXAS, which preceded this book. And there’ll be another story to follow, also set in Argentina, featuring Amanda’s brother Ben.

In the meantime, I’m finally joining the social media revolution. So please follow and like me at www.Facebook.com (DianneDrakeAuthor), and jump over to see what I’m tweeting @DianneDrake. Feel free to stop by my website (www.DianneDrake.com) as well, and e-mail me with suggestions for another amazing country in which to set one of my stories. I’ve just about exhausted my travel supply, so now it’s time to start broadening my horizons.

As always, wishing you health and happiness.


About the Author

Now that her children have left home, DIANNE DRAKE is finally finding the time to do some of the things she adores—gardening, cooking, reading, shopping for antiques. Her absolute passion in life, however, is adopting abandoned and abused animals. Right now Dianne and her husband Joel have a little menagerie of three dogs and two cats, but that’s always subject to change. A former symphony orchestra member, Dianne now attends the symphony as a spectator several times a month and, when time permits, takes in an occasional football, basketball or hockey game.

Recent titles by Dianne Drake:




THE DOCTOR’S REASON TO STAY** (#ulink_acff53db-2e20-5263-8e50-ab7e53b1f950) FROM BROODING BOSS TO ADORING DAD THE BABY WHO STOLE THE DOCTOR’S HEART* (#ulink_acff53db-2e20-5263-8e50-ab7e53b1f950) CHRISTMAS MIRACLE: A FAMILY* (#ulink_88a664d0-cbbc-5b8a-a1f5-1d4b7027c2b9)

** (#ulink_88a664d0-cbbc-5b8a-a1f5-1d4b7027c2b9)New York Hospital Heartthrobs* (#ulink_acff53db-2e20-5263-8e50-ab7e53b1f950)Mountain Village Hospital

These books are also available in eBook format from www.millsandboon.co.uk

The Doctor’s



Dianne Drake

www.millsandboon.co.uk (http://www.millsandboon.co.uk)

To Doctor Nance, the ID specialist who saved my life.

You made the diagnosis when nobody else could find the ‘bug’.

Thank you.


WRAPPED around her pretty little finger. That was how he felt, traipsing around out here in God-forsaken nowhere, with nothing but a backpack full of testing supplies and a sneaking suspicion that there was going to be more to this mission than a couple of days. Way more than a couple of days …

Jack Kenner swatted a mosquito on his neck, flicked it away, then wiped the sweat off his face with the back of his hand. If he’d been smart about this, or had had time to plan, he’d have had his hair buzzed down to a bald cut, because collar-length wavy and summer jungle humidity weren’t a good mix. And it was damn humid out here. Unseasonably so for mid-December. He’d have also had time to order adequate testing supplies—he never liked to go unprepared. But when Amanda had called him, told him what was at risk, and that it was urgent … First plane out. What could he say? He was a sucker for a beautiful face and a worthy cause. She certainly had the beautiful face, and a bunch of sick kids was a worthy cause.

Thinking about her brought a smile to his face. Amanda Robinson. More than beautiful, actually. Stunning. Exquisite. Wild, black hair when it wasn’t all trussed up. Dark skin. Eyes the color of onyx. Exotic in every sense of the word. A real breathtaker who was totally unaware of the power she could hold over a man.

Outside a handful of professional encounters back in Texas, Jack hardly even knew the woman, yet here he was, somewhere in Argentina, because she’d asked. The hell of it was, he didn’t do that kind of looking anymore. Kept it strictly off his radar. Except when Amanda walked by him that first time his radar had blipped. For him, though, one or two blips and that was as far as it went. His life was screwed up in every way that counted and he wasn’t even sure he could define what a real life was anymore. So, why drag someone else into his confusion?

Easy answer. He didn’t. Not even casually. Anything other than a passing glance and a wishful sigh got complicated, so he kept it uncomplicated, simple as that. The fewer lives he screwed up, the better.

On the other hand, being here was bordering on complicated since this was everything he was trying to put behind him. Medicine, unidentified outbreaks, epidemics … he wanted all of it out of his life. Problem was, controlling hospital-acquired infections, now called HAIs, was a growing specialty and the bigger problem in that was he was pretty good at what he did. It was hard to walk away from it when you were in demand. Harder still when he actually let himself think about the lives depending on his discoveries. But walking was what he’d been trying to do for the past two years. Walking, but always getting pulled back in.

So now, this Hospital de Caridad he was trying to find … He was promising himself it would be the last one. The last of the line for him, come hell or high water. Amanda Robinson had worked miracles with his nephew and this was paying back a debt of gratitude. Meaning, he’d find the HAI infecting the hospital she owned with her brother, then finally be done with it. Done with everything, without a clue what came after that.

Another mosquito dive-bombed Jack’s ear, and he slapped at it, hitting it in midair. “You dirty little …”

“Dr. Jack Kenner?” a young voice piped up from the bushes just beyond the edge of the trail. “Are you Dr. Jack Kenner?”

“I’m Kenner,” he said, quite surprised by an obviously adolescent voice. “Who are you, and does anybody know you’re out here in the jungle alone?”

A scrawny scrap of a kid popped out of the bushes and walked right up to him. No shoes, no shirt, scraggly black hair, well-worn jeans, the biggest, widest smile Jack had ever seen on a face. “I’m Ezequiel,” he said, extending his small hand to Jack. “I speak good English and I know all the roads and paths to the hospital. That’s why they sent me to find you.”

“That would imply I’m lost,” Jack said, taking firm hold of Ezequiel’s hand, amazed and a little amused by the adult and purely unexpected gesture. “Which I’m not.”

Ezequiel’s grin didn’t fade in the face of Jack’s solid grip, or his denial. If anything, it widened. “Okay, then I’ll go back and tell them you’re on the wrong trail, but you’re not lost.” He pulled his hand back when Jack let go and crammed it into his pocket.

“How old are you, kid?”

“Twelve,” he said. Then quickly added, “Almost.”

Jack chuckled. Smart kid. Smart in his head, smart in the world. “And why do you speak English so well?”

“Missionaries used to teach me in school. I was the best student. Now the doctors and nurses teach me.”

“Not surprised you’re the best.” Jack pulled a stainless-steel bottle of water from his backpack and offered it first to Ezequiel, who refused. Then he twisted off the cap, took a swig, and replaced the cap. “So, if I were to admit that I might be lost, how far, would you say, I’m off the trail I need to be on?”

“Far off,” Ezequiel responded.

“If I’m that far off, how did you find me? Or even know where to look for me?”

“Everybody makes that mistake first time.”

Yes, very smart in the world. He liked Ezequiel instantly. Saw that same gleam of youthful enthusiasm he used to see in Robbie’s eyes. “Then I suppose I’m lucky you knew I might get lost.”

“I didn’t, but Doc Ben did.”

Ben Robinson, Amanda’s brother. Admittedly, he knew nothing about the man. Amanda hadn’t said and he hadn’t asked. Kept things the way he liked them—uninvolved. “And Doc Ben would be the one who sent the Jeep for me … The Jeep with a driver who dropped me off halfway here and pointed me in the direction of Aldea de Cascada rather than taking me all the way there?”

“We had an emergency, Doc K. Only got one Jeep.”

Doc K? A nickname smacked of familiarity, and he didn’t want familiarity of any kind coming anywhere near him. Especially not with another kid. Jack’s nephew, Michael, was the only one he was going to allow in his life from now on. He was Cade’s son, and there was safety in that relationship. He could get as close as he wanted yet keep the distance he needed. “Call me Jack, or Dr. Kenner,”

“Okay, Doc K,” Ezequiel said, giving him the thumbs-up sign.

Choosing not to correct the boy, Jack shook his head in resignation. What the hell? He was only going to be here a day or two then he was going back to Texas, back to wondering what came next. “So, how about you lead, and I’ll follow?” Follow an almost twelve-year-old boy to a village hospital with one Jeep, an unidentified infection spreading, and God only knew what else. Sounded like a mess to him, but that pretty much summed up his life these days, didn’t it? A real mess.

“Okay, so maybe I shouldn’t have interfered, but you’re in over your head here, Ben. And not asking anybody for help. Not even me, which has got me a little angry, to be honest.” Amanda Robinson dropped her canvas duffel bag next to the bed, then plopped down on the lumpy mattress. Her home away from home. She loved it here, loved Caridad, didn’t mind the lack of amenities. In fact, back in Texas, she found herself always counting off the days until she could return. “So I asked him, even though you didn’t want me to. He was hanging around, working a few hours here and there at the hospital, and I took the opportunity when I saw it because Jack’s the best in the field, and we have a problem he can fix. What did you expect me to do?”

“Let me handle it since I’m the one who actually runs the hospital.”

“But I had Jack Kenner at my fingertips. I’d be crazy to ignore that.” The way she hadn’t been able to ignore him all these months. A man who made her toes tingle. Except, when she looked, he didn’t look back. Hence a whole lot of unrequited tingling going on.

“And I have a computer with a connection to a satellite. These are modern times, Amanda. We have communication, even in the jungle, and I’ve been in touch with a couple people who are experienced in these kinds of infections.”

“Okay, so maybe I overstepped … a little. But your people aren’t Jack Kenner.”

“You overstepped a lot.” He sighed, then sat down on the edge of the bed next to his sister and wrapped a supportive arm around her shoulder. “But I’m glad you’re here, interfering.”

“Because I care,” she said, her voice giving way to tenderness. “Your vision, my passion. That’s why I work my butt off to support this place. You … we do important work.” There might have been only a year separating them in age, and no real blood relationship between them, but Benjamin Thomas Robinson was the person she most admired in this world. What he’d overcome to get here … “And I’m sorry if this is going to cause a problem between us, Ben, but …”

“But you were taking care of me, the way you always have.”

“I can’t help it. That’s just what happens, and you should be used to it by now.”

He chuckled. “I am. And most of me appreciates your … hovering, nurturing, mothering, whatever you want to call it.”

“Then we’re good with this?”

“We’re always good,” he said, wrapping his other arm around her to give her a hug. “And I’m glad you’re back. Ever since Dad died …”

“I know,” she whispered, feeling her eyes dampen. “It throws everything off balance, doesn’t it?” Ben was a Robinson by birth, she was a Robinson by adoption. But there’d been no distinctions in the family. They were tight-knit, loving. And her dad’s death a few months earlier had changed things …. Things Ben didn’t know. Didn’t need to know. He had enough struggles of his own, without taking on hers. Which he would do, if he knew.

“Look, it was a long trip down here. Any chance that fantastic hospital cook might have a bowl of guisos left over from lunch?” At the mere mention of guisos Amanda found herself suddenly craving the thick meat and vegetable stew. It was a simple concoction, quite traditional here, and something she could easily make for herself back home—onions, garlic, veal, tomatoes, carrots, sweet potatoes, squash, rice … But in Argentina it tasted better. Satisfied a certain craving that wasn’t about food—something she couldn’t explain.

“Maybe afterward a palmerita covered in crema pastelera?”

A flat, circular pastry covered in a vanilla cream. “Are you trying to get on my good side?” she asked, sniffling back her tears. He was about courage, and it was always good to be with him, to work with him. Be inspired by his strength. “Because if you are, it worked.”

“Well, I sent Ezequiel out to find your Jack Kenner. I got word he was coming in by commuter plane, so I asked Hector to go to the landing strip to get him but, apparently, there was an emergency over in Ladera. Someone needs transport to the hospital, and Hector let your friend out somewhere down the road, pointed him in the right direction, or shall I say some direction, since it’s been a couple of hours. So I decided someone should go out and help him find his way.”

A smile crept to Amanda’s lips. Jack Kenner, lost in the jungle. Good-looking man. Rugged. Large. Black wavy hair, dark brown eyes, stubble on his chin, perpetual frown on his face … The thought of Jack lost out there, somewhere, was funny. To a point. Because that moment of amusement would be followed by the reality that Jack wasn’t any too friendly most of the time, at least, most of her time, and she didn’t see him being as amused by his predicament as she was. At best, he was aloof and she didn’t know why, didn’t really care to find out. She needed his skill, not his personality. Although something about that gruff personality invariably brought a sigh to her lips.

Still, Jack Kenner, lost … “He’s not very personable, Ben,” she said, straightening up, as her smile got larger.

“Yet look at you smile. Am I missing something here? Something about you and this man you haven’t told me yet?”

“Nothing to tell,” she said defensively, as the heat rose in her face. “I barely know him.”

“So the blush doesn’t mean anything?” he teased.

“I don’t blush, and if I did, you wouldn’t be able to see it.”

“Scarlet red against your complexion … ” He leaned back to appraise her, then grinned. “Haven’t seen anything like that on you before, so he must be one hell of a man to do that to you, Amanda.”

“I don’t know anything about how he is as a man, just as a doctor.”

“All I’m saying is—”

“Nothing, Ben. All you’re saying is nothing, because there is nothing. And don’t go trying to marry me off to this man when he gets here. Okay? Because last time you tried that …”

“I was thirteen, you were twelve.”

“And he stalked me for half a year. Kept telling me you promised he could have me. Then I found out you traded me for that bicycle you said you found.”

“Seemed like a fair trade at the time. And he did love you.”

“Until he got a better deal.”

“Yeah, well, love is fickle, isn’t it?”

“Except I’m not in love with Jack Kenner. Not even in like with him. He’s simply a means to an end for us, and I just wanted you to know, in advance, that he can be a little … abrupt.”

“I’ve done some research. Saw a mention or two about his personality in some articles I read. And you’re right. He’s a pretty somber guy, apparently, but good. So, the rest of it doesn’t matter, does it?” He arched teasing eyebrows. “Even a less perceptive man than I could read something into your blush, though.”

She chose not to dignify her brother’s implications anymore. He’d think what he wanted for now, and observe, in due course, how wrong he was. “No, Jack Kenner’s attitude doesn’t matter, except for poor Ezequiel. Jack’s going to chew him up and spit him out.”

“See, there you are. Another denial. Denial by ignoring what I just implied.”

“Would you stop it? There’s nothing going on. I asked him here because he’s the best, and I was only trying to explain to you that his personality isn’t always pleasant.”

“Yet, you’re attracted to that rough type, aren’t you?” He chuckled. “Anyway, I think Ezequiel will hold his own against your friend.” Ben smiled. Nodded appreciatively. “He’s a resourceful kid.”

“And Jack does love kids … ” she said, hoping her brother would back off the teasing. The truth was, she was attracted. What woman wouldn’t be? But how did you tell your brother it was purely physical? The answer: you didn’t. “Even though he’ll never admit to having a soft spot for anyone.” Jack didn’t wear his heart on his sleeve as a rule, but in a few of their encounters she’d seen it there. Which was why she’d turned to him when she’d realized her brother needed help. Jack cared. He did a pretty good job of hiding it—most of the time. But sometimes it slipped out. With his nephew, the emotion was obvious. “So, about that food I was begging for …”

Smiling, “Ah, yes. My sister’s priorities.”

“Your sister’s priorities,” she said, trailing him out the door of the tiny hut she’d be calling home for the next couple of weeks. The only thing was, it wasn’t really food she had on her mind. It was Jack Kenner. Back in Big Badger, Texas, he was a blunt force. But something about him being here in Argentina, in the jungle … That thought fascinated her almost as much as the jungle did. Almost.

Well, it was better than he’d expected. Nice little wooden structure. Probably ten or twelve beds in a central ward and a few private rooms. A small yet tidy surgery. Ample supplies. Well-kept grounds. Flowers planted here and there to give it a bright appearance. All of it perched on a little knoll overlooking the village called Aldea de Cascada.

Surprisingly, there were people milling around. Some appeared native to the area, some didn’t. A few seemed to work here, others may have been visitors. All in all, he was more impressed by Hospital de Caridad than he’d expected to be. “Thanks for the tour, Ezequiel,” he said, even more impressed by how the kid knew his way around the hospital. So, was it customary to tip the tour guide? He wondered about that since Ezequiel wasn’t making a move to get away from him. In fact, if he hadn’t known better, he might have thought the boy was latching on to him. “Is there something else we need to do?” he finally asked him.

Ezequiel shook his head. “Unless you want to see where you’ll be staying.”

“Sure. Show me.”

“It’s over there,” Ezequiel said, pointing to a small hut adjacent to the hospital building.

It was nice enough. He’d stayed in far worse places, carrying out far worse duty, than what he was going to do here. “Okay,” he said, still not sure what to do about Ezequiel. Then inspiration struck, and he slung his backpack off his shoulder and pulled out the stainless-steel water bottle. “You don’t have one of these, do you?” he asked, holding it up.

Ezequiel shook his head.

“Then take it.” He tried handing it over to Ezequiel, but the boy only looked perplexed.

“Back where I come from, when somebody gets lost, the person who finds them gets a reward.”

“Reward?” Ezequiel questioned. “What’s a reward?”

Jack thought for a moment, trying to come up with the right word to translate it. “Recompense,” he finally said. “Regalo.”

“For me?” Ezequiel cried, sounding as excited as any child would who’d just received a gift.

Jack regretted he didn’t have something better, something more suited for an almost twelve-year-old boy, and he wondered if he’d have an opportunity while he was here to find something else for Ezequiel. “Next time you have to go looking for someone … even if it’s me … you can fill it with water and take it along in case you get thirsty.” His second attempt to thrust the bottle at Ezequiel was met with success, and as soon as they boy latched on to it he opened it up and took a drink of the water still inside.

“Thank you, Doc K. I like it.” Then the grin started, ear to ear. And Jack’s heart melted. Damn it, he wasn’t going to do that again. Wasn’t going to get involved. Wasn’t going to let another kid get to him. Not after Robbie, or Rosa. Shift, refocus, get his mind off children. Clearing his throat, Jack inhaled a deep breath. “Care to help me get settled in?”

Ezequiel frowned, again unsure of what Jack had just said. So Jack tossed him the backpack and motioned for him to come along to the guest hut. Okay, so maybe he wasn’t here to make friends, but Ezequiel was turning into the exception, with that smile of his, and that unassuming nature. Besides, what did a couple of days’ interaction with the kid hurt? Interaction didn’t have to equate to involvement, did it? Especially if he kept reminding himself that in another few days all this would be behind him. “Then you can help me find Dr. Robinson, if you have time.”

“He’s in clinic now.” He pointed to another hut, a much larger version of the hut he was headed to. “Over there.”

Hospital de Caridad, translated to mean Charity Hospital, was like a small village in itself. A well thought-out place, keeping the clinic out of the hospital. Even though he hadn’t yet met Amanda’s brother, Jack was already beginning to like the man. Or at least appreciate his vision. The care and concern surrounding this hospital had been obvious to Jack almost the instant he’d stepped into the compound, and he hadn’t even seen the actual hospital operation yet.

“Then that’ll be our next stop, after we go in here.” He stepped up to the door of the guest hut, which was an opening covered by mosquito netting, then pushed back the gauzy material and motioned for Ezequiel to go in first. Then he followed, got halfway into the hut, and stopped. “What the …?” he said, obviously surprised by who he found there. “You never said you were coming to Argentina, too.”

Amanda, who was stashing a few clothes in the small bureau next to her bed, spun around. “Maybe not, but here I am anyway.”

“Precipitated by what? Your need to keep an eye on me?”

“Don’t sound so defensive, Jack. I’m inspired by your work. Wanted to watch it in progress.”

“So you just packed up and came here on a whim.”

“Yes, I just packed up. But you don’t get to call it a whim.”

“Why not?”

“Because coming to Argentina on a whim makes me sound irresponsible.”

“There’s something wrong with being irresponsible? Lots of people do it every day, and do it well.”

“You sound like you believe irresponsibility could be an admirable goal.”

“Not admirable. But definitely a goal for some people. Me included, if I get my way. And don’t pull out your analyst’s couch and tell me to lie down because there’s nothing there you’d be interested in.”

“Don’t underestimate yourself, Doctor. I think I’d find plenty to interest me if you were stretched out on my couch.”

“Let me guess. You’re psychoanalyzing me, aren’t you? Because my goal is not to have a goal.” It was said with a certain amount of amusement, because the idea of boots off and under her analyst’s couch was suddenly the only thing on his mind. Boots off, belt off, stethoscope off …

“I don’t psychoanalyze. I treat conditions.”

“And I’m a condition to treat.”

“You’re entitled to your opinion,” she countered, her smile never breaking.

“My opinion is I’m the challenge you may want to take on, which is why you’re here. But I’m also the challenge you won’t crack, which is why I came.”

“Faulty logic,” she quipped. “You’re here because you did crack under the challenge. Caved right in when I asked.”

“Or agreed because there was a need for my services, as simple as that.” Caved right in was more like it, but he wasn’t about to give her the advantage of letting her discover she was right about him. Amanda was resourceful. She’d find a way to use that kind of information again. Which, on second thought, might be interesting. Too bad he didn’t even go as far as interesting. “Oh, and in case you’re interested, I’m impressed by your hospital.”

“Changing the subject, Jack?”

He laughed. “You bet I am. It’s safer that way.”

Her smile didn’t waver, but the edges around it softened. “Then the conversation is changed. Wouldn’t want you feeling uncomfortable.”

“Sounds like you’re not really changing the conversation, just twisting it around to suit your purposes. Only my opinion, of course.”

“My only purposes are what concerns the hospital. But Caridad is nice, isn’t it?” she asked, taunting him with her eyes. “I’m proud of what Ben’s done here. Which is why, when I’m running off to Argentina a few times a year, it may seem like a whim to some, but I’m actually here doing something I believe in with all my heart.”

Something about her looked different. He studied her for a second, realized her hair wasn’t twisted into its usual tight, librarianesque knot at the nape of her neck. It was loose, full of curl, wild. And her eyes had … The only way he could describe what he saw was los ojos del fuego. Eyes of fire. She was Amanda Robinson, but a different version from that he knew back in Texas. “So, I’m assuming we’re roommates?” he said, turning around and walking over to join Ezequiel at his bedside.

“Yep, roommates. You over there, me over here, curtain down the middle.” She bumped her bureau drawer shut with her hip, then grabbed a handful of clothes she’d left on the bed, and headed for a nook he figured had to be the bathroom. “You don’t mind sharing, do you?” she called back over her shoulder, as she pushed back the door to the nook and walked into the room behind it. “Because the supply closet in the hospital isn’t taken, if you’d rather have that. But you’d have to sleep sitting up.”

“I’m fine,” he said, kicking off his leather cowboy boots and letting them fly to the floor in the middle of the room.

“Good. Because the supply closet is a tight fit, especially if you’re claustrophobic.”

Except he wasn’t claustrophobic. Right now, though, he was feeling a little gynophobic. Afraid of women. One woman in particular. Amanda Robinson was different, and that bothered him. What bothered him even more was that he was bothered about it in the first place.

In the tiny bathroom, the only place where’d she’d be able to find privacy in their living arrangement, Amanda leaned back against the door and drew in a deep breath to steady her nerves. She was shaking. Actually shaking … hands, knees, a few parts in between. So, what was that about? She knew Jack, had been the one to ask him here. Now, seeing him out of his Texas element … Even her breath was shaking as she shut her eyes and conjured up his image. Usual rough cut even rougher. Hair mussed, that sexy, sexy dark stubble on his face. Even the glisten of sweat on his face made him sexy. Sexy …

No! He couldn’t be sexy. This wasn’t about sexy.

Amanda’s eyes flew open to stop the flow of pure sexual fascination with a man she was trying hard to repudiate as sexy. And failing miserably. Yet what had all that dialogue been about, especially the part where she had been getting him stretched out on her couch? Really? Was that what she’d said to him? Her analyst’s couch, for heaven’s sake!

Another round of shakes hit her because she didn’t know what had come over her, and she didn’t like it the least little bit that, rather than annoying her, his streak of opposition had tweaked something. Woken it up. Lit some kind of a fire.

It was like she was seeing Jack for the first time. Enjoying what she was seeing way more than she should. And now she was getting stressed out about sharing quarters with him, sleeping mere feet away from him. Forming an intimacy by proximity, something that had never bothered her all those years she’d slept in the hospital on call with colleagues and strangers alike. It was a bed, and everybody concerned was too tired to care who was in the bed across from theirs.

Except now she wasn’t tired, and she did care, because … Well, it was the jungle. It was always the jungle, and the jungle always made her feel like someone other than who she was. Why? No clue. But from the moment she arrived here—every single time she arrived here—the old Amanda started giving way to the new one. Sometimes it crept out of her by slow measures, sometimes it leaped, like a hungry panther.

Sure, there had to be a psychology to it, and as a psychologist she should have been able to figure it out. But maybe she liked the way she felt when she unpinned her hair and took off her pearls, which was why she avoided that little analysis. It just plain felt good to be Argentina Amanda.

So here she was, throwing off those figurative pearls by changing into something more comfortable than linen slacks and fitted blouse, anxious to get on with the panther inside her. Yet when she opened the door, she couldn’t take that leap. That was the other Amanda fighting to take her back. The one who took control so completely now all she could do was stand in the doorway and stare at Jack, who’d apparently shooed Ezequiel away then stretched out flat on his bed. Either asleep already, or trying to bring on a self-induced trance.

She took a deep breath to calm herself, and to help her hang on to the last few shreds of that other Amanda … shreds she was a little afraid to let go of. “Look, Ben’s in clinic for another hour, and I’m on my way to the kitchen to see what I can find to eat. Care to come with me?”

“Thanks … not hungry,” Jack said.

“Thirsty? There’s always a pitcher of fresh lemonade.”

“Not thirsty.”

This was the way it was going to be? “Are you always so non-responsive?” she asked.

“Pretty much.”


“Why not?”

“Because you’re a doctor, and doctors are supposed to be responsive.” He rose up, arched the sexiest eyebrows she’d ever seen in her life, and simply stared so hard at her she began to feel self-conscious. “What?” she finally asked.

He didn’t answer, though. Instead, he lay back down and shut his eyes. Then finally said, “You’re being responsive enough for the both of us. No need for me to join in and interrupt what you’re doing so well.”

Now he was playing with her. Look out, Jack Kenner. Because as sexy as he was to look at, he was just that challenging to be around, and she did love a good challenge. A thought that added just a bit more jungle wind to Amanda’s sails as she tossed the clothes she’d been wearing down on her bed, then headed to the door of the hut. “Well, here’s one more responsive moment from me, Jack. Those boots … keep them under your bed. Not in the middle of the floor. In fact, keep everything about you on your side. I don’t like messiness.”

“And I don’t like fussy roommates. Which makes this a stand-off, doesn’t it?”

“Not really,” she said, smiling as she spun around and marched straight back to the middle of the room, where she bent down, picked up those boots then strode straight to the window, opened it and hurled them outside. “Not when there’s a simple solution.”

Jack’s only response was to rise up again, give her a good, hard stare, toe to head, then back down again. A stare so hard she could feel it graze her curves. Suddenly she was feeling self-conscious that her white shorts might be a little too short, or her white vest top a little too tight. Too much leg, too much chest.

“Okay, then,” she finally said when Jack said nothing. “If you change your mind about that lemonade …”

By the time she was finally pouring that lemonade, she was back on course. Not as much as she wanted to be, though. Because that little episode in the guest hut, that up-and-down emotional swing—attracted, frustrated, attracted, frustrated—definitely wasn’t her. These clothes weren’t her. Nothing here was her. Not really. Yet it all felt so right. All except Jack, and she had no idea how what was going on inside her raised so many quivers, hackles, goose bumps and objections all at the same time.

The thing was, she knew she should avoid Jack. Maybe even wanted to. But could she? Truly, honestly, could she? And if she could, would she?


“I KNOW you’re familiar with the basic concept, but let me give you a little background on hospital-acquired infections,” Jack said, settling into a wooden chair across the table from Amanda, trying hard to regard her professionally. Not easy considering the way she looked.

“Believe me, I’ve been reading. And I think my brother has probably spent some time on his hands and knees trying to sanitize the ward. The thought of being sick because of something we’re doing … ” She shook her head. “We’ve got to stop it, Jack. Whatever it takes, we’ve got to stop it.”

“Might not be what you’re doing so much as what’s being done to you,” Jack said. “Everybody blames themselves, especially in smaller, more contained hospitals like Caridad, but these bugs, as I’ll call them for lack of a better definition, aren’t predictable, and just when you think you’re on to something … ” He shrugged. “Everything changes. Like life, in a lot of ways.”

He studied Amanda for a moment, saw absolutely no resemblance to Ben whatsoever. While Ben was fair, she was so … His guess would have been Argentinian, actually. Possibly from the Pampas region, Mapuche descent, which she wasn’t, of course. But maybe that was just what he wanted to see in her because her eyes were the same color as Rosa’s, and her skin the same tone. Odd, how coming back after all this time affected him, seeing Rosa everywhere he looked.

“Anyway,” he continued, shaking himself back into the moment, “internationally, the incidence of a hospital-acquired infection makes up nearly nine percent of all hospitalizations, with pediatrics being even higher than that. Unfortunately, in Latin and South America, more of these infections turn into critical situations than in most other areas in the world. And we’re talking things like methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, an Enterobacter species resistant to ceftriaxone, and even Pseudomonas aeruginosa resistant to fluoroquinolones. To name a few.”

Amanda pushed a can of soda in Jack’s direction, and leaned back in her chair. “So what do we do about Caridad to keep this thing from spreading? It won’t take much to shut our doors, and the area can’t afford to have us shut down for even a little while because the next nearest medical service is about half a day away.” She paused, took a drink of her own soda, then set the can down on the table. “This is killing my brother. He blames himself.”

“But it’s not his fault.”

“Logically, he knows that. He feels responsible, though. That’s the way he is, taking on everybody’s problems. I mean, the first time I ever met him, there he was all stalwart in his new brother duties, showing me around the house, the yard, the neighborhood. You’d have thought he was going to be my adoptive father and not my brother. Yet he has that sense of purpose ….”

She was adopted? So, maybe he was right. “It’s human nature to feel responsible when we’re sidelined the way Ben is right now. He sees his world falling apart and there’s not a damned thing he can do about it. But he’s lucky to have a sister who cares.”

“You have Cade.”

“Cade and I are only now becoming acquainted. I think that kind of relationship is a long way off for us.”

“I hope it happens, because you’re right. I’m lucky. Ben and I are as opposite as two people could be in most regards, which is pretty obvious, but we formed a tight bond almost instantly.” She laughed. “After he quit trying to find ways to get rid of me. He sold me a couple times, traded me, and then there was the time he simply took me down the street to the neighbor’s house and told me to wait on the doorstep until they came home, then tell them it was their turn to be my parents.”

“Did you?”

She nodded, and her eyes softened. “And Ben got in so much trouble. But he felt threatened, having this new sister just drop in from nowhere. Maybe if my parents had adopted me when I was a baby … ” Pausing, the slight smile of reminiscence dropped from her face. “Jack, you’re pretty straightforward. I don’t think you’d soft-pedal something to spare someone’s feelings.”

“That’s a pretty low opinion of me.”

“But I heard you at the hospital back in Texas, the way you talked to people, your interactions.”

“I’ve been accused of being blunt.”

“Then be blunt with me. Tell me what you see when you look at me. You’ve traveled extensively, lived in so many places around the world—South America, Africa, the Mediterranean regions. More than anybody I’ve ever known. So, when you look at me, do you see anything you recognize? A nationality? The hint of something you’ve seen before somewhere? Because of your background, I’ve wanted to ask you almost from the first time we met. But how do you simply blurt out something like that? And I’ll admit I’m a little afraid to know.”

“It wasn’t in your adoption records?”

She shook her head. “There weren’t any adoption papers, no records. Nothing.”

Jack swallowed hard. But didn’t answer.

“I’ve tried to find out. But the best I’ve come up with is that the adoption agency told my parents they believe I’m from some sort of Mediterranean background. Except …”

“Except you don’t believe that.”

“Except when I look in the mirror and want to believe that I am, the image looking back at me doesn’t have a clue. But you do, don’t you? You’re trained to observe, and you don’t miss things. That’s what makes you the best in the world at what you do.”

“Hospital infections and what you’re asking me to do are two entirely separate things, Amanda,” he said, not sure what to do with this. “What I do with a hospital infection is make a logical guess based on what I see, then do the tests to prove I’m either right or wrong.”

“How often are you wrong?”

He shook his head. “Never,” he said, clenching his jaw so hard the ache was starting to set in.

“Then make a logical guess based on what you see.”

“Why me?”

She smiled. “Remember the first time we met? You asked for a list of my credentials, even though I’d already worked with your nephew for several months, and his parents were pleased with his progress. But there you were all big and blustery and none too friendly, making your demands. Then what I found out later … You actually called and checked me out. Asked every last reference on my list about me. Which was fine. I wish more people would do that when it comes to hiring the people who take care of their children. And while that really wasn’t your responsibility since you’re Michael’s uncle, not his father, I liked that you were so forthright. Pegged you for a man who would always be honest, maybe sometimes brutally so. And you have your suspicions about my heritage, don’t you?”

“I’m not even sure why you’d come to that conclusion.”

“Because of the way you look at me. Sometimes you stare, and it’s so … penetrating.”

“The way a guy stares at a gorgeous woman, you mean?”

She shook her head. “That’s not it. Oh, I’ve seen that look, more here than back in Texas. But that’s not what I’m talking about. You give it away in your eyes, Jack. Not for long, but there’s this flash … I saw it when I asked you. Saw it before that, actually.”

She was probably right. What had caught him off guard, and what he’d tried to cloak, was that he saw Rosa in Amanda. Same eyes, same beautiful wild hair, same delicate bone structure. It was a look he wouldn’t confuse with any other look in the world because the person he’d loved most had had that look. He’d come unglued, tried not looking, but sometimes couldn’t stop himself. He was like a moth attracted to the flame. So if Amanda had caught that flash in his eyes, she’d caught it correctly. “Maybe this is something you should discuss with your family.”

“I have. Too many times. Which is why I’m talking to you now. Why I’m asking you. Please, be honest with me, Jack. Respect me enough to do this one thing. When you look at me, who are you seeing?”

“A beautiful Mapuche woman.” They were words he shouldn’t have said, but words he felt bound to say because anything else bought into the lies that had cost Rosa her life. And for Rosa, he had no choice but to be honest.


Nodding, he said, “Someone I loved once, a long time ago, was Mapuche. They’re an indigenous people from the Pampas. I lived with them for a couple of years, working as a doctor in some of the villages.”

“And you recognized that in me?”

“I did.”

“Then thank you for your honesty.”

“Amanda, I …”

She shook her head. “Just leave it where it is, Jack. I asked, you answered. It’s what I wanted.” More than that, it’s what she needed, and she was numb with it, didn’t know what to think, what to do. But Jack had given her something no one else ever had and for that she was grateful. “I think I always knew,” she whispered.

“Knew what?” he asked gently.

“That what my parents told me was … off, somehow. Doesn’t matter, though, does it?”

“Who we are always matters, Amanda.”

“Or who we aren’t? Anyway, I have a very important date in a few minutes, so back to the problem at Caridad. What’s your plan?” She needed time to think about this, to readjust. To let the emotion catch up. But not here, not now. “And tell me what we can do to assist you.”

“Are you sure? Because—”

She cut him off by nodding her head. “I’m sure.” Not said convincingly enough, but Jack understood. The tone of his voice, the sense of concern emanating from him—yes, he understood.

“Fine.” He paused, nodded. “But anytime you want to talk …”

“The hospital, Jack. Please, make this about the hospital now.” No matter how distanced she was feeling from everything she knew.

“Well, then, no more cleaning, to start with. I need to find the source of contamination before I do anything else, then culture it to see what grows. Which means I’ll look in all the usual places and get creative after that because in my experience the usual places don’t really yield what I want.”

“It’s an odd specialty.”

“But, as they say, someone has to do it.”


“Public health was always what I wanted to do. You know, take care of the people no one else wanted to take care of.”

“Because of Robbie?” she asked. Jack’s brother Cade had told her once about Robbie, about how his parents hadn’t wanted to raise a child with severe autism.

“You know about my brother?”

She nodded. “The child nobody wanted.”

“After he died, I wanted to find a way to take care of people who were overlooked the way he was. He died because no one noticed him.”

“He ran off, didn’t he?”

Jack nodded. “No one saw that he had been missing for a while and he wasn’t found until it was too late. When I became a doctor I wanted to make a difference for people who, like Robbie, weren’t noticed until it was too late, which was why I chose public health. What I do now grew out of that as conditions in some of the places I chose to work in weren’t good. So, you’d cure the patient and find the source of the illness in so many cases—fleas, ticks, four-legged critters, bacteria.”

“But you quit or, at least, you’ve stepped away for a while, haven’t you? That’s what Cade told me. He said it’s why you were hanging around Big Badger, why you were thinking about working with them at the hospital they were starting.”

“You’re right. I’ve stepped away. Not sure if I’ll go back and work at the hospital, or not. Haven’t decided … personal reasons. It’s complicated.”

Personal reasons he wouldn’t divulge. She could see it in his eyes, like she could see the well-practiced resistance there, as well. Jack had given her what she’d wanted and now it was her turn to do the same. She’d broached a subject he didn’t want to talk about, so she wouldn’t pry. As a psychologist, it was her second nature to ask, especially when she saw so much distress. But for Jack she would go against that nature. It was the least she could do.

“Okay, well … You have free rein here, Jack. Whatever you need to do is fine, and if I can help you, let me know. We do have some funds … ” She stood, then spun around to the beat-up old refrigerator behind her, opened it and grabbed a pitcher of juice—apple-pear mix from Patagonia. “But not a lot. So whatever you can do to be conservative would be appreciated. And right now I’m going to go have juice in the garden with Maritza Costa. Ventricular septal defect. Congenital.” Meaning, a small hole in her heart. “She’s feeling better today, and I think a nice walk in the fresh air will do her good.”

“You’re treating her how?”

At the mention of a child with a heart condition Jack’s face turned to stone. Amanda saw it, saw the visible change come over him. Such a drastic turnabout, it made her curious. One curiosity among many, she was only beginning to discover. “With medicine only, for the time being,” she explained. “And observing her. She got sick, probably a cold, and it lingered, so her parents brought her in and that’s when Ben made the discovery. She’s been a normal, healthy little girl, without any cardiac problems. So we’re being cautiously optimistic we can keep her regulated with the most conservative treatments, because we can’t convince her parents to let us send her to another facility for more sophisticated testing, maybe even surgery.”

“What about a cardiac cath? They use them more and more these days to close small holes, and it’s a safe procedure. Proving itself worthy of the task.”

“Maybe it is,” she continued, “if we had the means to perform a cardiac catheterization, which we don’t. That equipment’s on the list of things we hope to be purchasing in the next year or so.”

“So in the meantime …”

“We keep a close eye on her and try to keep her as healthy as we can.”

“Or go argue some sense into her parents.”

“Believe me, Ben would have done that months ago if he’d thought it would work. But we have to maintain the balance here, because the people … While they want the medical help, they’re always a little suspicious of outsiders.”

“A little?” he snapped. “They’d let that child die because they’re a little suspicious?”

“She’s not critical, Jack. And we’re doing the best we can.”

“But what happens when your best isn’t good enough anymore?”

It was a rhetorical question. She knew that, and decided to let it pass. “Look, it makes me angry, too. And my brother paces the floor he worries so much. But that’s the way we have to do things here, because we want to get along. It’s for the good of everyone, including Maritza. Things are changing here in the way we’re accepted, and those changes have their own pace. I mean, you lived here, so you already know that. Probably better than I do.”

“Look, I’m sorry. You have a nice facility here at Caridad, I’m not criticizing it. And I’m not criticizing either you or Ben. What you have works, and it’s none of my business how you treat your patients, so forget what I said because I’m not the one trying to take care of medical services on so many levels with so few means.”

Amanda stepped closer to Jack. “I appreciate the concern. No apologies necessary for that. And, Jack … thank you for earlier, for telling me who I might be.” She bent and kissed his cheek, her voice catching as the words came out. “Sincerely, thank you.”

As she was leaving, Ben was entering, and she gave him a bye-bye wave as she flitted out the door like a butterfly on a light breeze.

“She’s … ” Jack shrugged, not able to come up with the right word to describe her.

“A force,” Ben supplied.

“A force,” he repeated, just a little bowled over by Amanda’s passion. She was so out there about it. In his life those kinds of emotions were kept hidden, and he wasn’t used to being around someone like her, who showed all of it so naturally. It was a little off-putting to that self-admitted stodginess in him he tried to sustain. But it was also fascinating, much more than he would have expected. Still, should he have told her who she might be? It bothered him, made him uneasy being put in that position. Part of him was already realizing, though, that turning her down in anything she asked was going to be tough. Maybe damn near impossible. Because she was a force.

“Anyway,” he went on, trying to shake Amanda from his mind, “about this hospital-acquired infection you’ve got going …”

“Seven diagnosed cases right now, all of them limited to the children’s ward. General symptoms but not that serious—abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, malaise.”

“Fever? Cough?”

“Not yet. And the good news is we can do a limited amount of cultures here. But the bad news is, since we’re not really set up for it, I’m not sure I’d totally trust the results, if we were getting results, which we aren’t.”

“Which means everything’s turning up negative?”

“No positive test results for anything we’ve cultured. We’re set up to treat patients, and our lab, well … Let’s just say you’re not going to be impressed with it. So let’s just get this tour over with so you can figure out what to do with what we’ve got.”

“You mean Ezequiel’s tour wasn’t a real tour?” Jack asked, smiling. “Great kid, by the way. Smart.”

“We’re fond of him.”

“It’s good you let him hang around. Gives him a purpose.”

“And a home,” Ben commented.

“He lives here?”

“For a little over a year now. His mom brought him with her when she came for treatment, but she died from cancer, and we couldn’t find anybody who knew Ezequiel, let alone wanted him. No relatives, no family friends. So we set up a room for him … turned a large storage closet into a room, actually, and we all keep an eye on him. Make sure he’s fed, clothed.”

“Then he’s one of the lucky ones,” Jack said, thinking about Amanda, who’d also been one of the lucky ones. Thinking about Rosa, who hadn’t been.

“Lucky maybe, but he’s not getting a proper education, which is a problem. We’re each taking turns teaching him, but there’s no consistency to it. And he’s not with a family, not getting that kind of nurturing, which is an even bigger problem, because all kids need that. Yet if we turn him in to the authorities we might as well give him up for good. He’s too old to be adopted, probably wouldn’t do well in an institutional situation, which is where he’d end up if he didn’t run off. So we just …”

“Look the other way and hope for the best.”

Ben cringed. “When you put it that way, it sounds bad, doesn’t it?”

“No. Not really. I’ve worked in a lot of difficult situations and seen these lost children everywhere. Ezequiel’s sharp. A real survivor. You’re giving him more than he would have any other way, and he’ll make it through.”

“Let’s hope so, but he deserves better. Anyway, welcome to our lab,” Ben said, pushing open a door to reveal a closet-size space, set up with a table and two antiquated microscopes. “Like I said, don’t expect much. I found these in storage in a public hospital in Buenos Aries. They’d upgraded, and told me to help myself. So I filled our communal Jeep with everything I thought we might be able to use, which makes us, officially, a hand-me-down hospital.” Said with a big smile.

“I think the term today is repurposed.” Jack stepped in, took a quick look, and decided it would work. Not well, but well enough for some basic cultures. “So, Amanda said I have free rein, which means I’d like to start by examining the ward where the kids have been infected.”

“Well, since pediatrics is Amanda’s specialty, she’s going to assist you once she’s done with Maritza. Oh, and while you’re here, I’ve taken the liberty of adding you to our clinic schedule, if that’s okay with you.”

“You’re good, slipping that in there when you think I’m focusing on something else,” Jack said, laughing.

“We take our advantages where we can.” He patted Jack on the back. “Anyway, I’m glad you’re here, and until I hear otherwise, I’m going to consider you on call for general duty, starting tonight.” Ben pointed to the door at the opposite end of the hall. “My sister’s out there, when you’re ready for her.”

Jack didn’t respond. Could anyone every really be ready for Amanda?

Slipping into a pair of plum-colored scrub pants, Amanda cinched the drawstring at the waist and headed for the pediatric ward. Actually, it wasn’t a ward so much as one large room, sparse with equipment and other medical accoutrements. But there were beds, and sick children, and a growing problem that worried her.

Funny how Jack’s mere presence brought with it peace of mind. She couldn’t deny it, particularly since some of that peace was oozing into her. Peace in her medical life and, oddly, peace in her personal life. It was better knowing she might be Mapuche, she’d decided. Painful because that knowledge caused uncomfortable questions, but better. Although she owed him an apology because clearly he hadn’t wanted to be involved in the disarray she called her personal life. Yet he’d allowed himself to be dragged in, which wasn’t at all what she’d expected from him.

Something had changed him, though. She’d seen it happen. Seen the incredible struggle when it had flashed over him. But he had been so quick to grab it back, put it away. Leaving her wondering about the person he’d loved. Someone Mapuche. Perhaps a woman? The love of his life?

It occurred to her Jack may have returned to Argentina bearing some kind of pain, simply because she’d asked. “Who are you, Jack?” she asked, as her scrub top slid into place. “What kind of man are you?”

The kind who would fight to keep her from figuring him out. That was the answer that came to her on her way to meet him in Pediatrics. He wanted his distance, and she wanted … Well, she wasn’t sure about that. Maybe all she wanted was to understand him. After all, their worlds did intersect in more than one place, so why wouldn’t she want to understand someone who threaded in and out? Yes, that was it. A perfectly good reason for having Jack on her mind almost constantly. Which had turned into the case.

All thoughts led to Jack, but that was okay, because all she wanted was to understand. That was some mighty fine logical reasoning leading up to a half-believed conclusion. Who was she kidding, though? Because peel back all that logic and she just plain liked his gruff exterior, even his distance. That was what Argentina did for her, gave her different freedom than she was used to. Changed her perspective. It happened every time she was here, maybe because deep down she’d always felt the innateness of who she was. Or wanted to be.

“Anything going on other than what’s being recorded in the charts?” Jack asked from his casual seat behind the old wooden desk that sufficed as the hub of the ward. One desk, one swivel chair, a rusty file cabinet, all of it tucked into the corner, out of the way. And Jack’s size overwhelmed everything. An immense man in a small space made the man look even more immense.

Amanda noticed that, fought to keep her gaze steady. “Not really. Symptoms are mild, nothing you wouldn’t expect. No one critical or even in danger.”

“And you don’t think that this might be some run-of-the-mill hospital infection, one that’s not going to cause any real trouble.” It was a statement, not a question. “Ben’s downplaying it, so he’s not the best one to go to for an objective answer. You, though, got me here, which means you’re worried. So what’s your assessment?”

“That’s just it, Jack,” she said, perching herself on the edge of the desk. “I don’t know. Ben’s been fighting this HAI for a few weeks now, it’s isolated, but it’s not going away. Not getting better or worse, either. With the way things mutate … and I’m not the expert on this, so bear with me. But you read how these various strains, bacterial and viral, mutate, and how so much of what we thought would stop the spread is rendered ineffective very quickly. My brother is smart, and he’ll do whatever it takes to protect the hospital. Me too, because I’m also involved in this, and I believe you’re what it takes or else I wouldn’t have asked for your help.”

“Well, for what it’s worth, every hospital known to man runs some sort of HAI strain through it, Amanda. These kids have gastrointestinal flu-like symptoms. That’s all. And according to what I’ve read, they’ve all been cured pretty easily.”

“But per patient, our percentage is huge. One third of them are coming down with something we’re giving them and that statistic, if nothing else, should be a warning. It’s just that I don’t know what the warning is about.”

“Then it’s a good thing you called me because warnings are my specialty.” He glanced up. “So, it’s time for me to meet the ward.”

“Not the children?”

“Nope, not at first,” he said, standing. “Sometimes not at all. I seem to have a better rapport with the contaminant than I do patients, so I try to keep to where I’m better received.”

“Such a low opinion of yourself,” she said.

“Or a high one, depending on your perspective. Anyway, with the symptoms that are manifesting themselves, the scope of what could be infecting the kids should be pretty limited, so I like to look at everything from a fresh perspective, which includes culturing areas that wouldn’t normally be associated with what we’re seeing. In other words, wear a sturdy pair of suspenders along with a belt, just in case.”

“Overreacting?” she asked, smiling.

He didn’t answer her at first. Instead, he merely stood and stared at her, eventually giving in to a half smile, then finally, “Reacting.”

“Okay, then. If you’re intent on reacting, did you bring the testing supplies with you, because we don’t have—”

“I come prepared. Might even have another trick or two up my sleeve.” He grabbed his white lab coat off the back of the chair, which she hated seeing because she liked his look now … cargo pants, and a crisp, white T-shirt. But everybody had something to cover up, didn’t they? Jack covered something dark and despairing. Her parents covered something that scared her. She covered up so many things in herself, as well.

But what would happen once the covers started to peel back? That was a question she couldn’t answer. And wasn’t sure she wanted answered.


“I DON’T suppose you’ve solved it already?” Amanda asked hopefully. “You know, one swipe of a trusty test swab and you have your answer.” She plopped down on her bed, flat on her back, and looked across at Jack, who was busy reading, also trying hard to ignore her. “You know, Jack, the kids I work with back in Texas don’t respond to me half the time for any number of reasons. They’re slow processing the question, not sure what an appropriate response is. A lot of the time they’re distracted, or they simply don’t know that answering when someone asks them a question is the right thing to do. So when I don’t get a response from them, I understand because my children, for the most part, are autistic, and I teach them how to respond. But you don’t need to be taught.”

He turned his head to look at her, not even bothering to push up the reading glasses that had slid halfway down his nose. “Your point being?”

“We’re roommates. Roommates talk to each other.”

“I don’t have roommates, and if I did, we wouldn’t have anything in common to discuss.”

“Oh, I think you would, and a great place to start would be why you always set yourself apart from everybody else. People think you’ve got a terrible personality, that you’re unfriendly or grumpy. I heard that about you all the time back in Texas, from my own receptionist, from hospital staff. But do you know what I think?”

“Could I stop you from telling me if I didn’t want to know?”

“Just ask. I’ll respect your wishes.” True to form, he did what she expected. Ignored her for about thirty seconds. Then he finally pushed his glasses back up, specifically so he could look over the tops of them at her.

“Then don’t tell.” He cracked a half smile. “Or do. Whichever makes you happy.”

She laughed. “So that’s how you want to be?” He was like a breath of fresh air. No rules, no concern for what others thought of him. Basically, a man on his own terms, and she liked that.

“No, that’s how I am. I learned a long time ago it’s easier to let people just do what they want to do. It makes them happy, which makes my life a whole lot less complicated when it involves me. Besides, human nature … When someone asks you if you want to know what they think, they’re going to find a way to tell you.”

“Better watch out, Jack. You could be giving me insight into who you are, which means that if I do tell you what I think, I might be saying something you don’t want to hear.”

“Yeah, right. Like I haven’t heard it all before?”

“Not from my perspective, you haven’t.”

“Human nature again. While you think your perspective of me may be unique, it isn’t.”

“But you won’t know that until I tell you what I think.”

“Which leaves the ball in your court. Tell me, or don’t tell me. Either way … ” He held up his journal. “Reading. Seven articles to catch up on. All of them on the HAIs du jour. You know. What’s trendy, what’s new, what’s coming back into style.”

She studied him for a moment, and saw something that surprised her. Devilment, maybe? Was he actually playing with her? “You don’t ever just make the best of it, do you?”

“The best of what?”

“Your situation. The people you’re with. You know, occupy your moment. This is Argentina, Jack. Argentina! It’s Friday night, barely dark. We’re in the holiday season now, and the people in the village are starting their celebrations. Making the best of your situation would be going down to the village, joining in or at least observing from one of the outside tables at a cantina. Talking to people, letting people talk to you. You know, having fun.”

“You think reading medical journals isn’t fun?”

“I think you’re hiding behind a bunch of journals because you know you will have fun if you step out.”

“Then you’re challenging me.”

“Not so much challenging you as …”

“Purposely distracting me.”

“No. I’m telling you what I think.”

“See, I was right. You wanted me to know, so you sneaked it in there when you thought I wasn’t paying attention.”

“Oh, you were paying attention. I doubt there’s ever a time in your life when you don’t.”

He was definitely one tough nut to crack. Still, she wasn’t giving up on him, and it had nothing to do with professional camaraderie. She just plain wanted to see Jack unwind. Wanted to see what he’d be like when his mind wasn’t on such weighty things.

Okay, she was attracted on some weird level. She’d admit it. Back in Texas, the first time she’d met him, that attraction had crept up on her, but there had been nothing she could do about it as he’d been a family member of one of her patients. Yet here, in Argentina, they were doctor to doctor, and that attraction level was turning into something more than she’d expected.

“Oh, and fun is what you want it to be, Jack. If spending a dull evening reading journals is your type of fun, my brother’s got boxes of them when you get done with these. But if you want to go meet the people here, mingle a little, see what makes them who they are, then fun is where I’m going, and you’re invited along—to participate, or simply observe.” Okay, maybe she was trying to distract him a little. Nothing serious, and not for long, though.

“Except I’m on call.”

“So am I, but we’re not going that far. And we’ve got adequate staff on to take care of anything routine that arises.” She rolled over on her right side to face him, and propped her head up with her hand. “At a leisurely stroll we can be back here in ten minutes. Running, in less than two. Any more excuses?”

“Give me a minute to think, okay?”

“Said as the man is sitting up and putting his glasses on the table next to the bed. Which means you’re coming to the village with me. Right?”

“Or getting ready to explore your brother’s boxes of journals.”

“Ah, yes. The way Argentinian Friday nights are meant to be spent.”

“Are you goading me, by any chance?”

“Not goading. Just … ” She paused, thought for a moment, wrinkled her nose when she couldn’t come up with an answer.

“See, I was right, wasn’t I? You are trying to distract me.”

“Or show you something beneficial.”

“Beneficial? How so?”

“A night off clears your head, lets you relax …”

“Oh, so we’re weighing more medical knowledge against a night of bright lights and music? Now I understand.” He gazed across at her for a minute—a solid gaze that gave away no aspect of himself whatsoever—then shut his journal. “I had this relationship once, back in medical school. Fine-looking woman. One of my professors, actually. At the end of her day she was done. She could go home, kick off her shoes, read a book, cook a meal, do whatever she wanted to do.”

“Which was you, I’m guessing.”

He arched a suggestive eyebrow at her. “The only problem with that was at the end of my day I had to work a part-time job to keep myself in medical school. When I wasn’t delivering pizzas, I was studying. When I wasn’t studying, I was sleeping. So I got maybe two hours with her, which gave her cause to think that we could have our benefits

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Under the Argentine stars… Dr Jack Kenner can’t refuse Amanda Robinson’s plea for help – even though it means returning to South America, where the ghosts of his past haunt him.Worse still, the tropical nights working with brave, fiery Amanda push Jack to his limits – for a man who has sworn never to risk his heart again, they offer the ultimate temptation…

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